Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Can threats achieve results?

Published in The Independent, August 17th., 2010
M. Serajul Islam

One can only be concerned and worried about the threats being expressed at random by the leaders of this government. The Ministers are doing this with monotonous regularity. Threats are being expressed on the issue of price rise, on law and order; on BCL's criminal activities; and of course to the opposition parties for alleged conspiracy to derail the trial of the war criminals. In the country's nearly 4 decades long history since independence, when both democratic and dictatorial governments have been in power and politics was often tense and uncertain, such indulgence with threats by those running the Government was never heard.

In a recent news analysis on a private TV channel, a University Professor said something thought-provoking. With reference to the fact that only four or five businessmen have been found to be behind the sugar syndicate, he said he was simply amazed why these four or five businessmen have not been brought to face the law; why instead the Commerce Minister was going about threatening what the Government would do with dishonest businessmen who would hike up prices during Ramzan. He thought that the threats notwithstanding, there must be very powerful people protecting them to make the Commerce Minister's threats merely empty ones. He gave an advice that sounded both rational and correct; that action not threats was necessary to tackle the various problems in our politics and society at present.

A government is within its rights to warn groups and individuals to ensure that they refrain from doing anything that is harmful to the public. But these are not warnings that this government is expressing; these are threats and that is why a lot of people are concerned. Threats by a government are rare and given only as a final warning when action is imminent. The widespread nature of such threats with very little action underscores the fact that the government is facing serious problems in governance and not sure what to do. What is even more alarming is that despite the threats, those at whom most of the threats are addressed have not even bothered to take notice of the threats. The case of the BCL in this context is worth noting. This Government is moving towards completing two years in office. It has been facing considerable problem with the BCL, its student's wing, from its first day in office. The BCL has declared themselves the government in the educational institutions where they are indulging in all sorts of criminal activities. In its most recent show of criminal power, BCL students were seen parading Rajshahi University with weapons that should shame the most hardened criminal.

This government came to power because the overwhelming majority of the people supported them on one particular issue; the need to try those who supported the Pakistani military in their genocide in Bangladesh in 1971. Such support notwithstanding, those who would be brought to justice have their own support, however small, in the country and they would try to see that such trials are not held. However, all one hears is that there are conspiracies all around from those who are against the spirit of the liberation war. There has been very little manifestation of such conspiracies, let alone any attempt by such conspirators to obstruct the trials.
The question is if it has taken the government nearly two years to put all the necessary steps together for the trials, when actually, one wonders, the trials would be held and completed. The people are losing their patience for such trials to be held and done away with. All they hear are threats in abundance that no one should dare to derail the trials and the government would deal with any group that tries to stand in the way of such trials with an iron fist. It would be interesting if someone would collate the innumerous times Ministers of this Government have gone before the media and threatened those who they said are conspiring to stop the trials. People would like to be given some evidence of such conspiracies.

In common knowledge, when someone is sure of what he/she would do, there is no need to shout or threaten. That individual can do whatever needs to be done calmly and coolly. When such an individual loses cool, then there is reason to believe that things are in a mess. When that individual goes beyond losing cool and starts threatening, then common sense would dictate that the individual has lost direction and not in a position to do what needs to be done. In case of this government, threats have now become a routine matter and everyone in political authority is indulging in threats. What is not clear about such threats is the fact that in Bangladesh's history, the opposition has never been as weak as it is today. BNP has just not lost the election, it is now riddled with internal dissensions where it is not really in a position to launch the type of action that we know opposition parties have done in the past, like regular hartals accompanied by all kinds of violence. During this term of the AL, the BNP and its allies have succeeded in holding just one hartal.

Despite the Government's accusations that the country is seething with conspiracies to stop war trials and other actions against the government by the opposition, facts do not show any such evidence. Nevertheless, there is a lot of uncertainty in politics. The law and order situation is poor, the educational institutions have become hubs of criminal activities and the RMG sector is being subjected to public vandalism that portends grave consequences for the nation. The recent coverage of the private TV channels leaves little doubt that unscrupulous business people are systematically raising prices of essentials. In fact, it is only with the war crimes trial that there are little signs of unrest yet despite the Government's threats and accusations to the contrary.

These facts could point to something new in Bangladesh's politics; that the enemy the party in power is threatening is largely within. It would do the Awami League and the country great good if it would stop threatening all and sundry in the opposition camps and take a quiet and dispassionate look at what is happening within the party. Why can't the BCL be stopped? It is unimaginable what would happen to the country's image if the international press were to pick the pictures of students of the ruling party parading the university campuses with machetes and other weapons of death and moving around freely with the law enforcing agencies watching. Why can't those who have been identified to be behind the sugar syndicate be brought to book? In the state of country's politics, no one even in a fit of insanity would believe that any of these business people belong to the opposition. If they were, such syndicates would have been history and its leaders behind bars.

Bangladeshis are facing grave problems they have not faced before, like the acute shortage of power and water and they are praying on bended knees for the government to deliver. In the kind of politics the country has, the opposition will seek every opportunity to put the government in trouble. In opposition, the AL has done it. Threats will get the government nowhere; such threats will only convince the people that the government is not succeeding in tackling the problems they are facing. It is time for the government to act and give up threatening all and sundry. More importantly, it is time for the AL for introspection.That will help it understand the problems better, find solutions and take the country forward.

(The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan and Egypt)

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