What is the transport strike about? On the face of it, the strike is about saving a driver condemned to life imprisonment for causing death to five people including Tareque Masud, a noted filmmaker and Mishuk Munier, an expert cinematographer. But deep down, it is disrespect for law and promotion of mob mentality. Also, a crude political game is being played by powerful players, reportedly belonging to the ruling party, in order to advance their narrow agenda.
First of all, it is an outright display of no-confidence in the country's judiciary by the transport strikers. Transport operators have every right not to be satisfied with the verdict delivered by a Manikganj court against the driver for culpable homicide. But this in no way gives them the right to enforce a countrywide transport strike like this. The Khulna chapter of the transport workers' organisation even reached a negotiated agreement with the government's local administration there for withdrawal of the strike. But then allegedly after a meeting in the residence of a minister who funnily happens to be the president of the central transport workers' organisation, the decision was taken for enforcing the strike.
If aggrieved by a court order, there is the usual normal provision for challenging it at higher courts. Resorting to muscle-flexing or arms-twisting tactics in order to reverse the court verdict is illegal and unacceptable. This is a brute tactic to prevail upon reason and sanity on the strength of number and nature of service. The law minister has rightly called upon the striking transport operators and people pulling the string from behind the scene to place their arguments in courts instead of creating anarchy on roads.
It is not for the first time that the transport operators have, of course with backing from their powerful mentors, taken recourse to this arms-twisting tactic in order to get their way. The minister, in whose residence the decision in favour of the strike was taken at a meeting, is credited with the 'famous' saying that a driver is entitled to a driving licence if he (she also?) can identify cows and goats on the road. Significantly, he did not mention people. No need for aptitude for reading street signs and danger notices! This time he comes up with another jibe when he says to the effect that it was not a strike but 'voluntary withdrawal or retirement' on the part of the transport workers. Voluntary but is it permanent? If so, let it be. If not, the motive behind this is surely questionable.
In fact, the attempt here is not to save the accused driver. The attempt is to consolidate stranglehold, to prove to cabinet colleagues one man's popularity and power. If it means embarrassment to other colleagues and even the government, who cares? Well, if this kind of ploy works, rationality and law take a back seat and chaos and irrationality reign supreme in a society. This exactly is happening in this country. Some power wielders feel they are above law of the land. Such tactics can never instil in people's mind respect for law. This surely is a rebuff to 'example is better than precept' theory and power wielders could not care less even it meant snubbing their own noses. To establish the rule of law, such crude tactics and tacticians prove to be a stumbling-block.
That appearances are deceptive in case of the enforcement of the transport strike can be realised if a few facts are taken into account. First, the spate of accidents over the past two months is an indication that drivers here go about their business unrestrained. Their intention is clear: they will not respect traffic rules and continue rash driving. Or, else how the number of accidents and consequent deaths -on an average about 15 a day - can be justified? In fact, the drivers like to receive a licence for killing people on roads and highways and pass the casualties as accidental victims. It is not so much to save the man responsible for the Manikganj tragic deaths but to force the authorities to grant them a similar leeway so that they can get away with future killings on the road in the name of accidents.
Instead of discouraging them, responsible people are inciting them and supporting them. Not all owners of public buses and trucks are extra solvent to continue a strike for long. They have to pay bank loans they took for purchasing their vehicles from their daily income. Similar is the case with most transport operators who manage their families with daily wages. Of course, there are some who want to fish in muddy water. The mayor of Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) made his intention clear that a campaign will be launched soon to take the run-down vehicles off the road.
And also the authorities have asked transport owners, who have tinkered with shapes and sizes of vehicles with the ill motive of carrying extra passengers and goods, to bring back the original shape and size at their own cost. If the indiscipline arising out of the strike prevails, those issues of run-down buses and addition to vehicles will be relegated to the back burner, they calculate.
This is dirty politics and tactic. When ruling-party people are in the game, it should be considered a political sabotage. It could turn out to be a boomerang at any other time but for the consolidation of political power by the top leadership now.