1/11 government, arrest of Sheikh Hasina and personal remembrance

1/11 is considered a 'black day' in the history of Bangladesh because an unconstitutional government took over the state power and stayed for almost two years. During their two years in power, they adopted a de-politicisation policy and implemented it through a minus-two formula. In other words, the then government tried to implement the blueprint of forming a puppet government by removing the leaders of the two main parties from the party's leadership and bringing the people of their choice to the leadership. However, the people of Bangladesh were quick enough to realise their despicable attempts.

On July 16, 2007, the caretaker government arrested Sheikh Hasina, the president of the Bangladesh Awami League. I was fortunate to meet her on July 11, exactly five days before, and spent more than an hour. I was pursuing PhD research at the City University of Hong Kong during that time. I came to Bangladesh to collect data for my research. The main topic of my research was "Women's Political participation". I wanted to explore the state of women's participation at the local level in Bangladesh and the factors that affect participation.

We all know that the Awami League government under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina is a women-friendly government. The Prime Minister is a major contributor to the massive improvement in women's participation in politics in the country. I had to interview different categories of respondents for the collection of data for my research. Among them, political leaders were important respondents. Since the main topic of my research was the participation of women in local government, I tried to interview Sheikh Hasina because she was the Prime Minister in 1996 when the provision of direct election for women in the Union Parishad was enacted. 

As a result, it was very important for me to know the underlying factors that influenced her government to take such a praiseworthy step.

However, in 2007, a kind of stalemate situation prevailed in Bangladesh.  So it was not easy to reach Sheikh Hasina directly. Moreover, although I was a university teacher by profession, I was very young at that time. Thus, I was hesitant because we knew through the media that the government could arrest Sheikh Hasina at any time. At that time, I contacted our esteemed former Vice-Chancellor of Rajshahi University, M. Sayeedur Rahman Khan Sir. He introduced me with the then Bangladesh Chhatra League leader Khaled Mahmud Chowdhury, now the state minister for shipping. He used to stay at Sudhasadan, i.e. Sheikh Hasina's residence, most of the time. I contacted Mr Chowdhury and explained the matter to him. He suggested me go to Sudhasadan on the morning of July 11. When I reached in front of Sudhasadan on July 11, I saw a three-tiered security post there.

The overall atmosphere on that day was terrible. Everyone was not allowed to enter Sudhasadan. We waited a long time there. I saw many central leaders, including Mohammad Nasim and Motiya Choudhury, coming out from Sudhasadan having met their leader. I contacted Mr Chowdhury several times within an hour. However, it was not so easy to enter into Sudhasadan. 

Finally, Mr Chowdhury could manage to take me to the ground floor of Sudhasadan with the help of an officer of the security forces. When I entered, several leaders of the women's Awami League were present there. After a while, our leader came down. Before she started talking to me, she talked to the women's Awami League leaders for a while. I passionately watched her talking to the leaders. I was astonished to see her mental strength as she was motivating the leaders to stay active at such a time when she knew that she could have been arrested at any time. The whole countrymen were anxious as there was news on the air that Sheikh Hasina would be arrested at any time. Even after all this, she continued to advise the leaders in a radiant voice to organise the people from their respective positions to remain united to voice against the government. I observed the incident very closely, and I could still remember it clearly.

Saying goodbye to the women Awami League leaders, she spent an hour answering my research questions. I saw the depth of her knowledge very closely on that day. The most important thing is that she presented the whole scenario concerning women's political participation in a very general way - which was very helpful in conducting my research. I presented many of her statements in my research. I, as a researcher, realised the level of affection of a political leader towards women on that day. She had a long-cherished dream of influencing women's political participation in the country. Thus, after coming to power in 1996, she enacted laws favoring direct elections for women in the local government. She even took important steps to facilitate the entry of women into the Bangladesh army.

The most significant point was that she helped me conduct my research offering an hour of discussion at her bad time. I could still remember that day's memory. I do not know whether the Prime Minister could still remember that incident of 2007 or not? However, that day is still memorable in my life because a political leader helped a university teacher in conducting his research at a terrible period. Such generosity is not seen among all leaders. Maybe I would have been disagreed to sit for an interview if I would have fallen into such a situation. However, she did not decline to sit for an interview. Through her gesture, she proved her commitment to education, research and women.

The political landscape began to change after the caretaker government arrested Sheikh Hasina on July 17, 2007. The arrest of Sheikh Hasina was a major blow to the process of de-politicisation that they had deliberately started with the help of the foul players of 1/11. There was a worldwide stir due to her arrest. Leaders and workers of the Awami League at different levels came together to stand against this decision. 

Sheikh Hasina's strong confidence forced the caretaker government to back step from their original plan to implement the de-politicisation process and handed over power to the people's government through a free and fair election. Intrusion like 1/11 in a democratic state can never be desirable. Those who supported this system tried to wipe out the rule of political parties in Bangladesh. They tried to run the state by forming new political parties with their cadres of choice. However, they wanted to make this de-politicisation process a success without taking a lesson from history. They forgot that the Awami League could not be demolished by killing Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with most of the family in 1975. His daughter, who fortunately survived by living abroad, returned to the country in 1981 to take over the leadership of the ailing Awami League. Due to her leadership, the party could manage to stay in power for three consecutive terms since 2008.  

Finally, I would like to conclude by saying that the importance of July 16 in the history of Bangladesh is immense. The people were so agitated with the caretaker government in 2008 that the Awami League could manage to gain a landslide victory in the 2008 election. The caretaker government had to pay the price for their decision to arrest Sheikh Hasina. Since coming to power in 2008, Sheikh Hasina has taken Bangladesh to another level of development. 

Economically, the country has been able to stand on such a strong footing that has helped the country deal with the corona pandemic with considerable success when giant economies of the world are still struggling to cope. We do not want to experience the re-emergence of July 16 in the democratic country. However, many foul players are still trying to make things like July 16 happen in the country. We must resist them in a united manner. 

Pranab Kumar Panday is a Professor of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi.