Radical Islamist elements with ulterior motives have damaged a sculpture of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in Kushtia district showing great audacity and challenging the government, which has taken tough measures to stop such crimes.
Responsible government sources have confirmed that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has decided to take a tough stand after the incident and has instructed the law enforcement agencies to “legally” prevent such crimes.
It is also learned that the Prime Minister, also the ruling Awami League President, had a telephone conversation with the General Secretary Obaidul Quader. He said the prime minister was aware of the issue of sculpture and was giving direct instructions in this regard. Multiple responsible sources say the government has now adopted multiple plans to curb anti-sculpture activities.
The government policymakers believe there is a political motive behind it, and fundamentalists have taken a provocative stance on the sculpture issue from a political point of view. That is why the government has adopted strict and five specific plans to deal with the anti-sculpture campaign. These include:
First, the legal system: Such a campaign or the demands of the fundamentalists will not be accepted under any circumstances and such acts will not be tolerated. They will be dealt with “legally.”
Second, the political awakening: The Awami League will work organizationally to resist the opposition to sculpture, and Awami League leaders and workers across the country have been instructed in this regard. The general secretary of the party has already given instructions to organize human chains not only in Dhaka but in the whole country and to deal with the opponents of sculpture politically.
Third, to prevent covert attacks: Sculptures of the Father of the Nation are being erected in different parts of the country on the occasion of Mujib Barsho.
But the Kushtia incident has made it clear that besides political campaigns, these so-called Islamists can also secretly attack and vandalize these sculptures in the dark of night. And that is why the Awami League government has emphasized on strengthening patrols and political guards to protect the sculptures.
Fourth, exemplary punishment of miscreants: Those who have committed such incidents in Kushtia have been immediately arrested with the help of CCTV camera footage and are facing the court. Similarly, the government has instructed to bring those who are trying to create tension in other places under the law.
Fifth, formation of committees in the neighbourhoods: The Awami League has taken initiative to form committees in the neighbourhoods at the local level to protect the sculptures and to prevent sculptural opposition. In the same way, instructions have been given to form committees for the protection of sculptures in every place
Do you remember when was the Lalon sculpture (actually Baul sculpture) on the road crossing the Hazeat Shaha Jalal International Airport was demolished?
Many may have forgotten that this happened in October 2008. Then the military-backed caretaker government of 1/11 was in power. That government has to shoulder the responsibility for inaction against the extremist elements. The members of the Khilafat Majlis destroyed the sculpture. The police stood silently and watched the joke. Many today are blaming the Awami League for the failure of the that government led by Fakhruddin Ahmed and General Moin U Ahmed.
Of course, I understand that the expectations of the progressives are much higher from the Awami League.
However, the question may arise why the Awami League did not take action in this regard after coming to power in 2009! Many may have forgotten that in 2009, a month and a half after taking power, the tragic Bangladesh Rifles and now Border Guards Bangladesh mutiny took place. In spite of such a huge victory in that incident, the power of a one-and-a-half-month-old new government was shaken.
Then came the issue of starting the long-closed trial of the killers of Bangabandhu along with the trial of war criminals and at the same time dealing with war criminal-militants. At that time there was no opportunity for the government to bring the issue of sculpture to the fore.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has instructed party leaders and law enforcement agencies that no leniency will be shown to such miscreants. Legal action will be taken against those who try to fish in murky waters in the name of opposing sculpture. Sources said that the government has decided to take a tough stance, zero-tolerance policy, in this regard.
My proposal from 11,000 kilometres away from Bangladesh, are as follows:
There needs to be a central approval team for the sculpture of Bangabandhu. If it is of not quality artistic standard then approval must not be given. Most of the sculptures are not quality standard. Moreover, I don’t think there is a need to build his sculpture with competition all over the country with who will have the best one. It is better if one or two excellent artiistic works are chosen that is the best. His sculpture should be placed in an honorable place and just here and there.
Omer Selim Sher is a retired Professor of Economics at Algonquin College, Ottawa, Canada and a researcher on politics in South Asia.