New York Times puts Bangladeshis into a serious dilemma

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

An opinion titled – ‘Bangladesh’s choice: Authoritarianism or Extremism’ published in The New York Times not only attracted my attention but also did put me and most of the people of Bangladesh into serious puzzle. In the opinion, Kazi Anis Ahmed [K. Anis Ahmed], publisher of a pro-ruling party daily the Dhaka Tribune, commenting on the December 30 general elections wrote, Sunday’s election is a contest between two bad options — but one is worse than the other.

He further wrote, “Since the advent of democracy in 1991, the Awami League and the B.N.P. have essentially been trading places running the country. The ruling Awami League is pinning its hopes for being re-elected again on its development record and secular credentials. (Disclosure: one of my brothers is a member of Parliament and is running on the party’s ticket.) But after a decade in power, and two consecutive terms, it faces serious anti-incumbent feelings. Its heavy-handed suppression of student protests earlier in the year and crackdowns on dissenting voices have only intensified that wariness. Since 2009, the government has decimated the opposition with politically motivated lawsuits and arrests, and even extrajudicial disappearances and murders. And so one may wonder if granting the Awami League a third term now would fatally weaken democracy in Bangladesh. Is it time to give the B.N.P. another chance?”

Here I would like to remind the writer, while BNP is already known as a party inclined towards radical Islam and associated with militancy-linked Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), the ruling Awami League is also heavily inclined towards another Islamist group named Hefazat-e-Islam (HeI). Most importantly, HeI denounces democracy and proclaims establishment of Caliphate, which is a prototype of Islamic State (ISIS). There even are allegations of a number of HeI men getting nomination from the ruling Awami League. Considering these facts, can we really say – the December 30 general election is a choice between “Authoritarianism or Extremism”? Instead, we may feel seriously concerned sensing it to be a choice between extremism and Caliphatism. Can a secular country like Bangladesh really afford to embrace any political party that would give space to notorious groups like HeI?

As the brother of the writer of this opinion is a Member of Parliament from the ruling party and a candidate in the forthcoming election, it is responsibility for the author to reply – why a secularist party like Awami League had suddenly felt over-enthusiastic in romancing with Hefazat-e-Islam? Isn’t it a betrayal of the spirit of the liberation war of Bangladesh? Doesn’t it go against the secularist spirit of the Bengalis?

The December 30 general election in Bangladesh certainly is crucial. We need to remember, key reason of extremism is authoritarianism. So, if I could read the line in between – the author is actually advocating any third option. Isn’t it what we at least get from this NYT opinion?

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is the editor of Blitz

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