Bangladesh And Revenge Politics: To What End?

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“Revenge, the sweetest morsel to mouth that ever was cooked in hell.”

~Sir Walter Scott from The Heart Of Mid-Lothian

Revenge politics has long been the bedrock of Sheikh Hasina’s personal and political motto and raison d’etre. The people of Bangladesh are well aware of this unwelcome fact, which has, very regrettably, become mundane in the country.

Currently, there is no legitimate opposition in Bangladesh. The Awami League holds 95% of the seats in the parliament. The farcical display in the name of parliamentary elections on December 30, 2018 was yet another reminder that anyone who even attempts to campaign against the Awami League will be severely dealt with. The severe retribution against anyone other than the Awami League who dared to campaign in the pre-”election” days included targeted disappearnces, murders, harassment, torture and imrisonment on false charges. Politically motivated arrests of opposition members, or even those who simply criticized the government were extremely common.

The onslaught of the politically motivated crackdown against the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) resulted, according to the BNP, in the filing of more than 300,000 criminal cases against the party members and supporters. Yes, even supporters because.

In no way is this a healthy rivalry of different political ideologies. In fact, what is clear is that there is no political ideology involved in this complete suppression of the so called opposition. What this is a personal vendetta of Sheikh Hasina against her archrival, Khaleda Zia (the Chairperson of the BNP) and her son, Tarique Rahman (the current acting Chairman of the BNP). The spiteful power struggle between the two begums has spanned a large part of Bangladesh’s history as power shifted between the Awami League and the BNP. However, Sheikh Hasina has given new meaning to the word “vengeance”.

There are countless examples of this, such as the establishment of the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), which is neither international nor equated with any forms of justice normally associated with a tribunal. The ICT is widely viewed domestically and internationally as a kangaroo court, a mere excuse with the facade of a tribunal to hold accountable anyone Sheikh Hasina has any grievances against. In this case, the people tried and executed were allegedly war criminals from the 1971 Liberation War.

However, of all grudges held by Sheikh Hasina, the one against Khaleda Zia is the most massive and the most toxic, one which is expressed in almost each and every one of her speeches. She accuses Khaleda Zia and the BNP of acts of terrorism, corruption and instigating violence, all of which the Awami League are equally involved in.

In the pursuit to a total control of governance, the BNP had to be completely crippled and Khaleda Zia had to be made to exit from the picture. Therefore, in February 2018, Mrs. Zia was arrested on the grounds of corruption and remains in a dilapidated prison, according to members of her family and the BNP when they were still allowed to visit her. Her living conditions are said to be inhuman and unsanitary.  She currently lives in conditions which are, by all accounts, a clear violation of the Geneva Convention, of which Bangladesh is a signatory.

An interesting sequence of events have exposed that it is more fear than hatred which drives Sheikh Hasina’s revenge and vengeance. Since Tarique Rahman, the son of Khaleda Zia and General Ziar Rahman lives in exile in London, Sheikh Hasina has evidently become frantic in trying to convince the government of the United Kingdom to extradite him. She has been repeatedly refused by the UK government, thus suddenly, in the first week of May, she went to London. A video has since gone viral on social media of a phone call from Sheikh Hasina in London to her party headquarters in Dhaka in which she can be heard on the speakerphone openly threatening Tarique Rahman and his mother. She is heard clearly instructing her party members in Bengali to tell Tarique Rahman to behave himself and not overstep his limits or else his mother will never be able to leave prison.

If it is true that every criminal, even the most astute ones, make callous mistakes, then this was one of Sheikh Hasina’s biggest crowning moments of callous mistakes. For someone who always proudly declares that she has no influence over the judiciary, she had just confirmed what was already widely known: that she alone is the decision maker of Khaleda Zia’s fate, not the judicial branch. Furthermore, she proved, with her own words, that her dogged vendetta against her rivals, notably the BNP and particularly Khaleda Zia and her son are by no means a figment of the imagination but a veritable, tangible and dreadful reality.

The analysis of what motivates Sheikh Hasina in her destructive revenge political antics can be summed up in one word: control.  Within the Awami League, she has complete jurisdiction and it is highly doubtful that anyone from any branch of government or the armed forces has the possibility to oppose any of her ideas or decisions. That left Khaleda Zia, Tarique Rahman and the BNP. Hence the draconian measures to keep them at bay.

While it is true that recently, a handful of BNP Members of Parliament have taken their oaths, videos of parliament in session have also been circulating on social media in which the BNP MPs are being asked to keep quiet and their microphones turned off if they happen to mention anything not aligned with what the Prime Minister wants to hear. That the tactic to allow some BNP MPs to join the parliament  was a politically motivated one to show the international community that democracy exists in Bangladesh is obvious.

There was never any doubt that the very foundation of  Sheikh Hasina’s idea of governance has been based on revenge and vendetta against anyone she sees as a threat and destabilizing effect to her tight, authoritarian grip on power. However, what she has proven with her open threats on Khaleda Zia and Tarique Rahman are vulnerability and fear of having to face the consequences of her misdeeds, to put it mildly, should she, like her opponent, lose that tight grip on power. At some point in time, this will be inevitable. History has never been kind to dictators and abusers of human rights.

To quote Sir Walter Scott once again, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when we practice to deceive.”

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