When we meet an acquaintance in the passing, on the street, in a bus, train, launch or anywhere, the invariable question is, "How are you?" And our invariable reply, no matter how we actually may be, is "Fine," or perhaps, "so-so." What else can one say? The next question that follows is, "What about the country?"

Everyone is concerned about the country. Such a common question or concern is not apparent in the western world. But here, in this country, this is another inevitable question. Why is this question so common?

I do not know for certain why this is so, but I can guess. Everyone thinks about the country, to varying degrees, particularly those who are referred to as the 'common masses'. After all, they had made immense sacrifice to liberate this land. There is the opposite picture too where some people think of nothing but themselves, their families and their close circles.

The conversation continues. Before, I would say a lot of things, but that all sound so repetitive now. I say, I don't have the time to think about the country. It's just an uphill struggle for survival. When you go to the market and hear the prices of things, the blood rushes to your head. It's a challenge to make ends meet. Where is the time to think about the country?

But friends are not going to let me off so easily. They say, "You can't just give up!"

"What should I do?"

"The country can't continue in this way!"

"But I don't run the country. And the people who run the country, where will they get the time to think about us?"

"But you can't ignore it. Don't we have a civil responsibility?"

"Not really, I don't think that way anymore. Those who are running the country, will continue running it in this manner. We have nothing more to do other than look on."

"You are assailed with hopelessness"

"I guess so. I simply cannot consider this country as my country anymore."

"But why?"

"It is because an owners' association has been established in the country over the past 50 years. The country runs at their behest, at their sermons. They regularly dish out their discourses and I just nod in agreement. That is life."

"But that doesn't mean you can give up and sit silently at home."

"Then take to the streets, wage a movement. Turn the tables. Can you?"

"But this 'bhai' and that 'bhai' are calling for a movement."

"All of those are empty words, blank fire. Behind the scenes they are in line with the government. Have you forgotten what Ershad had said?"

"What had he said?"

"He had said, 'These people swear at me the whole day, but then come to me at night.' I heard they were given good packets too, probably still receive those envelopes. Shall I tell you their names?"

"But this can't simply be accepted. There is no democracy in the country. There must be a fair election."

"There was a fair election in this country under a political government. That was back in 1954. Nurul Amin's Muslim League faced a miserable defeat against Huq-Bhashani's Jukta Front (United Front). He left power and stepped aside."

Such are the conversations that take place in the passing. Many weighty words have been added to our vocabulary in recent times: stakeholders, inclusive government, level playing field, accountability, and so much more! We are juggling these words constantly, but to no avail. Not a scratch touches the owners' association. Everything is just the same.

There was a time when politics was an essential commodity of the people of this country, like rice or dal. But people, I guess, have come to their senses. They are just an excuse. There is no guarantee that the owners' association will be elected through their votes. No one goes to the people to win.

They go to the boss. What obeisance, what fawning and flattery to reach the boss! Not everyone has the chance. There is a saying that no one returns empty handed from the shrine of the saint. There is hope when one makes a pledge to a pir or a saint who has passed away. But when one goes to a living 'pir', one must get rewarded directly. The ones who receive nothing, leave dejected. In anger, they take to the streets with sticks and stones. This struggle of the deprived is seen anywhere and everywhere.

It is the same with those who are not the bosses now, but were the bosses before and aspire to be the bosses again. There is so much lobbying and bargaining to get a place in a committee. If one can get a post, that enters one's bio-data. That's a huge investment for the future!

As for BNP's body language, it seems this time they are desperate and determined. The way they are talking at meetings and seminars, it seems they have taken a decisive stance

Over the last few months there has been quite a stir in the country that an election is approaching. Nowadays there are a lot of fixed matches in football and cricket. There are international committees to look into these. If caught, punishment is meted out. We still remember South Africa's Hansie Cronje and India's Azharuddin. They were excellent cricketers, but they lost everything to greed.

There are fixed games in politics too. This was rampant in the eighties. Those who would regularly receive packets are still active in the political field. They have very little shame.

All said and done, our country still has two-party politics. The people see two parties, Awami League and BNP. If the voters get the power, they change the government. That is what we saw from 1991 to 2008. But that wand has disappeared from the voters' hands.

It is heard that the election is to be held in December next year. What will happen then? We conjure up all sort of imaginary scenarios. There is the 'scenario development'. What other scenarios will we see in the future? The conjectures in the public mind and floating in the air are:

1. Will there be an election?

2. If there is an election, will all parties join?

3. Will the election be credible if a major party does not take part?

4. Despite all the big talk, are deals being negotiated under the table?

5. How many seats will the opposition be given in the coming election?

There is a phrase, 'fait accompli', a done-deal, decided by fate. Will the politics of the election go according to the constitution or it is a done-deal, already decided by fate?

Finally, about BNP. It is clear that the ruling Awami League is not stepping aside. The 'golden boys' are guarding the field with their swords and sticks, making sure the enemy cannot take over the streets. As for BNP's body language, it seems this time they are desperate and determined. The way they are talking at meetings and seminars, it seems they have taken a decisive stance.

Both sides have game plans. The ruling party's game plan is understandable to an extent. Their strategy worked in the battles of 2014 and 2018. They are quite confident. Both times BNP's strategies fizzled out. This time it is hard to say what arrow they've placed on their bow. Huge crowds are turning up at their meetings. The large turnouts at these gatherings indicate they have public support.

But public support is not the bottom line. It makes no difference how well you may play in the field, even if you have control of the ball 85 minutes of the 90-minute game, if a striker of the other team comes and sends the ball sailing into your goal at the last minute. The referee blows the whistle. The game is over. More important than play well here, is to have a skilled finisher in the team. Who is BNP's finisher?

* Mohiuddin Ahmad is a writer and researcher