Bangladesh’s minorities to stay with Awami League despite complaints

‘Despite a litany of complaints, they choose the lesser evil’

Updated - December 29, 2018 10:17 pm IST

Published - December 29, 2018 10:16 pm IST - Dhaka

Mintu Kumar Goswami, a former school teacher in his mid 50s from Mugda in north Dhaka, plans to guard his neighbourhood along with other members of the minority community so that “booths can’t be looted.”

Amid opposition apprehension that the ruling Awami League may engage its workers in large numbers to rig the Sunday’s poll, Mr Goswami narrates his anxiety.

“If they [BNP-Jamaat electors] vote in large numbers since early morning we [Awami Leaguers] could be in trouble,” he said and clarified that they — the minorities of Bangladesh — can’t afford to witness the victory of the main Opposition parties, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Jamaat-e-Islami, usually referred as ‘BNP-Jamaat jote.’

“We have experienced BNP-Jamaat’s victory between 2001 and 2006 and it was a nightmare,” said Mr. Goswami, sipping sugary tea, outside Martyr’s Memorial.

Mr Goswami, originally from Manikganj in central Bangladesh, said 14 of 17 “affluent upper caste families” had left Bangladesh to settle in Bengal. “Now, in our village, Binodpur in Manikganj, we hardly have any Hindu families.”

Mr Goswami could not leave for Kolkata; he has nearly a dozen member family in the lower to middle income group. “We are not affluent, it was difficult to relocate,” he said.

The Hindus, who are the main constituents of the minority community in Bangladesh have little option but to vote for Awami League on Sunday, despite a litany of complaints against the ruling party.

In close to 60 seats , out of a total of 300, the Hindu vote is a factor accounting for 30-40% votes, said Rana Dasgupta, general secretary of Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, the leading minority pressure group in the country.

“The choice for the minorities in Bangladesh is between ‘very bad’ and ‘bad’,” he said on the phone. Awami League’s “miscreants” have been looting property of the Hindus along with Jamaat and the BNP, he claimed.

Their intentions, however, were different, he said. “While BNP-Jamaat wanted minorities to slowly leave the country thus reducing population percentage, Awami League workers were engaged in usurping minority property,” he said.

“That phase continued from 2011 to 2014 or 15 and Awami League has not punished anyone.” However, the ruling party later “rehabilitated” the minorities.

Interestingly, Awami League has now tied with Hifazat-e-Islami, a radical organization working in madrassa education sector.

“It is a cause of concern for not only the minorities but the entire country. In the secondary level education Awami League has abolished Hindu writers…including Rabindranath Tagore at the secondary level…being guided by Hifazat,” said a top businessman of Dhaka, a Muslim who studied in India, on condition of anonymity.

“Nothing could be less atrocious,” he said. The chief of anti-Awami coalition, Kamal Hossain called it League’s “politics of opportunism” at a press conference on Saturday.

However a section of the minority community also told The Hindu that they “do not mind” BNP-Jamaat jote in power.

“For two reasons,” said a Hindu businessman. “We are also strongly entrenched now in BNP and the character of BNP-Jamaat is perhaps also changing,” he argued.

Mr Dasgupta said that for the first time the Election Commission spoke to the minorities “at every level to allay fear.”

“Also, no one is targeting the minorities or India [this time] and rather the majority community is in fear due to political clashes,” Mr Dasgupta added.

But Mr Goswami will never vote for BNP-Jamaat.

“I am too afraid to trust them,” he said,continuing his night vigil in one of the Dhaka’s less affluent neighbourhood of predominantly Dalit Hindus.

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