Sheikh Hasina Versus Narendra Modi


If Narendra Modi cannot be distinct from Sonia Gandhi, like Donald Trump is from Barack Obama ideologically, by standing for Hindutva or for striving for a free market, can he not ensure the law takes its course, not subverted as it was during the UPA rule, the way Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia’s regimes differ?

After our comparison of US President Donald Trump with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we have a parallel nearer home: Bangladesh. A court in that country has just sentenced one of their former prime ministers, Khaleda Zia, who happens to be a bitter political rival of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed, for embezzlement of Taka 21 million ($252,000) in foreign donations meant for the Zia Orphanage Trust. For several years now, the current Bangladesh government has been preparing strong cases of prosecution against the war criminals of 1971 and ensuring their conviction one by one — on a mission mode. This is no vendetta, much as a daughter might owe her assassinated father, who fought for the nation’s independence, a legacy. The recent streak of Islamism in its society apart, Bangladesh, comprising Bengali Muslims, was never culturally attuned to becoming a dungeon of terrorists that its cousin Pakistan has finally turned out to be. A flagbearer of the tolerant, pluralist, multicultural Bengali, Hasina had to foster a regime that stood out ideologically. Setting up the International War Criminals Tribunal in 2009 after her Awami League won the election in December 2008, the premier got the law enforcement agencies to apprehend every member of the Razakars, al Badr and al Shams, the accomplices of human rights violating Pakistan Army during Bangladesh’s struggle for independence, and try them duly but surely by law. Abul Kalam Azad (Bachchu) is absconding and yet tried in absentia and sentenced to death. Abdul Quader Mollah, Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, Motiur Rahman Nizami, Ali Ahsan Mojaheed, Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury and Mir Quasem Ali were executed. Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin has received the capital punishment, too. Delwar Hossain Sayeedi’s sentence was commuted following nationwide protests; Ghulam Azam has been sentenced to 90 years of imprisonment, and AKM Yusuf died of a stroke in prison. And the current government of Bangladesh remains relentless in pursuit of those that her conviction has decided are the malcontents of society. Why just perpetrators of genocide, economic offenders would not be spared either.

This is another aspect where the shortcoming of Modi in India appears glaring. While arguably he has functioned better, and without corruption, under the tired system that the Indian National Congress loved to work (or idle) in, if the previous government was guilty indeed of all the wrongdoings, the publicity of which cost them power, why is not one individual in that whole dispensation yet behind the bars? Only the politically uninitiated can be restrained with the excuse that sentencing is the prerogative of the judiciary; a tight prosecution is conviction more-than-half achieved. Neither is Robert Vadra in jail for allegedly indulging in a sort of insider trading with Delhi Land and Finance (DLF) Limited nor is there any progress in trying Games’ alleged plunderer Suresh Kalmadi. And the acquittal of A Raja of the 2G scam infamy is all too fresh in public memory. In 2015-16, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s campaign in West Bengal nosedived suddenly from its steep rise and all reports of interrogations and arrests with respect to the Saradha and Rose Valley scams dissipated from the media, eventually giving the Trinamool Congress virtually a walkover. The conspiracy theory of a quid pro quo, wherein the TMC would support the BJP’s bills in Rajya Sabha and the latter would ask the investigating agencies to go soft on the Ponzi masterminds then became plausible. And for the past two months, no sound rebuttal has come forth from the party ruling at the Centre to put such a speculation to rest that the prosecution had let off Raja at the CBI court to pave the way for a BJP-DMK alliance during the next election. Finally, the BJP government has had no role to play in Lalu Prasad Yadav’s prison terms for the fodder scam. If Modi cannot be distinct from Sonia Gandhi, except for a clean image, either by standing for Hindutva or for striving to create a free market, can he not at least ensure that the law takes its normal course and is not subverted as it used to be during the rule of the United Progressive Alliance? The argument that a Union government cannot carry out a witch hunt of the nature associated with the alternate regimes of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh would be specious. Officers guilty in the eyes of the Samajwadi Party or Bahujan Samaj Party dispensations were known to few whereas the ‘villains’ of the UPA-era scandals had become national sensations. In the backdrop of no conviction, making the issue of the INC’s corruption an electoral plank again would lack credibility. Bangladesh had a stronger reason to retain Hasina in power for a third term in 2014 than India has to retain Modi in 2019. His possible victory would have the same reason the then Reserve Bank governor Raghuram Rajan saw in the goodness of the Indian economy in 2016: One-eyed king in the land of the blind.

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