Anti-govt forces fuelling price hikes through hoarding to create unrest: Hasina

She believes the deadly clashes during the BNP's rally on Oct 28 last year was 'part of a conspiracy to derail' the Jan 7 polls

Staff Correspondentbdnews24.com
Published : 23 Feb 2024, 07:07 AM
Updated : 23 Feb 2024, 07:07 AM

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has pointed to a link between efforts to topple the government and the deliberate inflation of prices through hoarding essential commodities.

She believes the deadly clashes during the BNP's anti-government rally on Oct 28 last year was 'part of a conspiracy to derail' the Jan 7 election.

"It wasn't a random occurrence. It was all planned," she said on Friday during a media briefing on her recent visit to Germany for the Munich Security Conference.

Asked about the concerns she had previously voiced about an international conspiracy to induce famine in the country by March, the prime minister said, "There was and is a conspiracy [to undermine the Awami League].

"Ever since I took office, I've encountered numerous obstacles aimed at thwarting my tenure. Consider the assassination of the Father of the Nation in 1975 -- even [his youngest son Sheikh] Russell wasn't spared. Why? To ensure no one from our lineage could ever govern Bangladesh."

“My younger sister and I were abroad at the time, which is why we survived. Upon returning, I took on the responsibility to realise the dreams that underpinned our nation's fight for independence.

She continued: "We face conspiracies repeatedly, yet we persevere. We've fought hard to secure people's right to vote, reinstating the democratic process, from which our citizens now benefit."

The attempts to derail the election were part of a larger scheme, according to the Awami League chief. "Look back on the events of Oct 28 and the series of arson attacks back in 2013, 2014, and 2015, which resurfaced [after the rally].”

On Oct 28, the BNP called a rally to press home its demand for the institution of a neutral caretaker government ahead of the Jan 7 election.

But the programme took a tumultuous turn as clashes between party loyalists and the police turned Kakrail into a battlefield. The country's largest opposition group subsequently suspended the rally and called a nationwide shutdown to protest the police crackdown.

Several vehicles were vandalised and torched during clashes on Oct 28, while mobs also attacked journalists. A police constable was beaten to death at the Dainik Bangla intersection during the clashes. The residence of the chief justice was also vandalised.

The BNP subsequently enforced a series of shutdowns and blockades, which were marred by reports of vehicles and structures being set on fire, leading to property damage and loss of lives.

The Awami League returned to power for a record-extending fourth straight term after winning the Jan 7 election by a landslide amid an opposition boycott led by the BNP.

"Those who wanted to disrupt the election realised that nothing could be done to prevent it due to the people's enthusiasm. They then schemed to inflate prices. Their aim is to distance the government from the populace, inciting protests to topple the government. This is all part of their strategy," said Hasina.

"You very well know who they are but I won't mention any names. There's no need for that. Yet, the plot exists."

'HOLD MARKET MANIPULATORS PUBLICLY ACCOUNTABLE'

The prime minister reiterated the importance of achieving self-sufficiency in food production in the wake of the pandemic. “We must grow our own food. No land should go uncultivated. And I've not just talked about it, I've acted on it."

Reflecting on the progress made during the last 15 years under the Awami League's governance, she said, "There was a time when a food shortage in Bangladesh meant 'no rice in the bowl'. What about now? Can you still say the same?

"People are talking about the prices of eggs, onions, chicken, beef, or not being able to afford fish? Notice the difference? Fifteen years ago, the nation was desperate for rice. People begged for just a bit of salted rice. But that's no longer the case.”

Flagging a connection between those agitating against the government and the spiralling prices of essentials, she said, "You [the media] mentioned hoarding eggs to hike prices. Don't you think those who aim to overthrow the government might be involved in such practices?"

Hasina stressed the need to hold those who manipulate commodity prices to be held accountable. "While the government takes action, the responsibility also lies with the public."

CHALLENGE OF STABILISING MARKET

Hasina also addressed the issue of maintaining market stability ahead of Ramadan.

She assured that there will not be a shortage of any essentials during the month of fasting.

"Everything has been arranged in advance. Despite what some may say, there won't be any trouble. Ramadan is a time for austerity, meant for consuming less. Yet, the demand for food slightly increases in our country during this period.

"Items like gram, dates, and sugar, which are in higher demand during Ramadan, will be adequately supplied. I've ensured these arrangements well in advance."

The prime minister, however, acknowledged the complexity of regulating prices, describing it as a 'catch-22 situation'.

Referring to practices in areas like Pabna, known for onion production, she said, "Farmers there are very savvy. With mobile phones, they keep track of market prices and sell accordingly. If the market doesn’t offer a fair price, they hold back their produce.

"This is akin to a double-edged sword. On one hand, we want farmers to profit from their labour and on the other, high prices can burden those on fixed incomes."

To address these challenges, plans are underway to establish storage facilities for various products, ensuring stability in both supply and prices, according to Hasina.