SHAMIM A. ZAHEDY
With the BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia returning to her home on April 6 after a 92-day stay in her political office at Gulshan, there has been a lull in perhaps the most violent and pathetic political ‘battlefield’ that Bangladesh has ever witnessed after its birth 44 years ago. The BNP chief started staying in her office at Gulshan on January 3 as police did not let her go out to join a rally at the party’s headquarters at Naya Paltan scheduled for January 5. The BNP meant to observe the anniversary of the January 5, 2014 general elections as ‘democracy killing day’ at the rally while the rival Awami League observed the day as ‘victory day for democracy’. Subsequent events spanning more than three months left a trail of destruction: loss of human lives, loss of property and loss of democratic and pluralistic image of Bangladesh.
Media reports put the figure of deaths in the three-month long mayhem at nearly 128. At least 72 apolitical people were killed in firebombing, a phenomenon that took a deadly turn this time in the country’s political violence. At least 33 people, mostly affiliated to the opposition BNP and its allies, were killed in ‘crossfire’ or ‘encounters’ with the law enforcement agencies, mainly police and RAB (Rapid Action Battalion). And some of the remaining 23 people were either killed in street battles or were found dead.
The World Bank estimates the political turmoil to have cost Bangladesh about Tk 17,150 crore. Economic growth would have been between 6.4 and 6.6 percent in the ongoing 2014–15 fiscal if there had been no political turmoil — media reports quoted an official of the multilateral donor agency as saying.
The production sector incurred a loss of Tk 4,900 crore because of political turbulence, a study by think-tank CPD (Centre for Policy Dialogue) said, adding that the country’s GDP would suffer a reduction of 0.55 percent in the current fiscal year because of the 81 days of non-stop countrywide blockade and 67 days of intermittent nationwide general strike, which crippled day-to-day economic activities both in rural and urban areas, having negative impact on Bangladesh’s domestic and international markets.
BGMEA (Bangladesh Garment Manufactures & Exporters Association) data said that only 41 factories out of about 3,000 incurred a loss of Tk 189 crore in the unrest in a blow to the sector that accounts for more than 80 percent of the country’s total annual export of about 30 billion US dollars. There have also been reported losses of different types such as the cancellation of work order and additional charge for delayed shipment in the apparel sector.
The transport sector faced a loss of Tk 85.44 crore as 1,405 vehicles including bus, truck, and railway compartments were either vandalised or burnt, according to the CPD estimate. The poultry sector faced losses of Tk 606 crore as the supply chain of eggs, chicken meat and one-day chicks went haywire while export in the shrimp and frozen food sector reduced by 15 percent, marking a loss of Tk 741.4 crore.
But the most worrying fact is that Bangladesh’s democratic and pluralistic image has received a huge dent as both the government and the opposition camp resorted to undemocratic means and ways to wipe out their ‘foes’. All old maxims — ‘politics is an art of compromise’, ‘an eye for an eye will make us all blind’ or ‘true freedom requires the rule of law and justice’ — appear to have just been forgotten.
Opposition activists being denied any political space, opponents being arrested in a wholesale manner, the innocent and the apolitical being firebombed to death and people affiliated to opposition politics dying in ‘shootouts’ with law enforcers became the order of the day.
Now that there has been the lull of a kind, thanks to the city corporation elections scheduled for April 28 where both the parties have unofficially fielded their candidates, it is high time that both the camps tried to find out ways to move forward for the sake of democracy and politics.
The cause of the whole commotion resulted from the lopsided January 5, 2014 parliamentary elections, where the BNP, the key rival of the Awami League, kept off the process and tried to stop the elections saying that there was no level playing field in the absence of an election-time caretaker government that was put in place in 1996 to ensure free voting. The parliament in June 2011 scrapped the constitutional provision of the interim government following the Supreme Court verdict of May 2011, which termed the system unconstitutional and declared it illegal with an observation that the system might continue for two more general elections provided the parliament approved it.
The duty of the hour now calls on the politicians to reach a consensus on the nature of election-time government to put an end to the row once and for all, although Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League are still standing their ground of holding the national elections under the incumbent government, not heeding the demand for a non-partisan system by the BNP, which averaged 34 percent of votes in the general elections since 1991. The Awami League averaged 38 percent of votes in the national elections in 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2008, according to the Bangladesh Election Commission website.
Since the Awami League is in position, the onus lies with the party to settle the dispute by taking the rival BNP into confidence for holding inclusive general elections for the sake of pluralistic democracy and Bangladesh’s sustainable developments. Taking the foe into confidence is no defeat. Victory is only achieved when the victorious is greeted by the adversary or the antagonist.
FRIDAY, 17 APRIL 2015