India could “jeopardise” Bangladesh’s democratisation process and “destroy” the country’s fledgling democracy if it continued to support Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League government which has “taken to organised terror” to intimidate voters ahead of the December 30 elections, Jatiyo Oikkyo Front (National United Front) leader Dr Kamal Hossain told the South Asian Monitor over phone from Dhaka this evening.
Quashing rumours that he was put under house arrest, Hossain reminded Indian decision-makers that even as Hasina has “put up a false impression that she is Bangladesh”, should New Delhi continue to back a political party and its leader even as campaigning was nearing its end, it will “create a negative impact on India”.
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“Every sensible person in Bangladesh wants good relations with India which must support the people of this country at a time when the Awami League is misrepresenting itself. This Awami League has nothing to do with the Awami League of the past and I hope that Sheikh Hasina is rejected by the people of Bangladesh,” the octogenarian barrister, who simultaneously heads the NUF and his own Gono Forum, said.
Hossain said that while no Indian high commission official or diplomat in Dhaka has been “personally in touch” with him, “they have been in contact with others (in the NUF)”. He, however, said that even as only three days are left for the national elections, “India has not reached a point of no return” and it could yet desist from supporting an “undemocratic” government steeped in “corruption” and which is why it is “terrified of the elections”.
Appealing to all NUF constituents to hold steady, Hossain said that “we cannot walk away from the elections and we must all stay there right till the end at a time when the Awami League government has taken to terrorising the people”. “In 50 years of public life, I have not seen this scale of terror. In most parts of Bangladesh in every street across towns and villages, the uniformed police are joining up with Awami League supporters. There have been wholesale arrests. This is the real shame,” Hossain said in a scathing attack against Hasina and the ruling party.
“Their intention is to terrorise so that people cannot come out to vote and that is why we need to hold firm, especially because campaigning and canvassing will come to an end two days before the country goes to the polls,” Hossain said. Other top Oikkyo Front leaders said that “much depends” on voter turnout.
Asked whether the repressive measures employed by the Awami League government will prevent voters from exercising their franchise, Hossain said that “much depends on whether organised terror can keep the people away from going to the polling booths. The Jatiyo Oikkyo Front has been encouraging people to fearlessly cast their ballots even though the police are being part of the terrorists. There must be a result that reflect the public mood and it is time this government is voted out”.
When asked why the army had not proved effective in containing violence across several parts of Bangladesh two days after it was deployed in huge numbers, Hossain said that the “military hasn’t changed. It has been only two days and we are hoping that from tomorrow (December 27) the army will discharge its duties with responsibility”.
According to Hossain, “historically, the army has maintained neutrality when the police has not, and they have discharged their responsibility effectively”. This time around, the army, Hossain said, is “reporting to the respective deputy commissioners” and he hoped that the men in olive green will “perform their usual role” as they get a grip on the evolving situation.
Parrying a question on a section of the Bangladesh media’s active pursuit in publishing stories related to alleged links between the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the BNP but avoiding exposing the nexus between the Indian external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), and the Awami League, Hossain said that the ruling party was “completely misrepresenting” the ISI’s alleged links with the BNP.
To a question on what plans the NUF had to legally challenge not only the ruling Awami League’s repressive measures but also the Hasina government’s refusal to provide an electoral level playing field, Hossain said that he was “advising all Oikkyo Front candidates to provide detailed accounts of the violence being perpetrated in their respective constituencies, which would be used to build a petition that would be submitted to the vacation bench of the high court”.