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Bangladesh visited and revisited

By Abdul Gaffar Choudhury

More than a year ago in mid-2013 I visited Dhaka. Bangladesh then was facing an uncertain future.

Awami League and BNP were at loggerheads about the process and procedure of the next election

and it was almost certain that a confrontation between the two major parties was inevitable. Awami

League then had survived the Hefajati uprising but was facing a turbulent political confrontation.

Jamaat was with BNP to trouble the government because they were dead against the trials of the

war criminals of 71. BNP, on the other hand, thought that the country was behind them and they

could topple the government with an easy movement, if necessary by creating anarchy in the

country. At that time though Awami League was in power, their popularity was at its lowest ebb.

They were defeated in the five City Corporation elections. The so-called elite class- the Yunus camp

and a section of powerful media were all combined against Awami League government.

At the International front the situation was not favourable for Awami League government because

America and some European countries were pressurizing Hasina government directly or indirectly to

accommodate BNPS’s conditions on election. The only country which was giving tangible support to

Hasina government– the Congress government of India– was themselves in a tottering condition. It

was speculated that if an election was held at that time, even under Hasina government, BNP’s

victory was almost certain.

Awami League was not in a position to go back to the caretaker government system which BNP was

demanding. A compromise formula was evolved by UNO’s mediation that Hasina would be in prime

ministerial post without executive power and BNP could choose any important ministerial post in

the interim government. Khaleda Zia almost agreed to this formula and was about to announce the

joining of BNP in the election. But Tareq Rahman, her stubborn son sitting in London instructed his

mother not to join the election until Sheikh Hasina resigned.

Instead of a compromise his instruction was to create countrywide lawlessness, disruption of public

life with the help of Jamaat. Sheikh Hasina very courageously faced the situation, kept her nerve

steady and held the election without the participation of BNP and their cohorts. That was the

greatest blunder of BNP in their long political history. It was almost like a political harakiri. Now BNP

leaders, perhaps Begum Zia also realize their folly, but they are not in a position to correct their past


When election was held on 5th January last year I was in London. I had great apprehension whether

this election without the participation of BNP would be accepted by the people and the foreign

powers. The privileged elite class and a section of the so-called neutral media were united against

the election and supported BNP’s demand of a new election under a care-taker government. There

were pressures from some powerful western powers also.

Sheikh Hasina showed great courage to fight against all odds and to stick to her stand. Her

government survived, people have if not accepted but tolerated the election result and western

countries even United States eventually adjusted their policy to accommodate Hasina government.

The new Indian government under Narendra Modi expressed their desire to cooperate with Hasina

Government and the last flame of hope of BNP that they would get BJP on their side has been

extinguished. The joint terror-tactics of BNP and Jamaat has incurred public disapproval. On the

other hand, Hasina government’s great success in economic field has removed the discontent among

the people which was the political capital for BNP for some time. Though Awami League could not

earn mass popularity for some other reasons, BNP could not gain their previous position.

In December 07 last year, after more than a year I visited Dhaka along with some villages including

mine. I witnessed a different scenario this time. The economic prosperity is visible in cities and

villages alike. The labour market in village is very high and the surplus food production has made

hunger and famine a thing of the past. School children are getting free text-books, and monthly

allowances for poor widows and the freedom-fighters has reduced poverty in many families. City-

business life is thriving, the inflation is under control and national economic-growth in Bangladesh,

according to Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen is better than India.

But still there are some problems overshadowing Awami League’s economic success. The rampant

corruption and mal-administration along with misdeeds of student league are more prominent in

the public mind than the miraculous economic success of the government. I found people praising

government’s economic success but criticizing their failure to establish good-governance. Awami

League’s organizational position is very weak and everywhere leaderships are engaged in internal

power struggle. Many neutral observers in the country told me that BNP or any other party are not

that much of a great challenge to the present government; the challenge is growing dangerously

inside the ruling party which might cause the downfall of the government. If any electoral debacle

happens in the future for Awami League it will happen not because of BNP or any other party, but

for Awami League’s own fault.

Before coming back to London, I also visited neighbouring Indian-state West Bengal. The political

situation of that state is very uncertain. Mamata knowingly, or unknowingly made an alliance with

powerful Non-Bengali section of Muslims. Most of them fled from Bangladesh after the war of

Independence and settled in West-Bengal and their origin is from Bihar. Politically and economically

they are now more powerful than the local Bengali Muslims in West Bengal and most them are anti-

Bangladesh and anti-Awami League.

To keep this vote-box intact Mamata followed a policy against Bangladesh and is now accused of

having alliance with ultra-fundamentalist groups in Bangladesh. Mamata, the Chief Minister of West-

Bengal like Khaleda suffer from political opportunism. For this reason Mamata lost her popularity

and is now facing gathering political storm created by BJP. Perhaps, the delayed realization of her

political folly prompted Mamata to agree to visit Bangladesh in the month of February. If she comes

out from the influence of powerful Muslim-fundamentalist clique in West-Bengal and make a

compromise with Bangladesh government it may save her from a possible political debacle but it will

be surely a political victory of Hasina government.

With Mamata’s cooperation if Dhaka government could finalze the Teesta and Tipaimukh treaty and

the problems of enclaves that will add further to Hasina government’s success list. Her promise to

start the Padma Bridge project within a short time may make her party invincible in the next

election. But first of all she would have to organise her own house i.e. her own party immediately. A

ministerial reshuffle is overdue now.

Now Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is facing two great tasks. One is to rebuild her party and reshuffle

her cabinet to ensure mass-expected good-governance by this government with economic success.

Recently BNP tried to start seize movement in the country with the demand of government’s

resignation. The government has tackled the situation without much effort. My intuition after

revisiting Bangladesh is that Awami League might come to power winning another election if they

rebuild their house first.