AL ranks irked over hike in fuel prices
On Sunday noon, Awami League Presidium Member Kazi Zafarullah did something unusual -- he ditched his SUV, hid his face behind a mask and got on a bus in front of Purabi cinema hall in the city's Pallabi.
The reason for taking the bus, bound for Kakoli, was to see first-hand how the latest fuel price hike affected commuters.
Minutes after the vehicle started moving, the bus conductor asked him to pay Tk 30 as fare for the trip to Kakoli. The demand from the conductor came as a surprise to him since he knew the fare would be Tk 20.
Zafarullah asked the conductor why he was charging more than the new rate fixed by the government on Saturday.
"The fare has been raised up to 22 percent … If you follow the new rate, the fare should be Tk 24.20. You can take Tk 25, not Tk 30," he told the conductor.
The visibly angry conductor, without having any idea whom he was talking to, said, "Don't argue. The fare is Tk 30. Get down if you don't want to pay."
Zafarullah paid Tk 30 and got down at the Chairman Bari intersection.
Later, he shared his experience with his party colleagues at the AL office in Dhanmondi on Sunday evening, said party insiders who were present there.
Contacted, the AL leader said he wanted to get the true picture after the government suddenly increased the fuel prices.
"The increase in fuel prices and the subsequent hike in the bus fares have put people in a tight corner. Such a move [the fuel price hike], which was made without any discussions in the party forum has put the party leaders under tremendous pressure," Zafarullah said.
"The Awami League is a pro-people party and has always stood by the people. The prices should have been hiked in phases, not exorbitantly at one go."
Zafarullah's frustration is shared by many leaders -- from the central to grassroots -- of the AL and its allies who think the move has put the ruling party in an awkward situation and will have a negative impact on the next elections slated for late 2023.
On Friday, the government hiked fuel prices by up to 51.7 percent, the highest in the country's history, throwing the common people -- already struggling to cope with the rising cost of living -- into financial hardship.
The sudden and unprecedented hike has been in discussions among the party leaders at different levels. They said the decision had more to do with bureaucracy rather than politics as they were completely in the dark about it.
But it's the political leaders who will ultimately have to face the consequences as people always approach them, not others, they said.
Many already complained to them about the area-wise one-to-two hours load shedding that the government enforced across the country from July 19.
Party insiders said they were not happy with the way the government handled the power crisis as the party's claim of attaining 100 percent electricity coverage now looks hollow because of the load shedding.
They said the party's top leaders as well as many ministers were clueless about the highest-ever hike in fuel prices.
As party leaders at different levels are unhappy with the decision and are talking against it in private, they were asked not to criticise the government decision publicly, according to party insiders.
Asked if party leaders were aware of the decision, an AL central committee member suggested paying close attention to party general secretary's comments on Saturday, a day after the government made the decision.
"The party was unaware of the decision [to hike the price]. Many top leaders didn't like such a huge rise. You should listen to what Quader Bhai said. You'll get an idea," said the party leader seeking anonymity.
Responding to a question on the fuel price hike, AL General Secretary Obaidul Quader at a programme said, "You should first take the energy ministry's reaction. Why do you need my response? I am not the energy minister. You will have to listen to what reaction the energy minister gives."
Party leaders believe the sudden hike in fuel prices will make the government unpopular and stir anti-government sentiment. They said it came at a time when they are carrying out activities, keeping the next national election in mind.
They fear if the crisis lingers on, it will be tough for them to woo voters only by showcasing the government's development work.
Contacted, Kushtia district AL President Sadar Uddin Khan declined to comment on the issue, saying the party's central leaders will talk about it.
Shariful Islam Ramzan, general secretary of Natore district AL, admitted that the price hike would cause "a bit of a problem" for them.
"But I hope we will overcome it," he said.
The leaders of the components of the AL-led 14-party alliance strongly condemned the "anti-people" decision and demanded its immediate withdrawal.
Talking to The Daily Star, Workers Party President Rashed Khan Menon came down heavily on the government, saying the latest decision was not taken in the interest of the people in any way.
"This was a bureaucratic decision. The government could have never taken such a decision if it had thought about the people," he said.
Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal President Hasanul Haq Inu said the huge increase in fuel prices was neither a right nor a logical decision, and because of this, the middle class and the low-income people will suffer immensely.
"The issue of fuel price hike was not at all discussed with us. We don't support this hike," he said, urging the government to scrap it.
Inu, a key leader of the AL-led combine, further said the government could have withdrawn VAT and duties on fuel import for several months and later adjusted the fuel prices.
Nurur Rahman Selim, presidium member of Gonotantrik Party, a component of the Al-led alliance, voiced anger over the price hike, saying the people will be under huge distress because of it.
"The people, who are already in a crisis due to the rise in prices of essentials in recent months, will face a dire situation due to the price hike," he said.
Selim thinks the decision to raise fuel prices was not a political one as a pro-people political party cannot do that.