Going by the latest developments in Bangladesh, it will be quite a while before the political turmoil in the country dies down and a nascent form of democracy is ushered in. The interim government has charged former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and several members of her political alliance, the Awami League, of involvement in the killing of four of their rivals last year. Since Bangladesh adopted democratic institutions in 1990, after a chaotic succession of ineffective military governments, its political scene has been riven by persistent conflicts between the Awami League and Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Protests erupted last October when Ms Zia ended Ms Hasina’s five-year term as PM and handed over power to an interim government to prepare for parliamentary elections. The Awami League organised countrywide demonstrations, alleging that the Election Commission was biased towards Ms Zia’s party and was planning to rig the balloting. Months of street fighting between supporters of the two women left scores of people dead, until the military-backed interim government imposed a state of emergency last January.
To its credit, the caretaker government did the right thing to cancel parliamentary polls and ban all political activity temporarily to restore normalcy. It barred corrupt people from participating in the polls, and is apparently preparing tough laws in a bid to ensure financial transparency and accountability of the major political parties. While these are laudable moves, they also raise the disturbing question of whether the caretaker government could be digging in for a prolonged stay. For that would make a military take-over in Bangladesh a distinct possibility, the vehement denials of the generals in Dhaka notwithstanding.
It is an open secret that the political parties are hostage to Islamists and lend support to several terrorist organisations for their jehadi operations. So it was good news for India, which bears the brunt of this terrorism, to hear the interim government’s loud thinking on policy-making during the recent Saarc conclave in Delhi, when its chief advisor declared Dhaka’s intention to improve relations with India and combat terrorism. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done as long as Bangladesh continues its slide towards the status of a failed State.