The ruling class in Bangladesh announced a nationwide lockdown following 10 days of Independence Day celebrations, in which they cosied up to the reactionary Modi regime of India. Meanwhile, workers are facing death and infection on a massive scale, and the health sector is in a parlous state. Anger beneath the surface is building towards an eruption.
From 26 March, Bangladesh held a 10-day-long celebration of Independence Day and the birthday of the unquestionable leader, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, father of the current Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina. In the middle of a global pandemic, in a country where national data reveals about 83 COVID-19 deaths and 7,000+ infections per day, the government arranged these golden jubilee celebrations, glorifying the development of a country where millions suffer from poverty and poor healthcare infrastructure, and as such are inching towards death.
As the celebrations were ongoing, hospitals across the country reported that they had run out of oxygen cylinders and other medical supplies needed to treat COVID-19 patients, while many hospitals admit hundreds of patients each day for profit. The government has so far done nothing to intervene in the management of the healthcare sector, and it is deeply immersed in corruption. The health minister has already proven completely incompetent and has alleged to have been part of a scam in which private hospitals provided fake negative COVID-19 certificates for money. Those medical officers and doctors who demand proper funding for more medical supplies, and who expose the clear corruption of the government are immediately transferred to other districts of the country.
As preparations for the golden jubilee celebrations were being made, garment workers from two factories – Apparel Stitch Limited and Stitchwell Designs Ltd. – protested in the capital city on 3 March, blocking the main roads and demanding the four months of wages they are owed. The ruling class of the country considered this an insult from these starving workers, who they regard as enemies trying to disrupt their celebration. But the workers didn't care about these gimmicks. They pressed on for their unpaid wages, to save their children from hunger at the same time as their rulers were preparing for a party. The protest became so aggressive that the government had to call in the police. Many workers were shot by the brutal police force. None of these events were reported on the mainstream news because the entire system was busy arranging the golden jubilee celebrations.
The Awami League regime didn’t hesitate to invite the bloodthirsty, right-wing Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, to the celebrations. Modi is a hated figure in India, and there have been huge general strikes against him by the Indian working class, while millions of farmers are protesting across the country against his draconian agriculture laws. But the ruling class of Bangladesh has no qualms in establishing friendly relations with this bigot who bases himself on spreading communal hatred, and who is the darling of the rich in India. Modi used his visit as part of his campaign for the West Bengal state elections, which are being held in April, and in which Modi's party is engaged in a tight race with the incumbent right-wing party, Trinamool Congress (TMC).
The opposition parties in Bangladesh tried to use Modi's presence in the country to advance their own political agenda. Many anti-Modi protests were staged across the country by both right-wing and left-wing parties. Right-wing Islamic fundamentalist parties were protesting against Modi on a reactionary basis. In fact, both share the same agenda of religious hatred. This is the mantra of Modi and his Hindu fundamentalist BJP.
The religious divide between Hindus and Muslims was imposed on the subcontinent by British imperialists to divide the working class and to enforce their imperialist rule here. After the partition of India in 1947, the local ruling class has used this ‘divide and rule’ strategy to further its own interests and to continue the bloodthirsty capitalist system here. So-called secular forces like the Congress party in India and the Awami League in Bangladesh also feed upon this religious hatred and keep alive the religious divide to keep the working class in check. The friendly relations between Sheikh Hasina and a bigot like Modi clearly exposes the nature of her so-called ‘secularism’.
On the other hand, Islamic fundamentalists in Bangladesh also have a long history of betrayals and attacks on the working class. Their role as the stooges of the capitalists of Bangladesh is no secret.
There were also protests by the left parties against Modi upon his arrival in Bangladesh, which were brutally attacked by the police, with many activists severely injured. But these protests also lacked a clear class perspective and were based on hollow slogans of ‘secularism’, which are already championed by the Awami League. There were no calls for solidarity in these protests with the Indian farmers, who are protesting in India against Modi, or with the Indian workers who have undertaken many one-day general strikes for their demands.
Nor did these leftist political leaders highlight the plight of the working class of Bangladesh, or include demands in these protests for those who are suffering from poverty, hunger, and disease. Modi and Sheikh Hasina represent the interests of the bourgeoisie of their respective countries. Their interests are completely antagonistic to those of the working class of both countries. That is why the working class of both countries must join together in struggle against these rulers for the overthrow of capitalism in the whole subcontinent.
After the celebrations: the COVID alert!
After the glorious celebration of Independence Day, however, the government suddenly published data regarding COVID-19 cases, which shocked everyone. The country is witnessing record-breaking deaths and infection rates compared to the first wave, resulting in the imposition of a second countrywide lockdown.
Without any prior warning whatsoever, the government called for an immediate lockdown all over the country immediately on the back of the celebrations, causing serious damage and losses for workers, small businesses and shopkeepers. On the first day of the lockdown, a huge rally was held by the local shopkeepers in Dhaka in protest, demanding all shops be allowed to open. The government was unconcerned about supporting these people, or workers’ wages and job security, whilst they were happy to lavishly spend the country’s money and resources on celebrations that were meaningless to the masses.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the government hasn't announced any specific budget allocations for the health sector, nor have they spent a penny providing new basic facilities in hospitals. In fact, hundreds of new hospitals are actually needed. A small layer of citizens have been provided with vaccines, yet they remain completely absent for people on a mass scale, and there is still no assurance that those who have received a first dose will receive a second. All this time, the workers have either had to continuously work in the factories or else have experienced sudden job losses, pushing many towards extreme poverty.
The bankruptcy of the opposition
The callous, anti-people attitude of the government is shared by the opposition parties, which have no political programme to tackle such a situation and have instead taken up politics as an occupation, concerning themselves with petty personal issues, which have nothing to do with the plight of the masses. Whilst there is a growing hatred among the masses towards the government, and people are demanding better health facilities and economic relief during lockdowns imposed by their rulers, the opposition parties are offering no leadership. The left parties are in the most pathetic position of all, and are losing whatever small base of support they previously had, leaving them hanging in midair.
The most outrageous response of the left parties following this lockdown was the organisation of a ‘Food Programme’ that provided limited amounts of food to city rickshaw pullers and some workers. Clearly, this is not the task of a revolutionary organisation, which cannot feed everyone suffering in the midst of this crisis, nor did it reflect a correct political programme. Without understanding the magnitude of the problem, without any political agitation or a concrete political programme aimed at drawing in the working class, these organisations have started to work like NGO structures, glorifying the most disgusting aspects of charity. The whole thing was merely a publicity stunt, aimed at getting social media coverage and nothing else.
A revolutionary programme ought to have been based on demanding the government provide food, medicine, and other basic necessities to the workers, coupled with mass agitation around these demands, particularly during the days of celebration. The demand of the workers for a full wage and free vaccinations for all, both public and private sector workers, represents a step towards a correct political programme, something that has not been taken up by any of these organisations.
A genuine communist party would incorporate these demands into a bold programme of nationalisation and workers’ control. It would strive to organise the working class, and build for radical strike action, and force the government to pay full wages to the workers during the lockdowns, and nationalise all hospitals to provide free healthcare. Ultimately, it would prepare the working class for a fight to overthrow the entire rotten capitalist regime, and run society under their own strength.
If there was socialism in Bangladesh, rather than the present capitalist system, government officials wouldn’t have had the chance to play their vaccine politics and to collaborate with private hospitals for money. Under socialism, all the resources of the country would have been dedicated to the healthcare sector long before this crisis hit. The current rulers wouldn’t even consider such a solution to the healthcare crisis.
The brutality of the regime and its instability
The situation facing Bangladesh has to be analysed from a class position. The government, which has been ruling the country for more than a decade now, has control of the media, from which it broadcasts fake news and deceptions about the real situation. The government is manipulating COVID data to suit their agenda. The regime regularly celebrates GDP growth figures and its pseudo-achievements in gender equality on the news channels, but it has ceased displaying police brutality it unleashes against workers, students, and political activists.
Bangladesh, a country whose resources have been siphoned off by capitalists and multinational companies for the last 50 years, is entering a period of political instability, and hatred towards the rulers is rapidly rising. This is why the government is resorting to greater levels of oppression and brutality against its opponents through the police and other security forces. It is clinging to power at any cost. This is only resulting in greater political instability and deeper hatred towards the government, which could erupt on a mass scale in the coming period.
Bangladesh is being touted as a success story by the bourgeois media around the world and as a poster child for growth and prosperity under capitalism. This will turn into its opposite as the dire levels of inequality, oppression and poverty under capitalism come to haunt the ruling class. The present situation is the calm before the storm. When the storm hits, millions of people will come out onto the streets to challenge the whole rotten capitalist regime.
The people of Bangladesh today are intimidated against speaking aloud against this government, but they understand everything that is happening. When they do come out in big numbers against this oppressive rule, they will need a genuine revolutionary organisation with the right ideas and a correct political programme. The government is constantly relying on the armed police to shut down the agitation and protests of those workers who, despite everything, muster the courage to come out onto the streets demanding a better standard of living.
The number of such protests is currently small, but will keep growing until they explode into a mass movement of the working class. The oppressive and brutal tactics used by the government clearly show the bourgeois nature of the state, which rules in favour of the wealthy capitalists. Only by overthrowing capitalism through a successful socialist revolution can the working class of Bangladesh rid itself of this rotten regime and live free of hunger, disease, and misery. That will be the day of real celebration of freedom for the working class.