It was not the well attended rally that made Khaleda Zia and her BNP look much better than they have in many years but the high-handed tactics of the AL Government and its activists in trying to prevent a large gathering at the rally. It was such a set of ridiculous attempts to prevent the impossible that the AL came out looking like a bunch of scared rabbits that the BNP had startled into action. In the end it didn’t work as it never does and it’s the AL who now stands out looking inept which by default makes the BNP look so much better than it actually is.
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Just about anyone knows that rallies are unstoppable political products and once called by either of the two will collect a large number of people. Yet both parties seem to forget this when they go to power and consider such rallies major political threats. This has happened in every regime but the surprising point is that the two leaders don’t seem to learn this simple lesson. Efforts to prevent the political activities of another go on. March 12 has driven more people away from the AL than any other day this year.
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Why the AL is so nervous about the BNP rally is quite mysterious. Speculations were on just prior to the rally that the BNP may try a takeover using crowd power. The fear of ‘Ghosts of Tahrir Square’ is so deep in most minds that any rally is seen as a potential step to power. If only people could be made to see that our political power has nothing to do with people’s power so neither of the parties can manipulate any clout that would lead to a takeover! But then anxiety has its own logic and does not subject itself to reason.
But it was also one of the most callous disregard to public suffering as thousands battled to move from one place to another in this nightmarish city and faced trouble that is in no way justified by any political argument.
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The human cost of suffering is never counted in Bangladesh. And the public situation experienced on March 12 is a reminder that to politicians the public matters very little. But what the AL also did in its failed attempt to contain the crowds from swelling was use its cadres to intimidate those they thought were going to the rally. In effect, the AL cadres were given police duty and then given immunity for their acts. They frisked and patted down those they thought were ‘suspicious’ in their eyes and indicated that they were ‘higher and holier’ than even the police.
In this state of total control, the AL became the party and the administration at the same time and this mixing up where party activists played law and order roles is a terrible and frightening example. It bodes very badly for the future. How far will this role playing go is not known and what its implications are not certain either. This was something that shouldn’t have been done. Period.
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BNP’s battle was won long before the rally began and that is the point that the AL must learn. People were mistreated and harassed, and there is a considerable level of public resentment against this as well. Yet this was so eminently avoidable but then the AL had a bad case of nerves as a result of which it floundered and made such a mess.
The AL decided to add to it by making direct broadcasts impossible on several TV channels as common public opinion goes. This if true has been a disastrous move and has reduced its credibility even further. Nothing was achieved except a bad reputation.
What is amazing that despite having a lot of advisers, experts and specialists, the party came out looking so novice like, out of depth and touch, hardly the kind of maturity that can handle a political crisis towards which we seem to be heading.
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The BNP of course sounded like the same old drone that is Khaleda where her political imagination is limited by her lack of understanding of what people want. What she however left out was significant which is any reference to the War Crimes Trial. Whether she didn’t say anything because there is a law that forbids any criticism or because her allies come from Jamaate-e-Islami, the fact remains that she is on their side of the barricade. In the end, she is their ally in the war she is hoping to win. There will be lesser souls in support of her because she has not condemned the war criminals and in her rally, Jamaat supporters carried placards demanding release of the alleged war criminals. It was a very convenient but unpleasant silence on the part of Khaleda Zia.
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The people are once more hostages at the hands of those who are Bangladesh’s political leaders. Khaleda has declared a number of new programmes including a hartal. So we are back to the hot and heavy season. There will be mayhem and suffering and while both parties will blame each other for the problems, the fact remains that public suffering as a collateral damage of national politics will go on. In Bangladesh, no leader becomes popular and then gains power. It is just that one leader becomes so unpopular that the other by comparison looks better.
In a country where political achievement is measured not by achievements in governance but the size of people attending a meeting, the political structure is not just inane but nearly insane.
Afsan Chowdhury is the Executive Editor of bdnews24.com.