Friday, August 24, 2007

Is it the beginning of the movement to end emergency rule in Bangladesh?

A.H. JAFFOR ULLAH

DOES anyone want to see the reënactment of Bastille Day in Dhaka? The highly charged atmosphere in the capital city portends to a bloody confrontation between the government’s forces and the public. The mouthpiece of the interim government, advisor Mainul Hosein, whose tongue usually wags to defend government’s multitude of action, had said on August 22 that the students’ protest movement was hijacked by people who wanted to see this government’s fall from grace. The advisor habitually smells conspiracy in everything that goes against the government. For example, when the government failed miserably to check the rampant price hike of everyday commodities, the garrulous advisor said that the spike in inflation in agro-commodities was the handiwork of politicians who engineered it to topple the interim government. This preposterous accusation comes at a time when most of the top politicians are either languishing in jail or their movement restricted by government’s action.

Parenthetically, I would like to add here that I have been keeping a low profile as far as writing about Bangladesh's quasi-military rule in recent days. As far as my track record vis-à-vis forecasting the political turmoil in this hapless nation of 150 million goes, I have been more right than wrong. In the middle of October 2006 when Khaleda Zia Administration was about to handover power to a caretaker government I wrote in one of my articles that the military might come and take power anytime. Well that did not happen in October 2006 nor did it happen in November and December when the partisan president, Iajuddin Ahmed, ruled the nation through dictums emanated from BNP’s Hawa Bhaban. We all know that all hell broke loose in January 11, 2007 when the military chief, Gen. Moeen Ahmed, and his trusted lieutenants barged into the presidential palace in late afternoon and forced Iajuddin not only to dismiss the caretaker government but also to resign from the position of Chief Executive Officer, which is equivalent to the Prime Minister.

On the same day at midnight Iajuddin was forced to read a prepared speech to the nation in which he declared the emergency rule and ushered in military to help run the government. A day later, Fakhruddin Ahmed, a lifelong bureaucrat who also served as an officer at the World Bank in Washington D.C., was invited to be the Chief Advisor of the new interim government. It must be mentioned here that there is no room for a second consecutive interim government as far as the constitution is concerned; never mind the legality of a interim government during emergency rule. The constitution of this beleaguered nation had been maimed quite a few times in the short three decades of its existence.

A week after January 12 when the new interim government was sworn in I wrote an article in which I mentioned that the military was the driving force for this new interim government. On January 19, 2007 my article was published in one of the leading English newspapers. From that day on, the government of Fakhruddin was labeled as the “military-backed” interim government. I also mentioned in my article that this new government was nothing more than an oligarchy. The Chief Advisor, Fakhruddin, appointed two close relatives of his as advisors and he also appointed quite a few friends and acquaintances that served as CSP in Pakistani government. Incidentally, Fakhruddin himself started out his career as a junior CSP officer in 1960s.

Like any other oligarchy the government of Fakhruddin was out of touch of reality and was hopelessly disconnected from the people who were suffering from the malaise brought on by unchecked inflation particularly in food prices.

The military had an agenda of arresting 100-200 corrupt politicians, which was implemented with the first 45 days. Then the military also wanted to debar the two top politicians namely, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia. But the implementation of this plan had problems. The military-backed government also wanted to bring a new civic leader and they chose Dr. Yunus who was at the top of his popularity for receiving Nobel Peace prize in October 2006. That plan fell flat because Yunus was unable to muster support from the masses. Then the interim government tried other tricks to bring new faces into Bangladesh politics. Those attempts did not bring fruition for the masses gave a lukewarm support to government's idea. Finally, the government engineered a plan to reform the two main parties by supporting a few reform-minded politicians. However, the ran-and-file Awami Leaguers and BNP men did not show much enthusiasm to government's plan. The reformists realized that all the help from Fakhruddin government is not bringing any discernible results.

When a pall of gloom descended on Bangladesh centering the devastation caused by this year's deluge due to monsoon rain and by political uncertainties, the general masses became restless. In the beginning when Fakhruddin Administration took power there were optimism and hope for better days. But when it was clear that the government was more interested in engineering the polity as exemplified by the rounding up of both corrupt and not so corrupt politicians, they felt that the government was disinterested in the welfare of common men. The atmosphere was highly charged and the entire nation became a tinderbox of suppressed optimism for democracy. The government wasted days in reforming the Election Commission and spent time to give hard time to politicians, namely Sheikh Hasina.

Under this charged atmosphere, a single incident that took place in mid August in the campus of Dhaka University did the unthinkable. It was reported in the newspaper that the government had placed military camp inside the campus and the soldiers manhandled some students. This insignificant incident became a rallying cry for DU students, professors, and workers. They demanded not only the removal of soldiers from the campus but also the end of repressive emergency rule. In short order the urban folks joined the students and things were getting out of hand as far the law and order situation is concerned. Soon the blaze of discontent had spread to other campuses allover the nation. To control the situation on August 22, 2007 the military-backed government had ordered curfew in several cities. The nation is plunging into a state of hopelessness and utter despair.

The masses in Bangladesh are united now. They want to see the end of emergency rule. They had enough of this oligarchic rule. The interim government had amassed enough power by dint of emergency rule and the ordinary citizens who want democracy to be the rule of the land are now demanding in unison the abolishment of this repressive rule. As of this writing, more than 250,000 people are rotting in the jail without any charge. The civil rights of people were taken away and there is no end to emergency rule on sight. Under this dire situation the students and professors of Dhaka University have taken the leadership role. It has not escaped my rapt attention that when a struggle is brewed in Bangladesh and university students with the approval of professors lead the movement, the failure rate is zero. Therefore, the readers are welcomed to draw their individual conclusion.

It is only a matter of time when Bangladesh's own Bastille Day is going to happen and when it happens the leaders of this interim government should look for the exit door. Bangladesh has finally turned the corner. Please stay tuned for more development. Perhaps the time for emergency rule to bite the dust is not far from now. My only concern is that the struggle may become a very messy one. #

Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans