Spirit of liberation war betrayed

by Anu Muhammad

spc03AS WE observe the 44th anniversary of Independence Day on March 26, we see no light at the end of the tunnel, no sign of ending the latest political crisis and violence that began on January 5. We feel suffocated, trapped. We feel unsafe everywhere — roads, workplaces, educational institutions and even at home. Every day, unbearable cruelty has become common news. Attackers on civilians have been mostly invisible. With indefinite general strike and blockade, petrol bombs are thrown on civilians, hundreds have been suffering from wounds, more than 67 people, including women and children, have been killed till today. Coldblooded murders of unarmed or arrested people in the name of ‘crossfire’, ‘encounter’, ‘road accident’, `self protection’ by law enforcement agencies have crossed 55 since January 6. Disappearances are also becoming a regular affair, where in most cases members of the families of the victims blame law enforcement agencies for the disappearances. Many victimised families have been waiting for their near and dear ones for years. According to Ain o Salish Kendra, a human rights organisation working in Bangladesh, the number is increasing with the current political crisis.
Despite failures, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its allies are continuing their indefinite violent programmes, seemingly indifferent to its poor effectiveness. May be they are waiting for some ‘miracle’, some steps from ‘somewhere’! On the other side, it appears that the Awami League and its associates in power are happy about taking this opportunity to crash the BNP, to make it marginal and ineffective in Bangladesh politics. It is obvious that the Awami League is not bothered about Jamaat because in voter politics, Jamaat can be contained if the BNP crashes. The activities of both sides appear to confirm that provocation and violent acts will not end any time soon. The question of people’s lives and security does not have any space in their strategic and tactical actions.
Mafia power matrix along with the absence of institutions proper, oligarchic rule and lack of democratic practices by big parties make political violence and intolerance as (dis)order of the country. All these are pushing Bangladesh into the risk of long-term vulnerability despite impressive GDP growth figure, remittance and export earnings.
The intellectuals close to the ruling party are willing to see repressive government measures, including extrajudicial killing, no permission to rallies and protests as necessary actions against ‘anti-liberation forces’ — a battle between ‘good and evil’ and between ‘secularism and communalism’. Things are not that simple. If the alliance with Jamaat is a test of ‘pro-liberation force’, the BNP has clear-cut record of hanging with the party led by war criminals but the Awami League has its similar record too. In 1996, it used this card to organise protracted seize, general strike and election boycott against the BNP government. In that phase, Jamaat and the Jatiya Party were main allies of the Awami League. After coming to power in the 2008 elections, other than bringing some Bengali war criminals to justice, the Awami League cannot claim to bear any element of the spirit of the liberation war in its politics, programmes, and financial records.
There should be no debate over the Awami League’s having historical differences with the BNP that it has political assets of struggles in the Pakistan period and in 1971. The BNP was born in the cantonment during a martial law period but it earned credibility because of the presence of 1971 war veterans in its leadership. And it lost much of its earned credibility by giving shelter to war criminals of 1971. While in power, both have shown their unity and continuity in class power; in plunder and grabbing of common property, discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities, corruption, violence and repression including extrajudicial killing. Both the parties follow the same neo-liberal economic ideology; both aim to enjoy absolute power; both use their student and other organisations to create armed hooligans; and both have records to destroy institutions and create feudal or dynastic rule.
There are other facts to understand the present dynamics. Majority of the people, especially poor and women, are suffering most because of the present crisis. But it is important to note that not everybody in society is on the losing side; there are few groups who are beneficiary of the situation. Despite turbulence and insecurity or because of it, land and river grabbing continues. Corruption and repression in the name of surveillance and anti-terrorist actions are rising. Moreover, there are more cases of concern in this troubled time. Those include: (1) by using the ‘write off’ instrument, the government has allowed Tk 20 billion to disappear in the Hallmark fraud case of Tk 40 billion; and (2) by using the ‘reschedule’ instrument, the government has allowed big loan defaulters to continue taking big loans without repayment by due date; this decision was taken by the Bangladesh Bank after considering the application submitted by Beximco, marked with Tk 50 billion defaults; (3) the government has taken a decision to import around 13 lakh tonnes of crude petroleum oil between January and June for $104–$114 a barrel when global prices are around $60; the price for six lakh tonnes of fuel has been estimated at $117.88 a barrel and the rest at $127.88 a barrel, including carrying charges, service charges, lighterage costs, duties and value added taxes; the total cost will be around $1.19 billion or Tk 93 billion. (Daily Star, February 12, 2015); and (4) the government has taken a decision to award US company ConocoPhillips and associates three offshore blocks at one stroke with terms and condition going heavily against national interest
Not only that, the present government, in its second tenure since January 5, has been showing its muscle and determination to carry out big projects and stick to the decisions that were criticised and opposed by a significant number of people from different sections of society, including independent experts. These include: (1) by ignoring expert opinions and popular protests against NTPC India-sponsored disastrous project of the Rampal coal-fired power plant, the government is not only going with that but also adding another power plant proposed by the Bangladesh business group Orion closer to the Sunderbans, a world heritage site; (2) showing complete indifference to the issues of safety, security and environment, the government is going ahead with the Rooppur nuclear power plant by a Russian company, relying on Russian experts and loans; (3) by promoting oil-fired rental and quick rental power plants, the government in its earlier tenure created a huge fiscal burden and public debts and caused increased cost of power generation that resulted in power tariff increases six times; instead of ending this resource drainage, the government extended time limit of these plants in favour of certain groups; and (4) instead of sorting out irregularities and corruption, the government is expanding the authority of local private and foreign companies to control energy and power sector, causing more drainage of public money and vulnerability to the country.
It is alarming that the ‘spirit of the liberation war’, aspirations of the people’s war in 1971, has been used as a mask, as a shield to protect undemocratic practices, plunder, repression and above all for making arrangements for undemocratically staying in power. This is nothing but the betrayal with that spirit, betrayal with the people who fought in 1971 and the people who work hard to keep Bangladesh going and for making progress.
Whoever it may be, nobody has the right to rationalise undemocratic practices, wholesale repression and anti-people policies in the name of the liberation war. The ‘spirit of the liberation war’ cannot be reduced to ‘party spirit for power’ because it carries memory and aspirations of the people of this land and of the dreams of martyrs. It means people’s power, equality, democratic institutions, sovereign authority of people over the country’s resources and decision making process, and democratic practices within party and society. Unfortunately, while there is abundance of loud talks about the ‘spirit of the liberation war’, essential substances are missing.
Anu Muhammad is a professor of economics at Jahangirnagar University.

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