Begums and Bangladesh

SHEIKH Hasina has won the first round, so to say, when she flew back to her country, braving odds. But, the main battle lies ahead. That is the battle at the hustings, the dates for which remain suspended by the military-backed interim administration in Bangladesh.

Leadership is all about courage, especially in the Third World democracies, where those at the helm of affairs often to play to the gallery, some times even at the cost of national well-being or economic growth —something which, in a changing world, is a matter of first priority. Sheikh Hasina, on her part, has demonstrated her courage of conviction by challenging a ban on her return to the country imposed by the interim government for no obvious reasons; and she landed to a predictably inspirational welcome from her party activists. Her bold move has ruffled a few feathers, and this will help her reap a harvest of votes in the coming elections. It, yet, is premature to say whether she will get back to power.

A question mark hangs over the general elections. Prima facie, there is no reason why the interim administration should develop cold feet about holding of the polls, other than that it would want to hang on to power with the help of the military. The elections, slated for January next, should not be delayed indefinitely; and it is imperative that they are held in a fair manner. Bangladesh's democratic credentials are a matter of credit to the entire Muslim world. That credit should not be undercut from within.

What cannot be lost sight of at this juncture is also the fact that the two political heavyweights —Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia —have squandered opportunities to shape the destiny of their nation in better ways. There are allegations swirl that the two, or those who surround them, were steeped in corruption. This, when the people remained steeped in poverty. Add to this the street fights between the rival sides that took a toll of lives in the past, also leading to a situation in which Sheikh Hasina is facing court proceedings for alleged abetment of deaths.

This is a time when Bangladesh has built a new name for itself, outside of the political meddling there —like, when the poor man's banker, Prof. Mohammad Yunus, won the Nobel Peace Prize or when its cricketers fared excellently well at the cricket World Cup. The least that the political leadership can do is not to let the people down at this impressive moment in Bangladesh's history.

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