Because it is almost farcical that a political leader in a democracy is facing sedition charges because of conflicting belief system.
Bangladesh opposition leader, Begum Khaleda Zia, is facing criticism for her December 21 comment on the number of Bengalis martyred in the 1971 ‘Liberation War’. The three-time former Prime Minister had raised doubts over the authenticity of the officially-recorded figure of three million deaths in nine months at the hands of Pakistani soldiers.
She believes the numbers are hyped. So is it a myth, kept alive through vociferous and repeated recital of ‘three million martyrs’ by vested interests aimed at finishing off Zia and her BNP?
It is not plausible to have a figure of casualties of war. The details of mass graves all over the country and the number of bodies were never duly recorded. A Dhaka University professor, Samir Paul, who was aiding in organizing refugee and relief camp activities, estimated one million deaths inside Bangladesh. Many more died on their way to India, besides those succumbing to injuries. But three million?
Instead of exploiting the sentiments attached to the genocide to gain political mileage and bash Khaleda Zia, the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League should form a high-powered commission to tabulate the numbers killed during the historic Liberation Movement. Doing so would in no way be an insult to the heroes of Bangladesh’s freedom movement. In fact, it might just bring them back, those lost and forgotten in the sands of time, into the limelight.
In the final analyses, though, it might not even be about whether the numbers are accurate. If it is, the issue of ‘myth’ can be put to rest. If not, the Government could take the responsibility and set the record straight.
What is at stake is the essence of the country’s democratic spirit. The ease and ferocity with which the Government is going after the BNP leader because she begged to differ on the numbers is a worrying sign for the nation. There are apprehensions that Sheikh Hasina could be trying to establish political hegemony by way of removing her opponents.
The combustible clash of ideologies between the warring Begums could be the death knell for the South Asian nation, and as the country’s head, its Hasina’s responsibility to ensure that doesn’t happen.
Nazrul Islam Khan, a veteran member of BNP standing committee, stated in a public meeting in Dhaka: It’s the government’s failure that we have so far failed to accord respect to the martyrs. It’s vitally important to list all and show them respect from the state.”
A stable democracy essentially rests on the ability of individuals, groups and opposition parties to express their opinions and compete in the political process. Multi-party system, which is balanced and competitive, is the backbone of democracy. It helps channel civic discontent into constructive policy debate and change, helping to avoid the violence that can sometimes plague non-democratic countries.
There is mistrust, suspicion, discord and enmity on the part of the Awami League as far as BNP is concerned. Insiders have confirmed Sheikh Hasina leaves no stone unturned in her effort to malign Khaleda Zia in her discussions with India. This is where India needs to tread carefully.
With the landslide victory of BJP-led NDA should come policy change, or at least consideration towards the same. We can no longer afford to be seen as clearly favouring one and opposing the other. How far India’s handling of some of the pressing issues can be called a success remains to be seen in the policy priorities of the new government. Through dialogue and engagement, the Narendra Modi-led Government could start a fresh chapter where pre-conceived notions don’t come in the way of deciding association with one and disassociation with the other.