A Time to Love and a Time to Die- 1 – A Note on Neo- Nazi Propaganda Machine of AL

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by M Chowdhuri

“Be careful of what you say” – is the common theme of all advises I have received from friends and families in my recent visit to Dhaka. Deserted streets of the capital, news of death and there was fear in the air; I could not help but feeling like the Erich Maria Remarque character Ernst Graeber in Nazi Germany. Since I don’t have any delusion about soldiers of any war, that “Graeber Syndrome” passed away soon enough. However, I could not stop wondering if what I am feeling and seeing is a Deja Vu from someone living in Berlin during the rise of Nazis.

This uneasy feeling kept growing with every passing day as I continue to witness how the government is controlling the media (social and otherwise), manipulating the nation with effective use of propaganda and amongst all these, the regime is steadily working towards what it wants with. And it is working to an extent.  The regime’s ultra nationalist armies ( “GonoJagoron Moncho” and all) playing their parts with organizing  colourful rallies, gathering, protests and actions keeps reminding me of the SA of the German Nazis, their elite intelligentsia with all its extreme dedication for the cause reminds me of the Ahnenerbe if the Nazis.

Last few weeks our national headlines reported, death of 100+ people in a time span of little over 3 weeks, various cities being “occupied” by the Oppositions ( as if we are in a middle of a war), questionable execution of a political personality  and the law enforcement agencies preparing for assaults (and then the assault) in the “occupied territory” with the help of Chatra League, Awami Leagues student wing. During the same period, the regime also “re-elected” themselves by gaining majority seats in the parliament in a “voteless” election.

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However, the regime did attempt diversions to everything above with staging events like 1) creation of the largest national flag, 2) National Anthem sing-off with 200 thousand voices etc.  Apparently the nation “came together” as “one” and celebrated the “days of days” with pride. I asked one of my friends, if he felt in any shame in celebrating a victory that failed to establish justice and peace in the land if there was a pang of indignity in celebration when the nation is clearly in dismay; with pride he told me that I did not know what I was talking about and if I were there ( in the flag making event), I too would be “mesmerized” by the “unity of the nation”.

And that gave me clarity; The rallies, the mass gathering and celebrations has the power to create a sense of belongingness. And the current regime has been using this as a propaganda weapon for at least a year now. It all makes sense, this is why when an “issue” dies out, the so called GonoJagoron Moncho need to find another “issue” to keep ball rolling.

 I once read a confession of a Nazi (Hans Grimdt) I read once, it goes like:

“It was my first time at a rally in 1935.  …..The sight of tens of thousands people standing shoulder to shoulder with each other shouting Heil Hitler took my breath away. From that moment on, I love the Nazis”

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I know a number of people (who were not used to be pro-Awami League) blown away by the calls of “Ditiyo Muktijuddho” describing their experience of the ” GonoJagoron ” festivities using similar words- the similarity of the experience is frightening .

Hitler and Goebbles operated in an all encompassing propaganda machine which included press (controlled), art, music, rallies, posters, radio, schooling and parades etc.  A careful consideration of the propaganda machine of the current regime in Bangladesh will make you wonder if a modernized and more aggressive propaganda machine is in play. The greatest display of the neo-fascist mentality of the Bangladesh’s Awami regime is the example they made out of “Amar Desh” editor Mahmudur Rahman and other media (Diganta TV, Islamic TV), which is not very different from the strategy adopted by Nazi regime in Germany.  I was particularly baffled by the ban on the Islamic TV- one of my friend ( who is a virtual spoke person of the GonoJagoron Moncho) explained to me that the Islamic TV (the fundamentalist Islamic people) promotes ideas that are “un bengal”. I ignored this as a personal view initially, but I was convinced when the Awami Intelligentsia decided to propagate the same ideas in national TV. This ultra-nationalist tactics is no different than Nazi tactics of labeling opposing ideas  as “un-German” ( in a famous move, Joseph Goebbls disrupted  the premier of the movie All Quiet on the Western Front on December  5, 1931 and later banned the movie as un-German).

And the Awami propaganda machine is somewhat successful in creating a group of people who, blinded by the Awami dogma are trying to fighting a battle which is long over. This same group of people stands by the regime supporting the massacre of Shapla Chottor in the name of progressiveness, shows absolute zero reactions to the arrests of fellow online activists in the name of peace  and forgets to utter a single word of protest when the regime “re-elects”  itself in a voteless election. This groups labels anyone against the doctrine  as “enemy of the state” ( Razakar, Paki etc. etc.)  with such conviction that renowned freedom fighters like Kader Siddiqi is not even spared. All in the name of democracy and liberation. What Awami propaganda machine does for the regime is exactly what Hitler dreamt his own propaganda machine to do:

“Propaganda tries to force a doctrine on the whole people… Propaganda works on the general public from the standpoint of an idea and makes them ripe for the victory of this idea.”

After Kader Mollas execution, I asked a friend if he was convinced of his guilt. His answer was,

“No, I am not. The excuse of justice should not stop us from eradicating the Razakars from Bangladesh ” .

Frightfully close to Hermann Göring declared on March 3rd, 1933:

“I don’t have to worry about justice; my mission is only to destroy and exterminate, nothing more!”

Polarised Conflicts In Bangladesh And The Idea Of Bengali Culture

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By M Ahmedullah (PhD in Epistemology and Politics)

 

The causes of polarised politics:

Many people are baffled by the intense levels of hatred that exists between different factions in Bangladesh and fail to understand the possible underlying reasons behind the current conflict. Complex factors are no doubt at play, including attachments to certain historical events of importance and their interpretations. There is also the inability of players and decision makers in the country to help break out of the confines of the seemingly sequential and deterministic process of cause and effect, and the effect becomes the cause for the next effect, strangling and suffocating Bangladesh. Rival groups have been engaged in tit-for-tat actions, reactions and counter reactions against each other for a very long time, driven by a revenge instinct and zero sum politics. A lack of respect for fairness and justice, a winner takes for all attitude and an inability to have empathy for rivals’ perspectives have lead to a continuous cycle of hate, violence, justification, outrage, more hate, more violence, more justification, more outrage and so on.

It seems that the current political conflicts in Bangladesh can be directly traced back sequentially to a very distant past, where some groups forcefully pushed forward changes without rational justification and used unethical means, muscle power or state resources, which some other groups opposed or could not oppose effectively at the time due to their relative weaknesses. The opposing groups then tried to undo, reverse or change the course taken by the previous group when their power increased by the use of similar or more unethical means.  Although chronologically this has not been a uniform process, in terms of the nature, size, issues and the ideological orientations of people involved in each stage of the conflict, along the long timeline, this kind of disputes has been a part of our political and social life for generations. The current political conflicts, accompanied by violence and polarisation within society, seems to me to sequentially go back to at least since the violent politics unleashed during the aftermath of the first Bengal partition in 1905. Some of the same issues and emotions of this partition are still alive and at play in the current conflict, although the players and their configurations are different. Individuals and groups involved in this tit-for-tat politics seems to be driven by some kind of logic, impulse or invisible power, beyond their control.

 

 

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The process of cause and effect instigated by political rivalry could have been positive and constructive if it was minus the use of unethical means, disregard for fairness and justice and the use of violent force. Unfortunately, this has not been the case in Bangladesh, and as a result, we have continually experienced, without an end or break, the domination of a dangerous and destructive political culture. One very important factor in generating and perpetuating the conflict, in my view, is the idea of ‘Bengali Culture’ – a powerful driving force behind motivations and destructive actions of many people in Bangladesh. The emotions, world views, anti-Muslim sentiments, desire for self sufficiency, pride in motherland, considering Islam and Muslim culture of Bengal to be outside the acceptable cultural and spiritual realms and heritage of mother Bengal, etc. of the movement against the 1905 Bengal partition directly links the Bangladesh Awami League’ s adoption of the idea of  Bengali Culture as one of the major underpinnings of their ideology of Bengali Nationalism.

The idea of Bengali Culture in Bangladesh, with associated emotions, intensity of feelings and hatred of the 1905-1911 and the Pakistan periods, which consider Islam and Muslim culture as foreign and originating from Muslim invasion of India, is a major factor in the country’s current divisive politics. This is really unfortunate and caused by a serious failure to understand how human dynamics, social evolution, world trade, power politics, artistic and dietary exchanges between peoples impact on the development and evolution of culture. The Bengali Nationalists have a serious misunderstanding of what constitutes human culture.

 

In Bangladesh when people talk about ‘Bengali Culture’ they are, in fact, not talking about ‘what is’ the actuality on the ground, rather, they are talking about ‘what ought to be’, which is actually an ideological aspiration, falsely dressed up as reality. This is because the cultural landscape of Bangladesh has so many components and diverse origins mixing and remixing for ever since time immemorial, a fact it shares with most other human societies. The dangerous consequences of this error, treating ‘ought’ of an ideology as the ‘is’ of our complex reality is that we have an unnecessary conflict in Bangladesh.  Many people are driven by this idea to engage in ethnic cleansing style cleansing activities against Islam and Muslim culture and their representatives in the country, wrongly feeling that this is completely justified.

 

Definition of culture

In 2009, I attempted to define culture for myself before embarking on an exhibition project called Powers of Festivals.  I visited a number of far distant places around the world  to see how minorities and native peoples use arts, culture and public celebratory events as a way of developing their confidence and survive in a world that is often hostile towards them, particularly bigger countries or communities who are either their neighbours or who dominate the country they share together.

The understanding that I arrived at is provided below.

 

Culture is about lifestyles and creativity of individuals and groups. It encompasses everyday living, special occasions and the beautiful and useful creations of poets, artists, musicians, writers, scientists, architects, businesses people, voluntary groups, etc. The social or isolated activities that people undertake are all forms of cultural expressions.

Interactions of people and their lifestyles do not happen in a vacuum. Individuals and groups do this or that because there are meanings associated with decisions and actions. Theories, myths, social values, religious rules, aesthetic feelings and tastes, etc. underpin all human activities. Over time actions and meanings mutually influence each other’s development and evolution.

Sometimes the process of change takes place predominantly through the interplay of a community’s own internal factors, if the group in question is relatively isolated. More dynamic and dramatic changes within a group are usually associated with greater levels of interactions with the outside world.

Whether internally caused or the result of external factors or a combination of both the changes in human activities and their underpinned meanings are primarily rooted within the original or earlier foundations of a community’s cultural base.

A better understanding of the dynamics and evolution of human cultures will enable people from diverse backgrounds to co-exist and benefit from increased interactions. (M Ahmedullah, 2009)

 

When I was in Bolivia in February 2013, visiting, taking video and still images of Oruro Festival and learning about I never heard anyone taking about Spanish culture or any other culture. They talked about their cultural diversity, made up of elements from Spanish, black African and various native ethnic groups and how they, over time, mixed and combined in different ways to create a Bolivian cultural repertoire. In Bangladesh its completely different where the proponents of Bengali Nationalists say that our culture is ‘Bengali culture’.

 

Superficial thinking

The strangulation faced by Bangladesh and the country’s inability to escape from years of vicious cycle politics, in my view, is partly caused by the idea of Bengali culture. People and leaders in Bangladesh lack the ability to understand how different factors are working in complex and mysterious ways to cause the country’s problems and then work through creative imagination to find solutions. This is because most Bangladeshis operate at a very superficial level and from a very poor knowledge base, including that of historical understanding.

 

As a result, not only is the country unable to find long term sustainable solutions of continuous improvements, various players are constantly blindly adding further complexities and barriers towards a better future. It also seems to me that very few Bangladeshis are interested in looking for the root causes of the country’s problems. Although it is never possible to fully get to the root causes of any complex problems and conflicts, attempts to understand root causes can help deepen one’s appreciation of the problem, and thereby, improve the chances of finding better quality solutions.

 

What is your identity: Bengali first or Muslims first?

I will briefly look at identity issues faced by Bangladesh and show, with examples and arguments, why the idea of Bengali culture is a major problem in Bangladesh. It is often asserted that many Muslims in Bengal, particularly between late 19th – mid 20th century, could not make up their minds regarding their cultural identity – whether they were Bengalis or Muslims. Further, it is also claimed that some Bengali Muslims even refused to identify themselves as Bengalis, or at least, tried to define themselves in terms of Moghul / Middle Eastern cultural forms. The Bengali language movement narratives have been combined with the above assertions and utilised to make many unfounded claims, which are found especially in public meetings, community interactions, magazine articles, etc. For example, Bengali Muslims who are very proud of their Muslim identity are often described as traitors who want to sell the motherland, Bengali culture and language to foreigners, such as to Pakistanis or Arabs, and instead adopt their cultures and customs.  Even though this is not true for the vast majority of the cases, this rather deeply entrenched view, within the minds of a sizable many, generates unnecessary misunderstanding and conflicts.

 

I have been asked many times by a wide range of people whether I was a Muslim first or a Bengali first. Naturally, I found the question strange, because I never thought of these two elements being separate and mutually contradictory as far as my life was concerned. At the beginning I used to answer without thinking properly, but still tried to be logical. The usual answer I gave was: I am a Bengali by birth and a Muslim by choice, currently living in London, and that my culture was a mixture of these three elements of my experience. I have heard other people responding to this question in different ways. Some people say that they are Bengalis first, and others say that they are Muslims first. There are some others who say that they are British Muslims, or British Bengalis, or British Bengali Muslims. There are still others who say that they are Muslims in Britain, or Bengalis in Britain, or Bengali Muslims in Britain.

 

Later, during my personal evolution and life’s journey, when I started to think more deeply about the question I came to the conclusion that this was not a simple question to answer. I also wanted to understand why people are interested in this question in the first place. I began to realise that essentially there can only be two possible meanings to the question. Depending on the perspectives and ideological orientations of individuals people adopt the meaning most appropriate for their circumstances. On the one hand, the question may be concerned about whether it was regarding ‘first’ in a chronological sense, in terms of the time dimension, either the history of one’s community or the development of one’s own consciousness. On the other hand, the question may be interested in finding out the ‘first’ in the order of importance – that is, which one is more important to a Bengali Muslim, being a Muslims or a Bengali. I thought about these two possible meanings and found that they are often related and can also be complementary, rather than necessarily separate and mutually contradictory.

In many cases when one decides on one’s own ‘firstness’ from the two possible options one relies on the other for support. For example, when some people assert that they are Bengalis ‘first’, in the order of importance, they try to show that they are also Bengalis ‘first’, chronologically. For example, according to Abdul Huq, a Bengali writer and activist during the Pakistan period, religion seems to be ‘second’ both in the order of importance and in chronological terms.

 

After the birth, a child is known only as a tiny man. Then he is known as a Bengali, a Punjabi, an Arab or an English and that according to his mother tongue and or his home land. At last he is known as a Muslim or a Christian according to his religious beliefs.

(Islam in Bangladesh, page143)

 

I wonder how Abdul Huq came to such a bizarre conclusion. Did he undertake any long periods of study involving a large number of people or did he just feel that this was the case? Second, as far as my own consciousness was concerned, I tried to identify when I thought I was a Bengali and when I thought I was a Muslim. I found it infinitely difficult to answer this except to say that my earliest recollections were a dream consisting of an aeroplane flying over our mud house in Bangladesh and a discussion I had with some boys about the day of judgement (what it was, what it meant and when it would come). Other people with different upbringings will have different recollections.

 

It is really a ridiculous claim to make that you are known as a tiny man first, then a Bengali and so on. The term ‘known’ implies a prior categorising and defining process involving history and society.  Therefore, even if Abdul Huq was right in some cases he was wrong to generalise with regard to how the natural development of the life of a child takes place over time as he or she grows up and becomes an adult. This means that there are pre-existing structures and contexts that a child is born into, linked to and partly defined by politics, society, culture and history. In addition, a tiny man, a Bengali, a Muslim seem to be mutually contradictory qualities, according to Abdul Huq. It seems that one quality cannot exist with the other quality in the same person at the same time. Therefore, a tiny man cannot be a Bengali and vice versa. However, when he says that at last he is known as a Muslim or a Christian, does it mean that when the child grows to become an adult and becomes known as a Muslim all the other earlier identities, such as Bengali or Pakistani, are no longer part of the identity or superseded by or contained as a sub identity under the Muslim identity, or just vanishes in thin air.

Based on the above view expressed Abdul Huq tried to demonstrate how chronologically a Bengali Muslim was a ‘Bengali first’ in order to show why in the order of importance a Bengali Muslims was also a ‘Bengali first’.  According to Ghulam Murshid, a Bengali academician, Abdul Huq

 can be identified as a Bengali first, then a Pakistani, and at last as a Muslim. It seems that he had no confusion whatever regarding his identity (Islam in Bangladesh, page 143).

Although Mr Huq may have thought that he was not confused, but from the above, I have no doubt that his thinking was quite muddle up. Also just because this is how he thought and felt about himself it does not mean that this was also true of other Bengali Muslims. There has been similar and too many generalisations from various sides during the history of our land.

 

Relative backwardness and identity issues faced by Bengali Muslims in late 19th and early 20th century Bengal

Regarding the question why some people who lived in Bengal during the late 19th and early 20th century, who can be classified as ethnically Bengalis, refused to identify themselves as Bengalis, according to Ghulam Murshid, Abdul Huq thought the communal attitudes of some Bengali Muslims were the determining factor in this regard. Many people who share a similar standpoint as Abdul Huq also blame Muslim communalism for encouraging Muslims to distance themselves from the Bengali linguistic and cultural identity. Although this is no doubt partly true, what they fail to consider is the period earlier and the cause that created this effect. This is an example of the superficial thinking of too many Bangladeshis. They do not seem to know and understand who first defined and categorised Bengali Muslims as Muslims and contrasted them with Hindu Bengalis, who were categorised as Bengalis. Bengali Muslims at that time were not able to respond effectively by assessing and redefining their identity generated by outsiders, due to their relative backwardness.

 

Although at the moment, the language controversy and the question whether we are Bengalis first, or Muslims first have been solved to an extent, because a large section of the people in Bangladesh or Bangladeshis abroad, if asked, will say that their Islamic and Bengali identities are one and the same and that their language is Bengali, it is still the case that a section of the people in Bangladesh derive enormous propaganda values from the controversies which took place many years ago. The Pakistan period was a golden opportunity for them to take full advantage of the relative weaknesses of arguments brought to the fore in favour of the identity of ‘Muslims first’. This is because ideas and world views developed during 19th century Bengal excluded Bengali Muslims, because of their relative poverty and the British divide and rule policies. This inability was perhaps inevitable given the context of the period.  I will not explore this issue further in this paper but will write in greater details about this the future.

 

The Bengali Muslims found themselves in a position of relative intellectual weakness and poor material base. Their social and economic position meant that they were not in a position to respond in appropriate, creative and sophisticated ways to the exclusion they suffered from and the outsiders’ attempt to categorise and define them during the late 19th and early 20th century. They responded in various ways, mostly in my views, many of which were inadequate and some were quite  silly and inconsistent. This gave fuel to those who wanted to further ridicule Bengali Muslims and their culture and way of life.

 

The Idea of Bengali Culture

The controversy with regard to Urdu as a state language policy of Pakistan triggered a backlash in East Bengal, the name of the eastern wing of Pakistan at that time. The revolt and opposition to the policy created the language movement, which most Bengali Muslims supported. The overwhelming support base of the language movement was later hijacked by a group in Bangladesh espousing Bengali nationalism. The process of language movement in Bangladesh during the 1950s and 1960s resulted in the creation of the idea of Bengali Culture in the Bangladesh context.  According to this idea, some aspects of our life and culture are seen as legitimately ours, while anything originating with Islam framed as something alien coming from the outside as a result of the Muslim invasion of India. Thus excluding 800 years of the deep Islamic cultural roots that not only Bengali Muslims but also others in Bengal developed as a result of centuries of multi dimensional links and relationships with the worldwide Muslim communities.

 

The exclusion of Islam from Bengali identity and Bengali culture is one of the main causes of our current problems. On the one hand, Bengali nationalists see Muslim culture in Bangladesh as alien, the result of Muslim invasion of India, even though it has been our adopted way of life for more than 800 years. On the other hand, how can Bengali Muslims see Bengali culture as theirs when the idea of Bengali culture represent an attempt to annihilate who they are as cultural and moral human beings with aims, values, customs, life’s goals and dreams linked to Islam. Considering Bengali Muslim culture as alien, originating from the Muslim invasion of India and therefore illegitimate, is an assumption of Bengali nationalism and underpins many of the other their beliefs or practical undertakings. This assumption drives many Bengali Nationalists, who have not thought through the implications of their views, to consider Bengali Muslims as people who do not want to be Bengalis but prefer to be like the Pakistanis or Arabs. The Bengali nationalists very often and quite offensively suggest that they leave Bangladesh for good and go to Pakistan or the Middle East.

 

Another end result is that a political party like the Bangladesh Awami League often ends up becoming unintentionally fascist.  Among the Awami Leagures some are either unaware of the fascistic implications of one of the main underpinnings of their ideology, which is Bengali nationalism, or in self denial. According to Bengali nationalism the culture of West Bengal and Bangladesh is Bengali culture, practiced by the Bengali ethnic group, derived from local history and traditions going back to thousands of years – rich traditions of arts, music, dance, folk stories, etc., including the contributions of poets like Tagore in the development of Bengali culture.  This kind of definition and representations of Bengali culture generate a deep feeling in many Bengalis of a love for their motherland and a desire to carryon, enjoy and build on that cultural tradition. This is something quite positive. However, this definition also has dark and negative implications. The problem with this idea of Bengali culture is that it does not include the experiences and traditions of 800 years of Islam in Bengal, which is treated as alien, directly and openly by more fanatical individuals, and in indirectly, by the more tolerant and liberal supporters of Bengali nationalism.

 

All shades of Bengali nationalism, with the exception of a tiny minority as there must always be exceptions, see Islam and Muslim influence in Bangladesh as alien, originating from Muslim invasion of India and Bengal. This creates a variety of nationalistic feelings and responses against Muslim culture and practices in Bengal. Initially this attitude was developed, adopted and articulate by some Bengali Hindus, particularly based in Kolkata, but subsequently and especially after the creation of Pakistan many Bengalis from a Muslim background also adopted this nationalism for themselves. The end result is the creation of a culture clash where a large number of people feel a significant element of their life does not belong to them as Islam is not a part of Bengali culture.  Very strong nationalist feelings are often generated against Bengali Muslim way of life and culture. Off course the idea of Bengali culture is nonsense but it is this nonsense, which is the root causes of Bengali nationalist fascism in Bangladesh.

 

According to my definition of culture above Islam and Muslim norms, manners, values, traditions, belief systems are a very much part of the Bengali culture. If this was not the case then the logical deduction would be as follows: the majority of the people in Bangladesh do not practice Bengali culture. Therefore, in order to better understand the nature of the cultures of Bangladesh it is necessary to undertake new researches, generate fresh explanations and develop new terminologies to map and explain the cultural realm of Bangladesh..

 

Conclusion

In this short paper my purpose was to introduce a number of issues concerning what I call the sequentially deterministic cause and effect politics of Bangladesh and suggest that one of the major factors causing the problem was the false idea of ‘Bengali Culture’. Bengali culture as an aspiration or a major element of the lifestyles of a very tiny percentage of the people of Bangladesh is not false. However, with regard to the life of the 160 million people in Bangladesh there is no basis for thinking that the actual culture practiced in Bangladesh is Bengali culture as defined by the Bengali Nationalists, which excludes the vast influences of Islam and worldwide Muslim communities in our culture – way of life, values, aspirations, celebrations, dresses, social interactions, our names, greetings, prayers, get buried after death, etc.

 

There is a very poor understanding of the nature and evolution of human culture in Bangladesh and it is this misunderstanding that is responsible for many of our seemingly unsolvable problems. There is an urgent need to have a serious, civilised, ongoing and wide ranging debate and discussion about culture within Bangladesh and Bangladeshi Diaspora. A better understanding and appreciation of human culture, cultural evolution / development, cultural diversity will help us collectively to redefine the cultures of Bangladesh. This will help us better understand who we are actually, rather than be driven by an aspiration to destroy a large element of who we are, which is an impossibility to achieve.

On fascism

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I wrote in October that if trends in recent opinion polls continue, BNP could get 47% votes against AL’s 39% in the coming election.  Based on the past elections, the two parties vote shares may imply BNP getting around 220 seats, against AL’s likely tally of 60.

fascism

There is another way to translate vote shares to seat numbers.  The polls suggest there is a 10 point swing against AL (from 49% to 39%).  Even if BNP had not gained any popularity, such a swing, if applied uniformly across the country, would have cost AL nearly 80 seats where the 2008 winning margin was less than 10%.  Add to that the 14 point swing to BNP (from 33% to 47%), and potentially AL could be reduced to less than 30 seats.

Of course, we have already seen 154 people, from AL and allies, elected unopposed.

I wonder if it would be a stretch to compare this election with the one held in the occupied Bangladesh in 1971.  In 1971, when the Al-Badr and Al-Shams were carrying out their atrocities, their Pakistani masters also held elections in the seats vacated by the ‘outlawed’ Awami League. That by-election saw 55 people elected unopposed to East Pakistan provincial assembly and Pakistan national assembly.

People who flock to Shahbag probably don’t have time to read up on history.  They are busy with online discussions about those dastardly Pakistanis who were questioning our quest for justice in their parliament.

Is it ironic that the Pakistani parliament is actually a genuinely elected one?

‘It’s a fascist regime’ is a common refrain in Bangladesh. Every opposition party in our history has accused the government of being fascist. And every opposition in the past has been wrong. Until now.

Fascism doesn’t mean any odd dictatorship or undemocratic regime. Mere intolerance of the opposition is not enough to be fascist. To be a fascist regime, a government needs a large enough popular base, a cult of personality, and a dogma/ideology which is going to invoked by academics and intelligentsia to support the regime.

The 1/11 or Ershad regimes were not fascist — they had none of these ingredients.

Bakshal had the cult of personality, ideology and intellectual cheerleaders. Had Sheikh Mujib instituted Bakshal in 1972, he would also have had massive popular support. But by 1975, it was too late.

BNP in 2001 had the popular support to become fascist, but for all its manifold mistakes, it wasn’t fascist because there was no ideology or intellectual support.

The AL is still popular enough, has a sufficiently coherent ideology and a cult of personality, and a very strong intellectual support base.

When Ershad or BNP stepped over the line in terms of censorship or rigged election or sheer decency (think about Mrs Zia’s birthday celebration), there were massive outcries. Nothing like that has happened under the current government because those who are supposed to protest are all on the same side as the government.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing —said Edmund Burke.  As I write this, for far too many otherwise sensible intelligent people, what Imran Khan says in an elected parliament in Pakistan causes more anger than the lack of an elected parliament in Bangladesh.

And that’s why, dear reader, for the first time in our history, fascism appears to be imminent in Bangladesh.

Cutting Through the Paper Tiger of Rising ‘Islamic’ Militancy in Bangladesh

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By Surma of the Khichuri for nuraldeen.com

On her recent visit to Bangladesh the Indian foreign secretary Sujatha Singh argued that Bangladesh has an Islamic militancy problem, and that was the main reason for the Indian government’s unstinting support to the increasingly autocratic Awami League government. Right on cue, the pro-government Daily Star issued an op-ed by its executive editor, Syed Badrul Ahsan, which framed the current crisis using the imagery of the 1971 as war against Islamic militancy. On the other side of the subtlety spectrum we have David Lewis at the LSE, continuing the Manichaean narrative of secular versus religious struggle in Bangladesh. Ignoring the above misrepresentation of facts and bearing in mind that the current opposition movement being led by the Bangladeshi nationalist BNP is calling for a neutral caretaker government, the multi-billion dollar question is, does Bangladesh have an Islamic militancy problem?

Historical (Dis)continuity

The above question is linked to the powerful and persistent question of whether Bangladesh is a secular country or religious one, answers to both are interlinked with the approach one takes to Bangladesh and South Asia in general.

One approach could be  termed as a DWEM approach to history, that is history through the eyes of Dead White European Males (DWEM), which is subsequently seconded by local Macaulay Minutemen and minutewomen. That is the history of chronologies and maps, empires and nations, wars and revolutions. According to the DWEM approach Bangladesh is a secular society, and has been since the abolition of the titular Mughal Empire following the 1857 Uprising against British subjugation. The 1971 Bangladesh War and subsequently imposed and alienating constitution is an affirmation of that secular reality.

Another reading of history is to see it as a living entity, embodied, decolonial and subaltern. This reading can be summarised by the Persian saying that, “The greatness of a city lies not in its monuments or buildings, nor in its market or gardens but in the men buried inside its walls”. The demonstrative reality of this history is seen in the cities and towns throughout South Asia, amongst the daily throngs that visit the shrines of these great men.

It is a sacred reading of history that starts with Data Ganj Bakhsh Hujwiri in Lahore, through Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer, then from Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi to Shahjalal in Sylhet. After all, it was Nizamuddin who gave Shahjalal the famous flock of doves whose descendants we see at the shrine (dargah) today. To understand the subaltern Muslim civilisation in South Asia we can focus on Moinuddin Chishti (1141-1236), who settled in the city of Ajmer, when the Delhi kings conquered their. His dwelling soon became a fountainhead of Muslim civilisation in the Indian subcontinent.

Rembrandt’s picture of the founders of the four Sufi schools in Indian subcontinent c.1656 [Source: British Museum, Schimmel]

Rembrandt’s picture of the founders of the four Sufi schools in Indian
subcontinent c.1656 [Source: British Museum, Schimmel]

As the Chishtis journeyed through the land spreading the dual message of spiritual equality and social justice, their straightforward preaching and practice of the love of God and one’s neighbours impressed many, particularly those from the lower castes and even members of the scheduled castes.The fact that these khanqahs (mystic lodges) avoided any discrimination between their guests and practiced a classless society attracted many people into their fold. One taster of the teachings of Moinuddin Chishti and company is that a human being should possess “a generosity like that of the ocean, a mildness like that of the sun and a modesty like that of earth.”

This sacred tradition and history has survived and continues to this day and is an integral part of the ordinary citizens of Bangladesh, if you look. In the cities, mufassil towns and villages, anecdotes from Hujwiri’s Kashf al Mahjub (Revelation of Mystery), still resonate in Friday sermons today. Aspects of the curriculum that Nizamuddin Aulia designed and taught can be found in the country’s madrassas. The classless generosity of Moinuddin Chisti is emulated in the weekly communal feasts of the Tablighi Jamaat. This group claim links to the Chishtis through their founder Maulana Ilyas, and their annual Bishwa Ijtema, in Tongi, Dhaka is renowned as  a global mega event and the largest gathering of Muslims outside the Hajj.

Politics and Religion: an explanation of the paradox that is Maulana Bhashani

The interconnections between religious and political spheres in South Asia have been uneasy and tumultuous at times to say the least.  This tradition of connection goes all the way back to the Emperor Ashoka and his incorporation of Buddhist principles into state policy. More recently we can see this relation exemplified by the changing fortunes of the Naqshbandi Tariqa (brotherhood) who arrived in South Asia with the Mughal conquest.

The Naqshbandi’s had a continuous influence on regional politics, from Ahmed Sirhindi on the Mughal Emperors, through to Shah Waliullah on the Afghan King, Ahmad Shah Abdali. Their footprints can be discerned in the modern day politics of the subcontinent; from the Composite Nationalism concept of Congress-aligned Hussain Ahmed Madani (teacher of Hefazat leader Allama Shafi), to Muslim League aligned figures such as Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani, the first grand mufti of Pakistan.

There is an argument that one hears that modern Bangladesh is an exception to the rule, that there is no place for religion in politics. However, if one goes beyond the rhetoric and delves into the historical experience, one finds the paradoxical figure of Maulana Bhashani, and a continuation of the Naqshbandi tradition.

A disciple of the Baghdadi Pir Sahib of Lakhimpur in Assam, Bhashani was advised to journey to Deoband in Uttar Pradesh to study under the Naqshbandi anti-imperialist, Maulana Mahmudul Hassan. Upon returning from his trip, he joined and led the struggle against the exploitation that tenant farmers face from of the xenophonic Line System. This spurred the Moulana on his long political journey to emancipate his people; to economic liberation from the feudal system, to political liberation from the British Raj in 1947, political freedoms from the Sandhurst educated Rawalpindi generals of United Pakistan, and hunger from the ravages of the 1974 Bangladesh famine. Spanning three nationhoods, his last great public act was against India’s hydro hegemonic erection, The Long March of the Farakka Dam in 1976, which is arguably the last time a Bangladeshi politician was taken seriously in the Lok Sabha.

Like a Prophet Moses, he died before he could take his people to the promised land of true independence. Jami, a Naqshbandi Persian wrote a couplet that speaks to this journey.

The Naqshbandiyya are strange caravan leaders

Who bring the caravan through hidden paths into the sacred sanctuary

6th of May 2013 – A War Against Whom?

In London in recent weeks, Kamal Ahmed, former BBC Bengali Service Editor and regular Prothom Alo contributor, made an interesting statement at a presentation with Frances Harrison at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), ‘Political Islam and the issues at stake in the Bangladeshi elections’. He said that a ‘choice will need to be made soon, whether democracy is good or Islamist forces should be tackled’. Such a proposition presupposes that the state is being threatened by a rising tide of Islamism. But, is society being radicalised, or are state institutions and elites are becoming more radically alienated from the citizenry?

In Dhaka, in the early hours of Monday 6th of May, a journalist reported the commanding officer of about two thousand, armed police and paramilitary troops pumping up his subordinates with the words ‘Are you all prepared to go to war?’ The massacre that followed, against unarmed and mainly sleeping protesters tired from a long day’s demonstration, was covered up, and remains shrouded in both public denial and fear. Two outspoken TV stations and a popular newspaper were shut down by the government at the time and it is alleged that between scores and hundreds of unarmed protesters were killed. Subsequent investigations have been hampered by the arrests of human rights investigators, not to mention fundamental elite disinterest. Reading the pages of the corporate media, as well as the selective pronouncements from civil society and their ‘development partners’, we could be forgiven if we were to conclude that such a brutal crackdown was universally sanctioned and supported.

The immediate municipal electoral defeats of the Awami League in municipal elections and their general unpopularity express a wide-scale revulsion amongst the population with regards to the massacre. Preliminary investigations have shown that the protests attracted the presence and support of more than the community madrassa sector. People from very different walks of society were killed, injured and terrorised, from labour activists and journalists to a student at an elite engineering university. In one unverified report, a leading Awami League party member from the greater Noakhali region lost three of his nephews. It is as if the institutions that were supposed to protect the citizenry suddenly turned upon them.

Overnight, the native became the alien in the eyes of state institutions. Investigations have revealed that contrary to the official narrative of a clean crowd control operation, protestors were misdirected by security forces to cordoned off ambush zones, and were subsequently set upon. This is a familiar terror tactic commonly used by security forces in Indian Occupied Kashmir and reported by survivors of the 2002 Gujarat Massacre.

The above inversion, of government turning on its citizens was replicated by wider civil society leaders, who instead of championing the violated rights of their citizenry, either remained in complicit silence or cheered on the security forces. In a scene pulled out of Macbeth, we had the human rights Lady, Sultana Kamal, head of the donor financed human rights organisation Ain o Salish Kendra, egging on the security forces to ‘eradicate’ the Islamists. This outburst was followed a few days by protest leader Junaid Babnugari being shifted from police custody to a critical care unit and having a leg amputated due to mistreatment at the hands of the security forces. With civil society in Bangladesh emerging as a simple extension of state terror, questions need to be asked about how such an arrangement has come about and what sustains it.

The Parable of the Boy and the Tiger: From Ahsan to Lewis

Yann Martel’s ‘Life of Pi’ was inspired by the Moacyr Scliar’s earlier novel, ‘Max and the Cats’, a story that worked with the allegory of the rise of European fascism. After several conflicts between the Big Cat and the Boy, a fight to the death and rescue, it appears that the Big Cat was a projection of the Boy’s imagination, an inner demon.

The Boy and the Tiger: Life of Pi

The Boy and the Tiger: Life of Pi

This also appears to be the case for a lot of the parochial war on terror industry spokespeople such as Syed Badrul Ahsan, and their international harmonisers in the guise of David Lewis, the myth of an Islamic Militancy plays the similar role of the Tiger.  This phantom of a rising militancy, gives them a get out jail card for analysing the dysfunctionality of politics in Bangladesh and their own personal intellectual failings. This paper Tiger is also reflected in the Indian government’s diplomatic stance, as the New Age newspaper recently pointed out, they know that in reality there is no real threat of an Islamic Militancy, but the myth serves as fig leaf for its own diplomatic incompetence of hoisting it colours so publicly to the increasingly unpopular Awami League.

Yes there is violence against minorities, yes there are hindrances to speech and discourse. But it is the followers of secular political parties that have attacked minorities, not seminary students or followers of a sufi pir. It is the secular courts and security forces that lock up and tortured newspaper editors and online activists, not some obscure religious court.

The evident and underlying tensions in Bangladeshi society are not due to a rising Islamic militancy, but due to the alienation of the ruling elite from the population and a breakdown in state institutions. This breakdown is exemplified by the controversy over the International  Crimes Tribunal and the recent ‘judicial murder’ of Abdul Quader Mollah. The myth of an Islamic militancy is being used as band aid to cover these ever widening cracks in society, between self-appointed leaders and the people. As an old saying goes, “beware who you point the finger at, for when you point the figure at someone or something, there are three fingers pointing back at you.”

Religion is not an anathema but a defining factor in the modern story of Bangladesh. This journey began with the Composite Nationalism of Hussain Ahmed Madani, and was sustained by the selfless activism of Maulana Bhashani as well as the conciliatory Bangladeshi Nationalism of Zia ur Rahman. The recognition of Islam in the constitution by the BNP and its allies is a view shared by the majority of grassroot activist in the AL, and so the journey still continues.

To conclude, Shahbag and its antecedent of high and exclusive West Bengal orientated nationalism is not the logical outcome nor endpoint of the Bangladesh story, but it is a reaction against its natural course.

Or as the sufis say,

The dogs start barking, when the caravan starts moving….

General Ershad: The Brutal Dictator or The Saviour of Democracy?

Noor Hossain:

It is ironic that I’m writing this piece on our Victory Day that marked the end of our quest for freedom in 1971 . This is the day we’ve achieved territorial freedom.  The history says, we have achieved our political freedom in 1990 when the autocratic regime of Ershad had fallen against years of mass movement.   After the fall of Ershad, we have achieved  freedom for democracy– the freedom of politics in Bangladesh.

Perhaps my narrative would hurt the memories of Noor Hossain or Dr. Milon, two iconic martyrs who were fallen in our struggle to democracy and freedom during the autocratic regime of Ershad.

However, the responsibility of insult, if any to the fallen martyrs, requires to be taken by Awami League, who in the name of democracy and freedom, confiscated freedom and democracy in Bangladesh, step by step, day by day, by force and by bullets –all in the name of freedom and democracy.

Ershad was brutal too. He ruled Bangladesh for about nine years. He curtailed freedom of media, picked up people, played with parliament and so forth. However, no body had seen Ershad or law enforcers were firing indiscriminately to the citizens of Bangladesh, months after months, with little care.

Indeed, Ershad did not declare war against the people of Bangladesh to save his regime. Not to the extent we’re seeing it today. This year, hundreds have been dead in political violence and more are to be dead as Awami League decided to crack down on the opponents with the help of law-enforcing agencies. They’re to launch the attack from December 17, according to reports by newspapers.

Yes you read it right, Awami League decided to crack down opponents. I suggest you to read that  Awami League would shoot down opponents with the help of law-enforcers in this case.

Imagine the picture, a group of civilians are going to kill civilians from opposition with support from state institutions of law enforcing agencies by subverting judicial procedures. It seems, we are in the dress rehearsal session for Afghanistan or Iraq in Bangladesh, where mercenaries are to join hands with militaries to counter oppositions. After all Chatroleagues are mercenaries, they are paid to avail socio-political privileges, in exchange of their dirty work to protect a monarchy or that type!

This means the judicial institution of the state is compromised. It has been done long ago but it is official now. Interestingly, extra-judicial killings of opponents by Awami League who are using state institutions to support its dirty agenda, is not without support from our public intellectuals as Facebook celebrity Zia Hassan or Prothom-Alo editorial member Sohrab Hosain, who publicly urged in separate forms, to support, ‘State Institution’ that  in reality  is compromised by a political party or ‘  Rab and Police to encounter opposition’ against the backdrop of mayhem and chaos, deliberately created by the ruling party to deviate public attention from election issue.

In this state when intellectuals are at their lowest ebb of morality and ethics and the government had pushed the country on the verge of a civil war with its agenda to go ahead with an  one sided election, surprisingly a man stood up in favour of political freedom and democracy–it was Generel Ershad.

As a repercussion of his decision,  Ershad was arrested for not supporting a sham election. He even divorced his wife in accusation of betraying for striking a dirty deal with the current government to support an one-sided election, at least publicly. Skeptics argue that Ershad is staging a soap opera to divert attention.

After 23 years of the fall of his tyrannical regime, it remains to be seen though how Ershad is to be evaluated in course of history.  Will we see him as a former autocrat who stood up against a present autocrat to save democracy in 2013?

Nevertheless, we need to agree that  Ershad is the rock n roll star of Bangladesh politics. Cause no body in the history of Bangladesh politics could rock and roll with the beat of political doldrums and sustain the way Ershad did.

Mujib, December 1970

December is the month of victory.  Tomorrow, we will mark — I choose not to use the word celebrate quite intentionally — Victory Day, which marks the military defeat of the Pakistani occupation forces in 1971.  But December is also the month of election — in December 1970, people of this land used their right to vote, for the first time in history.  Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s overwhelming victory in that election marks the political defeat of the idea of Pakistan.  Ironic then that this December, the very right to vote is under threat in Bangladesh.

I’ll leave it to better informed people to discuss today’s crisis.  Allow me the indulgence of some historical curiosity today.  Over the fold is the speech by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman that was broadcast on PTV and Radio Pakistan before the December 1970 elections.  This speech is notable for a number of reasons.  It was delivered in English, and Mujib was addressing the West Pakistani ruling junta and the local and foreign establishment.  It was Mujib’s chance to tell the powers-that-be what a Mujibist government in Dhaka would mean.  This was the closest thing the outside world had to judge Mujib.

Continue Reading

Who represents the ‘people’?

by Zahedul Amin 

As the country gets increasingly mired in political crisis resulting in arson, destruction and death to innocent civilians, the general people seem to be running out of patience. Both PM and opposition leader have been claiming to represent the general mass, while at the same time, conveniently ignoring their views.  As made amply clear in recent opinion polls, a vast majority of people support a poll time caretaker government over a more partisan one. While people squarely reject hartals and it’s crippling impact on the economy. Responsibility for civilian deaths during recent strikes falls squarely on the opposition and their failure to apologize will prove costly in coming poll.

The current crisis emanated from the Supreme Court verdict which declared the caretaker government system as unconstitutional, allowing the government to amend constitution. Despite leeway in terms of undertaking two more polls under caretaker government, and initial opposition from senior leaders of the ruling party, the government went ahead with the amendment. The biggest irony is that AL, while in opposition in mid 90s had to force the BNP government to enact the caretaker government bill enforcing 183 days hartal.

Although almost all polls under the current AL government have been deemed fair, the upcoming national election has greater weight with far reaching ramifications inducing the AL government to possibly rig it. The crux of the matter boils down to the lack of trust between the two major parties which is unlikely to alter overnight. The recent phone conversation between the PM and opposition leader is the case in point for the non-existence of a proper working relationship.

The situation is expected to escalate beyond control if the status quo remains. A poll without the main opposition is unlikely to be credible, both nationally and internationally, and may suffer the fate of the Feb 15, 1996 poll government. The opposition is also likely to continue agitation post Jan 5 poll which will further devastate the economy.

The opposition, on its part, should make utmost effort to accommodate a compromise for ensuring participation. Recent opinion polls have given them an edge in terms of electoral support which may translate into a big majority. So far, Opposition have clearly failed to pay its cards well and had to resort to arson instead of engaging the general people in the anti-government movement.

 Government has a larger responsibility in the dialogue process and their highhanded behavior is totally uncalled for. Despite knowing about impending political turmoil from 2011 onwards, they haven’t taken any concrete steps to resolve the CTG issues keeping it for the last moment. The Bangladeshi constitution provides supreme authority to the PM subordinating the influence of other cabinet members. Hence the balance of power is unlikely to be evened out even if major opposition leaders were to accept crucial ministries in the ‘all-party’ government keeping PM at the helm.

The future dialogue (if any) will primarily hinge on the person heading the interim poll-time government. It will be naïve on the part of government to expect opposition to accept the AL chief as the head the interim government, while the opposition must not expect the government to go beyond the purview of the constitution.

Civil society leaders and constitution experts have suggested several solutions falling within the tenets of current constitution. Both parties have so far ignored these voices and are going ahead with their plans.

As the Game of Throne for the country’s Prime Minister-ship draws near, we find both leaders at loggerhead again. One is championing the constitution while the other wants the return of Caretaker/neutral government. Don’t be surprised if their roles change in five years time again claiming to represent peoples’ views.

Zahedul Amin is the director of Finance at LightCastle Partners, an emerging market specialized business planning and intelligence firm. (for details visit www.lightcastlebd.com)

 

 

Why Has Mollah Become An Innocent Martyr?

2

molla

The clear perversion of the judiciary in this case means that Mollah’s execution will be seen as an innocent man who has been judicially murdered

By M Ahmedullah, PhD in Politics and Epistemology:

Those who support the Bangladesh War Crimes Trial and are cheering at the hanging of Mollah, wrongly believing that similar to what the Nazi did in Europe during the 2nd World War was done by the Pakistani army with the help of Jamaat, will never be able to, with full joy and moral confidence, proclaim that justice has been done. The killers of Mollah and their supporters can only enjoy brief moments of bloodthirsty euphoria as it cannot last for long. This is because Mollah was not given a fair and transparent trial and the whole world knows. It was a cooked up process designed to kill Mollah and others using the justification of the judiciary and state power / resources.

The supporters of Mollah and those who are opposed to the Bangladesh ICT as it has been operating, due to immorality, involvement of party politics and judicial perversion, will always have the high moral grounds and justifiably feel that a big injustice has been done. These include people who fought for Bangladesh bravely in 1971. Previously, only one side in Bangladesh had the monopoly of narrative generation and dissemination and they used arts to educate and mis-educate people about the war, rather than science and evidence. This time and in the future they will never have that monopoly again, neither will they possess the high moral grounds, which they had for about four decades, with some justification but mostly due to the dominance of their narratives.

The AL, their supporters and Shahbagists will forever be haunted by the injustice and perverse use of the judiciary carried out to achieve political goals. They will never be able to justify what they have done, morally, rationally, legally and with evidence in support of their political use of the judiciary. They will be reminded of how unjustifiable were what they did and supported. They will be challenged, disturbed and hounded wherever they try to raise their heads in support of this judicial murder and the war crimes trial.

The clear perversion of the judiciary in this case means that Mollah’s execution will be seen as an innocent man who has been judicially murdered. Even if Mollah was guilty of some or all of the crimes that he was accused of being responsible for, as a fair trial and transparent and credible court have not made a judgment based on hearing and examining the evidence, the supporters of the execution of Mollah will never be able to confidently claim and successfully proclaim that he was a war criminal. There will never be another chance to prove that Mollah was guilty of war crimes. Therefore, Mollah through this hanging has become an innocent martyr, judicially murdered for political reasons.

NINETEEN SEVENTY-FIVE (1975): A Defining Year for Bangladesh

mujib_zia

What is clear is that just as in Pakistan when Bengali Muslims were not willing to allow the destruction of their Bengali identity, in Bangladesh they were not willing to allow their Muslim identity to be undermined.  They are both Bengalis and Muslims at the same time.

By M Ahmedullah, PhD in Epistemology and Politics

BAKSAL

Nineteen seventy-five (1975) was both a momentous and traumatic year for Bangladesh.  On the one hand, the dream that inspired the Bengalis of East Pakistan to fight against the dominance of West Pakistan and the non-democratic rule of the military lay shattered with the ‘second revolution’ and the creation of BAKSAL.  It was a political system designed for one-party rule – the newly created party BAKSAL was to rule Bangladesh under the supreme leadership of Sheikh Mujib, and no other party was to be allowed to function.  All, but four, newspapers were banned.  The expectation of economic benefits arising from the ending of Pakistani rule did not materialize – in fact, in many respects, matters only became worse.  Off course, Bangladesh faced a gigantic task of rehabilitating millions of displaced people and rebuilding the shattered economy in the aftermath of the devastating war of liberation.  However, given the post-war assistance Bangladesh received from sympathetic nations around the world, corruption and incompetence of the Mujib government quickly began to be seen to be the main factors behind the lack of progress.  Added to that, the summer flood of 1974, a factor that caused the subsequent famine and the loss of a large number of innocent lives, were fresh in the minds of the people.  Again, Mujib and his government were blamed.  The sacrifices that the unarmed people made in 1971 to liberate Bangladesh in the name of ‘Jatir Pita Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’ were beginning to be seen to have been in vain.  The people of Bangladesh trusted Mujib and thought that his democratic vision for Bangladesh was based on a clear and deep understanding of political theory and the process of democratic politics.  The BAKSAL was seen as another experiment of a confused leader that had very little knowledge or understanding of politics and economy.

The assassination of Sheikh Mujib and the Rise of General Zia

On the other hand, Bangladesh became faced with a very dangerous political crisis with the assassination of the ‘Father of the Nation’ in August 1975, which unfolded for several months before the situation began to stabilize after the 7th November soldiers uprising and the installation of General Ziaur Rahman as the ruler of Bangladesh under a military dictatorship.  The irony is that many individuals, both military personnel and politicians, who fought the war of liberation under the leadership of Mujib, including many of his close associates, joined those who killed ‘Bangabandhu’.  This included Zia, who was known for both his service during the liberation struggle and his declaration of independence from Chittagong radio on 26 March 1971 when the Pakistani military assault began.  Although Zia was not directly linked to the killing of Sheikh Mujib, his position as the military ruler and many of the changes he instituted are definitely antithetical to the ideology of both Awami League and BAKSAL. Further, as the situation in Bangladesh continued to stabilize, the reputation and acceptance of Zia increased progressively.  The question that comes to mind is, how can it be explained that individuals like Zia, who fought bravely during the liberation war under the leadership of Mujib, de facto supported his removal from power and subsequently initiated steps to dismantle the ideology of Mujibbad?  Many factors no doubt contributed to this, and people do go through conversions.  However, not only did Zia challenge the ideological dominance of the Awami League and Mujibbad, he also created an opposite ideology and called it ‘Bangladeshi Nationalism’.  This was created to particularly challenge the identity definition of Bengali Nationalism as propagated by the Awami League.  Further, how can it also be explained that even after 32 years of the assassination of Zia, the ideology of Bangladeshi Nationalism still attracts support from a very sizeable population of people in Bangladesh?

Off course, the political process since 1971 has been rather complex and therefore the precise answers to the above questions may be difficult to unearth.  Further, it may never be possible to grasp the totality of the processes, induced by diverse related and unrelated factors, that lead to the alienation of a large section of the Bangladesh from Mujib and his leadership.  However, there may be some pointers that could lead to an improved understanding.

Lessons from creation of Pakistan and Liberation of Bangladesh

A comparison with the creation of Pakistan and certain subsequent events may throw some lights in the right direction.  Nobody doubts that the vast majority of the Muslim people of Bengal supported the creation of Pakistan, including the leadership of many parties.  This does not however mean that they were all ideologically united under one single clearly defined Islamic political vision.  There seems to be two main reasons why various Muslim groups and the Muslim population supported the creation of Pakistan.  On the one hand, they wanted to escape from actual and perceived Hindu domination, partly the result of historical experiences and the fear that they developed about living in a future independent India under Hindu domination.  On the other hand, they wanted to develop their society according to Islamic principles.  After the creation of Pakistan, it became quite clear that not all the Muslim people of Bengal, who supported the creation of Pakistan, did so for the same reasons, and disputes soon arose as to what kind of Pakistan one should build.  One principle on which the vast majority of the Bengalis in East Pakistan was united under was on the question of their Bengali identity.  Although they supported the creation of Pakistan to safeguard their interest as Muslims, they were not prepared to allow the destruction of their Bengali identity.  The struggle to preserve their Bengali identity, together with their struggle against economic injustice and military dictatorship, lead to the 1971 Liberation War.  The struggle’s undisputed champion was Sheikh Mujib, who was called by the people ‘Jatir Pita Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib’.   Just as before, when they struggled to create Pakistan under Jinnah’s undisputed leadership, the vast majority of the Muslim Bengalis supported the creation of Bangladesh under Sheikh Mujib, who was their brave champion.

What is General Zia’s Bangladeshi Nationalism?

Similarly, soon after the creation of Bangladesh disputes began to arise about what kind of Bangladesh one should build.  Zia created Bangladeshi Nationalism to reflect the Muslim and Bengali aspirations of the people of Bangladesh, and he has mass support in this regard.  What does this show?  Clearly, despite what the proponents of Bengali Nationalism say, a large section of the people of Bangladesh are very proud of their Islamic identity.  They want to see a future that incorporates the Bengali and Islamic elements of their experiences, way of life, culture and identity, and fuses them into one whole to march forward into the future.  The struggle for freedom of the Bengalis in Pakistan began because certain sections of the Muslim League and Pakistani ruling class wanted to obliterate element of their Bengali identity.  Similarly, the alienation of a large section of the Bangladeshi people from Mujib began, in the immediate aftermath of the Liberation War, because Bengali nationalism did not accept that eight hundred years of Islam in Bengal meant that the culture of the people of Bangladesh was based on deep Islamic roots.  What is clear is that just as in Pakistan when Bengali Muslims were not willing to allow the destruction of their Bengali identity, in Bangladesh they were not willing to allow their Muslim identity to be undermined.  They are both Bengalis and Muslims at the same time.

The curious case of Abdul Kader Molla

by Ahmad Abdullah

Mr. Abdul Qader Mollah is probably the most talked about Bangladeshi
these days. The highest court in our country had ordered him to be
executed through a questionable legal[1] process and in violation of
international [2]and human rights [3]laws. Worrying yet is the huge
pressure on the government, both from within and outside, to carry out
the execution at the earliest date possible. Even the attorney general
of Bangladesh has called for immediate implementation [4]of this
judicial execution.
In this short note, we provide three damning arguments proving why the
sentence by the Supreme-court of Bangladesh is in and of itself
fundamentally flawed.
1. Retroactively sentenced: The death sentence against Mr. Mollah
was handed down based on retroactively amended legislation. The
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which
Bangladesh is a state party, prohibits the retroactive application of
criminal law1; and as such retroactively amended legislation is not
valid in Bangladesh itself and clearly violates international fair
trial standards.

One may question, what is wrong with it, as long as it serves a noble
purpose – namely bringing the perpetrators of 1971 to justice. Well,
first of all, the perpetrators of 1971 is a long story that is beyond
our scope here; but suffice it to say, the whole International Crimes
Tribunal (ICT) fiasco is far from bringing the perpetrators of 1971 to
justice. More importantly, the end cannot justify the means in a legal
context; and the practice of retroactive legislation can end up in
very murky waters. For example, suppose a staunchly anti-shahbag
government comes to power with two-third majority in the future, and
passes a retroactive legislation making all activities related to the
shahbag protest tantamount to treason! Then there would be no legal
barrier to executing all those involved in shahbag movement.

2. Innocence proven beyond doubt, yet found guilty: Although Mr.
Mollah’s defense team was only allowed 6 defense witnesses; they were
able to prove beyond reasonable doubt[5], that Mr. Mollah was not
involved whatsoever with the horrendous allegations against him. In
fact, he had trained to participate in the liberation war, and was
awaiting his turn in Faridpur to join the battle. He resumed his
studies at Dhaka University immediately after 1971, and had later
become a teacher at the Udayan school and the Rifles school in the
center of Dhaka. He was also a member of the Chatra Union (Matia
group) and an ex-comrade of Matia Chowdhury and Nurul Islam Nahid
during his student days[6]. It seems his only crime is to have taken a
principled stand in the politics of Bangladesh rather than being one
of the many opportunists all around us.

3. Sentence for execution on the basis of lies and deceit: Momena
Begum was about 12 or 13 when her immediate family members were
brutally massacred in Mirpur, Dhaka by unknown assailants on March 26,
1971. Up until 2007, Momena Begum, a class five graduate, had neither
filed any complaints to any court of law, nor brought up the issue of
her family member’s massacre to any media. Then, on 28 September 2007,
she gave a statement in relation to her family’s massacre to a
researcher at Jallad Khana, the annex of the Liberation War Museum
officer, in which she blamed her Bihari neighbours for her family’s
brutal murder[7]. Of all her family members, only she survived as she
had left for her father-in-law’s place two days prior to the fatal
incident. Fast forward five years, and this Momena Begum reappears in
the ICT testifying that she had heard Mr. Mollah was an associate of
one Akter Gunda who had killed people in Mirpur (Note: sill no
allegation of Mr. Mollah’s involvement in her family’s killing).
Surprisingly such a contradictory and inconclusive statement[8] was
sufficient to find Mr. Mollah guilty and ‘deserving’ the death
sentence!!
Worse still is the recent revelation of the fact that the Momena Begum
who testified at the ICT in 2012 is not the real Momena Begum,
daughter of Hazrat Ali. It was ‘someone else’ – possibly an associate
of the state prosecutors – pretending to be her[9]. It has been
further reported, though could not be independently confirmed, that
the actual Moment Begum has been kidnapped and is being held at an
unknown location by the state security forces.
The judiciary in Bangladesh does not have an exemplary record of being
just and fair, especially in recent times. However, executing Mr.
Mollah through such a flawed process would definitely be a new
(all-time) abyss, and a disgrace to any process of law anywhere in the
world. We must stand up and voice out against such a violation of the
fundamental rights of a fellow Bangladeshi for the sake of Truth,
Justice and our Bangladesh herself.
——————————
[1] http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/12/08/bangladesh-halt-execution-war-crimes-accused
2 http://www.icj.org/bangladesh-abdul-quader-mollah-death-sentence-violates-international-law/
3 https://www.amnesty.org/en/for-media/press-releases/bangladesh-death-sentence-without-right-judicial-appeal-defies-human-rights
4 http://tinyurl.com/ozb3fzr

5 See http://bangladeshwarcrimes.blogspot.dk/search/label/Molla%20index

for detailed proceedings.
6 Confirmed by a BAL MP in one of his writings (I can’t find the
reference at the moment).
7 http://www.newagebd.com/detail.php?date=2013-10-07&nid=68309#.UqSkar-D5R9

8 Justice Abdul Wahhab commented in the judgment of Mr. Mollah “PW3
(Momena Begum) in her statements made to the Investigation Officer
during investigation did not implicate the accused with the horrific
incident which took place on 26.03.1973 and specifically stated that
the Biharis and the Pakisan army committed the crime” –
http://tinyurl.com/pfyrp7g
, pg.473
9 http://tinyurl.com/nouhhv6

The Hay Festival Dhaka: The Potemkin Village of the Secular Liberal Elite in Bangladesh

anams

Nuraldeen  argued that our ‘illiberal’ cultural elites and their supportbase are comfortably numb and vulgarly civil when it comes to the celebration of ‘culture’ as they ignore the  turbulent political context  and questionable political process behind the formation of a cultural event. With a special request from a guest writer Jamuna we’re running this article that critically examines the political context of Hay Festival Dhaka and the role of our cultural elites. The Blog was originally published in Khichuri on 15th November,2013.

By Jamuna

In the next few days, Bangladesh’s ‘liberal’ ‘secular’ establishment will convene at the Hay Festival Dhaka. Just like the original  Hay Festival in Wales, the event will assemble a bevy of personalities who dominate the English-speaking public sphere. It is a time for publics to explore, for a chosen few new writers to gain exposure and approval, established columnists to issue compilations, publishers to push their wares and agendas, and intercultural interpretation.

Big names such as Pankaj Mishra, Ahdaf Soueif and Tariq Ali will be joined by more local figures such as Tahmina Anam, who is a co-organiser and a rather dull novelist as well as a key gatekeeper between literary establishments in Bangladesh and Britain. Ms Anam’s father, Mahfuz Anam is the editor of the Transcomm Group associated Daily Star, Bangladesh’s largest English language daily, on-and-off cheerleader of the Awami League regime and – wait for it – the title sponsor.

Cultural inbreeding and nepotism are not a new phenomenon in any society, after all The Krays were brothers and the Redgraves are fabulous, but it makes Hay Dhaka intriguing, worrying and important not to take at face value given Anam Snr’s recent warning that The Sons are Coming. It is intriguing because we can read into its inclusions and silences about Bangladesh’s contested cultural frames, and concerning because – like the debate around the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in nearby Sri Lanka – one questions the wisdom of organising such an event in a country that is in the midst of such tumultuous transition, and crackdown on dissent.

Granted, the level and nature of state violence and suppression witnessed this year could hardly have been foreseen in the festival’s planning horizon. But what is concerning is that the festival is in collaboration with the cheerleaders and PR men of the Awami League regime: people who have covered up, justified and even applauded their violent actions. This regime and its client intelligentsia have serious questions to answer for gross human rights abuses, including: the mass killing of unarmed demonstrators in May; the internationally discredited war crimes tribunals; the illegal closure of opposition media; and detention of human rights defenders.

Freedom of (who’s) expression?

One might also ask: why have state censors granted permission for this festival to go ahead while other, more indigenous, non-elite cultural expressions remain suppressed? The annual Mela in honour of the legendary political leader, renowned as the Red Maulana and Father of the Oppressed, Moulana Bhashani in Tangail that was due to commence on his 37th death anniversary next week has been refused permission. Furthermore a demonstration by the community-based religious establishment, demanding investigation of the killings of 6th May in Dhaka, was pencilled in for Friday 15th. But this has been challenged by the government’s own religious puppets hungry for coalition seats in the next parliament.

posters

We might conclude that Hay Dhaka is more than a legitimising PR exercise, but that thought control, patrol and presentation are key functions of it. Indeed, such bread and circuses have their place and provide some relief for the world-weary, but in Bangladesh’s climate of fear, massacre and political illegitimacy, they also need to be read as they are and through the sycophancy, flattery and pretentiousness upon which they are based.

Assembling a Potemkin Village

Legend has it that the aristocrat Grigory Potemkin erected fake settlements along the banks of the Dnieper River in order to impress his lover, the Russian Empress Catherine II during her visit to Crimea in 1787. This ruse is now known as the ‘Potemkin village’, a phrase to describe literal and figurative constructs whose sole purpose is to dupe observers with an agreeable depiction of affairs. So keen was Potemkin to influence his lover, his villages became mobile, were demolished and then rebuilt downstream to keep up with Catherine’s barge, with his own men pretending to be the local peasant population.

Fast forward to two and a half centuries to Dhaka in November 2013 and we see another Potemkin village reassembled by the Dhaka Metropolitan elite for its literary development partners in front of the hallowed grounds of the Bangla Academy. Just like an end of year review put on for parents and school governors, we have the usual assemblage of actors, wealth, echo chambers, clichés, and cronies, courtesy of The Daily Star. No mention of massacres by security forces,  kidnapping and detentions of political opponents, the hounding of dissent and the muzzling of the opposition press, or the controversial war crimes tribunals. Instead, visitors will be treated to the airbrushed Never Never Land of Golden Bengal, the land of tolerance and sophistication, with a smattering of Nazrul Islam, Tagore and Lalon.

The Usual Suspects

Providing media promotion and a fair chunk of economic capital is the aforementioned Mahfuz Anam, school master of ‘right thinking’ secular liberals everywhere and a media baron popular in diplomatic quarters. Another Daily Star luminary, Syed Badrul Ahsan, The Oracle and Keeper of the True Historical Record, makes a cameo appearance, ironically in a session on short stories. His adulation of the Prime Minister and applause for her government’s brutality grows more deranged with every passing day. The model student, co-organiser and schoolmaster’s daughter, Tahmima Anam, graces the stage twice over the festival, including once in a cringingly titled ‘Best Young Novelist’ session. Nepotism? Who? Us?

In a set up whose geopoetics could not be made up, we see Zafar Sobhan, understudy to the school master for so many years, currently trying to edit pro government propaganda sheet, the Dhaka Tribune. At the festival he is moderating a conversation about ‘Egypt and Beyond’ with Ahdaf Soueif and a random Etonian. Soueif’s justification, then tepid explanations of the Egyptian coup and the violence against those deposed – together with Sobhan’s participation in the government disinformation campaign regarding this May’s Dhaka Massacre – are interesting parallels to explore from the point of view of reputational risk management at home and abroad in a time of massacre and injustice. It has been a bloody year in both the Bengal and Nile delta’s, with the origin of fascistic violence clearly emanating from the purportedly secular liberal quarter in both cases. #Tamarod and #Shahbag, in polite and less polite forms, have much in common with each other for those who reflect.

From a technocratic point of view, the programme has much to praise, official diversity guidelines and feedback from the previous festival have been responded to, there are sessions in Bengali, coverage of other languages and dialects, Zafar Iqbal has been let loose on the children and the country’s Shi’i Muslim literary heritage even gets a look in. The highlights promise to be Pankaj Mishra’s interventions, his recent book ‘From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt against the West and the Remaking of Asia’ offers – ironically – the most interconnected and sympathetic perspectives on pan-Islamism in the subcontinent permitted at the event, and may serve as a safe portal for alternate political imaginaries.

Conclusion: Last Days of Empire

The Hay Festival in Dhaka represents the completion of a narrative which began with Macaulay’s Minute on Indian Education and terminates with the internalisation of Anglo-Saxon culture by the hegemonic establishment elites of Dhaka, as exemplified by the festival’s corporate media backers. This is a process whose ramifications on Bangladesh have been covered extensively by Nurul Kabir, the editor of the New Age newspaper.

However, as any student of Hindu theology will explain, the completion of a cycle or narrative results in its Shiva-like destruction and the creation of new cycle. This dance of Shiva has been and is continuously being played out in the streets of Dhaka, and in the many mufassil towns and villages dotted across the country. Starting with the police firings of 28th Februarythe Long March on 5th April and the 5/6th of May Massacre, the political chemistry and discourse of the country is being transformed by a resurgent expressions of Muslimness, deriving inspiration not just from Westminster, but the hallowed and sacred grounds of Mecca and Medina and the Bengal Muslim’s own heritage. This is visible in the  Bangladeshi Prime Minister’s own recent claim that her government would be run according to the Medinan charter of the Prophet Muhammad. These trajectories of Political Islams in the country have not been set in stone, as all the major political players, from the Awami League, BNP, Jamaat to the ‘new kids on the block’, Hefazot-e-Islam and Tariqat Federation are all trying to capture, fashion and benefit from them.

Hay Dhaka 2013 presents a largely besieged mentality, of an elite trying to hang onto illusory certainties in turbulent times and an absolute failure to connect with the masses in whose names they claim to speak, as epitomised by the program of the festival and its Potemkin-like objectives. We have been here before, several times. The medieval Arab historian Ibn Khaldun gave the average empire/dynasty the lifespan of 150 years. Time travelling back from Dhaka to Delhi just over 150 years, and one might perceive a resemblance with a scene of a decadent outdated elite being replaced by a more contemporary vigorous movement.

The scene is that of 1857, and the last day of the Mughal Empire after the failed Indian Independence War. There is an apocryphal story that the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah II, called one final session of the court. In full knowledge of the failure of the uprising against the British which he symbolically led, the Last Emperor invited the poet Ghalib to the Empire’s last supper. Amidst the backdrop of a burning city besieged by the British, the Emperor and his courtiers sought solace in their wine cups and each other’s company in the Red Fort. They listened attentively to Ghalib and his panegyrics, reminiscing the past glories.

History has cyclical, linear, multidirectional and cosmic qualities. In 2013 the besiegers have now become the besieged.  In this historical loop in Dhaka, the metropolitan elite, the descendants of earlier besiegers the British Raj, are themselves besieged in the Hay Festival, their version of the Red Fort by the descendants of those who lay besieged in an earlier age. One historical cycle was representing an aggressive Europe, the other a resurgent and ever increasingly confident Muslim identity.

Politics is hard work — are we willing?

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by Jyoti Rahman

Will future historians think of 2013 as a pivotal year for Bangladesh?  If they were to do so, it will not be because of anything that happened in the first half of this eventful year.  The Shahbag Awakening, violence following the verdict in Delwar Hossain Sayedee’s war crimes case, peaceful and violent rallies by Hefazot-e-Islam, the Rana Plaza tragedy — none of these will rate alongside even 1975 or 1990, let alone 1947 or 1971.

All those events, and yet, as the year draws to a close, we are seeing replays of a drama we witnessed in Decembers past, where a government wants to hold an election come what may, citing the Holy Constitution, while the opposition wants to resist it at any cost, citing the fear of rigging.  The political gridlock leads to violent images like this.

That image is from 28 October 2006.  The December of that year was much like this December, and the one from 1995, and that of 1987.  And as in every such December, our opinionmaking, chattering, urban bhadralok class is up in arms about how our politicians are yet again failing us, how Bangladeshis are held hostage to the two feuding leaders, how the people are victims who don’t care about either parties and vote for them because there is no choice.

Are the people really victims who lack any alternative, hostages to the whims of the two sides?  Nearly a quarter century, four national elections and dozens of local ones —how long does it take for an alternative to emerge?  And it’s not like no one has tried to break through —leftists, Islamists, NGOwallahs, army officers, barristers, doctors, businessmen, HM Ershad, Kamal Hossain, Salman F Rahman, Kader Siddiqui, Badruddoza Chowdhury, Oli Ahmed, Mohammad Yunus, Moeen U Ahmed, Mannan Bhuiyan, there haven’t been any shortage of third force aspirants.

Chances are that when, rather than if, an election is held, four out of five voters will vote for the same parties and candidates who won the last four elections.  Even if there is a military coup, and the generals successfully send the two ladies packing, they will still rely on the same individuals who make up the two largest parties.

Perhaps it’s time the chattering bhadraloks finally accept that politics is hard work, and the politicians actually do cater, albeit in a haphazard and less-than-satisfactory ways, to the people.

——–

Politics is hard work.  Not just in Bangladesh, but everywhere.  It’s tedious, unglamorous.  Quite boring really.  In fact, the exciting stuff, the kind that gets you in the cover of the Time magazine, that stuff is usually all tip, and little iceberg.

The cover of the Time Magazine?  Let’s go back a few years, to 2011.  That year, the Time Magazine named ‘the protester’ the person of the year.  That year begun with popular uprisings that toppled long standing regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.  In Libya, the uprising turned into an insurgency that, with the help of NATO airpower, brought down the Qaddafi regime.  Massive protests rocked depression affected economies of southern Europe.  Closer to home, India saw large rallies against corruption.  In America, the Occupy movement captured a lot of media attention.

It would be quite unfair to say that the protests achieved nothing.  Arguably, Tunisia is a better place today for the protests.  Arguably, President Obama would not be talking about inequality had it not been for the Occupy movement.  But the contemporaneous commentaries about the protests seem quite hyperbolic with the benefit of hindsight.  These were not quite earth shattering, world changing events.  President Obama can have a dozen speeches about inequality, but it’s unlikely to change a single thing in the Capitol Hill.

And whatever gains have been made in Tunis is clearly off set by the setbacks in Cairo.  In the largest Arab country, secular liberal urbanites —at the risk of oversimplifying, the kind of people who flocked to Shahbag —could not organise themselves into a credible political party, lost terribly to the Islamists at the polling booth, went back to the street again to bring down a democratically elected president, and handed the country back to the generals who rule by decree, much like Hosni Mobarak did for three decades.

Politics is hard work.  Protesting this, demanding that, marching in the street, singing rousing anthems —that’s not politics.

Even if they get you in the cover of the Time Magazine, that stuff, without any organisation, will matter naught.

Did the Shahbag revelers really believe that they were changing the course of history?  Their naivete might be forgiven, but what excuse did their elder cheerleaders have?  How could those who lived through the 1968-69 uprising that brought down the Ayub regime —across the political aisle this includes everyone from Motia Chowdhury, Nurul Islam Nahid, Rashed Khan Menon to Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and Tariqul Islam —ever believe that nonsense?  Did they forget that despite taking a leading role in that uprising, the leftists lost the political advantage to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the Awami League?

Did the leftist cheerleaders of Shahbag learn nothing from their lived experience, never mind the histories of other uprisings in Tehran and St Petersburg and Paris?

Did they forget that politics is hard work, that one needed an organisation, a clear manifesto, and some strategies to attain power?

Those pundits who are now braying for some messiah to deliver us from the two battling begums — do they understand politics is hard work?

—–

Faham Abdus Salam writes about the bhadralok mentality here:

বাংলাদেশের এক নাম করা ইংরেজি কলামিস্টের সাথে আলোচনায় টিপিকাল সুশীল মানসিকতার পরিচয় পেলাম – এটাআলোচনা করা দরকার। বিএনপি ও আওয়ামী লীগ প্রসঙ্গে তার মত হোলো Why doesn’t the two hire a place and fight it out and leave us alone. ….  তোমারা লীগ, বিএনপি মারপিট করো – আমাদেরকে দু দণ্ড শান্তি দাও।

I agree with Faham’s thesis:

এই দেশটা শেখ হাসিনা কিংবা খালেদা জিয়ার কোনো সম্পত্তি না – এই কথাটা সবাই বিশ্বাস করে কিন্তু যা বিশ্বাস করে না তাহলো – এই দেশটা আমার, আমি ওন করি এবং আমার দায় আছে পরবর্তী প্রজন্মকে একটা বাসযোগ্য দেশ উপহার দেয়ার।তাই আমাদের সবার দায় আছে এটা নিশ্চিত করার যে কোনো মানুষই যেন এই দেশটাকে তার ইচ্ছার পুতুল বানিয়ে না ফেলে।বিএনপি, আওয়ামী লীগ বাংলাদেশের রিয়ালিটি – আপনার কাজ শুধু ভোট দেয়া না, এই দুটো দলে যেন কখনোই কোনোহাসিনা কেউ হয়ে উঠতে না পারে, সেদিকে নিশ্চিত না করলে নিশ্চিত থাকুন: আপনি আপনার নিজের শান্তিটুকু খোয়াবেন।

He ends by asking:

আপনি জিজ্ঞেস করুন নিজেকে সততার সাথে – আপনার সন্তান যদি কখনো প্রশ্ন করে, সে উত্তর দিতে যতোটুকু সততা লাগেততোটুকু সততার সাথে, দেশটাকে যখন হাসিনা ক্ষমতা টিকিয়ে রাখার জন্য তার খেলনা ঘর বানিয়ে ফেলছিলেন আপনি কিআপনার সাধ্যমতো চেষ্টা করেছিলেন তাকে থামাতে?

The thing is, I am not sure any amount of trying by any bhadralok pundit would have mattered.  For one thing, on a number of issues, Awami-leaning elders such as ABM Musa or Rehman Sobhan did caution the Prime Minister.  And she snubbed them.

Why wouldn’t she?  Try seeing things from her perspective.  Politics in Bangladesh is winner-takes-all.  The rules of the game —unitary state, unicameral legislature, first-past-the-post voting, the Article 70 —were not set by Hasina Wajed.  She is not the first one to try to win at any cost.  She has merely taken things further than her predecessor.  We don’t know if the BNP chief would have been quite as ruthless —I personally doubt that she would have—but what the Prime Minister is doing is hardly madness, there is in fact a lot of method in it.

The Prime Minister is playing a high stake game, one that has been entirely predictable, and was indeed predicted:

The prime minister knows she can count on the millions of AL voters, in every moholla and para of every city, town and village. If BNP leadership can be neutralised, that will be sufficient for a re-election. If not, in the lead up to the election, in 30,000 centres around the country, many anti-AL voters could be disenfranchised through targeted violence and intimidation. Essentially, what many Hindu voters in southern Bangladesh experienced in previous elections could happen to the anti-AL voters across the country.

And all these could happen days and weeks before the actual election day, with the state machinery playing an active role in it. Indeed, the election day could well be very peaceful, even festive.

Even if they tried, what difference could a Zafar Sobhan or an Afsan Chowdhury have made to the Prime Minister’s high stake gambit?

Politics is had.  Hasina Wajed knows it, even if the bhadraloks don’t.

Perhaps these bhadraloks had a better shot trying to shape BNP’s thinking?  I personally think so.  But I doubt most of the chattering class feels that way.

Here is how Shayan S Khan has put things recently in his facebook wall:

খালেদা জিয়া বলেন, “একদিকে বিরোধী দলের নেতাদের বিরুদ্ধে সন্ত্রাসের মিথ্যা অভিযোগে মামলা হচ্ছে, অন্যদিকে এক মন্ত্রীবলেছেন যে, সরকারের সঙ্গে সমঝোতা করে ফেললে তাদের ছেড়ে দেয়া হবে। এসব থেকে পরিষ্কার হয় যে, বিরোধী দলেরনেতাদের বিরুদ্ধে মিথ্যা অভিযোগে মামলা করে তাদের গ্রেফতার করা হচ্ছে।”

When Khaleda Zia makes a point like the one above, instead of holding on to the offer as a political card, it signals an essential difference between herself and Sheikh Hasina, whose every pronouncement seems aimed at scraping whatever political advantage she can for herself out of any situation.

Thanks to a media and cultural environment historically more saddled in its disposition towards Awami League politics, for a very long time now, an impression has been cemented in the collective psyche of a certain segment of the population (largely confined to the chattering classes of the capital) that Bangabandhu’s daughter, riding the good ship Joy Bangla that her father built, was obviously more preferable to Zia’s widow. I know within my social and familial setting it was as if axiomatic. It was hard to realise this “truth” seemed erected on a strange, untouchable pedestal bereft of any objective analysis, or evidence emerging to support it. To be fair, one didn’t really come across much overwhelming evidence to the contrary either.

But it lasted only until I learned to think for myself, and became open to the idea that supposed “truths” we’d been fed before developing a way to think could be overturned. And if more of us could affect the same, and carry out a fair assessment of the two women’s words and deeds over the last 12 years in particular, the least we would realise is this: at no point did Khaleda Zia take any prerogative to assume this country’s fate was subservient to her own will to power, or that the essence of its 140-50-60 million people, its raison d’être, hers to fashion.

Sad but true.

—–

So, instead of trying to shape the mainstream politics, our chattering class —with one important exception —is either willing or unwitting accomplice to possible dictatorship.

The exception is, of course, Mahmudur Rahman.

He might not consider himself a bhadralok.  And others of his class might not want to treat him as one of their own.  But make no mistake, a graduate of the country’s two best educational institutions, a successful executive in both private and public sector, Mahmudur Rahman is every bit bhadralok as Mahfuz Anam or Abed Khan.  And more than any other bhadralok of our time, Mr Rahman has thrown himself whole heartedly into politics, embracing lengthy prison terms for his cause.

Politics is hard work, and hard work is not something Mahmudur Rahman shies away from.  He is willing.

And yet, he has failed.

He single handedly took on the mighty Shahbag, broke it, and then, then nothing.

Politics is hard work, and merely willing is not enough.

Again, let’s go back to Egypt.  Muslim Brotherhood won decisively at the ballot box.  They had been waiting for eight decades.  Here was an organisation with a clear manifesto that finally attained power, and lost it before they could implement anything.

A different example perhaps, from an established democracy.  The American Tea Party movement has gained control of one of their two mainstream parties.  This faction controls the agenda in the American Congress.  In October, they tried to break the Obama presidency, risking US sovereign default and a possible global economic meltdown in the process.  And they lost.

Politics is hard work.  It’s more than just protest.  Even grabbing power is not enough.  One needs to exercise that power to achieve one’s ends.

Mahmudur Rahman, of course, did not even attain power.  But one must ask, what would he have done had the government fallen in the first week of May?

And if toppling the government was not the main point of Hefazot, then what was it he was trying to achieve?  Of course, there was brutality on 5 May.  Of course, AL’s hands are bloody.  But Mahmudur Rahman’s aren’t clean either.

—–

And that brings us to today’s crisis.  One way or other, the current gridlock will be resolved before long.  Something will give.  In fact, we can with some confidence predict how things will end.  There are really three options.

It is quite possible that there will be some compromise — perhaps the prime minister will step down, or BNP will agree to join even with the PM at the end — followed by an election, which if the polls are any guide, BNP wins comfortably.  That’s the optimistic scenario.

More pessimistically, there will not be any compromise, and we will be looking at either a neo-Bakshal regime or a good old fashioned military coup.

Many of our pundit classes are already braying for the last outcome.  Let me put it to these folks as bluntly as possible: stop think of the army as the deus ex machina; the situation currently playing out was perfectly predictable years ago; your silence and passive acceptance at that time also implies acceptance of the current state of crisis.

We just can’t live like this, lurching from crisis to crisis every five years, and then acting all surprised and puzzled when things fall apart.  Our political culture will never mature until we stop expecting army interventions anytime things go south.  I always hear the common lament that democracy in this country is limited to voting every five years.  Well, our bhadraloks need to start participating in the hard work of politics more frequently than once every five years.

And if a neo-Bakshali dictatorship is a necessary step in that process, so be it.

(First posted in Mukti-http://jrahman.wordpress.com/ ).

Our ‘Comfortably Numb’ Citizens and Their Vulgar Civility

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comfortably-numb-brick

By Nur Hossain

In reply to my article in ‘Classical Music Festival 2013, India and our vulgar civility,’ published in this blog, writer Tibra Ali in a blog of AlalDulal, borrowing a term from the Czech writer Milan Kundera, accused me of being a Political ‘Misomusist,’ to refer a person who hates arts.

He dismissed my effort of raising an important point about the political process behind this festival as ‘pot-shot,’  that tries to invalidate the rich and shared cultural heritage of South Asia.

Ali, further mentions that against his intention, he had to write criticism of my ‘so called political commentary ’ cause he is worried that people might be misguided with my intention of raising a point about politicisation of our culture space and he stresses that events such as Bengal Music Festival celebrating Indian classical music requires to be evaluate apolitically, otherwise we’ll do a ‘great disservice to us as people.’

I think, Ali’s careless use of words such as ‘pot-shot’  to reject my argument without defining ‘pot-shot,’  his intention of not explaining the historical context behind the emergence of the term ‘Misomusist’  and  how it applies in my case, reveals what I call a ‘fundamentalist’ pattern in his reaction. This pattern underpins emotional not logical reaction of a person who is not willing to accept logical discussion and engage in a respectful debate on an issue or belief that is close to their heart.

We see such reactionary pattern in radical Christians or radical Hindus or radical Islamist who use ‘quotes from Holy Books’ to dismiss opposing views but ignore explaining the historical context behind the emergence of such quote and relevance of using it in present context. Researchers found that in most cases, literal use of quotes or terms, that were emerged in a historical context, does not do any justice to the term itself if  used in present context. Therefore, I am interested to know more about the history of ‘Misomusist’ and relevance and explanation for using the term to define my work.

Before going into the main response, let me clarify two points raised by Ali. Firstly, quoting Afsan Chowdhury, Ali said, usage of Felani in my writing serves ‘narrow political purpose.’ This is an  interesting and a vague statement. If I agree with Ali and Chowdhury, I wonder, would they agree with the argument that the construction of Jahanara Imam as a Shaheed Janani, or Bangabandhu as the Father of the Nation too serves narrow political interests?Even if they agree, one would raise the question, so what?  I’m in support of ‘narrow political interest’ as I think this is the reality in which we have to live, at least at the moment.

Secondly, I think Ali is right in spotting the disconnection between my careless use of ‘public demand’ and ‘a section of upper middle class’ in my writing. Even though I did not mean upper middle classes are excluded from public, my careless use of the two variables gave such impression to Ali. I think this is a fair point. Let me now answer main criticisms’ of Ali.

My Response

This is a useful effort of Ali to raise an important point about the usefulness of cultural exchange across nation states. It is true that without exchanging various languages of cultures i.e music, cinema, drama, visual arts, people across nation states wouldn’t have learned about diverse customs of the world and be respectful of each other. Therefore, I agree with Ali that sharing and celebrating cultural products across nation states is an absolute necessity.

However, I’m afraid that Ali missed the whole point of my writing. While I’ve been trying to raise awareness about the political process behind the organisation of such ‘musical festival,’ Ali seems busy justifying the usefulness about the content or ‘art’ of the festival. I find premise of such criticism is irrelevant, misguided and unnecessary as a reply to my piece as both of us are answering different questions.

However, Ali’s delusional approach about ignoring the political process behind organisation of this ‘musical festival’ makes my point stronger. An audience must know about the political process through which this event was organised. One must also know why they are listening to this genre of music at a period when India- Bangladesh are striking what Badruddin Umar said, ‘unclear deals supporting Indian imperialism in Bangladesh and against the interest of Bangladesh’ and when powerful Bangladeshi liberals decide to cover up/ not questioning dirty tale of political and economic arrangement between AL and India, subverting public interest.

One must know further, who are the key actors behind this festival and what is the broader objective behind this program. Or why pro-government and anti-BNP civil society forces alongside with Indian High Commission officials have seen to be supporting such program. Or what is the key objective behind the promotion of ‘what ITC-SRA,’ one of the organisers of the program, says, ‘propagation of Hindustani Classical Music in Bangladesh?’  and finally why this program is exclusive of  presence of any BNP leader in capacity of guests? Is it incidental? I guess, these are not co-incidence and apolitical arrangement!

Awareness about the nexus between the process of a production and identification of actors involved with production and the nature of the content of production have always been a politically significant question. Otherwise, the liberals of Bangladesh or a section of it, wouldn’t raise questions about the nexus between extremism and some  preaching session or Waz Mahfils, content of which may soothe some listeners’  apolitical spiritual hunger only. The point is, it is plausible to evaluate Waz Mahfils apolitically but that does no rule out the political side of that Mahfil.

Similarly, one must acknowledge that application of an apolitical framework to understand ‘classical music festival’ does not invalidate the political nature of the event or nullify political aspect about heavy engagement of influential political actors of certain quarter behind this program.

I argued that this festival is an event promoting public diplomacy of Bangladesh and India, supported by the partnership of two corporations (Bengal and ITC-SRA), to influence public attitudes in a manner that they become supportive of their foreign policy and national interests. I stand by my point.

I argue that the political intention of this event is to neutralise negative public image of AL-India nexus that has been striking ‘unclear deals’ and now undermining public voice while ready to put peoples’ lives in danger knowing that BNP would unleash a violent protest if AL does not step down even though 90% people of the country said they want an election under a neutral caretaker government. I also defend the using  the death of Felani as a symbol that refers Indian disregard to the  people of Bangladesh. I see there is little scope of disconnecting the timing of this event and political upheaval on the ground as organisers of this festival and mastermind of political doldrums are close allies, if not same actors.

Therefore, my point about our vulgar civility of not protesting double standard of Indian policy is justified.

Finally, I am in full favour of exchanging cultural languages across political boundaries. I am also in favour of celebrating ‘Hindustani Music’ in Bangladesh and Bangladeshi music in India. I think constructive flow of cultural ideas is an important aspect to underpin cultural bondage between two countries  in order to serve common political interest.

However, I am not in support of Ali’s apolitical approach, if it is not intentional, to understand this event. I call Ali’s approach a ‘comfortably numb’ approach, borrowing the title from a famous Pink Floyd song, to underpin his state of delirium detached from reality to justify his disregard to political process of this program. For that matter, his effort of borrowing a term from Milan Kundera to define me as a ‘Misomusist’ is a reflection of his ‘comfortable numbness.’ This is a poor choice to justify his ‘vulgar civility’ by which I mean selfish and unquestionable justification of endorsing a process deeply rooted in a questionable political arrangement which formed a legacy to disregard popular opinion of Bangladesh.

Awami League’s Rite of Passage

To any progressive, dispassionate observer of Bangladesh politics, one thing must seem very puzzling and intriguing. He would wonder, why Awami League, one of the two main political parties that has experience of governing this diverse country for many years, is still so intolerant, fundamentalist and exclusionary in its words and outlook? Why cannot Awami League accept that there are other political parties in the country that have values and programs that are respectable and legitimate by the criteria of any other democracies in the world? Why does Awami League think that it has a divine mandate to rule the Land of Bangalees and all other parties with stints in power are usurpers? Why does Awami League supporters still so underestimates the popular support base of their opponents in spite of suffering repeated humiliating defeats in fair elections accepted by everyone else? Why do Awami League intellectuals still think that they can pass off their highly parochial, ethnic and history based cultish ideology as progressive liberalism in this day and age?

The answers to these questions are surely complex and require analysis comprising hundreds of thousands of words but I think a deceptively simple answer underlies as a unifying strand among all the analyses. I think a simple answer is that Awami League didn’t have the benefit of a simple rite of passage that would hand deliver it to political maturity and normalcy. In the absence of that rite of passage, Awami League is still stuck in an emotional age of political juvenility.

Rites of passage are ceremonial occasions that celebrate a person’s passage from one significant stage of life to another. Everybody knows about popular rites of passage like the Jewish Bar Mitzvah or the Baby Shower of the first expectant mother. The political rite of passage that Awami League missed out is the normal Bangladeshi experience of a governing party to lose power in face of wide and violent popular unrest. Awami League has not yet lost power by yielding to a popular street movement and thus missed out its rite of passage.

[This was a Bangla post before, now it is translated for timely relevance]

 

Is this the only way the people can have their say?

Intro: EC has announced election schedule without any compromise between the two parties.  particularly, opposition BNP is concerned with the partisan set up.  polls suggest that 80-90% agree with BNP’s demand.  within 24 hours of EC’s announcement, there has been protests around the country.  the govt is trying to maintain an appearance of stability in Dhaka, and mainstream media is either complicit or cowed into not reporting the truth.  this post highlights a few incidences of nationwide protest.
There cannot be no condoning of the violence and deaths taking place everyday. But one must also understand the context. We are essentially going through a hot and cold war where the two warring parties are trying to deny each other victory. Even the suave and civilized foreign interlocutors have essentially gave up trying to mediate and said the people of Bangladesh will decide their future. Is this the only way we can decide our future?
5 die on 2nd day of 48-hour blockade
Deadly clash in Rajshahi, 50 including city mayor injured

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In Mymensingh, 120 km north of Dhaka, there were explosions in front of the residence of Mrs Rowshan Ershad — wife of former president HM Ershad, a minister in the AL-led coalition government.

Roads were blockaded and cars burnt in the port city of Chittagong.

The highway was blockaded in Dinajpur, 360km north of Dhaka.

Explosions rocked the Chief Election Commissioner’s Dhaka residence.

Explosions and fires around the capital, including the Dhaka University. Shots were fired at a rally of the ruling Awami League. A local office of Jatiya Party, junior partner in the governing coalition, was burnt.

Over 50 were injured in sustained clashes in Rajshahi, the largest northern city.

Around 25 shot by police around the country.

Police kills one in Comilla, 60km east of Dhaka.

Police under attack in Bogra, 200km north of Dhaka.

Cars burnt in Habiganj, 170km north east of Dhaka.

Cars burnt in Laxmipur-Dhaka highway southeast of the capital.

Cars burnt in Khulna, the largest southern city.

Right Cause, Wrong Ambassador

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The decision to suspend combined admission test and imposing local quota system for Shahjalal University of Science and technology ( SUST) is a bbackward step and extremely worrisome development. This kind of development will have a long lasting effect on our higher education system and is a very ominous sign. Sensible, reasonable and education people concerned about Bangladesh should raise their voice against such change.

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I should be very happy at Dr Zafar Iqbal’s stand on this issue. Here he is standing for cause that really matters and is of future significance. His celebrity status should have helped the cause. But I am more worried at him throwing his weight behind this cause. I fear, by his support, he will do more harm to the issue than help it.

Dr. Zafar Iqbal had great following among the young people in Bangladesh. He could have become the universal role model for young Bangladeshis. But by his narrow politicking, blind partisan writings and activities – rather than becoming the role model, he has become a subject of hatred to a big chunk of Bangladeshi youth. Dr Iqbal never wanted to become the role model to whole Bangladesh, rather he opted to become a celebrity for a very narrow group of urban youth. He is now a lighting rod, his names incites passion among everyone. But I am afraid he incites a passion of hatred in the majority and a passion of love in a much smaller proportion.

Now I am afraid that – although Dr Iqbal has finally stood up for the right cause, because Dr. Iqbal is in favor of the cause, many youth will support the other side with the wrong cause. Now they will opt for the idiotic ideas of quota and local admission test for SUST. This is human nature. By supporting this good cause, Dear professor Iqbal, you have just done an irreparable harm to the cause. I really wish, dear Professor Iqbal, instead of doing all the self promoting drama of resignation and public letter, you could have used the good terms you have with your leaders, The Prime Minister and Education Minister and convince them no to change the rule. That would have been more effective.

You supporting the cause, Dr Iqbal, is equivalent to Iran’s Ahmednadaze or Al Qaeda leader endorsing in US Presidential election. Thanks, but no thanks.

The not-so-quiet Americans

Graham Greene’s The Quiet American was published in 1955, after the Dien Bien Phu, but years before America bumbled into Vietnam.  A film version was released in 2002, after Tora Bora, but before America bumbled into Iraq.  Without giving away the story, anymore than you can discern from the trailer above, this is one of the best work on the unintended consequences of American intervention.

Americans are, of course, interested in Bangladesh too.  They have been for a while.  In the post-9/11 world, how can they be not interested in one of the largest Muslim countries in the world?  And their interest has been registered not as quietly as was the case in Greene’s Saigon.  In 2007, as in now, their interest was expressed vocally.  Nonetheless, the plot went awry in 2007.  Will this time be different?

Continue Reading

Questions for Joy

The son of honorable PM Mr. Joy has come across some evidence (http://www.natunbarta.com/politics/2013/11/10/53771/bc91b7a26941ba1af949ca82b05eafb6) regarding the involvement of the arrested Leaders. I will not dignify his comments with a rational response. Instead I will pose the following questions, which to me are more rational:

1. He has evidence of incidents that dates back to September 24th but even with months of gathering ‘evidence’, he did not present them in CMM court on Saturday. Why should he not be detained and questioned by Detective Branch (DB) of Bangladesh for withholding evidence and obstructing Justice?

2. How did he come across such vital evidence? What gives him the authority to conduct such investigation and acquire ‘evidence’ that the DB failed to present? Is he a government official and does he have legal access to certain information? Why should he not be detained and questioned by DB to reveal his sources? Clearly being son of prime minister is not a qualification that can shield him from being questioned. And if he gathered evidence through illegal means, why should he not be tried in court?

3. Is it possible that he manufactured evidence to entrap the top most opposition leaders? He being non-elected civilian is accusing former and current elected representatives of the people, who have combined vote of few hundred thousands. Why should he not be detained for conspiracy and defaming the leaders- in the process hurting hundreds of thousands of voters? Putting people in prison for defaming facebook status is a reality in Bangladesh. What makes Mr Joy immune from it?

4. Is it possible that Mr Joy has either fully or partially orchestrated the series of bomb attacks and arson? It seems painting the opposition as terrorists is the best way to delegitimize their cause. If the leaders are arrested for plotting, with the same line of reasoning, why should Mr Joy not be arrested for plotting and entrapping opposition through arson and violent attacks?

The statements of Mr. Joy only shows how typical his political rhetoric is. Instead of rising above the flock of mentally decapitated fellow party men, he joins the conspiracy of clowns. With enemies like this, who needs friends?

The real record — inflation

In the previous post in this series comparing various governments’ economic and development records, we saw that when it comes to growth in average income, there hasn’t been much difference between the three latest governments. The increase in average income in that post is real, that is, after allowing for inflation. However, inflation is an important economic indicator in its own right.

In fact, as far as average person is concerned, real GDP per capita is an abstract construct, whereas prices of everyday commodities is, for the lack of a better word, much more real! Arguably, more than the war crimes trial or Digital Bangladesh, it was the promise in the video below that brought Awami League its 2008 landslide. And arguably, more than India or Islam factors, it’s the failure to meet this promise that’s behind AL’s sagging popularity.

Politics in Bangladesh, as the saying goes, is price of rice.

This post looks at the recent governments’ record when it comes to inflation.  However, we need to begin with a bit of wonkery because when evaluating different governments on inflation, we need to keep some basic economics in mind, some of which may be counter intuitive

Once we go beyond the wonkery, three charts will show that the current government performs poorly compared with the last BNP government as far as inflation is concerned.

First, there is a strong empirical relationship between price level and the standard of living — things are more expensive in the rich, developed countries. Of course, people in rich, developed countries are richer, and thus can afford the more expensive stuff. But if you are looking at the level of price of anything, you will likely find that it costs more in Bangalore than Barisal, and more in Beijing than Bangalore, and more in Boston than Beijing.

The reasons for this are well outside the scope of this post — the interested reader can start here. The relevance for us is that in any economy where the standard of living is rising over time, prices will rise too.  That means, you should never take a politician seriously if they promise cheap stuff —promises are cheap, stuff, not always so.  While prices of some goods —electronics for example —may fall over time, in a growing economy, overall price level usually rises over time.

Recall, our economy has been growing over time —per capita income has risen by about 4½ per cent a year(after adjusting for inflation) over the past decade, under successive governments.  Therefore, we should expect some inflation under recent governments.

No economics lesson is needed to know that inflation is undesirable to most people.  However, given that some inflation is to be expected in a growing economy, how should we judge the performance of different governments?

Or, conversely, since under all three latest governments, inflation-adjusted income has risen at around 4½ per cent a year, should we care if these governments’ inflation records are different?

We should care about inflation, and we should use two criteria to judge governments’ performance.  First, low inflation is preferable over high ones.  And second, steady inflation is preferred over variable rates of inflation.

The first criteria is self-explanatory —if prices are to rise, it’s better that they rise at a modest pace than at fast pace.  The second one takes a bit of explaining.  If inflation has been, and expected to remain, steady at, say, 5 per cent a year —that is, prices of everything is on average 5 per cent higher this year than last year, and this has been the case for a while and you expect this will be so into future—then you can plan your savings, investment and other economic activities accordingly.  But if inflation is 2 per cent one year, 10 per cent the next, and then 5 per cent the year after, it is hard to plan economic activities.  And that causes inefficiencies and frictions, which are bad for long term economic prospects.

Also, variable inflation rates mean that the government is not managing the macroeconomy very well, indicating one or a combination of chronic budget deficits, fluctuations in the exchange rate, and an incompetent central bank.  An economy can grow despite poor governance, but if inflation is high and volatile, it’s very likely the government’s fault.

Before going into the evidence, the final piece of wonkery —inflation is a macroeconomic issue, not a microeconomic one.  All the stories you heard about corrupt syndicates and so on?  Forget them.  That stuff has little, if anything to do with inflation —see here for detail.

Okay, that’s enough free economics lesson.  What does the record show?  Let’s go to the videotape, by which I mean the charts.

The first one shows growth in GDP deflator, which is a measure of prices of everything produced in an economy.  Just as GDP, BBS has new series for inflation (both GDP deflator and CPI —see below).  However, these series don’t go back far enough to make comparisons between different governments.  So, like GDP per capita, we are using data estimated on the 1995-96 basis.

In Chart 1, the columns are annual growth in GDP deflator, while the lines are annual average growth under various governments going back to the 1980s.  Pretty clearly, 1980s was more inflationary than the subsequent decades.  Also clear that both the 1990s governments maintained low and steady inflation.  Inflation started rising under the BNP government in the 2000s.  But at less than 5 per cent a year, BNP’s record was better than the nearly 7½ per cent a year seen under the two latest governments.  More worryingly, inflation has tended to become more volatile under the current and immediate past government.

c1 (1)

While GDP deflator measures prices of everything that is produced, people actually care more about prices of what they consume.  Consumer Price Index, CPI, measures this.  We also have monthly data for CPI going back to 2000.  The squiggly blue line in Chart 2 shows the yearly CPI inflation (how much CPI has grown since the same month a year earlier).  The flat lines represent annual average inflation under the three latest governments.

The pattern appears to be pretty similar to GDP deflator series above.  Under the BNP government of early 200os, CPI inflation averaged at less than 6% a year, compared with around 8½ per cent a year under the two more recent governments.  And again, worryingly, under the latest government, inflation has been quite volatile, reaching as high as 12 per cent in the year to September 2011.

Untitled

We have seen trends in inflation —that is, growth in prices —in the two charts above.  But the PM’s promise in the video above was about the level of a price of a specific commodity —that of rice.  Chart 3 shows the retail price of a kg of coarse rice in Dhaka.  The squiggly red line is the average retail price over the preceding three months.  The flat lines are the average under the past four governments.

Remarkably, the AL government of the late 1990s actually did manage to keep a lid on rice prices.  In the first half of 1996, price of a kg of coarse rice averaged around 14.50 taka, compared with 13.50 taka in the first half of 2001.  The price shot up to over 17 taka per kg in early 1999, in the aftermath of the devastating flood of 1998.  But then it came down.  By contrast, the price rose steadily under the BNP government, to average 19 taka in the second half of 2006.

Recall, prices are expected to rise over time in a growing economy.  So the mere fact that prices are higher than was the case under a previous government, by itself, is not indicative of poor performance.  Regardless, comparing the two governments, public perception in 2006-07 was rightly that AL performed better in terms of keeping rice prices low.

The recent years have put paid to that notion.  After BNP left office, under the 1/11 regime, rice prices shot up to 35 taka per kg in mid-2008.  Then, over the following year, the price came down steadily, to be around 24 taka in the late summer of 2009.  Both the spike and the fall in the price was primarily caused by global factor —but the 1/11 regime paid a political price and the AL government benefited politically from it (as noted here, AL’s popularity was very high in 2009).

Then look at what happened.  Rice price shot up again in 2010, reaching 40 taka a kg in February 2011.  And unlike in 2008, there was no global spike in prices.  This was homegrown, and it was caused by the macroeconomic mismanagement of the current government (see here for details).

rice

To sum up then, whereas the first Hasina Wajed government performed very well as far as inflation was concerned, the current government has been quite a failure.  The BNP government of the early 2000s, in contrast,  did significantly better than the  more recent governments.

Blogger Wahiduzzaman – Release him Immediately

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This is Bangladesh of 2013. This is Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Bangladesh. In this Bangladesh, even if you chop a local government elected leader Sanaullah Babu to death in broad daylight under rolling TV cameras you will not be brought to justice, you will keep terrorizing people – as long as you are a supporter of prime Ministers party. In this Bangladesh you can commit dozens of most brutal horrific murders, you can cut your opposition politician Nurul Islam into pieces before dumping in river Meghna, you will special presidential pardon to get out of jail – as long as you have the blessings of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In this Bangladesh in front of live news TV camera, a poor Biswajit may be stabbed hundreds of times to death – but the known perpetrators will remain out of reach of any law enforcement – only because the the killers reportedly are followers of Prime Minster Sheikh Hasina’s ideology.

And this is the same country University teacher and blogger Wahiduzzaman will not get a bail on a silly false case and will land in jail – only because he dared speak up in social media against injustices of the government – only because he dared point out the irreparable harm Rampal power plant will bring upon Bangladesh – only because through his writings, he dared expose the extreme injustice imposed the people of Bangladesh by the tyrannical regime of Sheikh Hasina.

Wahiduzzaman is a great geography teacher. He is an environmental activist as well. And more importantly – he is a very popular social media activist and blogger. He is a Bangladeshi nationalist. Through his writings – he brings forward the concerns of the silent and voiceless majority of Bangladesh.

In the past when bloggers representing less than 5% peoples’ views, bloggers disparaging popular faiths, religions were subject to state persecution – the loud progressive class, rightly so, exploded in a chorus of protest. That is the way it should be. Even in farther past when media activist came under the ire of the military regime that preceded this regime, all media and online activists protested in unison. Ideology, party affiliation, faith gaps did not stand in the course of the protests.

But today when Wahiduzzaman spends his first night on the dirty concrete floor of Dhaka central jail, the world is very silent. Painfully silent.

Our progressive class is now dominated by a bunch of Talibans without AK 47. While these so called progressive Talibans can be most lethal, linguistically violent and abusive towards anyone working or writing in favor of any ideology outside of their narrow and petty political standing – when it comes to the writings and commentaries of others – these so called progressive are more intolerant than even the Talibans. That’s why, when Wahiduzzaman lands in in jail, there is hardly any chatter of protests in the social media world.

While the whole world can remain silent about the state oppression and unlawful incarceration of Wahiduzzaman, we cannot keep silent about it.
Wahiduzzaman is one of our own. He is one of the core Nuraldeen bloggers. He is our friend. We demand, in the strongest terms, immediate and unconditional release of Wahiduzzaman.

Because Wahiduzzaman speaks for the oppressed and voiceless silent majority, he is the lonely warrior today. Hardly there is any strong voice out there to speak for him. All the voices who should have spoken out are silenced with state imposed fear tactic, red eye a new draconian law to reign on free cyber activism.

But people fail to recognize one simple fact that if Wahiduzzaman has to land in jail today because he chose not to remain silent and dared criticize anti-people policies of the government – what is the future of a social media activist or blogger under a future government? Where is our constitutionally mandated space for free speech? Or in this new political order all we only have is our right to remain silent?