AFTER DEFEAT SHEIKH HASINA LOOKS MORE RESOLUTE
ABDUL GAFFAR CHOUDHURY
Last 7th July I met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in London at a wedding reception, the reception for the newlywed couple Tulip and Chris, daughter and son-in-law of Sheikh Rehana, Prime Minister’s younger sister.
I was very curious to see in which mood I would find her, as just a day before the election in Gazipur City Corporation was held and PM’s party was defeated badly. It was the fifth consecutive defeat of Awami League in different city corporation elections. So there was a shadow of gloom cast in Awami camps everywhere. I feared that will be reflected in the Prime Minister’s demeanor.
The former Prime Minister of India Mrs Indira Gandhi known as the ‘Iron Lady’ almost broke down publicly on her party’s defeat in one general election and her defeat to an unknown contestant. When a leader like no other than Jayprakash Narayan went to see a defeated Prime Minister, she could not resist sobbing in his presence.
But I saw Sheikh Hasina after her party’s shocking defeat in the election of 2001 and she was not a crest-fallen leader but a resolute one. Just after her defeat she came to London and addressed a mammoth gathering of her supporters in York Hall. After meeting, I met her along with Saber Hossain Choudhury in her rented London apartment.
Saber Hossain Choudhury was then one of her close-associates. She told me the background of the defeat in election, the role played by the-then President Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed and Latifur Rahman, the Chief Adviser of care-taker government. She expressed deep anguish against the so-called civil society and some of the big media. But this combined conspiracy and the defeat in the election did not break her iron will. Her expression was clear, her determination was strong and she told me without faltering that she would fight and would not succumb to any defeatism. She proved later on how to fight and suffer and to snatch away victory eventually from the jaws of defeat.
This time the political scenario is different. The elections of city corporations were arranged and held under her government and there was no conspiracy theory and it was accepted by all quarters that these elections were free and fair. So this time when I met her last 7th July, it was my fear that I would see a different Sheikh Hasina. This time she was not defeated by conspiracy but by the rejection of the people. Naturally I thought her mood would be gloomy and I would find a Prime Minister in a dispirited mood. This time she was not firm like 2001 but surprisingly I found her still in a fighting spirit. She had just heard the news of defeat in Gazipur and accepted it without any hesitation.
The wedding reception was going in full swing and she came to me with one of her grand children in her arms. She told me that this child was her great friend now and she would talk to me later on. I was relieved to see her in this mood and I knew she was preparing herself for almost an impossible mission, to lead the party to fight for the ensuing general election. She still hoped that people would not abandon her party and she would be able to prevent the ultimate defeat.
If Sheikh Hasina can infuse her party workers’ mind with this undaunted spirit and reorganize her party up to grass root level, then there is still hope that Awami League will be able to turn the present political tide in the country, although the time is quite short. I congratulated her for one reason that she proved herself a true democratic leader by allowing a free and fair election in spite of consecutive defeats.
Her defeat was not an ignominious defeat but a glorious one. These elections might usher a new opening for the democratic future and Sheikh Hasina would be remembered there as the pioneer. She proved herself a true democrat in victory and in defeat. Perhaps I know her mind. She will not go for any maneuvering in the ensuing general election even if defeat seems to be unavoidable. If the opposition especially BNP sticks to the path of democracy and takes similar attitude like her and does not disturb the course of the next election by boycotting it with demands of care-taker government then our country will be saved from the conspiracies of anti-people forces who are now clamoring to capture power.
In my opinion Awami League’s main problem is organizational. This great political organization is in crumbling position down to grass-root level now. The High-command had no control over the party and the party has been divided into manifolds of internal quarrel. In the recent city corporation election, we have seen the rise of rebel candidates and the activities of saboteurs who claim to be local party-leaders.
Sheikh Hasina will have to organize the party with iron-hand and will have to bring back the party into its former position of unity. Reshuffle in the party leadership and in the Cabinet is a must. The MPs proven to be corrupt and isolated from the people should be replaced. The minorities and the women should be assured of their protection and rights.
The policy of appeasement towards communal and fundamentalist forces should be abandoned. Sheikh Hasina with her party leaders should start a countrywide tour and mass-contact immediately.
The so-called political pundits are accusing the government for its failure in handling the crises from the share-market loss to Padma bridge project. They are also accusing the government’s incapacity to crack down on big corruptions like Hallmark and Destiny. Of course these are the negative sides of the government and it might contribute to the decaying popularity of Awami League.
But these were not main reasons of the defeats in the recent elections. The main reason lies in the inner weakness, incompetence and the indecisiveness of the government and the party. Otherwise even the very critics of the government would acknowledge that in the light of last 40 years the achievement of this government has been incomparable to other governments. More than two crores of primary school students are currently getting free text books, which is unheard of in any developing country. The agricultural development has made the country sufficient in food. Every year in time of Ramadan the prices of essentials shoot up, but this year and last year these have gone down.
Dhaka city was known as the city of nightmare, but now it has two mega flyovers which stand out as the landmarks of this government’s achievements. The load shedding has remarkably lessened. The much debated Padma bridge project’s work will start mainly with our own resources, though the political opponents of the government are still spreading doubts over it for their own purpose. The World Bank also recognized that the development plans which were supposed to be completed after two years have been finished now, long before the scheduled time.
The whole world praised the handling of Savar tragedy with the efficiency comparable to Western countries. Under the rule of BNP and Jamaat, Bangladesh was known as a failed country which was harboring the religious terrorists. Now under the rule of Sheikh Hasina’s government the country at least regained its good name as a liberal democratic state.
It is very evident; despite many failures the achievement of Awami League government and its advancements towards democracy are remarkable. Then how come, the people could turn their back on a government whose achievements they have witnessed and they had known the more corrupt and bad administrations under the BNP-Jamaat government.
No doubt people were dejected by the dysfunctional character of Awami League as an organization and by the misdeeds of its student wing. An opportunist and power-hungry elite class, some of the big NGOs and media and some leaders rejected by the people have combined their efforts and propaganda against the government continuously and have tried to mislead the people as well. Awami League could not confront this combined propaganda for their organizational weakness and political incompetence. Now Awami League government is surrounded by many foes right and left. There is no magic lamp for Awami League to come out from this maze, only unity and determination can set them free from further humiliation.
There is no noticeable leadership in the country who can challenge the courage and stature of Sheikh Hasina. If Hasina can reorganize her party with her present undaunted spirit and can bring back all left and democratic parties under its fold, I am certain the democratic forces of the country will be able to foil the rise of the evil axis and save the democratic future of the country.
July 12th, 2013
ABDUL GAFFAR CHOUDHURY