If there is one constant refrain in Bangladeshi political punditry, it is that BNP as a political party has no future, it is broken beyond repair, it really stands for nothing, why, BNP means Basically No Party. But defying these pundits, BNP keeps bouncing back. And yet, some pundits keep ignoring the facts of BNP’s resilience, and continue to harp on about BNP’s imminent demise.
The thing is, cacophony of these pundits actually drown out some very legitimate critical analysis of BNP, analysis that BNP leaders and supporters would do well to dwell on at length. This post provides a framework to think about these critical analyses.
The blog went into a hiatus about year ago. The reasons for that extended absence are, unfortunately, still relevant. That’s why the blog has been far less frequent than was the case in the past. However, it is what it is. I am not sure when the blog can be fully operational again. For now, pieces will come infrequently, and the blog will often be an archive for material published elsewhere. Also, the comments section will be off —it is disrespectful to not respond to comments, but since I can sometime be offline for days, if not weeks, it’s better to have the comments off.
This means no direct interaction with the reader. But this also means the blog will become what blogs originally were — an online diary, a weblog, where one records one’s own thoughts and observations. I guess it’s somewhat fitting that the first post in the new format is on the set of events that rocked Bangladesh as the blog went into hiatus.
These events, according to the contemporaneous analyses, were going to change everything forever. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that the contemporaneous analyses were mostly wrong. This is a for-the-record post summarising my evolving thoughts as the events unfolded between 5 Feb and 5 May 2013. It is important to note what this is not. This is not analysis — I am not trying to offer an explanation of what happened, nor provide any insight into what they mean for our past, present or future. This is not activism either — I am not arguing any particular case. Rather, this is an extremely self-indulgent post, the target here is really myself years down the track. If anyone else reads it, that’s just bonus.
Like a match box full of sticks —that’s how the Farmgate over bridge was once described to me. It was the early 1990s, when six or so million people lived in Dhaka, while Bangladesh’s population was around 110 million. I can’t think of any match box that, once full, can pack in a significant rise in the number of sticks, and yet, Bangladesh has somehow found room for extra people. In the two decades since my visiting friend saw the teeming multitudes of Farmgate, the country’s population has risen to 150 million, and depending on how one counts, Dhaka is home to 15 or more million people.
The headcount, however, does not quite capture the fact that Bangladesh is going through a demographic transition. A transition that is perhaps as remarkable as, and probably related to the Bangladesh paradox. As Chart 1 shows, over the past three decades, population growth has slowed significantly and the fertility rate (the number of children each woman bears on average) has declined markably. Given the fertility rate is already close to the replacement rate of around 2%, it is quite possible that population growth may well slow even further from current 1% a year.
The party’s undisputed supremo has given an iron clad ultimatum to the all powerful government, while an unequivocal promise has been made to the party rank and file that victory is imminent. Political temper is reaching an unprecedented level. Violence has spread to even the remotest village, and the government repression is just as fierce. Ultimately, with the economy on the verge of disintegration, the urban and moneyed classes prevail upon the leader to call off the protests. The andolon has failed.
Mrs Khaleda Zia. BNP. Awami League. 2013-14.
MK Gandhi. Indian National Congress. The Raj. 1921-22.
Professor MA Taslim of Dhaka University is my favourite commentator on Bangladesh economy. I would readily recommend most of his Off the mark columns. However, even the great have an off day once a while, and Prof Taslim definitely missed the mark with this piece about Bangladesh’s development record.
It seems that every man, woman, child, their pets, even their Apple devices seem to have an opinion on what BNP should have done. Well, I am not going to add to that volume. I don’t presume to lecture politicians who have been practising their craft since before I was a twinkling in my parent’s eyes on what they should have done. I can, however, revisit what I wrote exactly halfway through the Awami League’s last term, and make an educated guess about how things could unfold from here on.
… there are good reasons to expect an AL win in 2013 election. What happens then?
… AL may well win the 2013 election, but its ability to hold on to power and govern successfully will depend on four key powerbrokers in Bangladesh: the bureaucracy, the army, foreign powers, and the business sector.
That’s what I wrote in July 2011. To be sure, I got a lot of things wrong. Follow through the links and you’ll find that I was fearing that a fragmented BNP would hand Awami League a narrow victory in a flawed election. The reality is that while BNP was more united than at any time in its history — not a single member of any standing left the party to join the 5 January election — and might have won any semi-decent election in a landslide, Mrs Wajed decided to hold an election that surpassed the 1996 or 1988 farces to rival the 1971 ‘by elections’ held under Lt Gen Niazi.
(Guest post by Tacit. A version posted at Rumi Ahmed’s blog.)
BNP has made a mistake! BNP has missed the election train! Khaleda Zia must repent now! I keep hearing versions of this argument from various quarters, including individuals in whom I have a great deal of faith and whose judgment I usually regard as sound.
What would have happened had BNP participated, and hypothetically, won the election? Would Sheikh Hasina have handed over power to Khaleda Zia and meekly left Ganabhaban?
I can tell you that Sheikh Hasina will not hand over power. It can only happen over our dead bodies. – Was Mr Wazed speaking only in the context of coups, or was it a general statement, encompassing all foreseeable future possibilities?
A magical realist masterpiece, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children has weird and improbable events and people juxtaposed against the history of the 20th century South Asia up to the late 1970s. One such improbable fact was that at the time of writing, and thus the story’s culmination, military rulers of the erstwhile two wings of Pakistan had the same first name.
This is not the only parallel between the political history of Bangladesh and post-1971 Pakistan.
Both successor states of United Pakistan started with larger-than-life charismatic leaders, whose rules ended in tragic denouement inconceivable in 1972. Both giants found governance to be much harder than populist rhetoric, both resorted to un-democracy, and both ended up meeting cruel ends at the hand of their trusted guards. Both countries succumbed to dictatorships in the 1980s, although the extent and mechanism varied. In both countries democratic opposition developed. In both countries, some form of democratic politics came into practice by the 1990s.
(Guest post by Tacit, a previous version posted at Rumi Ahmed’s).
In the days of yore, when men were men, and giants strode the earth, there used to be a website. It was called unheardvoice. It was, for a while, very good. Then it stopped being as good. Then it disappeared. So it was with great interest that I recently read a newspaper column by Asif Saleh, one of the founders of unhearvoice.
The Guardian has been listing top 10 movies by genre. Batman, Superman, Spider-man, Ironman all make at least one appearance, as do the Avengers and X-Men, and so does pleasingly surprisingly, Blade, in the superhero list, which is predictably topped by The Dark Knight.
Now, the Dark Knight Trilogy is right up there in terms of Hollywood epic grandeur. And I am partial to the political philosophy themes in that series. I should sometime write a piece on that.
But I think the best ‘superhero’ movie — by which, I of course mean a trilogy — is yet to be made.