In one of the most brazen and hair-raising acts of violence in our political arena in recent times, Cumilla City Corporation's ward no. 17 councilor Md Sohel was shot dead at the city's Pathariapara office. His associate Haripad has also been killed in the incident.

The incident took place on Monday afternoon (November 22). Four others, who received bullet injuries, were undergoing treatment at the hospital. Cumilla Medical College Hospital director Md Mohiuddin confirmed the death of the first two.

Md Sohel, 52, was a member of Awami League in Cumilla Metropolitan area and president of ward no. 13. He was also the panel mayor of Cumilla City Corporation. He lived in Sujanagar area. He was elected councillor in 2012 and 2017. In the second tenure, he was the panel mayor.

Md Sohel is the son of Shahjahan Mia in Sujanagar area. He is the second among six brothers and four sisters. He has wife, a son and two daughters.

Police said councillor Md Sohel was sitting at his council office at Pathariapara Three Star Enterprise area at around 4:30pm. At the time a group of miscreants wearing black masks entered the office and opened fire. Two bullets hit his head, two bullets on his chest and four other bullets on his belly and other parts of the body. At the time fiver others also received bullet injuries. They were rescued and taken to Cumilla Medical College Hospital. Sohel and his associate Haripad, 35, died there.

While visiting the spot, it was found hundreds of people were demonstrating on the Pathariapara road. RAB and police were trying to remove the agitated demonstrators. Blood was found on the chair of Sohel in the office. Chairs in the office were broken.

District police super Faruk Ahmed said, "I have heard councillor Sohel died. We are tackling other things."

Cumilla metropolitan Awami League general secretary Arfanul Haque Rifat said, "At least 10 bullets were fired at Sohel. I held a meeting with him on Saturday. Sohel was very popular in his locality. We want justice of the killing".

At least 21 people, including a 'known drug peddler', have been named in a case filed over the killing of Syed Md Sohel. The case dossier names 11 suspects while another 10 are unidentified, said Anwarul Azim.

Police did not provide any additional details on the case.

"Known local drug peddlers have killed my brother because he waged a war against drugs. They are named in the case," said plaintiff Rumon.

Shah Alam, 28, from Shujanagar in Cumilla, is the main suspect among the 11 named in the case and is a suspected drug dealer. He is also accused in multiple other cases.

Haripad Saha had 'identified' Shah Alam as he was being taken to the hospital where he died, claims Rumon.

The other suspects named in the case are - Sabir Hossain, 28, Sumon, 32, Jishan Mia, Rony, 32, Sohel, 28, Saimon, 30, Sajan, 32, Masum, 35, Ashikur Rahman Rocky, 32, and Alam, 35.

Sohel, 52, was a deputy mayor of the city corporation, having worked as a member of the Cumilla Metropolitan Awami League and a joint convenor of the Cumilla Metropolitan Jubo League, the ruling party's youth unit.

Police said they recovered two LGs, a pipegun, one and a half dozen hand-bombs, three black bags and 12 rounds of bullets from an area half a kilometre away from the scene of the attack.

A different angle?

A number of possible reasons have been put forth for the brazen, Mafia-style killing of the councillor. Locals alleged that one Shah Alam, 25, from Nabogram area of ward-16 might be involved in the Sohel murder.

Sources concerned said a girl from Pathuriapara at ward-17 had a love affair with a boy from Nabogram. That boy is a friend of Shah Alam.

On 15 November, when the boy went to meet the girl at Pathuriapara, the locals called him a thief and chased him. At one stage of the chase, he took refuge at Shah Alam's house in Nabogram. At that time Shah Alam fired blank shots to scare the locals. Councillor Sohail could not accept the incident of firing on the residents of ward-17. He informed the matter to the police administration and several local party leaders and activists. Shah Alam was furious at this.

Jahangir Hossain Babul, councillor of ward-16, said Sohail could not accept the firing of Shah Alam over a minor incident. I have heard that an enmity ensued between Sohel and Shah Alam over the issue.

It is learned that Shah Alam is accused in several cases including two murders.

A team of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) on Wednesday arrested Sumon, the fourth accused in the murder case, in Cumilla. He was a member of Cumilla City Awami League and president of the ward committee.

Cumilla-6 MP AKM Bahauddin Bahar donated Tk 1 lakh for the treatment of Sumon who was admitted to the hospital on November 15, a week before the killing.

"I gave Tk1 lakh for Sumon's treatment who has been admitted to Cumilla Medical College Hospital for the last four days after undergoing a kidney operation there," local MP Bahauddin Bahar said today while visiting late Councillor Sohel's house to console his family.

He said, "A mistake has been made in the FIR of the case and this could be avoided if the family of the victim showed patience and waited one more day before filing the case."

MP Bahar assured the family of Councillor Sohel that the killers will be brought to justice; "However, no one should take unfair advantage over someone's death."

Mahanagar Awami League General Secretary Arfanul Haque Rifat and Mahanagar Jubo League President Abdullah Al Mahmud Shahid accompanied MP Bahar during his visit.

When contacted about the matter, a close aide of Councillor Sohel, Habibur Rahman, said: "Sumon has kidney problems. He went to MP Bahar for help. He asked the MP to lend him Tk1.5 lakh for his treatment. Then MP Bahar told the hospital to arrange for his treatment."

Earlier on 22 November, a group of seven or eight armed miscreants shot and killed Cumilla City Corporation ward-17 Councillor Syed Mohammad Sohel, and one of his associates, 60-year old Haripad Shaha.

Sohel was found shot dead, having 9 bullets on different parts of his body, at a rod-cement shop named 'Three-Star Enterprise' at Pathariapara area of the Cumilla City Corporation at around 4:30pm. Haripad Saha was fired during an attempt to save Sohel.

Later, brother of the slain councillor, Syed Muhammad Rumon, filed a lawsuit with Kotwali Model police station Tuesday night accusing a total of 21 people.

The case mentioned 11 names and 10 unknown, while Shah Alam from Sujanagar was made the prime accused.

Others accused are: Sohle, son of Shah Alam, Sabbir, son of Rafiq Mia, Sumon, of Kanu Mia, Sajon of Kakon Mia, Rocky of Anwar Hossain, Alam of Janu Mia, Ziasan of Noor Ali, Masum of Majil Mia, Saymon of Shamsul Haque, Rony of Kanai Mia.

Another arrest has been made in the case of the ninth suspect, Masum, from Chandina.

Marring the UP elections

It wouldn't be surprising either, to find some political vendetta as the reason behind the killing, because that has seeming become the way to settle political scores these days. The elections of 1,198 union parishads (UPs) were held in two phases. According to political analyst Badiul Alam Majumder of Shujan, there are five notable features in these elections.

First, the main opposition party BNP boycotted these elections, which were held using the party symbol. However, some BNP activists contested these elections as independent candidates. Second, there were no contests or nominal contests in many UPs. So far, 253 chairman candidates have been "elected" unopposed. In many cases, rival candidates were forced to withdraw their candidatures.

"Uncontested elections cannot be called elections. Election means choosing from alternatives. In the absence of alternatives, elections degenerate into a meaningless game where voters are deprived of their voting rights," Majumder said.

Third, there are allegations of massive "nomination trade"-buying nominations with money or influence-in these elections. Consequently, the most competent candidates were deprived of nominations in many cases, making these local government bodies at the doorstep of the people extremely corrupt.

Fourth, independent/rebel candidates of the Awami League have been winning at a high rate in these elections. Based on available information, although 28 percent of the chairman candidates with the boat symbol were defeated in the first phase, in the second phase this rate increased to 42 percent. In the second phase, the boat symbol was not even competitive in 131 UPs. This is because the nomination trade has reached an alarming level.

"We have observed in the past that in local elections, held with party symbols, the number of candidates and their quality drastically declined, and the voters, given the opportunity, rejected these undesirable candidates. Rising commodity prices, diesel price hikes and many recent unpopular decisions made by the government have also contributed to these results," according to Majumder.

Another important feature of these elections is violence and the consequent loss of lives. Although only seven people were killed in the first phase, at least 39 were killed in the second phase. It should be noted that almost all victims of these conflicts were the members of the ruling party. Why such violence despite the absence of the BNP in the elections?

In our view, the interlinked problems of election of many candidates unopposed and the growing violence in these elections are merely the symptoms of the disease, not the disease itself, which needs to be identified and treated for good. As paracetamol can cause temporary remission of fever of a malaria patient but for the patient to truly get better, the disease must be treated with appropriate medications.

On closer examination, it will be obvious to anyone that the widespread violence within the ruling party during the UP elections, nomination trade and uncontested elections are the fruits of the poisonous tree we have planted in our politics. Politics is a noble profession, the goal of which is public service. But the purpose of politics in our country has become the well-being of individuals, coteries and the parties in power. In fact, we have turned politics into a profitable business. People in our country now join politics aiming for personal gains, instead of public service.

Receiving a party portfolio or winning an elected position increases the winner's profile and ensures the flow of goodies. In fact, it is through these portfolios and positions that they become connected to a patronage chain and receive continued illegal benefits and get rich. Because of their positions, they can also get away by committing crimes.

This is possible because the difference between the ruling party and the government has disappeared in our country, and almost all corrupt activities take place under the protection of the ruling party. The higher the position, the greater the amount of patronage. In fact, being a member of parliament (MP) is like having a golden deer at your disposal, according to Majumder.

It is no wonder then that the activists of the ruling party are in an all-out competition to get these positions. Since the benefits are finite, each aspirant ruling party candidate leaves no stone unturned to make others leave the electoral arena. The relatively powerful candidates do not even hesitate to resort to violence, if they are unable to make their opponents disappear through nomination trade, threats and other influences. Therefore, the prevalent culture of self-interest in our politics-rather than politics driven by public interest-is really the disease behind the continued violence. In addition, winning unopposed makes the pay-offs from investments made through nomination trade certain.

In modern states, a system of checks and balances is instituted through the creation of certain institutions to prevent the abuse of power and benefiting from it. To this end, several constitutional, statutory and non-state institutions, such as political parties and civil society, are created to provide safeguards. Such a system to prevent the abuse of power by politicians and illegally benefitting from it reflect the accumulated wisdom of scholars over centuries, that unlike in monarchy, a democratic system needs an adversarial system.

In states where this adversarial system becomes ineffective-that is, people enter politics for personal benefits instead of public service-the democratic system becomes non-functional. In an undemocratic system, people capture power to benefit themselves and create a nexus of cronies, and compromise institutions to hold on to power. With such an arrangement in place, the incumbents are unlikely to ever voluntarily relinquish power.

Conducting local government elections under the party symbol-which spreads factionalism and divisiveness at the grassroots-is another problem fuelling the ongoing violence and uncontested elections. Due to flagrant partisan biases of the bureaucracy, law enforcement agencies and other institutions, the winning-sometimes without contest-of the ruling party nominated candidates is almost guaranteed. As a result, the candidates belonging to the ruling party use every means possible, even violence, to oust each other to get the party's nomination. Therefore, if the local government elections continue with the party symbol, violence and uncontested wins are likely to continue.

Another disease behind the growing violence and uncontested elections is the inaction of the Election Commission. The present EC has not only sent our electoral system into exile, but the election commissioners themselves also appear to have gone into exile.

This is evidenced by the fact that the commission does not give exemplary punishment to those who engage in violence and intimidation, nor does it debar the candidates supported by the offenders, which it has the power to do. Even when the situation turns unmanageable, the commission does not postpone elections or cancel the election results in the event of tainted polling.

It goes without saying that criminals are encouraged if they enjoy impunity. Therefore, the Election Commission, a constitutionally independent body with enormous power, cannot avoid the responsibility for all the anomalies and violence in the ongoing UP elections.

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