We often hear about economic recession, but there’s a recession in our politics at the moment. In economics, the state has to take up the role of an investor during a recession. We still read about The Great Depression in the US, between the two world wars. Over here, our share market underwent a depression, a least twice. It looks like another one is coming around the corner. It’s like legalised gambling, with a ten taka share being sold for a thousand. Some make millions in this market, while others become paupers.
It’s like that with the political ‘market’ nowadays. Between 1966 and 1968, most of Awami League leaders were behind bars. They were not active on the streets, and it was a recession in all senses of the word. The slump disappeared with the mass uprising in 1969, but that bullish spell didn’t last long. In 1975, 1982 and 2007, depression gripped politics again.
Politics here has been caught up in the control of particular coteries. Then sometimes the control slips from their hands. Just as the common man has no control over the ups and downs of the share market, the public too has nothing to do with the tragicomedy of politics.
The farmers have to sell their paddy for a pittance and borrow money at high interest rates. Unemployed youth sell their homesteads to sail off overseas in search of a better life, only to end up in asylum centres, or drown and die at sea. Who has the time or energy to worry about politics, political parties, fronts, banners, slogans, manifestoes, missions and visions? The young people are busy trying to earn a college or university degree and sell it in any market they can.
It is only those who still frequent the corridors and drawing rooms of politics, as well as the media, that keep the flame of politics alive. Sometimes the flame flickers and dies, then has to be relit, and flare up again as it did over the 2018 election.
Many were caught by surprise at the 2018 election results. They couldn’t imagine that the opposition would be reduced to single digits. Then again, many were not surprised at all. They took it for granted that this is how things would be. It is strategy that counts in a war, not the number of soldiers, elephants, horses, arms and ammunition. This was evident in the battle between Lord Clive and Sirajuddowla. As they say, there’s nothing fair and love and war. It’s all about strategy.
Jatiya Oikya Front came up with quite a stunt during the 30 December election. Led by Kamal Hossain, it stood up firmly against Awami League. The anti-Awami League BNP joined hands. Then again, some say this too was just a ploy. BNP had been averse to joining the election, but Kamal Hossain brought them to the fray. Kamal Hossain has face value, a good image among civil society and in international circles. But other than BNP, the other parties which drew close to him had no clout whatsoever. It was BNP that was expected to be the power factor, but they were defeated by Awami League’s strategy.
Victory for the government was two-fold. Firstly, they managed to draw BNP into the election and display this as inclusive polls. Secondly, they managed to swear seven of the Oikya Front into parliament, showing that there was a ‘viable’ opposition in parliament. BNP said that the election and the parliament were illegitimate but were using any space they could manage.
Jatiya Oikya Front comprised leaders and parties of all polarities. Some of them were radically opposite in ideology, but the platform created a sort of national unity. It was a merger of the ‘Joy Bangla’ and ‘Bangladesh Zindabad’ schools. Basically, it was an election alliance. The elections are over, so the question is why it still remains in existence.
The Oikya Jote is on a discordant note at present. Abdul Kader Siddiqui has issued an ultimatum. From the outset, actually, there was unease in this 20-party coalition. Kamal Hossain had stolen the show. Oli Ahmad, leader of Liberal Democratic Party, bluntly voiced his opinion, “If BNP can’t take leadership let it hand over leadership to the 20-party alliance.” Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the main members of the alliance, is in the shadows at the moment. But it has not been broken with the hanging of four of its leaders and with two serving life in prison. BNP still looks to Jamaat as its friend in need and its pillar of strength. Some elements broke away from Jamaat and announced a new party in the offing, but this did not create much of a stir.
The BNP-Jamaat alliance is a thorn in the flesh for the BNP-Oikya Front coalition. Oikya Front leaders and parties, Kamal Hossain’s Gono Forum in particular, maintain that their alliance is with BNP, not Jamaat. But they are well aware that BNP has not severed ties with Jamaat.
The question is, how much longer will the Jatiya Oikya Front last? A leader of one of the allies recently said, where will we go? Kamal Hossain can’t get things moving. He doesn’t understand the present trend of politics.
Of the old Oxford school, Kamal Hossain isn’t fit for the slippery slopes of Bangladesh’s politics. He became a member of parliament in 1970 and 1972, winning the seat left by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the by-elections. He didn’t win any other election since then. It is difficult for someone like him to survive in the present predicament of politics.
His biggest achievement was to head the committee that drew up the constitution of the country in the shortest time possible. Bangabandhu viewed him with esteem as an expert. But he has failed time and again in striving to be what he is not. It is not likely that he will be able to rise up again. It is not his fault or any lack of competence. It is simply that this path is not for him. BNP managed to get a breather for sometime by holding on to Kamal Hossain. But how long can things continue this way?
* Mohiuddin Ahmad is a writer and researcher and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This piece appeared in the print version of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir