Unending confrontation

An ill wind is blowing through Bangladesh once again. A year after the controversial election that returned the Awami League and Sheikh Hasina to office for a second term, the political turmoil and uncertainty refuse to go away. While the Opposition still refuses to accept the results of an election that it boycotted, the government has certainly not helped matters. When Opposition leader Khaleda Zia announced a rally to observe the first anniversary of the election on January 5 as “Death of Democracy Day”, the Sheikh Hasina government, which was planning a “Victory Day of Democracy” responded by disallowing the protest and locking up the Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader in her office. Clashes between activists of the ruling party and the BNP have claimed four lives. The government has now threatened to slap a murder case on Ms. Zia, which could lead to her arrest. She, meanwhile, has called for an indefinite and nationwide ‘blockade’. The BNP wants fresh elections to be held under a non-partisan caretaker government, while the Awami League insists it will continue in office for its entire term that is to end in 2019. There seems to be no meeting ground between the two parties, unable as they are to turn the page on their history of confrontational and violent politics.

At the heart of the confrontation between the two parties are of course the unsettled questions from Bangladesh’s violent birth in 1971, including the question of who was on which side in the movement for liberation from Pakistan. Settling those questions was never going to be easy. But the ham-fisted manner in which the Awami League has gone about the task from its first term in office in 2008, setting up war tribunals that have dispensed speedy verdicts including the death sentence to several in the senior leadership of the Jamaat-e-Islami and life terms to others including BNP leaders, has proved particularly divisive. Despite the nation-halting “hartals” and protests, Bangladesh’s economy turned in a surprisingly good performance. The country’s GDP growth was estimated at 6.1 per cent for the fiscal year ending with June 2014, half a percentage point higher than what the Asian Development Bank had projected. For 2015, the projection is higher at 6.4 per cent, on the hope that private sector investment will also pick up given some political stability. Perhaps Bangladesh might have done better and set an example for the entire region but for the unending political conflict. For India, which has seen ties improving with Bangladesh under the Sheikh Hasina government, the challenge is to ensure that the instability in Dhaka does not spill over to its territory and pose security problems on its eastern borders.

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