Power politics is political action characterised by exercise of power, especially of physical force, by a political group as a means of coercion in the attainment of its objectives. Like many political terms with aggressive undertones, the term came from the Germans who were determined to set out to develop the archetypes in un-subtlety in political actions in their not too distant past.
In Bangladesh too, the main political parties have been engaging in naked power politics since the dawn of the new democratic era in 1991, but it has reached hitherto unknown depths of depravity this time around.
In the everyday violent melee of power politics, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of the strategies behind the tactics. With some presumption, it is not hard to divide the broad strategies behind the two warring factions.
Basically, the AL government is pursuing a two-pronged strategy. Its preferred strategy is to get BNP to participate in an election managed and supervised by AL so that the next AL government gets the stamp of legitimacy from domestic constituents and international partners.
Failing that, AL’s second option is to try to paint Jamaat as a full-fledged terrorist organisation internationally, with BNP as its patron-accomplice, and manage the low level insurgency by BNP and Jamaat indefinitely while sitting snugly at the throne of state power.
BNP’s strategy is singular. It is going by the tested and proved way to pry open the government’s grip on power by preparing the ground for a third party to intervene. BNP is incapable of creating that scenario on its own, and that is why Jamaat is so indispensable to them now. Few would doubt that if BNP could achieve the goal of power politics without the help of Jamaat, it would discard Jamaat in an instant like a used tissue paper.
In pursuing this strategy, BNP is again following the “manual of tactics” to create maximum destabilisation by interrupting regular life in the country. But this year, the BNP-led opposition has upped the ante. The lives of general people are not only being interrupted, but they are even being targeted. The series of vehicles burning with people inside has aroused universal disgust and apprehension of this dastardly deed becoming a regular part of Bangladeshi politics.
The ruling Awami League on the other hand is using state power in an unprecedented crushing of the opposition. Entire ranks of senior leaders have been rounded up and all mass political activity has been clamped upon. In scenes reminiscing brutal foreign occupation, law enforcement agencies are using lethal force without restraint.
In the daily barrage of atrocities and excesses of the political power players, it is easy to lose sight of the root cause of this current round of confrontation. BNP wants a free and fair election – an election that most neutral observers agree the BNP will easily win. The AL recognises that as well, which is why it is determined to hold the election under its own terms denying the people their voice.
This foundational subtext of power politics is not because of any inherent virtue of either party. This situation is essentially the reverse of what was in place in 1996 and 2006, the only difference being that this time opinion polls and local elections have repeatedly underscored this fact on the ground.
The AL government is aware of the original sin of its position, and that is why it is throwing around a host of allegations about BNP to obfuscate the issue. BNP doesn’t want elections, it wants to free war-criminals. BNP does not want to respect the rule of law as enshrined in the constitution recently amended by AL to uphold democracy. BNP wants to install a religious theocracy. BNP is colluding with hostile foreign entities. BNP wants to reverse the great developmental achievements of the AL government. BNP is joined at the hip with Jamaat, a terrorist organisation. Terror tactics cannot be allowed to succeed. Terrorism is the biggest threat facing the country. And so on.
Every time I hear this litany of complaints from AL leaders and apologists, I am reminded of the world’s most contentious issue, the Israel-Palestine conflict. The global community broadly recognises the fundamental injustice at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict – an occupying power appropriating land from a native people and denying them the freedom to choose their own destiny. Again to obfuscate the core injustice, apologists of Israeli Lebensraum employ a myriad of complaints against the Palestinians.
They say that Israel doesn’t have a reliable partner in Palestine for a peaceful settlement. Palestinians do not want peace. Palestinian authority is deeply in cahoots with religious absolutists and terrorists. Palestinians use heinous terror tactics. Palestinians are backed by foreign entities determined to annihilate Israel. Palestinians are living far better under Israeli occupation than their counterparts living in Arab absolutist regimes. Israel is an oasis of civilisation and progress in the midst of a sea of barbarism.
Sound familiar? And all the while Israel is busy changing the facts on the ground so that a peaceful settlement becomes all but impossible.
Just like the Israel-Palestine issue, the current political problem in Bangladesh is complex and there is no easy solution that will satisfy all parties. But this should not mask the simple injustice lying at the heart of the issue. The controversy about the means used in political confrontation should not mask the cause of the conflict.