Bangladesh turns politically tense again: The Statesman

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina speaking at a media conference in Dhaka in 2014.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina speaking at a media conference in Dhaka in 2014.PHOTO: REUTERS

The struggle between the two Begums (a reference to the nation's two women political leaders) for the mastery of Bangladesh becomes ever so sharper with the Awami League government of Sheikh Hasina according its approval to the filing of sedition charges against the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader, Begum Khaleda.

Indeed, the country's political situation has become more volatile with the latter's decidedly reckless remark on an emotive issue - the number of martyrs during the liberation struggle in 1971. (East Pakistan broke away to form Bangladesh after a war between India and Pakistan. The number of those killed has been said to be about 3 million. Begum Khaleda cast doubt on those figures, at a public event last month.)

The former prime minister, not to forget her stint as First Lady in the early 1980s, has been asked to appear in court.

Khaleda has articulated her perception and the sedition charge has been filed when Bangladesh contends with the hideous surge in Islamist militancy, exemplified by the killing of secular writers.  

It did not behove the leader of the pro-Islamist BNP to rake up the matter on 21 December - five days after the 44th anniversary of Victory Day.

More specifically, her contention that "there are controversies over how many were martyred in the Liberation War."  

She has distinctly played to the Jamaat gallery (hardline political factions) and the pro-Pakistan segment within the country, and in the event has antagonised the judiciary and the post-71 generation that spearheaded the Shabaug upheaval in 2013, shrilling for justice against the "collaborators and war criminals".  

(About the Shabaug protests: This is a reference to the protests in 2013 that took place at the Shabaug intersection in Dhaka, in a movement reminiscent of the Arab Spring protests in the Middle-East.)

A fact of history cannot be disputed without empirical evidence,  let alone a flippant wave of hand.  

Small wonder that her subjective reflection has ignited stout condemnation among the country's pro-liberation forces.  

Less easily explained is her perception that Pakistani forces were present in 1971 as what she calls hanadar bahini (occupation forces).

Hence the popular demand for an explanation of the appellation by both the Jamaat and the BNP.  

Did Khaleda simply echo the sentiments of the Jamaat?

Unwittingly or otherwise, the BNP leader, whose political prospects have dimmed over the years, has created a grim situation.

 Her provocation has been greeted with condemnation that she is acting as an "agent of Pakistan", one who ought to "leave Bangladesh".

It thus comes about that Pakistan, the BNP and Jamaat are on the same wave-length, reducing the liberation struggle to a travesty of history.

Neither the Islamist surge nor professed secularism nor the Pakistani perception can serve as documentary reference to a chapter of history.

It shall  not be easy for the BNP or the Jamaat or for that matter the violent fundamentalists to contend with the  charge of sedition.

Section 123 (A) of the penal code says that one can be punished "with rigorous imprisonment of up to ten years for condemnation of the creation of Bangladesh".

The renewed opposition to Khaleda, embedded in nationalist sentiment, may just suit the Awami League agenda.

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