Last week, a video went viral on social media of a protest rally by a group of students at MH Samorita Medical College. They were protesting against the alleged fee hike by the college. They also demanded a pay raise for intern doctors. The demands had merit. After all, how is it that an intern doctor is paid less than Tk 15,000 for their gruelling workload?
Mockbul Hossain, the college's founding chairman, did not find these demands acceptable. Rather than discuss these with them, he chose to confront the students and scare them away. In the face of his threatening tactics, the students doubled down and resolutely claimed that they were not alone. “All students expressed solidarity with us,” a protester shouted. “And, I've got the government on my side,” Mockbul retorted. Pointing towards some police personnel standing nearby, he warned, “Make trouble, [they] will blow your head off.”
That is how the former Awami League MP, in the blink of an eye, brought back memories from 20 years ago when he used to wield terrifying power. Once convicted in a corruption case, Haji Mockbul, as he is better known, reportedly fled the country after the last caretaker government's takeover. Following a long hibernation, he returned to the country after Awami League won the 2009 election. In the years since, he has been relatively sidelined and could not secure party nominations in the last two elections.
Coming back to the protests, Prothom Alo published a video footage of the incident and a huge outcry followed on social media. By the afternoon, the college authorities accepted the students' demands and the protests ended. Everyone seems to have forgotten the incident by now. As the media portrayed him as a “former” MP, the ruling party felt no obligation to respond. No one seems to notice that Mockbul is a member of the ruling party's central advisory panel, the second highest level of the party hierarchy, according to the party's website.
Just one year after Supreme Court scrapped Mockbul's acquittal in a corruption case, Awami League chose him as one of its advisors who include senior figures like Tofayel Ahmed and Abul Maal Abdul Muhith. The ruling party condoned his behaviour in the past, and that may have encouraged him to repeat his impudence. Therefore, the onus should be on the ruling party, Mockbul's party, to take action against one of their senior figures, but what we have heard so far is only deafening silence.
About the same time, we saw two factions of Narayanganj Awami League engage in a violent clash. As reported by this newspaper, at least two men were seen brandishing guns during the attacks on their opponents—the supporters of Mayor Selina Hayat Ivy. Both the gun-bearers are reportedly close to the local MP and an Awami League heavyweight.
Neither the party nor the police has taken any action against the gun-wielding men as yet. All that we have been told is that the party was “irritated” because the timing of the clash was sensitive given that the election is nearing. Such a message certainly emboldens them, because it implies that had the incident happened at any other time, it would have been entirely okay.
Even more worrying is the tendency to play down the significance or gravity of the incident by arguing that no bullets were fired (according to media reports, blank rounds were used) or that the guns were legal.
Even if the police launched an investigation to determine whether the arms were legal, the use of legal arms is restricted to self-defence only. According to the arms policy of the government, the use of legal arms to intimidate people is prohibited. The photos that the media have published so far indicate that the prohibited use of arms—even if they were legal—took place on that fateful day. The fact that no actions have been taken against the gun-wielding men sheds doubt on the government's commitment to public safety.
The impunity that AL leaders like Haji Mockbul and other party men have enjoyed has been their biggest enabler. Unless the government considers it as a serious law and order issue rather than an incident that only tainted the party's image, such brazen acts will be repeated in the future.
Nazmul Ahasan is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star.