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          Volume 11 |Issue 18 | May 04, 2012 |


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Three to Tango

With the Left in disarray and the civil society reluctant, the dream of building an alternative political force remains distant

Ahmede Hussain

Weary of both the major political parties and their acrimonious relationship, the country, on many occasions, has flirted with an alternative political force. The most important in line has been Dr Kamal Hossain's Gono Forum, which was born in 1993 by uniting some factions of the Awami League (AL), the Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) and Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal (JSD).

In fact, the political situation at that time was favourable for a so-called third force to emerge--the fall of the Soviet Union had left Moscow-backed CPB in an ideological quandary, and some AL leaders, following a humiliating defeat in the general elections that took place just two years ago, were disillusioned with its party chief Sheikh Hasina's leadership.

Mujahidul Islam Selim, general secretary (GS) of the CPB, was a member of the central committee of the party when it was split. Majority of the central committee members decided to liquidate the party and Selim and a handful of others opposed the view. "The then President of the party said that he wanted to play in the first division. He thought Gono Forum would compete with the two major players in politics," Selim says.

But the spirit of Gono Forum fizzled out within a few years. Saifuddin Ahmed Manik, the then President of the CPB who abandoned Communism and joined Gono Forum (GF) to build an alternative to the two big bourgeoisie party, died in 2008 without even getting elected to the parliament once. The GF has never won a seat in its 19-year-old existence and since Manik's death the party is alive merely in seminars and press releases.

A private car comes under attack during hartal on April 30. Photo: Palash Khan

"The Gono Forum was born with a dead future," Selim says, "The party's leadership thought that the US was angry with both Hasina and Khaleda and the US would put them (GF) in power." He thinks that a political party needs to consolidate its power from the grassroots and has to have an alternative programme and an alternative class basis.

Selim, who heads the largest Communist party in the country, thinks an alternative Left Democratic force needs to be built to save the country from the clutches of the two big parties. "The left forces need to develop self-confidence and start to believe in the power of the people," he says.

Workers Party of Bangladesh (WPB), the JSD and other left parties that Selim has alluded to are in an alliance with the Awami League, one of the two bourgeoisie parties Selim wants to fight. These groups have never tasted power save for 2008, when, riding an electoral landslide in the AL's favour, some of their leaders have been elected MPs. While the CPB has been successful in distancing itself from the AL and its policies, the WPB and JSD have remained integral to the ruling Mohajote, and chances are also slim that they will break free of the AL to build a left democratic alliance.

An AL leader who did break away from the party to build a third force is Abdul Kader Siddiqui, fondly called Bangabir by his followers for his valour during the country's liberation war. In the last two general elections, his Krishak Sramik Janata League won only one seat. History, however, has failed to dampen Siddiqui's spirit. "The third force will come into shape when the time is right. All political parties aren't on the same page," he says.

Former Adviser of the Caretaker Government (CTG) Dr Akbar Ali Khan thinks we are gradually heading towards decadence. "Two-party system is a reality in many countries. But people in our country want change and even in the US, people are now talking about the emergence of a third force," he says.

Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman, economist and a former adviser of the CTG echoes Dr Khan's view that a crisis looms large in our political horizon. He says, "In the first few phases of our development we had the people's entrepreneurship that kept the clog of the country's economy moving. At that time we had only one goal in mind--warding off famine. Now that we want to become a middle-income country, entrepreneurial skill alone is not enough, we need something extra and certain limitations in our politics are acting as stumbling blocks."

He says that even though politicians talked about bringing about a change in the politics after the changeover of 1/11/2008, intolerance and sycophancy have taken a firm hold in the society. "Good governance has also been sent into exile," he says.

Dr Rahman thinks civil society in the country is not as active as it should be. "The societal forces need to correct their political counterparts. We very easily blame the politicians, but we tend to forget that the societal forces in the country are immersed in a sycophant culture, they can easily be bought off," he says.

Civil society leaders believe that a donor-client relationship exists in the society, which forces people to remain dependent on their leaders. Dr Badiul Alam Majumdar, Secretary of Citizens for Good Governance, says, "We have an election-only democracy where the slaves decide their masters. This is a serious structural problem. If you go to a police station to lodge a complaint it won't be accepted until the officer receives a call from someone high up in the authority."

Dr Majumdar believes people have never become true citizens. "We have remained subjects, not citizens" he says. Dr Akbar Ali Khan cannot but agree: "The country's general people are as bad as its politicians. If resistance does not come from the grassroots, the decadence will continue," he says.

Even though the country has progressed economically, remnants of feudalism are a huge presence in people's collective consciousness. "We have created some symbols of feudalism that are refusing to leave our society," Dr Majumdar says.

Neither of the civil society leaders, however, talks about building an alternative political force. "A split among the ruling class might give birth to a third force, but that too will become a third master. There is no magic bullet," says Dr Majumdar, who also thinks the nation is facing a situation similar to Bruce Lee's in the film 'Enter the Dragon' where Lee could not slay the enemies until he broke their symbols.

Mujahidul Islam Selim remains hopeful though. "The Left needs to be united to play its historic role in the country's politics. It is like 1954 when a Haq-Bhasani-Suhrawardy coalition changed the country's political landscape."



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