The shadows of uncertainty
What Professor Harold Laski wrote about a none too distant era seems to squarely fit our time. This is an epoch in which uncertainty seems to be the only certitude. This is as true of the world as of our region and country. Things are moving in bewildering restlessness. The impact of events is destabilising the entire country and regions. The west has been fighting its own new war against fundamentalist terrorism spearheaded by non-state extremist groups and organisations such as al-Qaeda and Taliban, who know no frontiers. A war like this one against an ever-elusive enemy is rare in the history of the world. It has been described by many scholars in the West as expression of “the Clash of Civilizations.” Others, fewer in number, disagree and find in the present confrontation between the West and some extremist sections of Muslims as features of a temporary phenomenon. They say like ever optimistic analysts, “this too shall pass.”
Notwithstanding their hopeful outlook the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan do not seem to be ending in favour of the West and their Western educated Muslim allies. Uncertainty and instability still haunt both Iraq and Afghanistan despite the fact that these countries are having apparently democratic elections amidst virtual warlike situations. In Iraq, relentless clashes between majority 'Shias' and minority 'Sunnis' Muslims are assuming the form of a civil war. This does not bode well for a country where deep divides trisect the people: Shias, Sunnis and Kurds. On the other hand in Afghanistan, despite some progress of liberalism and elective democracy, the orthodox and backward looking Talibans seem to be haunting the country like a spectre. Moreover, extremist and violent Talibanism has spread into neighbouring Pakistan, which also is predominantly Muslim. There, the Taliban threat to civil political stability and law and order has constrained the elected government of the country to attempt a dialogue with the extremists. Despite strong and consistent military campaigns by Pakistani authority and attacks by US drones to contain the Talibans, the situation does not appear to improve.
Add to this the possible uncertainty and destabilisation that may issue after the publication of results of the ongoing Indian elections. Some 810 million voters of the virtual sub-continental sized country are in the process of electing their future government. The process that started in March is still continuing in its usual staggered manner. This is quite natural and expected in a country containing people of many ethnicities, languages and religions. The results will not be declared until May 16.
Although contradictory speculations are rife nobody is sure as to which of the two main and apparently contradictory streams will dominate. On one side is the Congress-led avowedly liberal, secular and progressive coalition. On the other is the evidently communal BJP led by Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat known for his capitalist success in the so-called 'Gujarat model' and for his notorious role in the 2002 Gujarat communal riots in which more than a thousand Muslims were killed. He is riding high on the surging wave of Hindutva.
This idea that India is a Hindu land, not predominately but entirely a Hindu land, is not new in the history of BJP's philosophy of politics. What Modi, a former RSS activist, has done is add a new militant dimension to it. He has trained his guns on the Muslims, especially those whom he alleges to have infiltrated illegally from Bangladesh. He promised in assertive tone in his pre-election addressees in Assam and West Bengal that on coming to power he would take steps to push Muslim Bangladeshis back into Bangladesh. Such dreadful threats are things that Bangladesh with its present uncertainty and basket-full of politico-economics problems can ill-afford.
Politics and economy in Bangladesh have been dominated by an uneasy calm since the controversial parliamentary elections of January 5. The subsequent local government (upazila) elections held between February and end of March seemed to go well till the 3rd round. The last two rounds were, however, vitiated by the alleged use of state machinery and ruling party musclemen to produce results highly favourable to the party in power. Thus it dashed the hope of re-building mutual political confidence between the feuding ruling and opposition parties. Following this, the law and order situation registered a deterioration which obtained high profile.
Abductions, killings and disappearance of hundreds of people a year featured in Bangladesh for a decade or more. What is new, however, is the prominence -- even if local or regional -- of the victims and the apparent inaction or failure of the concerned administrative and coercive machinery of the state. The recent abduction and murder of seven persons in Narayanganj are a fresh illustration of this phenomenon. Allegations against members of the security forces, especially some members of the elite Rab, have further worsened the confusing situation. People's confidence in the political government, the administration and the law and order organisation of the state seems to have been badly shaken.
The fear that stalks the entire country has made the economic situation more discouraging. It was hoped that the staging of a successful, if not credible, national election would encourage the damaged economy to pick up normal speed. The three months prior to the polls were marked by strikes, blockades and violent incidents resulting from clashes between the government and the opposition partiers on the issue of poll-time government. The elections were held as scheduled by the ruling party despite boycott and resistance by the opposition. But lack of participation made the elections hollow and less than credible.
The nation suffered greatly, not only politically but also economically. It is estimated that the national loss on account of pre-polls political turmoil was more than Tk. 1 lac crore. As already noted, the post-polls times are not free of uncertainty and fear, both political and social. The result is the continuing doldrums in investment in particular and economy in general.
Idle funds with banks and financial institutions have risen from Tk. 84 thousand crores to Tk. 100 thousand crores within months!
Now, the internal uncertainties are seemingly being compounded by regional ones. India, an avowed friend of Bangladesh, especially of the current government and the ruling party, is itself on the portals of a change of guards. Nobody knows what will happen, who will ascend the throne of Delhi. If the present speculations are proved correct. BJP's hero Narendra Modi may secure something of a plurality. Nevertheless, it may not be enough to form a government without coalition.
If, as forecast, the regional parties of Jayalalitha, Shushma and Mamata show strong regional strength, they may not be willing to join the Modi bandwagon. In that case, a kind of stable continuity may be expected in our neighbour. The ruling party, challenged as it is by many and varied domestic problems, will at least have less worries regarding happenings in the neighbourhood. There is no question, however, that whether he wins or loses the battle for the throne of Delhi, Modi will remain a big factor, and a worrisome one for both secular India and non-communal Bangladesh.
The author, founder Chairman of Centre for Development Research, Bangladesh (CDRB) and Editor quarterly “Asian Affairs” was a former teacher of political science of Dhaka University and former member of the erstwhile Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP) and former non-partisan technocrat cabinet minister of Bangladesh.