The tragedy of August 21 | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 21, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:54 PM, August 21, 2017

The tragedy of August 21

Remembering the mayhem of August 21, 2004, we have to agree that the horrendous crimes committed on that day have left an indelible impact on the course and character of constitutional politics in Bangladesh. What should cause grave concern is the deadly contour of our confrontational politics. We may have to admit that extreme actions leading to annihilation of political adversary, though reprehensible, were a sad reality of our society in the not-too-distant past.

To recollect, the grenade assault of August 21, 2004 was clearly a manifest attempt to wipe out the entire leadership of Bangladesh Awami League. The damage that was caused and its far-reaching ramifications cannot be brushed aside. The double-figure deaths and crippling injuries of hundreds should make us wonder if the state organs investigating the incident and the then political authority realised the enormity of the dastardly attack.

We may also recollect that the investigation of the above incident was not taken in the right earnest that it deserved and the first indication of that was the unpardonable failure to protect and preserve the scene of occurrence. There was allegation that physical evidence was tampered with and destroyed. The field units did not act with desired speed and circumspection. The question is, did this happen because of a so-called instruction from above? The culpability of all concerned, high and low, needs to be established.

Violent incidents that include murder of politicians are symptomatic of deep polarisation in society and weak institutions. The quantity and quality of violence characterising Bangladeshi society at all levels today mostly has an irreducibly political context. Overt and visible violence co-exists with invisible violence that destroys the identity of human beings. The visible violence, being situational and physical, can be dealt with through law and order solutions. 

In our parlance, politics did enter a phase in which hired thugs who perpetrated violence were assured of protection from prosecution. Very few felt ashamed as politics acquired a pejorative connotation by the fact of its manifest association with conflict and violence. The civil society was undermined by the stimulation of politics based on division and acrimony.

Cynical observers of our social scene are of the view that there is a functional utility of violence for politicians. Such opinions point an accusing finger towards the suspected state complicity in the perpetration of organised acts of violence and the inordinate delays in securing justice for the victims. This delay is alarming as it sends a clear message to potential criminals that no harm will come to them in the event of repeated performances of criminal activities.

In Bangladesh, we need to seriously acknowledge the significance of authoritative approval or condoning of violence because such action is construed as social approval. The so-called political circumstances have often obstructed accountability of the culpable individuals. There is a good reason to believe that a considerable number of officials abnegated their responsibility to protect all citizens regardless of their identity.

The disturbing reality in Bangladesh is that with the change of political regime, the faces of the criminals and their sources of patronage change. At times the same criminals who had terrorised the community under the patronage of the outgoing ruling party continued their depredations with a renewed mandate from the incumbent ruling party.

Quite often, the disconcerting socio-political reality is that the source of deterioration in crime and order situations originated in the continuing patronage of criminals and bullies by the incumbent ruling party. Practically, what the people see is the end result of a cumulative process of patronised crime, practiced over successive regimes.

The premonition is that if criminals continue to enjoy immunity from law enforcement over successive administrations, then we have a systemic crisis at hand, and a serious one at that. The manifestation of that crisis relates to the allegation of selective law enforcement scenario wherein state functionaries hesitate to enforce the law, on their own.

The suspicion is that the systemic deficiency is located within the political parties and machinery of law enforcement. The desired corrective actions cannot be taken unilaterally by the ruling party, which calls for a bipartisan approach with active involvement of the civil society. Demobilisation of criminal elements by the ruling party demands a reciprocal response from the political opponents. The remedy lies in cleaning our politics through a decriminalisation policy, backed by the de-politicisation of law enforcement as well as the administration.

Muhammad Nurul Huda is a former IGP and a columnist of The Daily Star.

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