As 2019 unfolded, the starry-eyed euphoria in Bangladesh virtually signified a gift of the people to the Awami League on the 47th anniversary of liberation… almost to the day (16 December 1971). Vijay Divas has acquired a new dimension. At the personal level, quite the most spectacular feature of Sunday’s parliamentary election has been the mind-boggling performance of Begum Hasina Wajed herself ~ winning 229,539 votes and reducing to irrelevance her BNP opponent’s 123. That debacle isn’t merely electoral; it mirrors the predicament of Begum Khaleda’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Stupendous no less has been the mandate that Hasina’s party has won; it would be a gross understatement to call it massive, with 288 of the 300 parliamentary seats under its belt.
Small wonder that the margin has been greeted with collective jaw-dropping. The margin has indeed astonished even the diehard supporters of the Awami League; well and truly has the outcome transcended the electoral definition of “massive”. The decimation of the Opposition, pre-eminently the BNP and the fundamentalist Jamaat, is yet another critical facet to the outcome of the renewed tryst with democracy. The brute majority of the Awami League entails yet more responsibilities and more effective governance not the least because of the parallel that Hasina has promptly drawn between the Awami victory in 2018 and the triumph of the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2014. There is distinctly a sharp division between the ruling party and the Opposition umbrella called the Jatiyo Front. Polarisation is complete. Bangladesh is now poised for the monolithic leadership of the Awami League, which brought the country freedom. It is fervently to be hoped that the emergent political architecture will not ignite further confrontation with the Opposition and the militant Islamists.
It is pretty obvious that serial contretemps have had no impact whatsoever on the dramatic results that have bamboozled psephologists in the sub-continent. Notably, the entry of the Jamaat into the electoral fray, the crackdown on the Opposition, the 17 deaths in pre-election violence, the killing of rationalists in the manner of the Caliphate, the exploitation and worse in the garment industry, random arrests of political opponents, restrictions on the internet and not the least the consistent failure to draw water from the Teesta. These have not influenced the voter even marginally. Nor for that matter has the fact, that the Awami League had helmed an uncontested regime for the past five years, gone against the party. Such issues would appear to have been overlooked in the general sense of prosperity, though on closer reflection this would seem rather surprising, given the grinding poverty in the country’s rural belt.
The voter is acutely aware that the BNP is rudderless with Begum Khaleda fighting illness in jail. Nominated from three constituencies, the leader was barred from contesting. The country’s balance-sheet does indicate an impressive economic upswing, most importantly its emergence as the world’s second largest garment exporter, next only to China. Altogether, it has been a famous victory and some good must come of it, at any rate before the 50th anniversary of freedom.