Political divergence in Bangladesh’s different groups, segments and societies is nothing new. Unlike the western society where people are politically aware, citizens in this country are rather politically naive. Most of the people here get entangled in the web of political schism easily, knowingly and that too out of sheer loyalty. As political consideration plays a critical part in almost all affairs, spheres and strata of a typical Bangladesh society, political rumbling has turned omnipresent even in issues pertinent to the cases of crucial pedigrees like deaths, deals of international stature and so on. In one such case of late, BUET student Fardeen’s death has been sensationally politicised.
POLITICISING FARDEEN’S DEATH
BUET student Fardeen Noor Parash went missing on November 4. The police recovered his body from Shitalaksha river in Narayanganj on November 7. Upon receiving the body, Fardeen’s father filed a murder case. After a long investigation by the police’s Detective Branch (DB) and RAB into Fardeen’s death, they came up with the observation that Fardeen actually committed suicide. Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s chief of detectives Haroon-or-Rashid said that they believe Fardeen might have committed suicide due to various reasons, including poor exam results and financial difficulties. He said that the DB team found no evidence that could substantiate Fardeen’s case as a killing. Also, there were no signs that he had been beaten. He, however, concluded that Fardeen might have committed suicide by voluntarily jumping into the water that night from the bridge. He added that the BUET student was hit on the head and chest by the pillar bordering the river while jumping.
You can also read: By-elections scheduled for 1st February on BNP lawmakers’ empty seats
A CCTV footage of a man falling from the bridge into the water also got published in various media. But the police initially suspected that drug dealers might be involved in Fardeen’s death. A drug dealer named CT Shaheen was in the meantime killed in a gunfight with RAB in Chanpara slum area of Narayanganj while the investigation was still in progress. Police, however, after about a month of investigation, realised that Fardeen actually committed suicide by analyzing various data and footages.
Meanwhile, various attempts are being made from different quarters to politicise such a sensational case of obvious loss due to the untimely and abnormal death of Fardeen. Outspoken BNP leader Barrister Rumin Farhana has been seen talking about this non-political issue on social media terming Fardeen’s death ‘a case of murder’. She said police are now talking about suicide to protect, what she said, killer(s). According to her, the post-mortem report said Fardeen had injury marks on his head and chest, which prove that he had been killed. So, she thinks, the claims of police and RAB are not true. “Police and RAB are claiming this to protect someone in power.”
In this regard, Barrister Rumin even brought up the issue of drug dealer CT Shaheen, who was killed in a gunfight in Narayanganj in connection with Fardeen’s death. She said RAB caught Shaheen on suspicion of Fardeen’s murder and shot him dead. She blamed RAB for extrajudicial killing and demanded the elite force’s trial for this. She also spoke about RAB’s negative image in international arena. In other words, one may argue that the BNP politician is trying to sensationalise a death case, which is still under scrutiny, through various means. Many think she is doing it on purpose and hence it’s a worthless effort on part of a popular political face of her stature.
Echoing Barrister Rumin’s voice, Gono Odhikar Parishad leader and former DUCSU VP Nurul Haque Nur said the government is out to stay in power illegally. No one is safe from this government. He said the law and order forces are staging drama about, what he said, the murder of brilliant BUET student Fardeen. “This government is turning law and order forces into party forces.”
Along with this, a section of the media is also trying to confuse, if not exaggerate, this issue. They are trying to blame police and RAB for, what they say, trying to cover up Fardeen’s murder. They are also talking about any possible involvement of drugs, criminal gangs or powerful quarter in Fardeen’s death.
Meanwhile, a group of remonstrating BUET students held programmes in protest against Fardeen’s unnatural death, which many think, were sparked by suddenness of the death and politicisation of such a delicate issue. But after meetings with police and RAB officials, the agitating students came to realize their stance. They said that all their doubts were cleared for now and they got satisfactory answers from both the meetings. So the students decided to suspend their protest programmes.
Although the shell-shocked BUET students stopped protesting Fardeen’s unnatural death, a section of the politicians remain busy making further noise over the painful loss of a varsity student’s life aimed at veiled political gain through ill motives – much to the dismay of conscious citizens.
SENSATIONALISING POWER SUPPLY DEAL WITH ADANI
This delicate issue can be viewed as yet another incredible case of exaggeration. As is known already, Bangladesh is buying electricity from India’s Adani Group. But US-based media outlet The Washington Post on December 9 published a report on Adani Group’s coal-fired power plants and its 163-page agreement, what it termed, a ‘secret power deal’ with Bangladesh, in which attempts were apparent to portray things rather negatively.
A large part of The Washington Post report covered Adani Group’s coal-based business, a part of which is power project. The electricity generated from this project located in the Indian state of Jharkhand will be exported to Bangladesh. According to the report, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June 2015 visited Bangladesh for the first time and signed a contract worth 4.5 billion dollars for Indian public and private companies to sell electricity to Bangladesh.
After Modi’s visit, India’s power authority signed an agreement with Gautam Adani to build a 1,600 MW coal-based power plant in Godda for $1.7 billion. The Washington Post says in their report that this power deal initially appeared to be ‘profitable for both Bangladesh and India’, but in fact it is ‘very less profitable’ for Bangladesh. It was an opportunity for Modi to reinforce the ‘neighbourhood first’ policy and promote Indian business.
Citing sources in the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, the report said that Modi had asked Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina to “facilitate the entry of Indian companies into the power generation, transmission and distribution sectors of Bangladesh”. The Washington Post claimed that it received a copy of the ‘confidential agreement’ on India’s electricity imports with Bangladesh and reviewed it with three experts.
Sydney-based energy analyst Tim Buckley said after reviewing the agreement that even if no electricity is produced after India’s Godda Power Plant goes into production, Bangladesh will have to pay Adani about 400 million dollars a year as capacity charges, which is ‘high value’ by global power sector standards. It’s also said that it’s not clear when Bangladesh will get electricity as transmission line work is not completed.
On November 20, Bangladesh’s Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources discussed the latest progress in the power generation process. It was revealed that electricity will start coming to Bangladesh from the Adani Power Plant in Jharkhand in this December. In the meantime, the Commercial Operations Date (COD) of the first unit of the 1,600 MW power plant of 2 units was fixed. Besides, the commercial operation date of the second unit is set for March 26 next year.
According to Bangladesh government data, coal and gas-fired power plants now have 40 percent more electricity generation capacity than peak demand, The Washington Post report said, adding that Bangladesh might not need this India-generated electricity.
According to the agreement with other companies, Bangladesh pays a certain amount to the power plant regardless of the price of coal in the international market. However, according to the agreement with Adani, Bangladesh will pay the price of coal required for this power plant according to the international market rate. Coal prices have nearly tripled since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that began in last February.
As Adani has its own coal business, its company can supply coal to this power plant. 7 million tonnes of coal annually will be supplied here from other countries, the report said, citing the project’s environmental clearance documents.
Analysing the deal, experts told The Washington Post that the coal could arrive at a port in eastern India owned by Adani. Then from there it will reach the power plant by rail built by Adani. The generated electricity will come to the Bangladesh border through Adani’s high-voltage lines. And Bangladesh will bear the transportation cost of all these.
Tim Buckley has worked as an energy specialist at several major energy companies in South Asia. He told The Washington Post, according to the agreement, Bangladesh will buy Adani’s electricity at a price more than 5 times the country’s wholesale electricity market price. Even if coal prices were to return to pre-Ukraine war levels, the government would have to buy this electricity at a price at least 33 percent higher than the cost shown by the government for domestic coal-fired power plants. Adani’s electricity will cost 5 times more than Bangladesh’s Kaptai solar power plant.
“This deal with Adani is definitely a fraud,”Tim Buckley.
According to the report, Bangladesh cancelled 10 out of 18 planned coal power projects in 2021 due to high power generation. Mohammad Hossain, Director General of Power Cell, Bangladesh’s electricity department, told reporters that the decision was taken due to ‘global concerns’ over coal and the low cost of renewable power generation. But, even then Adani’s project is going on.
B.D. Rahmatullah, former Director General of Power Cell, reviewed the agreement with Adani and told The Washington Post, “Sheikh Hasina cannot anger India even if the agreement is not in favour of Bangladesh.” She knows what is bad and what is good. She also knows that if Adani is happy, Modi will be happy too.’
On November 5, 2017, Adani Power Limited signed an agreement with the Bangladesh Electricity Development Board. According to the agreement, the power plant was supposed to be commissioned in December last year. The overall progress of the project after more than 1 year now is 93.52 percent. Commissioning of 105.9 km transmission line from this power plant to Bangladesh border and 29.5 km from Bangladesh border to national grid has been completed. Back-feed power was provided from Bangladesh grid on August 15.
Many, however, see conspiracy here too in the sense that this same US-based media outlet The Washington Post previously promoted BNP supremo Begum Khaleda Zia by way of publishing her views and calls against this government in the form of a write-up back in January 2013. And this time, BNP’s mouthpiece in media Amardesh is circulating this negative portrayal of government’s power deal with Adani.
SANCTIONS AGAINST RAB: A POLITICAL VENDETTA OR SOMETHING MORE?
Rapid Action Battalion, the elite force of Bangladesh to counter terrorism, drug dealing, human trafficking, and organized crimes was sanctioned by the US congress for allegations of human rights violation in 2021. In its inception years and in the years following, RAB has constantly received training and collaboration from foreign forces. It has successfully countered operations in dismantling fundamentalist organizations such as Harkat-ul-Jihad and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen.
A pattern of negative news in international media and its subsequent effect on local media can be observed. International media such as Al Jazeera, Washington Post, and The Guardian have frequently published news against RAB with a political color. In the aftermath of that, a certain group lobbied against RAB in the United States Congress and financial sanctions were introduced against some top RAB officials of the time.
In recent times Al Jazeera has published another report on RAB officials and forces getting training from some European countries. It combined comments from a couple of human rights organizations, connected some perceived political dots, and tailored the report as an investigative piece. If someone is serious about curving human rights violations by a law enforcement entity the logical conclusion should be better training! Asking questions in the wrong place and always connecting political dots in everything can be counter-productive in most cases.
Human rights, fighting terrorism, drugs, and organized crimes should be a universal apolitical topic. The alleged human rights violations by RAB are a concern that should be addressed by the force and the government itself. To their credit, it has been swiftly addressed with disciplinary and judicial actions being taken in many cases. The question of the actions’ effectiveness can be debated repeatedly. The solutions should be apolitical and their coverage also.
Thus, sensationalising issues like Fardeen’s death, power supply deal with Adani Group and sanction against RAB are apparently ill efforts aimed at shallow political gains. But these are not isolated ones though. These ill attempts were made in the past, remain active in the present and will perhaps be tried again in the future – if not reined in aptly. Political analysts, too, have equally voiced concern over such malintent as they think no one gains from such ill attempts ultimately – thereby putting people in troubled waters only. According to Professor Bashir Ahmed of Jahangirnagar University’s Government and Politics Department, “Political stunt is a common tool of politically aware manipulation all over the world, but it has a unique character in case of Bangladesh. As Bangladesh is a bipolar, neo-patrimonial state, which has been culturally divided since colonial era, this political rhetoric translate into ideological divisions of the party in power and the party in opposition.”