The stakes are high for the forthcoming election in Bangladesh scheduled to be held in January, 2024. The election has in effect become “a new game in town”. Foreign capitals are pulling strings to exert pressure and leveraging ties in demanding “free and fair parliamentary elections”.
The term “free and fair parliamentary elections” has become the new buzzword and the frequency of the term has led to conflicting interpretations of its meanings and contents. In championing this term, the benign agenda and malign interests of vested quarters intersect in complex ways.
A clique of vested quarters had become animated anticipating the forthcoming election, raising uproar and rumors to muddy the waters. Although the motivations of these groups are not clear-cut, earlier instances point towards ulterior agenda masking such overtures.
In this context, Six US congressmen sounded the alarm of urgency in Bangladesh to halt the “human right abuses” allegedly perpetrated by the Bangladesh government and to allow for a chance for “free and fair parliamentary elections”.
Such urgent calls are not atypical from the US, however the letters of six congressmen who are not remotely connected to Bangladesh–had raised suspicion regarding motives and machinations driving such letters.
Marshaling reports of Amnesty International, Freedom House and Human Rights Watch, the congressmen mentioned “increasingly repudiated democratic system”, and called for “appropriate measures” for holding “free and fair parliamentary election”.
The letters issued by the Congressmen had drawn backlash from several quarters for “absolutely false projection” of the facts on the ground. The letter from the six congressmen levies blame for persecution of the minority Christian population.
This claim has been termed as “outright falsehood” and repudiated by the president of Bangladesh Christian Association Nirmal Rozario. These claims are outrageous and defies the religio-political milieu present in Bangladesh.
The cases of violence against minorities have significantly dwindled in the previous decade and a harmonious political climate prevails as the present regime in Bangladesh stresses on “religious harmony based on secular principles”.
The letter from the six congressmen claimed that Sheikh Hasina’s government persecuted Bangladesh’s minority Christian population–stating that the strategies include “burning and looting places of worship, jailing pastors and breaking up families when religious conversion occurs”.
This is blatant reversal of truth. Anyone who is conversant with the happenings of Bangladesh’s politics will find such statements ridiculous. This explains that lobby groups are playing out emotive minority cards to give the government led by Awami league a bad name while the truth is opposite.
In Bangladesh, BNP and Jamaat tilt to the political right and has proven radical religious affinities and BNP-Jamaat complex had ignited the horrors of communal violence that engulfed the first decade of 21st century.
Such perversion of truth is a blatant proof that the congressmen had scant know-how of Bangladesh’s politics and this is another attempt of opposition sponsored smear campaigns to grease the wheels of propaganda against the government.
However, such propaganda campaigns are a great disservice to truth. The authoritative utterances and statements lend credence to utterly false accusations and politically motivated smear campaigns–in effect distorting the political atmosphere in Dhaka.
Lobbying has become a “multimillion dollar” artistry in which PR companies and US law firms connive with foreign interests groups to sway US policymakers. Lobbying is inherent to US politics and deemed legitimate on par with the First Amendment rights of free speech, peaceful assembly and government petitioning.
A politico-lobbying complex has been propped up in the US where unbiased policymaking is not plausible, whereby truth remains hostage to influence-peddling. Driven by the pulls of profit maximization and not ethics, lobbying can brandish often unsavory issues in the political limelight.
This had been the case in the lobbying efforts of Jamaat, a notorious political party with a demonstrated record of collaboration with Pakistani Military Junta in 1971 in gross violation of human right principles. The political party had struck pacts with lobbying groups to earn favor of the foreign governments. Subsequently, a coordinated “smear-campaign” has been carried out to stymie the trial process.
Bangladesh’s opposition parties have demonstrated history of sustaining lobbying efforts in the United States. On the eve of the 2018 election in Bangladesh, BNP enlisted two lobbying firms named Blue Star Strategies and Rasky Partners to woo the Trump administration on BNP’s behalf–a Justice Department Disclosures revealed. The contract–valued at $35000 per month–entailed message and narrative development in BNP’s favor along with Congress Outreach–among other goals.
Besides, BNP had appointed a lobbying firm Akin Company Associates US in 2015. The pact with Akin Company Associate remained valid for three years and the firm charged a whopping $50,000 per month. The lobbying efforts of BNP can be traced back to 2007, when the political party employed Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP to “advance restoration of democratic government and expedite elections in Bangladesh”.
Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen cited that BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami employed eight lobbyist firms to halt the development and aid assistance to Bangladesh. In most cases, the lobbying firms promote agendas that are at odds with the national interests of Bangladesh.
In fact, the lobbying efforts by the BNP is apparently anti-state. Invariably, the efforts of the BNP lobbying efforts in the US are on the axis of cancellation of trade privileges, imposition of sanctions, abetment of the war criminals in evasion of justice and legitimizing the pullout of World Bank funding for the Padma Bridge project.
Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh is more intensive in its lobbying efforts and its organizational subsidiary Organization for Peace & Justice (OPJ) has appointed two lobbying firms. For averting prosecution of the war criminals, the firm appointed Husch Blackwell Strategies, LLC and Cassidy and Associates with hefty sums of money.
The opposition parties in Bangladesh have a demonstrated history of sustaining lobbying firms with hefty charges to promote “anti-state” activities. This tendency has been geared up before the much-hyped election due next year, and this can distort the political environment in Dhaka and might feed often exaggerated and overblown information that will taint government image.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.