Thursday, March 29, 2012

Strategically Speaking : Shrinking political space for the opposition

It is not only shrinking, political space of the opposition is shrinking at a frighteningly increasing rate. And that is alarming for any country that claims to be democratic and civilised. To be civilised is the first essential criterion that makes for a democratic nation, and one that is not cannot claim to be fully democratic. Looking at the way the government has gone about curtailing the political freedom of the opposition by denying them the room to conduct legitimate and lawful political and civil activities, and which were neither potentially disruptive nor posed danger to public life and property or to national security, one wonders whether we can claim to be either democratic or civilised. 

On the heels of the government action in respect of the March 12 BNP rally, which went ahead despite everything that was done by deploying the entire state machinery including the AL party appendages to see that the programme did not come through, the two recent incidents concerning the BNP leader make one wonder whether by acting in this manner the government is not shooting itself in the foot. 

What can one make of the repoprt that the leader of the opposition was hindered from going to the National Memorial by the law enforcing agencies? As reported in the media, she was stopped right at her doorsteps till she and her entourage literally forced themselves through the barricade and moved towards Savar. And obstructions were set up in quite a few places along the road also, reportedly by AL cadres.

The predictable denial was not long in coming. We are by now used to the overused remarks of the home minister in such instances. In reply to question from journalists whether such action was ordered from the top, she said that the government had not passed any such order to any agency to bar the movements of Begum Zia on the morning of March 26. Really? Then what we saw and read in the media, of policemen in uniform creating obstruction for the opposition leader's entourage, must either have been stage managed by the BNP to malign the government or these were some cosmic apparitions doing the dirty job for somebody. 

That these people were neither apparitions nor cosmic interventions was clear from the way they behaved with the people around them. Pictures don't lie and unoriginal explanations do not wash with the public. But the explanation given by another person holding responsible position in the government sounded so comically ridiculous as to compel one to wonder whether we are destined to suffer at the hands of little men with little minds who take the people for granted and give no credit to their intelligence. He said, without directly answering the question, that nobody would be allowed to create law and order problems in the name of exercising political or civic rights. Are we to believe that the intention of the leader of the opposition on the morning of our National Day was to create law and order situation for the government? 

It is for the government to enquire as to who ordered, and on what grounds, the obstruction of the opposition leader on her way to the National Memorial, because if we take the claims of the government to be true then there is reason to be worried because it seems that there is somebody who is acting over the head of the legitimate authorities. And if the police were there without specific instructions from the lawful authorities we are surprised that the relevant persons have not been asked to account for their actions.

As for the other incident, the proposed launching of some books on the late BNP leader, it could not be held because the reservation of the programme venue, which happened to be a hotel owned by the government, was cancelled at the very last minute. 

Here again it seems that some non-corporeal entity must have been at work, because nobody has taken the responsibility of having passed the order to cancel the booking. In fact the government has denied having instructed anybody to that effect. But as reported in the media, the cancellation was done on the orders of the "higher authority." We are confused once again, and, even more, disappointed that no one has the gumption to own up the responsibility for passing the order to cancel the reservation. And if it was not a part of an underhand wily scheme of some half-witted mind in the administration, then the government should come up with a plausible explanation as to why the hotel management acted in the way they did.

These actions of the government, and we find very hard to accept what the government has said with regard to these two incidents, puts the political wisdom of the AL in very poor light. Such is not expected of a party with a long political tradition. One wonders whether it is an indication of the party's political bankruptcy or is it that the AL has run out of options to counter the opposition. 

Curtailing the opposition's political freedom demeans the significance of the month of March.