Incumbents need to make course correction, immediately
THE arrest on Monday of the joint secretary general of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, and his colleague Kamaruzzaman Ratan, and a series of raids on the houses of top leaders of the opposition alliance, including the acting secretary general of the BNP, suggest that the Awami League-led government has decided to take repression on political opponents to a new, albeit not unprecedented, level. According to reports in the media, the two were detained in connection with two cases that the police had filed two cases against a number of top leaders of the BNP-led combine on charges of violence, including explosion of two bombs inside the Bangladesh Secretariat, during the opposition-sponsored countrywide general strike on Sunday. The state minister for home affairs was quoted in a report front-paged in New Age on Tuesday as saying on Monday that the cases had been filed against the top BNP leaders, including its acting secretary general, on the basis of intelligence reports and that ‘they would be relieved of the charge’ if the ongoing police investigations found them not ‘responsible for the blasts.’ His assertion and assurance, suffice it to say, are unlikely to dispel the growing suspicion that the arrests and the raids are part of the government’s ploy to derail the increasingly intensifying opposition movement centring the demand for ‘return’ of the BNP organising secretary M Ilias Ali, who has remained missing since his disappearance at midnight past April 17, in particular and constrict the political space for democratic dissent in general.
As indicated, the strong-arm tactics employed by the government are not unprecedented. In fact, the incumbents have brought its tyrannical tendencies into play at regular intervals since their assumption of office in January 2009; they have displayed a particular aversion to any expression of dissent or displeasure vis-à-vis their policies and actions. While such autocratic impulses have translated into prohibitive measures against even the most innocuous of programmes by the opposition such as human chains, even non-political organisations, and even citizens themselves, have incurred the incumbents’ wrath for raising their voice against issues that affect people’s day-to-day lives, e.g. frequent power outages, shortage in water supply, unbridled price spiral of essential commodities, etc. To this end, the government has brazenly unleashed the law enforcers along with stick-wielding and weapon-brandishing rogue elements in the ruling party and its front organisations.
Through such actions, the elected government has appeared less democratic and more despotic. Worse still, the recent spate of arrests of opposition leaders and raids on their houses tends to suggest that the incumbents may be in competition with the pre-1990 military and pseudo-civilian regimes to be crowned the despots par excellence in the history of post-independent Bangladesh; they seem to be adamant on throwing such concepts as freedom of expression, freedom of thought, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, which are all enshrined in Bangladesh’s constitution as fundamental rights, out the window.
The incumbents seem to believe that their repressive actions would take the steam out of the ongoing opposition movement, thereby establishing their firm control on national politics. What they do not seem to realise that such tyrannical measures have historically not only backfired on the people in power but also set back the political process in the long run. Hence, in their own interest and in the greater interest of the country and the people, they need to change their course.
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