Bangladesh Politics ‘Minus Two’ Phase Two
Immediately after imposition of Emergency, in January 2007, the Caretaker Administration in Bangladesh was accused of attempting to keep the two prima donnas of Bangla politics, Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina out of the country. Hasina who was then in the USA and UK was stopped from boarding a return flight in London, while Khaleda was to go to Saudi Arabia. Thus the term, 'minus two' was coined in Bangla politics.
The efforts of the Administration then failed primarily due to international pressures including Saudi Arabia which claimed it did not want a reluctant Khaleda on its soil, burdened as it was with the presence of another powerful South Asian exile, Nawaz Sharif then. The overwhelming welcome accorded to Sheikh Hasina by her party men on return to the country indicated that the policy was not popular.
Minus Two is again coming into the political lexicon of Bangladesh ironically with the Caretaker Administration commencing dialogue with the political parties. The process commenced with the chief adviser, Fakhruddin Ahmed, lifting restrictions on 'indoor' politics across the country on 12 May, holding elections to the 9th Jatiya Sangsad in the 3rd week of December and beginning dialogue with the political parties from May 22.
The dialogue between the administration and political parties was primarily for examining options for review of the constitution to bring about qualitative changes in 'governance and politics'. The government invited 19 political parties to the dialogues. This included Awami League, Jatiya Party, Jamaat-e-Islami, Liberal Democratic Party, Unity for Political Reforms, Bangladesh Nationalist Party [mainstream], Islami Shasantantra Andolan, Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal, Khelafat Andolan, Khelafat Majlish, BNP's splinter group, Workers Party of Bangladesh, Communist Party of Bangladesh, Gana Forum, Samyabadi Dal, Bikalpadhara Bangladesh and Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Janata League. 'Matters related to review of the constitutional provisions ' for possible adoption by the parliament ' have been discussed at the meeting', commerce adviser Hossain Zillur Rahman told a joint press briefing after the first meeting in the series with Workers Party of Bangladesh. Earlier the army headquarters on 6 May had announced that it had no intention or desire whatsoever to participate in the planned dialogue between the caretaker government and political parties.
In the light of her continued detention, BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia conferred authority on the party secretary general, Khandaker Delwar Hossain, to take final decisions on party matters, 'The BNP is now running under the leadership of Khandaker Delwar Hossain and all issues of the party, including its unity, will be subject to his decision,' Shamsur Rahman Shimul Biswas, one of her attorneys, quoting Khaleda.
The atmosphere for dialogues was however vitiated with a series of measures which seemed to be taken with the purpose of denying participation to Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda. This was obvious with the trial of the detained former prime minister Sheikh Hasina and seven others in the barge-mounted power plant case beginning on 21 May. The Anti-Corruption Commission also approved submission of the charge sheet against the detained former prime minister Khaleda Zia, eight of her cabinet colleagues, including Saifur Rahman and Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, her youngest son Arafat Rahman and 14 others in the GATCO scam case on 8 May.
'The commission approved the submission of the charge sheet pressing charges against the 24 for the award of a contract to an incompetent and unfit firm, Global Agro Trade Company, to handle containers at the Inland Container Depot in Dhaka and at Chittagong port allegedly for bribe incurring a loss of more than Tk 14.56 Crore to the state exchequer,' the commission's spokesman Hanif Iqbal said at a briefing. In another related development on 18 May night former industries minister and chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, Matiur Rahman Nizami was arrested at his Bara Maghbazar apartment. Metropolitan sessions judge Azizul Haque on May 15 ordered his arrest as an accused in the GATCO graft case.
A B M S Zahur a former joint secretary, writing in the Daily Star comments, 'The aim of the Caretaker Government in Bangladesh seems to be following a two track policy, political dialogue at one end and prosecution on various charges on the other. This is obvious with the opening moves of dialogue while at the same time proceeding with the court cases expeditiously. The situation may be controlled until there is some reaction from the grass roots. Only in case this is strong will the governments relent against the two leaders'. [http://www.thedailystar.net/story.php?nid=37406].
While the dialogue with the political parties has begun, the key to any political talks in Bangladesh are the two main parties, the Awami League and the Bangladesh National Party. Talks with these two parties will determine the course ahead for return of democracy to Dacca. The parallel track followed by the government of checking corruption through arrests of the two main leaders, Hasina and Khaleda may be useful in as much as sending a message is concerned. It is unlikely that without the active participation of these two, there would be political stability within their parties as well as in general.
Most people believe that Minus Two politics is the aim of the Caretaker Administration supported by the army. The manner in which the two principal party leaders, Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda have been targeted in corruption charges, this allegation may appear to be true. However as there are no alternate leaders which have been thrown up by the system so far, the efforts seem to be to conduct local and upazila elections before National elections in Bangladesh, so that at least some alternate leadership emerges. Commenting on the indispensability of the two ladies in Bangla politics Zahur writes, 'Whatever we say about these ladies, the people who are deeply attached to the two major political parties may never leave them, because they are aware of the contributions made by the two ladies in consolidating their respective parties. Thus, it is difficult to ignore them for the dialogue. However, this does not mean that these ladies are above the law. Rule of law must equally be applied to them'.
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Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle
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