Citizens’ initiative for dialogue goes unheard

Faruque Ahmed

The fate of the leading citizens initiative to bring the two major parties closer to a
national dialogue seems to have lost relevance on its very debut as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and senior ruling party leaders already strongly rebuffed the move ruling out possibility of its success.
The Prime Minister in her initial reaction said those who are killing people through blockade meaning BNP led opposition are murderers. They are killing people in petrol bombs and they would be tried instead of sitting in dialogue.

She said they can‘t be dialogue partner and expressed surprise for treating her party on equal footing with the opposition. The government would ban BNP politics for resorting to killing rather taking it a political partner, she said in reaction of the dialogue proposal of the noted citizens.
Meanwhile, other ruling party members are using highly abusive words to denounce the initiative saying these are mischievous people who had worked for 1/11 takeover derailing the country’s democratic process. They are out again to destroy the democratic government and the ruling party will not give them the opportunity again.
Earlier on Monday the noted citizens sent separate letters to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia to agree to the dialogue and ask President Abdul Hamid to promote the dialogue.
The letter signed by former Chief Election Commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda for the noted citizens comprising leading lawyers, academics, former bureaucrats and civil society leaders asked the Prime Minister to agree to the dialogue while the BNP chief has been asked to withdraw the blockade to end the spate of violence.
This is a terrible time the country is through when common people are dying from petrol bombs in the streets and police crossfire terrorizing people every day. The government is now denying democratic space to the opposition to voice their demands and this situation has further deteriorated with the ruling party’s plan to liquidate the opposition in the streets rather taking them as partner to politics.

Economy at serious peril
Meanwhile Finance Minister AMA Muhith told reporters that the country economy and businesses are facing serious threats as roads and highways are not operating, railway is facing broken schedules. Rural economy is breaking apart.
Even the government has banned plying transport in long route highways at night from last week for failing to provide enough protection to transports abandoning attempt to run buses and trucks in convoys under security escorts. He said the loss to the economy as of early last week stood at $10 billion, the daily loss stands over Tk 2,300 crore. He said the cost of deployment of security forces is skyrocketing.
But surprisingly despite being an elderly politician, unlike many others, he was expected to feel but did not feel that the situation can be restored to normalcy if the government agrees to enter into a dialogue and hold a mid-term election. This is usual in a democracy and more so in our situation now in the backdrop of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s earlier promise to hold a fresh election to correct the January 5 flawed election.
But they are treating the opposition as ‘terrorist and anti-liberation forces” thereby pushing the political case to finding solution from non-political means using excess police fire and other administrative measures to silence their voice.

Govt. oppose dialogue proposal
This is a highly tense situation and the citizens’ initiative was welcomed by people everywhere as a way out from the crisis. Meanwhile British Gibson has warned both sides of the consequences and the accountability factor of what are now happening and what may yet happen. Canadian High Commissioner, newly arrived US ambassador and the EU envoy have issued fresh call on the parties to stop violence and open dialogue to end the crisis. But Prime Minister’s latest comment on citizens initiative seems to be only escalating the situation, notwithstanding the calls from people witnessing the situation.
Earlier some ruling party leaders had said dialogue could only occur when the opposition will withdraw the blockade. Meanwhile Food Minister Qamrul Islam termed the civil society leaders as ‘cancerous parasites’ and gave the call to root out them rather listen to their call to sit for dialogue.
In reply to this suggestion, BNP leader Hafizuddin Ahmed said his party would recall blockade if only the government resigns and the Prime Minister announce new election.

Inu’s condition on dialogue
More significantly Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu told reporters on February 11 that a dialogue might take place now as to who can stay in the country’s politics and who can’t, what can be safeguard to secularists principle of the state and how the spirit of liberation wan can be preserved. The anti-liberation forces will have no place in politics.
He appears talking of a charter of state policies and it can only be the basis of dialogue now if any be. As the situation on both sides now stands they are almost on a no return point and the fate of the citizens’ initiative appear to have sealed.
In fact the noted citizens have hardly any acceptability in the political setup because of their known political affiliation to one party or another. They have grown up under partisan political shadow and rather significantly contributed to pushing the situation to the present inflammatory level.

Brinksmanship looming large
Many believe that former CEC ATM Shamsul Huda who has signed the letter to the three leaders last week himself is a spent out figure because of his partisan role during the last January 5 election to bring Awami League to power. The government leaders may be quite surprise in his present role now asking themselves why he should join the citizen’s initiative which may ultimately force the government to give election.
Some of these noted citizens were also instrumental to destabilize the last caretaker government by resigning from the council of advisers triggering a crisis that ultimately led to its collapse and staging of 1/11 by some army officials.
They were clearly responsible to destroy the caretaker government and later the country’s democratic process and yet taking the initiative again which may end in yet another army take over. Nonetheless there is no alternative to a group of eminent citizens to give the call to stop violence and end the crisis.
But as it appears the country is already to a process of civil strike and some government leaders made no secret of the fact that it is the unfinished the liberation war to clean the country’s politics from anti-liberation forces and their infectious religious support base.
This is largely because as many believe, the Awami League government is more dominated now by leftist elements. Though they have hardly any popularity, they are using the ruling party cover to achieve what was not achievable to them in normal situation.
Their political target matches to that of the ruling Awami League which is not ready for election fearing devastating defeat.
So Awami League is fighting their war against election while the left is at work to eliminate its challengers from religious right. Otherwise the solution to the present crisis was easily at hand. Prime Minister had promised a fresh election and if she gives it now the opposition will readily abandon the streets and violence and join the democratic process.
In that case neither the citizens’ initiative is so essential nor is violence expected to continue. But as things are taking shape, it is turning around. The country now risks more bloody confrontation and as the citizens’ initiative appears fading away we may be heading  quickly now towards the brink. Only a miracle can save the nation at this moment.

Source: Weekly Holiday

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