Hindu voters will play a significant role in upcoming poll in Bangladesh. The whole credit will goes to the Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, if she will be able to restore the lost confidence of the minority, which is quite uncertain.
The most interesting part of the upcoming Parliamentary poll in Bangladesh, which will be keenly watched, is whether the minorities, especially the Hindus, will be able to muster enough courage to turn up at the voting centres to cast their votes or whether they will succumb to the coercive tactics of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-Jamaat-e-Islami combine and refrain from voting. And if they indeed go to vote, it will be interesting to see which party they finally vote for.
Hindu votes have suddenly become extremely crucial for this poll. Having suffered the most at the hands of the BNP-Jamaat combine for en bloc voting for the Awami League, the Hindus are uncertain about their future and are mortally terrified of becoming the targets of attack for voting the Awami League to power once again. Desperate and deliberate attempts are being made this time round by the Islamist alliance to disturb the safe and secure traditional Hindu vote-bank of the ruling party.
Fed on BNP-Jamaat’s consistent anti-Awami League campaign, the mindset of Bangladeshi Hindus has undergone a significant change in recent years, with a large section singing the praise of not only BNP supremo Khaleda Zia but also of Jamatis, some of who are accused of committing gross crimes against humanity. BNP leaders are confident that if the elections are held in a free and fair manner, results will be quite close. Moreover, if Hindus boycott voting or if they vote for the BNP (even an insignificant number), it will swing results in their favour because Parliamentary polls in Bangladesh, they say, are decided by a thin margin of two to four per cent votes and if this percentage of Hindu voters stay away from voting, it will ensure a BNP victory. In the recent Comilla Mayoral election, the Awami League candidate lost because a sizable percentage of the towns’ Hindu voters boycotted the poll in protest against the persecution of Hindus in neighbouring Brahmanbaria.
The irony is that with BNP and Jamaat having contributed handsomely to Bangladesh’s dwindling Hindu population (from 30 per cent in 1971 to a 10 per cent at present), the Hindus have never been as insecure as they are now. It is to win over Hindu voters that many Islamist party leaders have made solemn pledges not to persecute the minorities, especially the Hindus, if they are elected. This, of course, is against their undeclared agenda of ridding the country of all minorities through forced and silent migration to India. This agenda is a reflection of the Pakistani mindset which always sought non-Muslims not having any say in the country’s election politics.
In 2001, there were 123 constituencies where the percentage of Hindu voters varied between 20 per cent and 60 per cent. Today, that figure has dwindled to 82 constituencies where Hindus are still a determining factor in the outcome of elections. This drastic drop is largely due to the pogrom that the BNP-Jamaat combine had jointly carried out against the Hindus after the 2001 Parliamentary poll as retribution for not voting in their favour.
Surprisingly, the Awami League is saying and doing nothing to counter this psychological onslaught and to reassure its Hindu voters that it will stand by them and defeat the BNP-Jamaat’s communal political game plan. Another sinister campaign doing the rounds presently is that Sheikh Hasina is no longer in need of Hindu votes because with fundamentalist Hefajat-e-Islam’s (it has a large following among Muslims) support for Awami League already announced, the party will secure eight per cent more Muslim votes which will be more than enough to compensate the loss if Hindu voters decide to turn away from the ruling party.
As a result, both Khaleda Zia and Jamaat leaders are desperately trying to take full advantage of the insecure Hindu psyche. They are aggravating it by openly alleging that whenever the Awami League comes to power, there is a sudden spurt in attacks on minorities, as exemplified by the recent large-scale looting and destruction of Hindu properties and places of worship in Hindu populated areas of Brahmanbaria, Rangpur, Dinajpur, Jessore and Pabna. Even properties of Santhals and other tribal groups have been targeted.
The purpose of levelling such allegations against the Awami League is to create hatred and antipathy in the minds of Hindus towards the ruling party so that it no longer remains their first electoral choice. The BNP-Jamaat-strategy is that minorities, especially Hindus, must support the Islamists to buy peace and security for themselves. Many Hindus think that this is the safest bet to save themselves from the onsla-ught of Islamists. Interestingly, this mischievous propaganda is being carried out by those who are the actual persecutors of minorities and have gone unpunished even under Hasina’s rule.
“Confusion is being deliberately created in the minds of minorities so as to disturb the Awami League’s assured vote bank. Scores of my patients come running to me everyday to inquire whether they will be allowed to vote this time or will it be safe to vote for the ruling party at all,” said Hasina’s personal physician Pran Gopal Datta. “While I share their predicament, I try to assure them by saying not to lose heart. But it makes no impact. Minorities have been so badly traumatised that they have been telling both BNP-Jamaat and Awami League to leave them alone as they don’t want to fall prey to a fresh round of persecution. For them, the election at once evokes images of rape of their womenfolk and total destruction and encroachment of their properties.”
Unfortunately, the League is losing the goodwill of the minorities as its lower level leaders have allowed Jamaat infiltration by using Jamaat cadres in their internecine feuds to gain organisation control. But the Jamatis enjoying the ruling party’s protection, follow their own agenda of persecuting the minorities.
“This politics of opportunism is going to cost the Awami League dearly in this election. The extent of Jamaat infiltration into the Awami League can be gauged from the fact that 169 Jamatis got elected to the village-level Union Parishad poll on Awami League ticket. This has tarnished the party’s image considerably for compromising with Islamists,” said a leading lawyer and one of the prosecutors of International War Crimes Tribunal Rana Dasgupta.
He added, “Sheikh Hasina’s Government is the only one which has done a great deal for the upliftment of Hindus and other minorities. Also, there is no state-sponsored persecution of minorities whenever the Awami League comes to power. That can’t be said about the BNP-Jamaat.”
After the death of Awami League leader Suranjit Sengupta last year, the absence of a credible leader who can speak on behalf of all minorities has made the crisis of existence of minorities even more acute. As a result, there has been a mushrooming of Hindu leaders of various shades who have launched dubious Hindu parties like the Hindu Mohajot, with support from BNP-Jamaat. Their sole purpose is to split the League’s minority vote bank. This new breed of Hindu leaders is widely known as ‘Hindu Razakars’.
Pran Gopal Datta said that Hasina must meet some of the pressing demands of the Hindu community to get back its support and confidence like setting up a Minorities Commission and penalise bureaucrats who are subverting her attempts to restore vested properties to their rightful Hindu owners.
(The writer is a veteran Kolkata-based journalist)
Writer: Manash Ghosh
Courtesy: The Pioneer