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Shakhawat Liton
Can the prime minister control them? Photo: Star File
Can the prime minister control them? Photo: Star File

The Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina-led government has completed its one month in office on February 11. One month time is not adequate to evaluate the performance of her new government. As this is her second term in office, her new government is a continuation of its predecessor. She and many of her colleagues in the cabinet earlier have advocated for the continuation of the government for the sake of development. Considering that, the one month period is important for her new government.
There was no strong opposition to her new government. Awami League's archrival BNP has been facing humiliation and organisational debacle after its failure to resist the January 5 parliamentary election. Jamaat-e-Islami is thought to have earned people's hatred for its mindless countrywide violence in the name of anti-government agitations. Another major political party, Jatiya Party has virtually been merged with the ruling AL, after making a power sharing arrangement with the latter. The government was supposed to take some extraordinary, game changing moves in the span of one month to regain people's confidence.
So far, it has not been able to come up with any such plan. Rather some unpleasant incidents took place in the last one month to remind people of the proverbial old wine in a new bottle. The government has demonstrated its inability to deliver on people's expectations, if one judges the government's performance in light of the recent violence in Rajshahi University.

Students cower as RU becomes a battle field . Photo: Star File
Students cower as RU becomes a battle field . Photo: Star File

Backed by police, armed men of Chhatra League, the pro-AL student organisation, on February 2, launched a barbaric attack on the students who were protesting fee hikes and evening shift master's courses in Rajshahi University, leaving around 100 students injured. This incident forced the authorities to close the university for an indefinite period and ordered resident students to vacate halls the next day. Different national dailies published photographs of BCL men carrying firearms, disclosing the identities of the BCL men carrying firearms. This unruly incident triggered a huge outcry.
But the government and the ruling AL's reaction to this incident was appalling. Some ministers and AL leaders came up with the same old rhetoric, blaming it all on the "intruders", warning of tough action against them. Take the remarks of Communications Minister and AL Presidium Member Obaidul Quader who claimed it was an act of the criminals who infiltrated the BCL. The same remarks were made by AL publicity secretary and former minister Hasan Mahmud.  
In the parliament, an MP of Jatiya Party, the handmaiden opposition, on February 3 tried to criticise the BCL activities in RU. But he was not spared. Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury launched a counter attack on him citing some killings during the period of the Ershad government. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came up with more. She claimed that not all those who were seen carrying fire arms during the attack on students belong to the BCL. She even justified the BCL men's violence by saying that 'everyone has the right to self-defence'. Hasina however warned of taking stern actions irrespective of political affiliation.
The prime minister and her cabinet colleagues might have forgotten the unruly activities that the BCL men carried out in the last five years. At that time, the then government high ups had come up with almost the same claims. The then LGRD Minister and AL General Secretary first offered the infiltration theory following violence in Dhaka and Rajshahi Universities in 2010. On February 9 that year, he said Shibir men had infiltrated the BCL. "Some identified pro-Shibir men have been given important positions in the Dhaka University hall committees," he said. The same day, Hasina said her government would not spare anyone involved in campus violence no matter what their political identities were.
But the situation was even worse in many higher educational institutions in the tenure of the past Hasina-led government because of the government's failure to deliver on its words. Public universities, medical colleges, polytechnic institutes and government colleges saw many incidents of violence, as the BCL men got involved in factional clashes and also fought with activists of the opposition parties. In some cases, the authorities had to close the institutions. All these had largely tarnished the Hasina government's image. The BCL men did little to brighten it.  

A student wounded by shotgun pellets. Photo: Star File
A student wounded by shotgun pellets. Photo: Star File

The February 2 incident in Rajshahi University has appeared to be an acid test for Hasina's new government. The way it will handle the incident will determine the BCL's next course of action.
Reigning in AL men's unruly and illegal activities will also be another major challenge for the Hasina government. In its last five years, the then government was unable to control her party men's violent activities, which damaged the government's credibility.
This time ruling party men will also keep continuing their illegal activities. For instance, the illegal gas connection business can be cited here. Ruling AL men are providing illegal gas connections to around 20,000 households in four upazilas of Narayanganj. For better management of the illegal business, they have even formed a committee. These connections have deprived the government of some huge revenue. And in Tangail, ruling AL men have recently prevented Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company from installing gas connection in the district as they were not given extortions.
Ruling AL Chief Whip ASM Feroz has made a new record by seeking money from people who wanted to honour him by offering him crest in a reception arranged for his honour. This triggered huge criticism. Amid such a situation, the chief whip, who enjoys status of a minister, on Sunday at a press conference blatantly defended himself and refused to say 'sorry' for his indecent remarks. People do not know whether Feroz was rebuked by Hasina, who is also the leader of the House. There is a strong perception in people's mind that Feroz has no reason to get worried as the government's track record may encourage him in the future. Some AL MPs in the last five years largely damaged the then government image through their unruly and violent activities, but most of them went unpunished.  
Retaining her office as the premier for the second consecutive term, Sheikh Hasina on January 12 promised to ensure good governance. Some senior ministers of her cabinet also echoed the same views. But ensuring good governance will not be an easy task. The government needs to do a lot to restore people's confidence in it. Without proper application of law, good governance can no way be ensured.   
The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.


Published: 12:00 am Friday, February 14, 2014

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