How long does it take to make a phone call?
Throughout yesterday, triggered by a press comment of Information Minister Hasanul Huq Inu, most electronic and online media ran what they thought to be a breaking news that PM would make a telephone call to the leader of the opposition at any moment. Till the writing of this commentary the call never came.
In fact the story of the "call" has a longer past. It started on Monday last, when after a cabinet meeting the press reported that the PM plans to call her counterpart very soon. Throughout the week the nation waited with bated breath for that vital call.
In the meantime, the BNP handed over a formal letter from Mirza Fakhrul to Syed Ashraf, asking for talks, and followed it up by placing its polls-time government formula in parliament. In all fairness the BNP fulfilled all the demands of the AL for formal talks to be held.
And yet the much hyped phone call never came.
To us the phone call episode serves as an example of how Sheikh Hasina's arrogance and sense of superiority prevent her from taking simple steps that may lead to creating openings for solving political problems. If she had made the phone call, inviting Khaleda Zia for talks, or suggested talks at the secretary-general level any time before yesterday's meeting then definitely the BNP chief couldn't have made the type of speech that she did. She would have had to acknowledge that the PM had called her and had initiated a process for talks which would have inevitably taken much of the wind from Khaleda's speech.
The question is, how long does it take to make a phone call? Why is it such a big deal, the PM phoning the leader of the opposition? Why is there such drama about a phone call which, according to the parliamentary tradition, the PM would be making to the “Shadow PM”. The fact that the phone call never came embarrasses the information minister no end and may likely corrode public confidence in what he says.
The PM repeatedly says Bangladesh would be run like any other democracy. If that be the case, in any other democracy calling the leader of the opposition is a routine matter. Manmohan Singh regularly talks not only to the leader of the opposition in parliament but to many other leaders of BJP. David Cameron talks to his counterpart whenever situation demands. President Obama called numerous Republican senators and congressmen who are dead set against him, in some cases repeatedly so, to solve the recent budget crisis.
In fact we would be hard pressed to find any other country, especially those who profess to practise democracy, where the Leader of the House and of the Opposition never talk.
Only in Bangladesh it is such a big deal. Our contending leaders only talk at, but never to, each other. In fact in the last twenty-three years that they have held the centre stage in our politics they never held a single discussion about the serious problems facing the country, and God knows how many serious problems we face. In fact our leaders usually do not solve old problems, they only create new ones.
We as citizens of this country, as taxpayers, and as voters most vociferously protest the fact that our two supreme leaders are indifferent to our concerns, disregardful of our worries, disrespectful of our rights, unmindful of our safety, unconcerned about our growth prospect, and most sadly unthinking of our future.
The latest example of the above is Khaleda Zia's three-day hartal call and terming this government to be “without legitimacy”. (For both see separate story and analysis)
As we conclude, we hear on TV Awami League leader Mohammad Nasim repeating that the PM will call the opposition leader. When? After many more incidents of violence occur? After some innocent bystanders die at the hands of armed cadres of the two sides? After we remain imprisoned in our homes at the economy-hurting and citizens' freedom-curbing hartal of the BNP?
Given the track records of our two leaders we do not expect one phone call to solve much of the problems. But at least we would have had the satisfaction of seeing our PM taking a new, and what is in any democratic country a very normal and ordinary, step to start the process of reaching some sort of understanding. As it stands now, we are about to enter a dark tunnel of chaos and street violence.
Oh democracy what shenanigans we are being subjected to in thy name!