People or power, which comes first?

‘Do you want peace? Do you want security for the people? Do you want the children to be safe, for everyone to work unhindered and return home to their loved one, safe and sound?”

“But of course! That is exactly why I have foregone my own life and livelihood, luxuries and comfort, and am serving the country.”

“Then why do you come up with programmes on the streets that lead to clashes and conflict?”

“Because we are the only ones that can look after the people! If we stay in power or come to power, only then will the people stay well. We must remain in power or come to power at any cost. We want peace and we must fight to maintain that peace. We won’t have the people faring well without us. The people must do well, but then again, I have to stay in power or come to power too.”

How about if the people fare well, but without you in power?”

“That will not be allowed. The people of the country must fare well, but first of all I must remain in power or come to power. It can’t be that I am not in power, but the people are doing well. The people do not stay well. We, after all, are the only patriots. We are the only competent ones.”

“Hypothetically speaking, for the sake of argument, you are not in power, but the people are doing well.”

“No, no, I said, we will look after the people! Others won’t be able to look after the people. They can’t. They couldn’t.”

“So there’s no peace ahead!”

“Keeping us in power or bringing us to power means peace!”

This was an imaginary conversation.

The matter can be narrated like this too: We have one point - no election under Sheikh Hasina. We have one point - the election will only be held under Sheikh Hasina. Then both sides take to the streets. This party has a march, that party a peace rally!  Dangers from the march, unrest from the rally. People die. Wounded people writhe on the hospital beds. Then comes the spate of arrests. The media calls this mass arrests, and then there are the arrest trade-offs.

Let it continue. A party, B party. This one says only we are the patriots. That one says, the country will collapse without us. They all have their own arguments, their own strength, parties and foreign friends. They all have one point. In the meantime, people are dying of dengue. Children are dying. The price of commodities spirals. The market is too hot to handle.

TBS reports: Currency notes are being printed. Read on: The central bank is going ahead with printing money amidst the inflation fears. Inflation is on a decline in many countries, but no sign of a let up in Bangladesh. In the meantime, the central bank is releasing currency to lend to the government, which could be a reason to spark of inflation.

According to Bangladesh Bank’s updated records of the first 18 days of July, the central bank released Tk 108 billion (Tk 10,800 crore) into the market to meet the government expenditure demands. The revenue deficit was much higher that the target that was estimated, around Tk 450 billion (Tk 45,000 crore) and, not receiving foreign aid as hoped for, it was required to increase the money supply in the market significantly. The Business Standard, 20 July 2023.

Money is needed, it will be dished out from the coffers. Siege the machine, make the money. There is a crisis of foreign exchange in the country, but no one is talking about reining in capital flight. Defaulters are taking loans of billions and siphoning it off overseas, and then fleeing abroad. Fake companies spring up and pocket people’s money in the name of ecommerce.

The people are in such peace that they leave the country, even resorting to dubious recruitment agents, and then meet their death in dinghies in the middle of the Mediterranean.

The standard of education is at its nadir. The chief election commissioner consoles himself - it was just a slap or two, they didn’t kill the man, there were no deaths, just a minor attack. In the by-elections or city corporation elections, absent of the opposition party, it was the main contestants who were attacked. This was a litmus test of how things can stand. Meanwhile, the two sides have taken up a display of strength. The kings fight it out, while the commoners die.

The thing is, they have one point, so does the other side. The US wants something, sometimes it seems they want this, sometimes it seems they want that. Does EU want, or not want anything? As for our great neighbours, they don’t even open their mouths! So they want something, or they don’t want something. We haven’t given up the hope of understanding their language. Everyone has a language, everyone has something to say. Only the people have no points, the people have no demands, the people have no words.

Will the people, struggling and juggling with the prices of onion and chillies, take to the streets in desperation? Or will they simply go along, engrossed in their mobile phones, their children’s GPA-5 scores and the 6.5 GDP?

That is where the contention lies. How will we know what the people want? What is the way to find out? How will they speak out? We want free media for that, freedom speech, freedom of expression. We want the freedom to assemble, to express dissatisfaction. And we want an election that truly reflects the public mind.

The election is drawing near. Preparations are on in full swing.

An understanding must certainly be reached. An initiative is certainly required for that. The state minister for foreign affairs has said that the elections of 2014 and 2018 cannot be the benchmarks. So that’s it. Come, let’s do something new! Will something new be eked out on the streets? Will the people, struggling and juggling with the prices of onion and chillies, take to the streets in desperation? Or will they simply go along, engrossed in their mobile phones, their children’s GPA-5 scores and the 6.5 GDP?

We are a peaceable lot, we do not want discord. Will you be able to settle things on the street? Or will the people be crushed in the process. The answer to that lies in the initial conversation!

We feel that the government has more responsibility. Their policy should be: avoid conflict. Make the election credible. Bring the opposition to the elections for that. It is hard to break mistrust. Can things just be left to fate? Or will the fights just continue in the streets, the violence, the tear gas, arrests, chases and counter chases, programmes and counter programmes? Or is there hope?

There must be talks, overt and covert. There must be an understanding. It is nothing too difficult to bell the cat. You just do it and it’s done.

It is high time for communication and consensus. And it is those in power who have the responsibility to take the first step. They are in power, after all. Those in power must endeavour to dispense of discord. And what will the public do? There’s that poem by Shankha Ghosh for them (roughly translated):

You’ll fall if you take a sudden leap

Hold on very firmly

Quite content with the foothold

Who wants to take the grief –

Look at whatever you’ve got

Just give it a good shake.

Shake it, man, shake

Shake from within

Put the pressure on

Put the pressure on.

* Anisul Hoque is managing editor of Prothom Alo and a writer.

* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir