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The deteriorating situation in Bangladesh sharpens a dilemma Delhi cannot afford to ignore.
Even as Bangladesh celebrated Victory Day (Bijoy Dibosh) on December 16, the Sheikh Hasina government found its back against the wall. The violence triggered by the execution of Abdul Quader Mollah, the "butcher of Mirpur", shows no signs of abating. By Sunday, the death toll had risen to 25. The face-off between the Awami League (AL)-led government and the 18-party opposition alliance led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has reached a point where the legitimacy of the general election to be held by end-January is in serious doubt, with the opposition declaring its intent to boycott.
It is undeniable that the opposition, particularly the Jamaat-e-Islami whose leaders are being found guilty by the war crimes tribunal, triggered this prolonged cycle of violence, extending it to attacks on minorities. It has been aggravated by the fact that the opposition has lost control of a situation created by its series of strikes and blockades. While this has, from the start and at its core, been a battle for Bangladesh's soul and an attempt to preserve the country's secular and tolerant character, there are questions about the judicial process that cannot be avoided. The AL government must be congratulated for addressing Bangladesh's original pain — the Razakars' crimes against humanity — and attempting to bring closure to this sordid opening chapter of its history. However, could it have been so naive as to discount altogether the possibility of the violent fallout that now threatens to lead the country to the brink of chaos?