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Monopoly on Violence

February 14, 2015

Ongoing political turbulence—petrol bomb campaign at its core—has seriously challenged the stability of Bangladesh as a state.If one sees the role of state in light of twentieth century German sociologist and political economist Max Weber’s view about state, then Bangladesh clearly falls into the category of a failed state. Weber considers state as the only legitimate authority to use physical force (violence) in a given territory[1]. State-appointed bodies are responsible for applying this physical force.

So far we have seen BNP and its allies by means of violence managed to postpone public exams, to stop vehicular movement on key highways at night and to hamper trade and commerce.

BNP-led alliance has clearly succeeded to challenge state’s authority as a sole user of violence through their indiscriminate attacks on ordinary people and their property.

It would not be wrong to say that—to a large extent—state-appointed bodies did not manage to contain the violence. The moment I am writing this post, the petrol bomb campaign is going on in full swing.

Failure of the legitimate body of using violence heralds the beginning of a dysfunctional state.

Should we direct all the blame towards BNP for bringing the country to the proximity of the point of no return? Certainly not. To a lesser extent, Awami League is also partly responsible for loss of innocent lives and the continuing anarchy.

BNP-Jamaat-sponsored anarchy is at least couple of years old. AL tacitly approved these acts by not meting out punishment to the culprits. In fact, it capitalizes tremendously from anti-BNP-Jamaat feelings that the were generated by subversive activities.

According to a Dhaka-based editor of an English daily, there are three key players in Bangladesh politics: Awami League, BNP and the Army. All three in different periods ruled and shaped the fate of this country[2].To subdue one, there has to be a party (read alliance) of two[3].

Unlike International Crisis Group’s apprehension,the Army is not likely to intervene in case situation gets worse as it does not want both the AL and BNP in the same side.

AL is doing everything to make the military and civil bureaucracy content. A huge defense purchase is underway. AL promised to raise the salaries of public and defense officials by cent percent in the next fiscal budget. Clearly, all these efforts are to buy their loyalty so that they could not get influenced by BNP-led alliance.

In the wake of petrol bomb campaign, law enforcement agencies faced mounting pressure to act against the perpetrators.As they acted through extra judicial means, in some cases the innocent civilians fell prey to their wrath[4].In some cases, rogue law-enforcement officials tried to make money by taking advantage of the situation but ended up taking life of opposition activist[5].

When the petrol bomb campaign reached its climax, we witnessed an unusual censorship imposed on the media. Most of the senior BNP leaders are either nabbed or put under unofficial house arrest. We have not heard yet any explanations about their violent campaign from senior BNP leaders on local TV channels. Only leaders who were sidelined all these days due to their reformist positions during the prolonged caretaker government rule have come to fore and their statements further fueled the tension instead of diffusing it.

Broadcasting of an evening television talk show has been stopped indefinitely by the authority of a local television channel[6].The talk show used to broadcast views on contemporary politics that did not often go in favor the ruling regime.

We would like to hear BNP leaders’ explanations about this widespread atrocities in the media and government should allow them to talk to the media.

Provided that it puts an end to the ongoing anarchy, BNP can only get back into the track of participatory democracy. Sticking to the path of violence will endanger the party. What it has done in the last one month in the name of political campaign even put the outlawed political organizations into shame. BNP should ponder about its alliance with Jamaat, for it is a bane for BNP rather than a boon. It also has to understand that there are two BNPs within BNP: one does not like Tarique Zia’s vice-chairmanship and the other works directly under his tutelage. Tarique’s guidance not only takes many innocent lives, it also puts BNP rank-and-file activists’ lives under huge risk[7]. BNP has to wake up to the fact that Tarique is perhaps its biggest liability.

Calling BNP a monster has been the staple diet of AL since the onset of the violent campaign. And wielding this pretext, it ruled out any chance of dialogue with a party that ruled the country thrice. AL has to keep in mind that it is in charge of running the country. Keeping the country stable should be its utmost priority. As it was in the forefront of the liberation war, AL claims it cares about Bangladesh more than the BNP does. BNP is a party that gives space to anti-liberation elements. Why is AL watching the destruction of Bangladesh right before its eyes if it really cares about this country? For the sake of Bangladesh, AL should give one more try to hold talks with BNP.

If the chiefs choose to be prisoners of their egos and not to stroll down the conciliatory path, then anti-democratic forces will continue to marinate the political situation to create backdrop of a takeover by a more innovative and authoritarian regime that will be the first of its kind in this century evading all the international measures devised to prevent it.
[1]. Max Weber mentioned about this role of state in his lecture titled “Politics as a Vocation” in 1919.

[2]. The classification was first presented in an article published in a supplement of a popular daily during the period of the last caretaker government.

[3]. With a slight change, I phrased it after Bismarck’s counsel, which goes like this: “In a world of five, it was always better to be in the party of three”. It was exhorted after the treaty of Vienna in 1871 when the five major powers dominated Europe.

[4]. An investigative report published by the Daily Star proved the futility of RAB’s claim. See the link.

[5]. A report published by Daily Prothom Alo claimed local police had demanded Tk 500,000 to the dead BNP activist’s father. See the link.

[6]. The host of the talk show, also an editor of a Bengali tabloid, incurred wrath of the Sheikh family in the early years of 70’s when he carried a report against one of the members of Mujib family.

[7]. In several news clips, broadcast after January 5, Tarique Zia was seen urging BNP men at home to cut off Dhaka from the rest of the country.


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