Khaleda, Hasina meeting idea catches popular imagination

September 28th, 2008 - 2:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, Sep 28 (IANS) A possible meeting between the two battling former Bangladesh prime ministers Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, who are not on talking terms for years, has caught the popular imagination in the country.Captains of trade and industry, professionals and the civil society want it, but the politicians are sceptical, even hostile to the idea.

The military-backed caretaker government committed to hold an all-in parliamentary election in December, took limited initiatives this month, but backed out when politicos reacted badly.

Lawyer Rafiq-ul-Haq, who represents both the women leaders under trial for graft cases - a rarity in Bangladesh to be entrusted with sensitive briefs by rival politicians - insists that both have agreed in principle for the meeting.

But he is upset at the public snubs delivered to him by the supporters of Hasina and Zia.

Haq spoke to Hasina, now in the US for medical treatment, who told him that she would consult party colleagues and decide on returning home.

Zia is ready, but awaiting a signal from her arch rival.

Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party Secretary General Khandaker Delwar Hossain cold-shouldered the suggestion when it came this week at an Iftar party hosted by the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI).

Motia Chowdhury, who attended the function on behalf of the Awami League, too made no commitment.

Rafiq-ul-Haq’s proposal was strongly supported by FBCCI chief Annisul Haq and many professionals present.

After the function was over sparks flew on the question of the right of businessmen and lawyers to “meddle” in political affairs.

“It is none of their business,” said Syed Ashraful Islam, Awami League general secretary.

It has been alluded that the business community is promoting the idea of a meeting, and announced “a charter of demands” at the behest of the government that excluded them from graft trials earlier this year.

But the idea of the two leaders, who have dominated the political scene since 1981 and are considered responsible for personalising” it, has caught on.

In an editorial published Sunday, New Age newspaper noted that the idea has “triggered widespread excitement and anticipation among the people”, adding, “it symbolises popular democratic aspirations”.

A Hasina-Khaleda meeting could see “the first meaningful dialogue” between the two since they cooperated briefly and joined ranks to oust military ruler H.M. Ershad in 1990.

The editorial said: “It is very easy to explain why the people of this country want so much to see these leaders sit down and have a substantive discussion. In the last eighteen years, the people have been witness only to the politics of violence and confrontation. It is the aspiration of our citizens that a qualitative change in our political system will require the two top leaders to come together and work towards ending the tradition of acrimonious politics.”

“Those who oppose the idea of a possible dialogue, therefore, espouse a position that runs contrary to the popular aspirations for a sound, competitive political process and the democratisation of the society and state,” the editorial said.

However, political perception is that the differences are too deep-rooted between the two leaders, who represent two opposing political legacies of slain leaders - Hasina of her father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Zia of her husband Ziaur Rahman.

New Age cautioned against getting starry-eyed, saying: “It is very important to point out that a meeting between the two principal figures in our politics alone will not bring an end to the animosity and culture of confrontation between the two rival political camps, much less bring a qualitative improvement in the nature of politics in our country.”

Its sister-publication, weekly Holiday, said Sunday: “Analysts say, the FBCCI leaders have spoken well; but business can not fill up the vacuum in politics and if they go further towards it, a right cause will become wrong. Politicians must do it themselves, must reform themselves and their parties. Business can only play the role from behind the scene.”

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