Zafar Sobhan is a good friend, great editor, and sometimes, a good political analyst. Yes, I’ve had my public disagreement with him, for example about the 2010 Indo-Bangla summit (my scepticism has been backed by reality). But Zafar also got some big things right. His general Awami leanings notwithstanding, he was one of the first to be bluntly honest about l’affaire Yunus — something many of my AL-er friends have failed to do. More importantly, when all the pundits — from Mahmudur Rahman to Asif Nazrul to Nayeemul Islam Khan to Nazim Kamran Chowdhury to yours truly — expected a last minute rally towards BNP in 2008 election, Zafar correctly called the Awami landslide.
Sadly, his recent piece on Bangladeshi politics is not one of those stronger ones. Rather, it characterises both elements of Zafar’s analysis — astute description of the underlying issue, and a rather naive conclusion.
(Warning: this post contains high degree of unsubstantiated speculation).
One good thing about blogging solo, or not writing op eds, is that you don’t have to follow any deadline or chase the latest headline. Blogging at UV, for example, used to involve having a timely post on whatever the major issue was in a given week. These days, on the other hand, I post on what I feel like, when I feel like. I haven’t seen the newspapers in the past 48 hours, and have no idea what’s the latest strom in the teacup. So I am going to post about a couple of speeches the BNP chairperson has given on economic matters.
As noted in my last post on Bangladesh politics, five and a half years after BNP was booted out of power, and three and half years after its electoral drubbing, the ‘facebook class’ still blames the party for much of what ails Bangladesh. Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, BNP’s de facto number two-and-half (depending on one’s views on Tarique Rahman’s active involvement in BNP politics), seems to be well aware of the problem. In a rather well written piece last year, he makes the case for BNP to that part of the ‘young generation’ who indulge in ‘ফেসবুক, বাংলা ব্লগ ও অনলাইন পত্র-পত্রিকার পাঠক প্রতিক্রিয়া’ (Facebook, Bangla blogs, and readers’ reactions in online magazines).
He runs two lines of arguments. First, BNP has better (or not-as-bad) record than AL in office. Second, it chooses to not dwell on the past. Here is a key sentence:
আমাদের রাজনীতি এই বর্তমানকে ঘিরে এবং আমি নিঃসন্দেহে দাবী করতে পারি যে আমরা আওয়ামী লীগের চেয়ে বেটার ম্যানেজারস। (Our politics is about the present and I can unequivocally claim that we are better managers than the Awami League).
That BNP’s record is at least as good as AL’s, if not better, when it comes to the economy is something reflected in the data. And one could make a similar case for non-economic matters too. Curiously, the author doesn’t actually spend much time with these facts and figures. Perhaps he thinks it’s self evident. But if that were so, his target audience would not be blaming BNP at the fag end of AL’s term. I guess recognising this, BNP has of late started to use numbers to support its case — its alternate Budget outline is a good example of that.
If the piece isn’t stuffed with data, then perhaps there was some ‘grand historical narrative’? Disappointingly, no. Mr Mirza is a good writer, and an erudite person. He could have launched a strong salvo for his party in the history wars. Instead, he dodged the fighting.
It’s an iconic 1980s song, played in the stereo systems of many a nerdy college kid over the past decades. Along with Hanif Kureishi’s work, apprently it’s among the best commentary on the Thatcher era England. It was also one of the themes of this classic Aaron Spelling drama. And now, it seems to be a great commentary on Bangladeshi political scene. Reading the Economist’s recent editorial and news story on Bangladesh, I kept recalling Morrissey’s matter-of-fact statement: when you say it’s gonna happen “now”, well, when exactly do you mean? see I’ve already waited too long, and all my hope is gone.