Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Police Action Against Nat'l Committee Betrays Govts Undemocratic Attitude

THE police action against leaders and activists of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power And Ports on Monday as they tried to bring out a procession at Mohammadpur in the capital Dhaka in support of the committee’ s half-day general strike on July 3 tends to lend credence to the public perception of the Awami League-Jatiya Party government’s growing intolerance with dissenting voices in society. According to a report published in New Age on Tuesday, the law enforcers beat up national committee leaders and activists and snatched away banners and placards from them. They also detained two members of the committee. The police action appears in sync with the antagonistic political rhetoric that key functionaries of the government, including the prime minister, have directed at the committee for protesting against the signing of a production sharing contract with the US oil giant ConocoPhillips on June 16 for hydrocarbon exploration in, and extraction from, two offshore blocks. The national committee, a citizens’ forum featuring eminent intellectuals, has provided critical views on and analysis of the economic and energy policies pursued by successive governments since its inception in the late 1990 s. Time and again, it has mobilised public opinion and organised popular protests against non-transparent agreements that the ruling quarters have entered into with international oil companies and multilateral lending agencies, apparently compromising the state’s policy sovereignty on the one hand and undermining the people’s interest on the other. Ironically, after the national committee had forced the previous elected government of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party- led alliance into shelving a plan to engage Asia Energy for open-pit mining in Phulbari through a popular movement, the current prime minister, then the leader of the opposition in parliament, went all the way to Phulbari to express her solidarity with the committee. However, since coming to power, she and her government seem to have thus far been antagonistic towards the committee and the cause it stands for. It may be pertinent to recall here that the police swooped on a peaceful procession of the committee in September 2009 leaving at least 20 , including its member secretary, an eminent economist, injured. The government’s apparent antagonism to the committee has seemingly intensified since the latter started to oppose the deal with ConocoPhillips and called a hartal in protest. Ultimately, the government’s hostility towards the committee seems to stem from its intolerance with divergent and dissenting views, which has found expression time and again in its legal and extra-legal actions to encroach upon the democratic political space of the opposition camp. The government, besides taking recourse to section 144 to foil opposition rally and procession, even obstructed the opposition from holding a decidedly peaceful and innocuous programme such as human chain. Such repressive actions, needless to say, not only are antithetic to universal democratic principles but also runs counter with the constitution of Bangladesh, which guarantees the rights to the freedom of assembly. It is thus imperative for the rights-conscious and democratically-oriented sections of society and the media to raise their voices and mobilise public opinion against the government’s undemocratic attitude and action.