The country is bracing for yet another upheaval as the opposition plans hard-hitting action and the ruling coalition looks to tighten its noose, politicians and political analysts have hinted.
A senior minister yesterday warned of tougher steps against the opposition if they carry on with “destructive” activities like strikes and sieges in an attempt to topple the government.
“The more strikes you call; the tougher the government’s action will become; all the opposition figures, if needed, will be thrown in jail to maintain order,” Awami League publicity secretary Hasan Mahmud, also forest and environment minister, told a gathering of Krishak League, the agrarian wing of the ruling party, in Dhaka.
Meanwhile, Abdul Moyeen Khan, a standing committee member of the BNP, said the government would face consequences if it goes against “democratic norms” as it has done in the past.
The warning and counter warnings came as the government prepares for a state of high alert ahead of scheduled verdicts for two of the most senior Jamaat-e-Islami leaders accused of war crimes.
The BNP-led opposition alliance’s series of anti-government actions, which will run alongside the planned “Dhaka siege” by radical Islamists Hefazat-e-Islam scheduled for May 5.
Jamaat-e-Islam is the key link as they are in alliance with the BNP and also enjoy the tacit support of Hefazat, which amassed tens of thousands of Islamists from across Bangladesh in Dhaka on April 6 to demand the implementation of its 13-point charter.
The charter includes blasphemy laws and bans the “free mixing” of men and women.
In the backdrop of the political developments, some of the ruling party policy makers are concerned that the situation may get worse.
Kazi Zafarullah, ruling AL presidium member, said: “The situation is deteriorating every day. As elections near, the situation will become murkier. In a few months, several verdicts will be handed down by the ICT, and Jamaat with its allies will be on the streets. Besides, Hefazat’s May 5 siege is also due. Altogether, the nation is looking at tough times ahead.
“The sooner we can sit together [with the opposition] and talk, the sooner the situation will cool down, and that will be better for democracy.”
The government has been contemplating how to handle Hefazat, which is mobilising public support in districts for its siege of the capital on May 5. It also has to consider the possible troubles that might arise after the verdicts against Jamaat guru Ghulam Azam and its leader Kamruzzaman, charged with genocide, rape, looting and arson during Bangladesh’s 1971 Liberation War, are delivered.
The trial of the duo is complete and the verdicts are imminent.
Jamaat is planning to demonstrate ahead of the verdict and have hinted they may commit “violence to a greater extent” than they did after Delwar Hossain Sayedee was given the death penalty on February 28.
“People know that our leaders are innocent and are merely victims of the government’s conspiracy. They will not tolerate it if the leaders are punished,” Jamaat’s working committee member Shafiqul Islam Masud told Dhaka Tribune recently. He also said that “people” might react violently if any “injustice” happens.
In the meantime, The BNP-led alliance is to hold a “protest rally” in the capital on April 27 and is also planning more hartals if their detained leaders, including BNP acting secretary general, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, are not released.
When asked for comment on the upcoming political situation, Emajuddin Ahmed, a retired professor of political science department at Dhaka University, said the situation seems bleak.
“The country is heading towards uncertainty and dreadfulness as both the ruling and opposition parties are sticking to their respective guns,” Ahmed said, adding that he saw no ray of hope.
The situation may be worse than that of the previous military-backed government of 2007 if the parties fail to resolve the political standoff.
Mizanur Rahman Shelley, an observer of political developments, termed the situation “complicated, grave and uncertain.”
“Polarisation has reached an unprecedented level. There are people and parties who claim to be progressive and liberal; on the other hand there are sections of the society devoted to religion and are opposing what they think as the excess of those who claim to be progressive,” Shelley told Dhaka Tribune.
The situation is further complicated by BNP’s demand for the next election to be held under a “caretaker government” which the ruling AL refuses to allow, noted Shelley adding there is no real possibility of a dialogue or compromise in sight.
“Therefore, the future seems to be very dark and depressing.”
Abdul Moyeen Khan said: “As a matter of fact the future political strategy of the opposition will essentially be channelised by the stance taken by the government.”
Khan, also a former minister, said if the government continued to behave in an “irrational” manner, the opposition would be left with no choice other than to protest in tough language.
“On the other hand, if the government appreciates democratic norms and stops the intimidation and persecution, the opposition will not have any justification for tough retaliation.”
“The bottom line is, the government must accede to the demands for restoring a neutral and nonpartisan government during the next general elections,” he said.
Mohammad Foyzullah, coordinator of Hefazat-e-Islam, said that they want to enforce their May 5 Dhaka siege programme peacefully like they did on April 6.
“But if the government tries to hinder our peaceful programme, they have to face dire consequences,” he said adding that they were ready to face the worst if it came to that.