Dissent may be integral to a democracy, but a state of perpetual political confrontation can only harm a country’s national interests. Bitter rivalries between the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the opposition, Awami League, have long held the country’s progress to ransom. Intense mutual distrust between the prime minister and BNP leader, Ms Khaleda Zia, and Ms Sheikh Hasina Wajed of the League has also had a debilitating effect on the country’s fledgling democracy. There is nothing on which the two leaders agree, and whatever each does, whether in power or in the opposition, becomes ammunition for the other’s politics of strikes, boycotts and street violence. Ms Zia’s call for a “national reconciliation”, aimed at the League on the occasion of the country’s National Day, is a welcome break from the tedium of its confrontational politics. There is nothing objectionable in her suggestion that both Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, Ms Wajed’s father and founder of the new nation, and Ziaur Rahman, Ms Zia’s husband and former president, be treated as “heroes” of its liberation movement of 1971. The problem is that Ms Wajed would perhaps see it as official manipulation of the country’s history and a thinly-veiled attempt to deny her father his rightful place in it. But the League’s own history of the liberation struggle also needs to be re-written to record the contribution of other leaders who fought it alongside Sheikh Mujibur Rehman.
History, however, should be the least of Bangla- desh’s problems. Political parties there need to reach a consensus, not so much on history, as on how to tackle the problems of poverty, illiteracy and healthcare. Its economic interests too have been sacrificed for long at the altar of its divisive politics. An example of this is the political rhetoric over the export of gas to India. Policy-planners agree that the export of gas will immensely benefit the country’s economy. But governments, irrespective of which of the two parties headed it, shied away from it on political grounds. Much the same jingoistic politics has stood in the way of Bangladesh granting transit facilities for the movement of goods across its territory to India’s Northeast, although Dhaka can earn a substantial annual sum from this. By going ridiculously local, politicians in Bangladesh have deprived their people of the benefits of open, globalized economies. In domestic politics, Ms Zia’s offer of a “national reconciliation” can work only if her government is seen to uphold the rule of law. It cannot work if public policy is held hostage to political vendetta.