Saturday, February 25, 2012

As March 12 draws near

The date for BNP's mass programme draws closer and things heat up on the political front.

As March 12 draws closer, tension mounts on the political scene. The threatening and instigative comments being made by the Prime Minister, ministers and leaders of ruling Awami League concerning BNP's programme scheduled for that day, are adding fuel to the fire. The apprehensions of the people mount. Politicians and the general public alike all ask, what is going to happen on that day? Could it turn out to be another 'October 28', when Awami League activists broke out into a mayhem of violence some years back?
State Minister for Law, Advocate Kamrul Islam, said in a recent speech that the month of march belonged to them, the pro-Liberation forces. According to him, BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia is leading the war criminals. He called upon the people to resist them.
Other leaders of the ruling Awami League have termed any movement of BNP to be an attempt to disrupt the country's stability. They say that the March 12 programme is a similar move to create unrest. They say they will take it upon themselves to teach BNP a lesson. The question is, isn't it the task of the law enforcement agencies to ensure discipline?
Actually, for the looks of it, the government is more apprehensive about March 12 than the people. After all, there have been murmurs that BNP's march 12 showdown may be a replication of Egypt's Tahrir Square movement. This has provoked the ruling party leaders to become aggressive in their speech, causing further worry to the common people.
On January 09 this year, BNP announced its "Cholo, cholo, Dhaka cholo' (March to Dhaka) programme for March 12, demanding a reinstatement of the caretaker government system. Along with the four-party alliance, 16 other like-minded parties will join the programme. BNP is determined to make the programme a success at any cost. Even Jamaat-e-Islami, presently sidelined in the political scene, plans to come out in a big way on March 12.
March 12 is still a long way off, but the leaders of both parties have become very vocal about this. Awami League has decided to tackle BNP politically. They will resist BNP on the streets. The common people are anxious what this will lead to eventually.
Speaking at a public rally in Chandpur on Monday, Begum Khaleda Zia said, "We do not want to topple the government. Let's see how far they can limp on. We want to leave the government crippled and lame."
She called upon the people, "All of you march together to Dhaka on that day."
Khaleda Zia's statements indicate they are determined to make a display of their strength on that day, to let the government understand that they mean business.
However, BNP has no intention of resorting to violence. Khaleda Zia made this clear in her speech at Chandpur. She said, "We will not take up loghi-boitha [referring to the Awami League activists' attack with poles and brickbats]; ours will be a peaceful programme."
BNP policymakers have made it clear that Khaleda Zia wants the government to remain in power for its full term. The party's top leaders want that too. The government has two years of its term left. If the anti-government movement aims to topple the government from power so soon, it will turn violent and will not continue for long. The people will not welcome that. The party activists and supporters may lose patience too. That is why BNP has decided to stick to a peaceful movement for this year. Next year they will take the movement to its peak. That is why the Dhaka March programme of March 12 plans on a mammoth public gathering, but no violence.
The government's top level leadership is well aware of this. They are also aware that in recent times the rallies of BNP have been seeing unprecedented turnouts of people and the March 12 is going to be more massive than ever before.
Quarters within Awami League feel that even if the programme is a peaceful one, the great success will have a negative impact on the ruling party. BNP will be able to make a public display of its popularity. That is why, they feel, they cannot allow this programme to be a success and it must be politically thwarted. The ruling party will adopt all sorts of tactics to this end. They have not come up with any counter programme so far, but the central leaders have instructed the leaders and workers of the party to take to the streets too on that day. There is a possibility that any of Awami League's affiliated fronts will also announce a programme in the same day. Awami League leaders and activists will take up position on all entry points of Dhaka city on March 12. Dhaka City Awami League may even stage a long human chain from one end of the city to the other, demanding the trial of the war criminals. The party leaders and workers in every ward have been told to remain alert.
Awami League sources say that just as Awami League announced a counter programme on January 29, a day that BNP had a scheduled programme, on March 12 they may similarly come up with a programme to ensure that BNP's programme is not a success.
BNP sources say that they will not fall into that trap. However, they will not cancel the programme.
Speaking to PROBE, BNP Acting Secretary General says, "The government is deliberately creating confusion. They are going out of their way to create confrontation." He says, "We announced our programme a month and a half ago. By announcing programmes on the same day, Awami League is proving that they don't believe in democracy. The government should adhere to democracy or else if the country is pitched into stability, the government will have to bear the blame."
According to BNP sources, they have already applied to the National Sports Council for permission to use Paltan Maidan. They haven't received a reply to their application as yet. The sources say that if they are not granted permission, they will use the entire area in front of their Naya Paltan to hold the grand rally. And in order to ensure that the programme is a success, the leaders and workers from all over the country will come to Dhaka days in advance. The party has formed 45 coordination committee to ensure the programme's success.
In the meantime, Jamaat has formed an eleven-member committee to prepare for the March 12 programme. They have formed sub-committees to for hosting those who come to Dhaka, medical treatment, etc. The committees are working round the clock. Jamaat is also determined to pull in its leaders and workers from all over the country to show its clout.
Ever since the present government came to power, Jamaat has been sidelined. With six of its top leaders on trial for crimes against humanity, the party has been facing a challenge for survival. It now wants to make a comeback and so is willing to join any programme of BNP, unconditionally. The has a strong presence in the mass processions of January 29 and 30 too. Several sources of Jamaat confirm that they will once again show their strength at the March 12 programme.

What the government wants
Whether the March 12 gathering is to be a peaceful one or a disruptive one, depends completely on the government's attitude, it seems. BNP leaders point to January 29, saying that there mass march programme for that day had been pre-scheduled and then Awami League suddenly announced their programme for the same day. The police then declared Section 144, prohibiting all public gatherings on the day. BNP simply shifted their programme to January 30. The rallies in the district towns were held as per schedule where Section 144 hadn't been declared. It was noted that clashes erupted only when the police obstructed the march programme. Four BNP workers were killed in police fire. Even then, BNP's January 30 mass rally in Dhaka was completely peaceful. Analysts say this proves the government wrong when to contends that BNP is out to create unrest. It is the government party that fails to act in a democratic manner. If the government adopts a similar attitude on March 12 and the police act aggressively, the situation may turn violent. This will simply serve to create further vengeance in politics. It is for the government to decide which path it will chose to follow.
The ruling party, according to observers, may take up several strategies to disrupt the opposition's programme. They may make mass arrests of BNP leaders and workers in the districts. They may clamp down on communications between Dhaka and the other districts. They may stage transport strikes in some areas. The police may create a security ring around Dhaka City. The government may declare Section 144, banning all public gathering on the day. The government machinery may also make sure most of the city's hotels are fully booked so that BNP activists from outside Dhaka have no place to stay.
Sources say, BNP is also preparing for the government's tactics. The field level leaders will come to Dhaka from the beginning of the month. If the activists from the remote districts are prevented from coming to Dhaka, arrangements will be made to bring in large numbers from the districts nearby. If they are not allowed into the city, they will take up position at all the entry points to the city. Even if they are obstructed in their peaceful sit-in, they will not budge. The field level workers want to create a Tahrir Square situation in Dhaka. However, they will not be instigated into violence. After all, they are also taking into cognizance the presence of outside eyes on developments in Bangladesh politics. International intervention has also played a role in Bangladesh politics and so BNP will want to maintain its positive and peaceful image.
Both BNP and Awami League are also looking towards the media. BNP will want full media coverage of a successful programme on March 12. The government will want any possible clashes and unruly incidents to be highlighted.
Analysts say BNP's extensive preparatory work for March 12 will be a boost to the party's organisational strength. This will strengthen the movement and will yield positive results in the coming election.