‘If You Are Human....’

Bangladesh’s New Moment of Despair

Farooque Chowdhury

It's incendiary politics. And, it tells a lot. It's not only number: dozens burned, many burned to death, 40 burned in a single day, and similar more numbers.

It tells a lot about Bangladesh politics. It tells about the state of politics the dominating interests in the society are carrying on. It tells about the way interests are resorting to to carry forward their politics. It tells about the limits interests are facing or imposing on the sphere of their politics. And, it tells about the way people are suffering, the price people are paying.

All the victims of this incendiary politics are the working people, the middle class, the poor. They are to work, they are to earn. Otherwise, they are to starve. This compels them to move around, to avail public transport. The public transports are direct targets of incendiary politics: throw petrol bombs, etc., and burn down. It has indirect target: economy. Thus they, the common people, fell victims.

There are, among the victims, the dead and the wounded, women, children and men, teachers and students, peddlers, truck, bus and three-wheeler drivers, assistants to the drivers, petty traders, agriculture laborer, urban working person in the so-called informal sector. Among the victims, among the dead, are the only earning member of an old, blind mother, her only son and only reliance in this indifferent world, only earning member, a three-wheeler driver, from a poor family, and the eldest son, a student near-completing graduate level education, of a poor vegetable vendor, the only hope and dream of a poor mother. There are many similar victims. All of them died of burn injuries. They were turned as the transports they were either riding or driving were burned with incendiary material, petrol bombs, etc.

There were so poor among the dead, who didn't experience a good food a long time. Some of them were always struggling with uncertainties of life. To some of them, poverty was overwhelming their entire life.

Now, mother of the dead son, father of the dead son, wife of the dead husband find no answer. Young daughter and son of the dead father find no answer. There is no solace, no answer, no explanation and no curse. The only available formula of the death is politics of the interests that takes price from the poor, from the commoners, from the silent, from the politically inactive, unorganized masses.

All of the victims bear mark of the politics although a few so-called progressive theoreticians find "people's violence" in these acts. And, no political party takes responsibility of these acts. None comes forward to take responsibility! Strange political acts without any moral standing! Are these urchin-acts? Are there shadow-actors?

With these acts, a few facts are standing under the sun: (1) the politics finds resorting to violence is the fetter and cheaper path to political fight; (2) violence, especially burning commoners to death is the main form of political fight the politics is resorting to; (3) the level of violence being reached by the politics goes to burning the commoners to death; (4) the level of capacity of the politics to mobilize, even by hiring in persons, people, which is incapacity; (5) the level of capacity and efficiency to avail space for non-violent political mobilization; (6) failure to follow any form of political fight that doesn't physically hurt the commoners.

The political history of the Bangladesh mainstream politics, a very short period, is full of bloody and dirty descriptions. It either decapitated members of its own camp or bloodied the people. It distorted its institutions, and literally put kicks on doors of one of its sanctums. Many of its political fights are unique in a sense. Resorting to general strike is one example that follows a trajectory opposite to the usual practice by political forces around the world.

Its political fights are "amazing", ridiculous. These are far from forms of political fights usually practiced around the world. The way the interests talk, the way it argues, the way it shows its "brilliance", do nothing but an exposure of its class character, level of maturity, level of resorting to lies, and reliance on external connection.

In 1936, G D Birla felt their "duty does not end in simply opposing socialism. Businessmen have to do something positive to ameliorate the condition of the masses." (cited in Mukherjee, Aditya, "The Indian capitalist class: Aspects of the economic, political and ideological development in the colonial period, 1927-47", Bhattacharya, Sabyasachi & Romila Thapar, eds., Situating Indian History, 1986) It's a show of maturity and acumen in the 20th Century. How it appears when one compares this with the Bangladesh politics resorting to burning the commoners? Is it maturity in the 21st Century? Or is it something else?

The interests are shameless. They can survive the shameless life as there is a virtual absence of matured opposite class political force. The unabated brutality being practiced with the burning of commoners shows the reality. It doesn't depend on people's participation.

In the history of this subcontinent, there are examples of different types of political struggle. Even hartal, general strike, is far different from the ones being practiced by the dominant interests in Bangladesh.

In mid-1939, history of labor's struggle tells, Jalandhar sanitation workers' strike spread to other municipalities in the Punjab within a very short time. Processions and civil disobedience were the forms of struggle. On one occasion, a number of strikers struck their chests with blades while they were marching in a procession. They were bleeding themselves. It was their demonstration of self-strength and power of tolerance. On occasions during the struggle all members from all families in localities joined marches leaving behind homes empty. None were in the localities to look after the homes. It's participation. On one occasion, leaders lay down in front of trucks, which were being used to break strike. Police force was sent with orders to shoot. But the leaders were there, the strikers were there. None buzzed an inch. It's moral courage. At that time, they were standing against the strongest empire on the world. There was participation. The period of colonial rule in the subcontinent is full with numerous instances of people's participation in political movements from the Khyber to the Khasi Hills, from Kashmir to Karnataka.

This Bangladesh saw people's courage and people's political participation many a time. A 1969-Upsurge-day found people's spontaneous defiance of curfew in this city of Dhaka. A 1971-pre-March 25-day also had the same experience in the city. Bangladesh towns had the same 1971-March experience. The 1990-December Urban Upsurge in Bangladesh saw people's participation, from the first hours of imposition of emergency to the last moments of the regime on an early-December-near-midnight.

No political movement in any period in the subcontinent found commoners being turned victims of incendiary politics. These facts are known to political leaders. They are fully aware of possible impact of these incendiary incidents. They are fully aware that people don't like incendiary politics. So there lurks a question: Is the incendiary politics an attempt to reach a dead-end, an attempt by interventionists to prepare a prelude to an intervention with a far-reaching geopolitical target?

Vol. 47, No. 33, Feb 22 - 28, 2015