Pro-Liberation Forces on Offensive
A LAST-DITCH attempt by the BNP-Jama’at-e-Islami combine to lay a siege at capital city, Dhaka, on December 29 so as to force the Sheikh Hasina government to quit has fizzled out. A week before the Bangladesh parliamentary election --- that were scheduled to be held on January 5, 2014 --- Mrs Khaleda Zia, chairperson of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), called upon all the ‘able-bodied’ men to come to Dhaka on the day for what she called ‘March to Democracy.’ CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS: THE AIM This time, to avoid a recurrence of the May 5, 2013 blockade of Dhaka by another Islamic fundamentalist organisation, Hefajat-e-Islam, the government took a very firm stand this time. The police and administration did not permit the BNP-Jama’at-e-Islami combine to mobilise their people before the poll. The police and the paramilitary forces were deployed at all the entry points of the capital city and also in different sensitive areas. The government also, unofficially, cancelled passenger train movements, plying of buses and river vessels. Only a few hundred BNP and Jama’at-e-Islami (JI) supporters could assemble inside the national Press Club or in the Supreme Court premises. As police did not permit the meeting, they were prevented to proceed in the streets. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed described the so-called ‘March to Democracy’ as a ‘Destroy Democracy March’ that was aimed to jeopardise the parliamentary elections and create a constitutional crisis, thereby paving the way for a 2007 type military takeover. A frustrated BNP chairperson, Khaleda Zia, gave the call for an indefinite rail, road and waterways blockade from the first of January. Since the declaration of election schedule on November 26 last by the Election Commission, Khaleda Zia and her 18-party alliance called for a countrywide blockade no less than six times. The five-phase blockades in the past had already taken the life of about 150 people. Many of them were burnt alive as the cadres of the Jama’at-e-Islami and its student wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir, hurled petrol bombs on the running vehicles and trains. This inhuman and barbaric method of agitation frightened the people, as so many innocent passengers including women, children, physically handicapped people, transport workers, train drivers and others were burnt alive. This violent agitation wrought havoc upon the country. Three important examinations of school students like the secondary school leaving certificate exams, primary exams and annual exams were severely disrupted. Government properties worth hundreds of crores of takas, including rail engines, coaches, government buses and private vehicles were completely destroyed. More than 60,000 trees were felled in order to block the roads in different parts of the country. Peasants could not send vegetables and other agro produces in the market due to that blockade. The police and paramilitary forces recovered huge quantities of explosives including petrol bombs from Dhaka and other places and succeeded in arresting a number of Islami Chhatra Sibir cadres who confessed to the security forces that they were imparted training in making powerful explosives in Afghanistan by the fundamentalist terrorists there. The BNP and JI activists have been engaging the teenagers to attack the running vehicles with explosives by alluring them with some money. PEOPLE LAUNCH A COUNTER-OFFENSIVE On the other hand, many prominent intellectuals and artists as well as organisations of students, youth and women including the Gana Jagaran Mancha have been organising rallies, human chains and meetings against the burning of people in the name of agitation. Eminent cultural personality Kamal Lohani and many other intellectuals opined that the BNP-JI combine wants to convert Bangladesh into a Taliban country. At the same time the present government is determined to complete the trials of war criminals who were responsible for killings and mass killings of hundreds of innocent people and rape of women in collaboration with the Pakistani army during the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971. In this regard it is pertinent to mention here that after the hanging of Kader Mollah, one of the top leaders of JI on December 12 last, Pakistan’s National Assembly passed a resolution against this hanging and termed Kader Mollha as a great fighter for united Pakistan. The home minister of Pakistan, Nissar Ali Khan, also issued a public statement against the hanging of Kader Mollah. However, except the JI and BNP, all other political parties of Bangladesh as well as organisations of students, youth, lawyers, journalists, artists and others condemned the resolution adopted by the Pakistan parliament and demanded apology from Pakistan for interfering in the internal affairs of Bangladesh. They also demanded that the government of Bangladesh suspend diplomatic relations with Pakistan till the latter apologised for having adopted such a resolution. US MEDDLING IN BANGLADESH On its part, the Jama’at-e-Islami party of Bangladesh also issued a public statement on its website expressing gratitude to John Kerry, the US secretary of state, for his role in trying to prevent the execution of Kader Mollah. The statement also expressed hope that the government of the USA would do so in future too, as many top leaders of the Jama’at-e-Islami are at present in custody and are facing trial in the International Crimes Tribunal set up by the Sheikh Hasina government. The US administration and its ambassador to Bangladesh, Dan W Mazina, has been openly meddling in the internal political affairs of Bangladesh, particularly in the ongoing poll process. US secretary of state John Kerry made a phone call to the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, urging her to consider the cancellation of the present poll schedule as demanded by the BNP leaders. Ambassador Mazina has frequently been visiting the residence of BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia and openly questioning the ongoing poll process as the main opposition party is not in the fray. In her election meetings, prime minister Sheikh Hasina has been telling her countrymen that she had tried to bring all the political parties on board for smooth holding of the elections and had personally telephoned opposition leader Khaleda Zia for a dialogue on the formation of an election-time government, but that she never responded to her invitation to sit for a dialogue. Sheikh Hasina also said that the 14-party alliance led by her Awami League (AL) had made seat adjustments among themselves on the expected participation of opposition parties and had withdrawn the nominations of many candidates as per arrangements. However, as the main opposition parties did not field any candidate for the 300 member parliament, candidates are going to be elected unopposed in as many as 154 constituencies. The prime minister also said that if the main opposition party came to a common understanding with them, then mid-term elections can be held at any time after the present election process is over. She again appealed to the opposition parties not to kill innocent people in the name of agitation and invited them to work together to strengthen the democratic institutions for the sake of all-round development of Bangladesh. But Khaleda Zia seems not in a mood to stop the violent agitations and continued making virulent attacks on the prime minister. On December 29, while talking to newsmen in front of her residence, Khaleda Zia accused Sheikh Hasina that she was acting as the stooge of a foreign country and surrendering Bangladesh to them. Without naming India, Khaleda said Sheikh Hasina should remember what happened to Kazi Lengdhup Dorjee (the former chief minister of Sikkim). The Awami League’s presidium member Nur-ul-Alam Lenin told this special representative of People’s Democracy that in the present struggle the battle-line between the pro-liberation forces and the anti-liberation forces has been drawn. They are trying to mobilise all the secular and democratic political parties, groups and individuals to defeat the anti-liberation forces as in 1971. He said the Awami League and its allies would continue efforts to have a dialogue with the main opposition party, initiated by Oscar Fernandez Taranco, assistant secretary general of the UNO in the second week of December, and expressed the hope that it would lead the country to credible, free and fair elections as soon as they reach an agreement. In the meanwhile, the Election Commission has deployed about 50,000 army personnel in 59 districts to help the police and paramilitary forces in maintaining peace during the parliamentary elections. Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmed, chief election commissioner, said that the voters would be given protection and that the army would act as a force under the guidance of the executive magistrates. He also informed that 17 organisations including the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation and the Organisation of Islamic Conference have sent their poll observers to the country.