Welcome back, partisan division
I am not going to talk about the tragedy. We are all aware of what happened. We have all grieved, or are still grieving. I am also not going to talk about the ramifications of the event in this post. They deserve a separate post, which I will write shortly. This post covers the following: the return of partisan division, why it’s a good thing, and within that paradigm of division, some unsolicited advice to our leaders.
We have seen the PM attacking the opposition leader in the parliament, referring to how Ziaur Rahman rewarded 1975 killers, or how Mrs Zia falsely celebrated her birthday on 15 Aug. Were these relevent to the current tragedy? Hard to see how. Were they uncalled for? Absolutely. Was the accusations unworthy of the PM? Perhaps. After all, she has 250+ MPs to make these points.
Were the accusations untrue? Hardly.
The reality of Bangladesh is that we are a heavily partisan society. Many of us would focus on the first set of questions raised above. We would say, ‘why is the PM dividing the nation’. But for every person who says this, we would have someone else saying ‘the PM is only telling the truth’.
Our society is divided along partisan line. Anyone thinking that this tragedy — unprecedented as it may have been — would fundamentally alter our socio-political reality would be guilty of extreme naivete at best. Societies simply don’t change that fast.
Given our socio-political reality, the quick resurfacing of partisanship should be welcomed for two reasons.
First, it shows that we are reverting to normalcy. The importance of this cannot be overstated. What has happened has happened. The task before us is still enormous. We cannot deal with rebuilding our security apparatus, face the global recession, or try war criminals as long as we are suspended in the abnormal, post-traumatic state.
Second, as long as there is partisanship, there will be dissent, there will be opposition. This is also vitally important to understand. Think about what happened in the US after 9/11. Faced with an unprecedented crisis and tragedy, the nation united behind a new government, and the government abusing the national unity for its own partisan end, leading to many disasters. The surprisingly swift return of partisan division means that at least we don’t have to worry about anyone using the tragedy for ulterior ends. Democratic checks and balances cannot occur when powers-that-be can scream ‘treason’ at the opposition.
So, counterintuitive, or even shocking, as it may sound, partisan division is not all that bad. Let the government and its supporters claim all the credit it can for the way it handled the crisis. And let the opposition paint the situation in as bad a light as possible. There will be bye-elections in a few weeks. There will be DCC election during the year. Let the government’s performance be judged in the court of public opinion. Let the TV talking heads, arm chair general, bloggers, newspaper columnists talk until their faces turn blue. Let’s not stifle any voice in the name of ‘national unity’. We could do worse than partisanship.
Having said all that, I do wish two things from our leaders.
I wish the Home Minister steps down. No, I don’t think she performed poorly at the negotiations. I also don’t believe a military solution would have worked. But that’s beside the point. The fact is, she was in charge of BDR, this happened at her watch, she can’t escape moral responsibility. In democracies, ministers resign for calamities like railway accident. Just a few months ago, Indian ministers resigned after the Mumbai attack. Even Donald Rumsfeld wanted to resign after Abu Ghraib. That’s the democratic way. Why should it be any different for us. Note that BNP has no moral authority to make this claim, it’s not like they did any better after, say, 21 Aug 2004. But why compare with BNP? It’s not like BNP was the government of din bodol.
And speaking of BNP, I do wish they stop the pointless attacks along the line of ‘amnesty fuelled the massacre’. All available evidence suggests that most of the atrocities happened long before the amnesty was issued. Why then beat that ridiculous drum? Instead, why doesn’t the opposition ask hard questions about what the government will do next time there is a hostage situation? Fello blogger Rumi Ahmed has asked, what will we do if a Biman flight is hijacked by some BDR rebels demanding release of their captured mates? We should get questions like this from BNP lawmakers, not lonely bloggers.