"Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress." - Mahatma Gandhi
Thursday, May 3, 2012
NO LESSON FROM HISTORY
Ruling party brings hartal back
Hoiday, May 4, 2012
M. Serajul Islam
A senior journalist who was once elected to the parliament on an
Awami League ticket was asked to comment on the arrests and cases
against the BNP leaders on a TV Talk Show recently. He said a few things
that are worth noting seriously. He categorically dismissed any
political benefit to the ruling party out of these arrests and cases.
Instead, he said that the arrests and cases against the BNP would
only strengthen the opposition. The BNP, according to him, was down and
out after losing the last elections very badly. It has been the Awami
League that has helped the BNP to stand on its two feet by pursuing it
relentlessly without trying to deal with it politically. With every move
to deal with the BNP like it was out to end it as a political party, it
has succeeded in making it stronger. He said, courtesy largely the AL,
the BNP is at present strong enough to challenge the ruling party!
senior journalist said something that was very devastating for the
ruling party’s claim as the party that led the movement for liberation
of Bangladesh and democracy in the country. To him, what the AL is doing
now is exactly what the Pakistani regime had done in East Pakistan in
the 1960s. By implicating the AL and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in false
cases aimed at harassment, the Pakistani military regime only helped
strengthen the party and make Sheikh Mujib the unquestioned leader of
the democratic movement in East Pakistan that in turn became our war of
Quite evidently, the ruling party is not aware of what it is doing.
It is failing to realize that its actions are bringing the BNP into
public contention instead of breaking it apart. The State Minister of
Home tried to appear convincing when he said in the media that action
against the BNP leaders have been initiated because their call for
hartal resulted in the damages to property and death of a driver when a
bus in which he was sleeping was torched the same way past regimes
rationalized their actions to suppress democratic opposition.
Minister on hartal
The State Minister’s stand would have convinced the public if only
it was taken out of the context of the history of hartals in Bangladesh.
It is the AL has played a dominant role in using hartal against the
government where the BNP does not even come close. The State Minister
for Home must have forgotten about the AL’s role in establishing hartal
in our politics. During the two terms of the BNP, his party had
organized hundreds of days of hartal. There were extensive damages to
property and deaths during these hartals. The BNP also used hartal
during the last term of the AL that also resulted in damages to property
and deaths. On balance however the AL has used hartal against the
Government much more than the BNP and hence responsible for more damages
In this present term of the AL, the people had started to hope that
hartal would become history because the BNP took serious note of
extreme public apathy for this evil political strategy. It is the AL
that had argued in favour of hartal very strongly as a political
strategy for achieving democracy where the BNP has been a follower. In
fact, till the Cholo Cholo Dhaka Cholo call of the BNP on March 12 that
was a democratic movement against the government, the BNP had avoided
hartal in deference to the public mood.
The BNP had resisted the temptation of falling back on hartal to
make governance difficult for the government in the face of grave
provocations. The AL led government used the arm of the law to pursue
the opposition leaders immediately upon assuming power where many were
spending as much time running to the court as pursuing active politics.
The AL also used extra judicial killing against its political opponents
that the BNP had introduced while in power against hardened criminals.
Not satisfied with filing cases and the extra judicial killings to
deal with the opposition, the government surreptitiously introduced
something no one would have imagined in a nightmare. They simply started
making political opponents disappear. In the face of opposition uproar
against these disappearances, the law enforcing and security agencies
simply refused to acknowledge any involvement. In the meantime, such
cases began to pile up.
Strategy of disappearance
According to Odhikar, a human rights organization in Bangladesh
over 50 people have disappeared since 2010 leaving the people convinced
that the law enforcing agencies were behind these disappearances as
almost all the cases involved someone opposing the government in one way
or another. A chill came down those in the opposition camp because they
were not prepared to deal with something that one read only in the
context of dictatorial regimes like Pinochet of Chile.
The disappearance of BNP leader of Sylhet and a former lawmaker
Ilyas Ali acted as the catalyst to bring this dangerous issue of
disappearance to the top of the political agenda. The former lawmaker
simply disappeared with his driver. As the opposition cried out foul,
the ruling party responded with ridicule. The Prime Minister’s response
was that the BNP had hid Ilyas Ali to make a political issue out of it.
The BNP countered and blamed RAB for the disappearance. The EU
expressed concern and communicated it to the Government. Some US
Congressmen also expressed concern. Human Rights Watch also voiced its
deep concern and has asked for an independent inquiry. The news of the
disappearance of Ilyas Ali found exposure in the media around the world.
In the country, the news of the disappearance and the consequences of
it cast a pall of gloom all over. The BNP’s demand to find Ilyas Ali and
concerns everywhere failed to move the Government that tried to deal
with it in an unbelievably casual manner.
The BNP was thus left with no alternative but to go for hartal
albeit tentatively not knowing how the people would react. At first, it
started with a one day hartal and then extended it for two more days at
the stretch. Not surprisingly, there was wide public approval for the
hartal on the first day as the people in general felt that the
opposition had no alternative to make an insensitive government listen.
The second and the third days of the first call of hartal also were
observed although there was sporadic violence on the subsequent days.
Still the government refused to accept responsibility or do anything to
help find Ilyas Ali.
The BNP’s call of hartal for another two days came after the
Government refused to budge to its ultimatum to find Ilyas Ali by 28th
April. The second round of hartal saw more sporadic violence.
Nevertheless the second round of hartal was also observed successfully
from the opposition’s point of view. Meanwhile, the Home Minister and
the LGRD Minister made statements in the media that showed some signs
that the Government was willing to make efforts to find Ilyas Ali. Both
said their objective was to find Ilyas alive that led to public
speculation that some individuals in the Government must have knowledge
about Ilyas Ali’s disappearance.
Govt takes hard line
However, other authorities in the Government were not willing to
accede anything to the opposition on the Ilyas Ali issue. Instead they
want to meet the BNP head on with a hard line that the State Minister
for Home has underscored in justifying the arrest of Ruhul Kabir Rizvi
and the cases against the BNP leaders. In the midst of the fluctuating
stance of the Government, President HM Ershad’s statement that people
get murdered when they stay at home (the case of the unsolved murders of
the journalist couple and the Saudi diplomat) and disappearance (Ilyas
Ali and others) has highlighted the untenable law and order situation in
the country and the general fear about the fast sliding political
The Government nevertheless now appears to have opted to attack the
opposition to get out of the mess into which it has landed itself by
its single minded pursuance to hound the opposition in the same mindset
as was shown by the past undemocratic regimes in our history. The senior
journalist stated unequivocally that the only result of such a course
of action would be a simple case of history repeating itself. Past
efforts to deal with political problems by force have all failed. He
felt that the present course that the AL has charted for itself would
also meet the same fate.
The senior journalist was also asked whether the case of Ilyas
Ali’s disappearance was stage managed by the ruling party to contain the
ill impact of railway gate and to divert growing support of the people
for the next general elections under a caretaker government. His
response was one spoken out of wisdom. He said that the disappearance of
Ilyas Ali would add to the pile of negatives against the ruling party
while doing nothing to divert the attention of the pubic either from the
issue of the CG or railway gate. In fact, with failure to deal with the
Ilyas Ali case democratically, the ruling party would slide further
into the political quicksand in which it is stuck now unless it deals
with the issue not with the Pakistani military’s mindset but with a
Recently, the Prime Minister asked senior citizens to advise her on
correct way of governance. She said this while addressing a forum that
was felicitating her for Bangladesh’s victory on the maritime boundary
demarcation case. An economist known for his leanings towards the
ruling party lamented in a talk show that the news of this great
victory of Bangladesh has not registered among the people that should
have given the ruling party great political mileage in its present
predicament. In another forum, the Prime Minister asked her party
members to work hard to get re-elected to complete the social, political
and economic agenda that the ruling party has initiated. It is
heartening to see that the Prime Minister has sought advice and feels
that her party would have to work hard for re-election.
History repeats itself!
Recent events have underscored that the Prime Minister indeed needs
advice and that her party would also have to work hard for re-election.
However she should seek advice not from those who gather to felicitate
her with sycophantic zeal but from those who support her party as one
established by the Father of the Nation and have now shown the courage
to be critical of the way she has been running the government like the
senior journalist on the TV talk show. There are many like this senior
journalist and their number is growing. She should not be seeking advice
from those who gather to felicitate her for they would never tell her
the hard truth.
The Prime Minister must realize for her sake, her party and the
country that any other way to deal with the opposition other than the
democratic path would be disastrous. History should be her guide to
realize this. The BNP must be given the space to act in the democratic
way for which its concerns about Ilyas Ali and others who are
disappearing into thin air, individuals who are mostly its political
opponents, must be taken seriously and not to be ridiculed. The
government must make sincere efforts to trace those behind the
disappearances, whether in government or elsewhere, and punish them.
Most of all, the BNP’s demand for the next elections under an agreed
system, called by the senior journalist as the “mother of all problems
“, must be discussed with it and resolved so that it would
The people are, as the State Minister for Home has said, firmly and
unequivocally against hartal. However, they are also politically
conscious and cannot blame the BNP entirely for resorting to hartal for
which the Government must bear the major responsibility for not
providing any democratic alternative. Even on the fifth day of the
hartal, 63% respondents to an electronic poll run by a leading Dhaka
English daily favoured the BNP’s call for hartal. This should alert the
government that by its un-democratic actions, it is not just helping the
BNP become strong politically, it is unfortunately bringing back hartal
from the ICU where it was just waiting for the life support system to