Sham Democracy

The strong passion of Bengali nationalism in fact failed to overcome wide spread corruption and to evoke a true spirit of democracy.
Representational Pic
Representational Pic

Bangladesh is where everything changes with the change in Government. Men at the helm of affairs not mere in the police, security establishment, varsities and Judiciary are changed but even the Imams and religious preachers of mosques are replaced by the incumbent pro-Government men.  Right from the time of its inception, Bangladesh as an independent nation has been mired in controversial elections, nepotism, corruption, political vengeance and vendettas. The strong passion of Bengali nationalism in fact failed to overcome wide spread corruption and to evoke a true spirit of democracy. Shiekh Mujeeb-u-Rehman, founder of the independent nation, the Bangbandu, ruled the country from 1971 through 1975 and was accosted with serious charges of corruption and nepotism. The founder father of the nation was killed during an army revolt.  It was seen as a blow to the Bengali nationalism very much in the beginning. General Zia-ur-Rehman who spearheaded the assassination of Mujeeb-u-Rehman, took over as the president of Bangladesh in 1977. He worked towards promoting Islamic values in the country although he was not a radical Islamist, but equally not secular and liberal by political conviction. He also strived for restoration of law and order in the country as he was a hardliner and even though charges of corruption continued to haunt his presidential career, he gained popularity among the people. 

He also initiated working towards empowerment of poor people and development of the country but the secular and nationalist elements could no longer tolerate him.  In 1981 in a subsequent army revolt, General Zia-ur-Rehman was killed by his own enraged army commanders. The high profile corruption did not cease even at that point of time and the political anarchy loomed large in Bangladesh. The process of development, though at slow pace, during Zia-ur-Rehman's tenure came to a grinding halt. General Irshad's rule witnessed the two lady leaders coming to limelight. Hassina Wajid's Awami league was inherited by her from her father Mujeeb-u-Rehman and is a shrewd politician with secular conviction and a strong Bengali nationalist outreach. Begum Khalida Zia, the widow of slain Ex-president General Zia-ur-Rehman is supposed to have a moderate pro-Islamic mindset, inherited from her husband and is thought to have leaning towards good relations with Pakistan and rest of the Islamic world than the former. Both the lady politicians interestingly were seen united in fighting General Irshad's authoritarian rule for about eight years. The corruption charge against General Irshad, was the main political weapon used by two politician women to dislodge him. Both the women boycotted the two general elections held under General Irshad's presidency. However in the elections held in 1991, both of them participated and Khalida Zia emerged as the single largest winning party and ruled Bangladesh till 1996. Hassina Wajid, always uncomfortable as opposition leader did not leave any opportunity to dislodge her. She was in particular opposed to the alliance of Khalida Zia's Bangladesh nationalist party with Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh which she considered remnant of Pakistan. A negativist opposition further damaged the process of evolution of democracy in Bangladesh.  In 1996 general elections Khalida Zia's alliance washed out Awami league by winning all the three hundred seats. This was a big shocker for Hassina Wajid, who took it unpalatable that the founder party of Bangladesh would face such a humiliation? This lead to another episode of agitation, strikes and protestations all politically designed to gain power. Unfortunately electoral democracy in Bangladesh has always been used to dislodge the rivals. The country has been a battle ground of political ideologies, with the people dividedly supporting the both sides. The continued political brawl among rivals has proved detrimental in alleviation of poverty and backwardness. The Awami league, however in future elections came to power with 146 seats having won. In the next elections in October 2001 Khalida Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party again came to power with 193 seats won. Hassina Wajid had made it to only 62 seats that time. Both the parties started disputing each other just before the elections in 2006 had to ensue, on the matter concerning formation of a care taker Government which would be responsible in holding the elections. Both the parties wanted to see their own men in the care taker Government. 

Obviously it resulted in to a national political crisis that hampered the economic growth, development process and yet again a law and order situation came in to being. The lust for power had again derailed the entire process of democracy and Army took the control of the nation. Both the parties were subject to accountability and their assets scrutinized. The anti-corruption bureau and the Judiciary got activated. Both the parties were convicted of corruption, kickboxing, money laundering and much more in several cases which both the leaders rubbed off as an intrigue to keep them politically off the bay. The 2008 general elections witnessed the dawn of victory for Awami league and a loss for BNP. This time having assumed power, Hassina Wajid turned into a democratically elected dictator, with all Army top brass, men in Judiciary, top cops and the media that she managed to support her Government by providing all necessary concessions and amenities to them. This payed her to succeed in sending to gallows one after another the senior leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami and ban the movement in Bangladesh through setting of most controversial tribunals. This aimed particularly at depleting the Khalida Zia's BNP of which JI remained to be an important and powerful political component, was seen as a political retribution by the world nations. All the cases of corruption and nepotism involving Awami league and Hassina Wajid got withdrawn. Refusal to put a neutral election commission in place for holding elections in 2013, lead to its boycott by the BNP, which the Awami league claimed to have won uncontested. All the corruption cases involving BNP got reopened and the opposition leader Begum Khalida Zia, perceived as a potential threat to Awami league in the elections to be held this year in December 2018, was shown way to jail through a closed door trial by a special court for 5 years up to 2023 during which Hassina Wajid would rule the country quite comfortably, through the courtesy of a sham democracy.

(Dr.Muzaffar Shaheen is Senior Associate Professor, SKUAST-K)

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