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Battling Begums burn each other on hotline
- Red or dead? Read it to believe it!

Oct. 30: They did not talk for over a decade. But since the battling Begums spoke for 37 minutes on Saturday evening, Bangladesh has not stopped talking about the talk.

The conversation between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and former Premier Khaleda Zia has gone viral on social networking sites.

Hasina said today in Dhaka that her nation should know every bit of what transpired between her and the Opposition leader, but there was no clue as to how the conversation got leaked.

“There should be an investigation on how the conversation between the Prime Minister and our leader got leaked…. This is against the IT law of the country,” Maruf Kamal Khan, press secretary of Khaleda, told The Telegraph.

The trigger behind the call was an attempt by Hasina to end the stand-off with the Khaleda-led Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) over the arrangement of how the next parliamentary elections should be held.

While Khaleda has been demanding elections under a caretaker government, Hasina has proposed an all-party government, which the Opposition has not accepted.

Excerpts from the transcript:

(Before the two leaders started their conversation, their aides spoke between themselves briefly. Instead of exchanging pleasantries, the aides got sucked into a debate on who — Hasina or Khaleda — was supposed to make the call.

Khaleda’s aide claimed that the former Premier had been waiting for the call for eight hours while Hasina’s aide said that he was expecting the Opposition leader to make the call.

No resolution could be reached and the two aides handed over the phones to their respective leaders.)

Hasina: I had called you around noon, you didn’t pick up.

Khaleda: This is not correct.

Hasina: I want to inform you that…

Khaleda: You have to listen to me first. You said you called me, but I didn’t get any call around the time you mentioned.

Hasina: I called your red phone.

Khaleda: My red phone has been dead for years. You run the government, you should know that. And if you have plans to call, you should have sent people to fix the phone yesterday. They should at least check if the phone is working or not.

Hasina: The red phones always work.

Khaleda: Send people over now to see whether the phone is okay.

Hasina: You were Prime Minister yourself. You know that the red phones always work.

Khaleda: They always work? But mine is not working at all.

Hasina: It is working perfectly. At least it was working when I called.

Khaleda: How can a dead phone come to life all of a sudden? Is your call so powerful that it will bring life to my dead telephone?

Hasina: All right, you could not receive the phone for some reason.

Khaleda: No, that is not true. I have been sitting here. There is no reason behind not receiving a call. A dead phone does not ring. Do you understand? This is the truth.

Hasina: The phone was dead or kept disconnected...

Khaleda: No, it was dead.

Hasina: I will see to it tomorrow...

Khaleda: It is good that you will see to it.

Meeting proposal

Hasina: I am calling you to invite you in the evening to Gana Bhaban (the Prime Minister’s residence) on October 28. You already know that I have spoken to several political parties about the next elections. I am inviting you.

(In an attempt to break the impasse over how to hold elections, the Bangladesh Prime Minister is holding talks with other parties to form an all-party government that can see through the election.)

Khaleda: If you are really sincere about a dialogue, I will come. I will not come alone, of course, there will be others.

Hasina: You can bring as many people as you want, not a problem.

Khaleda: I don’t want to bring my full party over. I will bring those I think will be needed.

Hasina: I am urging you for the sake of the nation, the people, withdraw the hartal.

(Demanding elections under a caretaker government, BNP had called a 60-hour strike starting last Sunday morning, which ended yesterday. During the clashes between Sunday and Tuesday, at least 21 people lost their lives in Bangladesh)

Khaleda: No, I cannot go on October 28.

Assault begins

Hasina: Killing people, throwing fires... stop these.

Khaleda: It is in your nature to kill people. Not ours. You torch people, kill people, kill people with poles and oars… These are recorded. The hartal will be on. It will end on October 29 evening, we can talk after that.

Hasina: I am telling you, for the sake of the people and the nation, please withdraw your hartal.

Khaleda: No, the hartal is for the sake of the people and the nation. It is because you are not willing to come for a dialogue. Your ministers said there would be no dialogue. You said yourself that you rejected our proposal. You have said there is no need for a dialogue. Now you are talking about a dialogue. So this dialogue can wait till our programme is over.

Hasina: I am requesting you...

Khaleda: No, I will not lift the hartal, it is not possible. If you would have come forward a day before, there could have been an opportunity. But you didn’t do that.

Hasina: This is not a matter of one day earlier. You know I have talked with several parties...

Khaleda: I know you are a busy person. We are also busy people, though we may not be as busy… But where there is a will, there is a way. You did not do that. Yesterday, you gave us permission for our rally in the last moment. We had requested many days ago…. You didn’t even allow us to use microphones. People come to rallies to hear speeches. What kind of a democracy is this? Why didn’t you allow microphones?

Hasina: No, there were a few…

Khaleda: I will put up speakers as far away as I wish so that more people can hear. You stopped transport to prevent people from coming, imposed Section 144. Is there a state of emergency in the country? Are we at war?

Hasina’s turn..

Hasina: I remember everything, I remember the August 21 grenade attack...

(Hasina had narrowly escaped a grenade attack on August 21, 2004, but it caused her major hearing impairment.)

Khaleda: We were not involved. It was you who did it.

Hasina: You gave permission at 11 at night, I remember that well. These words do not suit you.

Khaleda: The rally was in Muktangan. But you changed the venue to your office, you did not even let us know.

Hasina: I don’t want to quarrel.

Khaleda: You are quarrelling.

Hasina: Will you keep killing people in the name of hartal?

Khaleda: I don’t want to kill people. You killed people. You killed nine people yesterday... Your Chhatra League, Jubo League…

Return to 1971

Hasina: We don’t do the politics of murder; on the contrary I see...

Khaleda: .... This is your old habit. Since Independence in 1971, you are killing people. You killed so many people, how can you forget?

Hasina: We killed people in 1971?

Khaleda: Right after 1971 and formation of your government.

Hasina: And you are working to save the war criminals.

Khaleda: Not to save war criminals.... If you had tried the war criminals properly, you would have had our full support. But the tribunal you formed... it was biased. You did not try the war criminals in your party. Why? You have not been able to maintain impartiality. Or else, you wouldn’t have treated me like this. The way you treated me, my son, my party — do I need to say anything more? You don’t even know how to respect the Opposition leader. What sort of democracy do you promote?

(The nine-month Liberation War in 1971 is still an emotive issue in Bangladesh. As part of her election promise, Hasina set up a tribunal to try the war criminals, who had joined hands with the Pakistani Army and committed crimes against humanity. The tribunal has convicted some leaders of BNP and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami, following which BNP has called its rulings biased and partial)

Fake birthday

(Every year Hasina observes the death anniversary of her father and Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and mourns the death of other members of her family — including her 10-year-old brother Sheikh Russel — on August 15. This year, while Hasina and her family prayed at the mausoleum of Mujibur Rahman, Khaleda cut a giant 69-pound cake at the BNP’s new office in the Paltan area of Dhaka to celebrate her 69th birthday. The birthday celebration sparked a debate as there were reports that no government documents indicate Khaleda’s date of birth as August 15.)

Hasina: When you cut your birthday cake on August 15…

Khaleda: August 15 is my birthday. I will cut cakes on that day.

Hasina: You cut the cake to encourage the killers?

Khaleda: That’s not the point. I’ll cut cakes on August 15 because it is my birthday. Is it that no one can be born on August 15 in Bangladesh? No one can celebrate birthday on August 15? Leave this subject aside.

Hasina: You saw Russel walk around in our house.

Khaleda: No, no. I don’t want to talk about that.

Caught in strike

Khaleda: Whatever you people did, I don’t want to talk about that. I do not support your politics and urge you people to give up the way of violence. In my speech that day, I said that we should forget these. Let’s give up the culture and start anew. If you are willing to do that, then let’s sit and have a talk. I have no objection in having a dialogue. But the date has to be after my hartal...

Hasina: So you will not withdraw the hartal?

Khaleda: No, I cannot withdraw the hartal.

Hasina: For the poor people of the country…

Khaleda: This is not my decision. This is a decision of the 18-party alliance. How can I take a decision all by myself?

Hasina: Call the whole party and tell them to withdraw.

Khaleda: No, there is no more time for that. As your police are chasing my people, they cannot be found easily. You have directed the police to tail them all. How can they be found? Tell me!

Camera rolling…

Hasina: It seems like you are making a speech in front of the camera.

Khaleda: I do not have any camera in front of me, I am alone.

Hasina: Same with me, there is no camera at my end either.

Khaleda: I am talking from my home. If I was in my office, there would have been cameras. I do not want to stoop so low. And then later, it will be seen that you have broadcast it on televisions.

Red phone again

Khaleda: Check my Gulshan house… See who told you that my telephone was okay. I want to see an end to this matter. (BNP has its party office in Gulshan)

Hasina: Your phone is all right.

Khaleda: My phone is not okay.

Hasina: I called up 10-12 times. The phone rang.

Khaleda: Do you think we were all deaf… The phone rang and we did not hear? You might hear it.

Hasina: How will I hear? One of my ears is damaged.

Khaleda: It is you who have said that my phone had rang, but we are saying that it didn’t.

Hasina: Phone...... Phone, I made the call myself.

Khaleda: It does not matter if you say you have called. You are saying that a dead phone has rung.

Hasina: The phone rang.

Khaleda: How will it ring? A dead phone does not ring. This displays your mentality, shows if you are telling the truth or not!

Signing off..

Hasina: Let us settle the matter between ourselves.

Khaleda: I don’t want to do anything.

Hasina: You have received my call, thank you for that.

Khaleda: Accept the non-partisan government, or set a date after 30th and I’ll join.

Hasina: I’m inviting you on the 28th to come.

Khaleda: No, I can’t come on 28th. I don’t go out during hartal.

Hasina: Tell me who you will bring along with you on 28th.

Khaleda: I will not come on 28th. I don’t know who is prompting you from there. The hartal won’t be withdrawn on 28th. I’ll go on 30th if you fix the date.

Hasina: Since you will not withdraw the hartal, thank you. Thank you.

Bangladeshi media today quoted Awami League general secretary Syed Ashraful Islam that the dialogue offer from Hasina was still valid and the party was expecting a resolution.

Some of the prominent members of the civil society in Bangladesh, however, were not as hopeful.

“The body language of Khaleda made it clear that she is not interested in a resolution and the reason is she is dictated to by Jamaat-e-Islami, which wants to push the country towards a civil war,” said Shahriar Kabir, a war crime researcher and a prominent member of the civil society.