A larger battle
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While supporting Hasina in her fight against extremism, Delhi must urge her to reach out to the opposition.
Bangladesh's violence-marred general election, 42 years after the country won independence, was a throw-back to the unfinished business of 1971. These polls cannot be isolated from the bigger battle that has raged in the streets ever since the Sheikh Hasina government initiated the war crimes trial process. This process has pronounced several leaders — the collaborating Razakars — of the Jamaat-e-Islami guilty and sentenced them for mass murder and other crimes against humanity. The Jamaat, one of the pillars of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led opposition alliance, has unleashed bombings, arson, murders of civilians and policemen as well as attacks on minorities in retaliation. While Hasina's government has been trying to preserve Bangladesh's identity as a secular and liberal state, for the Jamaat this is a fight for survival and ultimately an attempt to impose an Islamist identity on the country. In other words, this is a war for Bangladesh's soul. And it is necessary, for the country as for
the region, that those speaking for tolerance win it.
Undeniably, the way the election played out has raised serious questions of procedure and legitimacy. In the run-up, the Awami League-led (AL) government refused to make way for a caretaker government and defer polls as the opposition had demanded, which then announced a poll boycott. However, Western states, particularly the US and EU and Commonwealth members that have refused to send observers and which could withhold recognition to a re-elected Hasina government, may well be quizzed about their selective indignation — after all, they did not react in a similar manner in other instances, as when Khaleda Zia was in Hasina's shoes in 1996 against a backdrop of massive popular unrest. The fact is, Bangladeshi democracy has been damaged most by the Jamaat, which cannot be whitewashed as just another political party.
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