There is another noticeable difference. This time the political and social reaction has not been at all as before. Awami League, when in the opposition, had arisen strongly against the attacks of the BNP-Jamaat alliance and the protests in the streets had been immediate. Now the opposition BNP has been pushed so far into the corner that it has neither the strength nor the courage to take to the streets. And the manner in which they have been made the scapegoats for everything, it is only natural for them to fear a spate of false cases. The reaction of other parties, even the left-wing parties who claim to be non-communal, has been slow and nothing more than eyewash.
There has been a surprising similarity too in the reaction of the so-called advanced section of civil society, that is, the cultural activists, writers, lawyers and intellectuals. Four days have passed since the Cumilla attack, but no news reports have appeared of any cultural activists taking to the streets. Other professional associations have been silent too. The statements of some writers have been published, but big names have been absent. What possibly could be the reason?
One reason could be the culture of fear that has been created in the country. No one wants to say anything that may invoke the wrath of the government. The record of cases under Digital Security Act and the arrests are no secret.
Another reason could be as our civil society has a natural inclination towards the ruling Awami League, they do not want to disconcert their party in any way. That is why when it comes to defending citizens’ rights, they are as silent when Awami League is in power as they are vocal when BNP is at the helm.
Preventive measures taken in advance are a well-recognised and well-used strategy. Over the past decade, the police have often taken preventive action to tackle protests and agitation. Police learn about preparations for political programmes in advance and start arrests en masse, while building up three or four tiers of security to thwart the programmes. And they do not use these tactics in Dhaka only, but in the mofussil districts too. Vehicular movement has even been halted unannounced. People from outside have been stopped from entering the city and even BGB has been deployed for the purpose.
Where there had been apprehensions of unrest during the puja, no such preventive measures were taken. Does that mean the intelligence agencies were inactive this time? Why had the police not taken up any preventive measures? For the sake of argument, say that even if it hadn’t been possible to be prepared in advance for the Cumilla incident, why had measures not been taken in the other districts? This question is particularly pertinent with violence spreading to over 20 other districts. Should the BGB have not been deployed or Section 144 declared in those districts after the mayhem at Cumilla?
There are allegations of police delays or inadequate measures in Hajiganj, Chowmuhani, Chattogram, Rangpur and the other places. Even in the Cumilla case, from the statements of eyewitnesses, it is evident that there was no CC camera or security guards at the puja mandap where the incident took place, despite directives to this end. Why could the police or the local administration not ensure this? It is not as if that our police are lacking in workforce or that there is a dearth of resources for which they can’t provide public security. The current fiscal’s budget allocated Tk 281.67 billion (Tk 28 thousand 167 crore) for public order and security. They can even afford to procure their own helicopters.
Many are seeing these incidents as signs of conspiracy. Even the home minister has termed this as a planned attack, though the reason behind his suspicions is not clear. Naturally the question arises as to what motive could be behind this despicable conspiracy. Perhaps we will never know if the motive was political or economic. There may be much speculation as to whether there was the intervention of outside powers. But whoever are contending that there is political involvement or conspiracy attached to the violence and mayhem, must search the answers of the above questions.
If we are told to believe that the police and administration were inert at the behest of the opposition, then there must be politics there too. There have also been questions as to why the common people did not come forward to resist the attacks. That fact is, where the politicians have failed to lend leadership and the progressive sections of society feel safer to remain silent, on whom will the common people count if they take to the streets?
‘No one will get away’ or ‘the guilty will be brought to book’, are clichéd promises which are, generally speaking, never fulfilled. If those in charge admit their failure, we can take lessons from the mistakes. Only then will it be possible to avoid the repetition of such sabotage and violence.
Many have pointed to a possible conspiracy and election politics behind this violence. But the elections are still nearly two years away. Other than the ruling party, no one is talking about elections preparations. Some conspiracy theorists have even pointed to the state elections and by-elections of the neighbouring country. They claim that the votes of the ruling BJP, whose popularity is flagging, will double in various states due to Hindus being attacked in Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, the note of caution issued by prime minister Sheikh Hasina towards India, has been making waves on social media, on Twitter in particular. She said that India would also have to be conscious of the safety of Hindus in Bangladesh, adding that nothing should take place in India that can have an impact in our country or that could cause our Hindu community to be harmed. This is definitely an exception.
While India’s media is rife with analysis and speculations about communal violence in Bangladesh, the international media is still highlighting the persecution and sufferings of the minorities in India. The New York Times on 18 October published a report, ‘Amid flames and gunfire, they were evicted from where they called home’, about the eviction of the Bengali speaking Muslims in Assam.
The common people have been undoubtedly angered and pained by the last few days of communal violence. And, needless to say, on this Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh’s independence, the country’s image has certainly been tarnished in the international arena. Certain state-level BJP leaders, Hindu organisations and ISKCON have called for an inquiry team to be sent to Bangladesh, according to the Indian press. These are matters of concern, but even a greater matter of concern is the propensity of those in power to evade responsibility. ‘No one will get away’ or ‘the guilty will be brought to book’, are clichéd promises which are, generally speaking, never fulfilled. If those in charge admit their failure, we can take lessons from the mistakes. Only then will it be possible to avoid the repetition of such sabotage and violence.
* Kamal Ahmed is a senior journalist
* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir