Politicians say ‘no’ to FBCCI call for hartal banMohiuddin Alamgir
Politicians and political scientists unanimously rejected the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry’s demand for enactment of a law banning general strikes for the sake of the country’s economic development and political stability.
While talking with New Age on Friday, they said a law banning general strikes would be unconstitutional and undemocratic.
Stalwarts of the ruling Awami League, main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, left leaning Communist Party of Bangladesh and Workers Party of Bangladesh said it would be not possible to ban hartal by framing laws.
Jahangirnagar University’s government and politics department teacher Dilara Chowdhury told New Age, ‘A law banning general strikes would give the government another weapon to suppress opposition movement.’
‘Such a law would offer the government chances to abuse that law,’ she added.
At an emergency meeting of FBCCI board of directors on Thursday, businessmen decided to meet with the prime minister and opposition leader with a demand for enactment of a law banning general strikes for the sake of the country’s economic development and political stability.
FBCCI arranged meeting as a follow-up to the meeting of former presidents of the apex trade body.
The former chamber leaders held a series of meetings recently to discuss the current political impasse and suggest ways of a solution.
In their latest meeting at Westin hotel, also attended by the incumbent president FBCCI, its former presidents decided to initiate a joint move for a solution of the political crisis that was badly affecting the county’s economy.
Awami League presidium member Kazi Zafarullah told New Age that the idea of stopping hartals by framing laws was absurd. ‘Many martial law rulers had tried to do so but failed,’ he said.
‘General strike is a political programme and in a democracy political parties should have the right to enforce it politically,’ Zafarullah added.
BNP standing committee member Nazrul Islam Khan told New Age that the proposal for enactment of a law banning general strikes was not a democratic approach. ‘In a democratic country general strike is a fundamental political right and a proposal for curbing that right cannot be a democratic approach.’
Nazrul said general strike was enforced in reaction to the disappearances of opposition leaders and activists, and it was a form of protest against price hike of electricity, gas and commodities, and the government’s repressive measures to restrict the opposition movement.
‘They [FBCCI leaders] should think about the reasons of the general strikes and suggest ways to remove them instead of proposing a law banning hartals,’ he added.
Nazrul said leaders of the business community in the past had even made proposals for banning the trade union rights of workers.
Workers Party president Rashed Khan Menon told New Age that in a democracy there was no scope for banning political programmes like general strikes. ‘General strike is the people’s constitutional right to protest and nobody can curb that right,’ he said.
Terming the FBCCI proposal unreasonable, Menon said, ‘People’s democratic rights do not depend on their [FBCCI] wishes.’
Communist Party general secretary Mujahidul Islam Selim told New Age that there was no scope for enacting laws banning general strikes in a democracy. ‘FBCCI leaders have shown an unconstitutional attitude by making such a proposal.’
Selim said the FBCCI leaders should rather pay attention to the ‘unlawful activities’ and ‘corruption’ of their members. ‘For bourgeois political parties general strike was a competition to have a share of the plunder and the only thing they do by enforcing general strikes is irritate the people,’ he said.
‘Hartal should be used as the last weapon in a democratic movement,’ he added.
Nazrul, Menon and SElim all referred to the Supreme Court ruling declaring hartal a political and constitutional right.
On February 15, 1999, the High Court division issued a suo moto rule on Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan (the then opposition BNP secretary general) asking him to explain why enforcing hartal should not be declared illegal and a criminal offence.
After hearing the case, the High Court bench on May 13, 1999 declared hartal a political and constitutional right. However, at the same time the court declared violence and coercion for or against hartal a criminal offence and ordered law enforcers and courts to take legal action against any person who would force anybody in favour or against hartal.
The Appellate Division on December 2, 2007 declared hartal a political and constitutional right, and overturned the High Court ruling that violence and coercion for or against hartal was a criminal offence.
The Supreme Court observed that for legal action against any person for any law and order infringement, provisions were already there in criminal laws, including the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Penal Code and so there was no need to declare such infringements separately as criminal offences.
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