<%-- Page Title--%> Politics <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 144 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

March 5, 2004

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Heading Towards a Crisis?

While law and order is tittering on the brink of a total collapse, the main opposition Bangladesh Awami League (AL) has been calling one general strike after another. The ruling alliance, on the other hand, seems to have vowed to take on the opposition in the street. A war of words is waged between members of both the parties; the absence of the main opposition has turned the national parliament into a lame duck. The politics of confrontation is back in business. The question people have been asking themselves now is, are we heading towards a crisis?

Ahmede Hussain

It was a fine mid-noon in Danik Bangla Mor. The area surrounding the business district Mothijheel was unusually silent though, because of a general strike called by the AL. But it did not remain so for long. As soon as a procession led by AL leaders Saber Hossain Chowdhury and Ahsanullah Master MP arrived, the police, without any visible provocation started charging batons on the gathering. Both the leaders sustained serious injuries and were taken to hospital for treatment.

Before this incident on February 12, politics had remained in the back seat. In fact, the AL had called the strike to realise its 15-point demand, which included improvement of law and order and dissolution of the Hawa Bhaban as the centre of power. What had driven the government to go for such high-handed reaction is unclear. Actually by attacking the opposition leaders, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has played in the hands of the opposition. The AL was looking for a reason for their cause. The BNP gave them two.

The day witnessed other incidents, too. In a public rally in Barisal the prime minister (PM) accused the opposition of trying to mar her "efforts to build the nation". What she has meant by her efforts to build the nation is not clear though. What we have seen is, during her term in office, goons belonging to her and the opposition parties have been ruling the country by proxy. Law and order has deteriorated so sharply that people are unable to see any future, let alone the PMís efforts, if at all there are any.

Three more strikes followed, and the fourth was observed on February 28. Meanwhile, the leader of the opposition has refused to talk with the government to avert a crisis. Instead she wants immediate resignation of the government followed by mid-term general elections. "We want fresh elections immediately and we are ready for it. Their days are numbered and their barbaric attacks on our supporters during the recent hartals are but their last desperate bit to cling to power," Sheikh Hasina says.

Hasina and her party have never accepted the result of the last general elections, in which her party, after a full five-year term, miserably failed to win even the expected number of seats. She rejected the results and openly vowed to topple the government whenever she got the chance. The AL boycotted the parliament for about a year, later joined it; and later went back to the street blaming the BNP's indifference to its demands. Before the general elections in 2001she had promised not to call any general strikes; but after nearly 2 years outside the helm, she has either forgotten it, or is trying to tell us to try to forget it.

The home minister (HM) has outlived nine lives. While the newspapers are littered with news of rape and killing, the HM has constantly been claiming normalcy. Not only that, when Saber and Ahsanullah were injured, and the dailies carried photographs of the police bashing up the opposition leaders, the HM denied any police atrocity. "The Awami League leaders Saber Hossain Chowdhury and Ahsanullah Master were not injured by police personnel, rather they hurt themselves by falling on the road in a melee," Altaf Hossain Chowdhury told the parliament.

A lie begets more lies; and the HMís untruths are no exception. When armed BNP loyalists under the banner of Parbatya Sama Adhikar Andolon attacked Gono Forum leader Dr Kamal Hossainís on his way to the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the HM blamed it on the "armed opposition activists accompanying Dr Kamal".

Lately the armed insurgents in the south-west, like hooligans elsewhere in the country, have been getting a free reign. The police, along with the para-military Bangladesh Rifles, launched several operations to improve the situation. But killings have not abated; and now the police have come under attack. "Police officials have been asked not to move alone while on duty and tight security measures have been taken following directive by the district superintendent of police," officer in charge of Sripur and Shanikha police stations in Magura says, after Purba Banglar Communist Party (Janajuddha) threatened to attack police stations in the district. The sheer absence of the rule of law has made businessmen toy with the idea of making their own private army; some have already formed one.

People have already started comparing Begum Khaleda Zia's second term in office with the forlorn days of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Lawlessness is only the tip of the iceberg. Huge caches of arms are being discovered almost at regular intervals, and in most of the cases police have failed to nab the culprits.

Besides law and order, the government has failed in several other sectors. Members of the ruling party and its coalition partners can even outmatch Awami League's last term in corruption and nepotism.

Prices of essentials have been going up, and are getting far beyond people's means. Sheer absence of the rule of law, coupled with corruption and indifference, have made the country one of the most uninhabitable places on earth.

Though the AL is demanding snap polls; the party, after a disastrous general election, is yet to prove itself an alternative to the Four-party Alliance. When democracy-- still wobbling on its feet-- demands a strong parliament, the AL has been boycotting it. In fact together with the ruling party, it has made it virtually ineffective.

Without making the ever-deteriorating law and order an issue, the party is indiscriminately calling general strikes to bring down the two-year-old-government. The AL has never been into constructive criticism; instead it always opted for unconstitutional means like street agitation and strikes to bring about a change.

Not only that, the party has never formed a shadow cabinet or denounced criminals within its rank and file. The AL, in fact, has never apologised for its misrule during its last term in office. It was only months ago, AL leader Tofail Ahmed told a meeting in Feni that he had been missing Zoinal Hazari. The comment was shocking, for Hazari and his armed group were infamous in the area for killing and maiming innocent civilians, including journalists.

Hazari, in fact, was not the only one. During its five-year rule several gangsters, like Hazari, had worked under the shelter of the AL administration; Abu Taher of Laxmipur and Shamim Osman of Naryanganj to name only a few. It is clear from the AL presidium member's comment that the AL has not shed that part of its character.

It is, indeed, surprising that, the BNP, armed with an absolute majority, has failed to live up to peopleís expectations. The AL's failure to play the role of a strong opposition, together with the government's failure, are giving birth to a looming disaster.





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