Nullifying nefarious designs
To deal with the onslaught of opposition in an election year, Bangladeshi government should strengthen its fight against communalism and neutralise the anti-progressive forces
As Bangladesh entered into 53rd year of its independence (March 26), it is time to take stock of its political, economic, and social statuses. Under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina over the last 14 years, the country has strengthened its democratic roots. Yet, there is a string of challenges which Hasina is saddled with. These assume immense significance because the general elections are due within one year. The political opposition and other unfavorable forces, in the meantime, have started attacking Hasina to put her on the defensive. They also plan to create a schism between the secular and communal forces, and create a fissure between India and Bangladesh.
Any slightest flaw in Hasina’s governance is being exploited by her opponents as part of an ongoing fault-finding campaign to adversely affect her electoral chances. Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the main rival, has already started alleging that the current economy of Bangladesh is showing signs of a slowdown and may go the Sri Lanka way.
In the same steam, the opposition has made a major issue on Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus. Forty prominent foreign nationals belonging to different spheres of activities, meanwhile, have put an advertisement in Washington Post, calling for recognition of Yunus for his seminal contribution to Bangladesh, particularly in the field of poverty alleviation. The signatories include former US President Bill Clinton and erstwhile United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, among others.
Expectedly, Sheikh Hasina has angrily reacted to such a campaign and many of her supporters in the academic world have unanimously denounced the move for Yunus’ recognition. While this issue may not necessarily affect Hasina’s election prospects but it might sully the image of Bangladesh internationally, especially in the western world that is already suspicious of the neutrality of the forthcoming parliamentary elections. To Hasina and her supporters, Yunus is solely responsible for fleecing the impoverished.
On the communal front, Bangladesh continues to grapple with inter-faith strife wherein minorities are intermittently and violently targeted by a section of majority community, which also entails desecration of religious places, usurping of minority property, and in some cases, forcible conversions. In a latest incident, the minority Ahmadiyya Muslims were attacked by the bigots in Panchagarh, in northern Bangladesh. As in the past, when the followers of the sect as well as other religious minorities, notably Hindus, bore the brunt of fanatical fury by radical elements of the majority Muslim community, the assault in Panchagarh occurred while the community was busy preparing to hold its Salana Jalsa. In the attack, two were dead, the conference venue destroyed and homes of the Ahmadiyyas were looted. As the violence went on, the police and other security forces failed miserably to keep the fanatics at bay. Once the destruction had taken place, the police let the media know that investigations were going on to identify those behind the attacks. Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan has blamed the Jamaat-e-Islami and its ally, the BNP, for spearheading the violence. However, the BNP went overboard by blaming the ruling Awami League (AL) for having staged the attack on Ahmadiyyas to malign the BNP. In this election year, such sparks would fly and proliferate further. Hence, the intelligence and security outfits must work overtime to foil the nefarious plans of the communalists.
According to columnist Syed Badrul Ahsan, this incident once again gives the lie to the self-gratifying slogan of Bangladesh being a land of communal harmony. He says it is a shame that does not go away despite the assurances of the nation's Prime Minister that no one will be permitted to destroy communal harmony in the country. It is time for Bangladesh, with all the forces and power at its command, to strike back at these elements who have once again torched homes, have presided over the murder of citizens, and have brought the state to this terrible pass.
Having discussed about some stray incidents of communal nature, we should not judge the country’s governance in a negative light. Instead, the present dispensation merits commendation on certain aspects where its leadership is making sincere efforts in battling the roots of the communal problem. In this regard, the country’s education minister Dipu Moni must find mention for trying to usher in a scientific temper into the Madrassa system of education. In a very recent observation, she has questioned the Madrassa leadership for not pursuing science, and only imparting Namaz. She made accusations of false publicity through photoshopped images in the social media. Her statements are indeed a silver lining and a promise for a progressive future. However, more such thoughts are required from other progressive and modern leaders. Outpouring of fresh ideas will then ensure that Bangladesh surges ahead as a modern nation. After all, it has successfully completed more than 50 years as an independent country, and its founding father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, had envisioned a secular and progressive Bangladesh with no religious discrimination.
Again, this year being the election year, it is all the more imperative on part of the Bangladeshi leadership to outline its priorities, with communalism and terror threats as important aspects needing a vigorous combat. Socially, Bangladesh has marched ahead with numerous successes, including remarkable achievements in the field of women emancipation, with their representation in almost all fields of activity. In the month of independence, the renewed efforts to uplift the women to newer heights will further refurbish the image of Bangladesh. This will also be an inspiration to other countries in the region, particularly in the Islamic world.
Hasina and her team need to take a fresh resolve to neutralise the anti-progressive forces, as, in the election year, all eyes are fixed towards Bangladesh. On the external front, Bangladesh is maintaining excellent relations with India, and is constantly reaching out to other nations with dignity and self-esteem. This momentum needs to be consistently kept up, even after the elections, for a bright image of a young nation.
The writer is an IPS officer, Adviser NatStrat, security analyst and a former National Security Advisor in Mauritius. Views expressed are personal