Pre-poll violence in Bangladesh spikes but army remains inactive as India maintains...

Pre-poll violence in Bangladesh spikes but army remains inactive as India maintains stoic silence

Chandan Nandy,
BNP candidate for Dhaka-3 constituency Goyeshwar Chandra Roy is injured in an attack by unidentified criminals during his campaign in Keraniganj on Tuesday, December 25, 2018. He is admitted to Islami Bank Central Hospital in the capital. Photo: Collected

Two days after the army was deployed across Bangladesh to “preserve the peace” and ensure free and fair parliamentary elections on December 30, there has been no noticeable or appreciable change on the ground even as the level of violence and targeting of opposition candidates and activists, especially of the BNP, continued ceaselessly across the country.

While media reports indicated that Awami League supporters, often with the open backing of the police, have brazenly attacked BNP candidates and supporters, the army has stood by inactive, giving rise to frustrations from the opposition political parties. Meanwhile, Bangladesh Election Commission (BEC) which has been accused by the opposition Jatiya Oikkyo Front (National Unity front) for being partisan in its conduct.

Taken aback by the conduct on the ground merely four days before Bangladesh goes to the polls, a Dhaka-based political analyst close to the ruling establishment did not mince words to say that the “unfolding plan” was choreographed “not without” the full knowledge and backing of New Delhi.

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“This is quite evident from the silence that New Delhi has maintained even as there has been no let up in violence mainly being carried out by the Awami League, while other foreign powers have at least spoken up by refusing to send election observers” to Bangladesh. The stakes are obviously quite high as the Indians have pressured the ruling Awami League to tow their line instead of China’s.

The same political analyst, preferring anonymity, said that the “people’s expectations from the army have been belied by the violence on the ground, which is one of the main reasons why scores of BNP candidates are not in a position to take part in the election because they simply are not being able to go to their constituencies”. He said that the “police is more aggressive against the opposition than ever before, especially in Bangladesh’s rural areas”.

This forced the National Unity Front leader Dr Kamal Hossain to lead a delegation to the BEC on December 25 but the meeting did not materialise as the opposition found the poll panel impervious to its concerns over the relentless violence. The Front, primarily bolstered by the BNP, will meet on December 26 to take final stock of the situation on the ground before taking any decision regarding withdrawing from the electoral contest.

On this score, however, opinions are divided within the BNP which, ironically, is faced with the brunt of the Awami League’s attack across most constituencies. While some standing committee members are of the opinion that the party should convince Hossain to pull out of the electoral race, others within the organisational hierarchy said that it “is much too late in the day to withdraw or boycott, especially when party cadres and activists have taken so much trouble to organise and participate in the polls”. As of today, 18 BNP candidates are in jail while 11 others have been barred by the high court from contesting the elections.

Read Also: Foreign observers shunning Bangladesh polls: A sign not all is okay with Dec 30 elections

The analyst further said that at a time when Bangladeshis were expecting the army to safeguard their electoral rights, the increasing levels of violence, and the partisan role being played by the police, indicates that “it was deployed for the sake of form and not so much to safeguard the interests of the voters”. This was underscored by BNP joint secretary Rizvi Ahmed, who said that the army deployment “has not made any difference” on the ground.

With the ruling Awami League, which, at this critical juncture invited some Indian journalists to Dhaka, making all attempts to frustrate the opposition’s participation in the elections, there is a real fear that the police may turn “even more aggressive” as the army “has chosen to maintain a passive posture”. A senior BNP standing committee member, however, said that the party will “go up to the end” and yet prove that “we are as good as our words”. He cautioned that an “unfair” and “rigged” election could prove disastrous as it “might give a fillip to proliferation of anti-India forces” in Bangladesh.