Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Monday said she will never bow down to any foreign pressure as the people are her strength, reiterating to hold the next general election in a free and fair manner.
“You have to keep one thing in mind that there is no such pressure that can pressurise Sheikh Hasina,” she said in reply to the question - whether she is feeling any foreign pressure over the next general election in the context that the opposition BNP has been lobbying foreigners and publication of an advertisement with the statement of 40 global personalities regarding Dr Yunus.
While briefing the media about her recent official visits to Qatar, the prime minister said she never bothers any pressure.
She added: “My power is only my people - nothing to happen to us whatever pressure is given by whom. We will do whatever is required for the welfare of the people.”
In this context, she said her government had constructed the Padma Bridge with its own finance, confronting all the hurdles, adding, “I have endured that pressure.”
The prime minister said they had received numerous phone calls from ambassadors to foreign minister and from different countries to keep a person managing director (MD) of a bank though Bangladesh’s existing laws do not permit a person to stay as MD after 60 years of age.
She questioned why a person wants to stay as MD violating the country’s law and what his benefit is.
“There might be one benefit of staying as MD and that is acquiring a lot of money and laundering that,” she said.
About publishing an advertisement in the Washington Post in favour of Dr Yunus, Sheikh Hasina questioned why an advertisement was published in a foreign newspaper in favour of a person who is famous as well as a Nobel laureate.
The prime minister said she could not do anything as the head of the government as there are laws and courts to deal with labour rights and tax evasion.
“If anyone breaches the laws, the court will look into the matter. What can I do as the head of the government?” she added.
She expressed her doubt about the motive of the advertisement published before the next general election.
Road transport and bridges minister Obaidul Quader, MP, deputy leader of the House Begum Matia Chowdhury, MP, foreign minister AK Abdul Momen and commerce minister Tipu Munshi were present on the dais.
PM’s press secretary Ihsanul Karim moderated the programme.
Earlier, on 8 March, the prime minister returned home from Doha, the capital of Qatar, after attending the 5th United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries (LDC5: From Potential to Prosperity).
Sheikh Hasina, also president of ruling Awami League, clarified her stance that no dialogue will be held before the next general election, saying, “With whom we will hold the dialogue?”
Mentioning that they held dialogue before the 2018 election and the BNP gave nominations after taking money and withdrawing their candidates, she questioned “What was the result of that dialogue?”
“Whatever we did, we did it for the welfare of the people,” she said.
Recalling the assassination of her father, mother and brothers on 15 August in 1975 and her humiliation by Khaleda Zia when she had gone to console the BNP chairperson over the death of her younger son Koko, the prime minister said, “Why dialogue to be held with those who humiliated me so badly?”
The prime minister questioned if there is anyone who is willing to take part in dialogue with killers of his or her parents.
About measures to clear the countrymen about the motive of the BNP to make the next election questionable, she said, “Many local and international agencies have been working to make the election questionable.”
The prime minister also said her government has made the election commission completely independent financially and institutionally and enacted a law to this end so the commission can hold a free and fair election.
Besides, voter list with photographs and transparent ballot boxes have been introduced so that none can manipulate the election, she said.
She recalled that BNP had prepared a voter list with 12.3 million fake voters, claiming that the Awami League has established the rights of vote in the country.
The prime minister said they have elected a politically conscious, patriot and dutiful person as the country’s next president under whom the next election will be fair.
“We want the next election to be free and fair as we have struggled for democracy,” she said.
The prime minister said the Awami League government has proved that they can hold a free, fair and peaceful election by holding the local government and by-lections and none can raise questions about its objectivity. She questioned that else they had to prove in this regard.
She reiterated that if the people want to see the Awami League in power again then they will remain in power, otherwise not.
The prime minister said, “The BNP led 20-party alliance had got only 30 seats while the AL led grand alliance bagged 270 seats in 2008 election which was considered as the fairest election.”
She said a vested quarter is trying to create an unstable situation ahead of the election.
The prime minister said that a free, fair and impartial election is required for continuation of the stability and thus the development and progress of the country.
“Currently, there is no chance of vote rigging as we have given a voter list with pictures through introducing smart NID cards for the citizens leaving no scope to cast votes by fake voters. We wanted to vote through EVMs, but many objected. The election commission will use EVMs as much as possible. Voters will vote through the modern technology,” she continued.
Briefly describing her government measures for making Bangladesh a role model for development on the world stage in the last 14 years, she said the people want the Awami League in power again.
Referring to some statements made by the inhabitants of Bogura, the stronghold of the BNP, she said the people of Bogura are even saying they are in good condition during the current tenure of the AL government and the government should stay in power.
Sheikh Hasina said her government has taken appropriate measures so that the people of any level don’t have to suffer for food in the month of Ramadan.
“The holy Ramadan is ahead. We have no scarcity of rice. We have 2.1 million tonnes of food in stock … InshaAllah, Bangladesh will not fall in any danger if all cooperate,” she said.
The prime minister said they have given rice to 10 million people at Tk 30 per kilogram through fair price cards, adding that pulse, edible oil and sugar have also been given through the cards.
Besides, she said, 5 million people will get rice at Tk 15 per kg, if necessary it will be given to another 5 million people.
She continued that 10 million extremely poor people will be given 30 kgs of rice per month free of cost to make sure that none suffers for food.
The prime minister called upon the people not to purchase excessive food from the market at a time, saying, “Buy the commodities whatever quantity you need from the market and don’t make a stockpile of food.”
She called upon the people, particularly the journalists, to look into the matter that none can make a stockpile of food.
The prime minister further said there are some opposition parties which are always trying to create problems by spreading false information. “But there is nothing to be misled,” she said.
She reiterated her call to bring every inch of land under cultivation so that the global economic recession and food crisis cannot hit Bangladesh.
Replying to a question, Sheikh Hasina said Radwan Mujib Siddiq paid rich tribute to Bangladesh’s founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on behalf of her marking the historic 7 March speech of Bangabandhu as she was in Qatar at that time.
“But, he did not do it with any political ambition,” she assured.
The prime minister said she and her sister have five children and they all have been working for the welfare of the countrymen through Young Bangla, Centre for Research and Information (CRI), Start Up Programme and autism campaign.
“They are working for the countrymen and they have no ambition,” she said.
Regarding the challenges to come after the final graduation from the Least Developed Countries, the prime minister said that it should not be wise to see only the problem here rather it will open the doors of opportunities and potentialities. “We should keep it in our brain that we can avail lots of options such as getting loan, development works, entering new markets etc. easily.”
In this regards, she said that Bangladesh is not dependent only on readymade garments as investment has been made on digital devices, while 100 economic zones have been established where the government is trying to bring investment.
“Many are showing their keen interest to make investment in the economic zones,” she said.
Mentioning that the government is improving the country’s ports, she said that Bangladesh can export whatever it is producing such as leather goods, jute and jute goods, agricultural products and food items including fish and meat.
“Our vegetables are being exported to 70 countries, while our pharmaceuticals and ceramics have a big market in over 100 countries across the globe”, she said, adding: “We are more serious to explore new markets and expand the export basket by producing new products.”
Besides, a number of committees under the leadership of the prime minister’s principal secretary are in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to see the problems and way out from it as well as grab opportunities after the graduation, she added.
In addition, a separate wing in PMO is also working to oversee the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), said the prime minister.
“We are sending our representatives to discuss and negotiate with different countries and bodies to grab the opportunities what we can get after the graduation from LDCs,” she said.
“We are also discussing and negotiating with international agencies to avail the extra benefits what we should get due to the time wastage for Covid-19,” she added.
Sheikh Hasina said that her government didn’t sit idle rather they are formulating the national budget and development programs keeping the post-graduation scenario in mind.
“After making all preparations, we do our work and in this way we’ve finally done it.”
An interview of a banned Assam based outfit ULFA (United Liberation Front of Assam) leader Aup Chetia was aired recently in a private TV channel and different media outlets in India and social networking sites. There Chetia confessed that he had brought the 10-truck arms in Bangladesh under “direct patronisation of the BNP-Jamaat alliance”.
In replying to a question in this connection that the BNP central leaders are now avoiding the matter terming it as a political matter, Sheikh Hasina said, “It is one kind of cheating and an attempt to hide the matter terming it as political. The people will give them punishment for it.”
The prime minister said the 10-truck arms were seized red-handed and Tarique Rahman was sentenced in that case and the BNP leaders are calling it a political matter.
“Arms trading is their business and they are out to brand it as a political matter. The party (BNP) was formed illegally with arms. What the people can expect from them without looting and corruption,” she said.
Sheikh Hasina said the focus on forcibly displaced Rohingyas has shifted to war in Ukraine and refugees of that country.
But Bangladesh has to shoulder their responsibilities as it has given them shelter, she said.
The prime minister said her government has been discussing the matter with Myanmar as part of the move to send them back to their country, adding that Myanmar does not respond positively.
She reminded all that Bangladesh had shouldered all the responsibilities of food, accommodation and healthcare services in the first two or three months after they took shelter and later others extended their helping hands.
The prime minister further said she had told the UN organisations to take effective measures to send Rohingyas back to their homeland.
Referring to taking shelter by 10 million Bangladeshi refugees in India during the War of Liberation in 1971, she said, “We have given the Rohingyas shelter on humanitarian ground thinking of the plight of ours at that time.”
The prime minister also said it is true that the Rohingyas are a burden for Bangladesh and at the same time it has a duty towards them.
She said her government has developed the Bhashan Char with livelihoods for giving Rohingyas a comfortable life there.