STILL CHASING AFTER A ‘DIALOGUE’?
A friend in USA called me and asked if the members of the civil society and those affected materially and physically by the impasse in the name of politics in Bangladesh still hope that there is a possibility of a ‘dialogue’ to defuse the crisis going on since Khaleda Zia called for a nationwide ‘blockade’ on January 5. Why not? I asked him. He had a ready answer. When the gates of Khaleda Zia’s office-cum residence were shut when the prime minister visited the office to convey her personal condolence why should someone expect that the overall situation will improve? I tell my friend this was a non-political visit by a mother to console another mother on the untimely loss of her dear son, and politics should not be dragged in to further complicate the situation. My friend, who is not involved in any politics, was not convinced.
One does not have to be a political pundit or an analyst to conclude that whatever is going on in Bangladesh in the name of political movement is nothing but a demonstration of how much violence some politicians can practice and preach for their personal gains. It is just a version of ‘organised terrorism.’ In the first three weeks of the violence 34 persons fell victim to arson attacks and lost their lives, of which 17 were victims of petrol bombs, a lethal weapon newly introduced in our problem ridden politics. The victims included children, women, public transport workers and ordinary people. Most of them had no connection with politics. Hundreds of vehicles were vandalised and torched. Rail tracks were uprooted. The everyday loss caused to the economy runs into millions of taka and the image of the country outside has been tarnished greatly. As of now, the only person who could perhaps stop this madness is Khaleda Zia.
While all violence was going on in the name of politics the nation heard the news of death of Arafat Rahman Koko, the younger son of Khaleda Zia. Since 2008, Koko had been living in Bangkok and Malaysia with his family and undergoing treatment. He was not involved in politics. It was learnt from family sources that Koko had a heart attack and expired on the way to hospital. Surely it shocked his mother and many of her party supporters.
The news was broken in the afternoon by the media and party loyalists thronged Khaleda Zia’s office at Gulshan to convey their condolence. Many were expecting that someone from the Awami League would visit Khaleda Zia. It came as a surprise when electronics and on-line media suddenly broke the news in the evening that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was going there to console the bereaved Khaleda Zia. At around 8.45 the prime minister arrived at the BNP’s Gulshan office only to see that the gates of the office were closed from inside. Minutes before the arrival of the prime minister, Shimul Biswas and a personal assistant of Khaleda Zia announced to the waiting press that it would not be possible for the prime minister to meet Khaleda Zia as she was under heavy sedation. However, quite a few BNP and alliance bigwigs were seen going in and coming out of the gate during the evening and saying to the media that Khaleda Zia had instructed them to announce that the blockade would continue. No one ever said that she was under sedation.
She could very well have been under sedation, but senior leaders could have met the prime minster. Instead, the prime minister was kept waiting at the gate and had to return without entering the office. This was too discourteous, and BNP leaders forgot that the prime minister is not only a person but also an institution. Moreover Sheikh Hasina went there not as a prime minster but more as a mother. Talking with quite a few senior BNP leaders it is now known that none of them had the courage to tell Khaleda Zia that the prime minister was coming. Some senior leaders, who chose not to be named, said that most of them were ready to receive the prime minister, but a telephone call just torpedoed everything. People throughout the country were pinning their hopes that though it would not be a political meeting it would help in stopping the present destructive politics. Their hopes were just blown to the wind by the improper handling of the situation.
Koko’s body was brought to the country last Tuesday, and was buried in the Banani graveyard after a proper janaza. Even before his burial tool place there were deliberate attempts from some quarters to mislead the people saying that Koko was denied burial at the army graveyard. If someone has to be buried at the army graveyard certain procedures have to be followed and requirements met. It has been learned that in this case the formalities were not followed or requirements met.
Everybody hopes that the present political stalemate will come to an end soon. People talk about a dialogue between the political parties to contain the ongoing violence. But the life and property threatening activities of the BNP-Jamaat axis will have to stop first. The mayhem must stop, the burnt victims must be cured, all sorts of violence must be denounced and condemned by the BNP and then only can any meaningful dialogue take place. The dialogue must be for the peace and prosperity of the country and not for going to power. Though historically nothing much was ever achieved through dialogue it is still possible, but sanity has to return before that.
The writer is a former Vice-chancellor, University of Chittagong.
JANUARY 29, 2015