For the last couple of weeks, the citizens of Bangladesh have witnessed a silent battle between the Election Commission and many other actors, including students of Hindu community and different student wings of political parties concerning the date of elections of Dhaka South and North City Corporations on the 30th of January. The skirmish was driven by the fact that the Hindu community students would observe their worship to Goddess Saraswati on the same day. The enormity of the situation was so prodigious that one lawyer filed a writ petition in the court requesting a direction to the EC so that they change the election date. Before the filling of the writ petition, the minority community leaders met with the EC to press their demands to change the date of the election. Unfortunately, they failed to convince the EC.
Observing the dispute concerning the shifting of the date of the election, I am very sorry to say that the EC could not make a well thought out decision while determining the date of the election in Dhaka South and North City Corporations. They should have considered the fact that the Hindu community students would observe their worship to Goddess Saraswati on this day. As we all know that Saraswati is considered as the Goddess of education. That is why; students observe this worship in different educational institutes. Due to the existence of religious harmony, all of the festivals are celebrated in Bangladesh universally meaning that we all enjoy any of the festivals collectively irrespective of religion. Thus, a pertinent question is: was it mandatory for the EC to determine the date of the election on that particular day? Even though the decision was not a logical one as the mobility of the citizens might have been constrained by the law enforcing agencies on the earlier day of the election. Thus, had the Puja been observed on the 30th of January, they should have observed it with distress?The EC did not contemplate the negative impact of the election during the time of SSC examination as more than 2 million students would take part in this election. We all know that elections usually take place in festivity in our country. Thus, before the election, the candidates usually use different strategies to win the confidence of their voters. The mobility of candidates and their supporters increase to a great extent during this time. Moreover, due to the use of mike, the concentration of the students could have been disturbed. Thus, all these negative consequences should have been considered by the EC before making their final decision.
I really appreciate the movement of the general students and student wings of different political parties who extended their solidarity with the movements of the students belonging to the Hindu community. The most important aspect was that all of these actors demanded the change of election date due to the Saraswati Puja. The situation changed drastically when the EC was compelled to change the date of the election having discussed with the authorities of different education boards. If they could make the decision a couple of weeks back the students and their guardians would not have spent their times in anxiety.
The issue was dealt with in such a way that has sent a very negative message about the credibility and image of the EC. Even the political parties have been found very muddled while expressing their views about this matter. Eventually, both political parties have played a strategic game with this issue. Sometimes, they have cautiously pressed the responsibility on the EC and sometimes they have referred to the verdict of the court. Both the political parties have tried to win the confidence of the minority voters by expressing their solidarity with them as well as supporting the action of the EC. Of course, during the latter part of this episode, the political party leaders have expressed their covenant to the demand of the students. Thus, a chaotic situation prevailing in the country for a number of days came to an end.
Many of us have been claiming that the changed schedule of the examination could exert a negative impact on the mindset of the examinees. I partially agree with this statement because the students might have set their mindset with the earlier routine. But, at the same time, I also disagree with this argument because; they have been notified at least two weeks back. Thus, a change in the commencement of the examination date would not affect them quite seriously. I strongly believe that considering the overall political environment of the country, the students and their guardians would take this changed examination schedule very positively.
The change of election date has not only affected the Saraswati Puja and SSC examinees, but it has also affected the Bangla Academy book fair which was scheduled to be started on the 1st of February. Historically, we have been experiencing that the book fair starts on the 1st of February. Regrettably, due to shifting of the date of elections, the authority was forced to postpone the Ekushey Book Fair by a day and reschedule the commencement of the fair on the 2nd of February. The postponement of the book fair by a day will affect the publishers very badly as they would get 28 days instead of 29 days for selling their books. Even those who have already planned to visit the book fair on the 1st of February would find them in an exasperating situation.
Finally, it can be said that one decision of the EC has created an undesirable dispute in the country. In the meantime, many vested quarters have tried fishing in troubled waters. Thanks to the EC for finally realizing the importance of rescheduling of the election. Had they stuck to their original decision to hold the election on the 30th of January, we could have faced more catastrophes in the country. But, I am really frustrated to see the responsible officials expressing their views in areckless manner. Thus, all actors should remain careful while taking any decision or making any comments on any particular issue during the crisis. I strongly believe that the EC would learn a lesson from this incident and act prudently in the future. This would help them to uphold their credibility among the citizens and political parties.
The writer is a Professor of Public Administration and an Additional Director of the Institutional Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC) at the University of Rajshahi.