With Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League winning the general elections of Bangladesh, yet again and this time uncontested, one if forced to think of the reasons why the predicted winner and opposition party BNP boycotted the elections. Was it really because of the one demand they publicly reiterated, or is there a darker agenda hidden?

Bangladesh after the recent election has set up its tenth government since its independence.  The newly elected Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina Wajed started her third term as the ruling government of Bangladesh. The election has been considered as controversial as Khaleda Zia, the leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party boycotted the polls along with her allied parties. 

sheikh hasina post victory general elections The Political Discourse and Secular Agenda in Bangladesh

DHAKA, Jan. 6, 2014 (Xinhua/IANS) — Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina speaks during a press conference following the general elections in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Jan. 6, 2013. Bangladesh’s Awami League (AL) of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed has secured a de-facto victory in Sunday’s general elections, marred by opposition boycott and widespread violence. (Xinhua/Shariful Islam)

Sheikh Hasina Wajed won the election with overwhelming majority as about half of the seats were uncontested due to the boycott by BNP and their allies. Unfortunately, the opposition’s protest against the elections was accompanied with a lot of violent protest on the streets causing huge bloodshed and taking a toll on the people. Subsequently, 130 people have died during this period.

The Reason Given for the Boycott

The prominent reason behind the boycott, instability and the lawlessness in the nation was the opposition’s, headed by BNP and Jamat-e-Islami, demands to have an interim neutral caretaker government in which a non-political technician will run the country during the polls to contest a fair election.

Is this reason enough to consider such a heavy loss to the nation and death of such a large number of citizens?

Khaleda Zia post losing elections The Political Discourse and Secular Agenda in Bangladesh

DHAKA, Jan. 15, 2014 (Xinhua/IANS) — Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Chairperson and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia delivers a speech during a press conference at Westin Hotel in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Jan. 15, 2013. Bangladesh’s opposition reiterated its vow on Wednesday to unseat Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s new government with movement. (Xinhua/Shariful Islam)

If it was, the BNP would not have participated in the pre-election polls, where it performed quite well. Before the final election was held, it was predicted by the opinion polls that BNP will come out as the winner of the election. Having a greater chance to win, why did the BNP stepped back from contesting? Was it merely because of the non-availability of neutral machinery during elections or it was the unsubstantial demand of its ally Jamat-e-Islami?

The Real Reason: Jamat-e-Islami

Jamat-e-Islami, which was barred by the court to contest the election as it is a religious party and ineligible according to the constitution, had helped the BNP in the previous elections. However, the illegal demands by Jamat forced the BNP to step back. The demands were that if the BNP wins the elections, it will have to stop the action taken against the 1971 Razakars. Interestingly, the 1971 massacre perpetrators facing trials and sentences are the leaders of Jamat-e-Islami at the time of the  Liberation war in Bangladesh. Jamat even demanded BNP’s help to remove the ban on Jamat by the court from contesting the elections.

bangladesh rally against execution of jammat e islami leader The Political Discourse and Secular Agenda in Bangladesh

DHAKA, Dec. 18, 2013 (Xinhua/IANS) — Bangladeshi demonstrate during a protest against Pakistani government’s reaction to the execution of Islamist party leader Jamaat-e-Islami in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dec. 18, 2013. Hundreds of people march to Pakistan embassy during a protest against Islamabad¡¯s reaction over execution of the Islamist party leader convicted of war crimes in 1971. (Xinhua/Shariful Islam)

Jamat-e-Islami, mainly known for its radical Islamist tendencies and as supporters of international terrorism, had acted as a catalyst to divide two of the biggest parties of Bangladesh.  Under these conditions, the BNP should understand the hidden agenda of Jamat and its main intention to rescue the terror agent from Justice, and not the stabilization of democratic principle. According to the USA and Britain, this election was mainly a one sided affair and fresh elections are the only possibility to save Bangladesh from getting delving into chaos. To facilitate this, both the parties of Bangladesh will have to sit face to face and sort out the differences between them. In order to sort out their differences they need to discuss two points which have been responsible for this rift since 1971.

Points of Contention

The contentious points are the trial, sentences and punishments of the terror agents; whether the members of Jamat who led the ruthless torture in 1971 should be rescued or punished. The second thing to be considered and discussed is whether the use of religious discrimination in politics to insult the constitution is acceptable or not. The answer to these questions can partially be found in the iconic features of the constitution of Bangladesh created in 1972, which promotes religious non-discrimination and social unity.

Since the constitution was recreated in 1990, these points are still unsolved. The Awami league promised to work on secularism and religious non-discrimination and social justice and thus it won the election on these agenda in 2008. The Awami league as per its commitment, started working on the punishment of the terror agents. Soon Awami league gained praise for its work. One of the most popular democratic movement known as “Shahbag movement” was started to support their intention to punish terror agents of the 1971 genocide. Naturally, the Awami league will not change its way as far as punishment of terror agents and religious non-discrimination is concerned.

What the BNP Needs Right Now

To return to mainstream politics, BNP will have to rethink these issues and develop a stable position.  The instability in BNP is forcing a split within its party as the party members are against the chaos created at the time of election. The party members of BNP are mostly the participants of the liberation war or their family members. They have no problem in returning to mainstream politics and work on religious non-discrimination and punishing the terror activists.

jamaat e islami protest The Political Discourse and Secular Agenda in Bangladesh

DHAKA, Dec. 14, 2013 (Xinhua/IANS) — A car is set on fire by activists of Jamaat-e-Islami Party as they protest against the execution of their leader Abdul Quader Molla in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dec. 13, 2013. Bangladesh has executed Abdul Quader Molla, an Islamist party leader convicted of war crimes in 1971, which is the first execution of a war criminal in the country. In protest against Molla’s execution, his party Jamaat called countrywide dawn-to-dusk general strike for Sunday. (Xinhua/Shariful Islam)

BNP should respect people’s sentiments on penalizing the pro-Pakistani agents of terror and support the secular agenda and even stop acting as religious militant.  At the same time, the two big main parties of Bangladesh- BNP and the Awami league should sit  face to face with proper respect for each other and discuss all the relevant issue required to stabilize the political instability in the country. By participating this way, the Awami league can remove its tag of a winner of an uncontested election. Besides, the BNP and the Awami league will have to work on the current social and economic crisis. For Jamat, it is necessary to understand that people of Bangladesh are aware of their intentions and their cruel acts during the 1971 genocide. The citizens of Bangladesh have clearly fought for secular reasons and they will not accept a government which will discriminate people on religious basis. Creating a religious lobby was never accepted by Bangladesh and will never be accepted.

By Tanushree Chakravorty

Also See:
Should We Trust Pakistan ?
India’s Destiny – Thousand Cuts on a Thousand Branched Tree

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