An empty highway during the blockade enforced by BNP
Prothom Alo file photo

Cold wind sets in at the beginning of Agrahayan, a Bengali month. Although it is not felt so much in the town, it is easily felt in the villages. Who does not know that the winter is the season for launching a movement?  We have been noticing for the last couple of decades. The elections have been added to it. It can be said that the situation will become tense.

The Awami League has been in power for long. I can't remember whether anyone was in power in the sub-continent for so long after the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb and Congress prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. A few years ago, the prime minister's adviser HT Imam said, 'This party needs to stay in power for two more terms. Otherwise the development spree will be hampered.' If the wish is fulfilled, none can go to power in the next 10 years. They have to wait till 2034.

The Awami League thinks those who don't support the party don't want welfare of the country. There is no other patriotic party in the country except the Awami League. The country cannot be handed over to the renegades!

The BNP is a big political party. They were in power for several terms in the past. The party is out of power for 17 years at a stretch. When will this waiting end? The party has been launching a movement for two decades. Their main demand is - the election has to be held under a neutral government.

All the parties more of less agree that the election under a partisan government does not take place in a free and fair manner. Some used to think this earlier but don’t think this now. Some didn’t think this earlier, but now consider so. Considerations change when the situation favours this or that stance.

BNP and like-minded parties not only boycotted the election in 2014 seeking the polls to be held under a neutral government, but also they declared to resist the election. Before and after the elections, we observed hartals and blockades throughout the year. Maybe the BNP at that time thought another parliamentary election would be organised as happened following the one-sided election in February 1996, to tackle the situation. But that did not happen. The Awami League stayed in power and completed the tenure.

We know what Karl Marx said – “history repeats itself”. First it becomes tragic and later it becomes a farce. The year 2014 was a tragic one for the BNP.  Another wizardry took place in 2018. The prediction of Marx becomes true - a farce took place that time. The question is, what will happen this time?

The Awami League changes its strategy every five years. This time their strategy must be different. There may be a surprise. But there is no surprise in the strategy of the BNP. The same is being repeated --hartal and blockade. An attempt is being made to create panic among the people by setting vehicles on fire. However, one cannot confirm that only they are setting fire to public properties. Earlier, we noticed ghosts took to the streets. They performed many activities. We have been hearing from our childhood days that some people possess supernatural powers.

Hartals and blockades didn't work in 2014-15. How did the BNP come to know that they will work this time? This is true that hartals and blockades incur huge losses. The students cannot go to school. Vehicles don't operate on the highways. The supply chain gets disrupted. People suffer immensely. Many may tolerate suffering thinking that they will be benefited in the future. But what will happen if there is no change? Is there any confirmation that the change in power will bring welfare for the people? The government too does not care about the sufferings of the people. Their priority is power.

Here I see three prospective scenarios. Many want a change in power. That means toppling the government. Many hope if the Awami League is ousted, the BNP will come to power. The reason is there is no credible alternative political party. The Awami League knows this. Because of this, they start and end any rally castigating the BNP. Is the BNP certain that they will go to power if the Awami League is forced to resign? Another possibility is there. This has happened in the past as well. As one party was forced to leave, another party didn’t go to power immediately. A third party took power.

Let us return to the strategy of BNP. The party has been in the movement for a long time. Meanwhile, many of their leaders have died and thousands of leaders have been arrested and are in jail. Some have been convicted. Many are appearing before the court regularly or went into hiding. How long will this continue? The Awami League has adopted a tougher stance as it is a question of their existence too. None can want to take the risk of suicide.

Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir was a bureaucrat. He was vocal during the movement against Ershad in 1990. He had many young bureaucrats with him. He had a realisation then – we are the employees of the republic and we’ll not engage with any partisan government or politics.

That was wonderful. But he took a U-turn in 1996. Later, he joined the Awami League and became a minister. Now we don’t hear the words ‘employees of the republic’. Now the entire state machinery has turned into a partisan government. The party, the government and the state have become one entity.

This is why the BNP has been in trouble. They are not only fighting a partisan government but also the entire state machinery. We know the party that gets the backing of the state wins. So the BNP has to take such a strategy so that the governing party becomes isolated from the state power. Do they have such a plan? Can this be done by enforcing hartals and blockades?

A powerful government or the state also falls when the people build up resistance. What is the strategy of BNP to mobilise people? Is the gathering of people at different cities or at Naya Paltan an evidence of its power? It may be argued thousands of people will take to the streets in such an unbearable situation, will face bullets, bring about mass upsurge and oust the government. As a citizen, one can ask, “What will you do for us if we bring you to power by sacrificing our lives?”

Suppose, everything took place in accordance with the expectation of the BNP and the party formed the government with the absolute majority. What will they give us in five years? Where is that plan? Why would the people take risks and sacrifice life for you?

A question can be raised here. Will we live through this undemocratic and suffocated situation year after year? This is a valid question. So the BNP has to clearly say that they will provide better service at a low cost than the Awami League. People want to hear this. Hartal and blockade cannot be the last word. These tools have become blunt much earlier.

*Mohiuddin Ahmad is a writer and researcher.

*This article, originally published in Prothom Alo print and online edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam