Thrashing political opponents
Photographic presentation of the alleged thrashing of high profile politicians of the major political parties at different times between 2002 and the present that appeared on the front page of 'The Daily Star' recently depicted abnormalities of a disturbing proportion.
Comments that were posted on the said photograph read "Pictures of now and then show political culture has not changed a bit. Politicians in opposition always come under ruthless police attacks and leaders in power waste no time to claim that no wrong has been done. Have not politicians learned a lesson yet? Should not the people expect them to wake up and put an end to the criminal practice of thrashing opposition by law enforcers?"
Under circumstances as above it should be relevant to note that our politicians crave for Westminster model of democracy but they have combined the colonial agitational politics with the role of the opposition. This is the mindset of both position and opposition. One cries for maintenance of law and order, protection of national interest while the other fights for the democratic rights of the people in relentless agitation, work stoppages and violence. Therefore, policies, postures, statements and actions of the political parties and ruling regimes have significant role in conflict aggravation and its transition from one phase to another.
There have been instances where governments have been accused of using the police machinery for political ends. There are also instances of individual politicians interfering with the administration and the work of the police. As may be expected in a society in transition, the norms which should govern the relationship between the party in power, the individual politician and the police have still to be developed.
It is worth recalling that in Bangladesh political activities, partly on account of historical factors, have assumed a dominant agitational character. Over the years, since after liberation and more particularly during the anti-autocracy movement in the eighties, leading to the fall of the military dictatorial regime in December 1990, political protests demanded crude physical courage from the field level activists of the political movement. As the dictatorial regime primarily depended on brute power and looked towards non-political quarters for its sustenance, it did not bother about the excessive use of force by the state apparatus. It had no qualms in utilising dangerous goons to intimidate and if necessary liquidate political party workers and leaders. A section of the law enforcement personnel sadly turned out to be a willing partner in such patently illegal acts.
There is no denying that Bangladesh in recent years has experienced the politics of violence, which in practical terms meant resorting to physical violence to promote a political objective. At the same time we have also seen violence of politics built into the institutional structure of politics despite the ideal that liberal democracy abjures violence of politics.
The rule of law, though a civilising factor has often led to violence for purposes of governance without ensuring to check indiscriminate use of power in our polity. We have also not seen any serious policy discussion of the phenomena of violence.
Political violence should call for a political response from the state authorities rather than a police response. The latter may be necessary but not sufficient. In a situation of large scale institutional malfunctioning as is feared in our case, politics acquires an appetite for all spaces, both public and private.
Under circumstances as above, all violence becomes political and our state authority relies largely on the police machinery not only for information gathering pertaining to social conflict and violence but also for the analysis and interpretation of the phenomena of violence in terms of their nature, causes and solutions. As such the colonially derived significance of the police machinery on such a crucial matter and its influence in determining the state response to violence has not been seriously looked into.
It is an unfortunate facet of our political existence that the political class has quite often shifted to the police its burden of providing a response to many socio-political movements which are essentially an expression of people's aspiration for a life of dignity and self-respect. The Kansat tragedy of the not-too-distant past is a glaring case in point.
Terms such as "law and order," "public order," or "security of state" are often used in Bangladesh to deploy state violence with impunity. The police in our situation tend to make indiscriminate use of the provisions of Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code to disperse unlawful assemblies even when demands made by such assemblies are legitimate and lawful. No effective guidelines in law are provided for the use of force to deal with such assemblies except the general specification that minimum force be used. Such use of force often leads to loss of life and liberty.
Unfortunately, the independence in 1971 and democratic struggles thereafter have not resulted in any basic administrative changes in the structure of governance. Under such circumstances, shall one assume that the basic features of our Republican constitution, parliamentary democracy and development administration are in conflict with the inherited political-organisational characteristics of our administrative structure?
We have to address the issue of inaction vis-à-vis political violence that is at the heart of our political system. While security of the state is important, it must not exceed the limits of legitimacy and indulge in unacceptable levels of violence.
We need to examine the real and potential political violence in view of the currently charged situation and determine the policy and response to it in the context of the overall challenge of "humane governance." The institutional mechanisms for policy analysis and action at government level need to be freed from the colonial attributes and restructured to address the challenge. There is, admittedly, a need for far-reaching administrative and police reforms, neglected for too long.