Street failures

The party’s undisputed supremo has given an iron clad ultimatum to the all powerful government, while an unequivocal promise has been made to the party rank and file that victory is imminent.  Political temper is reaching an unprecedented level.  Violence has spread to even the remotest village, and the government repression is just as fierce.  Ultimately, with the economy on the verge of disintegration, the urban and moneyed classes prevail upon the leader to call off the protests.  The andolon has failed.

Mrs Khaleda Zia.  BNP.  Awami League.  2013-14.

MK Gandhi.  Indian National Congress.  The Raj.  1921-22.

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Like on most other things historical, there is no consensus on the life and work of the Mahatma, except perhaps on one thing — there is a wide agreement that he was the father of mass politics as we know it, the politics of andolon, the street politics of rallies and processions, of hartal and bandh, of  gherao and oborodh, of civil disobedience and boycotts in the subcontinent.  Before him, politics happened in the palaces and among the elites.  He brought it to the streets and masses.  And the 1921-22 non-cooperation movement was the first time our part of the world saw this mass politics.  That was the first andolon to shake the entire South Asia.

And it was a failure, if by failure we mean it failed to meet its declared goal.  Swaraj in one year — that’s what Gandhi called for.  India would not be free for another quarter century.  The andolon failed to achieve what it called for.

Not just that andolon, but most andolons of that kind — where the opposition party announces a clear set of demand and deadline and makes its case in the street — fails.  I’ll keep to the examples from our part of the world for brevity.  In August 1942, Congress under Gandhi called the Raj to Quit India.  The Raj didn’t oblige.  A quarter century later, in June 1966, the Awami League, under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, called an andolon to achieve maximum regional autonomy for the then East Pakistan.  Ayub Khan, the Pakistani president, threatened to use the language of weapon against Mujib and his party.  Within weeks, the streets were quiet.

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Fast forward another two decades to 1987.  Awami League, BNP, leftists, and Jamaat-e-Islami were united in demanding that HM Ershad, in power since a March 1982 coup, steps down and allows free and fair election.  The opposition parties called for a siege of Dhaka on 10 November to achieve their objective.  The opposition failed.  Ershad would be in power for another three years.

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There is a consensus in Bangladesh that the opposition BNP’s andolon in the last winter failed.  Of course, BNP failed to prevent the 5 January election, or to unseat the government of Mrs Hasina Wajed.  But then again, andolons usually fail.

Wait a minute here, this is selective history, all the successful andolons are being left out — I hear you say.  Let’s think through these successful andolons carefully.

The two andolons most comparable with the BNP’s failed one are those AL launched against past BNP governments.  And to the extent that the BNP governments were unseated in 1996 and 2007, it would seem that AL andolons were successful.

It would seem so, but the reality was a bit more nuanced in both cases.  In 1995-96, Mrs Zia finished her term and did hold a one party election — street protests could not prevent that.  The short-lived government she formed in February 1996 amended the constitution that ushered in the caretaker system.  It is quite possible to argue that BNP left office on its own term, and was not forced out.  It’s not so straightforward that AL’s andolon succeeded.  And in 2007, BNP had rigged the caretaker system and was on course to push through a sham election much like the one held on 5 January 2014, until it was toppled by a coup.  To the extent that the AL and allies were not demanding  a coup, is it straightforward that the andolon succeeded?

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Arguably, the difference between 2007 and 2014 is that in the first case, AL had convinced Bangladesh’spowerbroker establishment to ditch BNP, while in the latter case AL had convinced the same group to let it ram through its agenda.  In both cases, AL was successful not out there in the streets, but behind the scene in halls of power.  Interestingly, AL did not always have such a strong grip on the bastions of power.  Even in the 2001 election, these powerbrokers refused to back AL’s designs, and openly or covertly endorsed BNP.  Obviously, since then BNP has fallen out with the establishment.

That falling out is BNP’s real political failure, not anything that has happened in the streets.

Wait, we’re still missing the seminal events in our history — what about 1952, 1969, 1990?  Let’s think through those events.  In each case, there were youth-led urban protests that quickly escalated and changed power dynamics.  These were indeed events when the street trumped the palace.  But in each of these cases, the organised political parties came let to the game.  And in each cases, the most organised of the parties (and other political players) ultimately reaped the benefit.

The kind of andolon that happened in 1952 or 1969 or 1990 cannot be predicted in advance, but after they happen, they almost inevitable — these are the proverbial black swan events.  And while some of them succeed, not all do.  Students of Dhaka University and elsewhere rose up against military regimes in 1962, 1983 and 2007 — but the regime survived in each case.  Meanwhile, there are other andolons, at local levels, that sometime succeed in achieving their aims — examples from recent past include Kansat and Arial Bil.

The andolons opposition parties launch against the government are usually thwarted because the government can see them coming, and take appropriate actions.  And surely opposition parties know that too.  Politicians from Tofail Ahmed to Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir have been in the game for long enough to know that street protests and hartals don’t bring down the government.

So why do the opposition parties continue to do this?

Instead of lazily pronouncing judgment about BNP’s failed andolon, pundits should focus on answering that question.

(Cross-posted in ND).

Erasing 25th february and Transcom ( Bangladesh) Limited’s new brand : Manzur

Have you seen todays ( February 25 2014) issue of Prothom Alo? If not let’s see it here –

Prothom Alo 25 february

Do you see where BDR Massacre is in the first page? Helpful Hint: You may need a magnifying glass.

Now let’s see with Prothom Alo’s first page on 15th August.
I am not comparing 15th August with 25th February. I am just trying to see how this newspapers commemorates a national day of mourning –

Prothom Alo 15 August

Or, if 15th August is a matter of different league – lets see how this newspaper treats 14th December- another day of gruesome killings of professionals –

Prothom Alo 14 December

A picture is worth a thousand words. Let the readers make their own conclusions. Looking at this discriminatory news treatment, if a reader concludes that — Prothom-Alo, in collaboration with the Government, is actively trying to erase 25th February from our memory, no one can find any wrong in their assertion.

But this is the same outlet which is at the front line of force-feeding the nation with the memories of 1971 and justice of the killers of 1971. And when comes BDR massacre of 25th February, their double standard is unbelievable.

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You will see suddenly both these Transcom limited owned newspapers’ front pages get filled with news items trying to glorify sacked Major General Abul Manzur and cries for justice for Manzur. It is very puzzling to see that suddenly these two media are making so much effort to glorify Manzur. What is the agenda? A friends tells me, very succinctly, “…All this smokes and mirrors about trying to prove manzur’s innocence, but no mention of the fact that manzur made a radio speech where he took responsibility for the ‘revolution’ that brought down the ‘tyrant’ and ‘un-islamic’ zia.  It’s like trying to say “faruq-rashid didn’t kill mujib, it was all a conspiracy by someone else”.

And here is another double standard – while 5 year old killing of nearly 50 army officers  get 1 column inch news treatment, killing of one army officer 39 years ago gets half front page treatment for four days in a row.

And while prothom-Alo and spurned leftist polpot revolutionary Lawrence Lifschultz are so vocal about killing of Manzur and justice for Manzur, they are equally silent about the killing of another more decorated war hero, Maj general Khaled Mosharraf. Mindblowing hypocrisy of Transcom’s Media business – but why?

I want to believe

(First published in the Daily Star on 8 March 2009.  I still want to believe, though it is becoming ever-so-hard).

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On that day, no soul shall be wronged; and you shall not be rewarded aught but that which you did. (The Quran, 36: 54).

Surah Yasin is usually recited in Muslim households when someone passes away. The above-quoted ayaat from the surah has been in my mind lately. I want to believe those words, not just in the promised day of reckoning, but here and now, in this People’s Republic of ours.

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Jamaat should preempt sanctions

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It’s now clear that the big winner in the first round of Upzilla Elections is Jamaat-e-Islami. The party contested in 23 seats and won in 12 in conjunction or independently of its political ally BNP.  This is a huge shot in the arms to JI who has been going through its most critical period since its revival in independent Bangladesh. The party has been beleaguered from all fronts in the last few months. The bulk of its apex leadership is either behind bars, waiting in the death row or lying six feet under. The Awami League government and its foreign friend have been quite successful in branding Jamaat as a violent and extremist party. Even western governments, on whose support BNP depended so much, have been hinting that they like BNP to dissociate it from Jamaat. Moreover, Jamaat is barred from taking part in elections in the foreseeable future and the court case of complete political ban is hanging over its shoulder like a sword on a thread. I would argue that JI must take this show of support and window of breathing space to preempt all sanctions by re-launching and re-branding itself as a new organization.

There is no doubt that Jamaat has considerable direct and indirect support throughout the country. Polls after polls conducted in the last few months have shown that although people of Bangladesh disproved of Jamaat’s rampant violence, a majority of them consistently supported its right to take part in politics and elections. However, Jamaat must not mistake the extent of public toleration as validation of its legitimacy. Even in a democracy, right and wrong are not determined by majority vote; a convicted criminal do not get to be absolved of crimes even if he is elected in office by a thumping majority. There is an indelible mark of Cain on JI-Bangladesh. It fought with the losing side in the War of Liberation of Bangladesh and actively collaborated with foreign invaders in committing atrocities against fellow countrymen. The state of Bangladesh has eminent right backed by widespread precedence to refuse continuance of such an organization even if that organization is tolerated by a large number of citizens.

Jamaat must be aware of the potential and peril awaiting before them. The arc of history of the last couple of decades have shown that conservative-religious politics in a democratic framework has great prospects in the developing nations. In this post ideological age religious values are often a source of conviction that other political ideals fail to muster. Throughout Muslim world, wherever  democratic politics is taking hold, Islamic parties that adopted practices of participatory democracy are gaining influence.  In Bangladesh too, there is a huge space for religious values politics. If the two main parties in Bangladesh continue in their trajectory of dynastic reign and control by cronyism, the space for religious value driven politics will only get wider.

Jamaat must see that the mainstream religious political space is Bangladesh is its to take if it can just only shed its criminal past. There is no other visible claimant, either from below or laterally. The wax and wane of Hefazot in 2013 has once again showed that subaltern politics in Bangladesh remains hopelessly inadequate to mount serious challenge to affect leadership of a country that has 150 million people and a interconnected economy of $ 150 billion. Only a religious party that has a deep bench of career politicians, processionals, academics, experts and thinkers can get a permanent place in the top rungs of power structure.

The prospects can turn very perilous for Jamaat too.  The seemingly ripple-less crack down on Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has shown that international community has little sympathy for religious organizations that veers to radicalism to some extent even if they command generous public support. In Bangladesh politics, Jamaat’s fate is now largely dependent upon the jostling and maneuvering of the two contenders for power, AL and BNP. The business and professional class will demand a faster resolution to the maneuvers of balance of the two heavyweights and it will increasingly see a decision on Jamaat a quick way to downgrade the complexity and uncertainty of the political game.

We have read that Jamaat leadership has, from time to time, discussed overhauling and rebranding the organization under a new name. Allegedly, the main stumbling block was that the old guard regarded such a move as completely betrayal to hundreds of Jamaat activists (“martyrs” in its jargon)  that have died for the organization in political violence over the last three decades. Jamaat members should know that ‘Blood of Martyrs’ is the most often used but also most often useless excuse. Every political side have martyrs dying in every calendar day of the year. It is only by giving lip service to martyrs memories but going forward by passing them that the world functions at all. If every organization or entity in the world stuck unrelenting with their martyrs causes then the world will be a continuous free-form war.

Pragmatism is mostly a very dirty word for religious political parties because they often equate pragmatism with compromise with core beliefs. But it is pragmatism that has enabled thousand year old religions to survive and prosper in a ever changing world. If Jamaat can recast itself to a new organization and get rid of the fascistic components in its ideology, it will find that there is great prospect for them in Bangladesh political arena. If it fails to do so, few will mourn its disappearance, whichever way the end comes.

Tahmima Anam and the New York Times: Where fiction and reality collide

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By Surma:

Meet Tahmima Anam, budding novelist and daughter of the Daily Star editor Mahfuz Anam. Self described anthropologist and writer. Ms Anam has left the world of literary fiction to comment on current affairs in Bangladesh, writing for the Guardian  of London and the New York Times. She recently seen at an event hosted by the Mayor of Hackney, a north London Borough, together with Tulip Siddiq, the Labour Party candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, the daughter of  Sheikh Rehana and niece of Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh via a controversial election.

Meet Joe Carroll, fictional character in the Fox TV series, ‘The Following’. A former professor of English literature at Winslow University. Carroll’s teaching emphasizes the romantic period. He initially began to make “art” by disemboweling his female students. He ultimately killed fourteen of them before he was caught. While serving out his sentence at prison, Carroll gathers a cult-like collection of followers, who are willing to murder, kidnap, and even sacrifice themselves in order to execute his plan of revenge. Carroll’s only published novel, The Gothic Sea, was inspired by Poe’s The Light-House, but was a commercial and critical failure.

Once upon a time from New York….

Both Tahmima Anam and Joe Carroll collided into my reality the other evening. After a long day at the office I decided to wind down by watching the latest episode of the ‘The Following’. As I was watching Joe Carroll confess to a priest (his next victim) about how he was suffering from self pity as a failed author, husband and father, I received an alert on a posting of Anam’s latest article in the New York Times.

In her article Ms Anam seems to have extended her historical fiction writing to the present day. She carries on with the make believe story of bearded and skull cap wearing men burning the homes of Hindus, with all the perpetrators being members of Jamaat. This conveniently ignores the facts that members of the ruling Awami League have been involved in such attacks around the recent ‘elections’, as well as during the tenure of the Awami League government

Ms Anam rounds off her recent piece with a fairy tale ending of happily ever after, stating:

There has been no major public outcry yet over this lopsided election. Children are going back to school. The roads in the capital are reassuringly clogged with traffic again. Butter has returned to the supermarket shelves.

She shamefully neglects the massive crackdown of state security forces on political opposition, and the dead bodies of political activists turning up all over the country. While Anam is free to express her opinions in the foreign press, journalists in Bangladesh have been imprisoned for publishing stories critical of the government.

Do as I say not as I do: Life and Death Matters

The similarities between Anam and Carroll extend beyond their confluence that evening to their largely self-centred notions of humanity. Carroll’s victim appealed to him to reciprocate the humanity they had shown to him, yet Carroll ignored such pleading and proceeded by stabbing the priest in the heart. The scene reminded me of a promotional interview given by Anam where she relates the inspiration for her book with an anecdote of how an appeal to humanity can cut across political ideologies and fraught circumstances. It was August 1971 and her grandmother’s home, a known safe house for (then) rebel fighters was visited and searched by the Pakistan’s Army, the day after her uncle blew up a power plant. At the end of this encounter, the army officer left her grandmother along with her children. As Anam puts it,

“I suppose it’s one of those things that happens between two humans…. and maybe he ..um… just took pity on her… or she became real to him… she wasn’t just the enemy”

Like Carroll, Anam is happy to benefit from the humanity of her opponents, but is unwilling to reciprocate it towards people who politically differ from her. This is evident from the sugar-coating of the current political crisis in the New York Times, to making libellous, and baseless accusations in the London based Guardian newspaper earlier last year. In her article in the Guardian, Anam culturally ‘translated’ the case for a retrospective death sentence of Abdul Quader Mollah. Thus Anam became a chief spokesperson for a growing, intolerant hypernationalism unknown in Bangladesh, since its creation in 1971.

Mollah was executed in December on the basis of the hearsay of a single testimony (inadmissible as evidence in a normal court of law), during controversial and highly politicised war crimes trials which have garnered international and national criticism. Anam supported the government sponsored crowds in the street, marketed as The Shahbag Movement, demanding the enactment of retrospective legislation to raise his life sentence to death. Just this December, Mollah’s hanging was hurried through without applying the jail code procedures, but in time for the national Victory Day, thus providing the ruling Awami League with a pyrrhic victory and a blood sacrifice, before the one sided elections on the 5th of January.

In order to explain and justify the bloodlust at Shahbag square to her western liberal audience in the Guardian, Anam has once again collapsed the boundary between fact and fiction. She regurgitated the unproven accusations that Mollah was the ‘Butcher of Mirpur’, and had personally slit the throat of a poet.

Fortunately for Anam, the dead cannot sue for libel in the English courts.

Resurrection of the Ubermensch

And yet Tahmima Anam and Joe Carroll have another thing in common, their self-image. Both authors provide a priest-like legitimacy, and intellectual fig leaves for the cult-like violence of their respective followers. Just like the law enforcement agencies held Joe Carroll responsible for the actions of his fellow ideological bedfellows, so should Anam and her fellow ‘Shahbag Stormtroopers’ be held to account for covering up and giving succour to an oppressive regime in Bangladesh.

While Joe Carroll followers stabbed and killed commuters in the New York subway, shouting, ‘Resurrection! Resurrection! Joe Carroll lives!’ Anam’s fellow travellers, the Joy Bangla Brigade of the Awami League, are attacking and murdering those who politically differ from them, inviting their audiences, and investors, to a retro 1975 themed one party state.

Resurrection! Resurrection! BAKSAL lives!!

The dark anarchy rises … Bakshal returns with its hallmark anarchy …

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The abuse of the judiciary and law enforcement agencies have been persistent, since the birth of Bangladesh, very true. Almost all regimes have abused their power in persecuting the opponents in varying degrees (And I guess this practice isn’t endemic to Bangladesh only, many countries with similar socio-political stature face the same phenomena)

However, some interesting and noteworthy aberrations during the past (and present thanks to a farcical election) government’s regime include the arrest and continued incarceration of high profile opposition leaders. At least 25 leaders of the topmost leadership of the opposition party is currently in jail. Starting from the secretary general to the common ward committee members of the main opposition parties have been constantly being subjected to police harassment and sentences. Cases against them include farces like burning of garbage trucks, stealing trivial things from anonymous people etc. Despite the High court rulings that set very strict standards for obtaining remand, police and the lower judiciary are seen abusing those standards and are granted remands. More and more opposition leaders are denied bails. For unknown reasons, eminent people are being kept in prison without granting bails. The list includes newspaper editors, human rights activists, online activists and people from the academia as well.

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Many opposition leaders are getting arrested just as they voice their demand in public, being shown arrested in previous cases, which are in most cases of absolutely no merit . As a result an atmosphere of fear has been created, an all out police state is being implemented. Many leaders are afraid of coming out in public. Let alone the grass roots level activists who are seldom spending the nights at their own places. And not only that, police are arresting other family members of the leaders family too, including female members. The houses are being ransacked, in some cases bulldozed. There are also reports of the combined forces looting valuables from the households form the opposition activists. In some cases mass arrests are leading upto bribes, and people are being freed based on the amount of bribe being given to police. The already overcapacity prisons are getting are even more crowded by thsese wholesale arrests. There was an instance of arresting 200 topmost leaders of the opposition en mass from their party office, over a case of cocktails been found in their party office premises.

All this harsh treatment meted out to the opposition has an even more harsher underlying subtext . It is true that the prisons have been over capacity for years. But, how are these new prisoners being accommodated ? There lies the more shocking tale. Many convicts are let go by the government. The list includes top terror crime bosses, sentenced ruling party thugs, known drug peddlers, known petty criminals. Some of these criminals are let go on the promise of staying in the field alongside ruling party activists to thwart any political movement of the opposition. Many newspaper reports an increase in the supply of guns in the recent months. Before every other election, their was a strong drive to recover illegal weapons by the previous election time caretaker governments. This time the political government totally shied away from that drive. And a servile Election Commission didn’t push for it either. They even published a farcical decree to not even submit the weapons, insisting only not to carry it !!.

So, spreading the blame equally across the board seems to do injustice to the prominent role this quasi fascist regime, elected through pseudo-elections, is playing in completely decimating the rule of law. The abuse of power to persecute opposition coupled with a flagrant disregard for the rule of law under the current regime is simply shocking and is plainly reminding of the anarchy of the mid seventies.

On the edge of order and chaos

It seems that every man, woman, child, their pets, even their Apple devices seem to have an opinion on what BNP should have done.  Well, I am not going to add to that volume.  I don’t presume to lecture politicians who have been practising their craft since before I was a twinkling in my parent’s eyes on what they should have done.  I can, however, revisit what I wrote exactly halfway through the Awami League’s last term, and make an educated guess about how things could unfold from here on.

chaos

… there are good reasons to expect an AL win in 2013 election.  What happens then?

… AL may well win the 2013 election, but its ability to hold on to power and govern successfully will depend on four key powerbrokers in Bangladesh: the bureaucracy, the army, foreign powers, and the business sector.

That’s what I wrote in July 2011.  To be sure, I got a lot of things wrong.  Follow through the links and you’ll find that I was fearing that a fragmented BNP would hand Awami League a narrow victory in a flawed election.  The reality is that while BNP was more united than at any time in its history — not a single member of any standing left the party to join the 5 January election — and might have won any semi-decent election in a landslide, Mrs Wajed decided to hold an election that surpassed the 1996 or 1988 farces to rival the 1971 ‘by elections’ held under Lt Gen Niazi.

Clearly, I did not see this coming.  But then again, very few did.

As such, the Prime Minister’s ability to push the envelop should not be underestimated. Nonetheless, it might still be instructive to think about how the four bastions of power needed to govern Bangladesh are likely to behave from here on.

The analysis is most straightforward with the army.  As I’ve argued in a number of places (for example, here), the only likely scenario under which a military coup is plausible is during a political crisis where the army is asked to crack down on civilian population.  And let me stress the ‘crack down’ — not mere deployment, not a specific operation by a select unit in a faraway place like Satkhira, but a general order to kill hundreds if not thousands of people.  The Awami government has thus far managed to keep the army away from any such conflagration.  With the opposition’s street protests essentially ending, at least for now, the army is not expected to be asked to crack down on anyone.  Hence, at least for now, Mrs Wajed is probably not fearing any coup.

It’s slightly trickier to analyse the civilian bureaucracy, whose active co-operation is needed to govern the country.  Let me reproduce what I said in July 2011:

The people who make up mid-to-senior ranks of the bureaucracy have spent most of their working lives during the post-1990 era.  Like everything else in the country, these officers are directly or indirectly categorised (by themselves, their peers, and their bosses) along partisan lines.  And most officers have learnt to live with the system — if your party is out of power, you cover your head, put up with the situation, and survive for five years, after which your party will be back, and you’ll make up for the lost time with accelerated promotions and foreign trips.

The two years of 1/11 rule had slightly upset this balance.  But because both Awami/pro-71 types and nationalist/Islam-pasands were hurt equally, it was a wash overall.  If all of a sudden it appears that there is no prospect of a non-AL government beyond 2013, a significant part of the bureaucracy will reassess the situation.

One possible scenario is that anyone who lacks the strongest Awami credential (family from Gopalganj, elected into some student council in the 1980s with a Mujibist BCL ticket, suffered under BNP) will become extremely risk averse.  The result, implementation of various programmes and policies will become even more lacklustre than is already the case.

But beyond worsening the quality of governance, it’s not clear whether the bureaucracy will actively precipitate a political crisis, let alone recreate a civilian coup like 1996.

One reading of the new cabinet line up — whereby the political nobodies like Dipu Moni and Rezaul Karim Heera are out and stalwarts like Tofail-Amu-Naseem are back — is that the Prime Minister is well aware of bureaucratic lethargy undermining her government.  And nowhere would a seasoned, experienced minister be needed more than in the ministry that deals with the big end of the town.

In this government, after the Prime Minister herself, the most important person is the Commerce Minister.  He is the man who has to ensure that major business houses (and NGOs such as BRAC) are not hostile to the government.  For the most important industry that matters for the economy — the readymade garments — Minister Tofail Ahmed is already working to to ensure that the international buyers come back quickly and stick around (the outlook for the industry is much rosier than some would have you believe — subject of a different post).  For other products, Minister Tofail will have to work with the businessmen to ensure that Dhaka markets are well supplied so that the cityfolks are content.

As long as the Prime Minister can maintain overall stability, it’s quite likely that the Commerce Minister will keep the business sector content — after all, what matters most to the businessmen is certainty and stability.

Stability is also the thing that foreigners ultimately want in Bangladesh.  India-China-America, everyone has their agenda, and these agendas may not align.  But no one wants instability in a country of 150 million Muslims.  Given the distrust — justified or otherwise — of Tarique Rahman and Jamaat-e-Islami, and the BNP chairperson’s practical difficulties in dissociating with them, the Prime Minister appears to have convinced the interested foreigners that she is better placed to provide stability and certainty.

Thus, it appears that powers-that-be needed to govern Bangladesh are willing to stick with a Prime Minister who promises order.  And at least for now, it’s hard to see what BNP can do alter this.  But perhaps BNP doesn’t need to do anything.

One cannot stress enough that the Prime Minister’s grip on the pillars-of-power rests on one and only one claim: she can provide stability.  Not the spirit of 1971.  Not development records.  Not Digital Bangladesh.  Nothing like that.  All she has is the promise — seemingly justified at this stage — that she can provide order, while her rival invites the risk of chaos.

What can make lie of this promise?  Why, events, my dear reader, events.  Just consider if something like two events from the Prime Minister’s last term were to occur now.

Just imagine that there is a sudden and violent mutiny in the head quarters of RAB, killing dozens of majors and colonels, while the Prime Minister dithered.  In 2009, when this happened at the BDR head quarters, the government wasn’t even two-months old, and frankly, even people like Farhad Mazhar and Nurul Kabir propagated the downtrodden-BDR-vs-fat-cat-army line.  If something like this happened now, the reaction from all quarters would be very, very different.

Alternatively, just imagine that a Bangla translation of this book is associated with Hassanul Huq Inu or some other leftist minister of the current government, the word is spread around the Bangla cyberspace rapidly, and a hitherto little-known group of Islamists, based in the capital’s major education institutions, organise a million-strong march in the heart of the capital?  You see, in the specific circumstances of early 2013, the government had gotten away with the events of 5 May 2013.  But 2014 and beyond will be very different.

The Prime Minister has told the powers-that-be that she will keep order.  The reality, however, is that she stands on the precipice of chaos, for the simple reason that Bangladesh — a super-densely populated humid swamp — is always at the edge of chaos.  Usually, mandate from a democratic election, or the prospect of the next one, keeps us from falling over the cliff.  By taking away the option of a democratic election, the Prime Minister has effectively put a ticking time bomb on herself.

Human Rights, Human Wrongs: The Case of the European Union and Bangladesh

By Surma:

“Do not trust the horse, Trojans. Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts.”

Virgil’s Aeneid, Book 2.

Much sifting through tea leaves and midnight oil burning has been going on in Bangladesh and the diaspora over the recent European Union (EU) parliamentary resolution on the recent (s)elections in Bangladesh, from the apocalyptic visions of the disenfranchised, to gloating from supporters of the AL government. I have always argued with my fellow Bangladeshi nationalists, that we should not invest much hope in outside powers, and that real change will only come internally, from the Bangladeshi people themselves. For the European Union as well other international powers, economic and security interests as well as domestic political ideologies will trump the human rights violations and the democracy deficit of the current Awami League regime.

This argument is reinforced by the resolution in the EU Parliament, and requires reference to remember historical experiences and discourses. The Bangladeshi public should be weary of anything which is done in their interests by an outside power, especially the European Union, as the saying goes, ‘beware of Greeks bearing gifts’.

Two Continents Apart

On the week following the 5th of January elections, I was contacted by a distraught human rights researcher. She was just on the phone with a teenage daughter of an English Literature teacher. Her father was involved in Islamic student politics. The family thought themselves immune from the current government crackdown on the political opposition.

A few days after the election, the family’s world was torn asunder when their house was raided by the security forces. The teenage girl along with her father were dragged out of their houses, then for four hours the girl was forced to watch as the security forces took shifts in beating her father to a pulp. The researcher recounted her conversation the girl, who intermittently broke down into tears, could not understand the motivation or the roots of hatred the security forces had for her father, nor the impunity in which they were operating.

Fast forwarding to Strasbourg just a few days later, and the European Union Parliament on Thursday 16th of January debated on the issue of the Bangladesh elections and the violence surrounding those elections. A moot mention of brutality by state security forces, but all the the blame on the violence seemed to be laid squarely at the feet of the opposition, especially its Islamist wing, Jamaat and more bizarrely the qawmi (community) madrassa students of Hefazote Islam who were victims of the 6th of May Massacre.

Many fellow Bangladeshis were surprised by this parallel universe in which the European Union Parliament seemed to reside, of blaming the victims of state brutality, while simultaneously absolving the state of any responsibility of such violence. But for me, as a Bangladeshi European Union citizen, it was the prejudicial reversion to type, that I expected of my fellow continentals.

Encounters at the Heart of the Dark Continent

The historian Mark Mazower, argues in his book Dark Continent: Europe’s 20th Century, that for much of the 20th century liberal democracy was not the European norm but the European exception. He further argued that the current triumph of democracy in Europe was not inevitable but rather the result of chance and political agency on the part of citizens, subjects and leaders. Thus the spectre of fascism is always lurking beneath the surface in Europe, as witnessed by the growth of the far right in many European countries, in particular the 2011 Norway massacre

My first encounter with this dark European reality was as a law school undergraduate, in the late 1990s I attended a seminar titled ‘Muslims and Human Rights’. The seminar was delivered by an English barrister, himself a convert to Islam. He opened his speech with the statement, “… as far as Muslims are concerned in Europe, they have no Human Rights”, he then proceeded to relate an anecdote to a stunned audience to illustrate his point.

He was invited to the annual dinner of an European association of Muslim lawyers.  Amongst the dignitaries were sitting judges of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The dinner was hosted soon after the the ECHR upheld the Turkish government’s ban on headscarves in universities so some of the lawyers approached the ECHR judges to justify their reasoning. One of the judges answered that, ‘we will not tolerate in the school rooms of Europe a religion which asks its women to cover up and cuts the hands of thieves’.

Alas, two decades on, things have not progressed all that much for immigrants in Europe and for Muslims in particular if we note the minaret bans, face veil bans and head scarf bans, as well as the increasing frequency and ferocity of attacks on Muslims. This current prejudice is illustrated by the European Union’s refusal to allow majority Muslim, but deeply secular, Turkey to become a member, despite negotiations dating back from 1959. In this light, it was not surprising to see a rendition of the anti-immigrant Muslim bogeyman being replayed in the European Union parliament’s make believe resolution of madrassah students burning the homes of Hindu families in Bangladesh.

Gay Imperialism and the Progressive Empire

Picture 4 (http://imgur.com/dY6ZF) CAPTION A British merchant being carried by a Sikkimese lady on her back. West Bengal circa 1903.

This European position was also mirrored by the pronouncements and activities of the British High Commissioner, Robert Gibson. In a meeting a few days after the election, he squarely laid the blame of political violence on the door of the opposition leader Khaleda Zia, laying a false equivalence and conveniently forgetting her virtual house arrest and the disproportionate use of force by security services.

Around about the same time as the dead bodies of political activists were appearing all over the countryside in Bangladesh, Robert Gibson was providing progressive window dressing to the Bangladeshi government, he was proudly launching an LGBT magazine in Dhaka.

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Instead of addressing the pressing human rights concern of people being killed for their political beliefs, we find Britain’s ‘our man in Dhaka’, providing a smoke screen and legitimacy to the current, questionably elected Awami League regime. Thus following in the footsteps of his 19th century colonial predecessor’s discourse for justifying oppression, the British High Commissioner has taken mission civilisatrice to new levels, where higher races have a duty to civilize the inferior races. Perhaps it would have been more fitting for Gibson to have a recited Kipling’s White Man’s Burden to his captive audience.

As Professor Mahmood Mamdani of Makarere University puts it , ‘power can instrumentalise free speech (and human rights) to frame a minority and present it for target practice’. In the Alice Through The Looking Glass world of Bangladeshi politics, the minority is the powerless and vote less majority.

Looking for Silver Linings

In times of adversity new alliances are formed and experiences are shared. Both in Europe and in Bangladesh in the face of overwhelming odds, bigotry, the shared injustices suffered are compelling communities and political factions to come together to fight a common enemy. For example in Europe, rising prejudices have brought Muslims and Jewish communities together, from fighting bans on kosher and halal meat at a European level, to joining forces to protect each other’s places of worship as in Stamford Hill, North London.

The same can be seen emerging in Bangladesh, where secular nationalists, religious conservatives and political Islamists, are beginning to work together to combat the increasing autocracy of the Awami League government. One also see’s the shining example of the LGBT and development activist Shawn Ahmed, who in the aftermath of the 6th of May massacre of the Hefazot protesters, courageously ventured out and interviewed survivors of the massacre at a Dhaka hospital. This act of bravery has opened new avenues of discourse and has earned him respect from religious conservatives.

Edward Said

Edward Said

 

Liberal Rhetoric versus Liberal Realities

I remember an interview with the Palestinian public intellectual and literary theorist Edward Said in which he said that one had to distinguish between liberal rhetoric and liberal reality. He cited the examples of Alexis De Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill. Tocqueville lamented the plight of the Cherokees in his Democracy in America, but was a staunch supporter of the brutal French colonisation in Algeria. Mill advocated equal rights for women in the United Kingdom, but supported the Imperial British subjugation of the Indian Subcontinent.

The same argument applies in the context of Bangladesh. Bangladeshi activists have to distinguish between the rhetoric and realities of outside powers. Real and enduring reform of the political situation and order will have to result from internal processes not external pressure. The European Parliament resolution is an affirmation of this reality.

What has galling for me was not the resolution itself, but the sight of Awami League supporters working with politicians harbouring open and closet anti-immigrant/Islamophobic views, to lobby for the resolution. If white skinned, deeply secular Turks are not accepted as part of the European Project by these politicians what chance do our brown skinned ‘Joy Bangla’ brigade have. To paraphrase Lenin, they were nothing but mere ‘useful idiots’.Or does the incident in the European Parliament illustrate a deeper and more troubling question. Are our irreligious (nastik) Bengali Nationalists and the European Far Right, two sides of the same bigoted, intolerant, Islamophobic coin?

Flying with broken wings

Jyoti Rahman

Pakistani voters queue outside a polling

A magical realist masterpiece, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children has weird and improbable events and people juxtaposed against the history of the 20th century South Asia up to the late 1970s. One such improbable fact was that at the time of writing, and thus the story’s culmination, military rulers of the erstwhile two wings of Pakistan had the same first name.

This is not the only parallel between the political history of Bangladesh and post-1971 Pakistan.

Both successor states of United Pakistan started with larger-than-life charismatic leaders, whose rules ended in tragic denouement inconceivable in 1972.  Both giants found governance to be much harder than populist rhetoric, both resorted to un-democracy, and both ended up meeting cruel ends at the hand of their trusted guards.  Both countries succumbed to dictatorships in the 1980s, although the extent and mechanism varied.  In both countries democratic opposition developed.  In both countries, some form of democratic politics came into practice by the 1990s.

But democracy has failed to take root in either, with military interventions or threats thereof, remaining a constant feature.  In both countries, electoral democracy has meant two mutually antagonistic parties/coalitions who differ little on policy, but much on personality and the thirst for power over patronage and privilege.  Both countries have experienced increasing religious extremism. More recently, in both countries, judiciary and media are experimenting with new found powers, not always to the best effect.

Throw in the political economy of NGO-led development in Bangladesh, or the misfortune of being next to a theatre of the Great Game for Pakistan, and it’s easier to see why democracy may have had such a hard time in these countries. Indeed, with increasing NGO activities in Pakistan and the Great Game coming to Myanmar — a theatre closer to Bangladesh — both countries have much to learn from each other’s misfortunes.

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Of course, in Bangladesh, the discourse around Pakistan is so full of vitriolic jingoism that any suggestion of learning something from the Pakistani experience is likely to be met with scorn.  But even outside Bangladesh, there is not much by way of comparative studies of Bangladesh and Pakistan.

William B Milam’s Bangladesh and Pakistan: flirting with failure in South Asia is a rare exception.  This slender —276 pages including reference and index —volume begins with a brief history of the erstwhile united Pakistan, and then tracks the military-civilian back-and-forth in the two countries up to 2008.  The author, a former American Ambassador to both countries, can bring unique perspective to the subject matter.  And the book’s conclusion —the tipping points between real democracy and more of the same in Bangladesh and Pakistan are yet to be reached—is something one can hardly quibble with.

One does not read a retired career diplomat for facts and figures.  And this book is not full of facts and figures.  However, one might expect a lot of interesting anecdotes from someone who served in Bangladesh as the Ershad regime ended and in Pakistan when the Musharraf regime started.  Sadly, Milam does not give us such tidbits.

Instead, he opens up a range of questions that could be, ought to be, explored in depth.  Truth be told, it’s a tad disappointing that Milam does not push any of these issues further.  But then again, at least Milam has written a book.  Surely there are others who can add to the literature.

What are these questions?  One is about the role of India in the two country’s politics.  Another is Islam.  I am going to skirt over these two, not because they are unimportant, but because these are fairly well trodden grounds.

Instead, let me pick up the issue of military involvement, and withdrawal, from politics in the two countries.

From the vantage point of December 1971, one might have expected some form of military involvement in Bangladeshi politics.  The nucleus of the Bangladesh army was the victorious Mukti Bahini, and its commanders like Ziaur Rahman might have expected some say in the new country’s affairs — historically, states founded by guns tend to give armed men some (if not all) power.

However, it should have been a different matter in what was left of Pakistan.  If there was a state where the army rule, directly or otherwise, should have been thoroughly repudiated, it should have been Pakistan after December 1971.  Army rule had lost half the country.  A quarter of the army itself was taken prisoner-of-war by the ‘hated enemy’.  The country was bankrupt, with its major port severely damaged.  The idea that generals could save Pakistan should have died in the swamps of Bengal.

Of course, it didn’t.

ZA Bhutto used the army to silence legitimate dissent in Balochistan. And then, in 1977, he tried to rig an election that he might have won anyway, resulting in months of street violence and political gridlock, which paved the way for Gen Zia-ul-Huq’s grim rule.

That’s the most straightforward reading of things.  Writers as diverse as Tariq Ali or Anatol Lieven agree that Mr Bhutto deserves to be blamed, if not solely or in whole measure, then at least substantially, for the remilitarisation in Pakistan.  So, the question then is, was Pakistan just unlucky to have Bhutto, or was there something about Pakistan that made his power grabs more likely?

Let’s look at the issue from a different perspective.  Milam ends his book with the observation that the prospect of democracy, indeed the very survival of the state, was bleaker in Pakistan than Bangladesh.

As of 2008, Bangladesh army —not formally in charge in the first place — was in the process of handing over power to a democratically elected government.  In Pakistan, on the other hand, there was a shaky coalition facing jihadi violence, with everyone assuming that it was the clean-shaved general and not the mustached civilian who had the ultimate power.

As of 2008, hardly anyone doubted that the incoming Awami League government would finish its five year term.  After all, three previous elected governments had finished their full terms, something no elected government (with possible exception of Mr Bhutto, depends on how one sees things) in Pakistan had done until then.  In Pakistan, at the time, hardly anyone expected Asif Ali Zardari to finish his term peacefully and hold an election in five years’ time.

As it happens, the Awami League did finish its five year term, and has just elected itself —not sure how else to put it politely —for another five years.  But surprising everyone, Mr Zardari also lasted five years in office, as did the Pakistani parliament that was elected in 2008.  For the first time in Pakistan’s history, a democratically elected civilian government handed over power to another such government last year.

So, did Pakistan get lucky with Zardari (or Nawaz Sharif, or Gen Ashfaq Kayani)?  Or did something about Pakistan change between the 1970s, or even the 1990s, to now?

Bangladesh army has shown little interest in running the country in recent years.  Had it wanted to, there were many occasions in the past year where the army could have toppled the government, with a large section of the civil society and opinionmaking class fully cheering on any coup.  But by all accounts, the army has chosen to remain out of politics.  Even its 2007 not-quite-formally-a-coup was at best a half-hearted affair, with full insistence of constitutional fig leaves, no matter how muslin-thin the leaves might have been.

What had changed about Bangladesh army from its coup-prone past?

Why do armies intervene, or not intervene?  Let’s go through a few conjectures.

At the simplest level, perhaps it’s all about the base, corporate interest.  Pay them well, and the armies will be happily in the barracks?  This may well be a major story in Bangladesh.  After all, dal-bhaat grievances were a major (though by no means the only) factor in soldiers’ mutinies of 1975 and 2009.  However, considering the lavishes spent on the forces by the current government, money should not matter for any would be Bangladeshi coupmaker.  And to the extent that no one —not even Bhutto le pere—tried to clip the army’s economic interests in Pakistan, it’s hard to argue that this has been a deciding factor there.

Perhaps the story is a bit more highbrow?

As is widely accepted, Pakistan army sees itself as the ultimate arbiter of that country’s foreign and defense policies, particularly when it comes to relations with India. As long as these domains are untouched, perhaps the generals are content to let the civilians govern.  In that respect, perhaps Pakistan army is similar to the ‘guardian’ armies of Turkey or various Arab republics or Thailand, where the army decides, for whatever historical reasons, that certain areas are no-go for civilian politicians, and they enforce the no‑go-zones through coups if necessary.

Does Bangladesh army see itself in such a guardian role?  When a crisis hits, does it see its role as the national saviour?  In the blood-soaked 1970s, individual officers saw themselves as potential national heroes—call it the curse of the majors.  But from the 1980s onwards, as a collective, perhaps Bangladesh army waits for orders rather than marching to their own bit?  After all, in February 2009, the entire brass held fire and waited for orders that never came.

Of course, this is exactly how it should be.  Armies are meant to be guards, not guardians.  On balance, it’s a good thing that the army has not intervened during Bangladesh’s latest political drama.

But can that remain the case indefinitely?  After all, it was Bhutto’s hubris that allowed Zia’s power grab in 1977.  Could something like that happen yet again?

Even if it doesn’t, it’s important to understand that military rule is not the only obstacle to democracy in Bangladesh and Pakistan —a theme that runs through Milam’s book, and one that needs to be explored further.  After all, it was Mr Bhutto who opened the door for the generals to march back in.  So, the question again, was Pakistan unlucky with Mr Bhutto, or was there something about Pakistan?  And more recently, did it get lucky with Messrs Zardari and Sharif, or has something changed there?

Here is another conjecture —for all their personal genius, foibles and shortcomings, it wasn’t the individuals, rather, something did change in Pakistan between the time of Bhutto and Zardari.  In the intervening years, multiple centres of power —not just the army-bureaucracy and a towering politician, but also political parties representing different provinces and ethnicities and constituencies, as well as media, judiciary and other civil society organisations —developed in Pakistan.  While this fragmentation of authority may hamper its policy deliberations, it probably has driven home to Pakistani politicians the need to coexist and tolerate each other.  Papa Bhutto stood above everyone, and couldn’t countenance anyone else’s existence.  Sharif brothers had learnt to live with others.  Perhaps that’s what has saved Pakistan, at least for now.

What about Bangladesh?

This is what Milam says in the penultimate page: Perhaps there is more hope that a real, sustainable democratic culture can develop in Bangladesh, but old habits die hard.

And thus we come to today’s Bangladesh, on which, Milam observes:

…a government which, because of the perverted institutions of the state, is in a position to eliminate the opposition as a force to be reckoned with, and move towards a one-party state. This election, instead of deja vu all over again, could be the tipping point to something entirely new on the subcontinent.

Bangladesh may well have come a full circle in the past four and half decades.  At the beginning of the 1970s, with the left fractious and the right discredited for its role in the country’s freedom struggle, Awami League was the only major organised political force in Bangladesh.  Whatever we have, it’s not democracy.

And, Sheikh la fille may well prove to be more successful than her father.  Again, over to Milam:

But politics aside, it is 2014 in Bangladesh. The chronic instability and near-anarchy, as well as the abject poverty that prevailed in 1975, have long since disappeared. Bangladesh, while still poor and in the stage of economic development where gains can easily be reversed, is now wired into the global economy with its vibrant garment and other export industries. Growth has been strong for most of the past two decades, and the country as a whole is much more prosperous. More importantly, it has a much more literate and healthy population because of the strides that have been made in mass education and in reducing gender disparity.

In Shame, his novel on not-quite-Pakistan, Rushdie calls the country Peccavistan. Peccavi in Latin means I have sinned.  This is the message Sind’s English conqueror sent back to the John Company after he took the country by deception and ‘rascality’.  Pakistan used to be governed by deception and rascality, hence the name Peccavistan.

When the results of Pakistan’s first general election became known 37 years ago, a western journalist quipped that Pakistan would soon be replaced by Mujibdesh and Bhuttostan.  As things stand, we should rename our country East Peccavistan.

And things will remain as they are unless we choose democratic politics.  Make no mistake, that’s hard work.  But that’s what it comes down to.  A bird cannot fly with broken wings.  Our democracy is broken.  People governing the country are doing so not with democratic mandate.  Choosing democracy means opposing this deception and rascality.  Only by joining and fixing the opposition, so that when the table turns it lives and lets live, can we end East Peccavistan.

Dear reader, the choice is yours, will you choose Bangladesh?

Fascist Entropy of an once-Democratic Politics in Bangladesh

M. Aktaruzzaman (Zaman)

“Fascism denies, in democracy, the absurd conventional untruth of political equality dressed out in the garb of collective responsibility ….” Benito Mussolini.

 

Even after a decade of Mussolini’s pronouncement as to the basic reactionary tenets of fascism, the word rapidly suffered a massive interpretative inflection, that George Orwell in his 1944-essay “What is Fascism” could not come up with a good definition of what fascism is and wrote in desperation: “all one can do for the moment is to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to a level of a swearword.” In the today’s miasmic milieu of Bangladeshi Politics, in addition to the swearword “razakar”, the word “fascist” is also being thrown around in random both by BNP and its perpetual nemesis AL. It may not have poignancy right at this point, but it certainly is very important to examine the issue further for the future politics of our country. In this write up I would like expound the situation a little further.

 

What is Fascism?

“Fascis” (an Italian word) means bundle or unit, while “fasces” (a Latin word) is a symbol of bound sticks used as a totem of power in ancient Rome. These two roots aptly describes the basic tenets of fascism: unity and power. However, the nature of fascism espoused by Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy or Franco in Spain is not exactly the same, still there are some basic features than characterizes any fascist movement:

Authoritarian leadership: A fascist state requires a single leader with absolute authority who is all-powerful and lords over the totality of the state affairs with no limits whatsoever. There also can be a cult of personality around the leader.

Absolute power of state: “the fascist state organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual; the latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question can not be the individual, but the state alone” – thus goes Mussolini to encapsulate the fact that there is no law or other power that can limit the authority of the state. This is an antithesis of liberal doctrines of individual autonomy and rights, political pluralism and representative government as espoused by the likes of Rousseau – yet it envisions broad popular support.

Strict social order: To eliminate the possibility of chaos than can undermine state authority, fascism maintains a social order in which every individual has a specific place that can not be altered. This “new order” often is in clash with traditional institution and hierarchies

Nationalism and super-patriotism: Fascism digs into the past with unreal romanticism and espouses an historic mission and national rebirth.

Jingoism: Aggression is felt to be a virtue while pacifism a cowardice. This is how Mussolini writes – “fascism ….. believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace….. war alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the people who have the courage to meet it.”

Dehumanization and scapegoating of the enemy: Typically every fascist regime seek out certain group or groups of people – ethnic or religious or ideological as enemy.

 

Is the Current Bangladesh Regime Fascist?

With the above features of fascism in mind, let’s see how our current regime in Bangladesh fares:

Leadership: In democratic states, power of state is kept in check by constitutional provisions whereby the stately business is run, usually, by three co-equal branches of government, namely, executive, legislative and judicial. In Bangladesh, the legislative wing is clipped by article 70 for many years. Its integrity also is jeopardized by a lack of intra-mural democracy in most of the political parties including the ruling Awami League. Coupled with the prevailing trickle-down politics, where leadership is bestowed upon as a blessing from the party chief for nonpolitical reasons that at times can be plainly nefarious, has brewed a miasma where the party chief enjoys a demi-God status.  Judiciary independence, in addition, is a total sham as evidenced by open executive intervention in judicial matters. In fact, the current regime abetted by its myriad of political outfits, has shown a keen interest in using judiciary for the sole purpose of harassment, intimidation and silencing of opposing voices. Thus all the three branches of government has now morphed into a single behemoth bent to serve the wish one single person who is none but the all-powerful Prime Minister – Sheikh Hasina Wajed.

 

She wields extraordinary power beyond her constitutional ambit. Borrowing a certain amount of mana from her slain father, she also has cultivated a cult where, even her ministers kisses her feet with no shame whatsoever. It is widely reported that even the Awami League leadership was not in favor of the 15th. amendment, and it was not part of her election pledges in 2008, yet it happened only because of the singular wish of Sheikh Hasina. The eventual entropy that has befallen on today’s Bangladesh thus falls squarely on her shoulder. Now after a flawed election on 01/2014, even though her electoral popularity is at nadir, she continues to remain the only person whose opinion matters. With over 3/4th majority in the 10th. parliament, and with Article 70 in place, she still has the capacity to rule by further amendment in constitution, if she chooses.

Although the Prime Minister continues to chant the popular democratic slogans, actually she has become a hindrance by disenfranchising more than 50% of voting population by cunning political games.

State Power: Power of state is on the rise for more than a decade in Bangladesh. Although there is no declared state of emergency at over the past years, the case Limon vs Government is not only a forme fruste, but a routine daily fact of national life. State outfits like Rapid Action Battalian, Police etc. can trample individual rights with impunity. Slapping of a national pride – Shohag Gazi is a daily happenstance. State can now put political leaders behind bar even without prima facie evidence of any wrongdoing. Given the prevailing politicization of Judiciary, individual rights almost to the point of forfeiture. Benito Mussolini conceptualized the process as “all within the state, nothing outside the sate, nothing against the sate.”

Social Order: By introducing three hundred fiefdoms, each headed by a member of the parliament; by nominating non-politician businessmen and thugs for member of parliament; by decapitating the law-making power of the MPs; and by clipping the wings of the elected local governing bodies – the government has instituted a social order where the cadres of government-affiliated outfits (“leagues” and “porishods” of variegate Awami shades and colors) rule over the commoners with impunity. On top on that, there are governmental outfits like police, RAB etc. also continue to be used as enforcers of governmental whims. At the same time, traditional non-political institutions and hierarchies are being decapitated by rampant politicization (both by the ruling Awami League and by its perpetual nemesis Bangladesh Nationalist Party).

Nationalism and Superpatriotism and dehumanization and/or scapegoating of enemies: The government, instead of promoting quiet inclusive nationalism, is bent on promoting a super-patriotism at the expense of non-Bengali Bangladesh nationals. Denial of existence of indigenous ethnic population by our ex-foreign minister is just a naked example. It also is curious, how blatantly the ruling party labels every opposing voice as “rajakar-sympathizer”. It has divided the nation two camps; pro-Liberation and anti-Liberation. Even valiant and decorated heroes of liberation war are not being spared.

Jingoism: Well, militarily, Bangladesh is not powerful enough to consider military expansion, yet it’s portrayal of simple wining of a legal battle as “somudra-bijoy” talks of its mental makeup. But, yes, they are in a permanent war against those whose voice are not in sync with the ideas and ideals of the ruling Awami League.

How about BNP?

Authoritarian leadership is a staple in BNP-politics since its inception. This has now morphed into a family-owned enterprise of the “lesser Rahman” – I mean General Ziaur Rahman. Their intolerance to opposing (or even neutral) view is amply exemplified by the way the treated one of their founder member – Dr. B. Chowdhury. Despite a disastrous leadership during “2006 to 2008-debacle” Khaleda Zia continues to rule over the party with an authority that is unheard of in any any democracy sans Bangladesh. Her heir apparent, Tareq Zia, despite his reprehensible Hawa-Vobon activities during the last BNP-regime, still welds more power than the any senior party leaders. It is a widely reported story that Khaleda once forfeited all the cellular devices from her senior leadership during a meeting, is just an example of her crude power that overwhelms the collective power of the party leaders. Just like in Awami League, they also a slain leader who has become more like a cult-leader in BNP-culture.

The consolidation of the state power to the verge of tyranny, in fact, began during the previous BNP-regime by introducing the now-infamous Operation Clean Heart that rapidly degenerated into an Operation Heart Attack! And the origin of RAB and the the concept of extra-judicial execution by “cross-fire” is of BNP-origin.

Just like AL, BNP also is guilty of promoting the gradual degeneration of traditional social order by empowering parliament members at the expense of local government. Pan-politicization of every sphere of national life is also a staple of BNP.

However, BNP did not had a jingoistic attitude, however, their favorite scapegoat, under the leadership of Khaleda Zia, remained India.

 

Conclusion:

Yes, definition of fascism fluid, but is definitely not democracy as its biggest proponent Mussolini once said, “democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy”. And it will not be an untrue statement if one posits that the state of democracy in Bangladesh, currently in a state of total shamble. Election occurred where voter participation was an all-time low and where more than fifty percent voters were disenfranchised to begin with. As per an eminent Bangladeshi jurist – Shahdin Malik, it was more negotiated and predetermined than was competitive.

 

Given the reasons and the facts in ground, it is very easy to label a regime with characteristics of the current Awami League regime as fascist. There can be arguments both pro and con, but certain facts are undeniable. BNP right now, is not in power. However, the history of BNP under the leadership of Khaleda Zia is not very kosher either.

In a previous op-ed in the daily start (December 19th, 2013) I hoped for sanity to prevail. But the leadership of our God-forsaken homeland, apparently, has a bigger saint to heed to:

history of saints is a history of insane people”. (Benito Mussolini

M. Aktaruzzaman (Zaman)

Flying with broken wings

A magical realist masterpiece, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children has weird and improbable events and people juxtaposed against the history of the 20th century South Asia up to the late 1970s. One such improbable fact was that at the time of writing, and thus the story’s culmination, military rulers of the erstwhile two wings of Pakistan had the same first name.

This is not the only parallel between the political history of Bangladesh and post-1971 Pakistan.

Both successor states of United Pakistan started with larger-than-life charismatic leaders, whose rules ended in tragic denouement inconceivable in 1972.  Both giants found governance to be much harder than populist rhetoric, both resorted to un-democracy, and both ended up meeting cruel ends at the hand of their trusted guards.  Both countries succumbed to dictatorships in the 1980s, although the extent and mechanism varied.  In both countries democratic opposition developed.  In both countries, some form of democratic politics came into practice by the 1990s.

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Is this a party of Liberals?

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By Shafquat Rabbee:

Bangladesh Awami League is the de-facto choice of Bangladesh’s liberal political class. This write up will seriously question how this party is currently manifesting clear attributes of intolerance, and often fascism. Despite its ever-growing authoritarian tendencies, how the party still maintains the loyal support of educated liberals, should be a topic for an academic undertaking.

To explore whether the Awami League is demonstrating fascist tendencies, one has to read the following excerpt from Wikipedia defining the term “fascism”:

“….Fascists sought to unify their nation through a totalitarian state that promoted the mass mobilization of the national community and were characterized by having a vanguard party that initiated a revolutionary political movement ……. fascist movements shared certain common features, including the veneration of the state, a devotion to a strong leader, and an emphasis on ultra-nationalism …. Fascism views political violence, war, and imperialism as a means to achieve national rejuvenation….

Fascist ideology consistently invokes the primacy of the state. Leaders such as Benito Mussolini in Italy and Adolf Hitler in Germany embodied the state and claimed indisputable power….”

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fascism

Please check the appropriate references provided in the Wikipedia page on fascism for further theoretical queries and for ascertaining the validity of the above characterization. Now, as per the above characterization of “Fascism”, please see below some of the recent activities of the Awami League to formulate your opinion as to whether this is a fascist party:

“Fascists sought to unify their nation through a …. vanguard party that initiated a revolutionary political movement…” – Awami League is spending enormous energy to achieve this via its relentless reference to its leadership role in the 1971 Liberation war of Bangladesh.

According to the above definition, fascists share the following common features:

a. The veneration of the state: The Awami League Party and its supporters often show jingoism and superficial affection to a mythological state that they refer to as “Bangla”, which some critics struggle to confine within the current geographical region of Bangladesh. The Awami League supporters, and their latest ultra-purist clan known as “Shahabagis”, have a tendency to defy global opinions even on matters related to human rights or civil liberty buoyed by their superficial confidence on the mythological state of “Bangla”.

b. A devotion to a strong leader: Awamis and Shahbagis have Godlike reverence to their political leader Late Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who is often referred as the “Father of the Nation” and “Friend of the Nation” or Bongobondhu– both at the same time.

Today’s Awamis and Shahbagis end all of their political utterings with the slogan “Joy Bangla” [victory for Bangla] and “Joy Bongobondhu” [victory for Bongobondhu].

The Awamis and Shahbagis are seen using these two chants like religious pronouncements in almost all of their political events, including ceremonial burials of party activists, formal and informal political communications, social media writings, political gatherings, and even during political fightings while they attack their opponents! The uttering of “Joy Bongobondhu” was heard on December 29, 2013, while the Awami-Shahabagis attacked Bangladesh’s supreme court building and inhumanly beat Supreme Court lawyers, many of whom were unarmed females.

The zeal and political importance of these two sentences are so intense that party adherents start quarrels if one of the two sentences is missing in anyone’s speech. For example, only a few days ago, one of the most prominent leaders of the Shahabagis found faults with even the grandson of the Bongobondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman for failing to type both “Joy Bangla” and “Joy Bongobondhu” in his Facebook status (the grandson only wrote Joy Bangla!).

c. An emphasis on ultra-nationalism: Awamis and Shahabagis use ultra-Bengali Nationalism as their main political philosophy. Although historically Bengalis have always had a hybrid cultural heritage, borrowing deeply from Arabs, Persians, Portuguese, Spanish, British, Turks or Moguls, Indian-Aryans, Pakistanis etc, the so-called Bengalism propagated by today’s Awami-Shahabagis align itself more with present day Indian heritage, than any of the other cultural lineages of Bangladeshis.

The Awami-Shahbagis go as far as to posit their ultra-Bengali nationalism as a counterpart of Islam- the religion. This particular overreach of a Bengali linguistic-ethnographic heritage against Islam.  Awami-Shahbagi Bengali ultra-nationalism often believes in their ability to even overtake religious identity using an ever-changing Bengali cultural identity.

– “Fascism views political violence, war, and imperialism as a means to achieve national rejuvenation”: This characteristic of Fascism is exemplified in Awami-Shahabagis’ call for another “Mukti Juddho” or “Liberation War” every other week. The Awami-Shahabagi leadership regularly calls for violence against their major political rivals, the latest of this was seen on December 29, 2013, when the following happened:

– Awami-Shahabagi activists attacked Bangladesh Supreme Court premise. This is the first such instance in Bangladesh’s 42 years of history, where party activists of any political party went inside the Supreme Court premise and beat up Supreme Court Lawyers (see video).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uOyiyh7-sI

– Awami-Shahabagi activists attacked Bangladesh Press Club. This is perhaps the second instance in Bangladesh’s 42 years of history, where political party activists attacked the Press Club. Both the attacks were carried out by Awami League activists, once during the early 70’s and the second time on December 29, 2013. The attackers were carrying Bangladeshi flag, and wearing bandanna made out of the Bangladeshi flags (see video).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MLILmRZPg4

– Awami-Shahbagi activists attacked female Lawyers, who were completely unarmed. The Awami-Shahbagi activists used Bangladesh’s national Flag stands as weapons for beating the female lawyers, and the attackers were wearing the national flag in their head (an overt example of Ultra-nationalism). See pictures below.

FemaleLawyerBeating

– Awami-Shahbagi activists attacked Dhaka University professors, a very rare occurrence even in Bangladesh’s turbulent political standards.

http://dailynayadiganta.com/details.php?nayadiganta=NjI2OA%3D%3D&s=MTc%3D

The Awami-Shahbagis earlier in the year of 2013 took possession of Shahbag Square of Dhaka (hence the name Shahabagi), and demanded death sentences of key accused of the 1971 War Crimes. All major independent observers like the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists etc have termed the War Crimes Tribunal flawed and lacking international standards. The US Senate passed a resolution number 318 where the tribunal was termed as lacking international standards. Yet, the Awami-Shahabagis continued for months their so called “Second Muktijuddho” or “Second Liberation War”, where they were demanding “specific verdicts” instead of “proper trial”, as a lynch mob. The trial remained popular across the board in Bangladeshi society, although a vast majority, according to scientific opinion polls, remained skeptical about the fairness of the trial proceedings. The Awami-Shahabagis, disregarded all calls for fairness in the trial proceedings, and found it to be their ultra-nationalistic duty to defy all credible international calls for remedial actions regarding the trial proceedings. Such misguided ultra-nationalism now has squandered Bangladesh’s only chance to render proper justice to the victims of 1971 atrocities.

FemaleShahabaginiswith Stick

Awami-Shahabagis call for violence can be further exhibited in the below incidences:

– Awami League activists for the first time in the history of Bangladesh conducted processions with sticks against Supreme Court Judges back in the early 2000’s

– Awami League activists for the first time in the history of Bangladesh asked its party men to show up in the streets of Dhaka with oar and sticks to beat up their opposition, which ultimately resulted in the first nationally televised live killing of a opposition party men (see video)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-dRC-NfDNg

–  The fact that Awami-Shahbagis can beat up old folks due to political disagreement, is perhaps worse than even fascism (see pic)

oldman beating2 oldman beating

– Awami League activists for the first and only time in Bangladesh’s history attacked and beaten up Bangladesh Army personnel (see pics), clearly showing the ultra-nationalistic invincibility felt by the Awami-Shahbagi activists

army beatingarmy kick 2

Despite all the historical evidences above, and being a textbook case of fascism, Awami-Shahbagis are still the favorites of Dhaka’s liberal elites! The world needs to study this phenomenon closely.

Is Nazism rising in Bangladesh ? -1

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by M Chowdhury

Comparative discussion of the characteristics of historic Nazi regime and current Bangladesh regime

I wrote earlier, how the propaganda strategy adopted by the current regime in Bangladesh is stunningly similar to that of the Nazis in 1930s and 40s; I held this view long before the rise of Shahbag.

As a result, I have often receive few kinds words from fellow “sushils” who seems to think of this as a political blasphemy. In my personal opinion this sheer horror is generated by most sushil getting Fascism confused with dictatorship ( a hated one, that is) ; because I often get asked if I have any doubt about the massive public support AL  commanded. “Hey, Hitler was popular too” – is always my simple answer.  The point is, a Fascist regime does not necessarily need have zero public support, in the contrary history shows us that Fascist regime can start off with significant public support or the delusion of so.

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Fascism as an ideology is quite hard to define, however it has been proven to display some common characteristics. A close observation of these characteristics, with comparison of current Bangladeshi regime can that the fear of rising fascism in Bangladesh might not be yet another political claim.

“Extreme” Nationalism

Extreme Nationalist, combined with a totalitarian authority is Fascism’s distinctive property. Fascist regimes, throughout the history made constant use of extreme nationalism. This serves the purpose of creating the common ground for creating a “mass movement” in which the middle-class can prevail. This also creates a sense of comradeship, a mindset of being in a “war” with the political opponents and a sense of sacrifice for the mission of  national regeneration.

In post-world war 1 Germany, Hitler’s Nazi used the national regeneration theme with colossal success and sold Nazi party to be the only viable option to regain the lost Germanic pride. While the Nazis used nationalism in the backdrop of a lost war and “humiliating” Versailles Treaty, Bangladesh’s fascist could not have used such tactics in their ground for mass movement because of two problems. Firstly, we don’t have a lost war, we have a war where we were valiantly victorious against all odds.

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The second and much bigger one is that of India; any self-respectful patriotic or nationalist movement is bound to be vocal about the biggest and greatest aggressive entity the nation has been facing for over four decades, in Bangladesh’s case which is India with its border aggression and BSF brutality, water sharing issues and economic and cultural aggression etc. As India also happens to be AL’s greatest foreign ally, the AL intelligentsia needed to conceive a different type of nationalism.

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As a result, a fusion is created where AL, the leftists parties, liberation war, 71, Father of the Nation etc are jumbled in to a fallacy called 71’s “chetona” and the fascist propaganda machine played its part in sanctifying this so called chetona. This does a lot of good for a fascist movement in rise; it gives them a ground for mass movement, takes the focus of any patriotic sentiment away from India, gives AL the right to identify anyone as the enemy of the chetona and gives the young hot-blooded recruits a shadow war to fight against the so called enemies.

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The young generation trapped into this fallacy grows up learning that the chetona is sacred, so much so that a regime can do it whatever it likes in the name of 71. They never stops to ask  why the leftist party leaders today becomes the guardian of 71 when they stayed away from the liberation war describing it as the fight of two dogs, they never ask how media censorship is aligned with the spirit of free democratic Bangladesh. They never hesitate  to call Kader Siddiqui, the 71 war hero as a “razakar” and idolizes certain sci-fi author as national hero and forgets to ask him why wasn’t he in the war front in 1971.  These ultra nationalists are so lost in their fallacy that they forget to demand justice for Bishyajit, they chant “Fashi ” and not “Justice”   and while in the nation is in turmoil, they are happy setting the world record for creating the biggest flag.

This patriotism is extreme, blind and delusive; it teaches young men to dresses up in green and red the regime is killing democracy; it teaches them to shut their eyes and rejoice the coming back of the saviour of chetona while the regime is self electing itself for a second term and moving towards a total authoritarian structure.

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Another important aspect of the German Nazi ultra-nationalist is its display through paraphernalia. There were slogans, mottos, songs and flags. A similar trend can be observed in Bangladesh, especially in regime backed rallies, gathering etc; there is a inclination of creating this delusion of unity and a silent  effort of  fuelling the urge to join the common ground of chetona.

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The way the current regime has created the fallacy of Nationalist and were able to create a cult culture around it is very similar to the ultra nationalist extremism created by Nazi regimes in the past and it does make one to wonder, Is Nazism rising in Bangladesh ?

( Thanks to work of R. Verma and Emilio Gentile)

Parliament is not for discussion, but for decision

by Sainul Hossain

I often found myself clueless to see that our leading commentators, political analysts are blaming the opposition alliance (and to some extent, the ruling coalition) not to bring up the urgent issues of Bangladesh in parliament and discuss there. I think we need to make a distinction between discussion and decision.

I understand ordinary people are so much habituated to political discussion that they would feel tempted to see “lively” debate in parliament and thereby, feed their own subsequent chat with friends. Some topics-hungry editors may also find tempted to serve a palatable editorial by blaming the politicians for worthless (and in some cases, harmful) discussion.

However, my pain is why our intellectual class would harp on the same tune and hide the gruesome unpleasant truth that Parliament is more a place of formal decision and is far from a place of discussion. And this is true both in theory and of course, in practice.

Article 70 of our constitution disproves any debate on any important issue to decide. Why should I listen to the argument of my opposition when it won’t change my vote on that topic if my party-chief has already made clear the position about the issue? What is the discussion for other than entertaining people engaged in living-room conversation or live talk-show in TV?

By theory (i.e., if we want our member of parliaments to follow the constitution), an MP can’t vote against that MP’s party’s decision. So, what is the use of having that MP try to initiate a “reasoned” debate with his peers, be they in position or opposition. No MP is allowed to change their mind after the argument or debate or whatever we name the discussion. For whose sake, should I, a humble tax-payer, spend money for useless discussion on a forlorn conclusion? There is a theoretical limit here. This can’t be (or at least, should not be) crossed how much sincere our public representatives are.  Period.

Now, the less said about the practice, the better. History tells us that discussion in our parliament is something where reasoning is the number one absentee. People tend to resort to the past, side away the topic, make the conversation at best as irrelevant and at worst as chaotic and so on. Again, this practice simply happens not because our public representatives are not educated. Most of them are highly educated, talented and rich. They just do not have any other alternatives. They have the theoretical limit.

So, there is no use of lamenting on why our opposition do not attend the parliament and talk for the people or why our governments MPs are not making the parliament “effective”. What I would expect from the media is to take a one-step back and inform the people how the government or opposition party is making their decision outside the parliament. Journalists should ask these questions to the respective party chiefs to make open their internal decision-making process within their party. Public deserves that as public has trusted with the article 70 on them (as of today, officially). If our media-intellectuals can demand such transparency more and more, this will help to establish and grow our democracy.

Some may argue that we already know how this decision is made within the party (or to be specific, who is actually makes the decision unilaterally within the party). But lets not go for assumption. For the sake of democracy, let us unearth it, establish the transparency and provide oxygen to our own public representatives to grow. Parliament is a place of decision for official record and as such only some cosmetic attendance by the public representatives would suffice. For discussion, our media really need to chase the internal decision process within a party. If that process is in shambles (and many believe, indeed they are), let us go after it, rather than asking for happy pastime in the parliament under the disguise of discussion.

One final word, just in extension or as an example. The debate on caretaker government must happen anywhere outside the parliament. I have already explained before why. Only, in that way, we can provide meaning to the opposition for coming to the parliament for the “formal” decision and consequent legislation. Otherwise, we may see the funny game of “kontho-bhote” followed by funnier discussion.

 

The author is a post-liberation-war generation and is currently working in an International Telecommunication company. This article reflects author’s personal opinion. Comments/criticisms are welcomed tohossain_sainul@yahoo.co.jp

A Rejoinder to the opinion piece by Hammad Ali titled “Rights, Responsibilities and Privileges”

by M. Aktaruzzaman (Zaman):

http://opinion.bdnews24.com/2013/11/14/rights-responsibilities-and-privileges/

“Few things are harder to put up with than a good example”

The header of this write up is a borrowed quote from Mark Twain, the witty guy with a big mustache. I used to work in a little town on the mighty Mississippi, where Mark Twain lived his childhood days! Whenever, I visit downtown for a little coffee or anything else, on the hill, I see the Mark Twain Boyhood Museum and I think of this quote.

It, indeed, is very hard to put up with a good example. In the heydays of the current administration (early 20111), an honorable minister and Awami League (AL) secretary general again invoked the name our only Nobel laureate to give a little extra credit to our sitting prime minister (for she helped Yunus get the bank going!). Other ministers, AL leaders and even the attorney general, at various time, tried to spray an extra glow for the prime minister. Yes, the witty man with a big mustache from Hannibal said it right ….ha .. ha..

But why? Why the Prime Minister, having all the hard powers of the state juggernaut at her disposal consider her feat a lesser feat than that of Yunus? She has all the love (!) in the land. She is the undisputed heiress of the most powerful political Ghorana. She lacks nothing. And yet she longs for what Yunus never longed for! He dreamed and worked hard and he himself became an example international repute. And he got what he deserved!

For whatever reason, the nation has given our prime minister the biggest gift one can ever have. They gave her the opportunity to serve them for five years. And she had visions too. She came with a dream of Digital Bangladesh – that can make governing open and transparent thus reducing all the other maladies that accompany our “as usual” governance. If she just kept on working for this very noble goal, she can be a transformational leader ushering her poor millions in the new era of information and prosperity. I bet, Yunus and his intellectual tools are ready to be tapped for the benefit of the people. But naught … the long hand of the governmental juggernaut, instead, decided to discredit the Yunus for no good reason. The PM called him a blood sucker usurer, even though Yunus does not own the bank and even though she herself claims to be a facilitator for the whole enterprise. Her ministers called names. And her Attorney General even announced that the PM deserved the laurel for her extra-ordinary work for negotiating a peace treaty in Chittagong Hill Tracts.

With this prelude I would like to offer a rejoinder to Mr. Hammad Ali’s opinion piece “Rights, Responsibilities and Privileges” published on November 14, 2013.

In the third paragraph Mr. Ali posited, “Why would a man whose life mission is to eradicate poverty in his own motherland, a man who is above all trying to work for the common man, have his influence measured in terms of how many heads of states and business tycoons he knows?” The matter of fact is far from Mr. Ali’s contention. Muhammad Yunus, at the prime of his life, left a very highly ranked university in the US (Vanderbilt to be precise) and settled in the quaint outskirts of Chittagong in early 70’s. He was nothing more than a young economist with a desire to do the best for a nascent nation-state. “We are poor, because we are poor” – this aphorism is economics bothered Yunus. He desired and devined a pragmatic approach to provide capital to the poor without collateral. Thus came the village of Zobra and thus came the Grameen Bank. Yes, the then Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina deserves kudos for her helping hand. “True influence, I believe, has to be bottom up, and not top down” – Yes, this is what the story of Yunus is! He fact that his circle of influence is so wide is a function of his work that he started at the subaltern. It is never top town …

The second cliché point Mr. Ali mentioned is the notion that “Yunus has changed the national image for the better”. This has merit, but I agree with Mr. Ali when writes, “No, just knowing that your country produced a Nobel Laureate does not change their attitude about you overnight.” This especially is true when we also are doing certain non-kosher things like Hawa-Bhavon, Khamba, Hallmark, Padma and etc etc … Image of a nation is more like a kaleidoscope of myriad images that morphs with succession of images – good or bad. More images of the likes of Muhammad Yunus of GB, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed of BRAC and Quader of BIKASH someday shall make the image of Bangladesh brighter…

Yunus’ short but unsuccessful foray into politics in 2007 is dubbed as the “Main Issue” by the erudite scribe. He reasoned that Yunus’ venture to test the water of politics made him a lesser man.“If Dr. Yunus thought his credentials put him on fast track for political success, then he was probably not the man many of us thought he was” – thus goes Mr. Ali, however, he, I hope not, shall argue against the inalienable right of any citizen to enter the crowded political arena. Bangladesh yearns for a man of his stature and integrity to be in politics. I wish, he did not retreat in the face of less-than optimal support. It just is a measure of his less-than-expected political astuteness. It does not make him a lesser man. In fact, this makes him a better man because he tried to do what felt was right!
Then fast forward to Grameen Bank. The scribe says “I fail to understand why the government of a country cannot ask for greater monitoring of an organization that has already been questioned several times as to their methods.” Yes, questions were asked several times but no irregularities were discovered after extensive examinations. A government that loves to govern by judiciary shall not resort to judiciary proceedings in case of irregularities on the part of Yunus are hard to believe. Anyway, end-game is still to unfold. I only hope that the Nobel winning back does succumb to the Sonali-entropy!

The quote on red, Mr. Ali used, to waylay Yunus is jejune at best. It is nothing more than an cliché expression of an exasperated man. In the age of “Da-Kural” and “Logi-Boita” this is very very benign!!

At the end I would like share a personal story. Few years ago, we had a chance to meet Dr. Yunus when he delivered a lecture at Principia college in Illinois, USA. Yunus was simply electric. My daughter who just finished her college was inspired to do public good. She applied for a public service position. During the interview, because of my daughters ethnic origin the issue of Yunus came along. My daughter, believes that the inspirational image of Yunus helped her get that coveted position.

And such is the image of Muhammad Yunus outside the bounds of his own homeland.

(This was sent to bdnews24.com but was not published)

M. Aktaruzzaman (Zaman), MD, FACAAI
Potsdam, New York

Awaiting a Cassandra moment

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by Mohammad Zaman

However loathsome they are, the matter of fact still remains germane that the two bickering ladies remain the sole arbiters of power in Bangladesh. Like her predecessor the sitting Prime Minister wields unfettered muscle even beyond her constitutional ambit. If desired she has the chance to undo even the most difficult of the Gordian Knots.

But the million dollar question is – does she has the desire … or does she still has the unfettered power she once had, for we know, political entropy has a life of its own.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman once famously posited that he is surrounded by thieves. Such dawning was not followed by effective executive measures. If that was done, our history possibly would not have been so incarnadine. Well, following the widespread destruction of the infrastructure and an empty exchequer, he did not have the best hands to play well. However, things are different now. Bangladesh no longer is a bottomless basket. Entrepreneurs in Bangladesh are achieving international acclaim. Muhammad Yunus and Fazle Hasan Abed stand out – but there are thousand others.

Competent, smart and well educated Bangladeshi abounds both at home and abroad. They are the real engine of economy that, for lack of right governmental vision, continues to lumbar forward in struts and frets. A dream of joining the club of other Asian Tigers is yonder – separated only by the lack of a visionary leader.

For us, the chemistry is ripe. Although our Prime Minister has squandered five-years worth of time and even more of political capital – she, or her absence thereof, still remains the only option left. At this precipice, not much time left to reign on her non-ideologue sycophants who never cared for the country to begin with. It is high time; she begin to listen to the outside voices of sanity and unleash the power of governmental juggernaut for the right causes.

If the story from the news outlets is right and if the AL-goons start their mop-up operation under the aegis of government outfits, eventual chaos shall supervene… and her high flying wings of irrational grandiosity is sure to melt like those of Icarus…

Yes, the beautiful daughter of Priam was blessed with an ability to foretell and, at the same time, was cursed with a perpetual inability of being convincing enough. Or was it the stupidity of haughty politicians and macho warriors that lead to the disastrous consequence that befell on Troy?

But that was then when communication was not a cobweb surfed so easily. No, today there is no scope of such stupidity!

Nation voted for a change.
Nation voted for a Din Bodoler Ongokar.
Sheikh Hasina is bound by her promise.
Rightfully, nation deserves a Cassandra Moment.

MZ
Potsdam, New York 

Welcome to Mr Arvind Kejriwal ~ long struggle ahead if you are ‘TRUELY true’ to your conviction

Mr Aravind Kejriwal after winning election. Photo copyright Deccan Chronicle.

Mr Aravind Kejriwal after winning election. Photo copyright Deccan Chronicle.

I must admit I didn’t give much of a thought back in 2011 when my co-workers and friends of Indian origin told me about Anna Hazare and his activism against corruption in New Delhi. I tried to read few articles here and there about his activism and came to know that he does not want to take a political platform and do his activism in a ‘non-political’ and ‘non-partisan’ fashion. As an avid follower of news, history and politics I know that activism without political platform and partisanship is recipe for failure specially in Indian subcontinental political eco-system. So, as long as Mr Anna Hazare were to be the face of the activism, this movement was going no where other than passing a law or two about anti-corruption. Laws are made in Indian subcontinent usually for not to be implemented.

Having said so, a few of my Indian friends were very hopeful about an IIT-trained mechanical engineer turned tax department bureaucrat named Mr Arvind Kejriwal who was with Anna Hazare and took part in the political activism against corruption. I must admit that I did not give it a much of a thought either back then.

In the past 2000 years of the history of Indian Subcontinent political power is always ‘handed down’ from one generation to other. The only way to change the political power was by destroying the dynasties. As the subcontinent was sub-divided into 100s of small and big independent or semi/pseudo-independent states for 1000s of years the tradition is such as a state always belongs to its king. Once the East India Company started taking over the subcontinental landscape back in mid 1700s they had to figure out an effective way to by-pass the rules of the kingdoms and thus British-India-bureaucracy was born. And so was the corruption.

Two weeks ago Delhi’s election made a splash on the global news as Mr Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party defeated other two political powerhouses in the provincial election. And now, skeptics like me had to take notice! Mr Kejriwal is not the first one in recent history to take up such initiative of taking the task to clean corruption from the a sub-continental country bogged into a 200 years old bureaucracy and, at-least, 100 year old political dynasty altogether. Politicians have come as fighters against corruption and gone as corrupt ones themselves in a few years. I think I had the valid reason to be skeptic.

If Mr Kejriwal is true to his conviction he has a long long way to go no doubt. How will he win this battle against corruption and install good governance? I believe the answer is simple ~ by the help of the people who are tired of these all-powerful all-have political power-houses. I believe those are the people who voted for him. As Mr Kejriwal knows very well, politics is a high-stake game where politicians usually always win. This is the ‘business of people’.

Will Mr Kejriwal become ‘the’ politician to make tough decisions and win a political battle against corruption? It will be a new experiment and a new experience for the world to watch (and learn may be). Anna Hazare movement now has a political platform and a human face as a leader. The stage is set. Sounds are checked. Lights are on and focused on Mr Kejriwal ~ to perform. Aam Admis (regular people) are hoping nobody-else will steal the show this time. Much is on stake.

Where Are We Heading?

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By Sabuz Khan

Since the 1947’s India-Pakistan separation – West Pakistan imposed Urdu as the official language of East Pakistan and proposed to write Bengali in Arabic scripts. Fuelling outrage amongst the people, where the majority (54%) speaks in Bengali, leading to a country-wide Language Movement outcry and criticism. Pakistan finally decided to recognise Bangla as the second official language in 1956, followed by the major protest in 1952. The thought of having an independent country has started since then.

What a wonderful language. Many have given lives; you’re familiar with some of them. Now we speak Bengali (some speaks Hingli*) – and proudly celebrate 21st February every year.

CHANGE IN STATE OF PLAY!
India is a passing craze! Indian TV channels are getting increasingly popular in Bangladesh, influencing the country’s culture and lifestyles. Bangladesh pays hefty annual subscription fees of appx. BDT 1,706,532,410, whereas Bangla channels are banned in India.

Bollywood songs are played in Bangla serials & movies, including the concerts paying tribute to the national events days. People happily use Hindi terms/words in their daily conversations and Social Medias. Non-resident Bangladeshis’ shamelessly speaks in Hindi/Urdu. National politics itself is far involved with India, than any time before!

The idea is pathetic. We have given lives to earn our independence from one country – now handing over ourselves to another.

Of Causes and Means

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by Shafiqur Rahman

Power Politics means political action characterized by exercise of power and especially of physical force by a political group as a means of coercion in the attainment of its objectives. Like many political terms with aggressive undertones, the term came from the Germans, machtpolitik, who were determined to set out to develop the archetypes in un-subtlety in political actions  in their not too distant past. In Bangladesh too, the main political parties have been engaging in naked power politics since the dawn of the new democratic era in 1991 but it has reached hitherto unknown depth of depravity this time around.

In the everyday violent melee of the power politics it is sometimes easy to lose sight of the strategies behind the tactics. With some presumption, it is not hard to divine the broad strategies behind the two warring faction. Basically the AL government is pursuing a two pronged strategy. Its preferred strategy is to get BNP to participate in an election managed and supervised by AL so that the next AL government gets the stamp of legitimacy from domestic constituents and international partners. Failing that, ALs second option is to try to paint Jamaat as full-fledged terrorist organization internationally and BNP as its patron-accomplice and manage the low level insurgency by BNP and Jamaat indefinitely while seating snugly at the throne of state power.

BNPs strategy is singular; it is going by the tested and proved way to pry open the governments grip on power by preparing the ground for a third party to intervene. BNP incapable of creating that scenario on its own, that’s why Jamaat is so indispensable to them now. Few can doubt that if BNP can achieve the goal of power politics without the help of Jamaat, it will discard Jamaat in an instance like an used tissue paper.

In pursuance of this strategy BNP is again following the manual of tactics to create maximum destabilization by interrupting the regular life of the country. But this year the BNP led opposition has upped the ante. Not only the life of the general people are being interrupted but also their life itself is being targeted. Especially the series of vehicle burning with people inside has aroused universal disgust and apprehension of this dastardly deed becoming regular part of Bangladesh politics.

The ruling Awami League on the other hand is using state power in unprecedented crushing of political opposition. Whole ranks of senior leadership has been rounded up and all mass-political activity has been clamped upon. In scenes reminiscing brutal foreign occupation, law enforcement agencies are using lethal forces without restraint.

In the daily barrage of the atrocities and excesses of the political power players it is easy to lose sight of the root cause that underlie this current round of confrontation. BNP wants a free and fair election; a election that most neutral observers agree that BNP will win handsomely. AL also recognizes that and that why it is determined to hold an election under its term and deny the people have its say. This foundational subtext of power politics is not due to any inherent virtue of the two parties, the situation is essentially reverse of what was in place in1996 and 2006. The only difference being that this time, opinion polls and local elections have repeatedly underscored this fact of ground.

The AL government is aware of the original sin of its position that is why it is throwing around a host of allegations about BNP to obfuscate the issue. BNP doesn’t want election, it wants to free war-criminals. BNP do not want to respect the rule of law as enshrined in the constitution recently amended by AL to uphold democracy. BNP wants to install a religious theocracy. BNP is colluding with hostile foreign entities. BNP wants to reverse the great developmental achievements of the AL government. BNP is joined in the hip with Jamaat, a terrorist organization. Terror tactics cannot be allowed to succeed. Terrorism is the biggest threat facing the country and so on.

Every time I hear this litany of complaint from AL leaders and apologists, I am reminded of the world’s most contentious issue, the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The global community broadly recognizes the fundamental injustice at the heart of the Is-Pal conflict, an occupying power appropriating land from a native people and denying them freedom to choose their own destiny. Again to obfuscate the core injustice, apologists of Israeli lebensraum employ myriad complaints against the Palestinians.

They say that Israel doesn’t have a reliable partner in Palestinians for peaceful settlement. Palestinians do not want peace. Palestinian authority is deeply in cahoots with religious absolutists and terrorists. Palestinians use heinous terror tactics. Palestinians are backed by foreign entities determined to annihilate Israel. Palestinians are living far better under Israeli occupation than their counterparts living in Arab absolutist regimes. Israel is an oasis of civilization and progress in the midst of a sea of barbarism. Sound’s familiar? And all the while Israel is busy changing the facts in the ground so that a peaceful settlement becomes all but impossible.

Just like Israel-Palestinian issue, the current political problem in Bangladesh is complex and there is no easy solution that will satisfy all parties. But this should not mask the simple injustice lying at the heart of the issue. The controversy about the means used in the political confrontation should not mask the cause of the conflict.

The real record — inflation (continued)

For those coming in late, even though inflation has risen under the current government (Chart 1), real GDP per capita has grown by around 4½ per cent a year under successive governments over the past decade.

c1 (2)

Over the last couple of weeks, I have had a bit of correspondence about inflation. This post answers some of the questions.

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