The Lead­ing Lady of Bangladesh

Sheikh Hasina faces po­lit­i­cal tur­bu­lence over many of her de­ci­sions; the forth­com­ing elec­tions will de­cide her fate.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - S.G Ji­la­nee

Serv­ing as the Bangladesh pre­mier since 2009, Sheikh Hasina has made an in­deli­ble mark on the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal fab­ric.

The el­dest of Sheikh Mu­jib-urRehman’s five chil­dren, Sheikh Hasina is the cur­rent prime min­is­ter of Bangladesh. She was born at her an­ces­tral home in the Tungi­para vil­lage of the present Gopal­ganj dis­trict on 28 Septem­ber 1947. In 1968, she mar­ried M. A. Wa­jed, a nu­clear sci­en­tist, who died in 2009. Hasina grad­u­ated from the Dhaka Univer­sity in 1973.

Ac­tively in­volved in stu­dent pol­i­tics in her col­lege and univer­sity days, Hasina was elected as chief of the Stu­dent’s Union of Eden Girls Col­lege, and was a mem­ber of the Awami League’s stu­dent arm, the Ch­ha­tra League of Dhaka Univer­sity.

In 1975, her en­tire fam­ily, in­clud­ing her par­ents and broth­ers were as­sas­si­nated in Dhaka. She and her sis­ter Re­hana es­caped, prov­i­den­tially, be­cause they were in Ger­many at the time. When they landed in In­dia on re­turn, Prime Min­is­ter Indira Gandhi took them un­der her pro­tec­tion --an act of grace for which Hasina con­tin­ues to re­main ever be­holden to the In­dian govern­ment.

In 1981, Hasina was unan­i­mously elected pres­i­dent of the Awami League while still liv­ing in In­dia. She re­turned home on 17 May 1981. By a cu­ri­ous co­in­ci­dence, Pres­i­dent Zi­aur Rah­man, who had granted amnesty to her fa­ther’s killers, was as­sas­si­nated on 30 May, just thir­teen days af­ter her re­turn.

Hasina’s Awami League, along with the BNP led by Pres­i­dent Zi­aur Rah­man’s widow, Khaleda Zia, advo- cated for the restora­tion of democ­racy dur­ing Gen. Hus­sein Mo­ham­mad Er­shad’s rule in the 1980s, un­til he stepped down in 1991. The BNP won the demo­cratic elec­tions held the same year. Al­though the two ladies had strug­gled jointly to bring Er­shad down, af­ter the elec­tions they soon fell out and the ac­ri­mony has con­tin­ued ever since.

Hasina’s pol­i­tics are based purely on self-in­ter­est. In 1996, for ex­am­ple, she sup­ported an abortive mil­i­tary coup, led by Lt. Gen­eral ASM Nasim against the le­git­i­mate BNP govern­ment. In 2007, Hasina sup­ported Army chief, Moeenud­din’s takeover of the govern­ment, dec­la­ra­tion of emer­gency and post­pone­ment of the elec­tions. At her bid­ding, the Awami League Gen­eral Sec­re­tary Ab­dul Jalil, signed a deal with Jatiya Party to make its leader H.M. Er­shad, pres­i­dent of Bangladesh. An­other agree­ment was signed with

Khe­lafat Ma­jlis that in­cluded ban­ning Ah­madis in Bangladesh and fram­ing an anti-blas­phemy law. How­ever, af­ter be­com­ing prime min­is­ter in 2009, Hasina re­neged on all her above agree­ments with­out any qualms.

A glar­ing ex­am­ple of Hasina’s lack of prin­ci­ples is pro­vided by her shift­ing stand on the is­sue of the care­taker govern­ment (CG) to hold elec­tions. At the end of Khaleda’s term in 1996, it was in re­sponse to Hasina’s ag­i­ta­tion that a pro­vi­sion for the CG to man­age elec­tions was in­cor­po­rated in the con­sti­tu­tion and elec­tions were held. Un­sur­pris­ingly, she won the elec­tions to serve as prime min­is­ter from 1996 to 2001.

In 2001 she lost the elec­tions to Khaleda Zia. But when Khaleda’s term ended in 2006, Hasina plunged the coun­try into vi­o­lent po­lit­i­cal un­rest over the is­sue of who would head the care­taker govern­ment. The vi­o­lence claimed at least 40 lives and led to an army takeover. The 2008 elec­tions were also held un­der a CG, this one spon­sored by the army, which Hasina won to be­come prime min­ster for the sec­ond time.

But in 2011 her own govern­ment re­pealed the pro­vi­sion of the CG in the con­sti­tu­tion that had been in­serted at her own de­mand.

Hasina has also be­trayed a despotic streak. Two Is­lamist TV chan­nels have been shut down, be­cause, they tele­cast “live im­ages of the se­cu­rity forces’ at­tacks” on He­fazat-e-Is­lam demon­stra­tors on May 5 that left an un­known num­ber dead.

In mid-April, the govern­ment sealed a very pop­u­lar news­pa­per,

Amar Desh, and de­tained its act­ing edi­tor, Mah­mudur Rah­man on sedi­tion charges. But the Econ­o­mist says that the real rea­son for the ac­tion might lie in the ad run by the pa­per, a day be­fore his ar­rest, re­gard­ing the pos­si­ble pub­li­ca­tion of a trans­la­tion of a se­ries of “damn­ing Amer­i­can em­bassy ca­bles on Sheikh Mu­jibur Rah­man” from the Wik­ileaks trove. In ad­di­tion to this, Hasina’s govern­ment has drawn flak for the mega graft scan­dal in the World Bank spon­sored, Padma Bridge Pro­ject and the is­sue of forced dis­ap­pear­ances.

While Hasina can count on send­ing her fa­ther’s killers to the gal­lows and prose­cut­ing Ja­maat-e-Is­lami’s top lead­er­ship for war crimes in 1971, how she fares in the elec­tions at the end of the year, re­mains to be seen. S. G. Ji­la­nee is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer edi­tor of SouthAsia Mag­a­zine.

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