It’s getting more and more mysterious as AL continues to crack down on an enfeebled BNP, keep its leader in jail and create a situation which seems BNP is about to land in power toppling the AL. The latest was the arrest of Dhaka city level leaders for holding a “secret meeting”. Does the law have a clause which says that a meeting even if secretly is a criminal act? The crackdown is odd because the BNP hardly has the power to hold secret meetings or even open meetings for that matter. The stranglehold on the situation by the AL government is very strong but its face betrays an anxiousness which defies standard issue analysis and we don’t understand. Why does it take BNP so seriously?
Khaleda’s call and the reaction
Khaleda was expected to get bail by most but due to many other pending cases and other causes was refused so by the courts. She is still in jail, obviously unwell though not sure how bad she really is but a matter of concern for her party workers and leaders. Meanwhile the Government party is now sparring with the BNP and trying to disable its electoral campaigning capacity as much as possible.
Within the BNP there are pro- and anti-agitation groups and the internal party struggle is ongoing on the strategy. Recently, Khaleda reportedly has signaled that the party could consider changing tracks from the current mode of peaceful resistance to one of a more conventional agitation variety. The arrest of people in ‘secret meetings’ came after that probably as a reaction.
Interpretation of law as per convenience is common in Bangladesh and happens all the time but these are mostly used against political opponents. In this case, the matter is serious because of electoral timings and the choice of opponents who are from the AL’s principal opponent. Does it mean that even the current and largely moribund BNP still instigates some anxiety of sorts? That is a mystery as BNP appears to be all but done in.
The grenade attack syndrome?
AL leaders say that what motivates the Government to act against BNP in such manners is caused by what they see as BNP’s deadly heritage. The 1975 killing and the 2003 grenade attack are deeply ingrained in the collective insecurity of the AL mind. It thinks that if ever BNP gets another chance, it will maul AL so badly that many will not survive. All the measures that the AL has used plus some which BNP may invent if it comes to power may cause the destruction of every aspect of their existence. Hence its not just an electoral victory that the AL is trying to ensure.
In such a scenario, its no longer about hence the rules of the game are very different. It appears to be about two groups contesting each other for a battle unto death of sorts and so what is legal or fair doesn’t matter. The contest is in another far more critical and dangerous space than electoral campaigning.
The demise of politics syndrome?
What the general situation tells us is that conventional politics was never established or it did has died. The result is that politics has been replaced by organizational hostility and in that contest, normal rules of course never apply. It is no longer about politics as people imagine it to be. It’s akin to a war between two kingdoms.
That syndrome is rooted in our systemic patterns of governance as it has evolved overtime. The common perception has been to look for ‘democracy’ in politics. But politics itself is one which suits the ruling class. Thus, the practices for which most people want to struggle in the name of ‘democracy’ are various arrangements that safeguard the ruling class and its wealth making, not people.
The practices of politics as we see today have emerged over time and is based on the system of non-accountable governance and network capitalism. No political party or player wants to live without it. And this loyalty to the newly emerged system means even electoral politics, practices and behaviour can’t be understood using traditional lenses. Hence, what we see is the new normal and its possible that the old normal never really got a chance to grow.
Luckily or unluckily the life of ordinary people are not touched by this process. To them politics is about parties, leaders, campaign, processions, inter and intra-party violence but none of these touch their life. Just as elections are about political parties and not the people, politics is about the welfare of the parties and leaders and not the people.
They may wish it was about the people but chances are few given the historical experience that has been established and are being set as we live. People and the party are not the same and the analytical equations can’t follow the markers of Bangladesh before 1971 to understand what has happened after 1972.