Pressure piles up on the EC
The Election Commission is under mounting pressure to shift the January 30 Dhaka city election with an Awami League mayoral candidate and the BNP-led Jatiya Oikyafront joining the call for its deferral.
Over the last few days, members of the Hindu community and Dhaka University students have been urging the authorities to change the polls date that coincides with Saraswati Puja, a major religious festival of the Hindus.
“Considering the Saraswati Puja, the election date should be deferred,” Atiqul Islam, AL mayoral candidate for Dhaka North City Corporation, told reporters yesterday.
His rival BNP mayoral candidate, Tabith Awal, blamed the government for fixing January 30 as the polls date, which he said would spoil Saraswati Puja.
Jatiya Oikyafront Convener Dr Kamal Hossain termed the fixing of the election date on the puja day an “unjust act” by the government.
Meanwhile, an appeal was filed with the Supreme Court yesterday, challenging the High Court verdict that rejected a writ petition for changing the election date.
Bangladesh Hindu-Bouddha-Christian Oikya Parishad threatened to go for a countrywide strike if their demand for deferring the polls is not met.
Despite growing pressure, the EC appears to be sticking to its guns, saying it is ready to hold the election on January 30.
It, however, said it would change the polls date only if the SC asks it to do so.
In the meantime, during a polls campaign at Mirpur’s Alobdi Eidgah Maidan, Atiqul said Bangladesh is a secular country, and he doesn’t want the election to take place on the day of Saraswati Puja.
“We have to keep in mind that no one should face any trouble while performing his or her religious rites,” he said hoping that the commission will consider the matter.
At his election campaign in west Tejturipara area, Tabith alleged that the EC intentionally fixed the polls date on the day of Saraswati Puja.
“It proves that the government doesn’t treat all religions equally,” he claimed.
Talking to journalists yesterday afternoon, Dr Kamal said, “This cannot happen. Won’t it be regarded as the government’s negligence and failure if an election is held on Eid day or puja day?”
Expressing solidarity with the DU students’ protest, Bangladesh Hindu-Bouddha-Christian Oikya Parishad said it would call a countrywide strike if the polls date is not changed.
It decided to hold human chain programmes across the country at 4:00pm on Monday to press home its demand.
Rana Dasgupta, general secretary of the platform, said the EC’s idea that the election and Saraswati Puja would take place simultaneously at educational institutions is “unrealistic” and “absurd”.
“We’re rejecting it,” he said at a press conference.
Speaking at another press briefing at his Secretariat office, Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader yesterday urged those demanding the city polls’ deferral to stop protests and accept the HC order.
In another development, SC lawyer Ashoke Kumar Ghosh filed an appeal with the apex court, seeking its order for the EC to fix a fresh date for the DCC polls.
Ashoke said the SC chamber judge may hold hearing on the appeal on Sunday.
EC STILL RIGID
EC Secretary Md Alamgir told journalists yesterday that Saraswati Puja is usually observed at 27 educational institutions in Dhaka North City Corporation and 26 in South City Corporation.
The commission already talked to the authorities of those educational institutions who said there would be no problem in observing puja there, he said.
“Puja will be held on January 29 and the election on January 30. There is no conflict … The hearing on an appeal over the matter will take place on Sunday. We appointed a lawyer. We will abide by the court order whatever it may be.
“I request the agitating students not to be misguided and not to create anarchy. They should focus on studies because there are many designated persons to take care of the issue,” he added.
The DU students, who have been staging demonstrations over the last few days, went on a hunger strike yesterday, demanding deferral of the DCC election.
At least 25 students began the strike at 2:30pm at the base of the Raju memorial sculpture and vowed to continue it until the EC shifts the polls date.
Talking to this newspaper, Utpal Biswas, an organiser of the protest programme and vice president of Jagannath Hall students’ union, said, “We think puja and the election can’t be held simultaneously. We opted for the peaceful way of protest so that people don’t suffer in any way.”
Earlier in the day, the Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal held a protest rally on the campus over the same demand.
Dhaka University Teachers’ Association yesterday issued a statement, calling upon the EC to reconsider the polls date.
“It will not be possible to observe puja and conduct electoral activities smoothly because the educational institutions will be used as polling centres as in the past. Under these circumstances, many fear that there could be clashes….,” read the statement.
Saraswati Puja is observed at almost all educational institutions where worshippers gather to offer prayers. But things may be different this time in the capital as polling centres will be set up at different schools, colleges and universities.
MP’S DEMAND IN JS
AL lawmaker Pankaj Nath in parliament yesterday demanded that the EC defer the polls by two days so that the Hindu community can observe puja in the capital without any hindrance.
The treasury bench MP made the demand while speaking on the thanksgiving motion on the president’s speech.
“I think the voting date was fixed on the day of Saraswati Puja as part of a conspiracy to keep the Hindu voters away from the polls,” he said.
Pankaj also said the election could be rescheduled through an executive order from the prime minister.