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.
For the immediate attention of the Governor
It is an oft-repeated story. The winter’s only blessing and charm—snow—always turns into curse in Kashmir. People, who, generally, crave for the snowfall in winter, rue when it actually happens. Not that there is something wrong with the aesthetic and arty sense of the people, but because of the problems they are subjected to after the snowfall. It goes without saying that the snow is the only attraction for people in winter. This year God has been quite gracious to bestow His blessing on Kashmir in the shape of snow. It is for the third time that the valley witnessed a rich snowfall adding a new charm to this beautiful part of the world. The entire valley and its surrounding mountain peaks give a striking charm with white snow capping and covering them all. Social media is agog with photographs and videos of snow accumulating on streets, house lawns, trees and house tops. Videos capturing citizens celebrating the snow fall with awesome charm gave a new meaning and sense to the winter. The whisper of swirling and falling snowflakes evoked a sense of extra delight, marking the arrival of a new feeling to hold onto, this charm captures the imagination and beauty of winter. The snowfall gave a respite to the valley people in some other way as well. The valley had been reeling under harsh cold coupled with dryness causing serious problems like scarcity of water as water bodies and taps had got frozen under sub zero temperature. The snowfall has lessened these problems to some extent. But the peoples’ joy, as always, proved short-lived as new and more problems serious in nature and consequences are staring at their faces. In fact the problems of the people begin with the fall of the first flake of the snow. Power and road connectivity are the first to become the casualties, exposing the traditional lackadaisical and easygoing attitude. As the authorities were yet to overcome the problems that overtook the valley due to January 7 snowfall, this week’s snowfall (on Wednesday) came as another ruse for them to conceal their worthlessness.
Kashmir is snow prone region since its existence. It is not something unexpected or unforeseen has happened. The basic question is why the power supply system is so fragile that three or four inch snow dashes it to the ground. Kashmir is not the only place where there is snowfall. But Kashmir is the only place where everything gets buried under snow—the government in the very first place. Snow falls every winter in Kashmir, and the problems get repeated every time there is a snowfall. The government should have taken all this into consideration well before the time, and efforts should have been made to make maximum of the minimum. But here everything goes in reverse direction. It is not only the power supply that has affected the lives of the people. The road connectivity has also got badly affected in the wake of the snowfall. Most of the roads and streets in capital Srinagar are under snow. Nobody from the Municipality or Public Works department is seen anywhere on the streets clearing or monitoring the road clearance. Srinagar Municipal Corporation, which has an army of people to meet such eventualities, appears to be under deep slumber.
What has made the situation even worse is the water logging on crucial city centers. The exhibition chowk, Jahangir Chow, Hari Singh High Street, Lal Chowk, Regal Chowk and several other surrounding localities have turned into water pools and lakes due to water logging. The drainage system seems to have failed completely.The state government which has moved to Jammu for the winter season is basking in the sunny and warm weather. The valley has been handed over to a few bureaucrats with divisional commissioner as their head, who have ensconced themselves to their cozy offices. The essential commodities and eatables of daily use too have disappeared from the market. They are being sold in black against whopping prices. There is no control over prices. Governor S P Malik, who is currently head of the government, needs to take stock of the worsening situation in the valley, and activate his machinery to mitigate the peoples’ problems. He speaks on everything that comes his way but is turning a blind eye to the daily problems of the valley people.
Looking beyond rhetoric
The government’s haste in implementation of highly controversial Triple Talaq bill, seems like an attempt to persecute Muslim community by criminalizing the not so prevalent practice of instant triple divorce.The move has triggered a heated debate all around and the opposition predominantly claims it as a direct intervention in Muslim personal laws. It is not surprising the bill has been drafted and presented in Lok Sabha by a political dispensation well known for their anti-Muslim stance – which itself raises several questions.
Divorce is the basic right of any individual as is the right to choose one’s partner and to criminalize such right is equal to crushing out the essence of freedom.In its final verdict Supreme Court’s bench found the practice of “triple talaq” as unconstitutional and non-theological, as well ruled out the possibility of any legislation by Parliament as was suggested by two judges. One of the judges of the Supreme Court’s bench, Justice Joseph said in the given verdict “What cannot be true in theology cannot be protected by the law.But despite, the declaration of instant triple talaq as invalid by the Supreme Court, the ruling party introduced a new bill in Lok Sabha, that makes the declaration of “Triple Talaq” (instant and procedural) to be void and illegal, and a cognizable offence (if information relating to the offence is given by the woman and her blood or close relatives).
Here, second thing that exposed the duality of intention of BhartiyaJanta Party while addressing the issue of Triple Talaq and scraping of IPC 497 is that, latter constrained adultery with the wife of another man, without the consent or connivance of that man, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape, is guilty of the offence of adultery as well as per the law women as abettor was exempted from punishment.
So earlier, IPC 497 law was partially anti-women but the latter scraping of IPC 497 turned the scenario and became an apparatus to hit the loyalty and sanctity of marriage. Hence, somehow both the instant triple talaq and scraping of 497 are on same strata and responsible to break down the structure of marriage. On that ruling party, BJP showed a hypocritical attitude while addressing the two similar issues, they paid a great effort to challenge triple talaq and introduced The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2018 but remain unaddressed the issue of IPC 497 which is more against the spirit of the family & marriage institution.
Even, the most sacred Islamic text Holy Quran and Hadith has clearly invalidated the practice of instant triple talaq, as well provided a prescribed procedure of how to end up a nuptial tie.Quran described instant triple talaq as TalaqUlBidat (the sinful form of divorce) as it is against the spirit of the holy book, whereas Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) found it as invalid practice.“Three divorces were treated as one” during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Caliph Abu Bakr and Caliph Umar’s reign.
Basically, the issue of triple talaq has been thoroughly discussed in five schools of thought, whereas in some cases Hanafi school of thought entertained the idea. But the clerics belonging to the particular sect have also accepted the facts that triple talaq was responsible for spreading social evils. Hence, 23 Muslim nations have already banned the practice.Here, all the schools of thought determined the punishment of instant triple talaq and there are ample resolutions available in the theology to provide the maintenance and means of livelihood to the affected women.
One cannot deny the fact that triple talaq as a political tool is used due to negligence of All India Muslim Personal Law board who failed to address the issue in the light of Shariah law. It was their responsibility to initiate a research to gather the data of such cases and to invalidate the practice of triple talaq as it is theologically irrelevant. If the BJP government was sincere enough they can collect data in collaboration with All India Muslim personal Law Board and seek out a solution.
The unabated border tension
The border tension between India and Pakistan shows no signs of decline. On Tuesday, an Assistant Commandant of Border Security Force (BSF) was killed in a ‘sniper fire’ by Pakistan along the Line of Control (LoC) in Samba district of Jammu. Elsewhere, three BSF personnel and an army soldier were injured in separate incidents of firing along Rajouri and Kathua districts. Last week, Pakistan summoned Indian Acting deputy High Commissioner to lodge protest against “unprovoked” firing by Indian army in Shahkote sector which resulted in death of a woman. The number of ceasefire violations (CFVs) and the resultant casualties of soldiers and civilians on both sides along the Line of Control and the international border between India and Pakistan have seen a dramatic rise in the past five years.
Official records say that 2936 incidents cases of ceasefire violations took place, last year, the highest in the last 15 years, making mockery of the ceasefire agreement of 2003 between the two countries. For two years – 2004 and 2005–there was not a single such violation on the border. In 2006 just three incidents of CFVs took place while in 2007 and 08, there were 21 and 77 such incidents. There had been a gradual increase in ceasefire violations 2009 and 2013 with 28 in 2009, 44 in 2010, 62 in 2011, 114 in 2012 and 347 in 2013. After 2013, the CFVs witnessed serious rise. Since 2014, the border tension hit new levels with the Line of Control and International Border brimming with artillery and firearm sounds. The seriousness of the situation can be understood from the latest threat by army chief Gen Bipin Rawat. He said that India would mind to strike inside Pakistan if the need arose. Pakistan army has viewed it as a direct threat from Indian army and retorted that they were ready for war if it was imposed on them. It is no exaggeration to say that the current level of hostilities is the most dangerous escalation since the 2003 ceasefire agreement. Though the ceasefire violations never ceased on the LOC or working boundary but it had never been so threatening as it is today.
The numbers of dead on both sides, civil and military, is rising. Indian and Pakistani armies, some time back, released videos of attacks on each others’ positions on the LOC claiming heavy losses on both sides. The most unfortunate part is that there is no agency or process or set of protocols that appear to be able or willing to stop or at least bring a pause to what is now dangerously close to outright warfare. The provocative statements by military and political leadership and incensed media propaganda on both sides go on un-endingly.
It is now an admitted fact that political factors play a major role in determining the relations between the two countries. Vajpyee, who was seen as a man of peace, and General Musharaf, despite serious provocations from hardliners with the government and the deep state, sorted out a strategy to lessen the tension between the two countries which worked quite successfully. It was Vajpayee’s political sagacity that brought Gen Musharaf on board who put a stop to what India called cross border terrorism. The present dispensation however has different priorities. They are using external trouble for political gains internally. That way they have developed a vested interest in border tensions. It is most likely that the tension may escalate further given the political compulsions ahead of the ruling party at the centre.
The general elections in India are being held in April/May, and BJP would desperately need heightening India-Pakistan tension to woo electorate on its side. That might help BJP gain electorally but India, as nation, would have to bear its fruits.