Where does Sheikh Hasina lead Bangladesh to?
❚ By Shamsul Alam Liton ❚
After Indian JOY SREERAM (to hail God Ram), Bangladesh also got an order to endorse JOY BANGLA (party slogan of ruling Awami League) as the national slogan. In both countries these two party slogans turned into the national identity and the symbol of patriotism. Both government imposed the orders by state organs. Instead of national unity by liberal thoughts, both parties (BJP in India and AL in Bangladesh) are aggressive to establish their party agenda and superiority by coverage of extreme nationalist thoughts.
In January 2007 Sheikh Hasina had led a coup d’etat against the then care taker government of Bangladesh using the chief of army staff generals Moin only to ditch him two years later when Moin orchestrated a rigged but set up election which brought hasina into power. Since then Bangladesh entered into a dark age of despotic, authoritarian regime. In last 12 years she has turned the South Asian country into a “one-party state”. Hasina’s party Awami league flagrantly wielded the full power of state institutions, from police to courts to the Election Commission, to promote its chances of staying in the power and so far it has seen success. But that came at the expense of total degeneration of the state institutions including constitutional bodies including Supreme Court and all the other organs of government and civil society.
Now the media in Bangladesh has ‘embedded ‘ journalists, the courts have ‘embedded‘ judges, the army has embedded ‘ generals, the civil society has ‘embedded ‘ civil voices, who always sing the chorus of what their godmother hasina wazed asks them to sing. Hasina wazed has cracked down on dissent, killing main opposition leaders, imprisoning thousands including former prime minister Khaleda Zia and stoking anger across the political spectrum. Presently, she in the process of changing Bangladesh constitution so that she can stay in power until her death like her father by going back to one party system of governance BAKSAL that was introduced by her late father in mid 1970s and by giving the military and police even more power.
Ever since she came into power Bangladesh has slipped into a chaos and is passing through a crisis of democracy as whatever is left with democratic process is by “farcical elections”.
Development is not just about building bridges and highways, we have to also look into sustainability. In the December 2019 general election, of the 39 parties that participated in the elections, only nine could find representation, with an overwhelming 96 percent of the seats going to the ruling alliance through state sponsored widespread rigging where voting was done before the night it was supposed to be held.
There were the times when Bangladesh was being propped up as an emerging economic power, and it has now fallen due to the hasina regime’s abysmal record of human rights.In fact, Hasina’s crushing of peaceful dissent is fueling fanatics reported to be associated with ISIS. ISIS is recruiting tortured detainees across the country’s vast penal system. No one knows how many political prisoners there are in Bangladesh, though estimates are generally at least 160,000, and many, if not most, face the pain and humiliation of torture.
Like Mujib, her father before her, hasina crams her jails with tortured political prisoners and calls it stability. Outside the jails, dissidents are disappeared or forced into exile regularly . The changes to the constitution since 2009 had only deepened the dictatorship, fueling more violent extremism. History tells us that dictatorships are time bombs, creating pressure that eventually erupts. The rampant human rights abuses of the Hasina dictatorship are slowly cultivating danger and disorder in a strategically important part of the world. Even if she manages to hang onto power far into the future, Hasina is empowering a transnational terrorist group committed to opposing the West and killing westerners and others.
Just because the number 10 is in denial about what Hasina is doing and where it is leading, this House of Commons shouldn’t be. It has the power to entirely cut the DFID aid the UK gives BANGLADESH . It should at least reduce the amount, and not release the aid unless Bangladesh fulfills strict human rights conditions, including an end to torture in custody. The longer the brutal repression continues, the easier it will be for ISIS to recruit detainees and further destabilize BANGLADESH and the region.
(Article presented at Seminar in House of Commons on “Extreme Nationalism & Violent extremism in South Asia” organised by British Bangladesh Community Alliance, 10/03/2020).
Writer: Former Press Secretary to Bangladesh President
Broadcaster and civil right activist.