MASSES DEFY KHALEDA
As Khaleda Zia takes her anti-Hasina campaign into its third month the message she gets from the people is loud and clear: We want change to come through ballots, not by petrol bombs.
All sections of the masses – from a day labourer to office executives – have defied petrol bombs and other arson attacks that left over a hundred people burned to death and many more hospitalized with unbearable pain. Khaleda, who is spearheading the campaign as the leader of the BNP-Jamaat-led 20-party alliance has denied her group’s involvement in the brutal arson attacks. She has instead blamed the attacks on the government agents. The government has rubbished her allegations.
As the country’s two most powerful political figures continue their blame game the fact says that the deadly hit-and-run attacks have happened during the non-stop nationwide blockade enforced by BNP-led alliance. Khaleda has no logical way to get away by just shifting the blame onto the government. It is up to her to prove the government wrong. She can do it by postponing her campaign.
Khaleda has defied local and international calls to her to stop the violence that has often been likened to Taliban-style terrorist attacks on innocent people who play no part in her battle to capture the Ganobhaban. What sort of democracy Khaleda is going to establish by going to power through a movement that is taking the lives of so many innocent people? Bangladesh is no stranger to mass upsurge and deaths related to political unrest. The country has witnessed several landmark movements such as the 1952 Language Movement, the 1962 Education Movement, 1966 Six-point movement and the 1969 mass upsurge against Pakistani Iron Man Gen. Ayub Khan before the great Liberation Movement of 1971.
The pro-democracy movement against the country’s last military dictator Gen. H.M. Ershad (now the leader of his faction of Jatiya Party which is recognized as the parliamentary opposition) has also seen tens of thousands of people taking to the streets in capital Dhaka and elsewhere in the country forcing the dictator to step down to allow elections under the supervision of a neutral non-partisan caretaker administration in 1990. Mass people took to the streets again in the 1990s in a movement led by Hasina to force her arch rival Khaleda to accept her demand that all future general elections are supervised by a neutral non-partisan caretaker administration.
What is common in all these movements is the participation of the masses. Bangladesh has witnessed change of governments coming through mass movement and military intervention. The possibility of the military making any intervention in the current political impasse has been ruled out by the prime minister. Many believe that she is right in her assessment. That leaves Khaleda Zia only to rely upon the strength of the mass people. Unfortunately for her, the masses are taking no interest in her cause. What is Khaleda’s cause? She wants the government to void the election held on January 5 last year on grounds that the polls had not been inclusive because her party had boycotted the ballots. Khaleda wants Hasina to allow holding of a new election under the supervision of a non-partisan caretaker government, a proposition not permitted by the constitution. The latest 15th amendment of the constitution has abolished the system of installing an unelected caretaker administration to supervise every general election in the country. Khaleda and her supporters see this constitutional change as the main cause of the current political deadlock.
The problem Khaleda faces here is that she has failed to persuade the masses to take to the streets to force Hasina to accept what she wants. Khaleda has remained confined to party’s Ghulsan office since Jan. 3 with her top party colleagues either in jail or in hiding or living a very low-profile life at home. She has refused to leave the office fearing she may not be allowed to re-enter it. Her party leaders and activists are too afraid to face police batons and so they stay home or in hiding. From her safe zone Khaleda, through her low-ranking aides, is declaring the continuation of blockade and hartals. The mass people, having realized the weakness and futility of Khaleda’s movement have decided to defy her. They brave petrol bombs, arson attacks and vandalism to go to their work in capital Dhaka and elsewhere. Many use their own vehicles, while many use the public transportation available in plenty despite the hartal (general strike) and blockade.
MARCH 05, 2015