Golam Rabbani, a political activist from Bangladesh, finds himself in a forced displacement situation and has become a self-exile in the USA. Golam Rabbani has completed his master’s degree in social work at the University of Dhaka, achieving a first-class first position in his academic record. He took the initiative to introduce social work into politics through his organization, aiming to advocate for voter rights and raise awareness through various programs.
Unfortunately, the government banned Golam’s organization and took undemocratic control of the country without allowing a vote. Seeking a fresh start, he obtained a Master’s license in social work from the Department of Michigan after moving to the USA.
By heredity associated with national and Local Body Elections, Golam comes from a family deeply involved in the political landscape. His mother has been serving as an elected representative for the past 20 years. The organization he formed, known as the Youth Forum, has gained a reputable position over the years as an Election Observer. They have actively promoted free and fair elections, raised awareness, and encouraged people to vote for qualified candidates.
In Golam’s perspective, elections are vital in allowing people to choose competent leaders and ensuring accountability. He emphasizes the necessity of conducting elections freely and fairly, without external pressure from vested interests, to protect democracy from unscrupulous political leaders. During his research on labor law, he actively encouraged laborers to form trade unions and promoted different election principles. His relentless thirst for developing election principles for national and local body elections and their application was unwavering.
During the Caretaker Government period, Golam led a delegation to discuss their 10-point demand and election principles with the Election Commission. They engaged in negotiations with Dr. Shamsul Huda, the Chief Election Commissioner, and Brig. General Sakhawat Hossain, the Election Commissioner. The commissioners assured them of their cooperation in conducting free and fair elections. Golam and his delegation believed conducting an election under the Caretaker Government for an extended period would lack moral legitimacy, and it would be best to hand over the government’s reins to the elected representatives.
Deeply concerned about the country’s prevailing election practices and culture, Golam believes that the urgent need of the hour is a leader with strong principles and high integrity who can resist widespread corruption, the use of black money, and the ruthless application of force by political thugs. He observes with regret that those who study election laws and the election process often remain unaware of the dirty politics practiced by political parties, including the monetary transactions involved in candidate nominations. They derive pleasure from the open games nominated candidates and voters played throughout the month-long election campaign.
As a conscious citizen and an organizer with extensive expertise and experience working with laborers and youths, Golam decided to delve deep into the turmoil surrounding elections by running for office as an elected representative. His objective is to gain a comprehensive understanding of all aspects of the electoral process, including the strengths, weaknesses, advantages, and threats associated with the performance of leaders working to develop their electoral constituencies.
However, his decision greatly impacted his life, leading to disastrous consequences. In 2011, Golam ran for the office of Mayor, completely unaware of the tremendous election expenses he would have to bear. The horrors he witnessed were multi-dimensional. The ruling government and its political party shamelessly interfered with the election process, threatening the Election Commission with severe consequences if they did not comply with the government’s directives. They deployed armed party hooligans to terrorize voters, prohibiting them from appearing at polling centers to cast their votes. These hooligans forcibly entered polling booths and voted in favor of ruling party candidates while also preventing other candidates from campaigning under the threat of fearful reprisal, which even extended to targeting the candidates’ family members.
The involvement of the administration and law enforcement agencies was explicit and brutal. They filled ballot boxes with pre-marked ballot papers bearing the seals of ruling party candidates’ election symbols and declared them elected. Golam was not only a witness to these horrifying experiences but also became a victim of physical torture during his campaign.
The ordeal did not end there. The ruling party employed hooligans who conducted door-to-door searches to identify those they believed had voted for Golam. They ransacked their homes, subjected them and their families to mistreatment, and even arrested many on fabricated charges. As a popular candidate, Golam lived under constant surveillance, facing threats of abduction, arrest, and unimaginable torture. The real wrath of the ruling party was poured upon his family members, including his wife and mother. His children were terrified to the point where they couldn’t sleep for several days, plagued by nightmares of being killed. Faced with no alternative, Golam had to flee to the USA to ensure the safety and security of his life and that of his wife and children. Although life in exile offers comfort and security, it is far from pleasant.
Despite his circumstances, Golam firmly believes that only free and fair elections, free from interference by any quarter, including the government and its agencies like the administration and law enforcement, can guarantee good governance. The situation in the country has reached a point where no sitting Member of Parliament wants any prospective MP candidate to enter or reside in their constituency.
Participating in elections seems like a distant dream. The continuous practice of using unfair means to secure victory, such as uncontested elections achieved through the ruthless application of force, intimidating candidates to refrain from campaigning, and terrifying voters not to go to polling stations, has made ruling party candidates bold and carefree. They employ aggressive measures to deny any aspirant from challenging them in the constituency. Anyone who dares to do so is either abducted, killed, or hospitalized with severe injuries. Golam presents the tale of two constituencies—Dhaka 16 and Comilla 11. Comilla 11 is his birthplace, and he maintains close connections with the people there. Dhaka 16 is where he currently lives and works, and the people consider him their guardian. Both places hold a special place in his heart, and he enjoys a solid popularity base as a leader.
Despite facing continuous threats and attempts on his life by ministers, MPs, and ruling party leaders and activists for the past ten years, Golam has managed to escape their attacks, often foiling their plans through his vigilance. They know eliminating him will become easier if he fails to get elected. However, if he successfully overcomes their opposition and manages to secure a position in the office, he believes it will protect him from their malicious intentions. Thus, Golam concludes, “Elections brought a curse into my life. The redemption also rests with elections.”