Political impasse in Bangladesh – Where the country heading towards

"In couple of days back, I also eye-witnessed some goods-laden trucks were burning and passengers full public buses were set on fire burning at least 27 passengers inside in a single bus in capital’s outskirt recently, while returning to home from my office at night." - writes "The Bangladesh Today" Sub-Editor Rakibul Hasan.

Infinite transport blockades and occasional strikes of BNP-led 20-party alliance, from January 04 to February 09, 2015, reportedly killed at least 85 people, mostly (51) burn to death, while vandalizing more than 990 vehicles and sending around 123 surviving burn victims to the hospitals in last 35 days only. More than one thousand political prisoners counts their dark days since early January (Ref: Prothom Alo).

The intensity of blockades and strikes grows further acute with the passage of time. The political impasse still goes on till I write.

The capital, Dhaka is nearly detached from the rest of the country. In mid January, for purposes of community volunteering, we couple of youths moved to larger parts of North Bengal (Nilphamari), a distance of 400 km or more from the capital, aside Siliguri of India. It usually takes 09/10 hours on trains, but that time for me, it counted about 43 hours to reach out the destination, due to schedule collapse of rails and removal of ‘fish-plates’ from the railroad trucks, allegedly by opposition activists so that rails cannot move forward ‘succeeding’ the political agenda. Since I talked to masses here and there from the areas, I noticed how much confrontationally those people reacted the ruling government; conspicuously favoring the opposition alliance in their expressions. They said, ‘ruling politicians from the areas rarely move, or strictly being escorted by security guards on the occasion of addressing to the public campaigns or other political assemblages’. Some political leaders and activists of both ruling and opposition sides hide out themselves in face of abductions and assassinations. Even lawyers who verdict to the criminals of political violence, are not safe; they are being harassed and killed or escaped from the residences in other safer areas.

Elite or strong keen groups, on large scale, were used to control village politics in Bangladesh (They control still now, but patterns of authority have changed a lot, in the mean time). Whatever the political parties sworn in power, once the elite families or greater blood groups, having feudal-like characteristics, led the local politics and decision-making process. But today, an unprecedented change has appeared in the scene (masses or elites!) executing the ultimate decisions which rolls down out of the commoners. In addition, the overwhelming masses, concerning significant national and even International issues, come out on thousands of streets demonstrating either their supports or protests, across the country. Consequentially, It predicts a positive insignia for democratic growth and freedom of expression, developed at bottom-level and the credit goes to both print and electronic media and also, to new media (Social Media streams).

However, this tendency of mass-upsurge unexpectedly faces political suppression and demons’ eye. Here it is eye, not eyes, since these public activisms are highly selective. These political assemblages get patronize when favor the government or suddenly face collapse by security agencies while opposing the ruling party.

And the patterns of two major parties – Awami League (AL) and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) are unchangeably same-natured in continuing the suppressive regimes over freedom of expression, injuring democratic institutionalization.

Once couple of years back, I saw in my eyes many of passengers were frankly discussing over the political scenario, especially on buses, at tea stalls, bazaars or in many outside gatherings, but today nobody interest in neither criticizing the ruling party nor praising the present government, while somebody fearing not to talk open in public at all. Since independence in 1971, AL and BNP mostly ruled over the country and developed a popular trend of exchanging regimes in-between the two major parties (now alliances). Secular AL and Center-Rightist BNP further consolidate the bipartisan trends including rest of the political parties in their alliances, while leftists parties, atheists politicians and many laborers joining AL-led 14-party alliance and on the other hand, rightists, conservative, Islamists and middle-classers moving to BNP side of 20 parties. Except AL and BNP, all these parties are one-man show.

Jatiya Party, led by former Chief Martial Law Administrator Hussain Muhammad Ershad tries to throne the power with certain popularity because, he admirably reconstructed the war-ravaged Bangladesh but he might face numerous charges of his dictatorial regime whenever he joins in elections leading him to the prime minister (to be same resistance in AL or BNP regimes). Assuming his potential turn, AL allegedly confined him to the hospital just before last year national in 2014 and he was compensated losing chances to be prime opposition leader in the parliament. However now he enjoys more riskless time being advisor to AL chairperson Sheikh Hasina.

And on the other hand, Jamaat-e-Islami, a political Islamist party is accused of its controversial role in 71’s war crimes and facing charges in ‘Intl War Crimes Tribunal’ and a prime ally of inactive BNP reportedly perpetrating the ongoing political violence nationwide. It is believed JI to be 3rd most major party (but enormous distance to AL and BNP). JI posses a dedicated group of political activists and perform their ‘divine duties’ accordingly as per instructions of top, sent to bottom. Very exceptionally, JI is an ideology-based party, rather than renowned leadership of familial legacies. The JI patterns of Activist-Leader units begin at very root level and then spirals up to the center of the national politics. Even if it is not a extremist party, but many times JI works in a way which (perhaps directly or indirectly) favors some radical sects which can be major challenges for BNP checking the terrorist upheaval (if it wins again) because its last regime (2001-06) was greatly questionable breeding most organized and subversive terrorist groups of time. However, if BNP assumes in power (highly predicted to recome), JI never be upper-handed in gaining their demanded number of electoral constituencies, weakening BNP’s stronghold in 20-party alliance. Therefore, JI is a party mostly belonging to ‘Ever-Opposition’.

Since independence, two major parties rule Bangladesh and their role is just opposite of a coin; no positive changes happen to national lives with the changes in their regimes. When other parties predict to arise, then they (AL and BNP) make ‘coalition’ to suppress the rise of other parties. There was the single case of their unity when AL and BNP made coalition to collapse a dictatorial regime of JP leader HM Ershad in 1980s. Even after, their dangerous rivalry brought martial law for many years in the country.

Political rivalries reached out to deeper in every social relation, e.g. inter-personal, inter-village and inter-community and people already started judging others, based on political affiliations/ideologies. In last 6 months I noticed, a family refused their son to marry a girl whose family supported an opposite political ideology (s). Thanks god; we are not multicultural society (98% ethnic Bengali) but, unfortunately politics casted us!

However coming to present scenario, buses–a popular transport services, are faster vehicles in Bangladesh but, miscreants hurled crude petrol bombs again and again to the moving busses and the arson attacks indiscriminately burn to injuries and deaths the innocent passengers (sometimes sleeping on vehicle at night). Many of the arson victims further die on hospital beds as patients suffer through the delays of treatments and crucial limitations of beds and expert physicians in these hospitals. Burn units in medicals don’t grow as per demands since the number of fire victims drastically reduces with returns of political stabilities (after some assumed periods).

Political parties perpetrate violence in a way to demonstrate muscle powers as means of achieving political gains. In couple of days back, I also eye-witnessed some goods-laden trucks were burning and  passengers full public buses were set on fire burning at least 27 passengers inside in a single bus in capital’s outskirt recently, while returning to home from my office at night. Anxious people who move across the city most often shutdown their side glasses avoiding any chance of sudden entrance of explosive throws. Many of the office-going people and students attend their destination on foot, someone on open-roofed vans and rickshaws. Our overcrowded roads enjoy very little vehicles nowadays, no boring traffic jam as before; people generally do not go outside of homes, until they find compelling causes (purposes of job, medical, education etc). Still some vehicles, largely trucks and buses move to inter-cities, but strictly being escorted by the security forces front and back (however still get secret attacks).

In addition, vicious circles also frequently uproot fish-plates from railroad trucks obstructing the last remaining tools of safer journey. Government has appointed limited number of security enforcers, in the mean time but they are overwhelmed keeping watch on thousands of miles of railroad trucks, passing across the lonely areas, bushes, forests and busy localities.

Besides, approximately one and half million of grade-10 students are scheduled to appear in a nationwide public examinations in this February, but their parents or guardians seems quite uncertain moving their children to the examination centers daring these sporadic violence here and there, across the country. And students suffer higher degrees of frustrations, because they revise their books even three-four times more as the exam schedule changes frequently fixing on safe dates. Consequently students in universities go through session jams which delay their recruitments in jobs.

Tensions always appear in their faces of city dwellers, let alone the places outside of the capital. Among others, city slum dwellers who are addicted of drugs fall prey to the luring proposals of greedy politicians committing these violence, among others. In search of perpetrators, security forces harass and sometime imprison people, sometimes misjudging innocent pedestrians, while not having any identification (ID) cards. Moreover, in reaction to the growing violence, the security forces, especially police and specialized corps are instructed showing zero tolerance towards such violence and as results, we find some cases of deaths to political activists in encountering what civil society accuses as extra-judicial killings. The BNP-led 20-party alliance is being strictly monitored; many of its activists are imprisoned, others are bound to hide out and few are killed in reportedly ‘fake encounter’; the main opposition alliance leader, Begum Khaleda Zia is allegedly under house arrest and blocked with 12 sands-laden trucks stopping her to join a national assemblage in the capital on the occasion of protesting the first anniversary of Death of Democracy on 5th January (but now more it seems she rather confines herself, until she comes out in public demonstrations). She faces scores of legal charges in the court already and activists of ruling parties or others are filing hundreds of cases against her alleged ‘supreme responsibility’ in these violence. Earlier of the month, the supplies of electricity and internet (also threats to stop foods) were cut down in her house, but were immediately returned, amid growing secret attacks on power stations, allegedly by her supporters throughout the country.

From economic perspective, I saw rural farmers were sitting remorse or crying out in public not selling their crops or selling at rate of three time lower price. And we city dwellers pay two times more price since non-stop transport blockades hinder the rural supplies to metropolitans. Foreign investors move away from our reputed apparel industries to other destination, e.g. to India, Vietnam or the Philippines. This violence breeds GDP growth falling under 6 per cent. Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) reported that the violence in 2013-14, caused approximately 4.7 percent GDP growth.

In the nutshell, I see no possibilities of political dialogue soon brining peace and stabilities in much-heated scenario, because the distance is furthering more between BNP and AL with the passage of time, since AL ‘undemocratically’ (winning through one-sided election in January 05, 2014) tries to grip the power and BNP is desperately seeking the throne since 2006, more for regaining its lost regimes, than for democracy. The AL regime is criticized with record-breaking abductions, killings and encountered deaths, alongside corruption and organizational anomalies which have greatly concerned AL leaving the power and facing the justice.

There may be seven possibilities in upcoming days.

Firstly, the present violence will continue for couple of months with growing deadly casualties to weaken AL’s hold. BNP will not postpone or halt their infinite transport-blockade and sporadic strikes, avoiding any chances of frustrations to its activists and losing the nationwide movement which is on rise.

Secondly, AL also strengthens the security measures with zero tolerance, more imprisoning and encountering the opposite political activists to ensure peace to the masses and perceiving that the opposition activists must (may) be exhausted in long runs.  As results, the longer the AL or BNP will survive in the rivalries; the earlier the one party will be annihilated letting the counterpart to stay. In this sense, the ongoing political rivalries may turn into prolonged nature, leading to civil conflict. At the stage, International organizations and regional countries may intervene in the internal issues.

Thirdly, taking the advantages, the trans-boundary terrorists and militant Islamists will regroup its scattered networks and operate more deadly attacks on people and structures of the state demonstrating their power, when larger security forces have to deal with political violence relentlessly. In this regards, the detective branch of forces need to monitor these sectarians round the clock.  State agencies must suppress these terrorist outfits to the corner. If the security agencies fail to counter the terrorist upheaval, the Indian sub-continent will certainly face spillover effects, especially on Seven Sisters (inciting separatist movement) of Indian Northeast and Bangladesh’s Hill Tracts (Tribal insurgencies and Rohingya terrorists) at Myanmar border.

Fifth, if Bangladesh Army takes over the control of the state addressing the ongoing impasse, the masses will welcome them in a sense of returning peace and security to their threatened lives. But, their engagement in politics will cause scores of criticism from International community, being it’s an undemocratic intervention. Even they may find reactions or refusal on later stage, from UN bodies, especially UN Peacekeeping Missions which provide greater economic rewards to Bangladeshi military.

Sixth, the economy will suffer its worst time, if the situations further continue. The lion’s shares of foreign investors withdraw their business from the country; rather move to other Asian countries, especially East Asia. The laborers will lose their jobs which may pose additional tensions to control for the government.

Finally, people may turn to be insensitive to the violence, because they are compelled to move outside on daily basis, for daily proposes. Then the causalities will grow more within months. Besides, they may lose their trusts over the politics which led them to justify the killing of many politicians, even many renowned political figures as well.

Rakibul Hasan

Rakibul Hasan is an Op-Ed Sub-Editor of The Bangladesh Today. CONTACT Alumni, U.S State Department. He can be reached at rakibeca@gmail.com

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