World famous TIME magazine has named Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as one of the top-100 influential figures in the world. Commenting on the Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) wrote: “Bearing the legacy of her father, who led Bangladesh’s liberation war, Hasina has never been afraid of a fight. So when several hundred thousand ethnic Rohingya refugees started streaming into Bangladesh last August to escape atrocities by the Myanmar army, she accepted the humanitarian challenge. An impoverished country, Bangladesh had not welcomed massive influxes of refugees in the past, but she could hardly turn back the traumatized victims of ethnic cleansing.”
Yes, Sheikh Hasina, like her father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has the heart of gold. She definitely has exhibited the rarest example of human kindness by accepting almost one million Rohingya refugees (both Muslims and Hindus) from Myanmar defying the fact; a country like Bangladesh can hardly afford to bear such huge load of refugees. For such kindness Sheikh Hasina deserves global appreciation and recognition.
Now the Bangladeshi Prime Minister is facing challenges posed by radical Islamic militants as well as jihadist forces as the country is set to hold its next general election on December 30. But, some foreign media seems to be uninformed or ignorant of these challenges. That is why possibly, Indrani Bagchi in the Times of India wrote: “Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her ruling Awami League seem relaxed and confident as the country approaches general elections next week.”
I must say, Indrani’s comment may turn counterproductive to the ruling party. There is really no reason for Awami League to be “relaxed and confident” on the possible result of the next general elections. She must have remembered, for the first time; Sheikh Hasina did not get any signal of support from India, China or the United States. Although in the past one decade, the Bangladesh Prime Minister has done a lot for India which certainly would have not done by any other political party in Bangladesh, India’s silence centering the next general elections is painful; especially when Pakistani security agency Inter Service Intelligence and those anti-India bloc are seen tremendously active in ensuring a defeat for the ruling party in Bangladesh. According to newspaper reports, those forces are even spending millions of dollars to ensure return of the pro-jihadist parties in power. This truly is a huge challenge to Prime Sheikh Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government. Additionally, we need to remember, such “confidence” and being “relaxed” has resulted in defeat of Awami League in the general elections in 1991.
The Economic Times in an opinion editorial titled ‘Awami league’s secular play may help Sheikh Hasina’ said, “The Bangladesh Awami League government’s slogan, ‘Dhormo Jaar Jaar, Utsob Shobar (Religion as per one’s own, but festivals common to all)”, displaying a secular face, could prove to be a positive for the Sheikh Hasina-led party in the December 30 elections.”
It added, “By conservative estimates, religious minorities comprise around 12.5 % of the population of Bangladesh. They include Hindus constituting 10%, Buddhists (1%), Christians 0.5% and ethnic minorities (less than 1%). For many of them, the Awami League will be the automatic choice, said people tracking the development in Bangladesh.”
Here the Indian daily has made a gross mistake. To the religious minorities, Awami League is not an “automatic choice”. Instead, religious minorities may judge the activities of the ruling party during the past ten years. In this case, Awami League’s softer stance with the radical Islamic forces, particularly Hefazat-e-Islam may turn out as counterproductive. Religious minorities are never the decisive factor in ensuring any political party’s victory – neither in Bangladesh nor in India. Lately we have rather seen, major political parties like Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Indian National Congress (INC) have been focusing on giving full attention to the Hindu voters instead of caring about Muslim vote banks. This strategy has worked very well. Moreover, there is no certainty about religious minorities in Bangladesh casting their votes in favour of Awami League candidates. It even has not happened in the past. Instead, religious minorities would have serious reservation in casting votes in favour of Islamist-inclined Jatiyo Party candidates, who also are contesting with Awami League’s electoral symbol.
The worst strategic blunder of the ruling party was an abrupt romance with Hefazat-e-Islam, a notorious Islamist platform that demands establishment of Caliphate. This particular case has greatly dismayed the secularist forces in Bangladesh, who had always been a natural ally of Awami League. Giving recognition to Qawmi madrassa degrees would only open the door for mullahs entering the civil-military administration. This has greatly gone against the secularist spirit of Bangladesh and Awami League.
Whatever may a section of the international media perceive or express about Bangladesh, there clearly are signs of something wrong from the rest of the media in the world. For example, recently Facebook has removed several fake Bangladesh news sites stating, “the sites — nine Facebook pages designed to mimic legitimate news outlets, as well as six fake personal accounts spreading anti-opposition propaganda — were created by Bangladeshis with government ties, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said in an exclusive interview [to the Associated Press].”
While Facebook has been removing those site hosted by “pro-government” elements in Bangladesh, it is reluctant in closing sites operated by Jamaat-e-Islami and Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
Finally, let me give a very recent example of media offensives on the ruling party in Bangladesh. On December 19, 2018, AFP news agency catered a report titled – Bangladesh opposition goes underground as election threats grow. This report has been widely published in dozens of newspapers in the world, including India’s most influential English daily The Times of India. This particular report would greatly push the December 30 general elections towards controversy. Policymakers in the world, including the West will most definitely take note of the contents of this report. Under such realities, if I may ask – what the ruling party or its teams of “media pundits” are doing to counter such reports? Nothing! In fact, those “pundits” have no capacity of doing anything except filthy sycophancy.
Sohail Choudhury is the executive editor of Blitz