Political pandemonium isn't something new in Bangladesh. Yet it is astounding to see the arrogance of the incumbents and also, to some extent, of the opposition. Political decisions are more inclined towards the personal disposition of the two top leaders. Everything and everyone revolves around them.
Political actions don't follow logic or political propriety; rather they are rooted in the personal perceptions of the supremos. Advice and suggestions, and even earnest appeals by intelligentsia and the civil society have been a pouring in for the mitigation of the present crisis, but in vain.
The reason for the stalemate is the stubborn position the ruling party has held about election-time government. They amended the constitution with the provision of retaining the existing parliament and not dissolving it until the election is over. This system does not exist anywhere else in the world. There was nothing mentioned in their election manifesto about such constitutional amendment. Scrapping of election-time caretaker government violates a fundamental ground of democratic fairness.
Many would like to know why AL is adamant not to yield to a more or less rational political demand. A study of AL's psyche is needed to understand their hostile political demeanour and game plan that arouses suspicion that they are trying to manipulate the outcome of the forthcoming election in their favour. This is quite startling, coming from a party that has championed democracy and giving power to the people for many decades.
Demonstration of irrational arrogance may also mean tension and worry underneath. This is the case with AL and that worry has resulted in a desperate yet somewhat cleverly drawn course of action. The solution lies in the removal of that worry before it's too late.
To understand the AL's psyche one needs to recognise their constant concerns. Firstly, the AL top brass and hardcore AL men share the trauma Bangabandhu's family underwent in 1975. They also share the feeling of insecurity of the remaining members of the family ever since. State nurturing of the self-confessed killers of the nation's founding father solidified the larger conspiracy theory ingrained in their mind.
The two attempts on Sheikh Hasina's life, one in Kotalipara and the other being the deadly grenade attack right in front of their Dhaka central office, where she narrowly survived, generated shockwaves in AL, reminding them of the design to eliminate all the members of the Mujib family.
The then BNP government's failure to take credible action to unearth the conspiracy of the 2004 grenade attack, and the made up Joj Miah story by the investigators, aroused AL's suspicion about BNP's intent or involvement in this. Trivialisation of this deadly attempt on their highly revered leader's life by some BNP leaders and ministers, who called it a drama staged by the AL, generated deep and lasting anger in the surviving members of Mujib family and party members.
Again, not enough state security, considering the level of threat they live under, was provided to Sheikh Hasina or her sister by the succeeding government. Rather, Sheikh Rehana's house was taken away. Neither was Sheikh Hasina allotted a secured house after she left the Ganabhaban, whereas the leader of BNP held on to her secured house in the Cantonment.
It's true that the house bears memory of the late president and BNP's founder Ziaur Rahman, and is of great value to the Zia family and BNP men. The later demolition of the house was indeed very harsh. Turning it into a museum in remembrance of the late sector and Z Force commander would rather have been a right step. But that's how our two leaders are. They are masters of perpetuating the cycle of vengeance; not in drawing an end to it.
The AL has other grave concerns that have compelled it to choose the present course of desperation. Although AL received people's mandate to try the war criminals, their average performance in governance and development may have minimised their chance of reelection. Harsh treatment of BNP leadership in this entire tenure of AL rule, including forcing the elder son of the BNP leader to remain out of the country throughout, angered BNP.
AL fears the repercussion if the BNP alliance returns to power, which seems likely in the current situation. It appears that the current AL perception of being in power perpetually will only be able to give them some assurance. Are they planning to do it at the cost of democracy itself? They might very well, going by the political developments and less highlighted actions like deliberate cooption of state organs along their party lines. They are perhaps also counting on the organisational weakness of BNP.
Their anti-terror actions and commitments might have satisfied the crucially important west keeping in mind the incident of ten truckloads of weapon consignment in the tenure of last BNP government, and the erstwhile BNP government's denial of the presence of terror elements in Bangladesh.
Only one thing might be able to rescue us from this gridlock; which is explicit public declaration by BNP of no vengeance of any form against the AL if they (BNP) come to power again, and if AL ensures a fair election with the participation of both the major parties. Unless AL's fear of retaliation by BNP is taken out of the equation, there is unlikely to be any headway given the current stalemate. The BNP did talk about a new kind of politics indicating something along this line, but it lacked commitment and clarity. An unreserved public announcement, perhaps through mediation or involvement of a powerful western diplomat or mediator, may do the magic, and give the nation relief this time at least.
No one in Bangladesh wants discontinuity of democracy and more widespread unrest. In a political crisis it is generally the government which is expected to take the initiative to resolve it. But in these unparalleled circumstances of ours it appears that the opposition also has the key to the door that might take us forward towards hope and stability.
The writer is an Associate Research Fellow in Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS).