The election commission has announced the schedule of the election which has been welcomed by the ruling party and its allies and rejected by BNP and its allies. What’s your reaction?

We see contrasting reactions from the ruling and opposition parties when the national budget is announced. The ruling party takes out processions welcoming the budget while the opposition party decries it. When the ruling party and opposition face off even regarding the schedule of the election, we can understand how deeply divided our nation is.

Several parties including BNP did not even accept this election commission. They demanded the resignation of the existing EC alongside the government.

The EC failed to maintain an independent stance. Chief election commissioner (CEC) Kazi Habibul Awal several days ago said a conducive environment for polls is not there. Shortly afterwards he said the condition had become favorable for polls and the election would be held at any cost. The people cannot keep faith in the EC with these words. If the existing extreme mistrust between the two parties continues to spread, the country would be in grave danger. A day might even come when there would be no need for any election commission.

Is there any way to reach consensus after the announcement of the schedule of the election? The CEC in his address to the nation also stressed on consensus and dialogue. 

Consensus can be reached anytime. But there should be mutual respect among the political parties. The way ruling party leaders spoke about the opposition leaders over the last four or five months has left no chance of consensus. When personal hatred takes a driving seat in politics, it becomes difficult to deal with.

What is the solution then?

We cannot propose any solution to this problem. It’s the political leaders who have to find it out. They have pushed the country to the edge of the cliff.

Could the untoward incident that happened on 28 October have been averted?

I think the untoward incident was not necessary in the first place. The allegation of the ruling party that the opposition party had instigated the incident is not true. The people were still coming to join the opposition rally when the incident had ensued. The central leaders’ speeches hadn't even commenced, but the police drive began. No political party would want its rally to end that way.

But we saw the entrance of the residence of the chief justice was vandalised during the protest of BNP leaders and activists. A policeman was killed.

Involvement of opposition leaders and activists with the incident is not proved. It is difficult to prove as to who initiated the attack. Sabotage is often carried out to divert a movement and that is what happened on 28 October. A large number of people attended the BNP rally that day. Then why would they want the rally to be foiled?

Many central leaders of BNP including its secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir were arrested after 28 October but the party’s leaders and activists were not seen protesting in the streets against the arrest.

We on the one hand say that we don’t want any violence in politics while on the other criticise if tough agitation is not in place. Don’t we incite violence by this? We must to come out of this practice.

Then is Bangladesh heading towards another one-sided election like in 2014?

Many people assume so. Even the international news media said Bangladesh is heading towards the second BAKSAL. What can be more distressing if Bangladesh is really moving in this direction? It took a lot of struggle to establish democracy following the first BAKSAL. Will we continue to lose democracy and fight to restore it? We must keep in mind that the people of Bangladesh dearly love democracy. People struggled a lot for democracy here. There was no election commissioner during the election in 1954. The administration conducted that election. We today have a ‘strong’ election commission yet we cannot hold an acceptable and participatory election. We have become bankrupt in terms of democratic spirit and values.

The ruling party is preparing for the election while the opposition is waging movement in the streets. What can happen on 7 January?

If good sense prevails, then the government will hold dialogue with the opposition party and reach a consensus on the election. The government can free some opposition leaders to show its good intentions and pave the way for consensus.

Will such a move placate BNP to join the polls?

That comes later. We cannot predict what strategy might BNP take in a changed scenario.

But BNP set a precondition to dialogue that the government should resign first

They did take part in an election under the party government. The allegation of voting the night before appeared during that election. BNP was partly successful when it boycotted the election in 2014. The government at that time said the election had to take place due to constitutional obligation and another election will be called shortly afterwards. BNP stopped its movement at the request of the foreign countries. We can also remember the election that took place on 15 February in 1996. BNP held another election within a short time.

What will BNP do if Awami League conducts an election with the opposition party on 7 January?

It’s the BNP leadership who can answer this question. But I can say as a citizen that in such a case BNP will try to continue its political activities in the midst of adversity. The crisis would deepen if a one-sided election is held on 7 January. It is a matter of concern as to what Bangladesh we are leaving behind for our next generation. Those of the younger generation who have the opportunity are moving abroad. They think they will be safe there. If Bangladesh were safe, the youth would not have gone abroad in droves.