Don’t hurt people to let their voice heard

Don’t hurt people to let their voice heard

By: Prof. Dr. Mohammad Tariqur Rahman

More than 50 years after independence, the people of Bangladesh are yet to breathe in an “open” democracy. Being within the stomach of the largest democratic country in the region – India – Bangladesh people continue to suffer from democratic constipation.

The political arena in Bangladesh is now nothing more than a mockery of “titular” political opposition and freedom of speech to a handful of critics. With numerous reports of violations of human rights, thousands of activists and leaders of biggest opposition political party are either behind bars or hiding to escape arrest for politically motivated charges.

Voting rights are no less than an enigma for the citizens. Or else, why would an election commission have to have an unprecedented security measure with hundreds of armed forces guarding the office of the election commissions to declare the election schedule on November 15, 2023?

In the end, the fight for democracy in Bangladesh is now more of a global than a local agenda.

The fight for the democratic rights of Bangladesh citizens has become a “war” between two mighty democracies in the world – India and the USA. On both sides, they have their allies.

Everyone knows those mighty forces have their geo-political interests behind their prescription to cure democratic constipation in Bangladesh. Honestly, nothing is wrong with it – because “might is right”. The only concern is who will lead in the end, and how long will it take for a cure.

In the meantime, how many ordinary citizens in Bangladesh ought to suffer?

The US government along with their allies such as the EU have repeatedly announced their position to see democracy in Bangladesh such as a free, fair and participatory upcoming election.

The US has imposed individual sanctions and visa restrictions on those who are found a threat to the process of democracy. The affected ones are not ordinary ones but a few high-profile politicians, businessmen, and law enforcement officers.

While announcing the recent Presidential Memorandum for advancing workers’ rights at home and abroad, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken voiced out their support for the workers which would include the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation. Locally the ongoing movement is labelled as the force to oust the current Government in Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, India has reiterated their position not to “interfere” with the internal issues in Bangladesh. As if they have never done that.

In contrast to the statement of India’s current foreign secretary, “The election in Bangladesh is their internal matter, and it is for the people of Bangladesh to decide their future”.

India’s position in 2014 was exactly the opposite. The then Indian foreign secretary, Sujatha Singh, actively intervened to persuade opposition political parties, including the Jatiya Party that was led by the late Hossain Mohammad Ershad to participate in the national parliament election that had been boycotted by BNP.

Besides, the Bangladesh Government also expects India’s support for their political survival. No matter how it is interpreted, the current Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen’s admission in a press briefing after his India tour in August 2022 is a testimony to their expectation. He asked for Delhi’s support to help maintain “stability” and to him Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is the key to stability and communal harmony in the country.

As far as the current situation is concerned, surely India and the US do not have the same prescription for Bangladesh. Amidst this tension, Mr. Peter D Hass, the Ambassador in the US embassy in Bangladesh is now in Washington.

Earlier Mr Hass made notable negotiation attempts among the political parties and other stakeholders for a free and fair election which is scheduled to be held on 7 January 2024.

Whatever the outcome of their prescriptions, ordinary people continue to suffer from inflation, politically motivated violence, and facing the return of strikes and blockades. The fear of non-cooperation is rising too.

Can the political predicament in Bangladesh be resolved without suffering or casualties of ordinary citizens? I am afraid the answer would be negative.

Well Mr. Modi and Mr Biden, like it or not, a large number of people are looking forward to the solution that you and your Governments will offer for the ill-fated nation!

Results of negotiations between your countries is vital to the peace and democracy in Bangladesh. Let your duel with not force the ordinary people in Bangladesh to dwell with democratic constipation.

While the corrupt politicians, law enforcement agents, and businessmen in Bangladesh remain deaf, will you hear the people’s voices before they are hurt hard?

The author is the Associate Dean (Continuing Education), Faculty of Dentistry, and Associate Member, UM LEAD, Universiti Malaya. He may be reached at [email protected]

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