Awami League’s friends and foes

Sohrab Hassan | Update:

Prothom Alo illustrationThe fifth session of the eleventh Jatiya Sangsad (national parliament) ended on Thursday. The proceeding details of the session appeared neither on TV nor in the next day’s newspapers. Yet after the fall of autocracy in 1990, the parliament was the centre of politics. People of all walks of life were keenly interested in the parliament. I have even seen drivers stopping to listen to the live commentary on the parliamentary discussions.

There had been lively discussion and debate of what the members of parliament had said, what issues they raised. BTV and Bangladesh Betar were the only electronic media outlets at the time. There is now a separate TV channel for the parliament, but it does not attract viewers at all. The parliamentarians have nothing to offer the people.

However, over the last few days certain comments in parliament caught the people’s attention. These were about Noor Hossain, the young man killed in the movement against autocracy. Shaheed Noor Hossain Day was on 10 November. He had been shot while taking part in a protest procession on that day in 1987, slogans against autocracy painted on his body. Noor Hossain remains a symbol of courage, of democracy.

Autocratic Ershad’s loyalists can hardly tolerate such a fierce fighter of democracy. During Jatiya Party’s discussions on 10 November, the party’s secretary general Mashiur Rahman alias Ranga termed Noor Hossain a yaba addict, a phensidyl druggie. He also slated Awami League and BNP for their over enthusiasm during the anti-autocratic movement.

I was eager to hear the reaction to this in parliament, particularly the response to the belittling of Jubo League activist Noor Hossain. I noted that despite Jatiya Party being their ally in democracy and the mahajote (‘grand alliance’), Awami League could hardly accept this attitude of Ranga. Veteran Awami League leader Tofail Ahmed said, “I have listened to Mashiur Rahman’s words. These were deplorable. No normal person can make such a statement. His words have hurt the people all over the country. He has spoken in a belittling manner and I express my abhorrence to his words. He has even spoken badly about Bangabandhu and the prime minister Sheikh Hasina. He must apologise in parliament.”

Awami League leaders Amir Hossain and Sheikh Fazlul Karim and Gono Forum leader Sultan Mohammad Mansur also berated Mashiur Rahman’s words. But perhaps the strongest criticism came from Jatiya Party leader Firoz Rashid who said that if you indulge a monkey, it takes advantage and that is exactly what has happened in the case of Mashiur Rahman.

It is unfortunate that Noor Hossain’s family had to take to the streets in protest against Mashiur Rahman’s false allegations. Noor Hossain’s mother and brother, along with others, protested outside the press club. But no leader of any major party took up position with them. We forget the contributions of the martyrs so easily.

Faced with strong criticism Mashiur Rahman eventually apologised in parliament. At the same time he defensively said that Noor Hossain had on some occasion spoken abusively about Ershad and that is why he had such an outburst. According to Firoz Rashid, Mashiur Rahman had at one time been with BNP’s youth front Jubo Dal. He was not a part of Awami League and yet had been a state minister in the Awami League-led mahajote government. The many colours of a politician!

Mashiur Rahman’s Jatiya Party is the official opposition in parliament. Not a single central leader of BNP is in parliament and its role in parliament in insignificant. It is hardly active outside of the parliament either. It activities are concentrated on demanding the release of its chairperson Khaleda Zia. Public issues are hardly taken into their cognizance.

When the government party errs, the people normally look to the opposition. But now the people no longer can rely on the opposition either.

Mashiur Rahman had spoken his mind at the party meeting. His words in parliament were simply a matter of self defence. Many other leaders of Jatiya Party have similar contempt for the anti-autocracy movement. Had healthy politics prevailed, these people would not have had the scope to flare up in such a manner. Awami League is ready to condemn BNP, saying that they cannot have relations with a party that kills people in grenade attacks. So the question is then, how do they keep relations with Jatiya Party? BNP may have rehabilitated Bangabandhu’s killers but did not facilitate them to form a party against Awami League. Hussain Muhammed Ershad did that.

BNP is paying dearly for its mistakes. It has been out of power for 13 years. Of these years, two were under the military-backed caretaker government. Awami League was in power alone and as an alliance for the other 11 years.

Awami League faces no challenge from outside now. Any challenge that it faces is from within. This has been evident in the recent cleansing drives. Awami League leaders are talking about qualitative changes in politics. But will this be possible in shrinking spaces for democracy?

Awami League must realise that not everyone in parliament is their friend. And those outside of their parliament or who did not get the chance to be represented in parliament, are not necessarily their foes.

* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet. This column appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.

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