Bangladesh’s faltering democracy and its feuding politicians

Bangladesh’s curse – its feuding politicians

A tiresome political stand-off stares Bangladesh in its face again. As ever, its two major political parties –the Awami Party and the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) — appear set to drag the country to the edge of a ruinous confrontation.
For the up-coming national elections in January, 2014, Seikh Hasina has agreed to form an all-party government. BNP opposes the idea and threatens another bout of highly disruptive street agitations. This has left the all-party government as an Awami Party government, thus defeating Sikh Hasina’s initiative before it was tried.
Such obstructionist attitude of BNP is very much due to what its adversary, the Awami Party did in 2011. Then the Seikh Hasina government abolished the care-taker model through an amendment to the Constitution. This system had been in force from 1990. Its objective was to give the country a non-partisan government during election periods to preempt allegations of misuse of government machinery. The reason for such an amendment had looked justified then.
A group of technocrats, who had been given the reins of the government for a brief period of three months in 2006, hung on for two long years. The military had backed this team of technocrats in overstaying their welcome.
When the amendment to abolish the provision for care-taker government on the election eve was being debated in the parliament, BNP had opposed it seeing some sinister motive of the Awami Party in bringing it for adoption. BNP had boycotted the voting.
Since then, the political landscape of Bangladesh has been punctuated by much chauvinistic posturing by both parties. It has resulted in the schism in the country’s polity getting wider and wider. The trial of the people, who were complicit with the Pakistani forces in the stifling of Bangladesh’s struggle for independence, inflamed passions giving rise to endless violent protests.
The blame lies equally with the two leading ladies of Bangladesh politics. If Begum Khalida Zia can be blamed for unnecessary intransigence, Seikh Hasina can be accused of being to unyielding in ceding any political space for her rival.
Last year’s ban on Jammat-e-Islami, an ally of BNP, sullied the democratic image of Sikh Hasina. The fact that BNP’s sweeping gains in the Municipal elections did nothing to stop Seikh Hasina in her autocratic tracks.
Now, the time has come for burying the hatchet and usher in a process of reconciliation and accommodation. This is the need of the hour. BNP’s threatened call for an election boycott will be a regressive step, that will hurt the nation badly. With BNP out of the fray, an Awami League victory will look lacking in sanctity. The nation will see start of another round of acrimonious debate and utterly destructive confrontation.
It is in the interests of the neighbours to see a stable Bangladesh. To this end, India is trying, in a subtle manner, to coax the two parties to eschew rabid antagonism. India must play its cards well, otherwise, given Awami government’s pro-India tilt, any well-meaning move by Delhi to bring BNP on board might backfire.
In the past, BNP has mischievously used the non-conclusion of any land border or Teesta water sharing treaty with India as a result of the Awami government tilting too much backward to please India. The real reasons, rooted in the domestic politics of India, are conveniently ignored by BNP. India must be able to dispel such doubts in the minds of Bangladeshis.
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