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Current Affairs
Monday, 30 April 2012
Things are falling apart. The violence and mayhem are getting worse by the day... is the government committing political hara-kiri or does it have a more sinister plan up its sleeve?

A PROBE report

Something is rotten in the state of Bangladesh. In a series of unfortunate events, the nation is sinking deeper and deeper into a dark chasm of crisis. BNP leader Ilias Ali is missing, some fear that he may have been killed. Veteran Awami League leader Suranjit Sengupta, who had recently been the Railways Minister for the shortest stint, has been implicated in a multi-million taka corruption scandal. Sohel Taj, the dashing young leader of the ruling party and son of one of the nation\'s founding fathers Tajuddin, has resigned from the parliament. He previously resigned as State Minister for Home Affairs. Then there are the gruesome murders -- the killing of the young journalist couple Sagar and Runi, and the gunning down of the Saudi Embassy official. The killers in both cases remain at large and the mysteries are yet to be solved.

Adding to the overall discomfort and misery of the public is the power load-shedding and traffic mismanagement worsened by the economic contagion of exorbitant prices of essentials and the stock market debacle -- it is a never-ending list.

And under the circumstances, the gujab (rumour) grapevine is working overtime and in a most unhealthy manner, spreading alarm and panic like wildfire among the general public. Losing all hope and faith in the government, the people disbelieve anything the government has to say and believe any rumour or speculation that comes their way. And rumours there are many, spreading fast and furious thanks to the popular social networks like twitter and facebook which are simply digital tea stalls as far as political adda is concerned. Recently there was a terrifying rumour about the so-called Crusader 100, which held that Chhatra League cadres were being trained by Indian agencies to take down certain targetted people in Bangladesh. Most people believe this to be true. They believe speculations that there is presence of external intelligence operatives in Bangladesh. Such reports get wide circulation and acceptance. The government\'s credibility quotient lies at the bottom of barrel.

Obviously, government cannot be so blind as to be oblivious of things tumbling down all around them. Awami League has a propensity for surveys, but in a situation like this, it hardly needs a survey to assess its popularity. The writing is on the wall, it is loud and clear for all to see and hear.

And if people are waiting to see what the opposition does now, their eyes are equally trained on the government, to watch its next move. All indications are that the government is moving towards a very hard line. Analysts say that if the opposition thinks that the government has been harsh all along, they are yet to see what lies ahead, the extent of the government\'s ruthlessness. They are pulling out all the stops, and all laws, be they \'black\' or \'white\', are to be used to put paid to the opposition movement. The government is adopting a \'zero tolerance\' policy.

The government is in an aggressive mood. It has spent its tenure so far in building and nurturing a powerful police force. Unlike the past, now automatic weapons and APC\'s are being used to control the mobs. This does not bode well.

Democracy is moribund. There is no space for dialogue. The opposition has been clamouring for the reinstatement of the caretaker government system for the elections, but it\'s clear that the government has no intention of making any concession on the caretaker government issue.

The major opposition party BNP, on the other hand, might be agreeable to make concessions and be happy with the scrapping of the EVM (Electronic Voting Machine) system and elections under direct supervision of the army. Never quite comfortable with the armed forces, to avoid army deployment the Awami League government might go for staggered elections. The bottom line is that they will go all out to keep BNP, or at least Begum Khaleda Zia and her family members, away from the election.

The government is prepared and has a plan up its sleeve, according to analysts. To this end, political observers foresee an unleashing of terrorism all over the country. The government will go ahead with the trial of the war criminals and implementation of the verdict by the year end. It is determined not to make the situation conducive for BNP to participate in the polls.

All said that done, the government might go for early election next year. A trap for opposition!

Up until recently, BNP had been doing a good job of strengthening its organisational based and fomenting ties with the people down to the grassroots. This was evident in the huge success of the Road March programmes led by Khaleda Zia. The March 12 grand rally this year also was a tremendous success, with people pouring in from all over the country to join the meeting, despite all-out obstruction from the government and its agencies. Taking this into cognizance, the government has forced BNP so that rather than such popular programmes, it is now being pushed towards programmes of a more militant kind -- continuous hartals (general strikes) and similarly disruptive programmes.

As the situation unfolds, BNP and its allies will find themselves more occupied with demonstrations, stringent protests and street movements, rather than organising themselves for the elections. Exhaust them on the streets, seems to be the government\'s ploy and it seems to be working well.  Awami League will try its best to keep BNP out of the election race so its can bulldoze its way through. After all, it is more than aware of its dwindling popularity which simply serves to add to BNP\'s clout.

A sudden election may then be the trick up Awami League\'s sleeve, catching the opposition off guard. This smacks of desperation, but perhaps it feels that desperation calls for desperate measures.

Of course, it won\'t be easy sailing for Awami League and brute force does not always emerge on the top. There are other factors which are not going in their favour.

On the economic front, the government has invoked the displeasure of the international development partners, in other words, the donors. Rampant corruption in the Padma Bridge project has put a spanner in the works. The World Bank put its foot down firmly and, if the grapevine has an iota of truth, it has evidence of much more corruption which can hit some very sensitive nerves. The World Bank is reportedly to stop funding to the transport sector (communication) and the energy (power) sector as well. Is it the precursor to its winding up its office in Bangladesh?

The government has, though, been smug about the contingency package being offered by the IMF. But what they are not making public is the set of severe conditionalities that are attached to the package, conditionalities which will not be easy to meet. And the package is hardly a bail-out, considering the deep hole into which the government has dug the nation.

 At the end of the day, the factor that counts the most is people power. In politics, plans are made by the dozen, but how many of them actually work? People are an all encompassing factor. But will the people be able to exert their power is this sham of democracy?

In a police state, it becomes difficult for the people to make themselves heard. Are we to become a police state? Or be pushed out of the electoral process? Is an alternative national government in the offing? As events unfold on the next few months, a clear picture will evolve