Dhaka, Oct.30 (ANI): Suhrawardy Udyan in Dhaka is the venue where Sheikh Mujibur Rehman had delivered the historic March 7, 1971 speech. It is also the historic venue where the remnants of the Pakistan Army surrendered to India on December 16, 1971.
On October 25, 2013, however, it saw a different kind of history being made.
The 18-Party opposition alliance led by the BNP held a rally in which Begum Khaleda Zia announced the launching of a 60-hour hartal from 6 a.m. on October 27 to 6 p.m. on October 29, 2013 as an 'initial programme'. She threatened to wage an even tougher agitation should the government fail to act by October 29 evening for initiating talks with the BNP for the formation of a non-party election time government.
So far so good. Given the confrontational politics in Bangladesh and efforts to effect change through the street rather than the ballot, launching of hartals is par for the course.
What was most noticeable, however, was that the event, which was for the installation of a non-party election government, became one to seek the release the Jamaat war criminals. It was dominated, in fact taken over by the Jamaat and its student wing the Islami Chhatra Shibir. They occupied the front areas of the podium at Suhrawardy Udyan and the BNP and its youth and student bodies were pushed aside. In fact, there was an ugly clash between the Jamaat- Shibir and BNP activists at the venue.
The banners and placards displayed by the Jamaat-Shibir activists portrayed images of their top leaders who had been sentenced to death or were under trial in connection with the war crimes. They chanted slogans for the release of war criminals like Ghulam Azam, Dilawar Hussain Sayedee, Mujaheed, Qader Mollah etc. Banners were inscribed with "Grand Rally is to protest against the conspiracy to kill the national leaders through politicisation and judiciary". They cheered only when their leaders were making speeches.
Prominent English daily The Daily Star reported that the ICS activists had been ordered by the party high command to rush to the venue and take control of the rally. This was repeated in other places in Bangladesh where rallies were held. More than 60 per cent of the processionists belonged to Jamaat-Shibir activists and most were armed with bamboo sticks.
It was evident to all that the BNP had been upstaged by the Jamaat-Shibir, much to the dismay of those BNP loyalists who had been with the party since the days of Zia ur Rehman. Not surprisingly, in some places like Dinajpur, a section of BNP activists raised objections to Jamaat leaders making speeches.
Perhaps realising that the BNP had been upstaged and she was, in fact, addressing a Jamaat rally, Khaleeda had no option but to up the ante. Pandering to the slogans and banners of the Jamaat activists, she stated that 'The present government has imprisoned many leaders illegally and we will be able to free them all if we can oust this administration'.
Khaleeda had earlier claimed that the Awami League led government had become illegal on October 25. She now went a step further and declared that it had become 'totally illegitimate' and 'unconstitutional' from October 27. Worse, she called upon all government employees and members of the Police, RAB and Border Guards not to carry out any government orders from then on. Encouraging disobedience, she threatened government employees that cooperation with an illegal government was tantamount to committing illegal activities.
Khaleed's desperation is evident from the fact that her claim was patently false. The Awami League government, elected for 5 years, was formed on January 6, 2009 and it would complete its 5 years term on January 5, 2014.
Hence, the government is not illegal. According to the Constitution, the Parliament's 5 years term continues till January 24, 2014. The Constitution also permits the government to continue until the new government is formed through elections. Hence, the government legally exists till January 24, 2014.
Moreover, Khaleeda herself attended the October 25 rally with the flag and security protocol of leader of the Opposition enjoying the status of a Cabinet Minister. If the government was illegal, her status as Opposition leader too was illegal.
In fact, Khaleeda conveniently forgot that her last government completed its 5 years term on October 9, 2006 but remained in power until October 27, 2006 when Parliament completed its term. Clearly, therefore, her claim was not only untenable but she was indulging in dangerous politics and one-upmanship by inciting the civil and security administration to defy the government.
Even by Bangladeshi standards, the BNP rhetoric is getting more and more dangerous and the insidious influence of the Jamaat is clearly perceptible. For example, the Chittagong BNP President A K Choudhary warned Sheikh Hasina's government had already 'fallen' and it would be 'buried' on November 07. S H Khokha, the former mayor of Dhaka city directed his party men to arm themselves with cleavers and axes to prevent anyone from stopping them. He was obviously taking a leaf from the Jamaat's book which, while attacking opponents, usually hacks them and then slits their tendons. Cutting tendons has now become Shibir's signature attack.
Equally, an indication of what lies ahead for the minorities was evident when Jamaat-Shibir-BNP activists vandalised and looted a remote village called Shafinagar in Lalmonirhat on October 27 night. Only Hindu shops were looted while 30 odd shops owned by Muslim were not touched.
Fortunately for Bangladesh and the region, the sentiments of the liberation war of 1971 when the country threw off the yoke of Pakistan still resonates strongly, much to the discomfort of the Jamaat and the BNP. Not surprisingly, therefore, children of freedom fighters under the banner of Amra Muktijoddhar Shontan (AMS) washed the alter of the Shikha Chirantan at Suhrawardy Udyan with their blood on October 28 to protest Khaleeda's remarks relating to the war crimes trial. They said that by demanding the release of the convicted war criminals she had desecrated the alter that symbolised the country's independence. In a symbolic manner these AMS leaders donated blood drawn by a doctor which was dissolved in water with which the altar was cleansed.
These developments should serve as a warning for the BNP and Khaleeda Zia that their programme has been hijacked by the Jamaat. They should also realise that the country will never forgive them for desecrating the memory of the liberation war and its heroes and standing on the side of the perpetrators of the war crimes and those opposed to the independence of Bangladesh.
The views expressed in the above article are that of Mr. Salim Haq. (ANI)