Crude were the devices: calculated, sinister and indeed ominous were the planning behind their planting. The intention was clear, disrupt or deter people from attending Narendra Modi&’s rally ~ the first blast was at the railway station receiving the special trains ~ opening up what might be a truly vicious chapter in Indian electioneering. Two, or more, can play the same game. Ahead of what threatens to be a poll conducted in an emotive, polarised ambience, the explosions on the fringe of the rally venue (ironically, named after the apostle of non-violence) ought to be a cause of the gravest apprehensions since recklessness now has taken centre-stage in the political rhetoric. Speculation runs rife as to who was behind the explosions. The almost immediate finger-pointing at the Indian Mujahedin needs evidence to back it. Any of the Bharatiya Janata Party&’s several rivals could also invite some finger-pointing. Few will accept Nitish Kumar&’s feeble defence of his police agencies (a top cop tried to explain the blast as a tyre-burst). There are allegations that no metal detectors were employed, the Centre&’s rushing personnel of the National Investigation Agency also suggests gross incompetence at the local level. In most parts of the world five dead and over 80 injured would generate all-round shock; sections of the BJP leadership are seeking brownie points in contending that such is Modi&’s allure that the crowds kept coming, and stayed on.
As was only to be expected the condemnation came from across the political spectrum: the routine sort of statements that hardly suggest genuine worry, and if some tweeters are to be taken seriously a degree of vicarious pleasure was manifest too. It is now imperative that the central agencies conduct comprehensive probes, free from political diktat, so that the guilty stand publicly exposed, hopefully expeditiously punished. Importantly, new security drills will have to be developed and central forces will have to undertake some supervisory duties as the local police are simply unfit for the job. And since there is such stress on a level playing field, the Election Commission must assume responsibility in ensuring parity in terms of the security cover provided to key contestants. All, or none, must get “special protection”, Nirvachan Sadan must issue requisite directions to the Home ministry. Yet there is only so much that police bandobast can achieve. Since there are months of campaigning to come, sincere efforts at cooling explosive political temperatures are needed, hatred must be exiled from the electoral arena. The President might consider calling an all-party meeting, followed by a national “address” on radio and television. It is hypocritical that while India boasts of being the world&’s largest democracy its political practices are “the least” democratic.
The world doesn’t precisely know what transpired through the ether in course of the telephone conversation between Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, save the orchestrated fact that last Saturday marked the first time in a decade that the two Begums exchanged words. That said, there is no scope for outpouring of emotion over the interaction; the Prime Minister was told to her face that the strike cannot be called off. The political crisis has palpably deepened with attitudes hardening on either side of the divide. The country is far from stable if the mayhem since the telephone talk is any indication, most particularly the killings and the attacks on a Hindu temple and trains ~ ugly incidents that marked the start of the Opposition&’s 60-hour strike. The fact that the violence and assault on minorities were ignited by the foot-soldiers of Khaleda&’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its fundamentalist ally, the Jamaat-e-Islami, have decidedly thwarted Hasina&’s prescription for an all-party interim government ahead of the national elections. In a murderous utilisation of a dubious opportunity thrown up by the bandh, the Jamaat could well be settling scores in the aftermath of the death sentences pronounced recently against war crimes in 1971. Developments over the past 48 hours have also thwarted the prospect of talks between the two Begums over dinner, as Hasina had proposed. Not that Khaleda is loath to negotiate, but it is more than obvious that her presence at the high table will hinge on her terms of engagement. The 60-hour strike that she has called is a handy ruse to defer the encounter. The Prime Minister&’s suggestion on an all-party government has been dismissed at the threshold; equally the BNP leader&’s pitch for a neutral administration ~ whatever that may mean in Bangladesh ~ is bound to be a non-starter if the renewed flare-up is contextualised with the conflicting formulae. An interim arrangement to oversee the elections might be a theoretically cogent proposal; there is no dispute between the Begums on the need for an interregnum per se. It is the composition of the arrangement that has emerged as a thorny issue. Going by case-studies of such experiments, the transition can be a facade for a quasi-military administration. There is a political connotation in Hasina&’s proposal on an all-party government. But given the mounting distrust and animosity, this is unlikely to be feasible. Khaleda, on her part, is yet to spell out the parameters of what she calls a “neutral administration”. Legally, she is on a weak wicket though supposedly “neutral caretaker governments” have overseen elections for the past 15 years. With the Supreme Court ruling that such a system would breach the Constitution, the plan has been scrapped by Hasina&’s Awami League government. The plot thickens across the border.