Citizen Anu

Afsan Chowdhury
Saturday, October 8th, 2016

Image: Shahidul Alam/Drik


The Awami League strategy of finishing off the BNP as an organization has been largely successful. This was partly due to the AL and mostly due to the BNP, who were completely caught off guard with her outdated and useless political style based on personal loyalty and belief in street power as an agency of change.  Its call to a movement, overthrowing the government using Hefazot or the BNP both reached nowhere and if anything backfired. BNP thought the main priority of the public was the right to vote which has been proven to be patently false. The strategy of crippling BNP using arrest warrants and filing cases may be very unfair but is also very effective as the state of BNP shows.



BNP analysts say that if there is a ‘free and fair’ election BNP will win. We don’t know. What we can guess is that BNP’s present sad shape doesn’t reflect its popularity. Yes, BNP would win many seats, would maybe win an election but it’s all conjectural and that is where it misses the whole point of politics. But if BNP voters felt that voting BNP to power was what they wanted the most, why haven’t they come forwards demanding so?  This is partly because the AL’s grip on the situation is tight but also because it doesn’t matter to the people. People also vote for those who can  help them and given the present landscape the BNP is missing. If the organization is so weak, how can voters be confident that they will be able to deliver if elected?


So the conventional political future is secure for the AL and the political discourse is barely occupied by traditional issues such as who rules better or may rule better. That phase is at least for the moment over. But given the structure of society, the non-conventional issues are now emerging to occupy the centre stage and the response of the government to the issues will determine the future of politics. In the absence of BNP, the gripe waters are looking to flow towards new shores and Rampal has rapidly occupied that non-political issue space in national politics.   


The problem is that the ongoing Rampal  movement is not being run by  traditional civil society members, the Daily Star-CPD – Supro type agencies but by an old hand at agitation albeit at  the micro level. The Oil and Gas Protection Committee  has the cleanest image in the country and have not been known to hobnob with military leaders either. They represent the non-privileged members of civil society who have a track record that includes Kansat and Phulbari to which has been added Rampal. Unlike Md Yunus, Mahfuz Anam or such others, there is no stain on the reputation of Prof. Anu Mohammed who has spent a lifetime in pursuit of his chosen causes. Unlike other civil society organizations and members, he has no foreign funding and unlike many Leftist leaders, no foreign loyalty.  His image is cleaner than almost everyone’s in Bangladesh.  It’s the kind of  enemy the AL has not met before.




So Rampal became an issue not only because it is considered environmentally damaging but it’s a national issue that can draw more people to it than others. And to be quite frank, there is no other issue on the ground. So Rampal has become an issue which grows with every protest and every denial. And there is no other cause to distract people from this cause.  BNP may have ceased to exist but the politicking class hasn’t and to them Rampal is the rallying cry, a little more every day.


The problem for the government is that Anu Mohammed has no organization, no support base, no  rich or international backers but has plenty of integrity. And now it’s too late to start a trashing campaign against him and his Committee. He is not corrupt, not an ally of Jamaat, or BNP, nor some crony on the payroll of some Basundhara or Jamuna group. He is not a beneficiary of the government’s plot allotment policy, no frequenter of foreign junkets and so on. Unlike some powerful members of the national media, he has no discomfiting baggage carried over from the past, hence no pressure can be built on him.


Unlike the executive, whose members may run the country but many of whom are considered   untrustworthy and corrupt, he doesn’t have to listen to any orders. He has received no favours and his job is not dependent on anyone’s favour.  It’s the kind of enemy no government likes because they cannot manipulate his freedom to manoeuvre himself politically in service to his cause – which he just happens to share with a certain 19th-century German political economist.  




Under Anu Mohammed’s leadership, the faction opposing the proposed power plant in Rampal has successfully managed to shift the debate from the technical sphere – where ongoing work in addition to contractual advances rendered the project’s abandonment almost unfeasible – to the moral, where irrespective of how much work gets done and international contractual obligations, the questions raised by the Anu-led National Committee still tug at the conscience of a nation. Their steadfast dedication to their cause enriches the nation. Ordinary folks are hardly interested in any environmental cause in Bangladesh but Rampal has gone beyond that. The involvement of India – with its regional hegemony, very much the ‘known’ devil to Anu and his fellow marchers – has made the situation dicier and gone against the government.  Rampal is being judged on emotions and gut instinct.


It doesn’t mean that Rampal will be deferred or anything remotely like that, but it means the government has to go through the integrity steeple-chase and there, they are always likely to come off second-best to Citizen Anu.





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