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3 February, 2019 10:52:33 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 3 February, 2019 11:20:37 AM


Who will make the 'weapons of democracy' effective again

Sheikh Mujib's nonviolence, non-cooperation movements in 1970 and 1971 were great successes
Abdul Gaffar choudhury
Who will make the 'weapons of democracy' effective again

Recently the Left Front of India called a general strike which did not get proper response from the public. Their leaders claimed before calling the strike that people will respond to their call wholeheartedly but the call failed and they could not disrupt the day to day life of the country.

In the past whenever Left Front or any anti-establishment political parties called a hartal or bandhthey used to get huge response from people, but now this scenario is changing. The strike, creating human chain, procession, black flag demonstration, street barricades these are all methods of protest against government in democracy. They are known as weapons of democracy. In the politics of the subcontinent from Gandhi to Sheikh Mujib, leaders have applied these methods successfully. Of late it seems these methods are losing appeal among people. The Indian Left could not make their bandh successful and this is not a good sign for a healthy democracy.
In Bangladesh also hartal and other democratic process of protests are now losing their appeal and effectiveness. The main reason, in my opinion is the abuse of these democratic processes by BNP and Jamaat for a long time. If a patient takes too many antibiotics, the medicine loses its effectiveness. Similarly if the democratic weapons which are the safeguard for democracy are misused or abused for a long time then it also loses its usefulness. Once hartal, bandh, agitation, procession etc. were very effective democratic methods. In Bangladesh Khaleda Zia who was called an uncompromising leader by her party was calling hartal or general strike against Awami League government not for a day but week after week on minor issues or sometimes even on non-issues. When people did not respond to that call BNP added violence with it in collaboration with Jamaat. By this they created fear among people but failed to get support from them. The association of violence with hartal or the so-called movement made hartal unpopular and undemocratic. Democracy does not approve use of violence.

There is no provision for violence in democracy, but there are other provisions to protest against injustice or the torturous activities of the government, which are very effective if they are backed up by people's demand and support. If a political party for their power-politics when they have no people's support misuses these political weapons then they fail. But if protests and agitations are based upon people's interests and demands they join it en masse. Nobody can resist its success. These hartals or bandhs are very successful where violence or bloodshed is not always required. Sheikh Mujib's nonviolence, non-cooperation movements in 1970 and 1971 were great successes. But in the past 10 years the frequent hartals and protests associated with violence and organised by BNP and Jamaat were not successful. They killed innocent people by petrol bombs and other methods but did not succeed to overthrow the Awami League government. In the latter part of their movement the hartal called by them became a farce.

In the first part of the Second World War when the British soldiers were continuously defeated at the war front and had to retreat the British newspaper tried to cover this defeat by headlines like—Successful retreat of allied forces. In Bangladesh, in the recent past when BNP and Jamaat could not make their hartals a success their media to hide this failure created the headline- Hartal succeeded partially. They never acknowledged their failure. The history of the subcontinent also proves that the democratic weapons or methods of protest are successful when it is based on people's demand and support. When an undemocratic front or party uses this weapon to achieve success in their conspiracy or to usurp power for any other unholy purposes the weapon fails. That is why when BNP and Jamaat called a hartal or a so-called movement they failed miserably.

In the past BNP called many hartals without any issue and killed people indiscriminately. During hartals a section of people used to close their shops and did not get out of their houses out of fear for their lives. But once that fear was gone and one after another the so-called movements collapsed, people came out of their houses and started ignoring the call of BNP. BNP's violent method to achieve their political goal under the cover of democratic weapons i.e. the peaceful hartals, processions etc. did not succeed but gave a bad name to those democratic processes. In Britain more than three decades ago the coal miner's strike was a terror for the British government. These strikes caused the fall of many governments in Britain. But when under the leadership of Arthur Scargill the coal miners begun a strike for more than a year they lost the public sympathy and support and the Thatcher government survived. Now the coal miner’s union, which was once the strongest arm in British trade union has almost become a zero power.

As I have said earlier, these strikes, hartals, processions, agitations etc. are the safety valve of democracy. If they lose their effectiveness then democracy also loses its power. BNP and Jamaat have made this error by misusing these democratic methods for achieving their undemocratic goals. They not only lost their popularity but also made these democratic processes unpopular. This situation is not good for any government, even the present Awami League government also. To keep democracy alive and effective the present government should to safeguard these democratic rights so that people could ventilate their grievances, express their demands and protest against the government’s unwanted activities peacefully. Even if they want to remove the government from power they can express their wishes peacefully. If any country wants the transfer of power without violence and bloodshed the principles of democracy must be upheld. The parliament should have a strong opposition. People should enjoy full political rights— the right to hartal, the right to freely express their opinions, the right to assemble without any hindrance and even the right to demand the change of government peacefully. Otherwise, the alternative will be conspiracy, military uprising, people's revolution and bloodshed.

We have witnessed this situation in many developing countries of Africa and Asia. In Bangladesh when there was no scope to remove the government there was military coup and military uprising. Ziaur Rahman's government was removed from power by killing. Justice Sattar's government was overthrown by military coup. In 1996 Khaleda Zia's government had to resign in the face of people's uprising. Iajuddin's caretaker government supported by BNP had to face similar fate by military intervention. But Awami League came to power and went from power peacefully through a general election. Whenever they were defeated in an election their transfer of power was democratic and peaceful. Sheikh Hasina never shouted, 'Our victory was hijacked'. Democracy in Bangladesh is still continuing under her leadership.

I have discussed above the necessity of the right to peaceful effective hartal, processions, agitations etc. in a democratic country. At present Bangladesh parliament has no powerful opposition. BNP has no real existence in the parliament and in the outside politics they are almost facing extinction. Ershad's Jatiya Party is an opposition in the parliament only by name. Under Hasina's leadership democracy is safe in the government but perhaps not in the country. The business class is too powerful in the parliament.

Bureaucracy is also too powerful. The new rich class gained effective influence in the parliament. The most powerful arm of democracy both parliament and media are virtually under the control of trade barons. In this situation the weapons of democracy which I discussed earlier should be made effective and powerful. Though present government did not create any hindrance to human and civil rights but in present political situation these tools of democracy have lost their potency and support. This potency should be kept alive in the greater interest of the country and democracy. But the question is—Who will bell the cat?

London, Friday 01 February, 2019





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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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