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Mainstream, VOL XLV, No 31

Can India Mutely Watch the Massacre of Democracy in Bangladesh?

Editorial

Saturday 21 July 2007, by SC

Bangladesh is in the grip of a fresh crisis with the military-backed caretaker government arresting erstwhile PM Sheikh Hasina, the Awami League leader, who by all estimates enjoys maximum popularity in the country despite every attempt to tarnish her image by levelling serious allegations of extorion and murder against her.

It is now crystal-clear that the caretaker government’s target of attack from the very beginning was Sheikh Hasina who, by her outspoken criticism of the covert military administration presently running the show in Dhaka, did not relent in her task of unmasking the caretaker regime. Lately she had openly declared that the “country cannot be administered with military intelligence” and “this cannot do any good to the state and the people”. It is to silence this voice of reason that the caretaker government hastily decided to put her behind bars. Is it a mere coincidence that she was arrested not only within barely 24 hours of the authorities’ announcement of the roadmap for the next elections but just after the Pakistan visit of the head of the Anti-Corruption Commission, former Army chief General Mashud Chowdhury?

The caretaker government’s double-standards are coming out in the open with every passing day: Sheikh Hasina is arrested on corruption charges but BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia, Matiur Rahman Nizami and Abu Hasan Mujahid of the Jamaat-e-Islami are not detained notwithstanding the serious cases against them. Despite the fact that both Nizami and Mujahid are charged with murder, they are not behind bars; rather Mujahid has been permitted to go abroad so that he is able to visit Saudi Arabia to bring more funds and Islamic ideological backing from Riyadh in order to enhance the Jamaat’s politico-organisational influence and power in Bangladesh. In fact even if Awami League and BNP leaders have been arrested and punished on charges of corruption, the military rulers of Bangladesh have not dared to touch any Jamaat leader on similar allegations.

While Sheikh Hasina’s arrest is a desperate attempt by the country’s military to control the political situation in Bangladesh, what is most encouraging is the opposition this step has evoked across the nation’s political spectrum. Public opinion too has expressed universal condemnation of the move.

Against this background it is all the more reason why the Government of India cannot remain a passive onlooker of such a direct assault on democracy on the part of the authorities in Bangladesh. If it remains indifferent, then the message will go out loud and clear: India is not bothered about the state of democracy in its neighbouring countries. That would only help further embolden Bangladesh’s die-hard anti-Indian military autocrats to deliver heavier blows on the country’s democracy and democratic forces in the days ahead.

It will be an unpardonable offence on the part of New Delhi to mutely watch the massacre of democracy in Dhaka. This will amount to a complete reversal of India’s spirited and principled support to the Bangladesh liberation struggle thirtysix years ago.

July 19 S.C

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