“But see, I don’t want to vote for AL. I do not think AL should return to power. We need checks and balances. BNP should come. But how can I vote for BNP when they are in an alliance with JI.”
That’s what a friend told me in December. I have the deepest respect for this person’s sincerity. She is a genuine progressive. She wants a democratic Bangladesh — of this I have no doubt. And I understand her reasons for aversion to Jamaat — never mind 1971, Jamaat categorically rejects some liberal-progressive tenets such as equal citizenship rights. Had she said “I will not vote for Jamaat”, I would have accepted it.
But that’s not what she said. She implicitly rejected BNP for its electoral alliance with Jamaat.
I didn’t engage in a prolonged conversation with her. She is hardly the only person I know who made that leap about conflating Jamaat and BNP. Bangladesh is full of self-proclaimed progressives who choose to reject democracy,never mind the facts. I just don’t have the mental energy to engage in fruitless debates these days. At least my friend had the decency to not engage in that kind of sophistry.
I didn’t engage in a political discussion with her, but was reminded of her comment after the Indian election. You see, I had heard similar stuff from my Indian progressive friends. Way back in the early 2000s, I heard people say “don’t want to vote for Congress, don’t like the sycophancy/dynasty, and the Vajpayee government isn’t so bad, but you know, how can BJP be supported when they have someone like Modi”.
And now Modi is the prime minister.
My Indian friends could have supported Vajpayee or other moderates in BJP/NDA government. They could have provided the left flank of a genuinely centrist alternative to Congress. But their self-inflicted intellectual blind spot meant that they couldn’t even contemplate such a course — never mind that such an alternative would have served India well.
A lot of things contributed to Mr Modi’s rise to power. The progressives’ blind spot is just one factor, and probably not even an important one. But to the extent that he represents a lot of things progressives loath, they have no one but themselves to blame.
I fear whether someday my Bangladeshi progressive friend will wake up to her political nightmare. Jamaat’s importance in Bangladesh is constantly over-rated, and BNP’s strength under-rated, by everyone. Of course, Jamaat benefits from the inflated power projection. And the Jamaat bogey suits the Awamis fine. The thing is, as the centrist opposition is systematically denied any political space, and as the ruling party degenerates into an orgy of violence (google Narayanganj / Feni murders), Islamists (Jamaat or otherwise) may well emerge as the only alternative.
My friend is genuine progressive, not a closet Awami fascist. Will people like her act to prevent their own worst nightmare?