Begum Khaleda Zia has reportedly decided to submit before a Court on Tuesday and seek bail in a case against her for instigating a deadly petrol bomb attack on a bus during an anti-government protest last year. The 70-year-old three-time Prime Minister of Bangladesh apparently finds herself at the mercy of the Sheikh Hasina Government, which allegedly controls the state’s law enforcement agencies.
The embattled leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) describes the cases against her as politically motivated, aimed at keeping her out of the country’s politics. If Ms Zia is convicted, the Awami League could see a long reign without any serious opposition. But is a one-party rule healthy?
Bangladesh fought for independence, and gained it, only because West Pakistan refused to involve major parties of East Pakistan in mainstream politics, especially the Awami League. And now the paradox. The same Awami League is trying very hard to deny political space to the opposition. The Government has cleverly ensured the backing of the police, paramilitary and army. Public dissent is not tolerated.
Sheikh Hasina has been relentless in her pursuit of those who sided with Pakistan in 1971. Undoubtedly, terrible crimes were committed by the Pakistani army over half a century ago, aided by local collaborators. However, observers have expressed doubts over the manner in which the recent trials have been conducted. Sources close to this game of ‘witch-hunt’ suspect that PM Hasina may be using war crimes tribunal to expand overall power over the country.
The fact that there is no opposition in the parliament has further emboldened the AL in its designs. Journalists who ask hard questions of the Government are quietly, but effectively, hassled. Academics who voice out their concern over this dangerous trend are dealt with harshly.
Insiders hint that Sheikh Hasina’s prosecution of war criminals is inspired by her admiration for her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Bangabandhu who amended the Constitution to nearly forbid any dissent.
Sheikh Hasina should know that one-party regimes don’t have happy endings, even if they originally came to power through the ballot box. The Nazis were in power a mere 12 years, not the thousand years they had promised themselves and their followers. The Indian National Congress, the Pakistan Peoples Party, and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party all attempted to build one-party states – none lasted.
But while in power, they possessed the means and the resources to cause great damage to the country. Indira Gandhi and the Congress, for long unopposed, damaged the bureaucracy and the judiciary so badly that they have never since properly recovered their autonomy and efficiency.
The arbitrary manner of the Awami League government, allegedly aimed at finishing off the BNP, is bad news for a country that has till now shown great resilience and will power to evolve. If the judiciary finds Khaleda Zia guilty of wrongdoings, she should be punished. But the decision should be based on facts, not influenced by powers that be.