(Updated: 1353 BDT, Aug 24 2014).
Factors that have put the blog on a deep freeze are the same ones that keep me from going to the movies. And in any case, who needs movies when you have Game of Thrones and Zia Haider Rahman? Dawn of the Planet of the Apes? A sequel to a prequel reboot — the second one in a decade or so — of a 1960s movie that spawned four (or five?) sequels in the 1970s, with a confusing title — rise before dawn, were the producers observing Ramadan — is it really worth making the effort for this, I asked myself.
I am glad I did make the effort. The movie has received positive reviews, and is a box office smash. And it has generated enough bubbles between my ears to force my fingers on the keyboard. (Warning: this is not a movie review, and thus I am not confined by the ‘no spoiler’ norm — read at your own risk).
Macroeconomists have an abysmal record when it comes to forecasting. As Tim Harford documents, as late as September 2008 —when the Lehman Brothers collapsed —consensus among the economists at the Wall Street and City of London was that no major economy would fall into recession in 2009. Not deterred by such abysmal failure, market economists have ventured into predicting the World Cup. The overwhelming favourite is Brazil.
And economists of Goldman Sachs —which dominates the Wall Street the way Brazil dominates football —have actually published the analysis behind their prediction. According to their analysis, Brazil has a nearly 50% chance of winning. Of course, Brazil is also the favourite in the betting markets. But as of kick off (that is, before the Croatian counter attack stunned the world), betting agencies such as Ladbrokes were implying only around 25% chance of a Brazil win.
But see, I don’t want to vote for AL. I do not think AL should return to power. We need checks and balances. BNP should come. But how can I vote for BNP when they are in an alliance with JI.
That’s what a friend told me in December. I have the deepest respect for this person’s sincerity. She is a genuine progressive. She wants a democratic Bangladesh — of this I have no doubt. And I understand her reasons for aversion to Jamaat — never mind 1971, Jamaat categorically rejects some liberal-progressive tenets such as equal citizenship rights. Had she said “I will not vote for Jamaat”, I would have accepted it.
But that’s not what she said. She implicitly rejected BNP for its electoral alliance with Jamaat.
I didn’t engage in a prolonged conversation with her. She is hardly the only person I know who made that leap about conflating Jamaat and BNP. Bangladesh is full of self-proclaimed progressives who choose to reject democracy, never mind the facts. I just don’t have the mental energy to engage in fruitless debates these days. At least my friend had the decency to not engage in that kind of sophistry.
I didn’t engage in a political discussion with her, but was reminded of her comment after the Indian election. You see, I had heard similar stuff from my Indian progressive friends. Way back in the early 2000s, I heard people say “don’t want to vote for Congress, don’t like the sycophancy/dynasty, and the Vajpayee government isn’t so bad, but you know, how can BJP be supported when they have someone like Modi”.
And now Modi is the prime minister.
My Indian friends could have supported Vajpayee or other moderates in BJP/NDA government. They could have provided the left flank of a genuinely centrist alternative to Congress. But their self-inflicted intellectual blind spot meant that they couldn’t even contemplate such a course — never mind that such an alternative would have served India well.
A lot of things contributed to Mr Modi’s rise to power. The progressives’ blind spot is just one factor, and probably not even an important one. But to the extent that he represents a lot of things progressives loath, they have no one but themselves to blame.
I fear whether someday my Bangladeshi progressive friend will wake up to her political nightmare. Jamaat’s importance in Bangladesh is constantly over-rated, and BNP’s strength under-rated, by everyone. Of course, Jamaat benefits from the inflated power projection. And the Jamaat bogey suits the Awamis fine. The thing is, as the centrist opposition is systematically denied any political space, and as the ruling party degenerates into an orgy of violence (google Narayanganj / Feni murders), Islamists (Jamaat or otherwise) may well emerge as the only alternative.
My friend is genuine progressive, not a closet Awami fascist. Will people like her act to prevent their own worst nightmare?
West Bengal (no one uses Paschimbanga it seems!) that is. While Bangladeshi chatteratti — online/offline, print/electronic — are all agog about what Mr Modi might mean, hardly anyone is talking about what’s happening in West Bengal. And yet, just as analysing political development of former West Pakistan can shed light on our own failures, analysing our co-linguists to the west can also help charting our path. And let me stress the word analysis — I am calling for an unsentimental look at politics/society/economy, not another round of dui Bangla / epar-opar tearjerking.
Over the fold are five topics that ought to be explored by serious analysts.
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.