Monday, June 18, 2018

Syed Badrul Ahsan - In Dhaka, return of a spectre

The murder of Shahjahan Bachchu in his village in Bangladesh’s Munshiganj district, last week, raises the spectre of Islamist fanaticism after several months. Close to 50 bloggers, writers and publishers in Bangladesh had been assassinated till late 2016. The latest act of criminality driven by religious hate has rekindled fears of terrorism, which the government has been trying to root out over the past two years.

After the horrific killing of 22 people, Bangladeshis as well as foreigners, at Dhaka’s Holy Artisan Bakery, two years ago, the government sat up and took notice. That seemed to have assured people who felt that religious fanaticism was being brought under control. Operations by the police and security agencies, such as the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), against Islamist terrorists, have been a sustained affair in these two years. A good number of people, alleged to be militants, have died while they were making explosives or planning to stage attacks in various regions of the country. Not long ago, two people were taken into custody after the police received information that these alleged militants were planning a large-scale attack targeting Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, leading members of her cabinet and members of the Awami League on the day when tributes are paid to the country’s founder, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Given that several hideouts of militants were busted in security operations and individuals - including women driven by radical Islam that has absolutely no tolerance for other people’s beliefs - suspected of involvement in planning hate attacks on liberals, government installations and other institutions were arrested, it was easy to believe that things were under control. People began to feel that the government was on top of the situation. But the authorities and people from a cross-section of the society had also warned against complacency. The murder of Shahjahan Bachchu, a publisher, writer and an activist of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, puts paid to any thought of religious militancy being a thing of the past.

Bachchu’s killing comes at a difficult time for the government. With the general elections expected to be held in December, the Hasina government is facing criticism on several fronts. There have been demands, both in the country and abroad, that the government must ensure that the electoral exercise is a transparent and inclusive affair. The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) stayed away from the last election in January 2014 when its demand for a caretaker regime to oversee the voting was dismissed by the government. The result was the constitution of a Parliament in which 153 of the 300 lawmakers were returned to the House without any opposition. For all its defence of the last election as a constitutional necessity, the government remains acutely conscious of the fact that there can be no repeat of the 2014 exercise… read more: