By Shafquat Rabbee:
Although decreasing in number, openly enthusiastic defenders of the current Bangladesh government should find their defense of the government intellectually un-defendable. The ruling Awami League, which traditionally have been a center-left political party, with a massive organization from the cities to the rural towns, is behaving more like a cult of delusional suicide-teens, following an increasingly demented leader.
Gone are the concerns for ever having to contest in a democratic election or care for human rights and dignity. Even self-interest driven concern for preservation of wealth accumulated during the last 5 years seems to be missing among the ruling class. With ever increasing political brinkmanship, which defies popular and global will (excluding that of India’s), the Awami League supporters are now running the risk of losing both their “tangibles” and “intangibles”, if/when Sheikh Hasina, leaves the scene — willingly or unwillingly.
In this write-up, a few key examples of intellectual bankruptcy of the Awami League supporters will be highlighted. It is to be noted that, by Awami League supporters, one has to take into consideration its coalition partners, most of who are from a number of communist parties. Besides the communists, there are the new kids-in-town: the Shahabag movement youth– popularly known as the Shahbagis. All of these elements of the Bangladeshi political spectrum are now can safely be deemed as “pro-government”.
Tricky waters of Caretaker:
Pakistan, the country from which Bangladesh earned its independence only 42 years ago, has just held its general election using a Caretaker government in 2013. It is to be noted, Bangladesh’s political disharmony is almost as chaotic as that of Pakistan; absent just the car-bombs and the Talebans. Another South-Asian country Nepal, which is almost equal in land size as Bangladesh, is using a Caretaker administration to fix its constitution. And of course, Bangladesh, one of the laboratories of the Caretaker system for poll time administration, had held 4 of its last 23 years’ general elections using caretaker administrations. Yet, fully knowing the South Asian and Bangladeshi realities, the government supporters and intellectuals, are now supporting complete abolition of the caretaker system based on a court verdict.
One has to remember that only 7 years ago, the Awami League did not accept a university professor and another retired Chief Justice, both with solid professional track records, as the head of caretaker/poll time administration, accusing them of being partisan. Yet, the same Awami League now has no qualms forcing its own leader, Sheikh Hasina, as the head of the poll time administration, as both a player and a referee in the upcoming national election!
“Fetish” over the constitution:
Several scientific polls conducted by globally respected polling firms have shown solid 80% support for the caretaker government system in Bangladesh. Even Awami League’s own poll, conducted by party sympathizer Aly Zaker / Iresh Zaker’s polling firm MRC Mode showed more than 70% support for the caretaker government. Yet, the Awami League and its supporters defend the abolition of the caretaker system, taking their fetish-like adherence to the constitution.
It has become a habit of the government supporters to state that the election will be held “as per the constitution”. However, no one ever states the fact that the very constitution in question was changed only a year ago. And comically, the same people who changed the constitution are now defending tooth-n-nail the amended constitution, clearly defying more than 70% of the popular will!
The government’s handling of the constitution have become so farcical, that Sheikh Hasina, herself has now become the constitution! Often time several key senior leaders and eminent pro-government scholars have been noticed saying sentences as follows: “Things will happen as per the constitution, but if Sheikh Hasina wants, she can decide to entertain opposition demands … …!!” Translation: Sheikh Hasina can always find her preferred way, as long as the constitution is concerned.
Hindu minority oppression by the government goons:
The Awami League, as a party is known to be popular among the Hindu population of the country. Yet, they pro-government supporters go silent when there were glaring evidences suggesting that the Hindu minority population of the country were victims of heinous crimes committed by the local leaders of the Awami League. Case in point, there were clear evidence of involvement of a Minister’s supporters in burning of several Hindu houses in Pabna. Several venerable dailies, including the Daily Star, published photos of goons responsible for the Hindu house burning incidence, standing right behind a Minister in a political procession. Yet, the pro-government supporters remained quiet in general.
There are several other instances of Hindu minority oppressions in the hands of the government party operatives. For example, an eminent TV journalist Anjan Roy’s ancestral land was illegally taken away by pro-government goons. Anjan Roy, himself being deemed as a pro-government intellectual, eventually took up his pen to write Op-editorials detailing his sad situation. Such land related issues between Hindu minority and the pro-government goons are widespread across Bangladesh at the moment. Yet, very few pro-government supporters have been seen voicing the issue, despite the fact that the Awami League often claims itself to be the protector of the Hindu minority,
Super-partial defense of human rights:
It started with the arrest of four bloggers who were victims of the government’s uncivilized detentions according to international standards, after they published religiously offensive rants. The pro-government supporters voiced strong oppositions and protested those arrests citing those very standards. However, these same supporters then became ecstatic when another writer cum Editor of a national daily, Mahmudur Rahman, was not only illegally detained, but also remanded and tortured by the government forces, violating all internationally accepted standards.
Then came the night of 5th May, where the government supporters logically and validly criticized some of the violence orchestrated by the Hefajot activists. However, these same individuals became ecstatic when the government very clearly violated international norms of crowd control and used excessive force on that fatal night of May 5th, for which the death toll is still a matter of serious contention.
Defying all international norms and protests, these same government supporters were happy when the government arrested Bangladesh’s leading Human Rights activist Adilur Rahman for merely carrying out and providing an estimate of the death toll on the night of May 5th.
Currently the government supporters are validly and reasonably concerned about the bus-arsons and countrywide violence during the days of anti-government protests. However, these same folks are not questioning the excessive use of force, i.e., rubber bullets, metal bullets, which are being randomly shot by the police all across the country to disperse even the most regular of street protests. Point to note, direct firing of bullets was never a common occurrence in Bangladesh before the current government. In fact, there was even a myth among the political activists in Bangladesh that “a minister’s signature is necessary before police can open fire”. No such myth exists no more!
Making matters even more horrific, plain clothed gun-men (as seen in the picture above), are shooting unarmed protesters from point-blank distance. Many of the guns are allegedly from the legitimate government forces, but their bearers are often not known,. Government party leaders have been seen wearing government forces uniforms, according to eye witnesses. Yet, no government supporting intellectual questions such wanton violation of police norms and human rights!
Disregard for almost every international institution:
The situation has become so reckless and unprofessional, that the government supporters and party operatives ridicule and question the credibility of almost every international organization; let that be Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, The Economist, The Guardian, The New York Times, The House of Lords or The European Parliament. Almost any observer that voices any concern about issues that the pro-government folks care, gets the accusation that it was bought by money! There are no qualms about professional dignity or concerns.
The latest episode of such delusion was visible when The New York Times published a very direct editorial criticizing the Bangladesh government for its blatant abuse of human rights. The pro-government folks immediately accused The New York Times for being bought with money!
In this delusional state of affairs, the pro-government supporters appear almost like a group of paranoid schizophrenics, who believe that a global web of conspiracy is buying-off everything to destroy what the Awami League finds near and dear!
Emotional and intellectual bankruptcy of the pro-government supporters, intellectuals, and media personnel have created a situation where the most legitimate of grievances of the opposition camp is being suppressed in the crudest of manners. Such humiliating disregard for human rights and dignity can only result in radicalization and irreparable division among the population, where the moderate and the centrists will take the side line, and only the extremists will collide.
We are sitting on a ticking time bomb, and all relevant parties should be strongly warned.