Political Violence Nothing Ever Changes
M Abul Kalam Azad
The murder of Sanaullah Noor Babu in Natore on October 8 and the subsequent blame game between the two main political parties, Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) are continuing to be the epitome of the sorry state of Bangladesh's political culture.
Intolerance has become the formula for political rivalry. The brutal killing of a young municipality chairman, also a BNP leader by ruling AL activists in broad daylight and in front of hundreds of on-lookers is testimony to this. The violence has gone both ways. Similar killings of AL leaders had also taken place in the country during past BNP regimes. With the unabated trend of confrontational, violence-ridden politics, the public's desire for visible reforms in the political culture remains a distant reality.
Sanaullah Noor Babu
What makes it worse is the denial of the AL's leadership that her own party activists committed the crime. Despite eye-witness accounts and even video footage of the crime, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's allusion that Babu could have very well been a victim of intra-BNP strife is a bad omen for our democratic future. As the chief of ruling AL her statement on just about anything sets the tone of how the entire party will handle it; the same also goes in the case of her arch rival, BNP chief Khaleda Zia, who has the habit of issuing cavalier statements, never missing an opportunity to berate her rival regardless of whether her allegations are based on facts. This practice of denial and compulsive attacking each other has widened the chasm between the country's two major political parties.
In the case of Natore, a tiny district in Rajshahi division, AL and BNP has always chosen the path of confrontation with at least 20 known political killings since independence. Babu was the latest victim. Before him, it was Master Zakir, who was also killed in an AL attack in a BNP motorcade in Shingra in May this year.
Babu had rivals within
Unlike other politicians in Boraigram, Babu took up a different approach to becoming popular. Aggressive and overbearing at times, he always tried to remain in the limelight. Overconfident of not becoming the target of his political rivals, he aimed at becoming a lawmaker in the next election. His ambition, apparently cost him his life.
A Star investigation reveals Babu has been inviting trouble from within and outside the party. He was only 39 but did not give much importance to the opinions of his local party seniors and their opinions, while AL leaders did not like his over-enthusiasm in local politics.
Months before his death, he became very vocal against drug peddling, extortion and the law and order slide in Boraigram which enraged the local ruling party leaders. He used to arrange party programmes against the consent of his party colleagues. He also did not heed to the warnings of the ruling party after AL assumed office. He did the same on October 8, leading a party procession at Bonpara bazaar despite being threatened of a potential attack by his rivals.
Despite Babu being on amicable terms with local AL leader KM Zakir Hossain Zakir his procession came under attack in the presence of Zakir, who later became the main accused in the murder case. Witnesses said when his procession neared the AL men, Zakir warned him to leave, but Babu was determined to go on.
More than 100 AL, Jubo League and Chhatra League activists attacked the procession with lethal weapons at Bonpara bazar, killing Babu and badly injuring 20 others, including four journalists. Locals at the bazar on the Dhaka-Rajshahi highway said Babu had helped Zakir when BNP cadres kidnapped Zakir's father, freedom fighter Ainal Haq from his Bonpara house, and tortured him to death in 2002. Boraigram BNP president Ekramul Alam, who was apparently Babu's main rival in local BNP politics, and the then deputy minister Ruhul Quddus Talukder Dulu, blamed for many attacks and atrocities during the last regime of BNP-led government, allegedly led the abductors. The abductors also torched 40 houses and barred AL activists and the bereaved family members to attend freedom fighter's namaz-e-janaza. Ainal was also the chairman of Majhgram union parishad.
The politics of violence looms large in our political horizon. Photo: Azahar Uddin
Ainal's murder was committed hours after Bonpara municipality Swechchhasebok Dal president Alam was killed in Bonpara in which Zakir, the then information and research secretary of the Natore district AL, was allegedly involved. However, many locals claimed Alam's killing was a sequel to a family feud but BNP had cashed in on it to carry out the attack.
Ekramul was furious at Babu for not following his command. "Babu did cadre-based politics for Dulu without following my direction. Our feud was on this point," Ekramul told The Star in his Bonpara house. He said Babu used to organise party programmes, sidelining him.
"Babu was hot-headed and should not have brought out the procession when the Awami League men were ready with sticks," Ekram said, adding, Babu organised the procession inviting Dulu as the chief guest.
Asked why Babu was killed, he said Babu was inviting AL men to hit him on that day. Dulu said he also requested Babu not to bring out the procession. "I was on the way to Bonpara to attend Babu's programme. When I got the information that AL might attack, I called him over cell phone and asked him to cancel the programme. But Babu said nothing will happen," said Dulu.
In the 2006 municipality election, Babu defeated party-nominated Ekramul and became an independent chairman. Locals say that Babu and Ekramul did not even look at each other for years.
Ekramul remained silence during the caretaker government and after AL formed government in January 2009 and hardly came out of house after BNP was defeated in the last parliamentary elections. But he came to Bonpara Bazar the next day Babu was killed.
Starngely enough several months ago Babu used surprised the people in Bonpara, the upazila headquarters situated on Dhaka-Rajshahi highway, by announcing through loudspeakers in the bazaar that he had been receiving death threats on his cell-phone. He did it for several days but never informed the police.
In 1996, he formed "Lathi-Bashi Bahini" in Bonpara to protest against various activities of his rival Ekramul Alam including extortion and harassment. He abandoned his campaign after Dulu asked him to, according to sources.
Babu had more enemies in his own party than in AL. Many leaders were jealous about his rising popularity amongst the locals.
MP's remarks upset probe
AL lawmaker (Baraigram-Gurudaspur) Abdul Quddus at a rally at Bonpara Bazar after the Babu murder told his party men, accused in the murder case, not to be worried since the party in power. He claimed no AL man was involved in the killing but blamed BNP for it.
Local AL leaders at the rally warned the law enforcers not to raid their houses and harass them in the name of searching the accused. One of them also asked party men to tie up the law enforcers if they raid their houses. Such outrageous statements have seriously hampered the hunt for the suspected killers.
More than a month after his murder, Babu’s family members still search for justice. Photo: Azahar Uddin
Babu's wife Mohuya Noor Kochi couldn't believe Zakir killed her husband. "Babu helped Zakir and others in various ways. Was this the return?" she asked. Mohuya believes her husband was killed due to his rising popularity. "His ultimate target was to become a lawmaker in the next election and he was working accordingly," she told The Daily Star.
“The Prime Minister has got justice of the killing of her father. I believe she will also ensure trial of those who killed my husband,” she said although she asaid she felt quite insecure and disheartened by the remarks of the MP and the PM.
"The video footages are the evidence. Everyone knows who killed my husband in broad daylight," added, Kochi, who filed a murder case with Baraigram Police Station naming 27 persons and some 20 unnamed for murdering her husband.
In its electoral pledges titled "A Charter for Change" which contributed to AL's overwhelming victory in the December 29, 2008 general election, the party promised to change the political culture of violence. But the ruling Awami League is yet to make a move to formulate a code of conduct for political parties in line with its electoral pledge to bring changes in the country's political culture and establish good governance. During AL's 22 months in office, the country's politics seems to have regained its old look in intolerance, unlawful activities by ruling party men, lax observance of democratic practices within major political parties and parliament boycott by opposition parties.
"Tolerance and decency will be developed in the political culture and criminal activities and extortions will be banned. Efforts will be taken to formulate a code of conduct acceptable to all," reads the AL electoral manifesto.
It also pledged reforms for ensuring democratic practices within parties and promised to take all measures necessary to make the House more effective. But in the view of the prevailing political situation, political analysts predict that the way both AL and BNP are engaged in confronting each other clearly signals that the political culture has not changed at all.
Zakir claimed innocence and said he could not have harmed Babu since he had no feud with him. He also claimed that he tried to save Babu from the attackers. In an interview with The Star over telephone, the prime accused in Babu murder case, Zakir Hossain said he would come out of hiding and surrender before the court to prove his innocence.
He said he wouldn't hesitate to walk the gallows if his involvement in the murder was proved. "I'm sure the murder charge against me will be withdrawn if a neutral probe is carried out,” said Zakir, a member of Bonpara Awami League's executive body. Zakir said he was not on bad terms with Babu. “We weren't political rivals. Why would I kill him?”
Babu was always very desperate to bring himself into focus, added Zakir. “His [Babu's] main rivals were his party colleagues," he said, adding Babu had filed a general diary with Baraigram Police Station two months back alleging his life was under threat. "Babu hinted his party rivals might kill him."
He said people of Bonpara had become angry with Babu for inviting BNP leader and former deputy minister Dulu to a programme on October 8. "The main reason behind the death will surface if those, who had taken him from one hospital to another, are interrogated," said Zakir. Asked why Babu was killed, Zakir said “BNP wanted to create a situation in Bonpara to destroy the image of Awami League and local ruling party lawmaker."
Zakir added another reason [behind the killing] was to stop the trial of his father's killing. About the video footage that shows AL men beating Babu, he said they were there to stop the incident. He declined he was maintaining contacts with party high-ups.
While the AL and the local MP are trying to portray the murder of BNP leader Babu as a sequel to BNP's internal feud, the investigators are certain that the ruling party activists had committed the offence.
Investigation officer (IO) of the case Sub-Inspector Abdul Hannan of Detective Branch told The Daily Star several times after the murder that he has specific evidence that proves the involvement of prime accused Zakir Hossain and other accused in the killing.
"The fact is clear like daylight. I have enough evidence against the accused but they are now hiding to escape arrests," the IO said.
Eyewitnesses of the killing, on condition of anonymity, also spoke against Zakir to The Daily Star.
One such witness at Bonpara Bazar said Zakir led a group of around hundred ruling party activists on October 8. When the procession approached the Bonpara Bazar, Zakir's group attacked the rally with sticks and other weapons and beat up the people in the procession at random. He said Babu was surrounded by the group and was beaten up for 15 minutes until he collapsed. Video footage of the incident clearly shows many ruling party activists beating Babu mercilessly.
When MP Abdul Quddus was asked whether he was trying to protect the killers, he said, "As a journalist you may ask the question, but many people, who were not in Bonpara that day, were accused in the case. Zakir and others were trying to save Babu." When asked who killed him, Quddus's reply was: "I can't say that since it is a matter of investigation now."
Asked whether he backed Zakir's criminal activities, the MP became very angry and said a journalist should not taunt a politician in such a manner. "He [Zakir] comes from a good family and is not involved with criminal activities," Quddus said.
Although AL general secretary Syed Ashraful Islam has assured that the persons involved in the killing will be identified through video footage and brought to trial, police so far managed to arrest one accused, Chhatra League worker Rappu.
A day after the killing, Inspector General of Police Hassan Mahmood Khandker told The Star they had already identified the suspected killers and ascertained the motive for the murder. The law enforcers were trying their best to arrest the killers, he claimed.
People from all walks of life in Natore firmly believe that the political culture will not be changed unless the party's top/central leaders change their mind-set and shun the path of vengeance towards their rivals.
“The leaders and activists in the rural areas just follow what their seniors, policymakers are saying. This determines the political behaviour of the local politicians no matter whether they are belong to the ruling party or in the opposition,” said an AL leader in Bonpara.
Professor Moin Uddin Ahmed, a teacher of Natore Nawab Sirajuddulla Govt. College, believes the culture of confrontation and killing will continue, as there is no tolerance among political leaders, particularly the central ones.
“The way the central leaders unleashed attacks against each other with their heated statements, help their leaders and activists at the grass-roots level to get confused and tensed,” he said.
The teacher and many others in Natore fear that the killing incident, like many others in the past, will be lost in the doldrums.
KM ZAKIR HOSSAIN
A member of Boraigram Upazila unit AL, Zakir had taken control of Baraigram upazila soon after his party won the parliamentary elections in December 2008.
Backed by local MP Quddus, he managed to establish total control over the local politics, tender manipulation, extortion and land grabbing.
But he does not do it directly. He leads a large group comprised of leaders and activists of Jubo League, Swechchhasebok League and Chhatra League to unleash his illegal actions, locals say.
“Zakir is the all in all in Bonpara since the local MP gave him the power to deal with every affair here,” said a hotelier in Bonpara Bazar.
“He (Zakir) is now the godfather of Baraigram,” a shop-keeper at the bazaar told The Star, adding that Zakir, his two brothers and party leaders have joined hands to rule the upazila.
Zakir has a large family in Mohishabhanga village near Bonpara Bazaar, which is also a source of his strength. Although he is involved in various illegal activities, he tries to compensate that with the killing of his father, freedom fighter Ainal Haq, who was allegedly murdered by BNP activists on March 28, 2000.
His mother Jahanara Begum was not ready to accept the allegations against her son. “I can't believe my son is an extortionist and involve in Babu's killing,” said Jaahanara, who lost her husband to the violent politics.
“Babu used to visit our house regularly. He was very respectful to me and sought doa from me whenever we met,” she said at her Bonpara residence.
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