The disappearance of Ilias Ali is bad news. What is worse is that it also smells of many other putrid things. The car of the BNP organising secretary was found abandoned on a busy city road and not just the passenger but the driver too have gone missing. Till date – 21st April – they have not been found and the BNP has called the year's first nationwide hartal on Sunday the 22nd. The BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir has threatened to launch a oust government movement if Ilias Al is not found and the general public mood is that the country-boat is drifting towards very rough seas.
The disappearance of Ilias Ali comes in the wake of the Suranjit mess where the government did a volta-face of sorts on chucking him out. The case itself has begun to look more complicated than what was originally thought of as special interest groups seem to have become involved and forced Hasina's hands. For a while Suranjit looked very helpless and friendless but then some pressures did come through for him. Some say the Hindu community as a whole was unhappy at losing its top person that way but he did return much to everyone's surprise. Many had speculated that axing Suranjit was a boon for the AL's election campaign as they could claim that their top legislative gun had been fired on corruption allegations but in the end the victory appears much muted now making the AL look out of sorts.
But the Ilias Ali incident in which the BNP leader and his driver disappeared from the heart of the city is a far worse event as far as the government's political position is concerned. This is not a ward level leader but its organising secretary and his disappearance in such a mysterious manner has sent tongues wagging, fears rising and given birth to a general sense of unease about the political future of Bangladesh.
Sheikh Hasina's response to the incident has been ambiguous and she has blamed the disappearance culture on the BNP. This is not true and anyone who lived through the Mujib era will know how commonplace that was in those days and the disappearance of Siraj Shikder after being arrested has been documented apart from many AL enemies. Later, the tradition continued during the Zia and subsequent eras. The point is such events don't happen much in times of strength. It seems to occur when anxiety and ineptitude begins to mount at various levels.
Enters Shahara Khatun, our home minister who is better known for making comments that seems to follow her and produce bad media for the government than producing better law and order regime. She has met the family members of Ilias Ali and promised to do her best but then who really has confidence in her abilities to deliver and even if she wanted to do something, could she actually do it?
The government has said that it is 'embarrassed' by the Ilias Ali affair and Shahara has said that it is doing its best to find him and the BNP should withdraw its hartal call but this is hardly likely to happen. Even the BNP can't do much about it now except to go with the political tide. While it has been agitating in one form or other against the AL for a while, it seems to have been gifted with an opportunity however cynical it sounds.
Is the BNP behind it as the AL is claiming? It could be so and anything is possible in Bangladesh's national politics but they could have done this show with any one of the leaders and not Ilias who is a critical player as the anti-government agitation begins to mount. He is too well known to self-disappear we think and so does most people but it is not entirely discounted. But what people are saying more about the event is that the 'third force' — euphemism for armed forces spooks — is behind it.
This is not a secret that can't be discussed because everyone is talking about it. It began soon after Surnajit was caught in a dramatic manner by the Border Guards and the driver disappeared from the view. Since many practice this 'bag culture', it was a mystery to many as to why it happened the way it did. It is quite possible that it is all a series of incidents and coincidences but people have begun to talk and the talks are rumbling on.
In fact the Ilias Ali incident has fuelled this speculation as it has all the hallmarks of security agencies doing their 'dark trade.' This sort of events has happened many times before and in many parts of the world so the apprehension is understandable. However, all these are speculations and damaging and anxiety generating too and one is not sure what can be done except maybe for the ISPR to say that they know nothing about this also.
All this is happening because the government doesn't seem entirely in control particularly in the law and order sector. Catching one's minister that way and then letting him face the music all alone and then taking him back to the fold don't look good for any government's competence image. It has been followed up by the Ilias Ali disappearance that has left the government looking quite helpless.
In some ways the push began with the Sagar-Runi murder case where a simpler case was not solved despite so much noise made about being able to solve it quickly. As the murdered couple belonged to media, a lot of information was leaked and a lot of speculation was made. Yet the police failed to solve this case and now the court has intervened and the RAB has come in. One does hope this case gets solved. The fact that the RAB caught the driver — killer of the Gulshan lady in half a day proves that solving cases is at least partly a matter of will.
One does hope that all the cases will be done with and Ilias Ali will appear no matter what the tale and all other mysteries will be over and democracy will flourish and common sense and rationality will prevail in governance and on and on.
What else to do but hope.
Afsan Chowdhury is the Executive Editor of bdnews24.com.