Read underlying message by Sumanta Sen of Calcutta Telegraph.
The people of Bangladesh have not only awarded a thumping victory to Sheikh Hasina Wajed and her Awami League-led ‘grand alliance’, but they have also made it clear to the outgoing caretaker government that they were in no way impressed by its two-year-long attempt to malign the entire political class. Both Sheikh Hasina and her opponent, Begum Khaleda Zia, had been imprisoned on charges of corruption and their party colleagues harassed. The idea was obviously to tar all politicians with the same brush. But in the general elections on December 29, the people reposed their faith in them.
Corruption was the main charge against the politicians of Bangladesh. But in the last 38 years, the country had also been under army rule for a considerable period of time. And neither Ziaur Rahman nor Hussain Muhammad Ershad, who had been army chiefs before they rose to power, could emerge as the knights in shining armour. “So why blame politicians alone?”— the people must have asked themselves during the two-year-old ‘operation clean up’ undertaken by the caretaker administration, which had the army supporting it. When elections had to be held, the authorities got a provision for negative vote inserted. They must have hoped that many people would make use of this to show that they had no faith in any of the contesting parties, and would thereby put a question mark on the democratic process itself. However, nobody seems to have put the provision to use.
It is no news that the sub-continent is immersed in corruption but, as the Bangladesh election results show, this is not an issue with the masses. The general attitude seems to be, “make your pile but at the same time do something for us.” This is a sad state of affairs. Yet, this is the reality and it can only be changed when sustained economic development leads to an improvement in the level of general awareness. Till then, the crusaders for progress will, for the most part, appear quixotic and their victims will acquire a larger- than-life stature. So it has been in Bangladesh, as also in Pakistan and India. Indira Gandhi had understood this truth and dismissed corruption as a part of life.
Check the rot
The observation was cynical but cynicism stems from objective reality. And that reality says that not too much should be expected of Wajed, the massive mandate notwithstanding. Bangladesh’s economy is in a shambles, and it is difficult to expect Wajed and her team to display the kind of will and determination that is needed to check the rot. Indeed, with the opposition almost demolished, it is quite possible that the new rulers will not feel the urge to do something as there would be nobody breathing hard down their necks.
Much should also not be read in the fact that the fundamentalists have fared even worse in the last polls than in previous ones. Bangladesh is an Islamic country and even if the government wants to come down heavily on fundamentalism, it will be thwarted by the Islamic brotherhood, or more specifically, by the wealthy nations of West Asia. Also, in the rural areas, religion is deeply embedded in the people’s mind. They might not have voted for the fundamentalist allies of Khaleda Zia, but they are unlikely to approve of any firm action against the religious forces. It must be recalled that during her earlier stint in office, Wajed, while professing to be secular, had not taken any effective steps against the fundamentalists. She also did not take seriously the charge by India that her country was being used by Pakistan and the Inter-Services Intelligence to launch terror attacks against India.
Things cannot have changed much. The only thing that is unambiguously positive about the election is that it was held after all.