Following altercations on Saturday afternoon between the law enforcement agencies and supporters of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which was holding a planned demonstration with an eye toward the looming 12th National Parliamentary Election, Dhaka turned into a battleground. Following the fighting, the BNP called for a nationwide strike on Sunday, joined by a few of its allies, including Jamaat-e-Islam. From today, the BNP has been enforcing a three-day national blockade, and violence is once again finding its path. Political reconciliation appears to be the only viable option available at this time to guarantee a peaceful democratic process throughout the nation, taking into account all the facets of the current political events.
The events of Saturday mirrored a somber historical pattern because October 28 has historically marked a turning point in Bangladeshi politics. The last day of the BNP-Jamaat coalition government’s tenure was October 28, 2006. That day, more than twelve people lost their lives in a violent outburst between the activists of Awami League and BNP-Jamaat. The event caused such a rift in Bangladeshi politics that it is still felt today. On October 28, 2013, after a seven-year gap, the BNP-Jamaat coalition announced a sixty-hour strike on the very day.Last Saturday marked another October 28, and it appears that neither the opposition partynor the ruling party overlooked the significance of the date while choosing the day for their power display.
The politics of Bangladesh has a history of turbulences. Born as a democratic country in 1971, the country lost its democratic stature after the brutal killing of Bangabandhu Sheikh MujiburRahman and most of his family members. The democracy was restored in 1990 through an election under the caretaker government and BNP came into power removing autocratic leader HM Ershad. But due to ideological differences, the democracy did not prevail to its full form and caretaker government was again formed for the 1996 election when Awami League gained power. Later there were two more elections in 2001 and 2008 under the caretaker government. But the political differences did not bridge.
There is still political differences surrounding the birth of the nation in 1971, war crimes, killing of Bangabandhu in 1975, grenade attack of 21 August, 2004, trial of the war criminals and many things else. The four elections under the caretaker government could not actually erase those differences and democracy could not be fully restored as democracy asks for respect to one another as well as providing everyone the same rights and status. Hence, political reconciliation is required in the country to establish true democracy and to take the country forward.
There have been several political dark events in the history of Bangladesh. Many of the criminals of those events were brought under justice but many are still active in politics. If their activities were politically motivated, then they should apologize for that. Moreover, on the issues of national interest, all political parties should remain united.
After Nelson Mandela became the President of South Africa, he created a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ to bear witness to, record, and in some cases grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations if those were politically motivated, as well as offering reparation and rehabilitation to the victims. Such a measure is likewise necessary now. In an effort to expedite the prosecution of corruption charges, the Fakhruddin Ahmed-led Caretaker Government also established a “Truth and Accountability Commission” in Bangladesh on July 30, 2008. However, although producing some small-scale outcomes, the commission was eventually ruled unlawful.
The works of many leaders and activists of both the ruling party and the opposition parties are guided by political blindness. For example; many top Jamaat leaders committed war crimes during 1971 liberation war. Many of them were even punished. But those Jamaat leaders could have sought amnesty if their acts were the product of political motivation only. Today, there are many Jamaat leaders, who were born after 1971 but they automatically own the anti-national ideology of 1971. There is no reason that they should carry the burden of the founder of Jamaat. If Jamaat accepts the misdeeds of their founders in 1971 and later in the politics in Bangladesh, they can actually seek for amnesty and can be an important part of the developing Bangladesh.
Similar is the case with August 21 grenade attack. The masterminds of that event were served justice. Many are in jail, few in exile. Current BNP leaders should not carry the idea of that attack and they can commit to politics for the people’s welfare only. Moreover, anti-national political leaders opposed the punishment of the war criminals of 1971 but justice was served. If they were politically motivated, they can remorse and can commit to the national interest. Such commitment from the political parties after agreeing to their wrongdoings in the past can create trust among the political parties.
In the current situation, the ruling party Awami League must fight hard to retain power as they rightly said that, it is a matter of their existence. If BNP-Jamaat comes in power, they might wreck serious havoc on the leaders and activists of Awami Leagueand peaceful power transfer will remain vital for the upcoming election. Saturday’s events and past remarks of top BNP leaders also support that fear of Awami League. Hence, without political reconciliation, it is almost impossible to continue with peaceful political process in the nation.If our political parties fail to create trust through political reconciliation, then it will bring threats to our sovereignty. Foreign powers will keep utilizing the mistrust for their self-interest while threats of terrorism will rise significantly and our progress will be halted.
Politics is for the welfare of the people. However, the voters are gradually losing importance and that is a real threat to democracy. Nowadays, we see leaders with very low number of votes in the parliament. For a better Bangladesh, all elected candidates must bag at least 30% of the total votes from his or her constituency and that should be made into a rule for the elections as that will ensure the relevance of voters. Additionally, as we claim to be secular country, the representation of all religions and ethnicity should receive more priority to serve the whole population in greater magnitude.
The politics of Bangladesh today lies on the bed of mistrust. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her commitment for a free, fair and credible election but a free, fair and credible election is not enough to eliminate the political differences as we have seen in the past. It is rather important to unite the country on the issues of national interest and people’s welfare.
If there is difference over the birth of the nation, then we cannot expect democracy to prevail. Many can commit wrong from their political bias but they need to realize their mistake. Hence, political reconciliation should be started as a process to eliminate the differences and to allow amnesty to those who committed wrong under political influence. This process cannot be completed before the next election but it will be a start. The eleven elections in Bangladesh have gradually increased differences between different political entities and the people paid the price. The next election will increase that difference further if political reconciliation is not done. Therefore, the true patriots and nationalists, our civil society leaders, intellectuals and foreign development partners with true democratic ideology should take steps to start the process of political reconciliation without delay.
Without political reconciliation, it is impossible to create political trust again and in the process, the concept of democracy will evaporate giving space to extremism and degradation. We hope our leaders and political parties will take solid steps for political reconciliation as the people of this country still seek peace and development over vengeance.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA) and Editor at Kishore Bangla