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Are we sliding down a slippery slope?
Publication Date : 20-03-2013
As politics is becoming more confrontational, the narrative of social discourse is getting warlike. The language of extremism as a consequence is no more confined to the domain of extremist politics, but has flooded into the otherwise civil preserve of democratic deliberations.
The Economist, wrote in a November 18, 2010 article on Bangladesh politics, titled “Politics of hate; An ancient vendetta continues to eat away at public life,” that “… the politics of hate and attrition grind away in Bangladesh. The thanks go mainly to the personal vendetta of the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, one of the two leaders, against the other, Khaleda Zia.”
When hatred becomes the essence of politics, the language through which it expresses itself cannot be civil. Organisations that believe in and practice different varieties of extremist and militant politics watch in amazement how the adherents of constitutional and democratic politics have borrowed their language to harangue their opponents.
However, the phenomenon is not of recent origin either. It found fertile ground in 1991. The fall of Ershad, followed by the general election and establishment of parliamentary form of government, was widely welcomed as homecoming of democracy. But that it had never come home gradually became clear after the initial euphoria clad in the haze of emotion receded.
The ugly face of dynastic power rivalry was so far hiding behind a facade of democratic slogans and campaigns. Authoritarian tendency to hang on to power even after the term in office is over became discernible since the first general election of 1991. Distrust between both the dynastic claimants to power grew over tine. As they gained experience, and with it the confidence in handling the state machinery and appropriating public resources, their craving for perpetuating their power increased.
This undemocratic desire to deny the opponent political camp a fair environment to vie for power through elections prepared the ground for the entry of extremist behaviour in political practice. At a par with militancy in political polemic, political encounters also started to get more violent and bloody on the street.
The street encounter in which innocent tailor Biswajit Das was killed on December 9 last year during an opposition-enforced blockade is an example of how cruel, senseless and violent the rivalry between opposing political parties can become.
In recent street clashes between the police and Jamaat-Shibir activists, we have witnessed yet another more sinister and terrifying face of such encounters. The term violence in its general sense cannot be applied to the deadly and bloody clashes that took place between the militant Jamaat activists and the police. It looked like a real war. To think of what the future holds in store for us sends shivers down the spine.
It is not hard to understand that the violent nature of critique by the opposing political camps is largely behind the bloody encounters on the streets. An example or two will suffice to demonstrate how our war of words in the political sphere goes. After the March 11 police raid on the Naya Paltan central office of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and arrest of more than 150 of its leaders from within the party office, Home Minister M.K. Alamgir said the police had arrested “miscreants.” The term “miscreant” was never before used in this way against leaders of a mainstream political party engaged in constitutional politics. His use of the term marked a departure from that tradition.
In late October 2011, State Minister for law Quamrul Islam even suggested that sedition charge could be brought against opposition chief Khaleda Zia and Fakhrul Islam, the acting secretary general of BNP, for what he called their “audacious remarks.” But Awami League was not doing so at that moment as his party was showing tolerance towards its political opponents, he added. It was undoubtedly the most quotable irony so far as tolerance is exercised in Bangladesh politics in recent times.
And consider the suggestion of charging the opposition leader with sedition. Doesn’t this kind of suggestion remind us of the past military dictators’ attitude towards politicians in general? Similar allegations with authoritarian overtone against opponent political leaders are also not being used for the first time by a ruling party against its opponent. The present opposition is not a stranger to the use of such extreme rhetoric against the incumbent, neither was it when it ran the government in the past.
Many cherish the idea and hope that a dialogue between the two parties, especially their supremos, can resolve the prevailing crisis surrounding the next election. Such a dialogue towards resolving the stalemate is desirable and we hope it will work.
A note of caution. The search had better not be focused only on a stopgap approach to resolve the present crisis. We need to look beyond the next election. A consensus across the political spectrum and civil society is necessary to remove the cause behind the rise of authoritarian behaviour in politics and work for breaking the vicious circle that has been breeding it, and thus clear the path towards the growth of a healthy, pluralist, democratic political culture in the country.