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News Analysis: Strike over, should we be happy?

Good news finally followed a couple of days’ mayhem by transport workers. The strike was called off Wednesday, only when Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan made a “request” to transport workers. We all — the government, the judiciary and the people — can now heave a sigh of relief and move on with life.

But should we? Let’s replay the news that made headlines from February 27 to March 1. Businesses took a big blow, with export and import almost coming to a grinding halt.

Families with patients looked to God as they suffered on roads to hospital. Prices of all items at kitchen markets soared as supplies to the capital were obstructed. Filling stations ran out of fuel as tank-lorries from refineries were kept off the road.

Whatever the urgencies might have been, people could not get on highways with any motorised vehicle to go to another district. In Dhaka, it was time for a long walk to work or for chores. And why was so much misery inflicted on people?

Was there any political uprising? Was there any popular agitation against the government? Was a section of people made victim of some unlawful events?

No. It’s all because of two rare court verdicts that sentenced one killer driver to death and another to life. But transport leaders and workers found the verdicts too harsh.

They indeed have rights to feel aggrieved. And the legal remedy for it was to fight those in higher courts and win verdicts in their favour. Instead, they chose to cross the line of law, held people hostage, and challenged the rule of law.

What can we interpret out of this brazen demonstration of total disregards for law? Drivers should be given licence to kill, and they are above the law. Neither the government nor the judiciary has the power to stop them from inflicting sufferings on people and causing financial loss to businesses.

In order to achieve what they deem right, they are allowed to block roads, clash with cops, damage public and private properties, and cause death. And they expect to get away with all these unlawful actions by calling an end to mayhem. This turn of events has sent a serious wake-up call to the government.

It should investigate the dubious role the two labour leaders-cum-ministers — Shajahan Khan and Moshiur Rahman Ranga (state minister for local government and rural development) had played in the strike. The decision to enforce strike was reportedly taken at Shajahan’s government residence, where Moshiur, also the president of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association, was present. Shajahan is the Executive President of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation that enforced the strike.

When his cabinet colleagues — Obaidul Quader (road transport and bridges minister) and Anisul Huq (law minister) took a strong position against unlawful actions, Shajahan sided with workers. He even refused to term it strike, telling on record: “The workers have voluntarily abstained from work. They did not call any strike.”

Shajahan is certainly proving his loyalty, but to whom? It’s not to the government, for sure. When all other ministers were desperately trying to bring the transport strike to an end, Shajahan was allegedly plotting against it.

A powerful minister was working against the interest of the government from his very government residence. What an irony it turned out to be for the government! And when all government efforts bit the dust, a mere “Shajahan request” ended the strike.

The Shajahan loyalty is really very quizzical. The sooner the government sorts out the issue of his divided loyalty, the better it is for the government. As the strike is over, should we just shrug and move on with the typical reaction of “forget and forgive”?

The state machineries — the executive, the legislature and the judiciary — must take some exemplary steps against the main culprits of this strike so that no one in future dares to cross the line of law. The government must demonstrate that nobody is above the law by bringing the strike-plotters to book, punishing the law-breakers for people’s sufferings, making them compensate for the losses to businesses and suing instigators for the death of a worker in clash with cops at Gabtoli. Does this lawful demand sound unreal?

Yes, in a way, may be. But a failure in enforcing the rule of law can only send out a single message. And that message is transport workers are above the law.

Now, should people brace themselves for the next round of mayhem and learn to live with sufferings, compromise and financial loss?

Is that our destiny?

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