The 12th National Parliament elections in Bangladesh are scheduled to be held in January 2024. The experience of the previous three elections raises two important questions. The first question – will the caretaker government be formed? Second question – Will the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by Begum Khaleda Zia, participate (in the election) to challenge Sheikh Hasina for a third consecutive term as Prime Minister?
(My) visit to Dhaka last week made it clear that the ruling Awami League is unlikely to support caretaker rule by Hasina, making it impossible for the BNP to contest the election. A section of people I spoke to said if the elections were free and fair, the BNP would win. Among them were baraloks (rich men), bhadraloks (intellectuals) and journalists.
During my stay, BNP’s hartal-blockade was going on. It was accompanied by a walkout by garment workers over a wage dispute at the factory. 85 percent of Bangladesh’s $55 billion exports come from ready-made garments. (The country) is going to face more disasters in a fragile economy. Clashes between BNP (congregation) and retaliatory attacks by A.League led to the arrest of top BNP leaders.
Opposition to the ruling party, rising commodity prices and corruption have raised the clamor for change. The fight between the two begums is actually a proxy war between their sons.
Tariq Rahman in London and Sajib Wazed in New York, inheriting the top posts of BNP and Awami League respectively. Time (magazine) will make Hasina the cover of its November 20 issue.
The US and the West are pressuring Hasina to retain a caretaker government, which she left out of the constitution. At the first Chanakya Defense Dialogue held in New Delhi on November 3-4, Bangladesh’s former foreign secretary Shamser Chowdhury said, (Imposing visa restrictions on Bangladeshi nationals) The US should not pressure Hasina to make a political choice. Hasina refused to dialogue with BNP. He referred to the group as a ‘terrorist organisation’. He said: “Let Joe Biden have a dialogue with Donald Trump.”
Hasina alleged that the BNP and its fundamentalist ally Jamaat-e-Islami (who are barred from contesting elections) only wanted to create unrest. Meenakshi Ganguly, deputy director of Human Rights Watch, Asia, said targeting the opposition would not make elections free and fair. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the crackdown on dissent is illegal. India does not want to talk about this. They say – it is an internal matter of Bangladesh. Like other South Asian countries, India is wary of China’s growing influence in Dhaka. China is also silent on this matter.
The election schedule is expected to be announced soon. Hasina is speeding up the inauguration of various projects before the election code of conduct comes into effect.
India supported the 1971 liberation war (for which the Awami League is grateful). Despite ongoing political and economic support, there is widespread anti-India sentiment. India voted for Hasina’s daughter Saima Wazed as WHO (World Health Organization) Southeast Asia director, upsetting Nepal’s nominee. As in Sri Lanka, policymakers say: “We depend on India for security and China for economic development.” Dhaka also gives these statements.
The military, which ruled Bangladesh for 15 years after the assassination of Mujibur Rahman in 1975, is now under civilian political control. The change comes amid several corruption allegations against the army chief, including allegations of aiding two of his fugitive brothers.
All in all, it seems that the army will not interfere in the governance of the country now. The recent arrest of Lt. Gen. Hasan Suhrawardy (retd) on charges of sedition and collusion with the BNP was unusual, as were reports of army units being disarmed during Hasina’s visit to Chittagong on October 28.
Like most neighboring countries, India has put all its eggs in one basket in Bangladesh. BNP’s surprise comeback could land (him) in trouble.
[লেখাটি ভারতীয় ইংরেজি দৈনিক দ্য ট্রিবিউনে (১১ নভেম্বর) প্রকাশিত দেশটির সেনাবাহিনীর অবসরপ্রাপ্ত মেজর জেনারেল অশোক কে মেহতা’র নিবন্ধ থেকে ঈষৎ সংক্ষেপিত। অনুবাদ করেছেন তারিক চয়ন]