Friday, June 8, 2012

Who is the Awami League fighting in politics?
8 June, 2012
M. Serajul Islam

Who is the Awami League fighting in our politics these days? It seems that it is doing its best to force the people to look for an alternative in the next general elections because even if the ruling party itself conducts it, its chances of returning to power are fading due to its hard to understand nature of governance.  In the spate of unrests in Dhaka in recent days, the police have assaulted journalists, students, defiled a girl after forcibly taking her away from the magistrate’s court and the general public.  

The extra-judicial killings and the disappearances of political rivals that have become concerns of the international community are of course there. Even in the height of anti-people oppression of the regime of President Ershad, the police was not seen in such a role as it is these days. There are over these concerns , the failure  of the government in delivering on its election promises on prices of essentials; electricity; corruption, etc  that are frustrating the people with the ruling party that they voted to power with so much hopes and expectations. The change the AL promised is there but for the worse and not better. 

In talk shows the night after the incident of defiling of the young girl by the police office occurred, talk show guests were so outraged that one of them, a well known university law professor asked the police chiefs of the country and Dhaka city by their names, quite an unusual gesture, about how they slept at night with such people in their forces; whether they had a conscience and whether they had mothers and sisters to remind them how women were being dishonoured in police custody. 

The professor was not the only talk show guest so outraged. Others too have expressed themselves the same way at the way the law enforcing agencies are taking the law into their own hands and literally doing pretty much what they want.  Even the Judges have been outraged. Two High Court judges asked 7 police officers who have been named in the media in connection with the defiling of the young girl to appear before them and have also asked for a report from the authorities on the incident that has outraged the nation. 

The judges’ strong action and outrage among the people notwithstanding, the Home Minister gave full marks to her police force. When asked to comment on the action of the Judges, she said that the 1, 41,000 strong police force has never been as good as it is today! Her deputy, the State Minister for Home, not to be undone in defending the police made a statement that brought to surface the absurdity that these Ministers are serving the people in defending the actions of the government. He advised the journalists to keep “safe distance” from the police while covering events so that they do not get beaten up while covering news. He was reacting to the action of the police in manhandling the media people in their line of duty. 

The absurd responses of the Ministers in the media on issues of public concern underscore a sad fact; that the government is moving with little sense of direction. One understands without of course agreeing when the ruling party in a country such as ours speak ill of the opposition. One also understands the reasons without agreeing when the government pursues the opposition in a number of ways that are un-democratic. What astounds people these days is that these Ministers and others who speak on behalf of the Government seem to have concluded that the whole country is against them and not just the opposition. Otherwise it is impossible to justify why the Government would go against people who are by no means with the opposition in the latter’s anti-government movement. In fact many who are vocal critics of the government today have not yet forgiven or forgotten the sufferings under the BNP’s last term. 

Take for instance the recent decision of the Bangladesh Energy Regulation Commission. It came out with another absurd proposition to sell to those interested for interrupted power supply, electricity at almost three times the current costs for industrial use. In making this absurd proposal, the government that calls itself pro-people failed to consider the fact that whoever concocted this proposal did so very insensitively. With the whole country, barring a few rich people,  reeling in unbearable miseries due to shortage of electricity, a public announcement by BERC for giving electricity uninterrupted is to say the very least, an anti-people proposal of the worst kind. 

The proposal of course has caused deep concerns in the public mind.  They are perplexed about where the government would get the electricity for uninterrupted supply to those who want it and are willing to pay for it with the total supply far short of demand that has led to power outages of the kind that the country has not seen at anytime in the past.  Surely, the extra electricity for the industries would have to come by cutting supply to the general public who are already living in hellish conditions for lack of electricity.

When this absurdity of the policy, particularly its strong pro-rich and anti-poor bias, caused public outcry, the authorities stated that the uninterrupted supply would not be mandatory. That was again another absurd explanation that people in business were quick to point out. They said that with the rates at what they are at the moment, Bangladesh is barely floating with production costs in the market, both local and international. With charges to be increased almost 3 times, only the stupid or imbecile business people would be encouraged to take up the government’s “generous” offer! Why then did BERC make such an offer?  

Quite expectedly the BERC’s offer is on way to a natural death. Nevertheless, those in charge of power did not learn anything for this absurd proposal that tried to make a joke of the people’s miseries. The Adviser for Power has now “advised” the people to wait for the rains for respite from power outages that has hurt the people’s sentiments even more; like pouring salt to the injury.  It was he who not too long ago had claimed this government’s success in power production. One wonders why he is now suggesting that the people should look up to the Almighty for delivering them from their misery. One also wonders where has the extra power that this government has generated has gone. The mother of all question in this context is where has all the rental power for which the country has paid through its nose to near bankruptcy, gone! It is not the opposition that has gone public with critical view about the Power Adviser’s claims on power production. The Finance Minister said very recently that there has been no improvement in power in the last three years!  Meanwhile the Power Adviser has called the critics of rental power as “anti-state.” 

The way the Ministers/Advisers talking in public these days leaves no doubt that there is no coordination at all among them; that they have lost their ways in the maze of governance. They just not contradict one another; often they contradict their own public statements at will. In doing so, they take away any sense of optimism among the people about being delivered from their miseries. Some of the Ministers do not even realize that the stories they try to sell to the people to defend government policies or their predicaments are so bizarre that people can only accept them by pretending to be stupid. 

That is what the former Railways Minister seemed to have done when he demanded his job back (from whom?) after the investigation of the Deputy Secretary of the Railways Ministry cleared him of wrong doing. He forgot conveniently that he had ordered that investigation and that the Minister who replaced him said in public that the Railways Ministry is a den of corruption. The General Manager (East) who was suspended because he was carrying the Taka 70 lacs to the Minister’s residence has now been accused of giving 2000 jobs illegally  while the former Railways Minister was in office by back dating the appointments.  The driver who blew the whistle that blew the Minister from his job has meanwhile vanished! Why does not the former Railways Minister demand of his colleague the Home Minister to help find him instead of demanding his job back based on the report of an investigation that he had ordered in which no one believes?  

The AL Joint Secretary who is one of the principal spokesmen of the government (one wonders how a party official can be a government spokesman) finally regretted the action of the police in defiling the young girl. He did so after the Minister for Home was not interested to take action. She went on defending the police force under her as the best in Bangladesh’s history. The Joint Secretary said that some hidden power is working in the police force to discredit the government. Although the Ministers/Advisers/party leaders are pretty much saying whatever they feel like saying and often contradicting one another; there seems one area where they are converging. They are all targeting the people for their criticism of the government for its inability to deliver. Ironically, the BNP seems to have found some respite in the backdrop of such eerie behaviour of the leaders of this government against individuals and groups who have no links to the opposition.

All past governments have disappointed the people to varying degrees. This government is doing the same but with a major difference. It seems to be enjoying the miseries and hardships of the people. The Home Minister was right about the law enforcing agencies’ efficiency. The people should overlook their failure over tracking the killers of Sagar/Runy; the Saudi diplomat; or the disappearance of Ilyas Ali and all other disappearances and the extra judicial killings at the hands of the law enforcing agencies. Instead they should marvel at their efficiency at the speed with which they have arrested the opposition leaders and filed cases against them! 

 Seriously, the police force is now the yardstick of the extent to which this government has politicized the administration and fallen in the process in governance. Police officers today are behaving as party activists. That they are was clear to the people when they saw on live TV how the police officers kicked and beat up the BNP whip Jainal Abedin Farukh. That is now clear also by the way they are acting against the media and the general people who are not opposition activists but have become their eyesore because they are critical of the government! To these police officers particularly at the level of the Thana OCs, the critical level of contact between the police and the people, it is finally their government and they don’t need orders to beat up anyone to submission for opposing any government action. They consider it their duty to do so.  

Thus the Government is hardly fighting the BNP these days. By its police actions and the way its Ministers are speaking on issues of public miseries, it is fighting the people. It is doing more for the BNP than the BNP is doing for itself to come into public reckoning to form the next government.  What is unbelievable is that no one in the ruling party seems to realize that the Ministers are doing the BNP the service that they are missing with all its top leadership behind bars.  

 In their frustrations, many of the talk show guests have appealed to the Prime Minister to deliver the government and the country from the weird nature of governance that the Ministers and the Advisers are indulging in at the moment for the country cannot take it anymore. 

The writer is a retired career diplomat and former Ambassador to Japan and Egypt

No comments: