Supremacy of the democratic government and BDR bloodbath

Supremacy of the democratic government and BDR bloodbath

When the mutiny by some undisciplined members of -BDR took place on 25th February, it provided a big test for a democratic government to deal with this grave crisis. The Hasina Government took power on 6th January and within a matter of fifty (50) days, it had to address a national crisis in which stakes were very high.

There are two views in the matter. The government is of the view that it has rightly taken the decision to deal on a political level with the crisis and the other view is that the government should have deployed the army to deal with it, lessening the casualties. This latter view is particularly articulated by the opposition leader and former Prime Minister, Begum Khaleda Zia. She also said that the declaration of amnesty was wrong at the time.

Whatever is the view, in hindsight, one has a 20/20 vision and there could be a debate on what should have been done and not done as more facts come out in subsequent stages. The debate thus falls into the realm of possibilities and guess-work that has no conclusive end.

Supremacy of the civilian government:

In terms of Bangladesh Constitution, all powers of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh belong to the people and the people overwhelmingly voted the Awami League-led grand alliance into power on 29th December election.

All agencies work under the direction of the democratically elected government. The government decides and takes actions as they deem fit. They must explain to parliament and people why certain decisions were adopted and why?

The accountability of an elected representative government includes the tradition of resignation of a Minister, if something awfully goes wrong within his/her portfolio. For example, the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 26th November led to the resignation of the Home Minister of the Manmohan Singh government.

What the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina did to meet the crisis is widely covered in the media. The Prime Minister called immediately a cabinet meeting together with her party presidium members. It was collectively decided to deal with the crisis politically, claiming that ordering army to counter the mutineers would have shed more blood, given the densely-packed civilian area, and possibly leading to a civil war between army and BDR in the country.

On 26th February at 2-23 PM, the Prime Minister in a televised address to the nation, warned the mutineers: “Lay down your guns immediately and go back to barracks. Don’t force me to take tough action”.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister allowed army commandos to roll into the neighbourhood of the BDR Headquarters with tanks and armoured personnel carriers in a show of force.

The TV address and the apparent show of force had been perceived as an important turning point in the crisis. By the late evening of 26th February, the mutiny was over and the police took control of BDR Headquarters without being challenged. The most shameful and distressing fact is that by then 74 people including 51 army officers were brutally killed and 4 officers missing.

From the post-crisis reports available in the media, it appears the performance of the government team that went to BDR Headquarters fell short of expectations of many people. However, it appears people, by and large, supported the government in dealing with the crisis in the way they did.

The people and leaders of all parties want a quick trial and exemplary punishment for the culprits. The government is committed to it, according to the Minister of the LGRD. The Minister further has said that the general amnesty does not apply to those who committed gruesome criminal offences. The amnesty is meant for the bystander BDR personnel. Meanwhile the Prime Minister sought assistance from the US, UK and the UN for cooperation in probe into the massacre.

There is another dimension that is very important. That is the supremacy of the civilian administration. The Prime Minister’s decision has underscored the fact that the armed forces stay under the command of the civilian administration and the crisis is to be solved by the government on a political level.

The government conveyed the decision to the armed forces. As a disciplined and patriotic force, they loyally complied with the decision, demonstrating its restraint, forbearance and maturity, against all provocation.

The fact that the serious national crisis was resolved politically by the elected government has demonstrated that the country is being run by a civilian administration. It will not go unnoticed in the international community. It is a victory for democracy.

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid
Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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