Bangladesh’s politics is becoming more fractured | By Dr M Usman, Italy


Bangladesh’s politics is becoming more fractured

BANGLADESH will be a valuable asset in the great-power conflict taking place throughout Asia since it is a sizable and developing nation in a strategically important area. It would be wise for U.S. politicians to start paying more attention to it while simultaneously acknowledging and addressing a number of important problems.Human rights abuses, political unrest, and protracted periods of corruption have plagued Bangladesh for years. The nation is dealing with an increased danger from extremists, and its more authoritarian leadership has created many issues that have prevented it from realizing its potential to play a significant role in the world. By supporting Bangladesh’s state institutions, focusing more on the authoritarian excesses of the governing party (such as its reversal of secular norms for the purpose of political expediency), and supporting the satisfaction of critical humanitarian needs, the United States may assist Bangladesh in overcoming its democratic deficit.

Bangladesh is seeing an increase in political rifts and violence ahead of the national elections set for January 2024. On December 9, some 100,000 protesters in Dhaka requested the creation of a neutral caretaker administration and the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina under the leadership of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). In addition to leaving the National Assembly, the opposition accused the Awami League (AL) administration of engaging in cheating, fraud, and fascist dictatorship during the course of its roughly 15-year reign.According to BNP spokesman Zahiruddin Swapan, our fundamental demand is that Sheikh Hasina steps down, the legislature be dissolved, and an impartial caretaker administration takes charge so that free and fair elections may occur. On December 6, a violent outburst occurred in Dhaka when police opened fire on BNP protesters, resulting in one death and several injuries. This escalated public anti-government sentiment.

In retaliation, the authorities detained BNP members, including its secretary general. The rise in gasoline costs, the lengthening of load shedding, and the increasing cost of necessities gave rise to widespread protests against Sheikh Hasina’s administration. In addition, 15 western embassies released a joint statement urging the Bangladeshi government to permit free speech and non-violent protest. The Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association urged the Bangladeshi government to uphold the right to peaceful assembly and desist from employing disproportionate force against demonstrators.The current wave of anti-AL protests is the biggest since 2009 and indicates Sheikh Hasina’s declining popularity after 15 years in office. The AL Administration is overconfident under the guise of purported economic growth and prosperity, but her opponents charge that she is using the worst kinds of fascist tactics to quell opposition. According to Human Rights Watch, Bangladesh has allegedly used covert detention facilities. The organization has urged the government to look into these claims and free everyone who is currently being detained there.

Also, since 2009, the Bangladeshi security forces have “enforced disappearances” of close to 600 males. According to the UN working group report released in August 2022, 72 victims of enforced disappearances are still unaccounted for in the nation. With such evidence indicating the use of violent force against opponents, the narrative of Sheikh Hasina is that opposition parties intend to destabilize Bangladesh by cooperating with terrorism. For 15 years, AL employed intimidation and terror to stifle dissent, but it seems that it is unable to deal with the growing level of public discontent or use forceful armed methods in upcoming elections.

For a variety of factors, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is in a terrible situation. She has a history of following orders from New Delhi, and Bangladesh regards her relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi with contempt. Bangladeshis are quite angry about how the BJP administration has treated religious minorities, especially Muslims. Bengali Muslims residing in Assam have been directly impacted by adopting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Registration of Citizens. Outrage in Bangladesh resulted from Indian Home Minister Amit Shah’s mocking of Bangladeshis and threat to drive Bengali Muslims out of Assam. When it was announced that Modi would visit Bangladesh to commemorate the country’s 50th anniversary, there were a lot of rallies in Dhaka. Nevertheless, Bangladesh’s state and society have been deeply impacted by Indian influence through RAW. The relationship between AL and India predates Bangladesh: In 1971, MuktiBahini was assisted by New Delhi in separating Bangladesh from Pakistan. As Modi has said repeatedly, when AL and its backers declare that they owe their freedom to India, Dhaka cannot save its sovereignty, according to its detractors, since India has been mortgaged to it.

Second, given the accusations made against AL of the worst types of election manipulation and vote fraud in the past, the demand made by the BNP and other opposition parties to create a neutral caretaker administration before the next elections has some substance. In Bangladesh, the concept of a caretaker government holding general elections has evolved. Nevertheless, the Sheikh Hasina dictatorship changed the constitution to remove the need for a caretaker government and oversaw 1996, 2001, and 2008 elections. There is precedent for AL using intimidating armed methods to win elections. Thirdly, if Sheikh Hasina wins a fourth term in office, the youth of Bangladesh, who comprise most of the country’s population, fear for their future. Increasing socioeconomic disparity, corruption, nepotism, and authoritarian rule amplify youth insecurity. The time for Bangladesh to act has come, and if political division and violence increase in the next days, Bangladesh’s economic success may be in jeopardy.

—The writer is Research Scholar and Academic, PhD in Political Science at the University of Pisa, Italy.

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