Yesterday the pro-ruling Awami League's student body, Bangladesh Chhatra League(BCL), celebrated its 69th birth anniversary. We would like to congratulate this student body with a glorious past, especially for its role during our long struggle for our rights during the Pakistan days, its role during our Liberation War and in the anti-Ershad movement for the restoration of democracy.
However, just as we congratulate it, we would also like to ask what right did they have to cause suffering to millions of residents of Dhaka and to those who travelled to and from our capital city. Why was the city allowed to be paralysed? Why hundreds of thousands of people were made to waste untold hours, why school students, office-goers, garment workers, day labourers, etc. were forced to miss their daily obligations just because Chhatra League wanted to celebrate its anniversary? Why thousands of gallons of petrol, gas, etc. were wasted as vehicles stood stranded forcing commuters to inhale polluted air for hours.
BCL could have just as well celebrated their anniversary without causing this public suffering. They could have easily started gathering earlier, like 8am, instead of from 10am or even later. The buses ferrying the activists could have reached the venue in the morning instead of during the height of traffic. BCL leaders could have instructed their processions to proceed along the side of the roads instead of occupying the entirety. In fact, a lot could have been done if public convenience was at all a consideration. We are afraid it seldom is.
Being stranded for more than three hours on the road yesterday and forced to walk to office, I was able to watch from close the occupants of the hundreds of buses that carried the Chhatra League activists joining the celebrations. As I walked past them I noticed that most of them did not fit the usual profile of students. The language they were using, the gestures they were making and the indiscipline they exhibited made me wonder how they strengthened the Awami League, or the government.
In one bus, I heard, Bangabandhu's historic 7th March speech being played. I instantly connected and tried to relive those fiery and exhilarating moments of '71. I saw with deep sadness that occupants of the bus paid no heed to it. I wondered why this exquisite and historic treasure was being subjected to this indignity.
Especially disturbing was the fact that they thought nothing of the inconvenience they were causing to thousands of people who were on their way to their daily chores. I saw many people alighting from their stranded buses and being forced to walk. Some were not able to go beyond a few steps because of their old age. As our photo-feature shows, people in ambulances waited for hours in traffic deprived of urgent medical treatment.
The BCL activists exuded a feeling that since they were a part of the ruling party they had a right to do whatever they liked and we the ordinary citizens had to just swallow it. In several places, the BCL buses were allowed to ply on the wrong side of the road while thousands of commuters hopelessly and helplessly looked on. In fact, while I was crossing the old Rangs Bhavan intersection on foot, I saw police signaling these buses to use the wrong side while the law abiding commuters suffered in silence.
Many processions consisting of only a few hundred activists, who could have easily taken a side of the road to march, preferred to block the traffic completely as they slowly marched towards the Dhaka University several kilometers away. For the hours they took to reach their destination, traffic could only creep behind them creating a tailback going back several kilometers. In several busy intersections, traffic was halted for hours to allow BCL processions to pass.
Anybody who lives in Dhaka knows how inadequate the city roads are to manage the ever growing traffic. Dhaka is mainly a North-South oriented city. Only a few roads (I think three) serve as main arteries for city traffic. If these roads are blocked, even for a few minutes, the tailback takes hours to clear. In yesterday's case, it started from the morning and lasted at least till 2pm creating havoc for the whole city which only those who suffered can comprehend.
The AL General Secretary and former Chhatra League president Obaidul Quader said in his speech on the occasion, to keep Sheikh Hasina above controversy, Chhatra League must also be above controversy. A very bold and timely advice. But what does a reality check reveal? Most of the disturbances in campuses emanate from infighting of Chhatra League, and the origin of these infightings had very little to do with party work but everything to do with money making ventures. Just saying that outsiders are responsible for disruptive and criminal activities of BCL is not really addressing the problem. In fact it gives the signal that leaders are more interested in ignoring the malaise rather than doing something to fix it.
As we suffered the logjam in Dhaka, in Thakurgaon two factions of Chhatra League were fighting each other with heavy sticks and other implements of physical assault (as could be seen on TV footage) with police saying that leaders of both factions were involved.
It was not only yesterday. Every time AL, BCL, Jubo League, Krishak League or any other associate body of the ruling party has a programme, they seem to have a free reign of city streets. The general public may not be saying anything but it would be completely wrong to think they are not feeling anything. Such utter disdain for public inconvenience, such fundamental disrespect for public welfare and deep seated disregard for public rights cannot bode well for any political party, howsoever powerful and entrenched.