Tuesday, 16 August, 2022
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Commentary

Sheikh Hasina could be arrested but not her spirit

In about half a century of its existence Bangladesh has had its darkest moments and days since the killing of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family on the  early morning of 15 August 1975. The darkest day that began on that day entered a new phase when the usurper of state power General Zia, after the killing of the Father of the Nation, mauled the 1972 Constitution and incorporated the infamous Indemnity Ordinance and turned it into an Act of parliament which blocked the trials of the killers of 15 August 1975.

This was an unprecedented act by any standard.  Zia also amended the 1972 Constitution and allowed all the parties that opposed the creation of Bangladesh and were comrade in arms of the Pakistani army and took part in the genocide committed inside Bangladesh in 1971. Zia put the last nail in the coffin of Bangladesh when he removed one of the four pillars of the constitution, ‘Secularism’ from the constitution. Zia, by his deeds during his tenure, tried his best to turn Bangladesh into a mini Pakistan.

After Zia’s assassination in 1981 his successor General Ershad treaded the same footsteps of this predecessor till he was forced to step down in December of 1990 following a mass upsurge. When BNP under the stewardship of Begum Zia won the general election of 1991 it was perceived that the newly elected government would make an attempt to install and nurture the rule of democracy in the country. But excepting amending the constitution to revert back to Parliamentary form of democracy instead of Presidential form nothing else happened.

During the anti-Ershad movement of the nineties the agitating political parties and other civil society organizations decided that the next three parliamentary elections will be held under a non-party ‘Neutral Caretaker Government (CTG)’ for which necessary amendments of the Constitution were also made.

With all fairness it can be said that first post-Ershad government of Begum Zia, though could not make much headway towards the development of the country or creating a democratic atmosphere, mostly because of its inexperience and too much reliance on its technocrat policymakers and self-seeking bureaucrats, her government of 2001-2006 was quite the opposite.

Not only the government began to behave like a monster, it also defamed the country in the eyes of the world, first by patronizing militancy and then by making the entire system corrupt. Begum Zia’s eldest son Tarique Rahman virtually ran a parallel government in spite of the fact that he had no portfolio in the government hierarchy.

 He also made corruption a state of art in the country. The chaotic and autocratic rule of the government was total and Begum Zia and her senior party colleagues began to explore the ways and means as to how to prolong their rule by corrupting the general election scheduled to be held in late December of 2006. Months before the election was scheduled to be held the Constitution was amended to increase the retirement age of the Supreme Court judges by two years ensuring that the next Chief of CTG would be a person who once held an important party position in BNP and served as an ambassador in one of the Middle Eastern countries during General Zia’s military rule.

When the election time neared, speculation was rife in the air as to who would be the next Chief of CTG as Bangladesh Awami League and the like-minded parties announced that they will not accept the intended retired Chief Justice as the Chief of CTG. Awami League also announced that it will not take part in the election and it was evident that without Awami League’s participation no credible election was possible in Bangladesh. To make things more complicated and push the country into a near anarchy situation, BNP and its four party alliance appointed a highly controversial Election Commission with a member who happened to be a former Pakistani Army officer and fought alongside the Pakistani Army in 1971 and was subsequently inducted into the Bangladesh police force by General Zia along with fourteen other such army officers. To further complicate the election process a new voter list was announced which had 1.25 million fake voters.

As the election time was getting closer new conspiracies began to be hatched by BNP and its allies to keep the Bangladesh Awami League and its allies out of the election and for this they manipulated the position of the President of the country. Dr. Iazuddin, an academician, otherwise a gentleman, fell prey to the conspiratorial politics of BNP and its allies and instead of exhausting all the options to select an acceptable Chief of the CTG to ensure Awami League and allies’ participation in the election, as per the dictate of the BNP, to be more specific of Begum Zia, appointed himself the Chief of the CTG. The self-appointed Chief of CTG appointed mostly persons of BNP’s choice to be in the Caretaker cabinet which hardly improved the situation. Few such cabinet members even resigned as they could not agree with many of the decisions of the Caretaker Chief.

Street agitation continued and matters got worse and out of control. Finally when things went out of the hand of Dr. Iajuddin, the then army chief General Moin U Ahmed stepped in and forced Dr. Iajuddin to step down as the CTG Chief and hand over his responsibility to Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, the former Governor of Bangladesh Bank. Dr. Iajuddin complied and a national emergency was declared.  As a matter of fact it was General Moin U Ahmed and some of his senior colleagues who ran the show and they were assisted by some senior civil society members and a section of the popular press. Some civil society members later on bagged important and prestigious posts within and outside the country. Some even went on ambassadorial assignments. Dr. Iajuddin handed over the responsibility of the Chief of CTG to Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed peacefully and Sheikh Hasina along with some of her senior colleagues even attended the oath taking ceremony of Dr. Fakhruddin at Bangabhavan in good earnest which Begum Zia and her allies boycotted.

The beginning of Dr. Fakruddin’s tenure seemed holy but instead of focusing on holding a free and fair parliamentary election the CTG turned their attention towards every other thing, from demolishing unauthorized buildings to bulldozing street side markets and arresting politicians most of whom belonged to the Bangladesh Awami League. They forgot the Constitution only allows them the tenure of ninety days to complete the election process and hand over the power to the newly elected people’s representatives. They prolonged their stay for two years. Amongst other misdeeds of this government was patronizing some political non-entities to form political parties though immediately after forming the CTG they prohibited all political activities in the country. They wanted to create a group of sycophants who would stand by their side in all sorts of misdeeds.

They did their best to dismantle the established political parties, primarily Bangladesh Awami League and BNP though they failed in their attempt to do any harm to Awami League. It did manage to bring about a division in BNP. The strength of Awami League lay in its grassroots level workers and leaders.

Though Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed and his colleagues showed all sorts of enthusiasm in befooling the people in the name of sanitizing the politics of Bangladesh, from their action it was evident their actual intention was depoliticizing the country, and leaving the rule of the country to a civil-military bureaucracy nexus, something very similar to that of  Pakistan. They zealously promoted that for every problem of the country the politicians must take the blame. They advocated that Bangladesh’s politics must be delinked from the leadership of Sheikh Hasina and Begum Zia. Actually their covert intention was to banish Sheikh Hasina from the country’s politics. These self-styled messiahs of saviour of democracy and the country surprisingly prohibited any sort of criticism against them whether in public or private. Eventually they created an environment of fear and intimidation. Unable to affect the cohesion amongst the rank and file of Awami League the CTG, disregarding its constitutional obligations, made the most audacious and atrocious move of their tenure by arresting the daughter of the Father of the Nation, Sheikh Hasina, who sacrificed so much in her life for the cause of democracy and improvement of the life of the people of this country. She is the person who played a leading role in the anti-Ershad movement and stopping Begum Zia from holding a flawed general election. After forming her first government in 1996 she began the trial of the killers of 15 August 1975. Before her arrest a number of concocted and imaginary charges of corruption were brought against her. It was evident that Sheikh Hasina will be arrested from her house in Dhanmondi residence as members of the law enforcing agencies cordoned off virtually the entire Dhanmondi area before the day of her arrest. 

The final moment arrived on the early morning of 16 July when scores of police personnel entered Sheikh Hasina’s residence in Dhanmondhi, `Shudha Shadan,’ and virtually dragged her out of her house in a most disrespectful manner forgetting that if it was not her father’s sacrifice most of these law enforcement agencies would at best be bus helpers or vegetable vendors. When the entire proceedings were being live telecast in some private TV channels not many people who loved Bangladesh or Bangabandhu, irrespective of party affiliation, could hold back their tears and emotions. Before she came out of her house she made a telephone call to one of Caretakers whose father was very close to Bangabandhu and who was even elected in the parliament as an Awami League candidate in the election of 1970. He was very rude to her. Sheikh Hasina was moved to a damp building in the parliament premises where moth-eaten beds and carpets were the only furniture. Much later, on 2 September 2007,   Begum Zia was also arrested on charges of corruption and misuse of power. Surprisingly the same Caretaker informed the media that Begum Zia’s arrest was simply to justify and balance the arrest of Sheikh Hasina. So it was very clear that all these choreographed activities of the CTG, by this time unconstitutional, were directed towards banishing Sheikh Hasina and not Begum Zia from Bangladesh’s politics.

As expected a sham trial of Sheikh Hasina began in a makeshift court within the premises of the parliament. These Caretakers somehow misread the strength of the workers and leaders of Awami League. Soon the nation erupted in an unprecedented mass upsurge demanding unconditional release of the Awami League President and all other political prisoners. Finally the government found the political heat too much to bear and had to release Sheikh Hasina on 11 June 2008 paving the way for a fair and free election which was held in December 2008. Sheikh Hasina and her allies won the election and formed the government for the second time in January 2009. She won the elections in the following two successive terms braving all sorts of odds and interference in the politics of Bangladesh by some foreign powers and international bodies.

During the time she was under detention she carved a road map for the future of the country and if able to form a government in future where she wants to see the people of the country to be over a period of time. Today under her leadership Bangladesh has climbed the stairs to reach the middle income country status and Bangladesh has emerged as a role model for all developing countries acknowledged by even UN and other international bodies.

Sheikh Hasina today is no longer only the Prime Minister of Bangladesh but has also been acknowledged as one of the most respected visionary statesmen of the world. In her absence Bangladesh could be a country like Afghanistan or face a situation similar to present day Sri Lanka which many of her critics want it to be. Those who try to banish people like Sheik Hasina or her father forgets that a person may be arrested or killed but his or her spirit may not be dampened if it is holy and good. 

 

The writer is an analyst and a commentator