Game plan or disaster planning?
We have had enough of acid rain from pungent political exchanges between two key players in national politics and the gloomy outlook depicted by doomsday sayers. Now is the turn for seeing the positive around the corner, glimpsing a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel.
The prime minister is clearly conciliatory in her approach to the caretaker issue. No one should read it as a sign of weakness, rather see in it a reflection of maturity and realism on the PM's part. This strikes one as a change of heart, by past standards. Sheikh Hasina is playing her cards astutely. Is the opposition leader playing her cards well enough?
It all began with the PM's quip on World Environment Day: she good humouredly, if with a bit of sarcasm, complimented the opposition leader for calling hartal and offering an environment-friendly day. Almost co-incidentally, she spread the olive branch across to the opposition saying she is opposed to any one-sided decision on the fate of CTG, that the door is open and invited with an open arm the opposition to join the parliament with its formula of caretaker reform. The PM should be open to initiating talks outside the parliament as well. She has clearly sued for an understanding with the opposition; she has even hinted at the fateful consequences for the ruling party and the opposition should they refuse to work together on this specific question: anarchy, possibility of a replay on 1/11 and risking hijacking of democracy.
Mark her latest entreaties with the opposition leader on a passionate note: "Yes, you will call for a two-day hartal when CTG-related bill is tabled on the floor of the House and then when it will be passed, you will call for another three-day hartal and subject the people to hardship only."
There is substance in her offer, centred on two openings in the situation that seem too obvious to an open eye: First, the Supreme Court verdict admits of a leeway to retain the caretaker system, albeit with necessary reform to be decided upon by the political parties, for the next two general elections. Second, an across-the-board consensus has already emerged on de-linking judiciary from the CTG system. So, the moot points and the key agenda are already well laid-out, these need to be deliberated and hit a common ground on.
In fact, the 13th Amendment whereby the exceptional interim caretaker arrangement was adopted had itself spoken of a review in time to switch back to trusting a party government at the end of its tenure with the task of holding national elections through an independent and powerful Election Commission.
But there is plenty of time before the next general elections to try and come to a negotiated settlement. This can work both to their advantage as well as disadvantage. For, a long respite may cause a foot-dragging. Lest the large intervening period water down the sense of urgency or foster a tendency to playing football with the issue, the roadmap should be all detailed and blueprinted with a specified timeframe.
It is unfortunate that where the ruling party had been giving out contradictory signals earlier on, now it is the opposition party which is doing this. Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, acting general secretary of BNP, has dubbed the government's intent of doing away with CTG (as per SC verdict) and its inviting the opposition for talks as being mutually contradictory. This is a knee-jerk skin-deep reaction; it deliberately misses out on the two-year scope for retention of the caretaker government on the platter. After the June 5 hartal, BNP gave an impression that it would not call for hartal anytime soon but they seem to be headed for another hartal, dreadfully a longer version, by some available indications.
Apparently, one may be baffled at the continuing intransigence of BNP to come to terms with an issue on which the opposition and the ruling parties should be reading from the same page. Their public positionings notwithstanding, BNP and AL are going through a struggle beneath the surface. Perhaps, BNP's public positioning of going it alone seems to be rooted in the party's belief that with its 32% vote bank it has a capacity of troubling the government despite its 10% seats in parliament. It may also be latching on a hope that AL being a party with a long tradition and a sense of pragmatism would not opt for a one-sided election because that would place legitimacy of the government produced thereby under a question-mark. But if BNP stretches this line too far, it may risk forcing AL's hands into going for an election in spite of a BNP boycott with a loyalist Ershad's Jatiya Party (JP) in the opposition. There have been two previous instances of such an aberration. The nation cannot hunker down to such a huge disappointment.