By Farooque Chowdhury
02 December, 2013
A charged Bangladesh mainstream politics now finds flowing blood everyday as the politics is delivering deaths daily. Common persons – public transport drivers, day laborers, low salaried employees, and similar “insignificant” citizens – are being burned to death. The acts reaffirm mainstream’s monopolization of violence.
Deaths of children, young and middle aged persons, mainly burned to death, now overwhelm mass psyche today. Dhaka press carries the numbers daily. It’s a mainstream politics that now finds violence as the main form of political struggle! It’s a mainstream political struggle that hurts the common persons, their life and their bread! Liberty, as it appears, is a pipe dream to the commoners now. Should one despise? Should one lament? Future bears the answer.
None claims responsibility of this sort of political action – spraying of petrol on humans and setting them on fire, and similar acts – and the actors are mysteriously cloaked. The common people don’t know the real political actors as they go unexposed. And, the mainstream’s common people-killing-political struggle, a variety of lynching, roars on.
It’s a politics, and the politics is of the mainstream as no contending class is now wrestling political power. The contending classes have been effectively demobilized and depoliticized long ago. Instead, the ruling elites with all its factions are engaged with itself. It’s a scrap within the same segment that dominates the society.
Its acts create controversy within its system and question the system. The controversy ranges from legislative assembly to court of law to administration, and contravenes all limits of humanity as the deaths declare.
One can leaf through a few old pages to have a hunch of today’s mainstream politics.
An article in Aneek, a Bangla monthly from India, said in June 2001: It will not be strange if the caretaker government system [a poll-time arrangement] turns controversial. Factions of the ruling segments are resorting to violence and blaming each other. Another general election will complicate the situation instead of improving it. (Sadek Rashid, “Bangladesh: the perspective of election”)
Another article in the same monthly said in August 2001: Accusation of election rigging shall not cease as efforts for unity of the ruling factions will fail until a force is used. (Sadek Rashid, “Bangladesh election”)
This reality has not changed since the statements were made about 12 years ago. So, Bangladesh people find them in a despicable and savage situation.
Controversy with the form of poll-time government is not only alive; it has compounded with fundamental questions coming to the fore. Now, the debate is: whether a non-party caretaker government or an all-party government will preside over the poll-period? Other issues have joined the debate. From both ends, credibility is at stake. Ultimately, it’s the credibility of organs of a ruling machine, and of the factions of the ruling segment.
In the last days of 1990, immediately after the fall of Ershad regime, the controversy on the issue of caretaker form of government was not in the imagination of the mainstream politics although seeds of the controversy were there.
Now, not only the form of poll time government, but also institutions of the state and principles of governance are pulled into the controversy that constantly questions credibility of a number of instruments of the ruling machine, which in turn also questions acceptability of these. It’s not the classes opposed to the mainstream, but the competing factions of the ruling elites that are raising the controversy and questions, and thus eroding acceptability of institutions and organs of the state. A “strange” act!
It’s a political fight. It’s quite natural. One should not expect an overnight resolution of all political questions as the issue is control over resources.
But the form the political fight takes harms the class rule as institutions of the state are being questioned and ignored by none other than the same class interests, which fail to find a common forum and peaceful form instead of resorting to force, an antagonistic approach, and a political practice that ultimately hurts the common people, and thus sows reasons for alienating the common people. It’s a limitation of the ruling elites irrespective of factions.
Politics of the dominating segment imposes the limitation. Inviting and accommodating of and relying on external interference with variance in level and form are a manifestation of this limitation.
Moving back to another old page again:
An article in Sanskriti, a Bangla monthly from Dhaka, said in September 1991: The Bangladesh ruling elites shall increasingly rely on external masters with the exposure of their incapacities and incompetence and decline in their credibility.
The observation was made more than 20 years ago.
Now, the reliance has increased as has increased the interference. Sometimes, it’s in a crude and vulgar appearance. Sometimes, it goes to the limit of hurting dignity and honor of a people.
But changes are appearing in the broader society that even factions of the dominating segment can’t ignore. Contradictions are bringing in the changes.
The last few weeks have found articles in Dhaka dailies and online news daily, at least three in number, discussing US role in Bangladesh politics. Tone of these discussions was critical. A few observations and comments were not soft. To some readers, a few of the comments may sound caustic. These came out from mainstream pens.
The articles, in Bangla, discussed working of lobby in US political system, and media, and the style of influencing and manipulating in the system. At least one of the articles discussed, in brief, the working of committees and sub-committees of the US Congress. At least two of the articles discussed a recent hearing on Bangladesh in a sub-committee. There are information, and a tone of criticism in these articles.
At least one of the articles pointed out a Congress member, who recently visited Bangladesh, and identified him as a lobbyist. The tone was not soft.
At least one article mentioned, with not a sweet tone, the US ambassador in Dhaka. A responsible discussant belonging to a mainstream political party made satirical comment, in a panel discussion/dialogue sponsored by an international news outlet, with a foreign diplomat. In the mainstream, this was unimaginable only a few months ago. It’s not a regular experience in this region also.
One report in a Bangla online daily mentioned the ambassador was trying for a long time to have audience with the prime minister. This, a long wait to have the PM’s audience by the ambassador, if factual, is a new development in Bangladesh political scene.
In the mainstream, this tone was absent in the 1980s and ’90s. Now, a critical tone is being heard. All political visitors, mediators or lobbyists, now don’t have an easy ride in Bangladesh. Lobby, committee, etc., and their functioning are now discussed. The information is reaching a section of readers, a part of the people.
Marketing of everything political is not now an easy job in Bangladesh society. Shall this diminish? Or, shall it spread more? The information already presented by a section of the mainstream will reach wider Bangladesh society as conflicting interests will widen its spread. This carries impact.
Further exposure by a part of the mainstream will not be an act of astonishment. Circumstance in future may push a part of the mainstream to expose names of lobbyists, contracts, the amount of money involved, techniques of manipulation with information and presentation of facts, propaganda style. The exposure, if it happens, can be cited as a gift from the mainstream to the political forces outside the mainstream.
This is part of political education of people that helps people understand everything is not black and white and all are not holy souls and many deals are driven by petty interests and many personalities and pronouncements are not as sacred as they appear and the sound they make. Elites like to ignore this process. An exercise with elitist politico-historical “blindness”!
Not A Cycle
This controversy and conflict shall continue as the contradictions within the dominating sphere still go unresolved. These are getting intensified, and the intensification is manifested in the form and style of political struggle the competing ruling interests/factions carry on. There are, no doubt, causes, material, which not only keep these unresolved, but also escalate these.
But the factional fight among the elites shall not move in a cyclic form, election-boycott-election or violence-temporary tranquility-violence, as changes entering the scene with further developments in the society will push for new equation between the dominating interests. A politically aware people, a people mobilized politically, a people with its own leadership shall shatter silence of death and change the entire political scene soaked with blood of common persons.
Farooque Chowdhury is Dhaka-based freelancer.