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Fumbling Road To Real Democracy

December 3, 2017

Bangladesh finally wraps up the trial of BDR mutineers. According to the final verdict, 139 mutineers have to go to scaffold and 800 plus renegade jawans have to face punishment of various degrees.

Having noticed that too many were given death sentence, Human Rights Watch called for reconsideration of the verdict.

The 2009 BDR bloodbath, claimed 54 lives of Army officers, severely shocked the military hierarchy.  Despite the closure of this trial, debate is still on.  BDR’s involvement in Operation Daal-Bhaat, a fair price distribution campaign of kitchen commodities, and pay row were disseminated as prime reasons behind this tragedy.

However there are many who are not buying the arguments in face value. To them, the motive of the killing remains an enigma.

It will remain another example of Bangladesh’s troubled military past. Since it came into being, Bangladesh has witnessed dozens of coups and counter coups, latest one took place in 2012, contributing to the  political divide.

Recurrent tension in the Army is a reminder that Bangladesh has not fully recovered from this maladie in a country where rule of law is absent, social justice is lacking, inequality is widening and corruption gets approval from wider section of the society.

Since a favourable climate exists here for tension to brew, political violence shows no sign to stop.
We have law enforcement institutions to check crime and violence.

However, they work more like a militant wing of a political party under different political regimes.
Due to their political role, it is often difficult to attain desired law and order goals.

Shaken  by the BDR mutiny, people expected that there would be extra efforts to improve country’s law and order situation.

However, to our dismay, it has not been the case. Law and order situation plunged and more and more people lost their lives in violence.

Public universities turned into a constant zone of conflict. The number of students succumbed to political violence in campus from 2009 till today far exceeds that of during the tenure of Ershad.

Sometimes I feel that we live in a lawless jungle, not in a civilized society.

I was also appalled by the lack of any initiative from law-enforcing agencies in the wake of breaking down of law and order.

Back in the the second tenure of BNP, then chief of Army staff Lt Gen Hasan Masud Chowdhury, later advisor to 2007 caretaker government, came forward with Operation Clean Heart, which drew lots of criticism for its heavy handed method and violation of human rights, to contain the deteriorating law and order situation.

I am not advocating similar strategy here by citing this example. The point I would like to make is that there is no plan whatsoever to improve law and order situation when the situation is far more dire than it was back in 2001.

I have this feeling that this lawlessness is deliberately inflicted on us as chastisement. I have never seen so much loss of ordinary life due to growing lawlessness. What deeply troubles me that these ordinary people do not belong to any political party. Yet they bear the full brunt of it.

Rank-and-file political activists also incur losses. During the previous and following 3 months of 2014 General Election, we witnessed widespread killing of ruling party activists. As soon as the table was turned, we watched how opposition activists and dissidents were disappeared without leaving any trace.

Prisons are filled with political prisoners and law-enforcing personnel resorts to knee-capping in a bid to maim organizational capacities of political parties.
Similarly, coercion and increasing surveillance of the press muzzled freedom of expression.

At the same time, a defense spending spree gets underway to modernize the Armed forces. Government has given several business concessions to the Armed forces including operation of commercial banks, container transport, cement factory and dock yard. This in the end contributes to the sprawling Fauji economy that cannot get along well with the private entrepreneurs.

At one hand there has been gradual decline of law and order situation that makes life untenable in Bangladesh;on the other hand, institutions tasked with curbing crimes and violence fail to come up with holistic approach and instead indulge in business activities that are not part of their responsibilities.

Bitterness caused by lawlessness triggers suspicion within many who see another derailment of democracy may be in the offing. This uncertainty provokes an aura of panic that leads to draining of country’s hard earned forex.

As a nation of 165 million people, we cannot pay the price for few miscreants’ folly and greed. Just look how incident like BDR mutiny ruined family lives of thousands of jawans and 54 Army officers.

Our failure to build institutions to resolve dispute is partly to blame for recurrence of this kind of tragedy.

When I feel low amid growing sign of malgovernance, I leaf through economist Rehman Sobhan’s writings on governance.  He penned these brilliant lines  in an editorial titled “Politics of Violence”,published on 24th January 1970 on Forum:

“The sources of violence lie deep in our society. They can only be uprooted when the cesspool, which breeds it, is cleansed, and political institutions take root. The danger is that before we can begin to cleanse urban society and political institutions can even begin to function, acts of violence may be deliberately misinterpreted to rationalise the intervention of anti-democratic forces to frustrate our fumbling footsteps towards a real democracy.”

Forty seven years later we are yet to build institutions, we are still fumbling around on our way to become a full-functioning democracy and shadow of anti-democratic forces still looms large.

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