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Bangladesh: Keeping religion out of local government

10 June 2013

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Dhaka Tribune, June 9, 2013 Op-Ed

Keeping religion out of local government

by Swadesh Roy

In a party meeting, Gandhi for the first time sang a "Ramdhun" (a north Indian Hindu religious prayer song) in this subcontinent. Before that meeting, the All Indian Congress was a modern secular political platform for all kinds of people in the subcontinent. After Congress turned into a, at least nominally, Hindu party, we saw the formation of the Muslim League. Later, the subcontinent saw the formation of the Hindu Mahasava, Muslim League and other religious based political parties. We have also seen the horrific results of this trend. In the name of religion, we saw the communal riot of 1946; genocide is now part of our life and our history. We have no way to wipe out that incident from our history and our lives. When we read the works of Shadat Hasan Manto or Krishan Chandar, we can’t really imagine what kind atrocities were perpetrated in 1946.

But the stark reality is that we did not learn anything from it. As a result 1971 came about. What the Pakistani army and their Bengali collaborators did in 1971 in the name of religion cannot be satisfactorily expressed in any medium. Sayed Mujtaba Ali said it could only be expressed if some epic, extraordinary writer had been born then, otherwise it would be a futile effort. So, as a nation, we have seen the worst effects of injecting religion into politics. Unfortunately, we are so impudent a nation that we did still did not learn from this experience, as a consequence, we have seen religion play a part in our politics since August 15, 1975.

39 years after 1975, we saw a ray of light at Shahbagh in Dhaka; our educated new generation gathered and demanded that politics in the name of religion should be done away with. But a part of our so-called political leadership and a part of our media have done the nation a great disservice. In perpetrating these acts they have opened up Pandora’s box. And now that which was trapped inside is running rampant through Bangladesh.

So far in the sub-continent, religion has only played a part in politics at the national level. It has never before entered into local government elections. Even in Pakistan, religion is not used as a political tool in local government elections. However, things have changed since Pandora’s box was opened. Religion has made its way to the local level.

The four-city corporation election campaign is taking place. Hefazat-e-Islam has supported the candidate put forth by the Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP) and Jamaat in this election. They are using religion in a very crude and nasty way against their opponents. Some media organisations have published news of it. Besides, if any one contacts any cautious person in any of the four cities, they will find out how Hefazat is using religion in their campaign. So, it is a very significant for our society and our future political scenario.

We have to come to the realisation that if we want to make country politically and economically healthy in the future, we must ensure secularism in politics and very strong local government. Our constitution also upholds this idea. Hence, if we allow this abuse of religion in local government elections, it will ultimately destroy our society and the spirit of the constitution.

Our local government election is never truly a political election; therefore, political and religious issues should never rise in these elections. This is the first time that this is being done, through the actions of Hefazat and Jamaat. The people of Bangladesh saw the real face of Hefazat and the Jamaat on May 5 in Dhaka city. So there is no real need to explain their religious view, rather it is better to nip it in the bud. If the country fails to destroy it in the sprout, it will result in a big tree that will take blood to cut down.

That is why two things are necessary now. One is the consensus of civil society and the other is bold, definitive action from the election commission. Without any compromise or hesitation, civil society should raise their voice against the use of religion in local government elections. The election commission has every right to, and should, take strong actions against those using religion in local government elections. According to our election commission rules, religion cannot be used in any type of election. We must remember that as a grassroots election, local government elections are especially sensitive. So, the election commission has to take action immediately, if they delay it will create a vacuum for our society and the nation.

P.S.

The above article from Dhaka Tribune is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use