THE predominant political culture of our two leading parties is 'righteous arrogance.' Neither feels that it can do any wrong and its opponent, no right. Thus there never is any admission of own mistakes and never any acknowledgment of opponent's virtues. In fact, the view is that all virtues belong to themselves and opponents are capable of nothing but vile actions.
One of the most tragic expressions of this political culture is how ruling parties habitually deal with opposition's claims of “killing,” “torture” and “disappearance” of its activists either at the hands of the law enforcement agencies or ruling party thugs. However, it is also true that our opposition prefers to make astounding claims and generally does not furnish sufficient details that would make for a credible case. The net result is that many lives are lost and their deaths get buried under mutual rhetoric of acrimony and blame.
Regrettably, a similar play is on at this moment. In a press conference last Tuesday, Khaleda Zia blamed Sheikh Hasina's government for some serious crimes and misuse of power.
First, she accused the AL government of killing 242 individuals and causing the disappearance of another 60 people in just one month, from December 26, 2013 to January 27, 2014. Secondly, the BNP chief claimed that under Sheikh Hasina the law enforcement agencies have been turned into a “Killing Force” through what she termed as “politicisation” which in this case means partisan recruitment and promotions, and postings made solely on the “loyalty” factor.
As could be expected, the government brushed aside the opposition's accusations and instead the PM in her question-answer session in the parliament said that the role of the BNP chief and her son, Tarique, in the infamous ten trucks arms smuggling case, whose verdict was also pronounced on Monday last, will be investigated.
On our part we would like to take the accusations made by the BNP chief very seriously. As the former two time prime minister, two time leader of the opposition and as the present head of one of the two biggest political parties of the country, her statements deserve our highest and most serious consideration.
Her death and disappearance figures were based on information received by BNP at its central office. Of the 242 killed, Khaleda Zia was able to provide the names of only two people. They are Tareq Mohammad Saifullah of Meherpur, who is the local Ameer of Jamaat, and Touhidul Islam, an Upazila BNP leader from Noakhali. There are three names of those who disappeared. She also provided a district-wise list of those killed and have disappeared, without any names or other details.
According to Khaleda Zia's list, the districts with eight highest deaths are: Satkhira 27, Chandpur 23, Laxmipur 20, Cox's Bazaar 17, Chittagong 15, Sirajganj 14, Chapainawabganj 13, Jaipurhat 12. Only these eight districts make up a death toll of 141 citizens of Bangladesh within a span of one month. It is most important that we investigate the authenticity of these claims and follow the due course of law if found to be correct. (The Daily Star has already asked in district correspondents to investigate and authenticate these claims). These deaths and disappearances are not acceptable and the people responsible must be held accountable and punished.
Earlier on January 22, the BNP's acting secretary general, Mirza Fakrul, told the media that total number of deaths and disappearance for previous three months was 481, with 294 deaths and 187 disappearances. Later, he told BBC that 294 was the total figure for deaths and disappearances, bringing his own figures down by 187. This prompted us to headline “Fakrul flip-flops on figures.” Now his boss is claiming 242 deaths in one month to Fakrul's 294 deaths and disappearances in three months.
As a proof of how our politics has gone in circles and has made no headway in terms of fair play, we recall that in 2001 after BNP won a massive two-thirds majority in the elections a well orchestrated attack was unleashed on AL workers and Hindu voters with many being killed and hundreds injured. AL claimed that thousands of its workers were either killed or injured, demanding proper inquiry and punishment of the culprits. BNP government took no notice of that massive human suffering and instead, as is being done now by the ruling party, blamed the AL for violence against BNP and its front bodies. (We covered the story in great details and came under severe criticism of the then BNP government).
It is now well established that our political parties are much too callous or even deliberately misleading about figures. They seem to believe that making astounding claims is far more effective than credible ones, and winning over a gullible public is far more important than convincing serious observers of political events, including the independent media. Thus we saw BNP holding a press briefing on May 6, 2013 and claiming that thousands of Hefajat activists died, and that “genocide” occurred on the night of the of May 5, a claim that Hefajat itself did not make about its own people.
The most likely future scenario will be that no serious and credible investigation will be done by Sheikh Hasina's government about the accusations made by the BNP chief and the latter will become subject of vicious attacks by the ruling party henchmen. Contrarily, we might see fast track legal proceedings against the BNP chief and her son.
Here we would like to recall the attempted assassination of Sheikh Hasina, the deaths of 24 AL leaders and workers that occurred on August 21, 2004, the killing of former finance minister SAMS Kibria, AL leader Ahsanullah Master, Advocate Manzurul Islam, former MP Mumtazuddin and many others whose deaths were never investigated by BNP governments and the real culprits never punished.
The question is will AL do the same, and perpetuate the cycle of miscarriage of justice that we have been seeing for last two decades under our two present leaders?
It hardly requires much thinking to say that it should not be so. Over the years what Shiekh Hasina and Khaleda Zia -- our two leaders who have ruled this country uninterruptedly for the last 21 years -- have failed to realise is that the partisan use of the law enforcement agencies and the legal machinery has, more than anything else, destroyed public confidence in the fairness of our legal process. When people lose faith in a country's laws and in the legal process then we are talking about a fundamental malaise which, in time, may threaten the very survival of that society.
In conclusion, we would like to firmly state that regardless of possible exaggeration by the opposition many deaths have actually occurred both in political violence and at the hands of the law enforcement agencies. Just as petrol bombing by the BNP and Jamaat activists has killed many innocent people (the BNP chief was shamefully silent about them in the press statement) so have many died at the hands of the law enforcers. Both these instances need to be and should be investigated. This should be done simply to make Bangladesh a better country to live in. We urge Sheikh Hasina's government to make a significant shift from the past and seriously investigate the accusations made, take fair and appropriate actions that are needed and restore public faith in the legal process and in the law enforces, both of which are now very low.
The writer is Editor and Publisher, The Daily Star.