This week served as a harrowing reminder of how vulnerable we are to politics returning as a disruptive force in the lives of ordinary Bangladeshis. Even the week before, the ruling Awami League and opposition BNP both held rallies on July 12 and it was a matter of relief that there were no clashes or violence, earning positive reviews from a visiting US delegation. Obviously they didn't have to undergo any of the suffering that members of the public did.

In a city already afflicted with horrendous traffic congestion, when programmes of the two large parties are held on the same day, the situation is almost inevitable a public nightmare and July 12 was no exception. Programmes and counter programmes were never really a feature of politics in the country, and so it became a matter of concern that Awami League announced almost identical programmes as BNP's road marches scheduled for July 18 and 19. Not only was this unfamiliar, but also reflected a blatant recklessness, almost inviting conflict.

In a democracy, everyone has the right to public meetings and rallies. But care must be taken so these meetings and rallies do not create public suffering. Why does Awami League have to take up a programme on the very same day as BNP? They could hold their event on a different day with even more people.

The ruling party says that their activists are deployed to ensure that the opposition cannot disrupt peace in the name of their programmes. But that is not their responsibility. It is the responsibility of the government and the law enforcement agencies to ensure that peace and order is maintained. Why are they taking on this responsibility?

By now, it is clear to all the political parties that any destructive programmes like hartal (strikes) and blockades will not be accepted. Such programmes not only destroy the country's economy, but also increase public suffering. But if rallies and public meetings called by one party are obstructed by means of counter programmes, resulting in clashes and violence, who will take responsibility? If Awami League and BNP hold programmes in the morning and afternoon on weekdays, the entire Dhaka city will come to a standstill. There is no excuse for not taking that into cognizance.

Recently, when the BNP had a youth rally scheduled to be held in Khulna, suddenly buses on two routes were shut down. This was not only uncalled for, but inhuman too. Not only were the BNP supporters headed to the rally held up, but also the general men, women and children passengers had to face extreme suffering. In the past too such incidents took place centering BNP rallies and repetition of this will push the country towards further uncertainty.

There are just six months left for the election. The government has declared that it wants a fair election and a democratic environment, but the tactic of announcing counter-programmes, which they have said will continue till the election, has a different effect. For the good of the nation, we call on the ruling party to desist from such counter programmes. Why should the political leadership that dreams of building a Digital Bangladesh and a Smart Bangladesh, subject the public to such suffering in the name of programmes? It betrays a political bankruptcy that doesn't go with such dreams.

If the two parties must share one stage, wouldn't it be so much better if they did it across a table indoors, rather than across a road divider? In a democratic system, dialogue is the best way to resolve any differences. Clashes and conflict cannot be justified simply because problems were not resolved through dialogue in the past. Rather than having counter programmes on the streets, the political leadership must try to resolve the election-related crisis through dialogue. That is what the people want.

What is the answer to the public sufferings, the clashes and conflict witnessed this week over the two-day programme of the ruling Awami League and opposition BNP, that resulted in the killing of a Krishak Dal activist in Lakshmipur and hundreds of people being injured countrywide?

For quite some time now the political arena has been hotting up with the programmes of various political parties. But many would not have expected that the programmes would turn into clashes and conflict so soon. The government may blame the opposition for the violence over the two days, but the opposition can blame the government too. None of this, however, will compensate for the losses of life and property suffered by the people.

According to various reports in the media, there were clashes and attacks involving three sides in seven districts - the AL, the BNP, and the police. In some places the law enforcers obstructed the BNP's marches, in some places the AL men attacked the BNP leaders and activists. In a democratic system, every party has the right to meetings and rallies. Why should there be clashes and conflict over these programmes? Why will one side attack the other?

The record reflects that the BNP first announced its march programme for July 18 and 19 in Dhaka, and various divisional and district towns. Had the Awami League not taken up similar programmes at the same time, there can be no denying most of these clashes could have been avoided. By continuing to stage these counter programmes, they would reveal an extreme political obduracy on their part.

It is the responsibility of the government, that is, the law enforcement, to ensure peace. For a long time, it has been clear that they are not carrying out this responsibility with neutrality. According to media reports, on July 18 the law enforcers obstructed BNP's march at various points. The ruling party leaders and activists joined in at certain places too. In some places the BNP leaders and activists tried to resist these attacks and became embroiled in the violence. In some cases they initiated the clashes. But In the end, over 11,000 BNP supporters were sued across seven districts by the police, versus none from the Awami League, which clearly paints a very different picture to the reality.

BNP is conducting a movement in demand of the government's resignation and the election to be held under a non-party government. On the other hand, Awami League is inflexible in its stand about holding the election in keeping with the constitution. They say they will not budge an inch from the constitution. This confrontational stance reminds us of 1995-96 and 2004-2006. If both sides remain inflexible in their stands, how will a solution be reached?

One way is to settle things on the streets. The other way is to reach a solution acceptable by means of dialogue. The political leadership is surely aware of the massive suffering the public would be subjected to if the problems are to be settled on the streets. If both sides want a fair, inclusive and peaceful election, then why are they not sitting together to work out a solution?

No matter what the ruling party and the opposition party may be thinking, the people want peace and stability. Political unrest and violence has brought immense losses to the country in the past. It is in no way warranted that there be fresh losses to the economy and wealth of the country. Where the country stands, the losses today can be expected to be far greater. It is through dialogue that the election-related problems must be solved. That is the only way in democracy. The delegations of development partners that have visited the country recently, have also emphasised that they want to see dialogue as the way to resolve the problems.

In the greater interests of the country and democracy, the onus falls on the political leadership to do all it can to avoid any aggressive action in the streets, and set aside all other concerns in searching for a solution to the election-related standoff by means of discussion and dialogue.

How the day unfolded

At least one person was killed and several hundreds were injured in violent clashes across the country as leaders and activists of Awami League and BNP took to the streets across the country in a show of force ahead of the next general election.

A young man was killed and 50 people were injured in sporadic clashes between leaders and activists of BNP and Awami League in Laxmipur district town. According to Mahfuzzaman Ashraf, superintendent of Laxmipur police, both BNP and Awami League brought out processions across the city.

At 4 pm, the procession of BNP and Awami League mingled at Samad Academy intersection. At one stage, the BNP men tore down banners of Awami League, triggering a chase and counter chase.

The BNP men, numbering 30/40, chased some 15/20 men of Awami League, forcing them to take shelter in a building inside Madin Ullah Housing.

Sajib of Chandraganj was found lying on the ground floor of the building, and he died due to profuse bleeding, police said quoting locals.

Earlier, BNP's Dhaka march for its one-point demand came under attack near Mirpur's Govt Bangla college.

As part of their one-point movement, BNP started a march towards Old Dhaka from Gabtoli Bus Station around 11:20 am. When the march reached near the college in Mirpur around 11:45 am, some youths attacked them, resulting in a clash, witnesses said.

In Khagrachhari, activists of Awami League and BNP locked in clashes, causing injuries to over a hundred people.

Khagrachari BNP General Secretary MN Absar said, "More than 50 leaders and activists were hurt and the BNP office was vandalised as Awami League activists attacked us when we attempted to march in accordance with the central program. Later, BNP activists fought back."

Khagrachari AL General Secretary Nirmalendu Chowdhury said, "The BNP cadres attacked us with sticks when we were on our way to take part in the 'development procession'. They vandalised numerous commercial buildings, including the municipality building of Khagrachari. More than 50 leaders and activists of AL were hurt. Police played a passive role when we requested assistance."

"I made multiple phone calls to the District Commissioner and the Police Superintendent. However, the administration did nothing," said the AL leader.

Meanwhile in Pirojpur, police and BNP activists locked in clashes during the party's one-point march in the town's Circuit House area. At least 7 police officers were injured. Six people were arrested for allegedly attacking the police.

District BNP convener Alamgir Hossain, however, said 10-12 activists of BNP and its affiliates were injured after police charged batons.

Several BNP activists and journalists were injured in a clash between police and the party activists during their march in Kishoreganj.

Daily Manab Zamin's staff reporter Ashraful Islam, Channel 24's district correspondent Alam Faisal, district Jubo Dal general secretary Abdullah Al Masud Sumon, organising secretary Tarekuzzaman, and Chhatra Dal leader Tripti were among the injured.

Violent clashes erupted between Awami League, BNP supporters and police in several other districts including Bogura, Feni and Joypurhat.

At least 50 leaders and activists of BNP were injured in clashes with police during their march in Bogura district town.

As part of BNP's scheduled march programme, leaders and activists brought out a procession which resulted in a chase and counter-chase between police and BNP men.

Police lobbed tear gas shells and fired rubber bullets to disperse them, leaving 50 people injured. Six policemen were among the injured, said Sudip Kumar Chakrawarty, superintendent of district police.

At least 50 people were injured in a clash among the leaders and activists of BNP and Awami League and police during BNP's march at Islampur Road in Feni district town.

In Joypurhat, At least 45 people, including leaders and activists and policemen, were injured in a clash between the Awami League and BNP supporters.

Both BNP and Awami League brought out processions in different parts of Dhaka on Tuesday (July 18, 2023).

As part of their one-point movement, thousands of leaders and activists of BNP and its associate bodies joined the march towards Bahadur Shah Park in the old part of Dhaka from Gabtoli Bus Station.

The march reached Bahadur Shah Park around 5:45 pm and it was concluded after a brief rally there.

Calling their march a "journey to victory," BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir reiterated his call for the government's resignation and urged the ruling Awami League to dissolve the parliament by handing over power to a "neutral" government.

Meanwhile, Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader called BNP's road march "a march towards defeat."

The Road, Transport and Bridges Minister stressed that Sheikh Hasina will perform her duties as the head of the government during election as is the norm in other democracies of the world.

Additional reporting from UNB.

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