Fight for Bangladesh: Country seeks to retain its identity amid growing Islamic influence

Bangladesh electionsElections are being held in only 146 of the 300 constituencies as the BNP has boycotted the polls. (AP)

With today's elections being held under an Opposition boycott, Shubhajit Roy finds a country seeking to retain its identity amid growing Islamic influence and "the unfinished business of 1971"

Muntassir Mamoon is a worried man today. The 62-year-old history professor at Dhaka University has warned his children he would "snap relations with them if they follow extremist ideologies spread by some political forces in the country".

As Bangladesh heads to polls today, to elect its 10th parliament, for Mamoon, and many other citizens of the country, these elections are not about the usual issues of corruption, economy or law and order. It's an election centred around the very idea of Bangladesh — should it be a secular democracy or a theocratic state? A Bengali republic or an Islamic nation?

In the protests called by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which is aligned with the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami, more than 150 people have been killed in clashes in the past two-and-a-half months. The BNP has boycotted the polls, calling them a "farce", and asking people to stay away.

In a statement on Friday, when it called for a 48-hour shutdown, beginning Saturday morning and including the polling day, BNP chief Khaleda Zia said: "No one at home and abroad will recognise it as an election and, through this, the Awami League government will appear anew as an illegal structure." More than 150 lawmakers have already been elected uncontested due to the boycott by the BNP-led alliance and other political parties, who say Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina should resign as elections under her will be rigged.

The BNP has also accused the government of pushing the country towards a "civil war". Since November, when the poll date was announced, protests, strikes and blockades have led to a loss of 800 crore takas (Rs 645 crore rupees) per day.

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