SHEIKH Hasina has drawn it all -- seething criticism and attention shrouded in wraps of controversy which though are wholly in her hand to shed off. Seldom has one person held in herself the power to shape the future of the country as she does.
Although presently it is not exactly a ton of bricks coming down on her but she is being seen through a critical lens. On January 14, the EU parliament in six separate resolutions signed up to by six groups comprising 62 members representing 10 important countries voiced no-confidence in the January 5 election in Bangladesh. They urged both major parties to move towards transparent, participative and credible election through dialogue envisaging mutually agreeable formulation of poll time government.
Almost simultaneously, we have seen three US Senate foreign relations committee hearings on “Prospects for Democratic Reconciliation and Workers' Rights in Bangladesh.”
Nisha Desai Biswal, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, berated the government for holding a deeply flawed election and voiced concern over continuing extrajudicial killings and disappearances. She also hinted at curtailment of aid that benefits Bangladeshi politicians, redirecting the resource to address workers' rights and other concerns.
There were four common denominators between two sets of deliberations at the apex of the western hemisphere: Call for a space to dissenting views, use of the space responsibly, denunciation of violence as a political tool and its use against minority communities, and the focus on workers rights and safety in the sequel to Tazreen and Rana Plaza factory disasters.
As for workers' rights, the bottom line is spelt out in a Times report saying that Bangladesh is morphing into an era of labour reform.
Yet there is a significant difference in one vital respect between EU and US Senate committee positions. The EU parliament laid emphasis on prohibition of fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islam as a political party and BNP's cutting of links with JI. The US has not spelt out its position on Jamaat but in matters of war crimes trial the EU takes a softer line than the USA, but both have been identically opposed to capital punishment and insistent on trials according to 'international standards.' The 'standardisation' is more notional than based on objective analysis of various war crimes trial.
The world's spotlight is on Sheikh Hasina in a more intense sense than ever before. She has hit the road running as though in the eye of a storm stalking her. The new-found status quo is blissfully free of threats and ultimatums translating into forced blockades and hartals that the people have had enough of to be hating from the core of their heart. The people picking up their lives thrown into disarray have no intention of stomaching 'sacrifice' to put one or the other party in power. They have slapped a message home to incorrigible politicians that power should be obtained only through ballot, not through any form of coercion.
Sheikh Hasina has got an opportunity to serve the people by carefully avoiding controversies and pitfalls that marked much of her previous tenure. Both in content and style governance has to change, underpinned by an agenda to win the hearts of minds of the people. As long as people are fed, earn their living, have security of life and property, minimum healthcare, power supply, educational institutions running, do not have to grease palms to get any service, they will be the sentinels against violent politics. The days of spontaneous popular movement against a constitutional government, be it only technically contrived, are practically over. Only if the AL government commits blunder that the erstwhile opposition can cash in on.
A cause that gels people into a groundswell of energy cannot be simply drummed up by a bad intent or means employed by any vested quarters. Just as people don't shed blood driven by an imposed motive to topple a government and seat somebody in power, they are (particularly the young generation) wary also of dividing the nation into pro and anti-liberation camps, a polarisation that does not fit in with a digital era of all round fast-track development.
No pun intended, just stating a possibility for Sheikh Hasina to bounce back -- she may imagine herself as a potential candidate for Forbes magazine's placing as one of the 10 or 100 most powerful or influential women in the world should she pull off success culminating in a fresh participative, literally midterm, election through a healthy sustainable bipartisan consensus.
The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.