RIPAN KUMAR BISWAS
THE DECISION has been finally enforced. She got the notice. And general people are now into a new brand of dilemma as it seems like a fresh call of political unrest in the country after resuming democracy last December.
On April 19, 2009, leader of the opposition in Parliament and BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) Chairperson Khaleda Zia was officially asked by the Cantonment Board to vacate her Dhaka cantonment house within 15 days. According to the decision taken at the regular meeting of the cabinet held at Bangladesh Secretariat with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the chair on April 7, 2009, the government cancelled allotment of the house due to a number of anomalies regarding the allotment within the military zone. “Allocation of more than one house to a person is contrary to the government rules of Bangladesh,” Prime Minister's Press Secretary Abul Kalam Azad told reporters after the meeting.
The former Premier Khaleda Zia, who ruled Bangladesh for ten years (1991-96 and 2001-06), but lost badly in the last election held, was allotted two house-one in the Dhaka Cantonment and the other one in Dhaka’s civil but diplomatic area, Gulshan, after the assassination of her husband former President Ziaur Rahman. The AL (Awami League) lead grant alliance government has nothing to say about the Gulshan allocation as according to them, it was properly allocated to her following a cabinet decision in 1982. But her cantonment’s allocation that covers nearly 2.72 acre of land didn’t have any cabinet approval which she was gifted in 1981 by the then President Hussain Mohammed Ershad. Government, in addition, brought the attention of the citizens that none, even the government has the power to allot the cantonment house to any individual as per the rules of the Cantonment Act 1924.
Whether the lease of the cantonment house to Khaleda Zia for 99 years was right or wrong, but general people certainly believe that this cannot be a prime issue of the present government as there are so many vital issues where the government can concentrate. People may not feel comfortable to hear any such comments from Ershad, who created the problem, but will agree that the cantonment is always considered as restricted area and it is not right to run political activities in the cantonment. Acts of sabotage can be carried out if different kinds of people roam the place.
General people expect more maturity and foresightedness in dealing with problems of national interest. Since the government comes to power with huge expectation of mass people, there are lots of things to do as the government faces major challenges on several fronts like BDR mutiny, economic recession, law and order chaos, AL’s student wing activity, trial of war criminal and so on.
The opposite of tolerance is intolerance, bigotry, prejudice, narrow mindedness, fanaticism, or small mindedness. People have mixed reactions against the decision and cannot resist themselves to detect a certain degree of vindictiveness. Khaleda Zia, the beneficiary, has been living at the cantonment house since 1981 and is alleged now that she is breaching the lease terms by several ways. She has been carrying out political activities from that house, and paying no tax. The house has been used as her sons’ official business addresses and even as used as collateral to acquire bank loans. In addition, the house was allocated after her husband’s assassination in May 1981 as he left little or no cash for his widow or for his two sons - Tarique and Arafat Rahman. The house was allocated to provide a regular source of income following a wave of national sympathy for her plight. But the time is now different.
Sheikh Hasina’s comment in Parliament on April 7, 2009: "No Member of Parliament, no leader of the opposition, should live in the cantonment," makes sense, but people wonder why her previous government didn’t revoke lease if its legality was untenable or if the beneficiary is violating the terms and conditions. The grounds of decision may be well understood with the fact that once Khaleda government cancelled the lease of Ganabhaban to Sheikh Hasina and a property at Dhanmondi to her sister Sheikh Rehana. Going further, Khaleda converted the Sheikh Rehana’s house into a police station and inaugurated the station by herself which is unprecedented for a Prime Minister to do so.
To reach a consensus on basic national issues, shunning all negative and destructive politics, every political party will have to work with unity and amity to establish a congenial and stable atmosphere so that the nation can come out from the vicious grip of all kind problems. National interest cannot be achieved by settling old scores or examples, extracting vengeance for past wrongs, and demonizing those with whom we disagree. Certainly, the examples set by the two governments are not national interests in any sense and both of their decisions are ill-conceived.
In December, 2008, the AL-led grand alliance triumphed over the four-party alliance, attaining 87% of the Parliamentary seats. Negative political rhetoric will only serve to drive the people further apart at a time when everyone needs to be working together.
Everyone expressed deep condolences and assured full support to the unfortunate families of Pilkhana killings at Dhaka BDR headquarter. But the decision proposed by the government to build houses at Khaleda Zia’s cantonment resident area to settle families of 55 Bangladesh Army Officers, is a very immature taste and contrary to the logic used against her. She is also a wife of slain President, who was an ex-army chief. There are many government lands that could easily be used for supporting unfortunate BDR carnage victims.
General people have nothing to do with the housing issue. But as far as the legality of the lease is concerned, both the government and the leader of the opposition in Parliament should have to resolve the dispute in the court. Preparing to boycott next parliament session or playing "tit-for-tat politics" over the eviction order by the opposition party, will hinder the democratic journey in the country.
Last election in Bangladesh had been a long and painful road back to democracy. People certainly don’t want another flare-up of the political unrest in the country. #
New York, April 22, 2009
Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York. He could be reached: Ripan.Biswas@yahoo.com