IT’S TIME TO THINK ABOUT EFFECTS OF BLOCKADE, HARTAL, ARSON
Syed Badrul Ahsan
It is time for all citizens, across the spectrum and in spite of their political beliefs, to sit back and mull the consequences of the crisis engendered by the blockade and hartal programmes of the BNP and its alliance partners. The ramifications have, of course, been there. Scores of people have died in the violence and hundreds of others are writhing in agony, with many of them likely maimed for life. None of this worries the political elements presiding over the mayhem set into motion more than a month ago.
Major (retired) Hafizuddin, who only days ago dismissed the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examinations as being of lesser importance than his party’s agitation, has now informed the country that the government must resign, pave the way for fresh elections under caretaker arrangements and only then will the BNP-led alliance call an end to its agitation.
Perhaps the former major, who is a distinguished former soccer player and a reputed freedom fighter, would do well to consider the statements coming out of Washington and Delhi on the on-going crisis in Dhaka? His party has been asking for, and hoping, that foreign governments will intercede on its behalf and put pressure on the government here for new and supervised elections. Well, the governments of the United States and India have interceded, on behalf of democracy.
The Indians have made it clear that they are behind Sheikh Hasina in this increasingly bitter conflict between a party which is in power under constitutional provisions and a party which, having boycotted the election last year, now wishes to bring an elected dispensation down through unmitigated violence.
And then there is the American intercession. A State Department spokesperson has given out the clear message that the US does not accept the ‘unconscionable fire bombings’ which have been playing havoc with lives here. If that is not enough to convince the forces of politically destructive ambition that their politics has sadly mutated into acts less honourable and more despicable, there is that other part of the American statement: ‘We condemn in the strongest terms the use of violence for political objectives . . . there could be no justification for such violence.’
Perhaps the BNP and its friends will have reason to reflect on such intercessions by two important foreign governments? Then again, given the stubbornness which has underpinned the agitation, they might not. Major (Retired) Hafizuddin wants, as do others in his party, the government to resign. And that clamour for resignation has now been joined by Bikalpa Dhara President Badruddoza Chowdhury.
That begs the question: why must the government resign? The question leads to another and a pretty hypothetical query: if the government, holding office under the constitution, decides to resign, on what moral and legal grounds will it resign? And if and when it does resign, into whose hands does it transfer power?
The provision for a caretaker government does not any more exist in the constitution. Indeed, while one may be justified in suggesting that democratic pluralism is yet in a tenuous state in Bangladesh, the argument that a caretaker or interim arrangement must again come in, must again infuse an element of non-democratic intervention in national politics between the departure of an elected government and the arrival of another, is flawed. And it is flawed because the caretaker system has had its day; the system has not left democracy standing on strong ground.
The debate today, therefore, ought not to be on a return of a new set of caretakers. It must be on a strengthening of the Election Commission, in a way that will earn it the confidence of politicians and the people of the country in its ability to deliver the goods. And the matter of the Election Commission is one which both the ruling party and the opposition can discuss in the larger national interest. Constitutionalism and pluralism must not again give space to non-democratic institutions, however tentative the duration of such institutions might be.
But all of these thoughts must be preceded by a renunciation of violence, by a public, formal end to the agitation which has been taking a toll on the economy, on education, on citizens’ movement, indeed on global perceptions of politics in this country. No legally established government negotiates under duress. There have been no instances of any appeasement of such violent organizations as al-Qaeda, Taliban, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Boko Haram and Islamic State.
The impediment to civil conversation, in all these instances, has been violence as part of the strategy of these outfits. In Bangladesh today, the blockades and hartals have unleashed violence which threatens to corrode popular confidence in democracy. That is a dangerous thing to happen, for when politicians squabble over power for years on end, uncertainty looms over the future of liberalism. Politics then dwindles to the macabre, to things of ignoble note. No government compromises with the macabre.
The priorities today are therefore obvious, without ambiguity.
In the first place, the government must assert its moral and administrative authority to ensure the security of life and property of citizens, to make certain that in the drive to contain and roll back terrorism no innocent citizens are subjected to harassment of any kind. Those in power and those serving the state as its servants on their watch must demonstrate results in the task of restoring normality. Verbosity is not an option. Performance is of the essence.
In the second, the political parties behind the blockades and hartals and attendant violence must step back, take a full and unqualified view of the destruction wrought so far, must empathise with those whose lives have come to an end or have been destroyed for life and go for some serious soul-searching. The lesson that democracy is not ensured by agitation which advocates the less than constitutional must be imbibed, in full measure, before these parties can expect to be taken seriously in matters of political interaction with those they seek to bring down. That is all. For now.
FEBRUARY 09, 2015