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Out of the Box: If History Repeats Itself…

  • Dr. Rashid Askari
  • 23rd October, 2022 10:20:45 AM
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Out of the Box: If History Repeats Itself…

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Had there been a two-party system in Bangladesh like America or England, we could have, perhaps, had a healthier politics in the national arena. The Democrat and the Republican in the USA or the Conservative and the Labour in the UK are major players in American and British politics. They contribute a great deal to the development of their countries as parties in power and opposition alternately and remain competitive with each other in discharge of governmental duties and obligations not in the mud-slinging or elimination of political opponents. Here lies the beauty of the Westminster model of parliamentary government. A strong party in power with a strong one in opposition is the real lifeline for democracy and rule of law.

What is happening in Bangladesh? The mind boggles at the number of our political parties. But have we been able to establish a dual-party system yet where both the parties—the power and the opposition, despite myriad differences, shall stand united in question of national identity and common interest? We must answer in the negative. After BNP had arrived on the political scene, especially in the wake of two consecutive wins in the general elections (1991 and 2001), many had thought that Awami League and BNP would create a two-party system like that of the USA and UK which would maintain checks and balances in the governance of the state and the promotion of a nascent democracy.

But BNP’s role played both in power and in opposition has frustrated the whole nation. BNP founder General Zia’s dubious role in 1971 Liberation War which became evident after Bangabandhu assassination, his meteoric rise to power in an unconstitutional way, the killing of hundreds of military personnel most of whom were freedom fighters, Khaleda Zia’s overt affiliation to anti-liberation parties like Jamaat-e-Islami, the exercise of political muscle and resort to violence and opposition cleansing missions, and institutionalization of corruption through Hawa Bhaban have cast aspersions on BNP’s credibility. The Federal Court of Canada in 2017 quite rightly returned a verdict of guilty calling BNP ‘a terrorist organization’ and refusing asylum to one of its activists in Canada.

So, while BNP is trying to revive at snail’s pace after its debacle in the 2008 elections, can it be a viable alternative to Awami League? The pro-liberation people of Bangladesh are considering BNP’s revival as a threat to the secular existence of Bangladesh. And there are grounds for it.

Religious militancy which is hated by people of Bangladesh was fostered by the BNP government. The 2001 Ramna Batamul bombings, the killing of the judges (Sohel Ahmed and Jagannath Pande), the 2005 series bomb blasts, the serial killings of the secular bloggers, progressive minds and liberal intellectuals and the nefarious activities of Shaykh Abdur Rahman, Bangla Bhai and Mufti Hannan have adduced tangible proofs of existence of the Islamist militants in the secular soil of Bangladesh.  However, they have not sprung up overnight.

They had their first public appearance in the Khaleda-Nizami Alliance Government regime (2001-2006).  In different names and identities, they had caused deadly occurrences ranging from beating up people by hanging from the tree-branches to blowing their brains out by bullets. People were in a state of panic as to when they were to kick the bucket in a sudden blast. In such grave danger, the premier Khaleda Zia declared that Bangladesh was totally free of the Islamist militants. She also claimed that the so-called Bangla Bhai was an imaginary creation of the media. But in fact, the reverse was true. The jails of the country were full of leaders and activists of religious militant organizations like Jam'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), Allahr Dal, and Hijbut Tahrir and Harkat-ul-Jihad (Huji). More than 2,500 members of the outlawed organizations were lodged in the 68 jails across Bangladesh.

Mrs Zia's government, for mysterious reasons, did not exert its authority for curbing militancy. All they did was complete eyewash. The police tried in a vain attempt to hunt for the top notch. Even when the whereabouts of militants' dens and their training performances were reported in the national and international press, the government feigned complacency like an ostrich burying its head in the sand. BNP left no stone unturned to conceal the existence of the growing religious militancy in Bangladesh. Perhaps they had no option but to do it because the militants are the nearest and dearest ones of the fundamentalist wing/ wings of the BNP-Jamaat Allied Government. Though they differ with each other on the outside, their missions are one and the same. To intimidate people into joining hands with them and to succeed in these riskier jobs, they unleashed suicide bombers. The propensity to die while trying to kill others with a bomb is simply monstrous. According to suicide terrorism, it befits only the religious militants

The presence of such a killing frenzy in the society is highly detrimental to the existence of a pluralist society. But it was a harrowing fact that those frenzied activities had once become a routine affair in Bangladesh, and we witnessed the unprecedented 2005 series bomb blasts across the county - in Chittagong on 3 October and Sylhet on 18 October. On November 14, 2005, two senior assistant judges in Jhalakathi fell victims of the attack of the self-confessed suicide bomber Mamun Ali. And quite literally, before the blood stain was removed, on 29 November 2005, more powerful bombs went off in Gazipur and Chittagong court premises leaving eight people dead and seventy-eight others critically injured. The attacks were made by the same JMB suicide bombers and BNP government was a great source of nourishment to them.

The incident of the 10-truck arms and ammunition haul in Chittagong in April 2004 is the largest arms smuggling incident in the history of Bangladesh which has happened during the BNP regime. It was so disgraceful on the part of the government that many of their high-ups have been convicted by the court for their part in it. In addition, a reign of maladministration was let loose and the nation descended into complete anarchy. How can people put their trust in such a party once again? To think BNP fit for statecraft would be suicidal for the country.

If we, once again, see that the anti-liberation forces are strutting in the corridors of power with unabashed interest, sitting on the treasury bench, and flying national flags on their cars, wouldn’t it be a crying shame for the nation that earned its independence at the cost of 3 million lives? In answer to this question, people will, I am sure, say with a sigh: History has a nasty habit of repeating itself. If it really has, shouldn’t we be ashamed of and break it? Knowing it full well that the anti-liberation forces may again thrive under cover of BNP, how can we entrust them with the responsibility of building up a secular nation? It’s just a question of deciding what we really want.

Dr. Rashid Askari is an academic, a bilingual writer, translator and former vice chancellor of Islamic University Bangladesh.

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