This is not intended to be an anniversary piece on the events those took place in Bangladesh on 11 January 2007. This is why it has not been posted on the anniversary day. This is intended to be an obituary of ‘thing’ called 1/11. And unfortunately this obituary does not have much good to say about 1/11.
As it is clear from the two lines written above, 1/11, as a political-national event has not been clearly defined yet. There has not been any consensus in what to call the events of 11 January 2007 or the ‘thing’ called 1/11. It was definitely not a popular mass uprising as the nation has experienced in 1969 or in 1990. It could be an offshoot of a failed or ineffective violent street agitation. Is it a military coup? May be it was a military coup. But then it would be the first of its kind in this planet with undisguised sponsorship of the United Nations and not so tacit instigation of the western diplomats as well as diplomats from a neighboring country. And it would be those new kinds of relatively soft military coups, as being seen in Thailand, Pakistan etc. In this kind of coup, some senior military leadership work in close liaison with business community, civil society leaders and the media to bring in a government that will be more sympathetic towards the needs of the urban, educated citizenry. 1/11 may indeed be an attempt in that route. Especially initial minus-two formula, nation building speeches by the army chief, en-masse persecution of the politicians etc were copycat events of a typical military-civil society takeover.
The spirit of 1/11 has breathed its last during the weeks preceding the election. This phenomenon has been inactive, ill and bed-ridden almost all of last year. The unexpected strong resistance from the remnants of the democratic institutes- AKA political party grassroots, steady resistance by powerful Awami League intelligentsia and a very timely uncompromising stand of discredited ex-prime minister Mrs. Khaleda Zia helped loosen the military-civil society’s grip on the nation.
If the achievements of 1/11 are analyzed, the grade will be an emphatic FAIL. The election of December 29, 2008 that was conducted by this government, was simply two years too late. Instead of well intentioned fulfilling of responsibilities, it was the final exit door for this interim entity. And this election is by no means too much qualitatively different from previous two all party participated election. It was an election for Awami League to win, and two years late, they scored an impressive victory. This government did not do anything, either way, which has uniquely made this outcome possible. Rather it has inflicted some taint to the historic verdict. A caretaker government is constitutionally mandated to create a level playing field for all parties concerned and conducted an election. Even if the allegation of rigging by BNP is ignored, there has been clear evidence that this government has failed in its basic premises, i.e. ensuring a neutral environment. Media reported at least dozens of arrests of BNP election activists disbursing money on the night before election. There may have been many more which has apparently not been reported. One would live in a fool’s paradise if it is believed that only BNP-four parties have attempted this sort of pre-election night nefarious activity. But few arrests of activists belonging to other parties were made and this is enough to disprove any claim of level playing field.
Voter’s list is another myth the interim entity and their supporters gloated about day in day out. First, nation heard of the infinite greatness of the voter ID card, then after spending millions and millions of peoples’ funds, the country were told that one does not require the ID card to vote. Then why call it a voter ID card and why so much money was spent? Who will answer for this? The photo requirement for enlisting into voter roll has practically turned this into a de facto US style voluntary voter registration system, which may go against the spirit of our constitution. Those who intended to vote did go to be photographed and get registered to vote and as a result we saw a near 90% voter turn out. Near 90% voter turn out compared to 55%-60% turnout of previous accepted elections disproves the myth that this photographed voter roll did prevent fake votes.
Additionally the nation has been repeatedly misled about preventing 10 million fake voters. In the past it was customary to include all members of a household in voter list. Those names included sons, son-in-laws, daughters, and daughter-in-laws etc who either live in a different household or even out of the country. A significant number of the population used to get enrolled from the urban dwelling home as well as from their country home. The requirement of a physical visit has made the voter registration system unnecessarily difficult, expensive and prohibitive for many. And that is the reason behind the drop in number of voters this time.
Another point is repeatedly made by the apologists of 1/11 is that this government has finally proven that nobody is above the law in this country. Indiscriminate arrests of high profile politicians including top leadership and keeping them jailed without trial or torture of other leaders proves a point that someone is indeed above the law of the land. Even if the politicians are concerned, current spate of withdrawal of cases by tearful plaintiffs, clearing of almost all cases against politicians and very recent post election return of some political leaders out of hiding are clear indications that these group of people are also above the law.
The caretaker turned interim government created on 11 January 2007 outlived it longevity by nearly 21 months. Despite its unconstitutionally prolonged stay, this government’s practical achievement is ultimately zero. It is hoped that experience with the heroism of 1/11 will teach us the needed lesson and in the future such ambitions-attempts will not see light of the day.
In the near future nation likes to see a smooth return to our much trusted and praised caretaker government system. Hope there will be no more mutated monster out of a caretaker government like the one we just had- Lets finish this obituary with this hope.