MISREADING THE PEOPLE’S PULSE
Few are responding to BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia’s call of indefinite blockade plus hartal. While the nationwide blockade is meant to halt long-distance transportation such as bus, train and launches, the hartal or the general strike is also aimed at shutting down shops and businesses in the main cities, including capital Dhaka. Signs that the protests are petering out are getting bigger every day.
Dhaka, the capital city of more than 15 million people, experience heavy traffic snarls and clogged streets, unusual scenes on a hartal day. During the early part of the campaign traffic used to be light on Dhaka streets. Now the picture is different. Shops and businesses open as usual with shoppers crowding them.
The call of hartal remains visible only on newspaper pages and television screens but it has no reflection on the city’s shops and footpaths, which are used as business centres. Yet, Khaleda has vowed to continue the campaign and she is doing exactly so even though it is not working.
The campaign aimed at forcing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to sit for a dialogue with the BNP-Jamaat-led 20-party alliance to discuss ways for holding a new election under the supervision of an administration acceptable to all parties has started since January 5. In her latest media appearance after a gap of 56 days last week the opposition BNP leader reiterated her demands that the government amends the constitution to allow an acceptable-to-all election-time administration.
This means she wants a restoration of the neutral non-partisan caretaker government to supervise the new election she has been asking for. In that sense she has said nothing new. However, a few political commentators have started finding something new in Khaleda’s latest press statement. She, they argue, has given enough indication that she is ready to accept Hasina as the prime minister in the election-time administration. Critics, however, say if Khaleda is prepared to accept what the commentators think then she should come out of vagueness and reveal her mind in clear terms.
There are problems though. Khaleda has come to a stage from where she cannot dictate the terms. By committing one tactical error after another she has unintentionally made Hasina stronger and undermined her party’s credibility with the people. Not many in her own party believe that she is on the right track. With the public ignoring her programmes of blockade and hartals that have seen deaths of more than 130 people in arson and petrol bomb attacks Khaleda has put her leadership in question.
What does Khaleda want? Where does she want to lead the country? Does she really care about the sufferings her anti-Hasina campaign is causing to the people? These are the questions high in the public mind. Meanwhile, the BNP leader has proved insensitive in her latest remarks that the public sufferings caused by her mindless protests are temporary. She has asked the people to bear with her to reach what she says a bigger goal: democracy.
The people, on the other hand, are getting disgusted with Khaleda’s movement. They care more about their livelihood than their right to vote. The issue before the people of Bangladesh today is not about vote. It’s rather all about their fight for survival. Why should a farmer who watches his crops rot in the farm because of Khaleda-imposed blockade and hartal support her cause? For a person fighting for his livelihood the right to vote should not be an immediate issue.
True, Bangladeshis love to vote and take any election as a cause for festival. But this is not the time for a vote. More importantly, Bangladeshis appear to be satisfied with the government they have with Hasina as the prime minister. To make a change they don’t mind waiting until 2019 when the next general election is due. Khaleda may be right in her emphasis on vote but she has failed to correctly read the people’s pulse on whether they want it right now.
MARCH 19, 2015