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Mainstream, VOL LI No 52, December 14, 2013 | Focus on Challenge of Religious Fanaticism to Democracy in Bangladesh

Bangladesh: Amidst Ominous Forebodings

Thursday 19 December 2013, by SC



The country has been witness to extraordinary developments in the last few days. The results of the elections to the five State Assemblies of Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram and Rajasthan have dealt a stunning blow to the largest constituent of the ruling alliance at the Centre, its rout in the Hindi heartland exemplified by its humiliating defeats in Rajasthan and Delhi where it was in power for five and 15 years respectively. In fact the outcome in Delhi has been more severe for the Congress as it not only came third in the electoral race but also could not touch the double-digit figure in terms of seat-share; moreover the incumbent Congress CM, Sheila Dikshit, lost to the fresh entrant Aam Aadmi Party chief, Arvind Kejriwal, by a huge margin of over 25,000 votes. Its solitary win in Mizoram, though quite convincing, is no consolation for it since in the Hindi belt, which really matters in the country in electoral arithmetic, it is practically nowhere except in Maharashtra where it continues to share power with its UPA partner, the NCP.

As far as the principal Opposition party, the BJP, is concerned, it has humbled the Congress in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan no doubt, but in Chhattisgarh it could just manage to secure absolute majority in the State Assembly as it was a neck-and-neck fight till the last lap. However, it won a record number of seats in Rajasthan (a State it had lost to the Congress five years ago) and improved on its striking 2008 performance in Madhya Pradesh. Yet it was definitely disappointed in Delhi where despite emerging as the single largest party it could not win an absolute majority as the newly-found Aam Aadmi Party, making its debut in the electoral arena with its public crusade against ever-growing corruption in the polity and among politicians of all hues, played the spoilsport by getting just four seats less than the BJP in the Assembly (AAP 28, BJP 32) leaving the Congress with a paltry eight seats way behind. It must be stated in all fairness that the ‘Modi magic’ did not work uniformly everywhere.

The Aam Aadmi Party’s meteoric rise in the political firmament was the most significant feature of these elections even though it is confined to Delhi. People at large, disgusted and exasperated by the mega-scams and misdeeds of the ruling Congress in the national Capital, voted with a vengeance for the fresh faces of the AAP thus enabling the new party’s political greenhorns to create a history of sorts.

While democracy in the country has manifested itself in all its magnificence, it is facing serious threats in our neighbouring state of Bangladesh where religious fanatics, steeped in the funda-mentalist one-dimensional orthodoxy of the bigots, are on the rampage. They are endangering secular democrats of the nation who are firmly upholding the ideals of the 1971 liberation war that was fought by the teeming millions in Bangladesh in defence of the values of democracy, linguistic nationalism, secularism alongside socialism.

The scenario in Bangladesh, that has already become highly complex due to various factors [including the attempts by the US media (like The New York Times) to force Washington to impose sanctions on the Awami League Government headed by Sheikh Hasina], is punctuated by the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami, in conjunction with other groups of orthodox fanatics opposed to the country’s liberation, attacking the secular democratic public opinion in the state taking recourse to violent outbursts and widespread killings. They have, in combination with the Opposition BNP, taken up the issue of setting up a caretaker government to conduct the impending parliamentary elections (set for January 5, 2014) as a pretext to organise their violent acts that frequently border on terrorism. At the same time the ongoing war crimes trial has given them an alibi to spew venom against the nation’s secular democrats with renewed vigour. Last night (that is, on December 12, 2013) the hanging of a senior fundamentalist leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Abdul Quader Mollah, accused of conducting genocide of countless people, brought out the nation’s sharp polarisation on the future course Bangladesh is to take. Mollah was the first politician to be executed for such crimes. While thousands of people holding torches thronged the capital’s iconic Shahbag Square to celebrate the implementation of the Supreme Court verdict on this score, the Jamaat described the hanging as a “political murder” and warned of exacting revenge for “every drop” of Mollah’s blood.

Mollah was notorious as the “Butcher of Mirpur” for the atrocities—like rape and killing of women and children alongwith the elimination of several progressive intellectuals assisting the freedom struggle—that he perpetrated in a Dhaka subsurb in collusion with the Pak Army 42 years ago prior to the Pakistani forces’ surrender to Bangladesh’s mitra bahini (allied forces), that is, the Indian Army, in the capital city of what was then East Pakistan.

The orthodox fundamentalists and fanatics are using Mollah’s execution to engineer large scale violence no doubt, but the young people (among whom are numerous young women) are celebrating it. It is the youth, pledged to uphold the legacy of the 1971 struggle, who offer a ray of hope in the midst of the enveloping darkness wherein the bigots of the Jamaat and its associates are feverishly operating in their bid to Talibanise Bangladesh.

As uncertainty grips the future of Bangladesh, it is the Shahbag upsurge of the youth which injects confidence in our minds that regardless of the outcome of the present struggle, Bangladesh is determined to chart a new path towards genuine freedom based on secular democracy in the long run.

The ominous forebodings today must not blur our long-term vision.

December 13 S.C.

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