The government did not accept the challenge of Shajahan Khan

রাতঃস্মরণীয়'s picture
Submitted by rataswaraniya [Guest] on Fri, 10/02/2012 - 11:32pm

We don’t want to drive the vehicles any more. Rather, Ilyas Kanchan, Tarana Halim, and all other culprits who took part in the starvation should be brought on the steering wheel.

This was the remark of a bus driver on whose vehicle I was heading home the other day. With due respect to people of all professions, I wasn’t surprised at his harsh tone or the disparaging comment. Transport workers raving in defiant manners and throwing abusive comments are nothing new to the general commuters. This is quite characteristic of them. Many may remember, right before the last Eid-ul-Fitr when a ferry got stuck in a sunken island in the Padma –– and remained there for several days –– one of the passengers onboard was beaten by a driver of a truck owned by shipping minister Shajahan Khan. Interestingly enough, this was done in front of a rolling TV camera with some journalists present nearby. However, there are admittedly some transport workers who are gentle in nature and behaviour.

I was going home in Khulna on 25 October on a bus from Dhaka. It was dawn when we came to know about an indefinite transport strike to be enforced in 21 districts across the southwestern region. In what may be unprecedented, the strike was called by the Bangladesh Road Transport Owners-Workers Federation led by none other than the incumbent shipping minister, Shajahan Khan. It was called to press home an 11-point demand including release of all the detained drivers under article 302, including bus driver Jamir who caused the death of eminent film maker Tareq Masud and journalist Mishuk Munir. In their written memorandum, the strikers did not spell out Jamir’s name but there was an obvious reference to him. Shajahan Khan himself led the submission of the memorandum. When our bus was stopped in front of Khulna Maniktala CSD Warehouse, the driver expressed full support to the strike and promised to put his wheels on hold in solidarity. It was quite interesting to see that among the road blockers there were many holding placards demanding trial of the killers of recently murdered BNP labour leader Modasser Hossain.

I knew Shajahan Khan since 2001 when I was sent to assist our Madaripur Office for a couple of months. Our office was located at Tarmuguria village, close to the riverbank. We were shacked in the office by the noise of gun firing. People were watching the firing from the riverbank on the vehicle fleet of Khaleda Zia, led by Maznu Khan and the brother of Bahaudding Nasim; quick escape of the escort cops; and counter fire by Mujibur Rahman Sarwar from the convoy of Khaleda Zia. Actually, since that incident, I knew Shajahan Khan as a powerful politician. Then, I knew him as a minister, a transport sector leader, and more recently, as a transport monster.

Since the beginning of this term of the government led by his party, we observed him involving himself with various controversies. Once he proposed to affix ‘rates’ of extortion in road transportation routes across Bangladesh in the name of ‘subscription’ or in Bengali, ‘chanda’. Somehow the proposal couldn’t convince his minister-friend Syed Abul Hossain. Mr. Hossain cleared his position by saying that his ministry (communication) could never approve such an ‘illegal’ proposal.

Later on, Shajahan Khan came up with the most bizarre proposal of his term: issuing driving license to 28,000 drivers without any qualification test. The list proposed by the president and general secretary of the Federation and endorsed by Mr. Khan was about to be approved by the ministry of communication. But once again he was let down by Mr Hossain, thanks to public outcry against the proposition. The unfortunate killing of Tareq Masud and Mishuk Munir took Shajahan a bit off-guard, but with the subsequent launch of transport strike he planned to pull up his socks again. It is relevant to mention that the indignant strikers offered shoe-necklace on the posters of eminent film actor and the convener of “Demand of Safe Roads” movement Mr. Ilyas Kanchan. They also beat on his photograph with shoes.

In these connections, starvation programme at the Jatiya Shaheed Minar caused a myriad of debates, discussions, and bloggings, all expressing concern over the development of situation. But the government reacted in typical manner, extending blind support and endorsement for whatever its higher-ups say and do, despite their adverse consequence. Prime Minister Shekh Hasina had thus expressed her reaction to the masses who gathered at the Shaheed MInar on the Eid day demanding action against the ministers of communication and shipping:

The people who have gathered here have not travelled home. Then how do they know that they couldn’t travel home due to bad road conditions? If they start for home now, I believe they would reach home in a few hours. They shouldn’t obfuscate people while they aren’t traveling.

Such a stand by the prime minister against popular demand eventually gave authorisation to the wilfulness of Messrs. Hossain and Khan.

Though the transport strike was withdrawn after the commitment of due consideration by Communication Minister Mr. Syed Abul Hossain, his commitment on Jamir’s release was in a blur. From his statement, it appears that if Jamir is released, it would be a decision following the ruling of the court and hence he will clear out of any controversy.

However, it was heard that despite the withdrawal of the strike, violence erupted in several places. Massive vandalism took place in Jessore by the Transport Owners-Workers Federation led workers including an India-bound bus of Shyamali Paribahan where the driver and a security constable of Bangladesh Ansar was brutally beaten by iron rods. A physician-friend of mine was passing by that location by his private sedan and was ‘forgiven’ by the attackers only because he was a doctor with a Crescent sticker on his car’s windshield. Vandalism also took place at Sonadanga Bus Terminal in Khulna and several other places.

From our previous experiences we know, it is the general people who become the ultimate victim of these strike programmes. And now, if the very ministers of a government add fuel to the subdued fire of a certain quarter of people, it bodes omen and endangers public life beyond a ray of solution. Surprising but true, no criticism or pro-people statement has come out from the government about this strike. From that consideration, it can be argued whether the government itself was in favour of the strike. If this strike were called by the opposition, certainly it would have been denounced by the government with media propagation about how their programme affects peoples’ life and national economy. As a powerful minister of the government, Mr. Khan had the opportunity (and responsibility) to negotiate with the relevant ministries of the government as the 11 demands were relevant with the ministries of home, law and justice, and others. Instead, he threw the strike programme, causing immense suffering to the masses.

It cannot be told whether his decision of strike was whimsical or something else. Possibly he wanted to establish his uncompromising stand before his federation members by calling the strike. Or, may be it was just a demonstration of power through which he wanted to convey the message (to his ruling party colleagues and the opposition) that he alone can halt the whole country if he wishes. God knows why he would so wish!

Those who keep abreast of the political developments in this country know what the current prime minister promised once: that if in opposition, her party would never call any strike. They are not even in opposition now and they started calling strike already! How ironic!! While her government is vocal against the strike, road march and other programmes of the opposition, her silence about the Shajahan Khan-induced strike indicates that her government has not accepted the challenge thrown by Shajahan Khan. We have to wait to see his next action. The Federation has called further strike for an indefinite period of time in Khulna division from 20th November 2011. So, it seems that we have wait for some more time to clearly understand the ambition of Shajahan Khan.

এই ব্লগটির বাংলা ভার্সন পড়তে এখানে ক্লিক করুন

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জিজ্ঞাসু's picture

The first two sentences should be quoted.
Important topic!!

attn: moderator - Cannot type English on comment box. What I'm doing is typing on Notepad and pasting here.

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রাতঃস্মরণীয়'s picture

it's been a recent experience. while on the preview, the quotes come as it should be. but in the detailed read, the quotes do not appear. I think, the moderators can look into fixing this out.

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জিজ্ঞাসু's picture

good. thanks.

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