While commenting on an early draft of my post on the chronology of coups and mutinies, a friend suggested I turn it into a long form magazine, or even semi-academic article. Now, I am not in a position to write anything long form — or short, op ed, form either; dear reader, this blog is the only thing I write in these days. If I were writing a long article, I would pose two questions:
1. Did history pre-dispose Bangladesh to military interventions?
2. How do we end the cycle of interventions?
This post tackles the first question. There maybe a separate post on the second one.
Couple of weeks ago, I showed how the Ershad regime had the worst economic record of all the Bangladehsi governments of the past three decades. Why did the regime perform so poorly? At a first glance, as finance ministers, Syeduzzaman or Maj Gen MA Munim appear to be no less qualified than Saifur Rahman or SAMS Kibria, while the current top econocrat AMA Muhith served in that role back in 1982-83. All five are/were professionals and technocrats with personal integrity. All pursued similar economic policies — macroeconomic stabilisation packages and structural reform programmes – with similar imprimatur from the IMF and the World Bank. Why then the disparity in the results?
The difference was not in the ministers and their policies. Syeduzzaman and Munim did their best. It’s just that their best wasn’t enough to off set the reckless and cavalier way Lt Gen HM Ershad ran the country. While the finance ministers would negotiate a macro stability package and do the hard work in restoring order to public finances, Ershad would dispense political patronage that would blow a hole in the budget. While the ministers worked out a privatisation plan to revive industrialisation, Ershad would give bank credits to favourite cronies. The result was the dismal performance shown in the earlier post.
And not just in economic affairs. In his nine years in officer, and in two decades since, Ershad has done tremendous damage to Bangladesh, killing — in a spiritual sense — an entire generation, the generation that is actually running Bangladesh today.
Ziaur Rahman, military strongman turned a very popular politician, was killed exactly 30 years ago today. Despite the twists and turns of politics, three decades from his death, when things actually work in Bangladesh, they work along the path set by Zia. And they work because the politics of synthesis crafted by Zia had continued from the work of his predecessors, and his successors saw the merit in keeping them.
In a five-part series, I show how the Zia synthesis still defines Bangladesh’s politics and governance, economy, society and culture, and foreign policy. Not in all aspects does this blog agree with the synthesis — the disapprovals are also pointed out. Finally, the series points out how along one crucial dimension, the Zia synthesis has completely been abandoned.
The discourse about Zia is dominated by lies of various degree. This series is a modest attempt at setting the record straight.
This week, Bangladesh celebrates its 40th birthday — the country came into existence on 26 March 1971. As it happens, this week as also seen the 71st anniversary of another seminal event — on 23 March 1940, the Lahore Resolution was presented at a meeting of the All India Muslim League by AK Fazlul Huq, the then Prime Minister of Bengal. Popularly known as the Pakistan Resolution, it stated:
That the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in majority as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign.
Did the events of March 1971 nullify the resolution of March 1940? Or was the earlier resolution realised by the later events?
Beyond the chest thumping Bangla blogs and op ed columns, there is actually a very lively academic discourse that wrestles with these questions. I strongly recommend the reader to writings of Ahmed Safa, Jatin Sarkar, Tazeen Murshid or Joya Chaterjee — a page of their average writing is much better than a dozen op eds by, say, Syed Badrul Ahsan (unless you read Ahsan for sheer entertainment value).
Personally, I prefer to see myself as a student of history, not a scholar. So I don’t really have anything terribly original to say about that discourse. Instead, let me indulge in ‘what if’ fantasies about a two-winged Pakistan surviving beyond 1971.