Dhaka streets: Off-limit to BNP activists?
IT is considered daft to posit a question whose answer is only too obvious. But at the risk of being considered stupid one would yet like to ask and at the same time say that what one had been hearing that as a part of the government policy to render BNP even more ineffective it would be prevented from holding meetings or congregate in any large number in the capital is all but true.
Obviously, giving political space to the BNP is not an option for the AL which has been amply demonstrated by it being denied permission to organise a meeting at the Suhrawardy Udyan (SU) on November 8 as a part of their celebration of November 7, a day that has different connotations depending on one's political predilection. Given that not long ago the BNP was allowed to use SU for their meeting the message for the BNP from the government should be quite clear. But should that be the state of political affairs in the country? Ever since the AL was elected in 2008 the political space for the BNP has become gradually smaller. While that is nothing new in our politics, the AL is only returning the favour but with greater 'passion.'
It should be a matter of concern for all of us that political activity of the opposition parties has become increasingly circumscribed. And the AL is using the shoulders of the police to fire the political gun, particularly at the BNP. Apparently, the idea to face BNP's street programmes on the street has been given up, perhaps because of the possibility of violence that it might engender.
The ironic remarks of some of the more garrulous members of the AL betray their attitude towards the BNP. Thus the expression of relief from them that the BNP did not go for a hartal but instead chose to organise protest demonstrations for being denied the use of SU. However, this has validated the criticism that the decision of the government was political and that calling hartal on this ground by the BNP would have been justified. However, the protest demonstration in most parts of the country were scuttled because of police action, and in Dhaka, true to its policy of disallowing any space to BNP, the government prevented any gathering or procession in the capital by the extremely effective police. This is quite in contrast to the way the disgruntled elements of the Chhatra Dal had brought out large processions with banners, particularly in the vicinity of the party office in Paltan, without being disturbed by the police.
It looks as though the police have become the final arbiter of who should do politics and how. The last time the BNP was allowed to use the SU it was made conditional on several provisos, and that is the issue that we would like to flag here. Should the police really be the authority to allow something that has been already guaranteed by the constitution?
The right to assemble is one's fundamental right and no one, but no one, can prevent a group or a party from doing so provided that is done within the bounds of law. It should not be so much an issue of seeking permission of the police to assemble as to inform them of the programme only so that necessary action can be taken by them to facilitate holding of the programme including arranging necessary security of the area. And if a so- called permission has to be taken, it is of the PWD, which does not own the Udyan, but is responsible for its upkeep and development. We have not heard the DMP's explanation as to why permission was denied to BNP. It can certainly not be for security reasons simply because nothing substantive has occurred since the AL was allowed to hold a meeting at the same venue only on November 3. It can certainly not be on account of traffic problem because the government party is known to have held meetings in a spot like Gulistan crossing, and one does not know if necessary permission of DMP was at all sought or given for those.
The government should realise that any trace of democratic gloss on the current political situation, with a unique parliament, is wearing away fast, and no matter the so-called chits of approval from abroad that the government flaunts to justify the January 5 elections the situation should be causing qualms to a political party that constantly wears the band of democracy on its sleeve.
The writer is Editor, Op-Ed and Defence & Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star.