Controversial general elections have plunged Bangladesh into a fresh phase of political uncertainty. The elections, for all practical purposes, was a unilateral exercise with the opposition leader and former Prime Minister Khalidah Zia languishing in jail over ‘corruption’ charges. Prime Minister ShiekhHaseena’s party Awami League has won 287 out of 298 seats which went to polling on Sunday. The opposition alliance managed win on just eight seats. In absence of Khalidah, the opposition alliance united under the banner of National Unity Front was led by country’s leading jurist Kamal Hossain. He was a minister in Bangladesh founder and first Prime Minister ShiekhMujeebur Rahman’s government. The opposition parties have alleged mass rigging in the elections. Around 100 candidates withdrew from the contest on the polling day amid accusations of mass rigging. They alleged ballot-stuffing and vote rigging by the ruling party activists. “We’ve had bad elections in the past but I must say that it is unprecedented how bad this particular election was. The minimum requirements of a free and fair election are absent,” Hossain said.
He said the alliance would hold a meeting on Monday to decide its next course. “We call upon the Election Commission to declare this election void and demand a fresh election under a nonpartisan government,” Hossain said. The misuse of official machinery and harassment of opposition by way of violent attacks by Awami League activists and police raids were rampant all through election campaign. The country has seen a spike in political violence, mainly targeting the Opposition. At least 18 people have died in the election relation violence. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the main constituent of the Opposition JatiyaOikya Front, claims that 9,200 of its activists have been arrested since the election schedule was announced. In a report published on December 22, Human Rights Watch said that “arrests and other repressive measures… have contributed to a climate of fear”. Ever since democracy was restored in 1990-91, election seasons have been tumultuous in Bangladesh.
In the past when the BNP was in power, it had refused to step down after its tenure ended. In 1996, the Awami League led mass movements for elections, while in 2006 a military-backed caretaker government postponed the election, which was finally held in December 2008. Since then, Hasina has held power. However, she has since been accused of turning the country into an authoritarian rule. The Haseena government was criticized by its own people when it passed the Digital Security Bill and the crackdown on student protests in Dhaka some time back. Disqualifying Khalidah Zia and subsequently putting her in jail has furthered the perception of authoritarian rule of ShiekhHaseena. Authoritarian taunt apart, ShiekhHaseena is credited with improving country’s economy during her 10 years of rule. For the Awami League, this should have been an opportunity to break with the history of violence and seek the mandate based on its performance. But its increasing tendency to use force against the Opposition and the violence by its party activists have marred the election process. The opposition wanted the elections to be held under a non-partisan interim government, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina unilaterally bulldozed her decision and conducted elections under her handpicked Election Commission. The opposition alliance raised fingers on the neutrality of the Election Commission as well. Four days before the polling the opposition had sought the resignation of the Chief Election Commissioner.
The result is obvious – an opposition-free parliament. Independent observers have expressed serious reservations about the conduct of elections, and the growing uncertainty in the country. The international community – the UN, the EU and the Commonwealth in particular -must play an active role in restoring democracy in Bangladesh.
Reversing the history
In a rare move, the Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC) has passed a resolution to declare the birth anniversary of Dogra monarch Maharaja Hari Singh on September 23 as State holiday, days after the State paid tributes to people killed during his rule in 1931 in the Valley. Jammu-based BJP corporator Narotam Sharma moved the resolution on Thursday. It was passed without any opposition from the Congress or independent candidates in the general house meeting, where out of 75 corporators BJP has 43 members. The resolution has been sent to Governor Satya Pal Malik for his consent. The development is shocking to vast majority of the people of the state who know Hari Singh historically a villain. The 101 years (1846 to 1947) of Dogra rule is a story of harassment, torture, persecution, neglect and denial of rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. It was against this backdrop that a political movement was launched against Hari Singh in 1931. Initially, it was the Muslim leadership of the time that set off the fuse against Hari Singh’s autocratic rule. As the movement picked up, prominent Pandit leaders too joined it, making it all-inclusive. It was at the persistence of some Pandit leaders, mainly Prem Nath Bazaz, that Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah broke away from Muslim Conference to form National Conference in 1938. Abdullah, as the history says, did it to accommodate non-Muslims in the movement against Hari Singh. Singh’s response was too oppressive. Over 20 persons were shot dead by Singh’s forces on July 13, 1931 outside the Srinagar central jail. Since then, July 13 has become a reference point in the struggle and it has all along been observed by the people of the state as government holiday. Now regarding the same person, who presided over the July 13 massacre and other voluminous atrocities on the people of the state, as the hero of the state is quite reversal of the history. Ironically, the JMC’s move comes days after the State observed a holiday and paid tributes to J&K’s 22 martrys who fell to the bullets in Srinagar on July 13, 1931 to the Maharaja’s forces. Congress leader Vikramaditya Singh was first to stoke a controversy. He tweeted that “plunder, loot and rape by criminals and jail breakers in Srinagar city was put to an end in 1931”. “It is a blot on J&K that this is glorified as State Martyrs Day,” he added.
The discreet silence by NC and PDP leadership, the two dominant political voices in Kashmir, is quite intriguing. They are more concerned about their power than genuine historical issues. They owe an explanation as what could be the status of July 13 martyrs now on. The worst kind of reversal of history surely entails a political cost which the political parties of Kashmir shall have to pay. In 2017, Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Council passed a resolution, almost unanimously, to observe Hari Singh’s birthday. One grandson of Hari Singh (Ajatshatru Singh—who is in BJP) moved the resolution, and other grandson—Vikramaditya (who was in PDP) supported it. In a house of 34 members (then), BJP had just 8 members. But the resolution was passed without any resistance from the PDP (which had 11 members), NC (with eight members) and the Congress (which had seven members). National Conference has more responsibility at this juncture. The NC considers itself as the treasurer of Kashmir’s contemporary history. It claims that the entire era from 1931 till 1947 belonged to it. The NC founder Sheikh Abdullah led a heroic battle against the autocratic rule of Hari Singh which ultimately saw the end in 1947. The Jammu MC’s resolution negates all the history. It also disapproves the role of Abdullah and puts him in a villainous shadow as against Hari Singh. The party needs to take a strong stand against any such move and ensure that this suicidal reversal of history is stopped.
A familiar but unhappy trend is again affecting the relations between India and Pakistan, and the leadership of both the countries appears to be more interested in domestic posturing than genuinely seeking to engage with each other. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling on Indian prisoner in Pakistan, Kulbhushan Jadhav, is being used as a ruse to show each other down by Islamabad and New Delhi.
The ICJ, on Wednesday, granted some relief to Jadhav by suspending his death sentence and asking Pakistan to review the case and grant government of India consular access to the accused. Jadhav is facing death penalty in Pakistan. A former officer of Indian Navy, he was arrested by Pakistan in troubled Balochistan in 2016 on accusations of “spying and terrorism”. A fake passport under an assumed Muslim name was recovered from him. Jadhav was sentenced to death by Pakistan’s military court in 2017. India rejected Pakistan’s accusations against Jadhav and moved to ICJ for his release. India said that Jadhav’s sentencing followed a “farcical trial”. New Delhi acknowledged that Jadhav was an Indian national, but said he had been kidnapped by Pakistani agents from Iran, where he had gone on a business trip after retiring from the Indian Navy. Pakistan, which has constantly accused India of supporting Baloch separatists, saw Jadhav’s capture as proof of India’s involvement in the unrest. Government of India also took exception to Islamabad’s not informing the Indian High Commission within stipulated time of Jadhav’s arrest.
Pakistan took three weeks to inform India of taking Jadhav into custody. India’s high commission in Islamabad had made requests to meet Jadhav but was eventually denied by Pakistan. In May 2017, India approached the ICJ, which restrained Pakistan from executing Jadhav till the adjudication of the case. While the ICJ put brakes on the death sentence of Jadhav and asked Pakistan to give him consular access, it, however, did not entertain Indian requests as well. India had requested to annul the military court verdict, retrial in a civilian court and release and safe passage of Jadhav.
The verdict has been claimed as victory by both the countries. No less than the Prime Ministers of the two countries gave public statements on the verdict. Prime Minister Narendra Modi described it as “huge win” for India and said “truth and justice has prevailed”. Pakistan PM Imran Khan, for his part, tweeted: “Appreciate ICJ’s decision not to acquit, release & return Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav to India. He is guilty of crimes against the people of Pakistan. Pakistan shall proceed further as per law.”
The media and other state officials of both the countries also made much of how the two claimed victory. The United Nations’ principal judicial organ has given a ruling that favours neither side. It is the worst kind of immaturity that is being displayed on both the sides. Wisdom has it that, both, Islamabad and New Delhi should understand the gravity of the situation and instead of indulging in showdown against each other, they must engage diplomatically to resolve the problems affecting the bilateral relations. It is quite a sad commentary on the wisdom of Indian and Pakistani governments that they are following the street sentiment while formulating their relations. They must rise above the street mentality and move forward with maturity. Apart from Jadhav’s, the two neighbours have a host of other issues that have been marring their relations. They cannot live permanently with those problems. Those have to be addressed sooner or later. It would be in the best interests of the two countries to resort to a comprehensive dialogue process to resolve all the issues affecting their relations.
The Universal Declaration of Independence
About fourteen hundred years ago, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) gave to humanity a document, containing universal truths including those mentioned in The Declaration of Independence.This also was a declaration of independence, based on permanent values, but it was for the entire human race. It was a declaration of universal human rights and freedoms, of universal peace and security, of universal trust, of a universal code of ethics, of universal human dignity, of universal freedom of thought and expression. In short, it was a declaration of the universal brotherhood of humankind. This document is called the Qur’an. Can it serve as the constitution for entire humanity? Can it save humanity from the destruction that seems to be its destiny? It boldly proclaims that it can.Under our Prophet’s leadership the world was transformed, as people were given freedom to develop their human potential. Even today, historians and philosophers marvel at how the most backward and barbarous people became the most advanced, most civilized in such a short time. Yet, sadly enough, today, instead of being astonished, we are perplexed at how the succeeding Muslim generations came to lose that glory. They lost independent thought by self-concentrated individuals.
Over and over again, AllamaIqbal emphasizes the importance of independent thought. For example, he says:The only course open to us is to approach modern knowledge with a respectful but independent attitude and to appreciate the teachings of Islam in the light of that knowledge, even though we may be led to differ from those who have gone before us( page 78). …The teaching of the Quran that life is a process of progressive creation necessitates that each generation, guided but unhampered by the work of its predecessors, should be permitted to solve its own problems (Page 134). …False reverence to past history and its artificial resurrection constitute no remedies for a people’s decay. ‘The verdict of history’, as a modern writer has happily put it, ‘is that worn-out ideas have never risen to power among a people who have worn them out.’ The only effective power, therefore, that counteracts the forces of decay in a people is the rearing of self-concentrated individuals. (The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, Page 120).
AllamaIqbal goes on to explain the meaning of “self-concentrated individuals.” Individuals must have freedom of thought to be able to develop the self. In a well-known couplet, he compares the “self” or “khudi” to unique pearl, urging individuals to focus on the development of “self” through freedom of thought, and not to destroy it by blind following:
“Taqlid se naakaaraanakarapnikhudiko
[Do not destroy your self by blind following. Protect it because it is a unique pearl.]
This can be elucidated by an example. While every tree is subjected to restrictions by nature, these restrictions are imposed to optimize the growth and development of a tree’s latent potential. The same principle can be applied to human society. And the application of this principle is what our Prophet (PBUH) accomplished in Medina. He implemented, in Medina, a socio-economic and political infrastructure within the boundaries of the Qur’anic principles. The Quran constitutionally protected the human rights and freedom of all people. Everyone was equal, including the Prophet (PBUH), before the law. Within these Qur’anic limits, human beings enjoyed full freedom of thought, which, in turn, gave human beings the opportunity to realize and nourish their God-given latent potential. Hence, the glory of Islam in its early years!
The system that can guarantee equal rights and freedoms for all human beings irrespective of race, color, language, ethnicity, etc. must be based on permanent values. Since human thinkers and philosophers, searching for permanent values, are limited by time and space, it becomes obvious they cannot find these except through trial and error. On the other hand, if we are able to structure our society based on the permanent values contained in the Quran, then humanity will not only be assured dignity and equality, but it will also be set free to realize its God-given potential, as it did 1400 years ago in the glorious days of early Islam. The challenge for us is to show the world that the Quran is the only book that contains the complete set of Permanent Values.