The government has suddenly turned its attention towards relatively unknown parties this time. They have begun arresting the leaders and activists of these smaller parties. These parties are hardly known, and do not have any influence whatsoever. They have very few activists too. Yet the government has begun nabbing the leaders and activists of these parties.
Many of BNP’s top leaders are in jail, many in hiding. Leaders and workers of the smaller parties are not being spared either. The government normally nabs leaders of the bigger parties. Recently Jatiya Dal’s Ehsanul Huda, coordinator of the 12 party alliance, was nabbed.
The victims say that they are under all sorts of pressure to join the forthcoming election. They get phone calls regularly from all sorts of agencies. They even get invited over for a cup of tea occasionally, have a chat at some café or restaurant. During these chats over a cup of tea, they are both cajoled and threatened to change their stances
What is prompting this sudden arrest of the leaders of smaller parties? It is quite an interesting and intriguing matter. I tried to dig a bit deeper into the matter. I spoke to certain persons who have interest in political affairs, keep tabs on the developments and are involved in politics. I live abroad and so this was all over phone. Then again, many are hesitant to speak over phone. Everyone is scared of their conversations being recorded and released on social media by surveillance agencies.
They said that all of a sudden the importance of these smaller parties has shot up. They are receiving phone calls from all over all day. Intelligence agency men are following them. The intelligence agencies are now fully informed about where the leaders of these small parties go, who they talk to over the phone, which leaders they are having tea with, and so on. These leaders attend anti-government programmes every day, but always with the fear of arrest.
The victims say that they are under all sorts of pressure to join the forthcoming election. They get phone calls regularly from all sorts of agencies. They even get invited over for a cup of tea occasionally, have a chat at some café or restaurant. During these chats over a cup of tea, they are both cajoled and threatened to change their stances. There is a degree of sympathy too. Then again, it is not as if there aren’t any dire warnings. It all depends on the circumstances. If anyone does not agree to relent in their stand, they are pitched into all sorts of difficulties and harassment. And those who ignore all pressure and try to remain active in the field, are finally arrested, it is alleged.
Other than pressure and fear tactics, there are temptations too. The small parties do not have much support of their own, but are known by their leaders. However, these leaders have little chance of winning. They are enticed and urged to join the election. They are given promises of all sorts of benefits and facilities. They are even lured with promises of a seat in parliament.
It is not that these threats and temptations are not successful. In recent times many have changed position, now claiming that they will wait and see. These wait-and-see parties in all likelihood will join the election at the last moment. But they will, ironically, take part in the election as part of their movement. Their narrative in this regard has more or less been fixed already. They will say that they won’t give Awami League an empty field as in 2014 and, as part of their movement, will challenge Awami League in the election fray.
These may be parties who have long been in alliance or movement with BNP. Many of them may abandon BNP at the last moment. Then again, there may be elements within BNP too who will use this excuse of not allowing Awami League to score in an empty field. These elements have not been active in politics and are not in important positions of the party. It would not be surprising if they take up this ploy in order to make sure they are not lost from the political arena due to their inactivity. Already around 50 mid and low-ranking local level leaders of BNP including Advocate Ahsan Habib and Barrister Fakhrul Islam have announced they will join the election.
The efforts to bring in various parties to the polls by means of pressure and temptation have been hinted at in statements made by Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader. On Thursday he said, 30 November is the last day for submitting nomination papers. Many flowers will bloom within this time, he said, adding that winter had arrived. It was time for some flowers to bloom. Wait and see where flowers will suddenly appear in full bloom.
Obaidul Quader is a humorous man with strong poetic proclivities. That is why he has spoken about these possibilities in poetic terms. He did not mention in which garden these flowers will bloom. But time will tell how successful his efforts to get the flowers to bloom will be. But to the apparent eye its seems like Awami League is trying to get the monsoon blossoms to bloom in winter. The flowers have to be lured into blooming. All sorts of efforts have to be made. Some have to be nabbed and dragged away. Some have to be given incentives to bloom as a flower. It is only natural that these flowers forced into blooming will have neither colour for fragrance.
* Dr Maruf Mullick is a writer and political analyst
* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir