Mostafa Kamal MajumderAs another spate of hartal (general strike) has restricted most average people to indoors, the incumbents in power and the main opposition BNP are still sticking to their guns. Some recent developments – the stopping of a 200-vehicle caravan of government loyalists in Fatikchhari by the Opposition among others – have created some anxiety in the corridors of power but people at the helms still believe they have a strong grip on power to make an easy sail in the next elections on their terms.The BNP-led opposition, despite their sufferings because of the repeated arrests and lodging of endless cases, have started believing that the popular opinion has started to swing in their favour since the start of indiscriminate police firing using live bullets on Opposition demonstrations that led to at least 150 deaths in the first fortnight of March.
The Opposition has been bolstered by the latest World Bank action against the Canadian engineering consultancy firm SNC Lavalin for the Padma Bridge corruption conspiracy, as this would lend credence to their allegation of corruption and misrule against the government.
The ruling alliance has pinned its hope on the success of its campaign to brand Jamaat as a militant outfit and blame the BNP for backing the Islamist party to justify punitive legal actions against its key leaders, apparently to make the forthcoming elections easier. But the campaign has backfired, at least for now, because of some unguarded utterances by some of its campaigners against Islam, its Prophet (pbuh) religious politics and religion-based political parties.
It is gathered that some strategists of the ruling alliance have secretly tried to play two cards with the Jamaat and a section of BNP leaders, assuring the former of some leverage to withdraw undeclared restrictions on their political activities if they severed relationships with the BNP, and asking some ranking BNP leaders facing charges of corruption to float a new faction of the party that would contest in the next elections on AL’s terms. BNP Chief Begum Khaleda Zia would have found her wings clipped if these moves succeeded, giving the incumbents a clean sweep in the next elections.
Jamaat leaders are yet to respond to such an offer positively, while targeted BNP leaders look more comfortable to be with the movement because of the success of calls of hartal across the country, despite the use of police power and deployment of AL leaders and workers to streets to resist such programmes.
Against this backdrop the latest statement by the Prime Minister that the move of some civil society groups for holding elections after the restoration of election-time non-party government is engineered to dislodge her and the AL from politics, is seen as her resolve to stick to the plan to hold elections under her government.
Some ministers have dropped hints that the government might be prepared to accommodate some opposition faces in a sort of neutral government under the leadership of the incumbent Prime Minister, but would in no way concede the demand for restoration of caretaker government. Sources say, word has been spread among the rank and file of the ruling alliance that they have to win the next elections at any cost.
In their desperation to take a firm position some advisers to the government are learnt to have taken a strategy to bully the Islamists under the banner of Hefazat-e-Islam on the plea that it was no use pacifying them because these elements never vote for the AL. Thus stage has been set to hold mass rallies of women opposing some Hefazat deamnds by deploying garment workers from Dhaka and its surrounding areas on 27 April.
Statements of Environment and Forest Minister that all BNP leaders would be sent to jail if they do not stop destructive activities and the offer from a State Minister to BNP for talks in case the party deserts the Jamaat, reflect the hard-line position of the incumbents.
This fortnight might be crucial for both the government and the opposition, because the events of the period might set the trends in politics based on assessment of popular support in the run up to the next elections.
(First published in The New Nation, Dhaka as a News Analysis piece)