In Search of Common Sense

Along with killing and torture, uncertainty and insecurity, hatred, intolerance, cruelty, vulgarity, sexism all are coming up on the surface in this time of desperate 'tribal fight' for power. The current phase of it began with the declaration of a big gathering in Dhaka by BNP and alliance to press its demand for fresh election under a caretaker government. The government was not willing to give any space to raise and popularise this demand, so they put a ban on the meeting and enforced many restrictions on BNP alliance's activities. Failing to carry out its rally, BNP started a countrywide indefinite seize programme. Thus began violence on people in general.

Since then, media has updated us every day, every hour about new killings and injuries in this deadly fight. Nobody is spared: women-men, children-elderly. From January 6 to February 2, we find 46 people have been killed, 24 from petrol bomb and fire, 10 from clashes, 8 by 'crossfire', i.e., killed by police or Rab. 102 have been admitted in burn units, 886 vehicles were attacked. The number of arrests has reached 14,000. Mobility of people has been restricted; people of different trades, especially the informal and transport sectors are living vulnerable lives, struggling for their survival. Meanwhile, the 'As usual' untimely death continues, including from factory fires, contaminated water drinking, unfit bus accidents and border killing without much attention.

There is no indication that any of these parties have the confidence to rely on people. If the government believed in people's support, it would not have to ban meetings and demonstrations, nor be afraid to discuss the possibility of credible election. On the other hand, if BNP could rely on people's active support it would not need to go for violent actions; it could mobilise people on the streets no matter what restrictions are imposed. So, fearing political defeat, the ruling party increased its dependence on armed law enforcing forces, gave them extra power, as the prime minister said, 'you do whatever you need to do. I will take the responsibility.' And in the absence of people's active support, BNP and allies outsourced their politics to professional bomb throwers. In both ways, victims are the people and the country whose name is used in both camps.

Who is winning in this vulgar mindless fight? Despite increasing repressive measures, mobilising additional police, Rab, BGB and ansar members and having regular support meetings from associate organisations, the government could not restore peace and stability or provide security to the citizens of the country. On the contrary, innocent citizens have been exposed to increasing harassment, indiscriminate arrests and restrictions by the law enforcing agencies. On the opposite side, after a long month of petrol bomb and violent acts against citizens, BNP-Jamaat could not attract people's support and could not draw the attention of other 'friends'. Nobody is winning; both sides have actually failed. Nevertheless, there seems to be no symptom of realisation of this on either side.

Therefore, despite failures, BNP and allies are not only continuing their indefinite violent programme, but trying to strengthen it. Do they have any signal from anywhere to continue with these deadly attacks? It seems that they are determined to keep the programme on with the hope to attract some special 'rescuers' from home and abroad. On the other side, it appears that AL and associates are happy to take this opportunity to crash BNP, to make them marginal and ineffective in Bangladesh politics. AL is not bothered about Jamaat, because in vote politics, Jamaat can be contained if BNP is crashed. The activities of both sides appear to confirm that provocation and violent acts will not end soon. The question of people's lives and security does not have any space there.

The intellectuals close to the ruling party are willing to see it as a battle between good and evil, spirit of liberation and anti-liberation, development and anti-development, national interest and plunder, secularism and communalism. Sorry, things are not that simple or 'black and white'. If alliance with Jamaat is a test, BNP has a clear-cut record of associating with the party led by war criminals, but AL has its record too. In 1996 it used this card to organise protracted seize, hartal and election boycott against BNP government. In that phase, Jamaat and Jatiya party were their main allies. People had their first experience of week-long oborodhs in 1996. BNP then was highly vocal against 'razaakar' since Jamaat was with AL!

After coming to power in 2008 election, AL could remove some blemish of earlier scandals by initiating the war crimes tribunal. Nevertheless, for obvious reasons, suspicion about AL's compromise with Jamaat remains in the society. Huge mobilisation in Gonojagaoron Moncho in early 2013 was a direct outcome of that suspicion. Other than bringing some Bangalee war criminals before iustice, AL cannot claim to bear any element of the spirit of liberation war in its politics, programmes, and financial records.

The spirit of liberation war does not mean rhetoric; it means people's power, equality, democracy, sovereign authority over the country's resources and decision making process and democratic practices within party and society. AL does not hold a different record than BNP in these areas. In plunder, grabbing land of religious and ethnic minority, corruption, violence, extra judicial killing etc, statistics will place both in high competition. Therefore, people of this country actually are trapped in a vicious cycle, where they only have the options to choose between the grabbers/looters, under different banners. Both the parties follow the same neo-liberal economic ideology, both aim to enjoy absolute power, both use their student and other organisations to create armed hooligans, both have the records to destroy institutions and create feudal or tribal rule.

People will cry: where is the way out at the moment? Common sense is enough to get the answer; any citizen will be able to give the solution. Number 1: withdraw hartal, oborodh, stop violence and mindless attack on citizens. Number 2: restore civil rights; withdraw restrictions on meetings and demonstrations of the opposition. Stop abrupt arrest and harassment of the people, withdraw restrictions on media, stop extrajudicial killing in the name of 'crossfire'. Number 3: strengthen election commission; allow it to work independently for a better and credible election.

But everybody understands that common sense does not work when greed and audacity grabs power politics, when and where people's lives and interest is the last priority.

(Published by The Daily Star on February 04, 2015)

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Anu Muhammad
Professor of Economics
Jahangirnagar University

আনু মুহাম্মদ, Anu Muhammad

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