Sunday, February 12, 2012

Politica between light and darkness

The Holiday
February 10, 2012
M. Serajul Islam

The nation heaved a deep sigh of relief that Monday the 29th of January was peaceful. The general apprehension that the AL would meet the BNP in the streets and there would be a showdown leading to violence was proved wrong. Nevertheless, five lives were lost by police excesses and firing. Of these, the moment of the death of the person killed in Rajshahi was shown to the nation by a photograph. He could have easily been apprehended but was gunned down in cold blood.

The incident of Monday left few questions unanswered, people’s sighs of relief notwithstanding. The BNP had announced its decision about the mass procession in Dhaka a month ahead when Khaleda Zia addressed a public meeting in Chittagong. The AL announced a similar meeting in Dhaka on the same day, Sunday the 29th of January just two days before. The Government also imposed section 144, clearly intended to stop the BNP from its march. When the BNP deferred its mass procession by a day, the AL did the same.

The BNP had lost the last national elections miserably. It had been in total disarray in the weeks and months following the loss, divided between the loyalists and the reformists that further pushed it towards oblivion. It has also been under constant accusation from the ruling party of various anti-state activities of which the one against the trial of those who committed crimes against humanity in 1971 has been the major one. Its leaders are being made to run from pillar to post by court cases that have been filed against them partly for political vengeance.

In the tradition of our politics, a party in such a predicament has always in the past fallen back on hartal to try and come back into politics. The ruling party should know it better having set this tradition after it lost the 1991 elections and again when they were defeated in 2001 elections. The BNP followed the tradition when it was in the opposition in 1996-2001 stint of the AL in power.

Nevertheless, except for those calling hartals, there were no takers for this political strategy. Its damage to the economy has been well orchestrated by the economists and members of the civil society and accepted by the public. The public were extended to their wits end and were literally praying to the Almighty to provide good sense to the politicians not to opt for hartal in opposing the government on political issues. What made hartal totally meaningless is the fact that it has had no positive impact on politics in anyway whatever.
The country that has regressed in politics almost on all grounds where the revered institution of parliament has been rendered totally non-functional, it is on the issue of hartal that the country seems to have turned a bend. In spite of serious provocation ever since finding itself in the opposition, the BNP has not resorted to hartal in the way everyone feared. In the last 3 years, the party has called hartal on 8 occasions and even those were not enforced in the manner hartals were enforced in the past. The government has taken a lot of credit for its performance in economic development in the last 3 years, underscoring in particular healthy growth in exports. The point is not made that the BNP has played a significant role in such growth by setting aside the temptations for hartal that would have put a spanner on such growth as hartals in past regimes had done.

The BNP has just not opted out from hartal; it has done something better that too has not received the sort of encouragement in the country. It has resorted to political strategies that are conducive to democratic dissent worldwide. In place of hartal, they have opted for demonstrations, long marches and other non-violent means for expressing their opposition to the government. Clearly, the BNP has made a few positive moves to bring politics back from destruction.

Unfortunately, the ruling party has not shown the wisdom to take up the BNP on these moves. Instead, it has continued to provoke the opposition in all ways. The latest provocation was blatantly evident in the way it tried to deal with the opposition’s mass procession in Dhaka and elsewhere in the country resulting in the death of 5 innocent lives. Nevertheless, the fact that the ruling party and the opposition refrained from any conflict in Dhaka last Monday could suggest some light in the horizon; that the ruling party and the opposition may have finally realized that they must avoid politics of conflict as the people would hold the party opting for violence responsible while voting in the next general elections.

Nevertheless, one must wait and watch what the government does with the other protests that the BNP has already outlined leading to the March to Dhaka on the 12th of March. The ball is now in the court of the ruling party. It will depend on the AL whether the country chooses the path of democratic dissent or confrontational politics to resolve the differences that exist between it and the opposition. While last Monday shows hope, the body language and speeches of leading AL leaders point in a different direction looking into the immediate future.

There is a section in the ruling party that seems to believe that the way to deal with the opposition is to provoke them to confrontation. They believe that if the BNP could be provoked to such confrontation with 2 years left for the national elections, the ruling party with the law enforcing agencies behind it would be able to weaken the BNP substantially so that by the time the next elections take place, it would be a spent force.

So far, the BNP has set aside the provocations and has shown no signs of indulging the AL. This strategy has worked well and has attracted public attention positively. It is now up to the AL to play its part and come out of darkness and follow the path of light that the BNP has chosen for our politics. It should give up any intention it may have of confrontational politics for its own good and that of the country. It should allow the BNP the democratic right for peaceful demonstrations, long marches and similar programmes. Most importantly, it should refrain from giving programmes that fall on the same day as those of the BNP and rein the law enforcing agencies from killing innocent people and browbeating democratic opposition.

The big cloud that has the potential of pushing Bangladesh into political darkness is however not the conflicting programmes of the AL and the BNP, its potential of conflict notwithstanding. The big cloud centers on the issue of reviving the CG that the BNP has demanded which the AL has rejected. It is on this issue that the AL needs to show compromise and make an effort to resolve the issue of the CG. It should consider the fact that the revival of the CG is fast becoming a national demand and not just of the BNP.

If the AL needs proof of this it should consider the lukewarm interest of all the political parties except itself in accepting an EC chosen by so-called consensus could be an alternative to the CG. Most importantly, it should get a copy of the full judgment of the Supreme Court that it has used to fast track the abolition of the CG and imposition of the interim government under which the ruling party would have the right of holding the national elections. That judgment has recommended that the next two general elections should be held under the CG system.

Our politics can come out of darkness but as the cliché goes, only two can tango. The BNP has chosen the path of democratic politics. It is for the AL now to shun the path of confrontation. It would not need major sacrifices from the AL to bring the BNP to the parliament which still remains a major criticism against the latter. While the AL is making so many mistakes in governance as well as in politics, the BNP would need convincing to be brought back to parliament as they are scoring points outside it.

Thus in the politics of light and darkness, it is for the ruling party to encourage the choice of the BNP for democratic politics. It holds the key whether Bangladesh would see light or darkness in politics that in turn would determine whether we become Digital Bangladesh or a middle income country by 2021. At the time of filing this piece, statements from Begum Khaleda Zia and Suranjit Sen Gupta on the CG system suggested politics could come out of darkness eventually of the issue that holds the key in this politics of light and darkness, namely the revival of the Caretaker Government system.

The writer is a former Ambassador

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