Democracy the best defence
THE beauty of ballot is there's always another day for the loser, or a quitter as in the case of Aam Admi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal. Earlier, he had resigned from the post of chief minister of New Delhi as a matter of principle. But his appeal as a potential messiah of common man held its ground. In fact, it only grew with time as he had to resign when his anti-corruption bill failed to pass; after all he was heading a coalition government. This time around, people of Delhi returned him with 63 out of 70 seats in the city state's Assembly at the heartland of India, giving him a real second chance.
Now what does the outcome say? It is all about check and balance to BJP hegemony and arrogance of power, potential or real. In other words, BJP may have had a reality check. But in democratic niceties Modi is unfailing; he has assured all cooperation to the new CM -designate.
Arvind has promised complete transparency in administration, governance and service deliveries. Where he succeeds and where he fails and why, would be in public domain. What is quite interesting is that some of the unsuccessful candidates in the Delhi election said in a huff that they would return to Oxford or Cambridge; thus shamefully emphasising they have nothing to do with a non-elitist Aam Admi government!
Any message for Bangladesh? Yes, Arvind has vowed to pare down VIP culture which many in our country have become addicted to like butterflies to pollen.
By a strange coincidence with Arvind's dramatic reincarnation, a French-Italian HSBC employee blew the whistle of tax evasions by 25 Indian business magnates to the tune of around 25,000 crore Indian Rupees. Maybe it is the tip of the iceberg. Bangladeshi tycoons could not be far behind. Nationals of Bangladesh origin figure among those suspected of money laundering between 1985 and 2006 preliminarily estimated at around $13 million. Further investigations are going on courtesy of French authorities.
Now warmed up, shall we turn to Khas politics? Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia have been called 'battling Begums' by the western media, The Economist in particular. The word 'Begum' derives from Urdu word 'Begam' -- 'Be' meaning 'without' and 'gam' translates into 'sorrow.' Therefore, the word Begum refers to a person without sorrow. But it is sad that they have been battling. And doing so incrementally with the updating of their respective narratives with newer frills.
They are not only battling, rather they're engaged in a knockout encounter vowing to fight-to-finish to the discomfiture of national and international audiences and to the peril of the country's huge economic prospects. Countries aware of Bangladesh's geo-political importance and its huge economic potential have a natural stake in our prosperity as a free, liberal and democratic state.
Intelligentsia in the country, no matter who they vote for, and the international community are steadfast in their belief that something needs to be done on a double-quick basis to roll back 'the cycle of violence' to normality. There has been a barrage of concerns voiced over the goings-on in the country undistracted by, or perhaps because of, other trouble zones with rumblings of menacing illiberalism.
The prime minister says she will not bow down to any pressure, internal or external, for a mid-term poll, that too under a caretaker government on which the BNP is insistent. Both BNP and Al remind one of the famous quote: "Ireland has only one plan: Plan-A. If Plan-A fails, then follow Plan-A."
But remember Sinn Fien and the British government had been at one level fiercely combative with their use of force but the government did not flinch from conducting private negotiations with representatives of Jerry Adams or McGuinness. The second 'private' track practically delivered the Good Friday Accord.
The PM has spurned a barely embryonic civic initiative to bring AL and BNP under the canopy of presidential good offices to strike a deal for peace. Her colleagues have linked some of the civil society leaders to 1/11 military-backed caretaker government of 2007-08. Whatever the fault of such a government having overstayed constitutional mandate and people's hospitality, let alone spawning corruption in the name of fighting it, AL emerged victorious in the end.
That hits the nail on the head. The Tuesday Club comprising diplomats of the USA and European Union carried out hectic shuttle diplomacy between the then opposition AL and ruling BNP camps to bring them to a sensible political settlement. At one stage, the UN was purportedly involved in using its influence to persuade the army to play a supportive role under a technocratic government headed by Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed to deliver the crucial election. So, international pressure worked in those extraordinary circumstances.
This is not to in any way court external pressures but to simply stress the point that when national capacity fails to cope with a runaway political crisis, we per force take recourse to good, effective counsel from friendly quarters.
Going by an opinion piece in The Statesman, "... Begum Khaleda Zia's party, with overt support of the Islamist militant, is engaged in a decidedly political movement against Begum Hasina's government by default." "But it is hard not to wonder over the agenda. … when she chews over the anti-terror law and possible death penalty, Hasina somehow overlooks the critical distinction between a political movement and Islamist terrorism of the Pakistan variety."
The write-up ends on a startling note: "Whether or not the Begums achieve their objectives, they have between them brought Bangladesh under the international scanner … almost a failed country in the perception of the world."
The international community's approach is however equivocal: It says violence, burning and manslaughter should be immediately stopped, primarily the finger being pointed at BNP. At the same time, it calls upon the ruling party to give space to dissent. Of course, they do not want to be meddlesome, yet moral persuasion could be tried by quarters acceptable to both sides. Root for the fact which is that the severely punished people of the country want an immediate halt to transport blockade and strikes so that they can exercise their right to life.
The AL is heavily dependent on the administration and police, which does not bode well for its political authority. This coupled with a BNP morphing into greater belligerency almost surrogating Jamaat leaves you wondering if you are looking at a militant resurgence by default.
Only a viable inclusive democracy can fend that danger off.
The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.
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