A few days ago, some leading lights of the Bangladesh Hindu Bouddha Christian Oikyo Parishad demanded that the nation's political parties not give party nominations for the forthcoming elections to communal individuals. For the Parishad, there are politicians who remain guilty of repressing minorities and so undermining secular politics in the country.

The sentiments of the Parishad need to be given serious attention. Obviously the leaders of the Parishad have been speaking from experience, given that in the aftermath of some elections in the past it was the religious minorities, specifically Hindus, which came under assault. One will recall the violence unleashed on the Hindu community across the country once it became clear that the BNP-Jamaat combine was on its way back to power in 2001. The magnitude of the violence could only be compared with the violence which Bangladesh's people were subjected to by the Pakistan army from March to December 1971.

The saddest aspect of Bangladesh's history is that the secular basis on which it was founded has been stripped away over the years. Two military regimes are guilty of wreaking some of the gravest damage to the country's political fabric. If one removed the concept of secularism from the Constitution through dictatorial fiat in the period immediately after the assassinations of the Father of the Nation and the four leaders of the Mujibnagar government, the other in his own narrow parochial interest imposed a religion on the state. There have been reports over the years of religious minorities being persecuted by powerful political quarters --- and they belong to ll parties.

One also recalls the sacrilege which was committed in Ramu some years ago by religious fanatics on the basis of a cooked-up story. The incident was one more blow to our concept of secular democracy and was a clear threat to our national spirit. Add to that the fact that the Hindu and Christian populations in the country have been in a state of progressive decline in number. It is a pointer to our inability to ensure for them, indeed for all of us, the creation of a society where every citizen, irrespective of caste or creed or faith or political belief, shares equally in the workings of the State. The old ethos of Bengali nationalism united us in 1971 as we went to war for freedom.

That ethos needs to be restored if we mean to recreate the social order set in place decades ago.

By Editor-in-Chief -Enayetullah Khan

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