‘Special train’ for Awami League, ‘transport strike’ for BNP
Public property means the "public's" property – it doesn't belong to any individual or political party. But recent examples tell a different story. The ruling Awami League is going to create an extraordinary example in a soon-to-be-held rally in Rajshahi, where a special train has been earmarked for this occasion. The question is: can a political party use a national asset in this way?
It must be clarified that even though we criticise politicians and the parties they represent, at the end of the day, we have to – or want to – go to them for solutions. It's a proven fact that when politicians lead a country through a political process, the country benefits the most. There are ample examples of how non-political forces steer a nation, with Pakistan being a prominent example; a country that is on the verge of bankruptcy. Comparatively, India has no fewer internal problems. But as they are ruled by a politician-led democratic process, they have still managed to create a strong footing.
Our everlasting hope is that political parties will govern Bangladesh through a proper, acceptable and independent election. Unfortunately, as time goes by, a gross lack of equality, justice and good governance is gaining institutional acceptance.
The Daily Star Bangla reported that the Awami League will hold a rally in Rajshahi Madrasa Public Speaking Ground on January 29. This is a rally organised by the political party AL, and not by the AL government. Still, a special train has been arranged for this "political party's" rally.
Now, why is this a problem? What harm is there in arranging a special train for those attending a specific party's rally?
Well, firstly, why should there be a special arrangement for this, when there aren't even enough trains to service the general populace, and when the passenger to train ratio is quite low?
Secondly, can we recall what the ruling party's attitude and the transport situation were like when the BNP tried organising a rally in Rajshahi? Last year, on September 28, BNP announced that they would organise a rally in Rajshahi on December 3. Before it, a transport strike was called in eight districts of the division, and enforced from 6am on December 1. In fact, the strike was underway even before its stipulated starting time.
This strike saw the ceasing of movement for all kinds of vehicles, including buses, trucks and three-wheelers. Rajshahi was virtually cut off from all adjacent districts. Thus, it became very hard for BNP leaders and activists to join the rally from neighbouring districts. It was evident that the transport strike was devised in order to impede BNP supporters from attending. Although the government announced that the strike was called by transport owners and that they had nothing to do with it, any conscious being can gauge that the reality was the contrary.
At one end, we see people being actively prevented from attending a BNP rally using transport strikes, police checkposts being put up every couple of kilometres, and BNP leaders'/activists' homes being raided, and them being arrested. On another end, special trains are to be arranged for the AL's rallies. Why should two political parties of the same nation receive polar opposite treatments?
We take for granted that the ruling party will get some added benefits. But does that mean they can misuse public resources? Can they act against another political party in this way? What of the tall talks on equality and justice we hear so often?
When there's a BNP rally, 3G and 4G services for mobile networks are usually halted around the venue. But the government doesn't even bother to explain the reasons behind this. On December 3, 2022, Rajshahi did not have 3G and 4G services. Queries revealed that the BTRC had given a "directive" to carry this out.
Did the BTRC's directive only harm and deprive BNP leaders and activists? Did not the general population also suffer? When the transport strike prevented BNP supporters from travelling between districts, were they the only ones affected? Did the whole region consist of BNP supporters, leaders and activists? Is there any explanation for such government actions, which cause the people to suffer?
It can be uncomfortable to have these pointed out, but even when we do, the government pays no heed. When a political party is elected by the popular vote, but then becomes an authoritarian regime, getting re-elected via night votes and voter-less polls, the general people start feeling bitter towards said party. People start comparing such political governments with military dictatorships, which is by no means a positive sign for our politics, or for politicians in general.
The ruling AL's politicians claim they have no aspirations of holding on to power and that they do not want any personal achievements, either – they simply want to serve the public.
Undoubtedly, serving the public is a good deed. But what kind of "service" do people get when their mobile networks are disrupted? Do transport strikes serve the people? What does "serving the people" actually mean to the ruling party? Does it mean only serving their own leaders, activists and supporters? Aren't opposition party affiliates a part of this country, too? Don't they also deserve to be served by the government?
People are losing voting rights, they cannot cast votes during polls, the prices of essentials are skyrocketing – and the government seems to be taking no notice. Ignoring the public's pleas, it is instead increasing the prices of fuel, gas and electricity. Each development project is seeing a cost increase, which is affecting the economy. We are experiencing an acute US dollar crisis and yet, money laundering persists. The government is not even taking effective steps against people who have been found responsible for causing these issues.
I want to end this piece with an example. Back when the military dictator HM Ershad was in power, the 15-party alliance led by the AL, seven-party alliance led by the BNP, and the five-party leftwing alliance, participated in a unified protest. Then, Ershad, who lost all popular support, stopped production in Adamjee Jute Mill and brought in 15,000 to 20,000 workers to join his rallies. That initiated the eventual doom of Adamjee Jute Mill. Later, the BNP came to power and shut down this mill, which once was bursting with potential.
Bangladesh Railway is already riddled with injustice, anomalies, and corruption. Have we considered what ill fate might befall the BR if such political usage of trains, as mentioned above, becomes a recurring trend?
Golam Mortoza is the editor of The Daily Star Bangla.