Vol. 5 Num 1112 Tue. July 17, 2007  
Front Page

27 years in politics no cakewalk for her

Awami League (AL) President Sheikh Hasina was arrested and put under house arrest many times before, between 1983 and 1990, for her stance against the erstwhile military ruler and for her role in the fight for restoring democracy in the country.

During the current regime of the military backed caretaker government, Hasina, also an ex-prime minister, faced restrictions on her movement and was virtually confined to her Sudha Sadan residence for few days prior to her latest arrest yesterday following her scathing criticisms of the interim government's activities.

After being detained yesterday, the AL president reiterated that the current government is playing with the people's right to franchise. "My fault is that I sought voting rights for the people," Hasina told a Dhaka court in her submission following her arrest.

Soon after the formation of the current caretaker government, Hasina lauded its anti-corruption drive, but the government's restriction on her returning home from abroad following filing of an extortion case against her, extremely annoyed her and she started criticising the government's initiatives.

Later the government imposed a restriction on her again by barring her from going to visit her expecting daughter in the USA and virtually kept her confined to her Sudha Sadan residence following filing of another extortion case against her.

At the same time the government was creating pressure on Hasina to retire from politics, while she was also facing tremendous pressure within the party from some senior leaders who had started criticising her 'autocratic' leadership, proposing to bring reforms to the party.

On the other hand, some other senior leaders of the party including the AL general secretary, known as loyal to Hasina, had already been detained making Hasina more isolated.

Amid such a situation Hasina recently blasted the military intelligence accusing it of administering torture on detained political leaders, and plotting to break up established political parties.

Referring to the military takeover of 1975 and the High Court judgment declaring the takeover as illegal, the AL president yesterday said, "To satisfy political ambitions of individuals, similar tactics are being adopted again at the expense of public sufferings."

Hasina, who had been elected the president of AL in absentia in 1980 in a bid to unite the party, returned home and took charge of the party in 1981.

"If a person is afraid of death, life has no dignity," Hasina told Newsweek on May 11, 1981 when she was elected the president of AL while in exile.

She also said she was neither afraid of being killed nor deterred by the strength of the government she would face.

Returning home, Hasina proved her resolve by strengthening a movement against the erstwhile military ruler, which at its zenith forced the autocratic ruler to step down paving the way for restoration of democracy in 1990.

She successfully made AL united under her leadership and took the party to power in 1996 after 21 years of being the opposition since 1975.

Hasina and her younger sister Rehana escaped a bloody coup on August 15, 1975, which assassinated her father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and most of her family members, as they were abroad at the time. But the military backed rulers, who usurped the state power following the first bloody coup of the country, forced them to remain in exile by imposing restrictions on their return home till 1981.

Hasina survived over a dozen assassination attempts with the latest and the most dreaded one being the grenade attack on an AL rally on August 21, 2004 on Bangabandhu Avenue in the capital while she was addressing it protesting the rise of Islamist militancy under the patronisation of the then four-party alliance government led by BNP.

Several dedicated party leaders and activists managed to save their leader by forming a human shield, but the attack left 22 AL leaders and activists killed and over two hundred injured including many maimed. Hasina herself suffered an ear injury in the attack.

Several other attempts were also made to assassinate her in the last two decades while she was leading street agitations. Hasina recently told The Daily Star that a conspiracy was afoot to eliminate her politically after failing to eliminate her physically.

Within 10 months of her return home in 1981, the then army chief, HM Ershad, usurped the state power through a military coup and declared martial law. Hasina led her party to forming a 15-party coalition and to joining a strong movement against the military rule.

In February 1983, military intelligence picked her up and took her to Dhaka Cantonment blindfolded and kept her confined for 15 days. After that she was kept confined to her residence on several occasions.

In February and November in 1984, Hasina was put under house arrests twice. She was again confined to her residence for three months from March 1985.

In 1987, when she was leading a siege to the Bangladesh Secretariat sitting inside her sports utility vehicle, the police attempted to tow away her automobile with her being in it, but the attempt was foiled in the face of severe resistance from fellow demonstrators.

In October 1986, Hasina addressed a huge public rally in Bogra ignoring restrictions imposed against holding such rallies under the martial law. On her way to Rajshahi from Bogra, she was arrested again and forced to return to Dhaka

On November 27, 1990 Hasina was again put under house arrest after the declaration of a state of emergency by the autocratic Ershad government, but the government was forced to release her in the face of a mounting mass movement.

Hasina was briefly put under house arrest in Bangabandhu's Dhanmaondi residence along with her family members by the Pakistani army also, during the nine-month liberation war which ended with Bangladesh's independence in December 1971.