According to the rules, he (Shamim Osman) cannot campaign.Selina Hayat Ivy, mayoral candidate in the Narayanganj city corporation elections
It was not possible to resolve this problem silently with intervention from party leadership. This was obvious when Ivy termed her rival candidate Taimur Alam Khandakar, a 'godfather'. If she hadn't made such an allegation, perhaps the local MP Shamim Osman would not have spoken in favour of anyone. After the allegation was made, the central leaders' pressure on Shamim Osman and his followers was no longer a secret. The representative from the centre made it very clear that the Osman family should lend their support to the party candidate Ivy, reminding him, "You have been made MP at our leaders' behest." The Chhatra League committee, supporters of Shamim Osman, was dissolved as its term had expired and police even raided the homes of that committee's leaders.
And so in fear of falling from favour, Shamim Osman held the "most difficult press conference" of his life, and with "much suppressed pain" informed us that "I could not take up the campaign as I should have, but I will do so from now." Another significant statement of his was, "Who cares who the candidate is? It could be a banana tree or a mango tree, that hardly matters. This is Bangabandhu's boat, Sheikh Hasina's boat, so there can be no deviating from this." These words make it clear that he had no choice but to declare support for the party's candidate.
And therein lies the problem of the Awami League candidate. So long the people hadn't seen Ivy as a government person. She was seen as a symbol of courage, someone who stood up against the reign of the MP. That image has been lost, though she still wants to maintain a distance. Perhaps that is why she has said, "According to the rules, he (Shamim Osman) cannot campaign." But as an MP even if Shamim Osman himself cannot campaign, the presence of his supporters can make things awkward.
The unfortunate outcome of the internal conflict of the ruling party in Narayanganj is that the issue of civic amenities for the people of Narayanganj has been overshadowed by the feud between the Osman family and Ivy.
The strategies that were used to harass the opposition in the past, have boomeranged. Two telephone conversations have been leaked. One was about extortion and the other was of murder convict Nur Hossain, issuing threats from jail for his brother's election. His brother is a councillor candidate of the ruling party.
Awami League's political rival BNP is not officially contesting in the election. However, Taimur Alam Khandakar is a former leader of BNP. While BNP has removed him from the party post, he has not been expelled. BNP's stance is strategic, but opportunistic too. If he succeeds in the election, he will be welcomed back into the party fold and like Awami League, they will say he is a BNP man, even though a rebel.
BNP's abstention from the election may be a plus point for Taimur and he is visibly putting that to use. He claims to be an all-party candidate contesting against the outgoing mayor. While Taimur Alam hopes for a competitive election, given the signs and also the election commission's past records, it is highly unlikely that there will be any exception in this case. He says that the trap is becoming visible. His people are being arrested, false charges are being filed, and the question remains as to how active the election commission and the administration will be to prevent violence and clashes on the day of the election.
The reports of the Narayanganj election and the analyses, indicates that the media too has found itself in strange circumstances. It is very natural that Narayanganj's politics will have some impact on the capital city. This used to be reflected in the media. There had been a tacit empathy for Ivy's stance against injustice. But does this empathy remain intact? Then again, a section of the media has for long supported the local MP for the sake of the owners' business interests. Will they too support Ivy now?
The unfortunate outcome of the internal conflict of the ruling party in Narayanganj is that the issue of civic amenities for the people of Narayanganj has been overshadowed by the feud between the Osman family and Ivy. There is hardly any debate or discussion over how good or bad the civic amenities of the city have been, whether taxes will be increased or decreased or such issues. All attention, instead, is focused on the moves being made by the Osman family and their followers.
We have noticed such inner conflict, clashes and violence in the UP elections too. The MPs have done anything and everything in their power to retain their clout. And the election commission has remained a mute spectator of the feuds and fracas. According to Prothom Alo reports, 93 persons have lost their lives in the UP election violence. Other records put this figure at over a hundred. Taking past figures into consideration, this UP election has had the second highest number of fatalities. The 2016 election had been the record where 145 people had died.
They have written much in the past about the election commission's irresponsibility, incompetence and failure and so will not repeat that. The harsh repressive policies of the law enforcement agencies in the name of ensuring political stability to materialise the vision of development, have resulted in inner conflicts. No matter how the Narayanganj election may be, no matter what the results may be, the ruling party cannot avoid responsibility for the violence.
* Kamal Ahmed is a senior journalist.
* This column appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir