The battle between Bangladesh’s two begums is over

Dec 07, 2017

THE battling begums, Sheikh Hasina Wajed and Khaleda Zia, used to alternate in power with metronomic regularity. Both laid claim to aspects of Bangladesh’s founding myth. Sheikh Hasina is the daughter of the “father of Bangladesh”, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first president. Mrs Zia is widow to Ziaur Rahman, to whom, as an army officer under Mujib, fell the honour of declaring Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan in 1971. He may have known of the coup that lead to Mujib’s death, in 1975. Either way, in the ensuing chaos, he rose to power before being murdered by renegade officers himself in 1981. Both men grew dictatorial in power, resorted to violence to settle scores and, in Zia’s case, embraced Islamism in an avowedly secular state. Yet the memory of each is burnished by their respective parties, now run as fiefs by the two begums: Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League (AL) and Mrs Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

Between 1991 and 2006 the metronome gave Mrs Zia two turns in power and...

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