A bus helper was burnt alive in the early hours yesterday, in Gazipur, near Dhaka when blockaders set fire to the bus in which he was sleeping. On the day before, in Rangpur, five people, including a child, were burnt to death when a petrol bomb was thrown at a running bus. So far, deaths from blockade-related violence stand at 22. The number of injured is 700 and vehicles torched more than 200.
Dear readers, take a moment to think how you felt when you accidentally got your finger or some part of your body burnt, the excruciating pain. Now imagine your whole body on fire and the cumulative pain it must have caused. Imagine these people trapped in a bus and slowly burning away, one part after another. The lucky ones are those who died faster than others. Oh, this unspeakable inhumanity! No, no, this cannot be our country and the fate of our citizens. Even when we sentence the vilest murderer to death the punishment is never to burn him alive. What a barbaric punishment has been meted out to these innocent people who were burnt to death. It is as if the agitators had declared a war against the people of this country.
A less dramatic story is that some hospitals are finding it hard to give patients life-saving oxygen because the blockade has disrupted the supply chain of oxygen cylinders. The transport sector is losing Tk 200 crore daily and the RMG sector estimates a loss of Tk 450 crore in the last two weeks. The vegetable growers are watching the fruits of their hard labour rot before their very eyes, and students and parents helplessly look on as schools are forced to remain closed. The overall cost to the economy is far higher than what we have written above.
On top of that, and perhaps equally damaging, is the reinforcement of reputation of the country as a place of undependable political stability and sporadic lawlessness. The pictures of people being burnt alive can trigger shivers through anybody’s spine leave alone of an investor whose resources we expect to receive to accelerate our growth. Why should a foreigner risk his life and more importantly that of his family to invest here?
I know of several families who have for years insisted that their children return home from abroad to take over their family business or explore the plethora of opportunities that Bangladesh now offers are no longer sure of what advice to give to their children. Hundreds of young men and women who enthusiastically returned to Bangladesh after obtaining the best education from the world over are now double guessing their future, their enthusiasm greatly dimmed by the present events.
And all this is in the name of democracy. How ironic! When a political leader and her party think nothing of burning of her own citizens to death from a political agitation that they have launched, then whatever it is for, it is definitely not for democracy.
We know that Khaleda Zia is no Gandhi. Nor is Sheikh Hasina or any of the present-day leaders. Yet in moments of crisis we try to recall what great men and women did and hope and pray that our leaders, howsoever small, mean and greedy for power, will rise to the occasion and try to emulate their actions, if not for any other reason than to be associated with a great man through a great action.
We are referring to the incident in 1922, when Gandhi called off his nonviolent movement after some of his supporters turned violent and killed some policemen at Chauri Chaura.
At the risk of our readers laughing at our naivete we are suggesting that the BNP chief reassess her movement, review her stance, denounce the deaths and violence and either redirect her movement on a strictly peaceful manner or, failing to ensure that, call it off. This she should do as a former three-time prime minister and as a leader of the people that she claims to be, and which she is. We are fully aware of the fact that she has a significant following in the country and that even in the worst of times BNP has never received less than 30 percent of the vote in any free and fair election. Even in the January 5 election she boycotted, the popular perception was that BNP would do rather well.
But for Khaleda Zia to moderate her stance or call off the movement Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina must give her a democratic space that she had denied the BNP and its leader so far. The politics of ‘interning’, arresting and piling the BNP leaders under mountains of cases can only take the government so far. It will never bring the desired peace and stability without which our country cannot move ahead. The constant “language of threat” to which the BNP and its leaders have been subjected has also added to vitiating the atmosphere.
Sheikh Hasina’s government has two options: one to go for a negotiation and the other to go for police action. So far clearly she has chosen the latter. However powerful, effective and widespread police action is, experience has shown that stable solution has always come through talks and never through oppressive action. In the short run, governments are known to be tempted by stern police action as they show some immediate result. But such action is only of limited effect and for a very short time.
The Awami League government will have to face the ultimate question as to how they see the end game and the long-term solution of the current unrest.
Opposition’s demand that the government must step down immediately and hold a fresh election is both unrealistic and unrealisable. The government’s hope that it will be able to crush the opposition and oppress them into submission is clearly belied by history. So both sides are living in a make-believe world of their own, and it is only the people who are suffering from the irresponsible politics of both sides.
Khaleda Zia must realise that what she is doing in the name of a “movement” is only hurting the ordinary people. Her so-called “aborodh” is hitting the ordinary citizens far more than the government. With each passing day the plight of the general public is getting worse and their anger at the opposition is rising.
Khaleda Zia must ask herself why people have not joined her movement in spite of large-scale corruption, nepotism, cronyism and widespread misgovernance on the part of the government. The reason in our view is the memory of the pre-election violence in the name of mass agitation. The memory of hundreds of people lying in the burn unit of various hospitals, especially that of Dhaka Medical College, is still vivid in people’s mind and the recurrence of such scene is frightening the people out of their wits. An all-pervasive deep sense of insecurity is crippling civic life.
So where do we go from here?
The answer lies in Awami League’s election manifesto of 2014. Under the heading “Our priorities for this term” the item number 1.3 is National Consensus. It clearly states: “Initiative will be taken to create national consensus among all political parties, classes and professional organisations, civil societies irrespective of groups and opinions on basic issues such as upholding democratic process and ensuring uninterrupted development.”
If such an initiative had been taken earlier, maybe the BNP would not have felt forced to go for the present agitation. Awami League may blame the BNP to their heart’s content but that is only one side of the story. There is the other side. Awami League should just do what it had promised to the people.
Source: The Daily Star