Sunday, July 10, 2011

Vicious Attack On Opposition Chief Whip And The Upshot

The whole country watched in horror and indignation the police viciously beating up the chief whip of the opposition party in front of the national assembly complex, on the morning of first day of 48- hour hartal. After the first round of beating, he tried to run, flee and hide across the street inside a NAM building. But there was no letup in police brutality. He was pulled out, dragged back and beaten, punched and kicked some more. He was left unconscious on the street, beaten and bloodied, battered and bruised. This whole sordid episode was shown repeatedly on the TV news. Officers Harun and Biplob, the two allegedly responsible for administering the merciless beating, were matter of fact and blasé about the ruckus incident. Their claim was that the BNP - MPs, led by the chief whip, were attempting to vandalise vehicles and cause mayhem and lawlessness. It was their sacred duty to protect public life and property. So they took counter actions. There was altercation, followed by physical scrap between on duty police and the chief whip, who then fell, and was mildly bruised, they asserted. They denied complicity in the heinous act; downplayed the severity of the action with lack of moderation on their part, despite pictures to the contrary. They ostensibly knew they have the patronage of ruling party bigwigs.   Speaking of safeguarding life of the citizens, how about the wellbeing of the chief whip?  Aren’t the police responsible to ensure that their spiteful and shoddy action does not harm him or endanger his life and limbs? Do they not have an obligation to guard and protect an elected lawmaker, especially the chief whip of a major political party albeit of the opposition party? During the Vietnam War, an infamous quote from a US army officer in 1968 about a provincial capital was, ‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.’ Likewise these ruling party- propped, backed and instigated police had to use sadistic, violent and excessive force to beat the chief whip into a pulp as a pretext for their ridiculous and incongruous claim to protect the life and property of the citizens. The ruling party spin doctors were in full intensity and vigour trying to equivocate to explain the inhuman police action against the opposition party chief whip. They spoke in the same unpersuasive, Machiavellian and disingenuous tone in the parliament, news conferences and in TV talk shows. Their prevarication took two parallel tracks. One was the staunch validation of the police action. The utterances of a ruling party MP on evening TV talk shows, and Awami League Joint General Secretary Mahbub-ul- Alam Hanif in the news conference seem to fall in this category. Hanif assigned the fault squarely on the victim. The tone of his statement that the chief whip had incurred minor injury in a scuffle with on- duty police officers performing their professional chores is nothing new. This has become customary for him and most people are not surprised by his insensitive and distasteful comments.     The MP, on the other hand, in the past came across as a level-headed person with strong but semi- sensible description of party point of view and stance. At the TV talk shows on the evening of the fateful attack he seemed to show his true colours either on his own volition or at the instruction of party high command. From a mild mannered party-hack, he seemed to transform into a wild and unsavoury defender of the indefensible and unwarranted strong arm police action. This gave me the impression of a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hide transformation.  The second path of the government hedging was to express feeble, unconvincing and conceited regret at the nasty event with lots of ifs and buts. These ifs and buts and such measured, prepared and fabricated comments included the assertion that the chief whip was mostly or equally responsible for the severe beating he received. Their calculated and disconcerting contention provided a classic example of blaming the victim. The Prime Minster, Suranjit, Ershad, Ashraful, Nasim and others have expressed such qualified and unfeeling regret.  This reminds a bit about the unfair and callous acts against Limon, starting from RAB shooting that maimed him and the subsequent harassment to hide the butchery. The difference in the abuse and harm is in degrees, but there is a pattern. The similarity of the crude official behaviour does not end there. Like the Limon debacle, the police have also registered a case against the chief whip. At the same time they have refused to accept a case by BNP lawmakers against police atrocities.  The home minister dutifully went to the hospital to visit police officers supposedly injured in the clash. One or two of them must have been fatigued and exhausted from the strenuous and tiresome beating and kicking they inflicted on the chief whip. They need rest and recreation as well as hospitalisation to recoup the energy so that they are sufficiently rejuvenated to take similar ruthless actions in the next opposition - constitutionally granted - protests and agitation. The sad fact is the police have largely become a party apparatus for opposition bashing rather than a state machinery to control the law and order situation. The two policemen in question, according to press reports, belonged to Chatra (student) League during their university days. They apparently hold the same allegiance, if not the formal attachment. As such they, especially one, has remained unscathed, despite credible allegations of corruption, bribery and various misdeeds. The indication is that for unruly and overzealous people, once a Chatra League cadre is always a Chatra League cadre. The prevalent Chatra League chaos and lawlessness apparently began way back and is still continuing in full swing.     The Home Minister went to visit the hospitalised police officers to express solidarity and compassion and perhaps convey words of encouragement. She did not have the decency to visit the seriously injured opposition chief whip. Neither did anybody from the government or the ruling party. The lack of civility, care and concern is not only astonishing; it belies the norms of a civilised and democratic society. The Home Minister, who like Hanif talks mostly in arbitrary, tenuous and curious manner, and often makes preposterous and unsubstantiated claims of success, seemingly laid the groundwork for the brutal police assault. First by not arranging adequate training for crowd control nor providing proper guidelines to act sensibly, moderately and proficiently; second, by announcing that her government and law enforcers would not permit picketing, procession or gathering during the hartal. Interestingly, anti-hartal gathering and demonstrations by Chatra League and ruling party allied organisations were allowed to proceed unabated without hindrance or interference. This sort of duplicitous mindset has sadly become a common practice. Now the chief whip is in pain and distress in a hospital. The police officers involved have faced no disciplinary actions so far and the official machinery is hard at work defending and protecting the perpetrators of the dreadful act. The state minister for home affairs has sanctimoniously declared that government cannot take punitive actions against members of an organised force without proper investigation. So the government has formed a three-member police inquiry commission to probe the matter. It is likely that this committee will come up with a report that satisfies the government bigwigs. Police probing the police is full of loopholes and conflict of interests. The committee task has already been prejudiced by the biased and one-sided statements by the home minister and other official and party big shots. We cannot expect much, let alone a neutral and objective report, from this committee. The multiple committees formed by RAB and other law enforcers cooked up reports that maliciously blamed Limon for his injury and loss of leg. One other committee came out with an inconclusive and vague report. Something similar, at best some excessive force coupled with chief whip’s complicity, is to be expected from the police committee. The need is the formation of a neutral and credible judicial inquiry committee with no conflict of interests. That may be too much to ask from this aggressive and harsh regime. The government party would want all to believe that the chief whip has brought it upon himself by attempting to vandalise vehicles, obstructing police work, cursing profanely and throwing a punch and a brick at the police. Ministers, their party law makers, hacks and functionaries have been repeating this unsubstantiated and unnoticed description like parrots. It would seem that this fabricated and fictitious narrative and fudging has been prepared and passed on from the top echelon. This party-line propaganda would like you to believe what they say, rather than what we saw. We saw and heard one police officer berating the chief whip by threatening to slap him and break his teeth, followed by furious and ferocious attacks. There is a lesson to be learnt from this horrendous act and apparent government obfuscation and cover up. The lesson for us commoners is that it is a despicable act that has been repeated by successive regimes, each time with greater rage and malice. The lesson the opposition parties is learning is both perverse and significant. And that is to repeat it when they will be in power on the future opposition group. The vicious cycle will be repeated ad-nauseam. And where is the Speaker in all this brouhaha and vicious police assault on a prominent opposition party parliament member? After all, the speaker is the guardian of all parliamentarians, government and opposition or in between. He has largely remained inactive and silent. He said something about seeking a clarification and then all quiet on the speaker front. This is the same gentleman who angrily denounced criticism and threatened to quit recently. Now that he had the chance, in fact the solemn duty to act to uphold the sanctity of the parliament and ensure safety of a member, he seems to be missing in action. This is sad but not entirely unexpected.