Bangladesh: Contours of Minus Two Politics

Politics in Bangladesh was placed in the freezer in January as the Caretaker Administration declared emergency. This followed attempts to side track two principal political protagonists in the state, both former prime ministers and political overlords of their respective fiefdoms, Begum Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Ruling Party and Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League. The route to their political oblivion was seen to be sending them in exile from the country and providing space to others in their parties as well as respected public figures as Mohammad Yunus, the Nobel laureate to restructure polity in Bangladesh.   

The Caretaker Administration followed a well charted course which perhaps it found had been very effectively used in Pakistan many times over. However the final outcome in politics just as in one day cricket remains unpredictable. Thus the famous, 'minus two' politics of the interim administration has failed to attain its objective and in turn provided the two Begums of Bangladesh, some public respectability. Outlining the topsy turvy curve of this course of recent political history in Bangladesh would provide us an understanding of the things to come.

Former Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed was charged with murder of four supporters of a rival party during street violence in Dhaka in October, 2006. The murder charges came two days after Hasina, who also led the 19-party opposition alliance, was accused of extortion of 30 million taka (USD 434,000) by a Bangladeshi head of a Malaysian-owned firm. Ten leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, which was part of the Khaleda Zia-led ruling alliance, were also charged separately for violence.

In the next step the government virtually banned entry of Hasina to Bangladesh claiming in a press note in a round about way that she was unwelcome as her presence had led to problems of law and order, disruption of national security and jeopardizing economic climate due to non-stop and irresponsible agitation and disorderly acts of Awami League and other political parties. The Press Note also claimed that Sheikh Hasina herself is concerned about her security and has pleaded with the government through her party for special security arrangements. 'For the above-mentioned reasons, the government has decided to take some cautionary steps regarding her return'. Sheikh Hasina who was in USA moved to London where the support base of Awami League is much larger and prepared to board a British Airways flight to Bangladesh but was not allowed to do so.

Begum Khaleda Zia on the other hand was asked to proceed on exile from the country to Saudi Arabia. Khaleda is reported to have agreed to fly out with younger son Arafat Rehman with Tarique Rehman slated to join the duo later. Saudi Arabian government agreed to accommodate her request in case she was leaving willingly but changed course after pressure from supporters of the BNP indicated that she was being forced to leave the country. This placed the government in a quandary as both leaders whom it wanted out of politics in Bangladesh refused to budge.

The signs of the, 'minus two' politics of the CA backfiring were evident as supporters rallied around Sheikh Hasina banned from entering the country with an arrest warrant suspended by a local court. The former Prime Minister was defiant and spoke to the media that she would continue to try and go back and fight if required. On the other hand serious doubts of Begum Khaleda Zia leaving for Saudi Arabia emerged. Two strands are evident, the Saudi Government has been approached by supporters of Khaleda that she is not leaving the country willingly which created problems of grant of visa while on the other hand it was seen that Khaleda is showing resistance to leave, having gained some support from her backers at home.

The manner in which the CA has gone about hounding the two prominent leaders has possibly created problems for itself. While the CA's measures against corruption were certainly popular, targeting two principal opposition leaders has been carried out rather crudely which resulted in sympathy for the two ladies. While the idea of restructuring polity was evident, the manner of doing so has probably resulted in resurgence of support to the tainted parties in Bangladesh. As these have a large base of cadres as well as supporters whose credibility was also being eroded in the current political situation, they have all come around to back up their leaders.

The Caretaker Administration should focus on the way ahead forgetting the past mistakes of attempting to upstage the political leaders who have a support base at home. This had make things difficult. Instead of getting into politics, the administration could do well to focus on issues of governance and providing freedom to institutions as the Election Commission and judiciary, politics will take care of itself, else it is set to lose the wave of popular support it has in the populace.    


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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