Friday, June 21, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

The world is watching

Update : 21 Nov 2013, 07:18 PM

Wednesday was a big day for Bangladesh. All of a sudden, we are on everybody’s lips in the international media, as well as the subject of debate in think tanks and committees and sub-committees of legislative bodies the world over.

To be sure, Bangladesh has been a fixture on the international news pages all year, but it is not often that the New York Times deigns to editorialise about Bangladesh, so Wednesday’s editorial “Political crisis in Bangladesh” is certainly a sign that we have caught the world’s attention in the run up to the elections.

It is not just the world media. Wednesday also saw a panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC titled “Bangladesh on the Brink” and a US Congressional sub-committee hearing, with the slightly more restrained title, “Bangladesh in Turmoil: A Nation on the Brink?”

Nor is this sudden uptick of interest confined to the US. Last night (early morning for us in Bangladesh) the EU parliament convened a debate on Bangladesh to discuss issuing a resolution with respect to human rights and the upcoming elections.

I think we get the picture.

Supporters of the government will find fault with this apparently sudden focus on Bangladesh, that is mostly critical of the government in terms of human rights in general, and the ICT and elections, in particular. But to my mind, although the government has a case, the problem lies elsewhere.

The larger problem is this. It is clear that what concerns our foreign friends more than anything else is the spectre of violence, instability, and insecurity. All well and good. None of us inside the country is thrilled about the current crisis, and there is no question that it is something that merits comment and condemnation.

The problem I have is that the message that is thus sent to all political players is that the way to get world attention is to cause a ruckus. The greater the ruckus, the greater the chance that you get the outside world to sit up and take notice.

The incentives are obvious. You should simply cause as much mayhem as possible. Indeed, this is a lesson that the BNP and AL have both learned very well. When in opposition, each party employs a scorched earth tactic to try and make the country ungovernable.

The goal is two-fold. The first is to bring the country to a standstill, the obvious consequence of which would be to damage the sitting government . The second is to mobilise the international community.

But that’s the problem.

A great lament that we all have in Bangladesh is why is it that the opposition parties can think of no better way to press their case than to shut the country down, burn buses, and cause mayhem.

It really does not make them more popular inside the country. Quite the opposite, in fact.

So why do they do it? One big reason they do it is to catch the notice of the international community, in the hopes that international attention will help them advance their case.

If we are to ever mature as a democracy we need to move beyond the politics of hartals and street violence. Unfortunately, the current culture sets up a vicious cycle in which the more damage one can do to the country the better the chance one has of getting one’s way and of ultimately coming to power.

I had initially conceived of this op-ed as an appeal to the BNP to move away from the tactics of hartals in the weeks before the elections. It would be something that would appeal to the people and thus make them more popular inside the country, something that one would imagine a political party would want to do.

Peaceful programs would be incredibly popular, would give the opposition the moral high ground, and could even capture the imagination of the millions who are disaffected by the current government or are just looking for something different, but would never dream of taking part in any kind of violent demonstration and are turned off by the climate of fear that that surrounds us.

Whatever happened to the politics of long marches? What if the BNP, instead of declaring hartals and burning buses, decreed a day of non-cooperation and urged people to gather for candle-light vigils or to march silently in protest. What a movement that could be.

Sadly, our political parties have neither this kind of imagination nor inclination. But in fairness to them, one reason might be that they sense that this approach would not capture the minds of the international community, and the recent attention the country has been getting would seem to bear this out.

But if a party wishes to come to power, and, more importantly, stay in power, then it needs to focus its energies inside the country and not outside.

More to the point, if BNP comes back to power following hartals and violence, then they will have done nothing to break the cycle, and will face all this and more from the AL. But if they adopt a different approach, they can change our political culture forever, and set us on the path of responsible dissent, surely as important as good governance.

And while the rest of the world is typically only moved by stories that bleed, who knows? We might just be surprised by their response, as well.

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