Friday, March 11, 2005

BANGLADESH: Power-struggle the mother of governance problems

Sheikh Hasina, despite being a loose cannon and at other times becoming maudlin for being 'a victim and a target' of what she calls 'state-sponsored terrorism in Bangladesh' in Tuesday's Madrid meet, is trying to become wiser also on the home turf. She, to her party-men's surprise, has also opened the doors to other forces categorised by her as 'opposed to the freedom fight' - a name-calling that beats political science. While the subject of the forces favouring the freedom fight or opposing it is a matter of another discourse that is likely to negate the entire thesis, Hasina's 'open-door policy' in alliance-making on a seat- and power-sharing basis, hypothetically speaking, or for that matter in driving a wedge in the ruling party alliance or undoing the arithmetic of votes, is seen as a strategic as well as tactical reversal of the AL's own Mujibbadi credo, which minus socialism is fundamentally wedded to the Mujib cult, verging on ancestor worship at its worst and idolatry at its best. Both variants of politics are repugnant to the Bangladesh ethos.


Power-struggle the mother of governance problems
Enayetullah Khan

With Amnesty International in the bag, opposition leader Sheikh Hasina has now taken her war for human rights to Spain, and then further afield to Washington, where she will go on a familial-cum-business trip. Though not strong on the wicket of rights herself, given her own record in government and that of the parliamentary-turned-presidential-turned-one-party- government of the late Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, her father and the founding president of the country, she will be getting a lot of ears in the governing circles and also various networks in Europe and North America. International memory is after all proverbially short.

Begum Zia, the prime minister, is instead literally straddling the country, from one end to another, pointing fingers at Sheikh Hasina and her party for all the ills that her own government is beset with. Khaleda Zia, however, gets a lot more ears in the country on a comparative scale, though there is little to write home about her men, with the price of the staples, particularly rice, hitting Tk 23 and beyond per kilogram, too much for the common man?s comfort. The open market sales (OMS), of what many people think as fit for the stables only, has not helped, and the forthcoming IRRI and boro crops don?t promise an easing of the market price. And that?s a real bad news for the government, among other hackneyed, nagging and unmitigated public grouses that matter.

The forays in both cases are in the class of electoral campaigns, though the turfs are wide apart. Whatever the campaigns may yield in the run-up to the Caretaker Government (CG) ' the constitutional and an intermediate non-party regime holding the polls within 90 days, rain or shine (an Act of God excepted)' they will be carried to their bitterest last, close to the remains of the of the parliament's days that happens to be October, 2006. The current times, upped now in the usual Bangladesh season of news-fall ranging from November to March and with too many occasions to light the fuse, will ebb with the monsoon dousing the flickers and then the Ramadan piety ritually descending on the political class. The HR reports or the speculations about donor despair or ministerial hiccups will be put behind. And politics will again be business as usual badmouthing and some doses of hartals being administered now and then. For the time being, there is little or no way of 'Moving beyond Hartals,' as the UNDP, Dhaka, famously engages itself in an exercise in futility with handsome compensations for scribes and panellists billed as experts.

This being a job worth the UNDP handouts for advocacies by one too many worthies, the problems of governance can be said to lie in power-struggle - both within the parties and between them. What we are witnessing today in the current phase of what portends to be an absolute falling out with no holds barred, and some bizarre killer violence taking place on, say, August 21 and January 27, among others of lesser political import, are directly proportional to the behind-the-scene cabal power within the respective parties. External involvements, if any, and not unlikely though, are the functions of the cabal-power and not vice versa.

That being the case, it is unlikely that political violence will ebb completely even with elaborate security oversight and surveillance. It is more likely that intra-party dissensions rather than extra-party rivalries will increasingly overtake the political proceedings in the coming months, with intra-alliances backroom/bedroom manoeuvres in infidelities breaking up the unions on both sides and becoming the usual stock-in-trade in political commerce. After all, in a country where politics is cash and cash is power, pre-polls horse-trading is not a beauty that is a joy forever, but to the contrary. The transactions over and under the table, the somersaults in changing stripes and even the political vocabulary have now only begun, but they won't really become a regular pantomime, till such time as the government gets out and the CG takes over as a matter of rule, and without any procedure of handover that Sheikh Hasina had thought in her paranoia to be her prerogative at the discomfiture of losing face.

But Sheikh Hasina, despite being a loose cannon and at other times becoming maudlin for being 'a victim and a target' of what she calls 'state-sponsored terrorism in Bangladesh' in Tuesday's Madrid meet, is trying to become wiser also on the home turf. She, to her party-men's surprise, has also opened the doors to other forces categorised by her as 'opposed to the freedom fight' - a name-calling that beats political science. While the subject of the forces favouring the freedom fight or opposing it is a matter of another discourse that is likely to negate the entire thesis, Hasina's 'open-door policy' in alliance-making on a seat- and power-sharing basis, hypothetically speaking, or for that matter in driving a wedge in the ruling party alliance or undoing the arithmetic of votes, is seen as a strategic as well as tactical reversal of the AL's own Mujibbadi credo, which minus socialism is fundamentally wedded to the Mujib cult, verging on ancestor worship at its worst and idolatry at its best. Both variants of politics are repugnant to the Bangladesh ethos.

But there are more things to Mujibbad than meet the eye. And that happens to be extra-rhetorical and more pragmatic way of diluting her personal martyrdom agenda in favour of the broader power agenda under the current dispensation of CG elections and situational transfer of power that she had thought was forever during 1996-2001.

And it is in this context that I raise the curtain on the ongoing and the outgoing political habits which no longer, in our opinion, die hard. They are changing, perhaps for the better, but not without kicking up a lot of dust before the CG enters the government and the Election Commission, with a new face heading it, conducts the polls.

Let's sit tight with open eyes to see the drama unfold. Stay with us.