Monday, June 20, 2011

Patriotism And Deal With ConocoPhillips

THE question that the prime minister posed on Saturday—i.e. ‘ who is more patriotic and looks after the interest of the country than I?’—is pleasing to the ears and even encouraging. After all, the person elected by the people to run the country needs to be a patriot beyond question. While we do not question an elected government’s patriotism, we expect the government to prove its claim by its deeds, not by empty rhetoric. However, there are reasons to believe that the question is not merely aimed at vouchsafing the patriotism of the prime minister or, for that matter, the government that she heads. Came as did in the wake of the call for a dawn-to-dusk general strike by the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports on July 3 in protest against the production sharing contract signed between the Awami League-Jatiya Party and the US oil giant ConocoPhillips on June 16 , the question seems to be an indirect way of undermining the committee’s patriotism. The citizens’ forum has provided critical analysis of economic and energy policies of successive governments since its inception in the late-1990 s and persisted with the demand that the people’s ownership should be established on the country’s natural resources. It has never opposed exploration and extraction of the country’s hydrocarbon resources, e.g. coal, gas, oil, and their utilisation in its economic development; its prime demand has been that these resources should be explored and extracted under the supervision of the state-run exploration entity BAPEX and used to the benefit of the people at large. In doing so, its leaders and activists, supporters and sympathisers have time and again proved their readiness to make the ultimate sacrifice. Three persons were killed when the law enforcers opened fire on a largely peaceful demonstration in August 2006 against the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led alliance government’s plan to engage Asia Energy in open-pit coalmining at Phulbari in Dinajpur. If these are not patriotic demands and deeds, one wonders what is. The prime minister may recall the movement that the committee spearheaded then; after all, she, then the leader of the opposition in parliament, went all the way to Phulbari after the government had shelved the plan in the face of the popular uprising and warned the then incumbents of dire consequences if the agreement they had signed with the protesters were not implemented. One needs to keep in mind that patriotism does not lie in episodic public assertions but has to be proved round the clock, round the year through deeds. Regrettably, however, the successive governments have pursued neo-liberal policies and unbridled market economy and commercialised services that are supposed to be rendered by the state, e.g. education and health care, at the behest of the imperialist West; these in no way protect the people’s interest or are any measure of patriotism. Hydrocarbon exploration and extraction agreements have been signed with international oil companies, deals that have allegedly lined up the pockets of a handful of bureaucrats and businesspeople and been used by the ruling quarters as a diplomatic tool to appease the global and regional big powers with a view to perpetuating control over state power locally. Moreover, the ruling quarters have maintained secrecy about the contents of these agreements. Besides, whenever questions and allegations have been raised about these agreements, those in power more often than not resorted to repressive means, thereby only underlining the legitimacy of these questions and allegations. The incumbents have not been any exception either. They have also employed the law enforcers to oppress not only their political rivals but also the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports. They have also kept the content of its agreement with ConocoPhillips under the wraps, just as their predecessors did other such agreements. What makes the national committee’s hartal stand out is the fact that these are meant to neither retain nor return to state power, unlike similar programmes called by the political parties like the Awami League or the BNP. Thus, the general strike is anything but ‘nonsense’, as the finance minister, according to a report published in New Age on Sunday, termed it on Saturday.