Opposition rally and govt’s typical belligerence
IT WAS indeed a good bargain for the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its allies; they wanted to stage a public rally in the capital Dhaka on Monday and the Awami League-Jatiya Party government virtually turned it into a general strike. Meanwhile, despite deliberate attempts by the incumbents to obstruct opposition leaders and activists, supporters and sympathisers from joining the rally, the turnout at Naya Paltan was formidable, so suggests the photograph front-paged in New Age on Tuesday. Unfortunately, however, it was once again the people at large that had to bear the brunt of the quasi- and extra-legal means employed by the government, visibly to disrupt the opposition programme. According to a report also front-paged in New Age on Tuesday, thousands of people in — and headed for — the capital on Monday were immensely inconvenienced as most short- and long-distance public transport stayed off the road, reportedly at the behest of bus owners and trade unions loyal to the ruling Awami League and its allies. Moreover, the buses that chose to carry passengers to Dhaka were stopped on the outskirts of the city and redirected, while AL activists actually patrolled the Buriganga in boats with sticks and rods, to prevent people from even crossing the river, as shown by two photographs published in New Age on Tuesday. Besides, of course, there were instances of the police and activists of the ruling party barring opposition processions from marching towards Naya Paltan.
Regrettably still, such government-sponsored acts of belligerence vis-à-vis opposition programmes are neither isolated nor unprecedented. In fact, what took place on Monday was a repeat of the measures that the incumbents had employed to disrupt the previous opposition rally in Dhaka on March 12. The capital sported a surreal look on the day as the government had employed almost every mechanism — legal, quasi-legal and extra-legal — at its disposal to stop from entering Dhaka for three days leading to the opposition rally. Public transports stayed off the road, hotels were asked not to check in new guests, eateries in and around Naya Paltan had to keep their shutters down, people were frisked, harassed and even chased by the police, the Rapid Action Battalion and the Border Guards Bangladesh along with activists of the ruling party’s front organisations. Such actions were not only inconsistent with the Awami League’s pre-election pledge of inculcating ‘courtesy and tolerance’ in the ‘political culture of the country’ but in contravention with the constitutional guarantee for ‘freedom of movement’ [Article 36], ‘freedom of assembly’ [Article 37], ‘freedom of association’ [Article 38], and ‘freedom of thought and conscience, and speech and expression’ [Article 39 (1) and (2)].
Ironically, what the ruling coalition seemingly fails to realise is that its undemocratic actions to constrict the opposition’s political space, to a great extent, lend political legitimacy to the BNP-led alliance’s opposition to having national elections under the incumbents. Moreover, such actions make one wonder if it is, after all, foolhardy to expect any significant contribution to the democratisation of the state and society from a government that, almost instinctively, tramples people’s fundamental rights for partisan interest. Regrettably, but not surprisingly, a large section of the intelligentsia who claim themselves to be pro-democracy and unfailingly offer unalloyed praise for, and unconditional endorsement to, the self-professed commitment of the government to democratic consolidation have remained conveniently silent about such blatantly undemocratic and anti-people actions by the incumbents. Hence, it is imperative for the democratically oriented and rights conscious sections of society to raise their voice in protest and sustain pressure on the incumbents so that they refrain from perpetrating such undemocratic actions and making politics more confrontational than it already is.
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