military dictatorship

Benzamin Mendez

On September 5, 2018, Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, a Distinguished Fellow at the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation; and a former Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, who was India’s High Commissioner to Bangladesh from 2007-2009 and Deputy High Commissioner from 1999-2002 wrote an article titled ‘Shadow of India, Hasina government’s corruption, repression of BNP looms over Bangladesh polls’, in the South Asian Monitor.

In this article, Mr. Chakravarty wrote: “Allegations against Hasina’s government include authoritarian governance, hounding of the opposition and rampant corruption. These issues and the India factor will dominate the electoral campaign. The sustained harassment of political opponents has only added to the growing sullenness among sections of the people and a pervasive feeling that the ruling AL government has assiduously subverted democratic norms and institutions. There is growing consensus that if elections are free and fair, the AL will be reduced to an embarrassing minority in the next Parliament. Many critics believe that the Hasina government will “manage” the election. This is popularly called “rigging” in South Asia.

“Critics allege that every national institution has been compromised and packed with party sympathizers. The national campaign against drugs has allegedly led to a “shoot to kill” policy that has led to deaths of innocents, according to human rights activists. One former chief justice of the Supreme Court, belonging to the Hindu minority community, fell out with the government and was forced to resign and seek refuge in exile. The Hindu minority, normally very supportive of the AL, is agitated and angry because AL leaders have grabbed Hindu properties with impunity. AL leaders think that India has no option but to support the AL and will not complain about harassment and discrimination against the Hindu minority.”

In another article titled ‘As Hasina hardens stand, Bangladesh may head for repeat of 2007 but will BNP play ball?‘ in the same website, Chandan Nandy wrote: “Today, as the Awami League stubbornly refuses to yield any ground, including creating conditions for holding free and fair elections, restoring state and democratic institutions and putting a halt to repressive measures, is the time ripe again, at least on the part of the League, to indefinitely defer the elections? Would such a stand compel and/or impel the army to step in as it did in 2007? There are, of course, other necessary considerations—the position New Delhi, the United States, and Britain will take on the “ways and means” that would sufficiently justify postponement of the polls—allowing for the restoration or “normal conditions” that would ensure an election free from violence, intimidation, and malpractices.

“Speaking to the South Asian Monitor, former Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh, Dev Mukherjee, admitted that the Sheikh Hasina regime has “made mistakes” and what it is doing, as exemplified by the method employed to end the Dhaka street protests and the arbitrary arrest of internationally acclaimed photographer and activist Shahidul Alam, is “very wrong and foolish”. Mukherjee, however, exuded confidence that “the Awami League will hold elections, especially because it knows that otherwise, it will have to face national and international opprobrium”. While Mukherjee said that elections will be held—at what time, he was not sure—it is “difficult to say or anticipate what role an apolitical army will play” in the weeks and months to come.

“…While Hasina is aware of the results of the pre-poll survey by a Bangladeshi think tank, which concluded that the Awami League will be “decimated” in the hustings and will be reduced to “lower-end double-digit numbers” should free and fair elections be held, the beleaguered party’s “inexplicable” stand in the events following the Dhaka students protests for safe roads has bedeviled political observers. However, suffice it to say that in a survey conducted in August 2017, the Washington DC-based International Republican Institute (IRI) had reported that “a combined 66 percent ‘strongly support’ (45 percent) or ‘somewhat support’ (21 percent) the ruling Awami League…”Meanwhile, both the surveys were done much before the recent students protest.

”According to the head of a Dhaka-based think tank, the “picture—whether the Awami League will stick to the election schedule or defer the process indefinitely—will become clear towards the beginning of October”. This is a clear indication that the ruling party will wait for the Eid celebrations to be over before it plays out its political-electoral card. On its part, the BNP, the think tank head said, “Could launch a national movement, though the party is aware that it does not have the strength needed to make such long-term action successful”. In this context, he added emphatically that “the Awami League, for its own good and for that of Bangladesh, will have to find a way out” of the current impasse.

“Preferring anonymity, a former general, a keen observer of domestic politics, said that in the wake of the “perceived unpopularity” of the Awami League, the ruling party could take recourse to two moves. First, it could defer elections for a certain length of time and find itself an exit route by avoiding an imminent electoral defeat. Second, by postponing the elections, “say by two years”, conditions could be created for a “government of national unity”. This, according to the general, would “facilitate the Awami League to dry-clean itself” before returning to contest elections held sometime in the future.”

After reading both the articles, it wasn’t difficult for me or most of the readers to assess the forthcoming political future in Bangladesh. In my personal views, Sheikh Hasina is going to press the court dealing with the August 21st grenade attack case in handing-down capital punishment (death penalty) to Khaleda Zia, her son Tarique Rahman, Chairperson and Senior Vice Chairman respectively and few more leaders of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) sometime by October first week. Hasina knows such verdict would force BNP activists in beginning agitation on the road thus paving the way for apolitical and pro-Awami League army officers in declaring the semi-martial law in the country.

When asked, a senior official of the Bangladesh army, seeking anonymity said, “We are fully prepared in taking responsibility (by playing a mock game of over-throwing Sheikh Hasina government) by the second week of October. The ruling party is aware of its forthcoming fate if the election is held by December 2018. According to a number of surveys, the ruling party cannot get even more than fifty seats in the parliament of 300 seats. Meaning, opposition, BNP will come to power. That will be a real devastation for the Awami League. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will never let that happen.”

It may be added here that during January 5, 2014, general election, Bangladesh Awami League got a comfortable ‘win’ in the voterless election as the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party boycotted it. This election has already been questioned by most of the Western nations including the United States of America. Only India, Japan, China and Russia stood in favor of this controversial election for reasons best known to them. Being the largest democracy in the world, India played terribly foul game centering this election. Indian government not only extended all-out support to Bangladesh nakedly, it assigned the Foreign Secretary Sujata Singh in making shuttle visits between Dhaka and Washington to help Sheikh Hasina in remaining in power. This election had in one hand increased confidence in Sheikh Hasina as well as has helped her in becoming much arrogant and intolerant (towards her political opponents and critics). Hasina and her partymen did not hesitate in openly mocking the United States and had established deeper ties with Iran. The current government in Bangladesh not only are autocratic, but it also is anti-West and antisemitic.

Whatever calculation Sheikh Hasina or her loyal army may have, the ultimate reality will be something else. As October will approach, United States will play its due role and most possibly this will lead to a situation where thousands of politicians will be killed. Sheikh Hasina and her family members either may be assassinated or pushed behind bars for an indefinite period. Hasina may get the opportunity of fleeing Bangladesh, leaving her son and daughter along with her Security Adviser Maj Gen (Retd) Tarique Ahmed Siddique to face numerous criminal charges. It is though very clear that Gen Siddique is planning a mock coup with the nod of Sheikh Hasina, a great upside down surprise awaits him as mid-ranking officers are already annoyed with Sheikh Hasina and her cronies.

Under the above circumstance, Bangladesh is definitely heading towards a military rule from the third week of October, if not then by November for sure, and most of the ruling elites will find themselves inside prisons with numerous criminal charges.

Benzamin Mendez is a research-scholar and former university professor.

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