Frying pan or the fire, which one?

Flags of Awami League and BNP

The left wing political parties have often been using the idiom ‘from frying pan to the fire”, referring to Awami League as the ‘frying pan’ and BNP as the ‘fire’. In other words, according to them, if they join the movement with BNP and install them in power, problems will worsen. They are even willing to weaken and isolate the movement for people’s voting rights and acquiesce to all sorts of wrongdoing and misdeeds, rather than that.

Many within our civil society have similar attitudes towards Awami League and BNP. Recent statements made by one of the main champions of the anti-corruption movement, Iftekharuzzaman, brought home this point further.

At the seminar the other day, among other matters, the issue of the present role of the civil society was raised. It was then that Iftekharuzzaman said, there are two reasons why the civil society today cannot function as expected. One, various restrictive policies and coercion of the government. Two, many in the civil society believe in the 'frying pan and the fire' and are in a dilemma over which is the lesser of the evils, Awami League or BNP.

Also Read

From Iftekharuzzaman’s words it seems that some among the civil society see Awami League and some see BNP as the lesser of the evils. To me, it is their personal preferences and independence to think in their respective ways. The problem is that they try to control the civil movement with this attitude, selectively remaining vocal or silent, depending on the government in power


I feel there are several reasons to consider the two parties, Awami League, to be bad. While carrying out some good work, both parties when in power have resorted to differing degrees of corruption, human rights violations, abuse of power, rigging elections and other misdeeds. That is why to some in the civil society BNP may seem worse and to some Awami League may seem worse.

I believe, however, such subjective thinking must not be allowed to weaken the issue-based or objective movement of the civil society. The main focus should be the perceptions of right and wrong, not who will wield power over these perceptions.

For example, if we believe in people's voting rights, then we will stand up against any power under whose reign rigged elections are held. The civil society that believes in democracy should not take into consideration who will come to power, BNP or Awami League, if there is a fair vote. Their consideration must be whether people's voting rights have been upheld or not.

Even if some of them believe that the party which is 'worse' in their eyes will come to power if voting rights are upheld, they should still maintain full respect for the people's voting rights and their discernment. After all, it is people's right to vote that is the fundamental basis of Bangladesh's 1972 constitution, the spirit of the liberation war and all global and national human rights conventions.

Similarly, if we believe in the 1972 constitution, if we consider ourselves to be human rights activists, then we must protest against all oppression, torture and injustice. The issue to be considered here is the question of human rights violations. When we protest, we cannot consider whether the victim or the victimiser is of our liking or not. If there is corruption in the country, we must criticise those in power unstintingly. Whether we like the family of the ruling party or dislike the family of the other party, such criticism cannot serve as a factor in this regard. We often lose sight of this.

From the civil society we often call upon the political parties to practice introspection. I think our civil society needs to undergo the same exercise. We too are guilty of arrogance, petty self-interests and narrow considerations


I also believe that the 'frying pan and fire' is an incorrect phenomenon. When there were fair elections in the country, then perhaps there was scope for such thought. But after three questionable elections, the feeble flames outside of power cannot even be compared to the fierce heat of the blazing frying pan.

We should rather realise that if there are fair elections, there is ample scope of power to change hands and so neither the frying pan nor the fire can become so menacingly hot. If there is a compulsion to hold fair elections, the party in power has the apprehension of losing power after five years at the helm. Then the other party will come to power and hold them to account for all their misdeeds, the media will highlight their wrongs and they may have to answer for each and every one of their wrongdoings.

If these fears are in place, the party in power will want to avoid defeat in the next election and will try, even to a limited extent, to avoid excessive misdeeds. But if any ruling party successfully remains in power by means of repeated rigged elections, then that fear no longer exists. They can carry out injustices, corruption and misdeeds with full confidence. On the other hand, the resistance power of party that has been repressed and suppressed continuously over the years gradually wanes.

Under such circumstances, we may consider just how logical it is to believe the authoritarian ruling party is lesser of the evils and the opposition party to be greater of the evil, which will hold the other party to account if it comes to power through a fair election. I agree that the second party may also resort to injustice if it comes to power, but it cannot be worse than the injustices of party that remains in power without any election. This will be crystal clear if we compare the performances of the governments that alternatively changed every term from 1991 till 2008, to the party that is in power from 2014 to 2024 by means of sham elections.

Our focus, therefore, should be on fair elections, that is, establishing people's right to vote, standing up against the power that has no public support.


From the civil society we often call upon the political parties to practice introspection. I think our civil society needs to undergo the same exercise. We too are guilty of arrogance, petty self-interests and narrow considerations. These weaknesses have damaged our strength to establish democracy, good governance, human rights and equality in the country. The 'frying pan and fire' theory indirectly contributes to boosting the strength of the authoritarian system of government, and many among us fall victim to such a government's repression.

Are we willing to take such unpleasant truths into consideration?

* Asif Nazrul is professor of the law department law at Dhaka University.

* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

Also Read