A DEEP sense of uncertainty prevails among the public as the government and the ruling Awami League are taking stern measures to block Bangladesh Nationalist Party activists from gathering in Dhaka on Thursday before the verdict in a corruption case against the BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia. Some 2,000 leaders and activists of BNP units have already been arrested and hundreds have been driven into hiding. Transport workers at inter-district bus terminals alleged that Rapid Action Battalion harassed them over long-route bus reservation. Passengers in many districts, meanwhile, complained that bus operators, at police order, have stopped selling tickets for Dhaka since Tuesday. Situations at launch terminals are reportedly similar. Given the panicky situation, many schools have cancelled classes for Thursday. Dhaka is virtually isolated from the rest of the country. In an ideal situation, the incumbents’ anticipatory move to keep law and prevent any political party from interfering with matters of the dispensation of justice, if done properly, would be commendable. It should, however, be done keeping to the law, not by manipulating the system as the case at hand seems to be.
The public anxiety is understandable considering the way the Awami League and its affiliated organisations announced a possible violent presence on roads in Dhaka for Thursday. At a press conference at the party secretariat in Dhaka on Tuesday, the Awami League’s general secretary, also the road transport and bridges minister, said that the Awami League would ‘collaborate’ with law enforcers in keeping law. At another meeting, the Dhaka Transport Owners’ Association, controlled by the people linked to the governing party, said that about 20,000 transport workers ‘will be ready with gazari sticks’ at bus terminals to stop any vandalism on the day of verdict. The announcements come when the city police have already placed a ban on public gathering and carrying sticks and knives beginning on Thursday morning for an indefinite period. Despite the DMP ban on public gathering, the Awami League’s intention to be on the roads with ‘sticks’ to help the police ‘tackle’ any situation looks ludicrous. In 2014, defying a similar ban in Dhaka, the Awami League brought out a motorcycle procession with the pillion riders carrying hockey sticks. Setting aside why the law enforcers should need assistance from stick-wielding activists of political party in power to keep law, a more pressing concern is that under the current regime, it has become the norm that the police would act as an auxiliary organ of the ruling party, in its partisan political interest.
The prevailing uncertainty and the arrest of innocent citizens in the name of law and order, as families of many of the arrested alleged, substantiate the allegation that the incumbents are using the law enforcement agencies for partisan interest. One wonders if the law enforcers have half of seriousness in containing crimes such as extortion, plundering of public money from banks by the ruling quarters. However, while it is important that political managers of the government should lawfully act to maintain order, it is equally important that government does not further constrain the space for political opponents in the name of maintaining law.
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