No matter who wins in this election, it won't be the people. After all, no parties truly representative of the people have tangible presence in the elections. Those in power are seeking votes to come to power again. They were in the government for the last 10 years and want to cling to power for yet another five years. Records say no election held under a ruling government has been fair, for which the caretaker government evolved. This time there is no caretaker government, there is the ruling party. And they have craftily used every tool and advantage they have created over the past 10 years.
There was apprehension that the opposition would not participate in the polls in the face of government repression, attacks, and the spree of cases and arrests. However, joining the election was a matter of survival for the opposition. If they did not participate in the polls, the registration of the major opposition party may have been cancelled.
Questions remain regarding the ideological stance of the two parties and their alliances. The government promises development if elected. But this development is an expansion of inequity. The development benefits just a handful of people. They are getting rich quick and siphoning money abroad. What does this development mean to the 80 per cent who are deprived? The development is being brought about by the toiling masses, yet they are the ones most deprived.
Meanwhile, the opposition promises a revival of democracy. But democracy does not depend on votes alone. The main purpose of democracy is ensuring people’s rights and creating equal opportunities. But are they listening to the people?
This election perfectly unveils the ugly face of the bourgeois politics. As for the the power of money, enough has been said.
What about the turncoats? What caused them to pull out? Badruddoza Chowdhury’s move was quite a shocker. He had been a tough critic of Awami League’s ideology, but now he has joined the the Awami ‘boat’. Yet, he came to politics through Ziaur Rahman. He was the first secretary general of the BNP. He had become MP, minister and was elected as a president of the country as part of the BNP-led government. BNP stood for Bangladeshi nationalism and he was committed to that ideology. On the other hand, Awami League believes in Bangali nationalism.
This election has unveiled opportunism in its naked form. Enam Ahmed Chowdhury was the latest case. There had been speculations that he would contest in the elections from BNP. When he did not get the BNP ticket, he did a U-turn and immediately joined Awami League.
So why were they with BNP in the first place? Simply for personal gains? Enam Ahmed Chowdhury had been chairman of the privatisation board during the BNP’s regime. The key ‘achievement’ of the board was shutting down Adamjee Jute Mills. That was most damaging to the country. But he termed the jute mill as a python that would swallow everything up unless destroyed. He joined the politics at the end of his bureaucratic career and has now he has changed parties. He is more concerned about private rather than public interests.
This time the ruling camp can’t smear their opposition as anti-liberation as many in the opposition camp fought in the liberation was and are celebrated freedom fighters. And both the camps have war criminals. BNP has drawn up a list of 22 ‘war criminals’ who are contesting the polls from Awami League (Prothom Alo, 25 December 2018). Also, both camps include Islamic parties in their respective coalitions. The hidden ‘ideology’ of both sides is nothing but ‘opportunism’.
It is only natural that the people in the government will work for the government. This election is no exception. The administration went all out to ensure the ruling party faced no obstacles. Even former civil servants and former military men called upon the prime minister and wished her success in the elections. It is not unusual for the administration and law enforcement to support the government. But if they get involved in the political activities of the ruling party, that does not bode well for the public interests and security.
Businessmen declared they wanted the current government to continue in power to keep up the pace of development. They are the part of the development and some of them have impressed their world with their achievements. But they are not keeping their wealth in the country. They simply siphon it abroad.
A huge amount of the election expenditure will go to the hands of the unemployed youth. These are the ‘lumpen’ who are not loyal to any political party, only to money.
This development is not generating employment. The development, founded on labour of the people, is just widening the gap. The rulers should have been most alarmed by the unemployment. The ‘lumpen’ are given the money during the elections, but when they will see the money going away, they will turn to crime. The number of drug addicts will increase and there is no guarantee that already high number of murders and rapes will not increase in the future.
Islamic parties are gaining ground. We know about the atrocities of Jamaat-e-Islami. But the way Hefazat-e-Islam is advancing in the political arena and garnering support is dangerous too.
The people of Dhaka saw their atrocities during the Shahbag movement. Some of their demands are despicable. They want a blasphemy law as in Pakistan. It could hardly be imagined that such a demand could be made in a secular country like Bangladesh. Yet this group is being given priority. Some objectionable changes have been made in the text books at their behest. Their education degrees have been given equal status as university degrees.
None of this is good news. The wealthy people of the country realize this and are investing in their future abroad. They donate money to Qawmi madrasa education at home, but send their children abroad. These youth will return. Many of them have gone abroad for the elections, to watch the polls from a safe distance. In fact, this has caused quite a crisis in airline tickets. (Banik Barta, 25 December 2018).
The bottom line is, things must change. We need to replace individual ownership with collective ownership. The country’s leftists should lead the way. The problem is, the leftists are not strong enough. They are not given the space. The government dislikes them and the media is totally against them as the owners of the media houses are all for the private ownership. Ironically, the Islamic political groups have the same mindset for which they too are growing in strength.
Most of the people believe that only the ‘boat’ and ‘sheaf of paddy’ will survive in politics. Given the circumstances, I doubt the ‘sheaf of paddy’ has any future. Then who will Awami League’s next competitors? Leftists have no chance either, as the bourgeois do not want to see them in place. In that case, Islamic parties will fill the gap. That will not be good in any way. We surely cannot let Bangladesh become the Middle East. It is imperative to emerge from this frustration, unite and stand up against the system.
*The writer is an emeritus professor, Dhaka University. This piece, appearing in Prothom Alo print version, has been rewritten in English by Toriqul Islam