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F R Chowdhury
In Middle-East and North African Arab world, a number of corrupt dictators have been ruling for long. In some countries they are referred to as President but let there be no illusion. They are all equal dictators sometime in disguise of being an elected president. We all knew one day it was bound to explode and change. It eventually happened starting in Tunisia where President Zainal Abdin Ben Ali left the country on the face of public uprising on 14-January-2011. Next battle ground was Egypt where thousands gathered in Tahrir Square and continued their movement against the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. President Mubarak tried desperately to cling to power but eventually relinquished his powers on 11-February-2011. He is now under trial for his misrule and corruption. The longest public uprising took place in Libya to get rid of Muamar Gaddafi. He was finally assassinated on 20-October-2011. There is still one more country where similar movement is still continuing and that is in Syria where President Bashar Al Assad is still clinging to power though his days are now numbered. The movement alerted other rulers in the region who are trying to bring in some democratic changes to prevent or delay similar uprising in their countries. One thing the rulers are convinced that in the days of electronic communication coupled with investigating journalism it is not possible to hide any crime or corruption. This realization has improved civic rights and rule of law to a large extent.
It is from early February this year when the ICT declared a verdict on Quader Mollah (supposed to be a war criminal) of life imprisonment that thousands of people started gathering in Shahbag Square, Dhaka demanding his death sentence. Gradually the crowd started demanding death sentence for all Razakars. In a democratic society people have every right to vent their anger and grievances. But it was something more than that. In the beginning it looked like a non-political movement against the war criminals but gradually it became clear that the entire thing had been initiated by the Government from behind the screen to divert public attention away from their misrule and misdeeds. Now let us try to analyse the reasons behind the scene.
The present Government came to power with a vindictive mind to settle their scores. They had lot of anger against the Nobel Peace Committee of Norway as to why Professor Yunus was awarded Nobel Peace Prize when there was more deserving candidate in Bangladesh. They could not do anything to the Committee and obviously all the anger landed on Professor Yunus. They tried their best to defame Professor Yunus home and abroad but failed. Eventually they removed him from the management of the Grameen Bank which was his brain-child. The name and fame of Professor Yunus and Sir Fazle Hasan Abed is a matter of pride for entire Bangladesh. Long live their reputation.
The next thing the Government was determined to accomplish was to hang all those connected with killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. They have apparently succeeded but they are afraid that these people may eventually return in the history as martyrs. It is difficult to understand how Bangladesh would have ever seen the light of democracy without the action of those few. They never wanted anything for themselves but wanted to free the nation from the clutches of Bakshal. The freedom that we enjoy today is the outcome of their action.
Another great achievement of the present Government is to evict Begum Zia from the house that was given to her by the Government after the death of her husband Ziaur Rahman. Dhaka International Airport was quickly renamed to remove the name of former President Ziaur Rahman who was not only a freedom fighter but also the one who declared the independence of Bangladesh on that fateful night. President Ziaur Rahman is the father of democracy as he re-introduced multi-party democratic system in Bangladesh.
The Government has been talking loud about the handling of BDR mutiny not realizing that the chain of events prove beyond doubt that it was a case of mishandling and bungling. The incident brings to light the total incompetence of the Government. It has now emerged that the coup/ mutiny leaders met Sheikh Selim and discussed with him about their grievances. As a prudent member of the party in power Mr. Selim should have warned them of their intentions and told them to act strictly in accordance with service rules. If Mr Selim sensed anything more serious he should have immediately brought it to the knowledge of the Prime Minister or the Home Minister so that pre-emptive action such as arrest of the coup leaders could take place. Instead he assured them that he would discuss their demands with the Home Minister. The Prime Minister herself had meeting and negotiation with the coup leaders to give them enough time to kill all officers. They should have known better than me that when men in arms defy their command, it amounts to sedition and the only action is to crush the rebellion within shortest possible time. Instead the Government turned it into a political drama resulting into killing of 57 officers. So-called student leaders can become a politician overnight but it takes years of training, dedication and lot of public money to become a Colonel or Brigadier. God knows when we can overcome such a national loss.
The present Government also took advantage of their majority in the parliament to remove the necessity of a non-party, impartial care-taker Government to conduct election. They now think they can conduct election under their own supervision and remain in power for ever. The people of Bangladesh can very well understand their conspiracy and shall never allow them to do it their way. The movement is on and will continue for a free and fair election to be participated by all parties. The Government has been blaming every movement for democratic rights as an attempt to disrupt the trial of war criminals.
The law and order situation in the country has possibly reached its lowest point. People are being killed every day by law enforcement agencies in the name of cross-fire. On top of that the Home Minister has incited the Chatra League and Jubo League to come out on the streets and resist all democratic movements. The body of garment labour leader Aminul Islam was recovered from a drain or gutter. BNP leader Ilyas Ali and his driver went missing from the heart of the city not to be seen again. Young journalist couple Sagar-Runi were murdered in their rented flat in the city perhaps because they knew too much about Government corruption. An innocent person Biswajit was attacked and killed in broad day light by group of young thugs. Recently Rajib, one of the organizers of the Shahbag movement has been murdered. However, we have a very smart Prime Minister who does not require any inquiry, investigation or trial. She knows everything. She said the killers of Biswajit are not Chatra League members and the killers of Rajib are Jamat-Shibir members as if she knew them all. She should know what people would think of a Prime Minister who knows all the criminals.
Finally let us talk about monetary corruption. The Auditor-General’s office has raised objections on Government spending of more than eleven thousand crores taka in last four years. God know better how and when it could be reconciled. The Hallmark group took over more than four thousand crores of Taka from the State-owned Sonali Bank and there is no way that the bank can recover that money. The finance minister calls it just a minor incident. Another company known as “Destiny” took money not only from banks but also from innocent public in general. Some of them involved have already run away from the country. By market manipulation some people also made quick money out of stock exchange and most of it has gone out of the country. BEXIMCO group took full advantage of the inflated price of their share to take a huge loan from the bank against their shares as security. The price of those shares is now not even 1/10th of the negotiated deal. There is another very interesting case of a mortgaged ship being sold without any reference to the bank. Such things can only happen in Bangladesh.
Now let us talk about corruption at high level, I mean beyond the level of civil servants. A minister’s APS was caught with a car full of money on way to minister’s house. The minister resigned. He was still kept in the cabinet as a minister without any portfolio. The Anti-Corruption Commission gained full confidence of the Government by declaring the minister innocent. The nation soon came to know the identity of two new patriots – they are none other than the two ministers who resigned on the ground of corruption.
I was born as a British-Indian. Then I spent most of my life as a Pakistani (until 1971) and then as a Bangladeshi. After the WB loan scandal relating to Padma Bridge, I feel very humiliated and disgraced as a Bangladeshi that I never felt before. As a Bangladeshi I have every right to know those responsible for tarnishing the image of my country. But there is no way. The Government decided to keep the nation in darkness. There should have been movement to free the nation of its black chapter of corruption. February was also the month completing the first year of Sagar-Runi murder. There should have been movement by journalist community and public at large to demand justice.
The main purpose of the Shahbag movement is nothing other than an attempt to divert attention so that real movement for genuine causes are either forgotten or delayed. We all agree that criminals (war crime of 1971) must be punished. But why should it happen now to put other burning issues of today behind the scene. We have no reason to disrupt the ICT proceedings but our movement for revival of democracy through election under a non-party impartial care-taker Government must continue. We must not allow the Bakshalis to establish their perpetual rule. Tahrir square established democracy and let not Shahbag square kill the democracy to perpetuate the one family rule.
Those at Shahbag Square had every right to express their democratic rights. I also express my solidarity with them. But a statement of our great Prime Minister surprised me. She said the ICT judges, while giving verdict, should take into consideration the sentiments of the people. I certainly did not expect the Prime Minister to make such utterances. By so doing the Prime Minister has insulted the judges and our judiciary system. I do not know how the amendment to ICT law will apply in cases that started before the amendment of the law. The professors and vice-chancellors are being paid by public money. Their job is to teach and educate students. I did not like the way they made statements at Shahbag. In any other country they would have lost their jobs.
The continued movement as done in Shahbag Square is doing lot of harm to the country. There is no education, no offices, no factories, no business and no transport. The economic life of the country has been strangulated. Besides it has brought political parties to the brink of civil war. This is clearly a conspiracy against our recent economic success.
In addition to demand for fair trial and justice for war-criminals, our movement for democracy must continue. Knowing the character of our politicians, we must continue our movement for election under a non-party care-taker Government. We also want effective investigation and trial of all murder, killing and disappearances. With regard to the Padma Bridge scandal the nation has a right to know those because of whom we have to live as a disgraced corrupt nation. Nothing can suppress that. However, I appeal to all to shun violence. No bombs, no killing, no burning please. But remain resolute in our movement.
Finally I would like to say that we would not achieve any miracle by hanging a few people. We can achieve progress through education. Nothing should disrupt our thirst for knowledge. For the students the primary objective should be education and everything else is secondary.