Anu Muhammad interviewed on camera by Shahidul Alam

374850 2239889119271 163205942 nShahidul Alam: It is alleged that you and the others are preventing the extraction of coal and the search for gas. How then do you expect the nation’s fuel and electricity problem to be solved?

Anu Muhammad: These statements are often put forward as part of the anti-movement propaganda. We are not opposed to the extraction of gas or coal. On the contrary. Our point is that these resources are limited, they are non-renewable, hence it is essential that their control should reside in the people of Bangladesh, that they should be extracted through environment friendly methods, that they should meet the electricity and fuel needs of the millions of Bangladeshi homes which need it the most.

In other words, the process of extracting Bangladesh’s natural resources—whether gas or oil or coal—should begin only after we know for certain that the last drop will be used for the benefit of Bangladeshis and not for the benefit of multinational companies (MNCs) and their national accomplices. Their motive is to plunder and make lots of money through exporting it, of course, they call it “development.” To phrase it differently, our movement aims at ensuring people’s control over national resources, these belong to the people, these should be used for industrialisation, for agricultural production, and for the fulfilment of people’s electricity and fuel consumption needs.

Shahidul Alam: Other countries in the world enter into contracts [similar to the PSC model in Bangladesh] for the extraction of oil and gas. According to government sources, we have neither qualified personnel nor the necessary technology, but the National Committee is creating confusion among the people—what is your response to this?

Anu Muhammad: It’s not correct that all countries enter into similar contracts. Look at the US. Its own gas and oil reserves are lying beneath its soil, untapped, while it lords over the oil, gas and coal wealth of other regions, while it wages wars against people, while it occupies the lands of others, while it does as it pleases.

And then you have the African countries. As a continent, Africa is the richest in natural resources but it’s people are the poorest and it is the most violence-ridden. These two facts are inter-related and it is this that has made the continent a victim of multinational companies and imperial domination. MNCs have been present in various African countries for the last hundred years or so but these countries have not gained freedom from poverty, nor have they gained control over their natural resources. On the contrary, a country like Nigeria, rich in oil resources, has exported vast quantities of oil abroad. Its oil wealth has led to the creation of a corrupt group and the increase of authoritarianism and poverty. This is a picture from Africa.

You will see different pictures elsewhere, for instance, if you look at China, or Malaysia, these countries have built up their own institutions and have asserted national control over their resources through these institutions. A different kind of example exists in the case of Venezuela and Bolivia. These countries were earlier like African countries but are now working towards building a future on the basis of political consensus and popular will, they are trying to exercise control over their natural resources. And while attempting to do this, they are forcing the foreign companies to agree to their terms and conditions, to sign new contracts with them. If the companies do not agree to this, they are kicking them out.

If any country wants to maintain control over its natural resources it needs the political will, and it needs to develop the institutional and technological skills. What [the Bangladesh government] keeps saying is that we do not have the technology, we do not have the skills. Well, obviously this does not develop overnight or fall from the skies. That is not how it happened in the case of those who are lording over the world now. If any country keeps repeating ad nauseum for decades on end that they have neither the skills nor the technology, obviously, that country has no future. What these powers do to occupy a nation is, you see this if you look at world history, they cultivate feelings of inferiority among the people, and if you keep thinking `we can’t do it,’ then you are likely to end up believing it. And the other thing that the powerful do is to make the nation’s rulers corrupt. Both these things have happened in Bangladesh.

[Besides demanding that Bangladeshi people should have control over the nation’s natural resources] our movement also aims at freeing people from this inferiority complex, from this invasion. It aims to make people think positively, to think that it is possible for the people of Bangladesh to assert control over its resources, to develop the skills needed. It is control that is most important—it is that which needs to be ensured—once you can ensure that you can always employ people with requisite skills from abroad, or you can seek the assistance of friendly neighbouring nations, those who sincerely want to help us.

But the present trend of handing over control of natural resources to multinational companies, if this trend is not reversed, we will end up like Nigeria. If we cannot stop it, our resources will be used by the MNCs, they will profit from our resources, and we will not be able to get out of this intolerable situation, that exists in Bangladesh now.

Shahidul Alam: Myanmar and India are claiming area within our territorial waters. In this situation, the government says that leasing-out the blocks will protect our land from being encroached on by our neighbours. How do you respond to the government’s contention?

Anu Muhammad: This is no less than outright dacoity, and it is being used as an excuse. Our maritime boundaries are very important for our future as a nation. Bangladesh has more territory offshore than onshore. But previous governments have been highly irresponsible in asserting the nation’s sovereignty and authority over its maritime boundaries, in preparing documents, putting forward its territorial claims, in raising this issue in international forums. As a result, India and Myanmar are claiming that two-thirds of Bangladesh’s maritime land is theirs. If they can establish their claims then Bangladesh will no longer have any access to the Indian ocean, it will effectively become landlocked But instead of working hard to clarify its maritime boundaries—in a situation where India and Myanmar’s battleships are to be seen—what is the Bangladesh government doing? It is awarding offshore blocks to US companies so that they can export the gas to foreign countries. And the “foreign country” that they wish to export to is no other than India. India’s present plans for electricity production are focused on gas reserves in the Bay of Bengal. This will benefit companies belonging to the US, India, China and Myanmar while we in Bangladesh will lose control over our offshore natural resources that hold the promise of carving a different future for us as a nation. The Bay of Bengal and its resources, the demarcation of boundaries, the issue of sovereignty, these are all uncertain at present. And the leasing out of the three blocks are related to this uncertainty.

Shahidul Alam: The model PSC (Production Sharing Contract) 2008 had been on the website for a year. Why didn’t you comment on it then or advance any programme?

Anu Muhammad: It’s not true that we didn’t say anything then. The PSC 2008 model was designed during the caretaker government regime. It was uploaded on the net to facilitate international bidding, not to elicit comments or responses from members of the public. It is not as if bidding proceeded after comments were incorporated. Not at all. It was made available on the net to facilitate the bidding of multinational companies. We began talking about Bangladesh’s maritime boundaries from 2007 onwards. It is of utmost importance that these boundaries are fixed. If this is not done we will end up losing control not only over our offshore natural resources, but over maritime territory as well. Secondly, Bangladesh is still suffering as a result of PSCs signed earlier. Bangladesh’s maritime territory has been divided into 28 blocks, if gas exploration is carried out, and if gas is found and extracted from these blocks, we will be worse off. We need only 200-300 crore taka annually to make Bapex—a national institution—strong. It is absurd that the Bangladesh government does not have this amount of money, that it does not have the 75 crore taka to buy oil rigs, but that it can spend 3,000 crore taka in subsidies each year to buy gas from foreign companies, that the government is then not short of money. Strange, huh?

It is because of the PSC that instead of economic development taking place, we are going through this big crisis, and the price of gas and electricity has increased which has had a terrible impact on the economy as a whole. People are deeply worried about the rise in prices, and one of the main reasons for this rise is the oil-gas contracts. And that is why we [the National Committee] have insisted that history should not be allowed to repeat itself, that only such PSCs should be entered into which has the consent of the people. Third, we have calculated and found out that to ensure energy security for Bangladesh for the next 50 years—even at an estimated annual growth rate of 6%—we need 110 TCF gas. At present Bangladesh has 7-8 TCF gas. If we calculate the energy value of our coal it stands at 35-40 TCF gas. This means that in order to gain access to the needed 60-70 TCF gas we will have to rely fully on the Bay of Bengal reserves. And this is why—because we want to ensure energy security for Bangladesh for the next 50 years—we cannot afford to enter into export-oriented contracts. Foreign companies will always exert pressure for the inclusion of export clauses because selling energy on the international market reaps them bigger profits.

We have been repeatedly saying this since the caretaker government regime. We held press conferences during the emergency period. We organised dialogues around the country, handed a memorandum to the chief adviser. These activities helped mobilise public opinion which is why the caretaker government was not able—even though it tried desperately—to sign these contracts. After the advent of the elected government, we placed these arguments in front of the government so that they do not commit these mistakes. But this elected government, instead of spending its resources and energy on solving the crises facing the people, instead of ridding the nation of poverty, is concentrating on handing over the nation’s resources to foreign companies. And that is why we are repeating what we had said during the caretaker government period.

Shahidul Alam: One comes across the claim in different newspapers that if the National Committee had not waged the movement against the extraction of coal in Phulbari, our electricity problem would have been solved by now. How do you respond to that?

Anu Muhammad: This too is incorrect and is part of the propaganda against our movement. If coal extraction had begun, say, if there had been no resistance in 2006 and they had begun extraction in 2007, they would not have reached production stage until 2014-15. And very little of the coal extracted would have been used for electricity production within Bangladesh. Hardly any. Seventy five to eighty percent would have been exported abroad.

In the case of Phulbari coal project, 94% ownership would have been vested in the hands of Asia Energy, Bangladesh would have only 6% royalty, and she would have to build quite a lot of infrastructure with that royalty money. These would include rail lines for exporting coal abroad, building rail lines from Phulbari to Mongla. Our point is that Bangladesh would not have exercised control over the coal that was to be extracted, neither would its export have benefited us financially. On top of everything, the method of coal extraction would have greatly harmed cultivable land in that area.

This area in Dinajpur is very fertile, it is also free of natural disasters. It is one of the areas which steadily supplies food crops to Bangladesh. Also, it is less poverty-stricken than other areas in the north. The steady supply of food would definitely have closed down if the cultivable land had been destroyed, which of course is what happens in the case of open pit mining. Secondly, one of the renewable resources that Bangladesh is blessed with—and in vast quantities—is water. Open pit mining will adversely affect both surface-level and underground water resources. Underground water levels will surely fall dramatically. The loss of productivity of cultivable land and the destruction of people’s livelihood will directly affect a few crore people in Bangladesh. Desertification is sure to occur, and along with it, pollution of surface level water as well. It is not correct to view Bangladesh’s water resources as inanimate. Water is living matter, it sustains life and modes of living. The pollution of water will create problems in our drinking water, it will also affect our fish resources, and the diversity of life that exists in our ecology.

We lost lives in Phulbari. The tremendous resistance which took place in Phulbari is not only a great inspiration for the people of Bangladesh, it is so for people the world over. It has protected the nation from incurring great losses and destruction. These projects of “destruction” are termed “development” projects by the government, by the MNCs and the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and by their consultants. The peoples movement has revealed very clearly that these programs for development are nothing else but programmes of death and destruction.

Shahidul Alam: According to the model PSC 2008 the IOC (international oil company) will first make an offer to Petrobangla. If they decline, the IOC will offer to sell it on the national market. If this offer is not taken up, only then will gas be exported. But the government says that you have chosen to overlook these features and create a stir. How do you respond to this?

Anu Muhammad: We have analysed the clauses and sub-clauses of the model PSC 2008. We were not very surprised at what’s in it because the MNCs work hard to get such contracts signed in different countries particularly in those countries where they have a strong support base among the government, the bureaucracy and among consultants. The clauses and sub-clauses are always what the MNCs want it to be.

The contract says, the gas extracted will be offered to Bangladesh, meaning to Petrobangla. If Petrobangla refuses only then will it be offered to a third party which means it will be exported abroad. But there is another clause, and this is generally not mentioned. A sub-clause under clause no 15.5.4 clearly says that ‘Where Petrobangla (which represents Bangladesh) has installed necessary facilities to transport and use gas to meet domestic requirements, Petrobangla shall be entitled at its option to retain in kind any Natural Gas produced upto Petrobangla’s share of Profit Natural Gas, but in no event more than twenty percent (20%) of the total marketable Natural Gas.’ Therefore, in effect, ownership of 80% will reside with the foreign company. Secondly, if Bangladesh wants any of the 80% she will have to buy it from the company. But the model PSC does not mention any viable means of transportation of gas in favour of Bangladesh.

Clause no 16 states they have the ‘right to construct’ pipeline/s. Now pipelines imply oil, this means that there is a likelihood of oil being discovered in these blocks, and probably other things as well. If there is provision for pipelines, if converting to LNG offshore is too expensive then it is quite likely that it will be done on land, that the conditions which we find in the gas PSCs will be replicated in the new contracts as well. This means that they will export it after converting it to LNG. The contract states that Petrobangla is responsible for creating the infrastructure but it does not make economic sense for Petrobangla to build expensive pipelines in return for only 20% of the share. It won’t be cost effective. There’s another thing that I’d like to point out here because it’s very relevant: over the last ten years we have seen the departmental files in Petrobangla and Energy ministry move and proceed according to the wishes and desires of the MNCs. This happened during the Magurcchora and Tengratila blowouts, it happened when Lauwacchora was devastated by Chevron, yet again when Asia Energy was creating havoc in Phulbari, and then again when Cairn Energy kept increasing cost recovery and the Bangladesh government agreed without a single murmur. Or when Chevron or Cairn Energy want permission to sell gas to a third party even though Bangladeshi power plants and factories are desperate for gas.

But Bapex was selling per thousand cft gas at 7 taka, while foreign company’s were selling it at more than 210 taka in foreign currency. After much discussion and protests, it was agreed that the 7 taka would be increased to 25 taka, but this file did not move as quickly. Bapex is supposed to buy an oil rig, this file too does not move. But whenever the MNCs want to get something done, the files in Petrobangla and in the Energy ministry seem to run around. This is not unique to Bangladesh, it is common to third world countries. And this is why we are worried that when it will be time for Petrobangla to build the infrastructure, the treasury will either run out of money or Petrobangla will not have the requisite skills to get the work done!

Because the contract does not make these MNCs liable it is certain that 80% will be exported. It will be difficult for Petrobangla to bring in the remaining 20% for national consumption. We will suddenly find everyone among the government-company block agreeing to its export, including those who are now saying all of it won’t be exported. By then consultants will have been created who will repeatedly inform us in seminars, workshops and TV talk shows about how Bangladesh will benefit from gas export. And once gas starts being exported, once it becomes the norm we will no longer be able to retain any control over a resource that is crucial for a better future for Bangladesh. Moreover, there will always be a mismatch between the production of gas and its domestic demand because the objective of MNCs is to realise the greatest profit in the shortest possible time by extracting the highest level of gas whereas Bangladesh’s interest lies in using it as long as possible.

Shahidul Alam: We have seen conflicting reports about the incidents of 2nd September. According to the administration, the police was forced to conduct a lathi charge to protect themselves because the processionists had provoked them. According to the administration, you did not have the permission to hold a rally. What actually happened on that day?

Anu Muhammad: The September 2 Petrobangla gherao (siege) had been announced only after we had undertaken other programmes. I have already mentioned that we put forth specific proposals after this government came to power. We spoke with Subid Ali Bhuiyan, the head of the parliamentary standing committee on energy, and other government representatives on different occasions, in public programmes and television programmes. They told us, `If you put forth specific proposals we will consider them.’ We clearly said why we think the model PSC 2008 is against our national interest, we pointed out the specific clauses which should be rejected, why a new energy policy should be drafted.

And besides all this, for the last couple of months we conducted dialogues, discussion programmes and press conferences demanding among other things the implementation of the Phulbari agreement that had been signed between the government and the people of Phulbari after the uprising—Asia Energy has not been expelled yet, the Phulbari Coal project has not been formally withdrawn yet. All our programmes were aimed at placing these issues before the government. At one stage we realised that the government was going ahead with the model PSC 2008 and that Asia Energy was as active as before. We then organised a road march from Dhaka to Cox’s Bazar. Through this we galvanised the people, and we mobilised public opinion.

Several people who belong to this movement, who are experts, wrote in the press, they tried to attract the attention of the government, they explained and analysed the meanings of the clauses and sub-clauses. But this did not seem to work, on the contrary, we saw Petrobangla officials working very hard to get the contract signed soon. And that is why we called for the siege of Petrobangla. We said, Petrobangla seems to have turned into a MNC base, it no longer represents the wishes of the people. And that is why we called for the gherao, to let people know that this institution—a national one—has turned into a turncoat. We wanted to deliver a message to Petrobangla, you cannot do this, you have no right to do this. That was our objective. We had planned to proceed peacefully to Petrobangla, to hold a rally there. We were a thousand strong, largely students, both boys and girls.

Before the rally began, the DC of Motijheel police came and spoke to me. It was all very clear, and he told me that the police would cooperate. We said, we have no problems with that. We want to convey our message to the government through peaceful means, we think that the contracts are against the public interest and should not be signed, I told him that we are not out to create disorder, that if the police cooperated everything would end peacefully. He gave me his word, and instructed his ADC to see to it that everything was peaceful. If we had not taken permission would the DC police have come and spoken to us?

Then, when our procession had crossed the GPO roundabout, gone to Zero Point and was returning we saw that the police had put a barricade right next to Muktangon. We were supposed to go 5-7 km further from the police barricade. We found it quite provocative, putting this barricade right here. But we kept walking, we had probably advanced about a 100-150 yards, less than halfway down Bijoynagar road when we saw the police, they looked very aggressive. I ran ahead to the front of the procession and asked everyone to sit down. It was right then that the police attacked us. The journalists were there, so there is no way of denying what actually happened. There were video cameras, still photographers, journalists. If you look at the images you can see for yourself that the attack was pre-planned, these were targeted attacks. Although the government is saying that there had been provocation from our side they will not be able to show a single photograph of a stone being thrown, of any kind of attack from our side. They have no such evidence. There was no reason, why we should provoke them?

It was the police who attacked us. After that it was the government which was quick to react. The Police Commissioner, the state minister for Home and other ministers went to the hospital to see me. They expressed their sorrow, they offered their apology, they gave statements to the press, they spoke of forming an investigation committee. They said, it had been a sabotage, that the attack was a conspiracy. But it seems that the investigation committee has not moved an inch. This indicates that the incident was pre-planned. They had probably thought that if they beat us up, got us scared, sent us to hospital, broke our legs, hurt us in the head, they would be able to crush the movement. But history says something different. Attacks or scare tactics never succeed in repressing the public.

Shahidul Alam: What is the logic behind calling a hartal (general strike) during the month of Ramzan?

Anu Muhammad: We had to call a hartal because, well, first, as you can see it was the government that was responsible for the 2nd September incident. The next day, on the 3rd, not only did different government ministers come to see me in hospital, they promised me, such as Motia Chowdhury, H T Imam, they told me very clearly that the prime minister would return on the 6th, that discussions would be held with the National Committee, that the rest of the steps taken by the government would not violate national interests. Towfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, the energy advisor, said that the matter would be discussed in parliament. We waited. According to programmes chalked out earlier, a procession was scheduled to go to the prime minister’s office on the 10th. We learnt on the 9th morning that the prime minister had returned on the 6th and had approved the file for signing the contract. This meant that the government was not paying heed to the people’s wishes. It meant that the government was not bothered by the question of protecting our national interests. It also meant that the government was breaking its promises.

We had not wanted to declare a hartal. We could have easily declared one soon after the 2nd, in protest against police brutality. Public response was very strong and the hartal would have been observed spontaneously. But we didn’t do that. However, when we saw on the 9th that the government had decided that its chief role was to protect the interests of the MNCs, we decided to call a hartal on the 14th to protect the interests of the nation. To protect her future.

If looting can take place in the month of Ramzan, if dacoity can be carried out, if steps can be taken to siphon off national wealth abroad, if corruption can take place, then why can’t one resist these actions in Ramzan? Actually I think what we are doing is in keeping with the spirit of Ramzan, that ours is responsible behaviour.

Shahidul Alam: According to government sources, the National Committee is announcing programmes to please the BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party). And besides, BNP leader Khaleda Zia had gone to visit you in hospital, they had also extended their support to the hartal. Will you please comment on this?

Anu Muhammad: Those who are aware of the history of the National Committee, who know about our activities, those who are even minimally committed to our demands of protecting Bangladesh’s national interests, cannot say such things. But those who work in favor of MNC interests in Bangladesh, they feel called upon to create all kinds of lies and falsehoods so that they can confuse members of the public. I remember that we had similar encounters with the BNP government. After all, we have been working for the last ten years. We have seen an Awami League government, a 4 party alliance government, then the caretaker government, and now, the grand alliance government led by the Awami League.

Khaleda Zia [leader of the present opposition] may well come to the hospital to see me but the issues that arose during her tenure as prime minister still remain unresolved. During the Phulbari movement the alliance government’s BDR—encharged with law and order—had fired on us. Three protestors had been killed. At that time, Sheikh Hasina had expressed her respect toward the Phulbari agreement, had supported the movement, had pressed the government to implement the agreement by scrapping the project, prohibiting open pit method and ousting Asia energy. We had called a hartal then to protest the killings, Sheikh Hasina had supported it. And although the Awami League MP had not even been present in the area when the protests had taken place, the-then energy advisor Mahmudur Rahman had tried his best to manufacture rumors that the AL was behind our movement.

Now that the AL is in power, it is saying that the BNP is behind us. But our main agenda is not the government as such. It’s the conditions in the contract. It’s about getting rid of hindrances so as to ensure peoples control over national resources, it is about developing a popular force against such contracts, it is against such a system, against the policies and institutions which prevent Bangladeshi control of its own resources. Our objective is to create resistance, to inititiate changes in the present system. And it is in this connection that we are working to publicise all contracts that have been entered into by governments since the Ershad regime. Our work is to understand where lies the public interest in each contract. We have also seen that the BNP and the AL often quarrel with each other, this leads members of the public to think that there is deep enmity between them. Often you will hear members of civil society saying that the nation’s future would be a rosy one if both leaders would only unite.

But in reality—even though quarrels may exist over some issues—a deep unity exists between them over the anti-people clauses in the contract. Khaleda Zia says we have her moral support. But she does not clearly say what she supports. She does not say that she opposes the contract, or the leasing-out of blocks. However, we noticed that a day after she visited me in hospital, the US ambassador met her and she has since been silent on this issue. Now it may well be the case that the opposition is extending their support to the movement to gain political capital, if that is the case, it is up to the AL to ensure that the BNP is not able to do this. If the government plays its role responsibly then we, I mean, the National Committee doesn’t have to go to the trouble of building up movements, or of poring through contracts.

Shahidul Alam: According to some, the expenses incurred by the movement has increased recently. Some intellectuals have raised questions about this in the media. Would you please respond to this?

Anu Muhammad: Well, one of the obvious things is that those who say this assume that you don’t do anything unless you get paid for it. I feel like asking them, if nothing gets done without payment how did the liberation war take place? How much was each freedom fighter paid for taking part in the 1971 war?

The National Committee does not really have a lot of expenses. That’s because everything is done with our labour, our physical labour. When we need festoons we make them ourselves. When we need banners, the work and costs are divided up between our partner organisations, and the cultural organisations. These organisations raise some money, and the activists contribute their labour. As teachers, professionals our incomes are limited. But even then we contribute whatever we can, and we contribute our labour. We do this out of a sense of social responsibility.

No one can give more money than the multinationals! Or, the imperialists! Those who raise the issue of money are actually talking on behalf of the MNCs and the imperialist forces. These questions are deliberately raised as part of the propaganda against us. Amader Shomoy, Janakantha, these dailies have hinted at such things. My request toward them is if you have anything substantial, please engage in that. Of course, we can have differences of opinion, and we are willing to engage in debates. But it has to be on issues. Spreading lies, rumor-mongering is done only when one has lost the battle. Or else why should one do it? If they had facts and arguments surely they would rely on that?

Shahidul Alam: The government has offered to sit for talks with the National Committee, what are you planning to do?

Anu Muhammad: We are ready to sit for discussions with the government. We have said this clearly. But if you notice the sequence of incidents: on the 3rd, ministers and advisers told me they will sit for discussions. But the prime minister returned on the 6th and forwarded the files for contract signing. Whereas the parliamentary committee on energy matters, just a few days ago, just before Eid, had invited us, in a press conference, to sit for discussions with them.

The government has not invited us formally. But the day after the parliamentary committee’s head said they wanted to sit with us, immediately the day after, the chairman of Petrobangla let it be known that they are inviting the MNCs to sign the contracts. This implies that all this talk of sitting for discussions is being uttered for the sake of it, that it’s hogwash, that it is being said to create confusion.

We have said that we are completely ready to sit for discussions. We are also ready to engage in public debates, on television or other media, we are interested in public discussions. We can go through all aspects of the contract, review everything in it. But if the government is going to sit for discussions with us while going ahead and signing the contract with them, obviously this cannot happen! That process has to be stopped first. Only then can we sit for discussions. If the government has any sense of responsibility toward the people, it will first get rid of the existing PSC model, the one with the export clause, and draft a new one.

Shahidul Alam: Before leaving for the US, prime minister Sheikh Hasina had asked us to have faith in her regarding the leasing out of offshore blocks—would you like to comment on that?

Anu Muhammad: If a government elected by the people genuinely represents the will of the people, then a climate of trust would have prevailed. We would like to have faith in her since she is the elected representative of the people. And this is why we have, from the very beginning, made one overture after another. We have requested the government. We have submitted memorandums. We have conducted road marches to express the will of the people. But this government—like all previous governments—has continuously demonstrated that the public has no reason to have faith in the government.

What happens when contracts such as these are signed? After all, the majority had voted for the grand alliance. But if the electricity crisis continues, if people do not get electricity in their homes, it means that it is “voters” who do not get electricity. Look, factories and industries are being forced to close down as a result of gas scarcity, many owners and workers of these factories and industries had voted for the Awami League. This means that common people, those who are AL voters, they are being adversely affected. So, how can people continue to have faith in the government? We have clearly said that if the government wants to bring changes, if they want to change things from the way they were before, then the very first thing they will have to do is to assert people’s control over the nation’s policies, the nation’s resources.

If people’s authority has to be exercised then the prime minister would need to do several things. First, postpone the signing of those three offshore blocks. Second, she should take immediate steps to implement the Phulbari agreement—only then can the public have faith in her. She should also take charge of fixing maritime boundaries while delegating specific duties to concerned people. But if she works to safeguard the interests of the MNCs and not that of the public, it is not possible to have any faith in her. Through expressing peoples resistance, the National Committee is putting forth arguments and information in favour of safeguarding the national interest, it is publicising the people’s resistance. Only through these actions change will be possible, it will be possible to stop those forces which want to occupy Bangladesh, it will be possible to create a climate in which people themselves exercise control and authority over those natural resources of which they are the rightful owners.

Shahidul Alam: In a sense you have talked about it while answering previous questions but let me still ask you separately—your movement is not new, you have seen several regimes in power, each regime gives a different explanation for what occurs. Do you see any difference in the case of this democratic government, the present one that has come to power as a result of the elections, as compared to parties which had ruled previously? Do you see any basic difference?

Anu Muhammad: The more I think of it, the clearer it is, I call it the difference between maya (illusion) and reality. We—meaning the public—go through many political processes: elections are held, voting takes place, representatives are elected. And, it seems that there is a change of government. This, in my opinion, is maya, an illusion. It is common to most countries. We can see governments change, but in reality there is no change in the relations of power. Those who rule Bangladesh, those who institute regimes of corruption, misrule, exploitation, oppression and terror, both national and foreign—the global alliance and their national thieving partners—their power base is basically similar, it is shared. The names change but real power does not. This is what I mean by maya. Illusions change but reality doesn’t. The movement undertaken by the National Committee is aimed at igniting the hopes and aspirations of the common people, this is the change we are fighting for. I think the change that is required in the system of power relations will gradually become clearer to us, I think that as it becomes clearer we will be able to see the vast possibilities that a different politics, a different Bangladesh, holds for all of us, a place where peoples needs are larger than the needs of a company. I think as this becomes clearer to more people the movement will gain greater strength.

There are many people who cry crocodile tears, who repeatedly say that if MNCs cannot make any profit then they would not bother to come to Bangladesh! Our argument is simple: it is the people’s needs that must come first. All plans should be built around this basic fact. The World Bank, the IMF, the ADB, the US embassy, the Indian High Commission or India-Myanmar-China-United States, the idea that we should turn over our country to them, to protect their interests, that our people should be sacrificed for their interests is absolutely absurd. Unless a big change is effected through this political struggle no real change or development in Bangladesh is possible. What we are saying is: real change is essential. Real change is possible. It is our movement that makes the difference between illusion and reality clearer day by day.

[This interview was conducted in Anu Muhammad’s home in Malibagh, Dhaka, as he recovers from injuries suffered from police violence unleashed on a peaceful rally of the National Committee (2 September 2009). The 45 mt long interview was recorded in two sessions, from 17:25 to 19:12 on 23 September 2009.
Transcribed by Anha Faruque Khan, edited by Mehedi Hassan. Translated into English by Rahnuma Ahmed. Published with consent of Anu Muhammad. This interview in video is available at:]