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Dhaka Tribune

Of daring, deadlocks and fractious politics

Update : 22 Apr 2013, 07:10 PM

So, let’s have a history test – how many can recall a major turbulent event of 1930 linked to the independence movement of the subcontinent? To give another hint: the exact date is April 18, 1930. If the date and the clue mean nothing, and fails to stir your memory, it’s alright. We forget events like the mass upsurge of 1990, the demands it vocalised and the emotions it evoked, so, in that context, 1930 is a long way off.

But those who do remember or, want to have their memories refreshed, on that day, Masterda Surya Sen, a firebrand revolutionary stormed the Chittagong Armoury, looted weapons, declared Chittagong free from imperial rule, giving hope (no matter how small) to the aspiration of driving out the British from India. As train and telegraph lines were cut off, Chittagong remained detached from Calcutta, fuelling dreams of the first area to be independent of foreign domination. Of course, this liberty was short-lived; anything else would have been a miracle!

A few die hard nationalists took on a mighty empire – it was simply a case of David against many Goliaths. In time, reinforcements from the Raj came, the revolutionaries took refuge in the Jalalabad Hill and, eventually, after a series of fatal skirmishes, the living freedom fighters dispersed to fight another day. Now, many may call the act of Sen and his comrades foolhardy to the extent that it was sheer madness, but it shook the core of the empire because the notion that a handful of people would dare challenge an empire never even occurred to anyone.

In practical terms it was lunacy to declare war on a power which claimed (correctly, at that point in time) that the sun never set in her mighty empire. But despite the odds, the men did it! They did not manage to hold on to a Chittagong for long but showed that nothing is impossible.

Fast forward to 2013, today, Bangladesh is faced with another crisis – one which seems insurmountable due to the obduracy/wicked intentions of political entities. With elections around six months away there isn’t a political consensus, the war crimes tribunal has polarised a large section of society with a very sensitive issue of secularism thrown in the melee. Playing the religion card in the sub-continent is always a tricky matter because one false move will send the message that religion is under jeopardy.

No offence meant, but general people everywhere, usually form opinion based on perceptions. Therefore, if there is a feeling that religion is victimised, political instincts take a secondary seat.

But, the current problems are nothing that cannot be solved. No mammoth force is against us; what is needed is just the will power/good intention to sit for a dialogue. If Surya Sen could take up an impossible mission, why can’t our politicians be a little less rigid for an acceptable way out of the current crisis? It’s indeed unfortunate that we have to remember Sen and the daring exploits of his intrepid men and women at a time when the country is held hostage under a deliberately created cacophony. Naturally, the memory of Sen and his men deserve more. 

For good reason, the days for taking up weapons to initiate change are superseded by a peaceful process of constructive dialogue; however, both ways have something in common – the inherent desire to end social/political ailments.

With non-stop strikes, the country’s image is being severely dented but the worst part is people have begun to question the evolution of democracy since the fall of the autocratic regime in 1990. Twenty years may not be a long time but in an age of globalisation where changes need to come swiftly, politics is Bangladesh is still governed by selfish motives. 

With the current state of affairs, the AL and the BNP are at loggerheads, with smaller parties astutely exploiting certain social events to exacerbate the scenario. Just recently, a very practical solution by Transparency International Bangladesh for an all party special committee to oversee the polls was turned down. But it’s evident that the opposition will not go to election unless they feel there is a certain degree of neutrality in the poll time administration. A little elaboration is needed here: maybe for other countries, holding elections under an incumbent government would not have sparked such fierce emotions, but everything said and done, this is Bangladesh.

Pardon me for saying this: all parties have been found to take actions to solely serve their interests across a broad spectrum of social/political settings. All governments target known supporters of other parties, the student wing of a ruling party remains gleefully above law, unleashing a reign of terror, postings to foreign embassies are handed out on allegiance basis, party affiliation is considered mandatory for promotion – the list of aberrant political behaviour can go on and on. Yes, let me say this again: this disease afflicts all sides!

Lamentably, our democratic progression, zealously enshrining all these not so redeeming qualities, hasn’t evolved to a state so as to infuse confidence in having an election under a political government.

At such a juncture, an arrangement is needed and not arbitrary decisions. For heaven’s sake, let’s not forget that authoritarian moves have never ended well for Bangladesh. The Chittagong Armoury Raid in 1930 may have been an armed rising but the political ideology behind it was simple – free the country from an imperial power, be our own masters. Regrettably, more than ninety years later, we have not overcome the self-destructive traits. 

The world no longer has any place for military imperialism and former ruling countries often have to apologise for the their past policy of suppression but how do we reconcile the current vicious political trends with the deeds of those who believed that ridding the country of foreigners would surely bring peace?

Towheed Feroze is a journalist, currently working in the development sector.  

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