It’s hard to know what the Awami League government was thinking when they decided to evict Khaleda Zia from her home. However, it did not go completely as Sheikh Hasina had planned. Khaleda Zia’s televised press conference affected almost everyone. As Syed Abul Maqsud put it in a column aptly titled “The Government’s Truth:“
স্বেচ্ছায় বাড়ি ছাড়ার দৃশ্যটি দেখে অন্তত কিছু মানুষ তাদের জীবনের সর্বোচ্চ সুখ উপভোগ করেছে। কয়েক কোটি মানুষ হয়তো মনে মনে বলছে, বেশ হয়েছে। তবে আট-দশ কোটি মানুষের মনের অবস্থা আমাদের মতো অ-মনোবিজ্ঞানীর পক্ষে জানা সম্ভব নয়। তাদের মনোভাব জানা যাবে ২০১৩-র ডিসেম্বরে। (“The way in which the home was ‘voluntarily left’ has probably given some people the greatest happiness of their lives. Perhaps a few crores of our people thought to themselves: this isn’t too bad. What the rest eight or ten crores thought is unknown to non-psychologists like us. However, we shall find out in December 2013.”)
Syed Abul Maqsud’s political orientation is not unknown. When columnists of his stripe start talking about December 2013, one must realize that this is the most serious message they can deliver to the Awami League Government. They are politely reminding Sheikh Hasina: “এই দিন দিন না আরো দিন আছে“
As Maqsud noted, the full extent of the reaction to this event shall not be known until well into the future. But the fact that there was a reaction was evident to everyone. Awami League had not expected this; they thought they what happened inside Jahangir Gate would, so to speak, stay inside Jahangir Gate. They even issued a press statement “thanking” Khaleda Zia forleaving voluntarily. However, once it became apparent that explaining away this action was going to be a bit more complicated than that, Awami League quickly set out to bring this reaction in their favor through a two-prong strategy.
For their own base, they arranged the ISPR drama and planted various items in the Shahid Mainul Road residence. Thus, the entire conversation in the core Awami League vote has been about the contents of the photo that the government leaked to the media through ISPR. This is how one newspaper reported described the unfolding of the drama:
বিশেষ বিশেষ রুমে নিয়ে গিয়ে তারা বলেন, সবকিছু খুলে খুলে দেখুন। আবার দরজার ছবি তুলতে গেলে ফটো সাংবাদিকদের কাছে তারা প্রশ্ন করেন, শুধু একটি জিনিসই দেখছেন। আরও কি কি আছে ভালভাবে দেখুন। (“They took us to particular rooms and said ‘Please open and go through everything.’ When taking the picture of the door, they told us not to focus on that one particular thing. Instead, we should concentrate on what else was there.”)
So, the core got the pictures and stayed happy. What about the rest of us? We have been given the “stay theory.”
According to the “stay theory,” Khaleda Zia’s lawyers are behind this whole incident, since they did not ask for a stay from the High Court. If one believs that, that one must also believe that the lawyers then somehow forced the Government to evict Khaleda Zia from her home.
Of course, this theory is completely false. Not false in some metaphysical, abstract, Kurosawa, post-modern sense. It is false the way you and I think of something as false. It is as false as a thirty-second day of the month, a Four Taka note, or any promise to solve the traffic problem in Dhaka within one year.
Khaleda Zia’s lawyers did apply for a stay motion. Mizanur Rahman Khan, in Prothom Alo, confims as much: “আপিল বিভাগের সামনে হাইকোর্টের রায় স্থগিত করার লিখিত আবেদন ছিল।” And again: “সুতরাং ১৩ অক্টোবর দেওয়া হাইকোর্টের রায় আপিলের আবেদন নিষ্পত্তি না হওয়া পর্যন্ত স্থগিত রাখতে সদয় আদেশ দিতে মর্জি হয়।” In plain words, from Unheard Voice:
The hearing for whether stay would be granted was adjourned along with the main appeal hearing. So the AG and the Law Minister were not right to say that Begum Zia’s lawyers did not “move the stay petition” because firstly, it was moved before the Chamber Judge on 9th Nov, and secondly, on the 10th the hearing for stay was adjourned by the Court till the 29th.
So, please, let there be no confusion: there was a stay motion. This is a fact. Of course, facts have nothing to do with a really good PR strategy. As all true leaders do, Sheikh Hasina took a hand in personally leading off the disinformation campaign herself. In a scene that may have been lifted straight from Satyajit Ray’s Hirok Rajar Deshey, she wondered to her ministers, during a cabinet meeting, why Khaleda Zia’s lawyers had not asked for a stay order. Her trusted lieutenants were quick to take the cue and follow her (Abed Khan, Mozammel Babu, and Abdul Ghaffar Chowdhury, just to name a few). It is worth noting that the day after Khaleda Zia was forcibly evicted, not a single lawyer in Bangladesh, aside from those who worked for the Awami League government, could be found who would vouch that the law had taken its proper course. Even pro-AL jurists like Barrister Amirul Islam recused themselves from commenting on this matter. Yet, to now somehow insist that our honorable Prime Minister and her non-legal cadre somehow have a better sense of the legal issues involved than Barrister Rafiqul Huq or Justice T. H. Khan is a startling claim. Yet, that is the story that Awami League has decided to peddle.
I don’t know how far this PR strategy shall take Awami League. This whole issue was started to distract the nation from Hasina’s epic mismanagement of the BDR massacre. It seems like we may need a distraction from the distraction.