Vol. 5 Num 530 Wed. November 23, 2005  
Front Page

Grand rally vows for secular democracy
Hasina asks govt to step down; leaders pledge to ban communal politics; say no participation in elections without reforms

Despite the government's last-ditch attempts to prevent people from joining the 14-party opposition grand rally, the city's Paltan Maidan yesterday turned into a human sea, where top opposition leaders pledged to establish a secular democratic government after dislodging the BNP-Jamaat-led coalition through a mass upsurge.

Amidst thunderous claps and repeated slogans rising from the mammoth gathering, the opposition line-up spelled out a 23-point common minimum national programme, which is virtually its election manifesto.

The opposition combine comprising Awami League (AL), left 11-party alliance, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) and National Awami Party (NAP) committed to free the country including all levels of its government and administration of the extreme communal and militant forces. It also pledged to try the war criminals of 1971 and impose a ban on communal politics.

AL General Secretary Abdul Jalil read out the 23-point national programme, which vowed to separate the judiciary from the executive, bring the perpetrators of all bomb and grenade blasts to book, hold direct elections to women's reserved seats in parliament and award independence to state-owned radio and television channels.

The opposition combine also promised to hold elections to district and upazila councils within one year into coming to office, present accounts of assets of ministers, lawmakers and politicians, reopen closed mills and factories, set a minimum wage for workers and introduce an employment guarantee scheme.

The common national programme envisages using gas and coal for national interest and ensuring national energy security. It also promises to set up a regulating body to keep essentials' prices within the consumers' reach.

The opposition leaders at the rally declared not to participate in any election without reforms in the caretaker government system and the Election Commission.

The government took every measure to turn Dhaka into a city under siege to keep opposition activists and supporters at bay. The police and ruling alliance cadres intercepted people heading for the rally at different points in and outside the capital while BNP musclemen chased and assaulted scores of others in presence of law enforcers, despite the government claim of a foolproof security to ensure peaceful holding of the rally.

Besides the countrywide transport strike imposed by the BNP-backed transport leaders obstructing people from coming to the city, the river routes were also blocked and BNP cadres reportedly led by Keraniganj police barred boats and other vessels from plying towards Sadarghat.

But, braving the strike, blockages and harassment by the police and ruling alliance cadres, hundreds of thousands of people poured into the biggest opposition rally in recent time chaired by Leader of the Opposition in Parliament and AL President Sheikh Hasina. Traffic movement in the city almost came to a standstill as people joined the rally in waves of processions since noon.

In her speech Hasina asked the government to immediately step down, admitting its failures. She accused the ruling BNP and its partner Jamaat-e-Islami of patronising Islamist militant groups and thereby turning Bangladesh into a failed state.

The AL chief asked her party workers and supporters to identify and resist the militants in their localities.

She blasted the sporadic attacks launched on her party workers in different places to thwart people from coming to the rally. "The government has used the entire state mechanism to obstruct people from joining the rally, but failed," she said, adding, "People of Bangladesh once again proved that they don't know how to bow down to any dictator."

The opposition leader alleged 10,000 leaders and workers of the opposition combine have been arrested. The government also instructed certain transport workers union leaders to go on strike, put barricades on city roads and sealed off every entry point to Dhaka to thwart people from rallying in the capital. She also accused the government of using Rapid Action Battallion (Rab) to persecute opposition workers.

The AL chief described in detail how the alliance government crippled the economy, made parliament dysfunctional, politicised administration, ruined the judiciary, patronised criminals and their godfathers, and amassed ill-gain wealth.

"The government has proved its inability to govern the country ... there is no security of public life and people don't want such failed rulers to continue any more," Hasina claimed. She said, "Under this damned regime, people are living in perpetual panic."

In an oblique reference to Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, Hasina said, "Your time is running out... step down right away." The former prime minister accused her arch political rival of harbouring criminals and indulging in nepotism, corruption and politicisation.

She alleged 26,000 people have been killed in the last four years of coalition rule. Even children, women, journalists or the indigenous people have not been spared of the repression, she added.

"People will not tolerate this anymore... The days are not far when people will resist the hands dealing blows to opposition leaders and workers," she warned amid cheering of opposition workers and supporters carrying banners and festoons and shouting slogans demanding resignation of the Khaleda Zia's government.

Hasina also called upon the administration, police, Rab and others not to fall prey to the wrath of people by trying to protect what she termed the failed and terrorist government.

On the next general elections, Hasina asked people to be on alert, "Protect your right to vote as the present government is plotting to come back to power through another rigged election." She alleged the ongoing move to prepare a fresh voter list is a part of the ruling coalition's election doctoring scheme aimed at scrapping opposition supporters from the list.

Painting a gloomy picture of law and order, the opposition leader posed a question to the prime minister, "What had your special forces been doing when 500 bombs were exploded across the country simultaneously or when militants were killing judges?"

She categorically accused Khaleda Zia, her son Tarique Rahman, Jamaat Ameer and Industries Minister Matiur Rahman Nizami and State Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar of being involved in the bomb attacks. "Bomb blasts will end if the police arrest and interrogate these people," she said.

Speaking on the price spiral of essentials, Hasina alleged ruling alliance loyalists earn fast money when people suffer due to price hike. She also wondered how the prime minister's family has become one of the richest families of the country over only a few years, especially when it was told that Ziaur Rahman had left nothing behind for his family.

The AL president alleged the family members of Khaleda Zia have amassed huge illegal wealth through corruption and have smuggled that abroad. But, she declared, "Wherever you deposit that money, we will bring it back."

Describing the success of her 1996-2001 government, Hasina said, "We brought peace and prosperity to the country... It achieved food autarky in our term."

The former prime minister was also critical of the huge expenditures for holding the 13th Saarc Summit and said, "The government has expended crores of taka in the name of Saarc Summit when people have been dying from starvation." She claimed, "It wanted to hide the country's dismal situation under an artificial make-up."

Gono Forum President Dr Kamal Hossain said people want to see a change in the country's present miserable situation and the opposition parties have united to do that.

"We have united to bring the sick politics to an end," he said amid huge claps from the audience, adding, "Now is the time to say goodbye to this government."

"You have failed to deliver in every sector and you should quit immediately," he told the ruling coalition.

Dr Kamal expressed the hope of forming an active parliament and a pro-people government led by the 14-party line-up.

He said the very presence of hundreds of thousands of people in Paltan Maidan proves that the government could not foil the rally despite using all its machinery. "Holding rally is a democratic and constitutional right of people. But you have obstructed people from gathering at the rally," he said accusing the government.

On the opposition's common minimum programme, Kamal Hossain said, "We have issued this with a view to build a nation in line of the spirit of Liberation War and for the welfare of people."

The eminent jurist also came down heavily on the BNP-led alliance government for its various failures and crimes, including unbridled price hike of essentials, politicisation of the administration, corruption in all sectors, sheltering Islamist militants and extra-judicial killings.

Terming the participants of the rally representatives of the country's 14 crore people, Dr Kamal said, "This huge gathering proves that people of Bangladesh can unite against all kinds of repression to realise their just rights."

"Make this unity a force to oust this tyrant government," he urged.

He dedicated the unique programme of the 14-party to Bangabandhu, the four national leaders and the millions of Liberation War martyrs.

In his turn, Workers Party President Rashed Khan Menon announced that the opposition alliance would not allow any election without reform in the caretaker government and the Election Commission.

He alleged the present government has taken all preparations to return to power through another rigged ballot. "But, people are united and this time they will not give you any chance," he told the ruling coalition.

The left alliance leader pledged to carry out the common minimum programme spelled out from yesterday's rally if the opposition combine goes to power.

Addressing the rally, JSD President Hasanul Haq Inu urged people to join in the upcoming all-out opposition movement to force the BNP-Jamaat-led coalition to step down.

"This autocrat, communal and repressive government has no right to cling to power anymore," he said.

He called on the opposition leaders to turn the present opposition line-up into an electoral alliance to form a national government through the next election.

Abdur Razzak, Tofail Ahmed and Suranjit Sengupta of AL, Saifuddin Ahmed Manik of Gono Forum, Nurul Islam of Gonotantri Party, Dilip Barua of Samyabadi Dal and Amena Ahmed of NAP, among others, also spoke at the rally.

Awami League chief Sheikh Hasina, inset, addresses the grand rally of the 14-party opposition alliance at Paltan Maidan in the city yesterday. PHOTO: Shawkat Jamil