Politics in Bangladesh is monochromatic now which means there is overwhelming dominance of one party, the ruling party. There are many variations of political party systems - from one party rule to many party rules to non-party rule. These are mostly not decided by political positions or value structure but the needs of management of political resource management. They are also not linked to governance management as both success and failure of political arrangement appear less and less linked to partisan multiplicity or singularity. Where does Bangladesh figure in the many combinations and the role of the party in power and those waiting to take over needs to be seen?
The first phase
Bangladesh has experiences of several different government formations. The first regime was a multi-party state singular manager which also produced the constitution. Although in a multi- party state basically the only party that functioned was the Awami league. Opposition parties were growing including the JSD but it was part of the AL before. The Left parties were never strong and did not pose a political challenge to power.
BKSAL remains a political puzzle where just three years after 1971, one party rule claiming a synthesized socialist system was introduced. It was more assimilative and brought all sections of the ruling class under one political party umbrella. The distancing from the pre 1971 or traditional AL political manifesto and the new one clashed and became a political code word for single party rule denying multi-party democracy.
But the challenge of civil politics from the outside was not significant. But the founder leader Sk. Mujib was killed and AL deposed from power by a section of the military. It installed the Mushtaque government to which several leaders of the AL too. Later a separate political party was formed called the Democratic league by Mushataque which also died due to lack of public interest. So did the Freedom party founded by members of the army group which took over in August 1975.
The Musataque episode lasted only around 3 months and the civilian headed military faction led regime ended in November as the military mainstream -not all - took over. What remains vague in details but what is factual is the alliance of the JSD with a section of the military and their role in the events of November. That led to Zia/BNP's coming to power.
The second phase
The military period of Zia was beset with lot of internal conflicts within the armed forces that caused several coup attempts and bloodshed. In fact, his death was part of the same internal conflict process when he was mowed down by a section of the army in Chittagong.
The civilian politics of 1975-81 was not significant because politics within the military was more significant than those outside. Thus the internal space dominated and the external was marginal comparatively.
Ershad's period also saw the phenomenon but it was the transition of sorts as civilian politics began to grow stronger partly because the two civilian political parties - AL and BNP- were both out of power and sort of allied and Ershad's JP was not a match for them. Internal military violence was also much lower and the distance between Ershad and the army, unlike Zia and the army, was greater. Thus when Ershad became a burden for the army in the face of protests led by civilians, he was let go with no expected military intervention. In a way, it marked the decline of the direct military rule trend that began in 1975.
The Third phase
The period- 1991-2007- is often described as the "Golden" phase of civilian politics in Bangladesh and politics was largely about the two parties + JP but it didn't last. The limitations became obvious when the caretaker government for elections faced a crisis as BNP stumbled over a selection of the same. It generated heat on the street with AL leading the challenge that led to a situation where a military takeover took place.
This takeover was not a 1975 or 1981 variety but a combo with civilian faces in the front. The group which supported this was mostly the Shushil elite including a section of media. However, both BNP and the AL again became the Opposition and the 2007-8 combo couldn't sustain the external political pressure. Politics returned to the political parties though not without a better understanding of the need for a ruling class based alliance rather than a civil-military conflict proposition. To that end, it was the end of an era and beginning of a new one.
The fourth phase
From 2008 to 2021, class interests cutting across all segments have dominated while the political segment has weakened with the rise of a politicized bureaucracy largely upgrading to a senior player level above the politicians layer. That has led to the diluting of clout for politicians across the board.
The current Opposition is multiple though with three major players of different kinds. There was for a while a religious group led by Hefazot who had clout and network, not to mention field activists. Given the perceived rise of "Islamism" in the country such groups were considered major players. They were taken into cognizance for almost a decade but when they took a confrontational position in 2021, the ruling party/class/state apparatus pulled them down in a matter of weeks. It was a very serious display of power which showed that at the moment, the alternative from this space lacks capacity to challenge the ruling layers.
The political opposition parties are led by the BNP and seriously fringe constituents who really have not posed a threat over time with depletion coming from 2008 onwards.. BNP has been almost decimated and can't mount a movement which it claims it wants to. The forces countering it are again not just activists but also of the state. However, the ruling party has spent time trying to identify and confront BNP and recognizes it as the main opposition party. But that also keeps it under such pressure that it's politically hobbled.
The third group are a sprinkling of the civil society-sushil-media alliance who are not strong enough to mount a challenge and can't move beyond manob-bondhons and social media activism.
The current stage
Any serious Opposition to the ruling cluster is therefore not external but internal. There is less conflict in the bureaucracy, the armed forces have not been restive since 2008 but there are problems within the private business sector and the political layer where internal competition is rapidly rising. The money sector is mired in lack of capacity, corruption, lack of innovation and using connections /clout for profit making from the consumers. Hostility between this layer and the people is very high and is growing.
Politically, the internal conflict of the ruling class is increasing sharply and the recent UP elections shows the level of intensity stretching into high violence. Since key positions- which all can be used for profit and protection - are limited but the demand is high, the internal party conflict will not go away. Politics in any sense is the function of economics and vice versa so any unregulated political market will face high volatility and even turmoil. The supply demand ratio of the political market is seriously upset and whether the decision makers have any plans to handle it's not known. Thus it remains an unsettled and disturbing layer of the ruling class.
Given this scenario, the surge for joining the ruling party will increase due to potential resource gain but the space unless increased-if possible- will create more conflicts. How that can be done is tough to see as the overlap between the private sector and politics is already an established process in wealth making. More and more are joining this politics every day. The need to open more avenues to become members of the ruling cluster is therefore the market demand but meeting that demand will grow more complex in the future.
Bangladesh politics has not been stable and has gone through changes as noted. In the last phase, 2008-21, it's much more internal challenge based management which requires high efficiency. Whether an efficiency challenged structure as used in BD can work this out remains to be seen.
Leave a Comment
Senior U.S. officials were in Sri Lanka seeking ways to help the islan ...
When the ground heaved from last week’s earthquake in Afghanista ...