Play of Misinformation, Manipulation and Deception in Bangladesh’s Pre-Election Politics

By Md. Shakhawat Hossain

With the upcoming elections in Bangladesh, the political landscape has witnessed an escalation in intensity. Since October 28, tensions have risen as the BNP clashed with the police, leading to a day-long confrontation and subsequent announcements of strikes and blockades.

An intriguing incident unfolded on the evening of October 28 at the BNP office involving Mian Zahidul Islam Arefi, a Bangladeshi-US citizen. Claiming to be an adviser to President Biden, Arefi asserted that he would report alleged government misconduct to the U.S. president. Subsequently, law enforcement revealed that Arefi was not a Biden adviser. This deceptive maneuver, along with other instances of spin doctoring, highlights a trend of misinformation intended to sway public opinion leading up to the elections.

Mian Arefi’s Role in BNP Drama:

Following the day of unrest, Mian Arefi addressed the media at the BNP office, accompanied by party leaders. Arefi, alleging to be an adviser to President Biden, advocated for punitive measures against key Bangladeshi institutions. However, during interrogation, Arefi confessed to being a mere pawn, reciting statements scripted by a retired general. This “Arefi drama” appears to be a ploy to rejuvenate activists and deceive the public by exaggerating BNP’s external connections with the Biden Administration.

Chandan Nandy’s Dubious Journalism:

In parallel, Delhi-based journalist Chandan Nandy has played a role in shaping a deceptive narrative. Since September, Nandy has prolifically written reports on Bangladesh, often lacking validation and devolving into baseless rumors. Several of Nandy’s stories have been debunked, such as false claims about the Bangladesh Air Chief being denied a U.S. visa and a supposed U.S. deadline for the government to exit, which never materialized. Nandy’s reliance on ambiguous sources and lack of proper verification raises questions about the authenticity of his reports.

Deceptive Politics on the Rise:

As Bangladesh approaches its anticipated January election, various political entities, vested interests, and foreign actors are likely to engage in manipulative tactics. The unfortunate involvement of the BNP in deceptive activities, exemplified by the Arefi incident, indicates a concerning trend. Similarly, journalists like Chandan Nandy, with their unsubstantiated reports, aim to erode public trust in the establishment, potentially inciting violence during protests.

The Manipulative Agenda:

It is evident that these deceptive tactics, whether orchestrated by tricksters within the BNP or propagated by dubious journalists, contribute to creating an environment conducive to anti-government protests. The lack of media literacy among the public allows these manipulative narratives to take root, ultimately aiding the BNP in shaping a favorable environment for dissent ahead of the elections.

Author Md. Shakhawat Hossain is the Assistant Professor and Chairman of Department of Criminology and Police Science, University of Chittagong.

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