Millennium Post

Politics on a collision course

Politics on a collision course
The other is former PM Begum Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led 18-party alliance, which includes two rabidly communal parties – the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeL) and Hifazat-e-Islam (HeI).

The BNP alliance is bent on having the general elections held under a caretaker government. Sheikh Hasina who had earlier resisted the demand for resigning before the elections to facilitate the installation of a caretaker government had to relent and agree to forming an all-party government to accommodate partly the BNP demand. But the BNP has made its intentions clear: either install a caretaker government or they will prevent the holding of elections at all cost.

 Life in Bangladesh has practically been paralysed since late October as the BNP-led Alliance (BNPA) has been calling countrywide hartals (general strikes) for long hours. The first one was from 27 October to 29 October, the second from 4 November to to 6 November, and the third from 10 November to 12 November. During the hartals, armed bands of the JeL and its students’ wing, the Islamic Chhatra Shibir (ICS) attacked the police, the Awami League leaders and workers and those in the Awami  League-led Alliance (ALA). Many people have been killed – policemen and activists of the ALA. Bangladesh newspapers are also reporting the systematic targeting of minority Hindus, with ‘miscreants’ setting fire to their houses and looting their property.

On the eve of the first hartal, Prime Minister Hasina had a 37-minute telephonic talk with Begum Khaleda, the full transcript of which is now in public domain. Hasina was repeatedly requesting her to withdraw the hartal call and have a discussion to resolve the political impasse. Khaleda was saying it was too late in the day and that Hasina should have called her earlier. Hasina explained she had tried to contact the Opposition leader but failed. The conversation turned bitter with each side holding the other responsible for the situation. The talks failed.

The hartals are crippling the fragile economy of Bangladesh. Each day of hartal causes a loss of Rs. 1,500 crore. Small entrepreneurs suffer a loss of Rs. 600 croere. The ready-made garments industry, one of the principal export-earners of the country is now on the verge of collapse. The business community of Bangladesh has been putting pressure on both sides for a political solution of the crisis.

There is also rising international concern that Bangladesh is fast turning into a veritable tinderbox on the eve of the general elections slated for January. Foreign investors are also unwilling to invest in Bangladesh in the present situation. The Bangladesh Federation of Chambers and Commerce of Industries has appealed to both sides to restore the climate for trade and commerce.

 India is watching the developing situation with increasing concern. India fears that a further escalation of political violence and the ominous rise of fundamentalist forces in Bangladesh will have serious repercussions on the security of India and South Asia.

The Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka, Pankaj Saran, has confirmed to the media that India was consulting other countries including the USA, ‘which have interest in the peace and stability in Bangladesh’ about the prevailing political situation in the country. Late last month, US ambassador to Bangladesh, Dan Mozena, came to New Delhi to discuss the Bangladesh situation with senior officials of the MEA, ostensibly to explore possibilities of evolving a common approach on Bangladesh. The US Congress’ Foreign Affairs Sub-committee on Asia and the Pacific will hold a hearing on November 20 on the prevailing turmoil in Bangladesh over the coming elections. The hearing is titled, Bangladesh in Turmoil: A Nation on the Brink? US representative Steve Chabot, chairman of the sub-committee, who had visited Bangladesh earlier this month, will share the experience he had during the visit with the members of the sub-committee.

Begum Khaleda has announced that the BNPA will not allow elections to be held except under a neutral, non-party government. She has threatened to impose ‘people’s curfew` if necessary to prevent the polls being held. Meanwhile, on 11 November, in an unexpected turn of events, all members of the Bangladesh Cabinet resigned for ‘facilitating the formation of an all-party government.’ But they did not request prime minister Hasina to forward their letters to the President, who alone can accept a minister’s resignation. They also said they would continue to function as ministers until their resignations were formally accepted.

This has given rise to an acrimonious debate. Some experts say that according to Art. 58(A) of the Bangladesh Constitution, ‘As soon as a minister submits his resignation to the prime minister for forwarding it to the President, the minister’s office will be deemed as vacated.’ Therefore, they insist, the resigning ministers can no longer function as ministers. The Opposition has called it a low drama, intended to deceive the people. The situation is fraught with violence.

There is a question mark whether elections can at all he held on schedule and if held which side will emerge winners and what will be the impact of the poll result on Bangladesh and her neighbours.

IPA
Barun Das Gupta

Barun Das Gupta

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