Sheikh Hasina - The reluctant politician is Bangladesh PM again (Profile)

January 6th, 2009 - 8:02 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, Jan 6 (IANS) She was initiated into politics through the crucible of one of the world’s bloodiest assassinations when her entire family was terminated. More than three decades after that fateful August day in 1975, when the legacy of her father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman fell on her, Sheikh Hasina has become Bangladesh prime minister for a second term.From a student activist in Dhaka University and a homemaker who chose domesticity after marriage to a reluctant politician and now twice prime minister of Bangladesh, it has been a long, eventful journey through life for the 61-year-old Awami League chief.

The house arrest during 1971, when Mujibur Rahman, revered as the founding father of Bangladesh, was in Pakistani prison, steeled her and prepared her for what was to come.

Even after independence, she remained in the background, completing her graduation from Dhaka University in 1973. Mujibur Rahman’s more likely successor then was her brother Sheikh Kamal.

But that was not to be. The entire family’s elimination Aug 15, 1975 in a military coup threw Hasina into a political vortex and she rallied European parliamentarians and human rights bodies to seek justice.

However, the task, despite her five-year rule, remains incomplete after 34 years.

The tumultuous years after the assassination saw Hasina staying in the Indian capital New Delhi in exile with her nuclear scientist husband Wajed Miah. She lived in the government locality of Pandara Park from 1976 to 1981 - when she was finally coaxed into entering politics formally.

May 1981 was momentous not just for Bangladesh, but also for this homemaker and fond mother of two who finally accepted the political mantle.

Two weeks after Hasina reached Dhaka, the man responsible for her exile if not her father’s assassination, then president Ziaur Rahman, met a violent end. That tossed another woman — Zia’s widow Khaleda Zia, otherwise an army cantonment housewife — into the turbulent sea of Bangladesh’s politics.

It has been a tale of the two women since then.

Hasina and Zia have fought each other to the extent of not even being on talking terms. Zia ruled for two terms (1991-96, 2001-06) and Hasina for one (1996-2001) — and in what is perhaps the more enduring of the two legacies, Hasina led her Awami League and the ‘grand alliance’ to a landslide victory in the Dec 29 poll.

It is often said that politics had always been in Hasina’s blood, unlike Zia.

She fought military ruler H.M. Ershad - the only time she joined hands with Zia and even the Jamaat-e-Islami. In the shifting sands of politics, Ershad is now her ally who helped trounce Zia last month.

Winning the June 1996 poll, she earned credit for signing a water-sharing deal with India and a peace deal with the Buddhist tribal insurgents in the south-east of the country.

But, at the same time, her government was criticised for numerous allegedly corrupt business deals and for being “too subservient” to India, the latter being a canard that Zia and her Islamist allies successfully spread.

She was voted out of office in 2001, complaining of a rigged vote.

In 2004, Hasina escaped an assassination attempt that killed 21 party supporters. She has been unwell since, with an ear damaged in the blast, failing vision in one eye and fluctuating blood pressure.

She was accused of being autocratic in party’s affairs. But her ability to get her supporters out on to the streets remained undiminished.

Ever the canny politician, she succeeded in delaying elections scheduled for January 2007 - precipitating a state of emergency - by complaining that they would have been rigged in favour of Zia.

The worst happened during the last two years when she was sought to be exiled from the country. After she rallied international opinion and returned, six criminal cases, including a murder charge, were slapped on her. She remained in jail for 11 months.

Mujibur Rahman would be happy to see his daughter score a poll victory that is closest to what he had done in 1970. But she has an uphill task ahead, including tackling religious extremism and terrorism.

For a woman who has seen the ups and downs that she has, that should be par for the course.

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