The opposition didn’t even bring out any programme after the 30 December election

True, they did not make any effective protest. They could have held rallies or demonstrations. Perhaps they just couldn’t organise themselves at the time, given the hundreds of cases said to be lodged against their leaders and activists, the enforced disappearances and the killings. They couldn’t stand up to the post-election onslaught.

What is your observation about the forthcoming election?

From the experience that we have had over the past 51 years since the independence of the country, we really never had had a 100 per cent free and election. We went near free and fair elections in 1991, 1996 and 2001. I am not including the 2008 election here for obvious reasons. Those who had been in power at the time were urgently in need to descending from the back of the tiger on which they were riding. They would not be facing any retribution. All this can be found in the book written by India’s president at the time, Pranab Mukherjee. Salman Khurshid’s book has some accounts of this too. This has been reflected in our foreign minister’s statement too. So naturally people have apprehensions concerning the election.

The opposition says that they will not join any election unless it is under a caretaker government. Will they consolidate their political standing or weaken it?

They have contested in elections under a political government and also boycotted elections under a political government. In both instances they faced serious damage. To a person with a minimum sense of fairness, the opposition’s demand is no unjustified. Elections under a political government are not fair and that is why Awami League launched a movement in 1996-96. Yet they were the ones who later abolished the caretaker government provision.

What could the role of the civil society be in such a situation?

The civil society comes forward in such circumstances so that the crisis does not intensify and that a solution can be found. But the strength of the civil society had diminished to such an extent that they can hardly play any role at all. And with many members of the civil society being lost over time, there is a lack of leadership in civil society. During Ershad’s rule, we saw 31 intellectuals issuing a statement. That created a stir in the politics at the time. People had great respect for these intellectuals. Are there not any such 31 intellectuals in Bangladesh at present? Are there no people whose conscience will drive them to speak out for the people, to resolve the crisis in the country? If there were, surely they would start contacting each other. I do not see any such thing happening. There is still considerable time before the election. A national consensus is needed in this time. Civil society needs to play a vital role here. They may not have the power, but we shouldn’t lose all hope.

Awami League and BNP are both inflexible about their respective stands concerning the election. Will this eventually lead to violence?

Violence is not necessary. I do not see any indications of that either. BNP is very sincere about not resorting to violence. They do not even have the organisational strength for that. I doubt if they would take any such risk.

So eventually will BNP contest in the election under the government, perhaps with a few conditions in place?

I do not think so. They have been hit hard. And not a day has passed that the BNP secretary general hasn’t made it clear that they will not go to the elections under a political government. After all that, if they take a U turn and acquiesce to the government’s conditions, they will lose the people’s confidence in their politics. The government must realise this. They have been in power for very long. That hasn’t been morally correct. Again, neither did the people launch any movement to force them out of power. My question to those in power, how much longer? Let them be a bit considerate this time. They sometimes talk about not arresting the opposition activists or not obstructing their programmes. But even so, certain things take place that belie these words.

There is no end to criticism about the last two election commissions. How do you view the present election commission?

The role of the election commission in our country has become cursory. Many feel that the present commission is better than the past two, but from certain words of the present CEC, it is apparent that he doesn’t do his homework before he speaks. But if he wants to win the confidence of the people and the political parties, this is essential.

So what do you think will happen eventually?

I have spoken about the two sides. So it now all depends on how much either side will concede. All sorts of formulas will arise. In 1999 Sir Ninian spoke of an election-time government with equal representation from both sides. In 2013 the prime minister spoke of taking ministers from BNP. What I feel is that the public discontent created by inflation may continue for quite some time. It would not be unnatural if this discontent is manifest in a movement aimed at changing the political scenario. It must be seen how comfortable the government would feel to remain in power in such circumstances.

Thank you

Thank you too