Recent weeks have seen people speaking about compromise, about how the two parties and two leaders are being intransigent. The fact that the Awami League has repeatedly offered the BNP multiple compromises is conveniently disregarded.
The prime minister has personally invited the leader of the opposition to unconditional talks, and offered numerous solutions such as the all-party interim government. We have offered them any ministry in this interim government, including the Home Ministry.
Even our offer to hold the 11th parliamentary elections early is a compromise to ensure that on January 25, we do not have an unconstitutional government. Yet, at every step that Awami League has made a constructive gesture, BNP has refused to talk and responded with ever-increasing violence.
It is easy to hypothesise on the benefits of compromise, and how this political impasse is the result of stubborn parties and stubborn leaders. But let us not forget that we are in this situation because of the demands of the people.
Many of the same people who today are demanding that we compromise with the BNP at all cost were for the past five years demanding that we try war criminals and ban Jamaat. Did anyone consider the consequences of those actions? Jamaat was not going to disappear quietly. The BNP-Jamaat alliance would not sit idly by while war criminals went to the gallows.
We need to look at what is at stake, because compromise for compromise’s sake is as ill-conceived as it is damaging. There are certain things on which we will not compromise. We will not compromise our promise to the people to bring the war criminals to justice. We will not shy away from fighting for a secular and democratic Bangladesh. Had Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stepped down as BNP demanded, Quader Molla would not have been hanged. Let there be no doubt, no one else would have had the courage and strength to stand up to the international pressure.
We certainly do not want violence, but let us take a historical perspective. In our liberation movement, we did not set out demanding independence, and we did not declare war. All we wanted was the right to form a democratic government after our victory in the national elections. There were protracted negotiations between Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib, Yahya Khan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto both publicly and in secret.
Yet, no agreement could be reached, because Yahya Khan was unwilling to compromise. Instead, he chose to try and crush our demands for autonomy with force. The Pakistani Army attacked first, before Bangabandhu declared independence on the night of March 26. Should Bangabandhu have compromised and given up on our rights in order to avoid war?
BNP has, indeed, been consistent in their actions and demands. They have consistently shown their complete lack of democratic intent and disregard for the peoples’ democratic right to vote. BNP has repeatedly tried to rig elections every time it has been in power.
Magura and Dhaka-10 by-elections come to mind. They rigged the 1996 national elections even though they were running unopposed. In 2006, they rewrote the voters’ list with 14m more voters than the population of voting age.
Even having a caretaker government was no protection, as they manipulated the caretaker government itself in attempting to rig the elections, leading to a military takeover.
Make no mistake, the elections on January 5 are half-baked only because of one party: the BNP. It is through their unpatriotic alliance with Jamaat and their continuing arson and bomb attacks on innocent civilians that they have denied the people the elections they deserve. Yes, these elections are not ideal but that is a topic in itself. The people will still get a free and fair election. We should not fool ourselves into thinking that this wave of unjustifiable violence that BNP-Jamaat has unleashed is about elections. It is about saving the war criminals.
Even if we were to somehow get BNP to participate in elections, as long as the war crimes trials are ongoing, BNP-Jamaat will continue their violence. The only compromise which will stop the violence is the release of the war criminals. BNP and Jamaat have declared war on the ordinary citizens of Bangladesh.
Under the pretence of fighting for elections they are terrorising the people to save war criminals. If the demand is to bring the BNP to the elections and stop the violence at all costs, are you willing to pay the price?
We are not willing to pay this price because it compromises our liberation and the very spirit that makes us a nation. Such a compromise would be a betrayal of the three million who gave their lives to give us this democracy and freedom.
No, we have attempted to compromise as much as possible and, just as in 1971, our compromises have been met with violence. We did not ask for this fight, but this fight was thrust upon us. Now it is time to stand our ground and fight back. It’s time for the people to reclaim the spirit of 1971 and fight these anti-liberation forces.