Maswood Alam Khan
Those who had learned from political science that a democratically elected government cannot afford to do anything unjust to the people and thought that a ‘caretaker government’ is an aberration of normal governance and that the Election Commission is enough to check voting irregularities, have now to rethink, after observing the recent police behaviour, how our law enforcement agencies would ensure a degree of fair play in conducting the next general election.
People have been confused finding how the government machinery had been deployed in blatant disregard to the convention of fair policing and put Dhaka city under siege, enforcing an unprecedented clampdown on the BNP-led opposition on the eve of their planned meeting at Naya Paltan in Dhaka on Monday, March 12 in observance of their programme dubbed “Dhaka Cholo” (Let’s March to Dhaka).
What really is disquieting, as reported in a section of the media, was a 19-point directive from the police headquarters asking the district police authorities across the country to arrest “organisers” of the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami, to detain or stop Dhaka-bound leaders, workers and other people at thana level in their respective districts, to requisition vehicles owned by pro-BNP and pro-Jamaat men in large numbers on grounds of government needs (even if there were no such needs) ahead of the March 12 meeting in the capital. “The police headquarters will evaluate the success of the police superintendents of the districts”, the directive also warned.
Though some spokesmen of the police authority disowned such directives, it was quite understandable from news reports that the government’s law enforcement agencies would leave no stone unturned in putting measures that would stand in the way of political leaders and activists who were eager to attend the Monday meeting in Dhaka.
Of course, the government must take security measures in order to avert any subversive activities from any quarter that could endanger the lives of people attending and the leaders addressing the meeting and also to keep the roads and streets, other than those where the meeting would be held, free for traffics to move. But, people as well as observers at home and abroad, must have been flabbergasted, learning that even the movements of all public transports including railways to and from Dhaka had been stopped! Not only that! Hoteliers in Dhaka had also been advised not to allow anybody to board at their hotels.
The question that must boggle the mind is why such measures were taken in medieval styles when a major political alliance simply wished to exercise their democratic rights. Don’t all these measures, with police taking over the streets and raiding hotels and messes in the city to ensure that no anti-government elements are around, bore signs that the administration had panicked? Such panicky preparedness on the part of the government might rather benefit the opposition political parties as they would cite these examples as fodders for the public to listen to.
When the government is supposed to make life easier for people, the measures that were taken by the law enforcement agencies were doing just the opposite. And, the party in power should remember that if or when they would be in the opposition the same measures might be replicated by the present opposition alliance if they ever come to power.
It is undoubtedly a healthy sign of a positive political culture in our country that protesters – political as well as apolitical – have for the last few years adopted a method of forming ‘human chains’ in public places as their language of protest to express their frustrations, instead of calling ‘hartal’. To help maintain this culture of peaceful protestation, to foster better relationship within political parties and to nurture democracy, the government must allow unhindered human chains and meetings to be held at public places where the aggrieved can ventilate their grievances. Otherwise, destructive means of ventilation of grievances like those of ‘hartal’ and vandalism would bound back to our political culture.
Elections held under all the previous caretaker governments had been pretty free and fair. The only caretaker government that was questioned and was not truly constitutional was the two-year-long unusual interim government of 2007-2008, though that government actually rescued the falling statecraft and made some praiseworthy reforms our democratically elected governments had failed to achieve. Still, nobody wants a repetition of a similar two-year interim government.
But, people would like to see restoration of a kind of non-partisan caretaker government system to conduct the general election in a free and impartial manner, particularly in the context of the country’s political milieu. The Supreme Court gave a verdict (that is yet to be published in full) against the Caretaker Government provision; but the verdict also stipulated for holding two more general elections under Caretaker Government system. Political pundits, including some from the party in power, also believe that the Caretaker Government system should not be abolished. The party in power will do well if they review their stand on this issue and pacify the worried people who fear that they would be shortchanged if the next election is not held under a neutral caretaker government.
As the people are critical of government excesses, they also hope and pray that the opposition would behave with responsibility and the political workers belonging to the opposition would restrain themselves from indulging in any destructive activities, the police personnel would be watchful and the government would listen to the genuine demand for the reinstitution of the caretaker government system in order to avoid misunderstanding and political clashes.
The write-up was sent prior to the holding of the scheduled grand rally of the BNP-led opposition alliance.