Awami League in discomfort, allies not standing beside

Bikers throng a filling station at Nilkhet intersection in the capital on 5 August hours after the government hiked fuel oil price by a big margin.
Prothom Alo

Awami League has been in discomfort following the abnormal rise of fuel oil price. Party leaders think such a jump in oil price at one go is the most ‘unpopular’ decision of the government over the past decade.

The partners of Awami League-led 14-Party Alliance and the like-minded parties, too, are disgruntled with the government over the fuel oil price hike. Leaders of several allies even opposed this decision on price hike openly. Some said such record hike is in no way acceptable because people have already been suffering from the higher price of essentials.

The government increased prices of fuel oil by 42 to 51 per cent from Friday midnight. Prices of diesel and kerosene increased by 34 Tk a litre to Tk 114 a litre and price of petrol by Tk 44 a litre to Tk 130 a litre and price of octane by Tk 46 a litre to Tk 135 a litre. Fuel oil price increased at that time when global oil price sees a downtrend. Only Saudi Arabia raised oil price slightly for Asian countries.

The government said fuel oil price was increased as Bangladesh Petroliam Corporation (BPC) incurs loss, though the BPC had profited Tk 430 billion by selling fuel oil for seven years until 2020-21 fiscal. The government could not slash domestic price that much even when global price dropped significantly. Now, fuel oil price was raised only because the BPC has been incurring loss for several months.

No one is supporting the government’s decision on fuel oil price hike. Experts favouring a price adjustment by a little due to global market and the state of economy also criticised such hike.

Leaders of Awami League have been trying to justify the price hike, albeit they feel discomfort. This correspondent talked to six leaders of the party’s central committee, three cabinet members and three lawmakers over the situation that arose following the hike in price of fuel oil and most of these leaders express frustration. These leaders on condition of anonymity said there is no strong logic to back the fuel oil price hike and if they speak for the government people will get angry, and if they talk about people’s sufferings the government will be in discomfort. So, they think it is better to maintain silence.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Awami League presidium member Kazi Zafarullah said the government had no alternative to the fuel oil price hike and the government might have the opportunity to increase the price in phases instated of raising it at one go.

No one feels the sorrow and hardship of people more than the prime minister Sheikh Hasina does, he said adding, it must be understood that time does not pass same always; sometimes bad time comes; the Russia-Ukraine war has caused a dire situation for many countries including Bangladesh and now everyone will have to face the challenge patiently together.

Everyone will be in crisis

Awami League leaders evaluated that this government has been in power for 14 straight years and controversy on oppression of opposition parties as well as election came to the limelight. Since economy was dynamic and mega project were implemented, people did not get angry in large scale. Now economy is under pressure. Current account deficit hit 50-year high, dollar price is soaring and price of almost all the products including foods has increased.

Amid this situation, fuel oil price hike brought more suffering to middle class, lower-middle and poor people. The issue of price hike has come to the fore overshadowing the success of economic development and implementation of infrastructure. Elimination of power crisis was big achievement of the government and that success is now under question because of 3 to 10 hours load shedding daily.

Source of Awami League said no coordinated plan was taken on how fuel oil price hike will affect transport sector and essential commodity market, how people will be saved from that impact, and what the government’s monitoring system will be. Bus fare was raised after the fuel oil price hike but transport owners and workers did not abide by it and charged more fare. There is no effective monitoring system of the government to this end and many leaders of the party, too, control the transport sector.

Kazi Zafarullah, too, admitted that bus fare is being charged more than the fare fixed by the government. Passengers must protest it and the government, too, strengthen monitoring, he said.

According to the policymaking sources of the Awami League, almost all political parties of the country have taken an anti-government stance over fuel oil price hike and higher price of essentials. BNP is trying to create an anti-government unity with the opposition parties ahead of the national election and opposition parties are preparing to wage a movement over various issues. In fact, they were given a ground for movement through the fuel price hike.

Party sources claimed this time most of the cabinet members and the senior party leaders were in dark completely over the rise in fuel oil price. Several leaders think top bureaucrats might influence the government for such an unpopular decision. Politicians even cabinet members are not getting importance in decision-making process, that is why a decision to raise fuel oil price by 42-51 per cent at on go has come.

Disgruntled allies

The government has come up with various rationales for the fuel price increases but the allies are not satisfied with these explanations.

The 14-party alliance’s components are always vocal against price hikes of essential commodities. They are now strongly condemning the fuel price hike. Workers Party, Jasad, Communist Kendra, and Ganatantri Party are the most vocal ones. A day after the fuel price hike, Workers Party president Rashed Khan Menon said at a programme that the government has ‘swallowed poison by conforming to IMF’s conditions’.

Some of the allies are even considering calling a protest demonstration soon against the price hike of fuel.

Jasad president Hasanul Haque Inu thinks that the government has not taken the decision to increase fuel prices by considering all the aspects.

He told Prothom Alo that there cannot be any justification for increasing diesel and kerosene prices. The income government would generate through this price hike is negligible in comparison to the Tk 7 trillion budget. It is not justifiable to hit the poorest people for only Tk 120 billion.

He urged the government to reconsider the decision of increasing the price adding that they are considering launching a movement against the price hike.

Jatiya Party is one of the major allies of the Awami League. Although they are the main opposition party in the parliament, the JaPa has never called any programme opposing the government’s decision in the last 12 years. The party is known as ‘pro-government’ to many.

JaPa also announced a programme protesting the price hike. A source of the party said chairman GM Quader hold a meeting with top leaders on Sunday and announced a two-day programme against the government’s ‘anti-people’ move to increase the price of fuel. The party brought out a demonstration in the city’s Kakrail yesterday, Monday, and protest programmes are scheduled to be held across the country today, Tuesday.

GM Quader told Prothom Alo that the decision to increase fuel price is an anti-people one. The government has failed to rein in price hikes of essential commodities. The government is pushing the people to death.

“We don’t want megaprojects. We want people to get food and live their lives well,” he added.

This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna and Galib Ashraf