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Dhaka Tribune

Rashed Khan Menon: Opposition not capable of making ruling party step down

  • Jamaat-e-Islami may start violence at any moment
  • Situation will deteriorate if anti-independence party comes to power
Update : 14 Aug 2023, 12:37 AM

Workers Party of Bangladesh President Rashed Khan Menon recently spoke to Dhaka Tribune’s Nawaz Farhin Antara about the upcoming national parliament election and the political situation of the country.

Rashed Khan Menon is an important character in the political history of Bangladesh. A frontline leader during all of the country’s movements and struggles, including the Mass Uprising of 1969 and the Liberation War of 1971, Menon is currently a member of parliament from Dhaka-8. The sixth-term lawmaker has also served as a minister in the Awami league-led government, and his party is in the ruling party’s alliance. 

How do you think the next election should be conducted?

Election season is already here. There are only four or five months left. So, naturally, all preparations are focused on conducting fair polls.

All the parties who are in the opposition, including BNP, have already raised one of their demands, and that is they want Sheikh Hasina to resign and conduct the election under a caretaker government. They even want the Election Commission to dissolve. 

I do not think we have much to discuss on the matter, because the government has not done anything so disastrous that it has to resign. And why would it resign? One of its duties is to conduct the elections following the constitution, and hence, the prime minister is consistently saying that the national polls would be held on time. 

However, there is no doubt that the situation has become somewhat complicated, there is no doubt.

What are your thoughts on the ongoing political unrest ahead of the election?

This has been compounded by the actions of foreign powers, particularly the United States, which previously sanctioned the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), but now has imposed visa policies directly on the question of elections. 

The US has stipulated that if the election is not fair, they will impose this visa policy. 

What they are basically doing is imposing conditions on a sovereign country with this visa policy. The European Union has joined as well.

They have already come to Dhaka and held a meeting regarding whether they will send observers during the election. I think that the meeting with the three parties is reasonable, and those are Awami League, BNP and Jatiya Party. 

However, what they have done is hold a meeting with a group like Jamaat-e-Islami, which has been accused of war crimes and even had its political licence revoked by the Election Commission.

If we look at the last 80-100 years, you’ll notice Europeans did not negotiate with war criminals or Nazis in any country. 

Even if these parties ever win the election, they do not give them the opportunity to sit in the parliament, and even find and punish them. 

But in our country, they held talks with those who are proven war criminals, so that registration of their party is granted. 

They even held meetings with the AB Party, which is a new party formed from the Jamaat-e-Islami party. It cannot even be said that they are a politically active party here. It means the EU is supporting all the rightist parties, and you will see these parties are now standing together. 

Therefore, it can be said that some correlative conflicts between the progressive parties with these rightist parties are becoming inevitable at the centre of this election.

Is the election-oriented political movement going towards violence?

Whether the current political situation leads to violence is yet to be determined.

The BNP and other opposition parties held rallies, and marches, and no doubt many people attended these programs, but the very next day they created a situation of conflict in the name of a blockade at important Dhaka entry points.

This means that they are trying to create an unstable situation around the election. 

They (BNP) know very well that our constitution does not give any opportunity to transfer power except through elections. What needs to be done is to throw out this government and put them in power or bring in a third power. 

This is called “Dog in the Manger Policy. It means that I will neither possess it (power) myself nor let someone else have it. 

Other parties who have been associates of BNP are also cooperating, but my experience and belief are that they have not done anything yet to the point where a big crisis will develop. Another issue is the Jamaat-e-Islami party is not as silent as it appears. They can start violent activities at any moment.

We cannot make the claim that a tense situation is going to be created around this election, though some violence has been created in the country by various activities, rally meetings, and marches. 

There has never been and cannot be a situation created by the opposition parties where the government has to resign from power. 

How to evaluate the new visa policy of the US and the activities of the ambassadors of some influential countries around the elections?

Ahead of the US election, there are various allegations about Trump and Biden, but in that situation, they are more worried about the election of our country than the election of their country. 

Now the question stands -- how an ambassador can talk about the prime minister of a country or the president of a political organization and put pressure on their election process?

No independent country can accept this kind of interference in its internal matters.

The Awami League government has been in power three times in a row. What is your observation on the current political and social context, as a politician and one of the 14 parties?

Awami League has developed the country. Earlier, Bangladesh did not have enough electricity to supply but now, we have 100% electricity coverage. 

In addition, Bangladesh's GDP has grown by 7.1%, and the poverty rate has decreased to 18% as well.

During this time, a wealthy middle class was also created in Bangladesh, and this group would have helped develop the country. 

However, this wealthy middle class could not hold onto the power and many things are responsible for this, including inflation. 

On the other hand, debt defaulters cannot be stopped, and money is being smuggled abroad to the tune of thousands of US dollars every year. 

Apart from that, if we speak about social contexts, drug addiction is one of the major problems plaguing the youth in Bangladesh at present.

Violence against women is not desirable in our country. A girl should be tortured for playing football. This is not Pakistan or Afghanistan. We are Bangalis. 

I think these irregularities will increase if this government is not in power.

If Bangladesh goes into the hands of the anti-independence party, these kinds of circumstances are likely to worsen even further.

The Digital Security Act has been repealed, but it remains in another legal framework, so can independent media continue to exist under this law?

According to what the law minister has said, this law has not been repealed. It has been replaced. 

Some sections of the law have been amended and added to a new law.

I feel that there are no fundamental changes made, and as a result, it is not clear whether the Digital Security Act, which has created a culture of fear, will remain in place. 

I think this should be legislated in consultation with journalists and our civil society.

In the last 10-15 years, what is your analysis of the student politics in Bangladesh, especially the politics of the Chhatra League? How do you feel about Chhatra League, where you once were involved in student politics?

Since Ziaur Rahman handed over arms to the students, there has been a rogue attitude among the students. The same thing happened during Ershad's tenure, during the military rule. 

They made the students' groups at that time and kept them under their control. We were hoping that a democratic atmosphere would be created on the campus after 1990, but we noticed that party politics got the upper hand. 

When BNP took Jamaat-e-Islami as its partner, it was seen that many Jamaat organizations were merged into different parties and they took over student organizations of various schools, colleges, and universities. Islami Chhatra Shibir then reigned everywhere.

Since then, the culture of murders, dismemberments, and assaults began. 

What happens is, the campuses are now in power of whatever political party is ruling the country. If BNP is in power, then the student wing of the party would rule campuses, and the same applies to Awami League.

Party politics prevails everywhere. Decisions are being made from the core of the party, like BNP's Chhatra Dal organizational decision is being made by the standing committee. 

It is the same with Awami League, but this was not supposed to happen. 

What are your special initiatives taken for the overall development of your constituency? 

If Dhaka is the capital, then my constituency is the centre of the capital. Starting from Bangabhaban, the Supreme Court, prominent schools, colleges, and universities fall under this constituency. 

Previously, my first task was to improve the infrastructural problems of the schools. Now it will be understood that almost every school has been raised 6-7 floors. We also tried to make sure the educational institutions focus more on quality education.

Another problem was the preponderance of drug trade in the area and the ongoing drug trades that I tackled with the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Co-operatives. 

There was a problem with old roads, and now all the new roads have been built. 

The worst thing I have solved in the last 14 years is I have eliminated the killings and politics that took place in the local markets, such as the Bangabazar market.

We have been able to remove the waterlogging problems of the area, as 10 power pumps were installed.

What else do you plan to do if you win the next election?

If I am elected again in this area, then I want to work especially to control traffic congestion, because I think it's one of the biggest problems now. 

I also want to eradicate dengue. If Kolkata can eliminate dengue, then why can’t we? City corporations need to put more focus on this issue. 

In addition, enhancing the quality of life for our citizens will be at the forefront of my efforts.

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