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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 105

Intolerable caricature of Awami League Leader

By: Sunita Paul

Dhaka, 26 May, (INS + If nothing else, Awami League (AL) General Secretary Abdul Jalil is entertaining in providing comic relief to the country's otherwise dismal political culture, a situation to whose evolution, incidentally, his party has contributed the lion's share. AL's politics is firmly rooted in the past, to the 1950s and 1960s, and its tradition for agitation essentially for the sake of agitation, uncompromising and belligerent attitude towards its opponents, intolerant and high-handed posture, chicanery to achieve its political (and other) objectives, and taking recourse to blatant falsehoods is not only passé in the twenty first century, but actually invites a preponderance of force on its street-level confrontation from the government.

Significantly, unlike the second half of the 1960s (or the first half of the 1970s, for that matter), when it reigned supreme in the general public's eye, AL is outnumbered by BNP in popular support. The national and international political climates have undergone notable changes over the last thirty years and, unless AL recognizes them and adjusts its tactics accordingly, it will continue to be a loser in any power game with BNP.

Abdul Jalil, however, keeps true to form in making quixotic pronouncements. Almost from the day that the incumbent BNP-led government assumed power through a general election that, other than AL, and it, too, only after the results were a foregone conclusion, all major national and international observers had categorized as having been free and fair, the major opposition party, as contemporary media accounts will attest to, has been predicting its demise, starting as early as it falling from power within a month of assuming office.

These periodic predictions, it might be noted, have been made by high-level AL office-bearers as well as MPs. Since that initial prophecy, AL has fixed several time frames for the government to come crashing down or leaving of its own volition, but after four years and seven months, it continues to be in office and AL continues to forecast it leaving the helm of government. With five months to go before the BNP-led coalition relinquishes office as per the dictates of the Constitution, the AL refrain seems to be gaining in intensity, if not quite gathering momentum. Even allowing for political gamesmanship, this is a pathetic effort.

Abdul Jalil, the Coordinator of the 14-party opposition alliance (really AL and 13 ciphers), has again cried, "Wolf!" He of the preposterous "ultimatum" fame, when he had threatened to oust the government from power by 30 April 2004, and was promptly made to look foolish after his sound and fury had ended in not even a whimper, has again announced the forcible removal of the government from power before the normal end of its tenure. One can predict with a far greater degree of accuracy that the government will meet that challenge, or any number of similar challenges, with a preponderance of force and browbeat it into submission before relinquishing its charge on the scheduled day. One fails to see the point of resorting to a no-win political gamesmanship when, in keeping with the temper and demand of the present age of globalization, free market economy and information technology, AL could formulate appropriate tactics to present its grievances to the voting public.

Interestingly, in the midst of crying "Wolf!" Jalil, although with his party's expected slant, stated that if the government, in order to safeguard democracy and the national interest, participates in the dialogue process with sincere intention, then the country would not have to face the "third force" bugbear. How true! and how ironic that Jalil, with his party actually taking recourse to unconstitutional methods to unseat a democratically elected government, talks of preserving democracy! How typical of AL, having first instituted a single-party dictatorship, having participated in elections organized by military/quasi-military regimes, to self-righteously declare that it is vehemently opposed to any rule by the armed forces, which it has taken (as explained by the AL Secretary General) to denote the notional "third force"! Political expediency apart, its declaration still reeks of stinking hypocrisy.

Just as rotten is its singling out Jamaat-e-Islami as the coalition member not acceptable to it as a dialogue partner on the ground of it being an anti-liberation force when it has raised no objection to the participation of another coalition member, IOJ (many of whose leaders it has also accused of having been anti-liberation), and, of late, nonchalantly hobnobs with AMM Bahauddin, editor of The Daily Inqilab (a paper it had until recently savagely demonized, and whose editor and his father, the daily's founder, the late Maulana Mannan, it had depicted as having been anti-liberation). A stand against theocracy and political Islam has to be comprehensive, not selective. The characterization of anti-liberation cannot be made according to the whims of a particular political party.

However, Jalil brought up the issue of "third force" and, although he specified the military, there are strong allegations that a civilian "third force" is planning to take power through the back door (other AL leaders have acknowledged the phenomenon, to their credit, have expressed their displeasure against it). It is believed to be trying to cash in on the unwanted political imbroglio between the two large secular political parties, BNP and AL, and assume state power in the form of a "national government".

Before going further with this point, it would be instructive in more ways than one to pay attention to the 17 May 2006 testimony of US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher to the Foreign Relations Committee of the US Congress. Whether one likes it or not, the US is the most influential player in the present unipolar international system and its words and assessments carry more weight than any other country or group of nations.

Boucher observed that Bangladesh has progressed significantly in the areas of human development and economic infrastructure. It has had a sustained GNP growth rate of five percent over the last several years, Significantly, and especially in view of the attempts by several local and international quarters, including AL, to characterize the BNP-led government as being Islamic fundamentalist-oriented and of sponsoring Islamic militancy, he termed Bangladesh as traditionally being a moderate and tolerant nation, and praised the government for its success in combating terrorism and suppressing extremism. Tellingly, he added that the capture of the JMB leaders represented a significant progress in advancing the cause of rule of law and the establishment of human rights.

Turning to democracy, Boucher stated that the country has taken important strides in establishing the polity. Probably his most crucial observation was that the 2007 polls would be the fourth successive democratic election that the country would experience.

There is no ambivalence about the remark: the US would like to see a democratic election and that the election would be held in 2007 according to schedule. That has to be the bottom line in the march towards a flourishing democracy in Bangladesh.

No dark forces must be allowed to disrupt that progress, or to waylay it. It is the civilian "third force", bereft of public support, residing in the ivory tower, out of tune with the rough-and-tumble political culture that has developed in the transitional Bangladeshi society in a free market economy-driven world, and prone to pontificating when many of them do not practice privately what they preach publicly, that has been testing the waters of the political power arena, primarily on the plea of rescuing politics from the clutches of acquisitive, dishonest and nasty politicos.

Granted, there are a whole lot of such politicians (of all political parties, large and small) who have been vitiating the country's political culture for some time now (ironically, during the close to fifteen years unbroken stretch of parliamentary democracy, which also coincides with the rise and domination of globalization and the free market mantra), but a profile of the putative civilian "alternative force" will reveal just how many of them are venal, acquisitive, nasty and possessed of a rich array of other negative attributes. They are the dark forces and have to be cast aside as irrelevancies in the broad political arena of the country.

The unsatisfactory political culture of the country will have to clean up by the politicians themselves. Over time, hopefully sooner than later, they will feel the need to do it and, inevitably, will do it, not only for their own survival (lest a more potent "third force" takes over), but for the continued evolution of functional pluralist democracy in this country (they will be compelled by several quarters, including from within themselves, to see the efficacy of the polity taking irreversible root). The very fact that BNP and AL have separately come together on rejecting the notion of a "third force" is a start. Now it is up to them to create positive agenda for the political parties to function as vehicles of functional democracy rather than tools to use democracy as a expediency for the abuse of power.

- INS + Asian Tribune -

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