Country set to go into a tailspin


5 days’ no-work trap created as 18-party declares 36-hour hartal from tomorrow; businesses urge opposition to call off shutdown

Shakhawat Liton and Rashidul Hasan

March may have 31 days but people could get a maximum nine working days out of it, thanks to the opposition’s two-day hartal from tomorrow and the seven days of hartal enforced earlier this month.
So far this month, people have had just eight working days. The ninth, the next Sunday, too is not a sure thing. There’s a possibility of a hartal that day, the last day of the month, as the opposition has threatened strikes for next week if the government obstructs the two-day shutdown from tomorrow.

March has five weekends (10 days), and three holidays — on the 17th to celebrate the birthday of the Father of the Nation, on the 21st to mourn president Zillur Rahman’s death and today to mark the Independence Day.
After a two-day hartal from March 18, the 18-party opposition alliance yesterday declared a 36-hour countrywide strike from tomorrow as part of its strategy to make April a turning point in their agitation to oust the government.
By choosing the two days between the Independence Day and the weekend, it has left a five-day no-work trap.
“We are announcing a 36-hour hartal to wage an all-out movement against the government to realise our demands, which include the government’s  resignation, restoration of the caretaker government system and release of our party men,” on behalf of the alliance BNP’s acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told a press conference yesterday.

Country set to go into a tailspin

The opposition, however, kept the tornado-hit areas of Brahmanbaria out of the hartal’s purview.
Apart from the nine countrywide hartal days this month, districts including Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar, Rajshahi, Sylhet, Comilla, and Thakurgaon witnessed separate hartals on a number of days.
It could have been worse, as the BNP was supposed to enforce hartal on March 21 in the Dhaka but it had been cancelled due to the president’s death.
And things are unlikely to change in the near future. The economy and the education sector may suffer even more from political heat as the BNP-Jamaat-led 18-party opposition alliance is set to step up street agitations.
Some senior BNP policymakers have already hinted at more frequent and back-to-back hartals and road blockades throughout April.
The onslaught of hartals in March disrupted public life, businesses and education, particularly the SSC examinees. The examinees of HSC fear the same fate, as they are to sit for their exams on April 1.
The business community, a major victim of the country’s violent politics, struggles to bring Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and opposition leader Khaleda Zia to the negotiation table.
In efforts to break the ice between the two archrivals, the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) sent letters to Khaleda on March 12 and March 19 for an appointment with her.
“We are yet to receive any response from her [Khaleda]. However, we will continue our efforts,” FBCCI President Kazi Akram Uddin Ahmed told The Daily Star yesterday.
The FBCCI’s move is very unlikely to yield any result, as the main opposition BNP’s senior leaders have already said they were not giving any thought to the trade body’s efforts. Rather, the opposition alliance is concentrating on intensifying anti-government agitations in April.
The trade body is trying to do the almost impossible — bringing the two top leaders to a discussion table. The two usually do not talk to each other, let alone sit for discussions.
The FBCCI yesterday in a statement urged the opposition alliance to withdraw the 36-hour hartal, considering the country’s economy and its image abroad.
According to an estimate by the International Chamber of Commerce, Bangladesh, the country loses around $200 million every hartal day.
Economists also described the prevailing political situation as very worrisome for the economy.
“The two sides would have to use their political wisdom and sort out differences keeping in mind the importance of the economy. Otherwise, the economy will suffer,” economist Zaid Bakht told The Daily Star.
Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh, said, “Nobody is listening to the business community. But the business community also has a role to play … it cannot only urge the opposition parties to shun strikes, it also needs to urge the government to take steps to narrow down the differences.”
Meanwhile, Chief Justice Muzammel Hossain yesterday constituted a special bench for disposing of a writ petition that sought directives on Hasina and Khaleda to sit for a dialogue and end the political standoff.
The situation in Bangladesh has already sent a sense of anxiety among foreigners living in Dhaka. Some foreigners, who were scheduled to fly in, have cancelled their trips.
Suraiya Ferdous, a senior project assistant at the International Jute Study Group, said they had arranged a conference in the capital yesterday. Twenty-six people from different countries had promised to attend but 21 of them cancelled due to political unrest, she said.
“Some foreign delegates have also declined to attend other conferences in April due to the unrest,” Suraiya told The Daily Star yesterday.

Source: The Daily Star


  1. It is true that Hartal is an unwelcome tool of expressing political opposition and in that sense the authors have done a good job of demonstrating empirically the economic losses that entail this form of activism. However,authors should also recognize that hartals do not happen in a vacuum – it has a context. I am amazed that the authors completely igonred the aspects of brutal repression and suppression of political dissent that often trigger hartal. This is not only disappointing but also demonstration of decay of intellectual balance that has hit our intelligensia.


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