Bangladesh Price of Violence
Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love. – Martin Luther King
Killing of political opponents in Bangladesh is on the rise.
Intra-party violence in recent months leading to a large number of killings sadly reflects on the conduct of the ruling Awami League (AL) in Bangladesh. It can aptly be called as “violence boomeranged.” The legacy of violence of the AL is now creating mayhem within the party and outside in the entire political arena. Violence begets violence and hatred can never be countered through use of brute force.
There appears little hope of ending the prevailing hostility and in-fighting due to the undemocratic attitude of rulers and devastating corruption in the rank and file of the party. Analysts are thus not wrong to say that “AL will be destroyed by none other but its own members.”
Shakhawat Liton and Tuhin Shubhra Adhikary in their article, AL wounding AL, has aptly analysed that the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) “men no longer seem to be major political rivals of leaders and activists of the Awami League. Members of main opposition Jatiya Party and even the Jamaat-e-Islami men do not pose any threat to the ruling party. The ruling AL men now fight none but their own party colleagues.”
Tragically, about 52 AL men lost their life and nearly 3,500 were injured in 334 incidents of internal clashes from January 2015 to October 2016. These statistics are compiled by Ain-o-Salish-Kendra (ASK), a legal aid and human rights organisation that provides support to the disempowered, particularly women, working children and workers.
The culture of violence has become so widespread in Bangladesh that in the past few months as many as 35 clashes took place between AL and BNP men, leaving five people dead and around 350 injured. AL men also clashed with Jamaat-Shibir activists twice, leading to the death of two. The aggressive actions of AL to establish supremacy in the political arena is one of the causes behind the internal and external clashes but as observed by Shakhawat Liton and Tuhin Shubhra Adhikary: “making money in unlawful ways like extorting, tender manipulation and influencing the government's development work is the main cause behind their frantic efforts to establish supremacy or retain control over a particular area, shows an analysis of the incidents of clashes.”
It is reported in the press that these incidents of internal conflicts have left the AL high command in high anxiety. Recently, the chief of AL, Sheikh Hasina issued directions to all leaders working at the grassroots to settle internal feuds. These directions have proved to be ineffective. The Joint General Secretary of AL, Mahbubul Alam Hanif, while admitting that the party is divided into numerous factions with millions of leaders and activists, said: "So there might be some differences of opinions and feuds inside the party."
According to Nur Khan Liton, acting executive director of ASK, “when democratic space shrinks, political opponents become weaker and do not get necessary environment to perform due roles. This situation is prevailing in the country now.” In the absence of any strong opponents, he has observed, “leaders and activists of ruling party get involved in an unethical competition within themselves.”
This was not the situation earlier as the main political rivalry in Bangladesh was between the AL and the BNP — the two major parties that have been governing the country in turns since restoration of democracy after the fall of autocratic General Ershad’s regime in 1990. The January 2014 elections and its aftermath have gradually changed the political landscape, creating a situation in which AL is left alone to dominate to the extent of complete
hegemony. The alliance of BNPJamaat boycotted the elections and their violent tactics to resist the polls proved counterproductive, giving a free hand to AL to win and rule.
The unsuccessful efforts to topple the government in 2015 led to a more chaotic situation and gave a pretext to the ruling AL to victimize its opponents as numerous cases were filed against adversaries all over the country. The crackdown on BNP leaders and activists led to bloody clashes between the two bitter rivals. With many in jails, BNP became a dysfunctional entity.
According to Liton and Adhikary, “Jamaat-e-Islami, a key component of BNP-led alliance, has been facing the biggest crisis since it resumed activities in independent Bangladesh as most of its top leaders were executed on charges of committing war crimes in 1971.” After the boycott of BNP, Jatiya Party became the main opposition in parliament. However, it also failed to be an effective opposition party that could challenge the AL in parliament after some of its members in parliament were inducted in the cabinet.
All parties in Bangladesh have consensus that the alarming rise in the number of killings of political activists since disputed parliamentary polls has left grassroot campaigners across the country fearing for their lives. This is the worst one can witness in any country.
There are inter-party (between AL and Opposition parties) and intraparty killings (in the case of AL) as well as extrajudicial killings at the hands of police and other agencies. Human rights activists have labelled the arrests and subsequent deaths of activists "extrajudicial killings," while opposition leaders have blamed the government for targeting opposition activists. Several ruling party activists have also been killed ever since the victory of AL in 2014.
The Awami League of Sheikh Mujib that gave the nation its first constitution within one year of independence, was based on four cardinal principles — secularism, nationalism, socialism and democracy. It is now promoting hatred, committing atrocities and using violence against the opponents. In the process, its own house is inflicted with infights, causing loss of precious lives.
According to Nyshka Chandran [Deep political tensions underline Bangladesh violence, CNBC, January 9, 2016] the “ruling party's marginalization of political opposition parties in recent years created a vacuum of leadership for radical groups to fill.”
All political analysts are of the view that under Hasina’s rule, the outbreak of violence in politics has become a serious challenge and this is likely to become even worse in coming months, if the government does not take drastic steps to bring the killers to justice and end skirmishes within the ruling party.
The writers, partners in law firm HUZAIMA & IKRAM, are Adjunct Faculty Members at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).
Under Hasina’s rule, the outbreak of violence in politics has become a serious challenge and this is likely to become even worse in coming months.