Mukti

A few old men

Posted in Bangladesh, democracy, elections, history, politics, Uncategorized by jrahman on December 4, 2018

A corrupt, selfish elite rules over you, an elite in cahoots with foreigners, to whom the nation’s assets and future is being sold; and the lying media and rootless intellectuals stop you from seeing the truth; and yet, you sense the truth, that’s why you flock to the leader; even as the enemies of the people demonise him for not echoing their sophistry, you feel he tells it as it is — that he will kick the elite out, drain the swamp, lock the corrupt up, kill the criminals, and fix what ails the country; and make no mistake, it’s not hard to fix things, it’s just the knavery and perfidy of corrupt elite that need to be rooted out, and the leader will do just that; and he has proved it, hasn’t he, in his remarkable career as (business tycoon or mayor or army officer or whatever); he will make the country great, because he is truly of the country, like you are, and unlike those footloose elite who will flee the land with their ill gotten wealth if things get tough.

In recent years, variations of the above have reverberated from Washington DC to New Delhi, Warsaw to Brasilia, and Istanbul to Manila.  And politics around the world has been shaken.  There appears to be one exception — there doesn’t appear to be a Bangladeshi strongman on the scene.

There might have been.  After all, charges of corruption and ‘selling the country to foreigners’ can be laid quite easily against the current regime in Dhaka.  And historically, Bangladeshis have proved as susceptible to the cult of the leader as any other people.  So there might well have been a would be strongman leading the opposition.

Curiously, as Sherlock Holmes might have said, strongman in Bangladeshi politics is a dog that didn’t bark.

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Politicsback

Posted in democracy, elections, politics by jrahman on November 25, 2018

These old men are bringing politics back, yeah / Them other guys don’t know how to act, yeah…. — okay, that’s enough frivolities, this is a serious political post.  Jatiya Oikya Front is taking on the regime of Hasina Wajed through the ballot box, thereby bringing politics back, politics that was sent packing by the prime minister of East Peccavistan five years ago.  What exactly is going on?  How did we get here?  That’s hard enough to answer, never mind any prediction of what will happen next!

What do I mean politics was sent packing?  Four years ago, I argued that our institutional settings — unitary republic with a unicameral legislature, constitutional bar against floor crossing, and the first past the post voting system — plus the historical baggage carried by the two party chiefs led to the autocracy of Mrs Wajed.  Her rival, Mrs Zia, was soundly beaten.  And with that, politics as we knew it ended.

The institutions we created/inherited, with the historical factors, led to the politics of the past decades. After 1991, BNP realised that it had power over so many things, while AL realised that it had power over absolutely nothing.  AL immediately set on winning power. It went with what it knew well —andolon. BNP panicked and rigged a by-election in Magura, giving AL a casus beli. After 1996, BNP figured that andolon would not do, so they introduced the alliance concept. After 2001, AL did andolon, but also formed a bigger alliance and introduced behind-the-scene moves with the establishment. Meanwhile, each successive government took centralisation to a new level.

And all this, because losing is not an option in a winner take all world.

At least in that world, the existence of two parties created some form of balance of force.  That balance is now gone.  BNP is not able to dislodge the government.  Calling for a free and fair election is a pointless exercise because the government isn’t interested in offering one, and the establishment isn’t convinced switching the masters will do anyone any good.  As a result, politics as we have come to know is finished.

A few hours after I posted that, another round of andolon ensued.  I don’t know whether this was premeditated or spontaneous, but the opposition BNP’s apparent number two called for the street protest to continue until the government fell.  I don’t know whether the violence that ensued were acts of agent provocateurs, but force did not bring politics back.

So, how did politics come back now?

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Putting a ring on it

Posted in democracy, elections, politics by jrahman on November 14, 2018

The Fonz, was a cool guy.  No, the leather jacketed Fonzie was the cool guy in the small all American town of Happy Days — a 1970s American sitcom set in the 1950s reruns of which aired frequently in the 1990s.  The Fonz was so cool that no one ever dared cross him, except no one ever saw Fonzie actually throw a punch.  Fonzie was cool because everyone agreed that he was cool.  He had the credibility that he was cool, even though no one quite knew how he earned that credibility.

Credibility is a subject of great interest to policy-oriented social studies types.  For example, consider the case of terrorists — of the mid-20th century, non-suicide bombing, pre-jihadi variety — taking over a skyscraper or a battleship, and declaring that they would kill a hostage every hour unless their demands of a million dollar in cash and safe passage to Brazil are met.  Well, if the authorities consist of cool guys like the arse-kicking president who would never give in to the terrorists, and the terrorists knew this well, then perhaps terrorists would never attempt their nefarious act.

How does one establish credibility?  Finn Kydland and Ed Prescott studied this in the 1970s, and won the Bank of Sweden Prize in 2004.  One implication of their theory, and theories that followed, is that credibility is dependent on actions.  If you make a promise, and incur some costs in the process of making or keeping the promise, then you’re more likely to be taken seriously.  This is where the idea of putting a ring on it comes from.  A diamond ring is costly, and serves no practical purpose other than to signal to the potential bride that the guy is serious.

I have been thinking about credibility a lot in the context of Bangladesh’s new opposition alliance and the upcoming election.  Specifically, Shafquat Rabbee’s recent op ed got me thinking.

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Ghosts of Shapla Chattar

Posted in Bangladesh, history, Islamists, politics, Uncategorized by jrahman on November 4, 2018

What is the current status of Jamaat politics in Bangladesh?  The country’s largest Islamist party — at least in terms of parliamentary representation over the past few decades — is denied registration by the Election Commission.  So it can’t participate in the next election under its own name.  Its members can, of course, participate as independent candidates, or under some other party’s ticket.  In either case, they won’t be able to use the party’s traditional electoral symbol of scale.

But Jamaat is not officially banned.  The party still exists.  And is used as a cudgel by every Awami hack to beat up, literally all too often, any opposition voice.

Ironically, the legal status of Jamaat in today’s Bangladesh seems to be pretty much what it was under the bette noir of the current regime.  As Rumi Ahmed describes in detail, Jamaat was denied electoral registration when Ziaur Rahman restored multi-party politics.   ‘Zia rehabilitated Jamaat’ is one of the commonest lie in Bangladesh, and is so successful as a propaganda that even BNPwallahs don’t tend to refute it.  The fact of the matter is, to quote Rumi bhai:

Ziaur Rahman’s assessment was that after their direct opposition to Bangladesh in 1971 and their atrocities – Jamaat brand politics is too toxic and unsuitable for Bangladesh. He was also very aware of Jamaat’s organizational base and 5-10% vote base which he wanted to be used in the joint moderate IDL platform.

To elaborate on this, Zia was acutely aware of the risk of disenfranchising a part of the country that was capable of ruthless, organised violence.  In that regard, allowing a parliamentary party that explicitly drew its politics from Islam was an act of far-sighted statesmanship in 1978 — that is, before the Muslim world was rocked by Ayatollah Khomeini’s triumphant return to Tehran, Soviet tanks in Kabul, and the bloodbath in Mecca’s Grand Mosque.

Anyway, this post is not about Zia’s legacy.  Instead, I want to think through some issues around Islamist politics in Bangladesh as we head to what might be another politically charged winter.

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You say you want a revolution….

Posted in Bangladesh, history, politics, TV, uprisings by jrahman on June 6, 2018

During the 1972 Sino-American summit, Premier Zhou Enlai told President Richard Nixon that it was ‘too early to say’ what the impacts of the French Revolution were.  Deep and poignant?  Apparently not! It turns out, the Premier was not talking about the July 1789 storming of the Bastille, but the protests that brought France to a standstill fifty years ago this month.  Of course, it wasn’t just Paris where one heard the sound of marching, charging feet.  Protests against the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement had been raging in the United States for a while, there was the Prague Spring east of the Iron Curtain, and the global south — from Mexico to Pakistan — were rocked by upheavals.

Channelling the Stones in his 1960s memoir, Tariq Ali lamented the failure of the street fighters to usher in revolution anywhere.  Reviewing his work for my first published article (in a student magazine — it was the 1990s, and I don’t even have a copy, let alone a link) ahead of his visit to our campus, I wondered as a Gen-Xer whether the fascination with 1968 reflected the Baby Boomers’ demographic plurality.  Of course, they are still reminiscing about the glory days, but there is a lot in the reflections of the ultimate soixante-huitard that resonates with me, for example: pseudo-revolutionary violence would change nothing, but peaceful reforms might.

What are the Deshi equivalents of Baby Boomers and Gen-X, and for the sake of completeness, Millenials?  Following the Pew Research, let’s roughly divide these generations as those born between: mid-1940s and the mid-1960s; mid-1960s and 1980; and after 1980.  I guess we can channel Rushdie and call the oldest generation the Midnight’s Children.  The middle generation can be called the Liberation generation — for the older part of this group, events of 1971 and aftermath form the first memory though they would have been too young to recognise their significance in real time, while the aftermath of the war shaped the childhood of the younger ones.

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Dadagiri redux

Posted in action, adventure, Bollywood, books, classics, desi fiction, Drama, movies, thriller, TV by jrahman on May 21, 2018

When Shashi Kapoor passed away late last year, my facebook was abuzz (or should I say alight?) with clips of mere paas maa hai.  I wanted to post my favourite Kapoor as my childhood favourite hero.  I was sad to find no clip of Kissa Kathmandu ki — Satyajit Ray’s small screen adaptation of his Feluda caper in Nepal.  Granted it wasn’t Ray’s finest, but all sorts of weird and improbable stuff can be found online, why not this, I wondered.

My mind then wandered to why Ray cast Kapoor and not Amitabh Bachchan, the only tall man in India, for the role of the towering Bengali detective?  Perhaps it was because Bachchan was by then too busy with politics.  But that leads one to wonder why Ray hadn’t made a Hindi Feluda earlier?

For that matter, why did Ray not make more Hindi movies?  It’s not like he was oblivious to Bollywood trends.  He even set one of the Feluda adventures in mid-1970s Bombay, when Bachchan was smashing box office records and the bones of villains.  In the novel, Lalmohan Ganguly is advised by Feluda about the masala that would make a blockbuster:

…. instead of one double role have a pair of double roles.  The first hero is paired against the first villain, and the hero number two and the villain number two make the second pair.  That this second pair exists isn’t revealed at the beginning…..

… need smuggling — gold, iamond, cannabis, opium, whatever; need five musical sequence, one of which should be religious; need two dance numbers; two or three chase sequences are needed, and it would be great if in at least one of which an expensive car is driven off a cliff; need a scene of inferno; need heroines against the heroes and vamps against the villains; need a police officer with integrity; need flashback of the heroes’ backstories; …. need quick changes of scenes…. ; at least couple of times the story need to be on the hills or the seaside…..

…. at the end — and this is a must — need happy ending.  But the ending would work best if it can be preceded by several tearjerkers.

Of course, this is tongue-in-cheek.  Ray wasn’t into making blockbusters.  And he explained in a number of places that he was most comfortable in his mother tongue.  But Ray was so in tune with the zeitgeist that even Enter the Dragon is channeled in that story, and I can’t help but wish he would have made the movie that would have been rishte mein toh baap to Sholay, Don, Qurbani, Tridev or Mohra.

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Basu’s bizarre bakwas

Posted in development, economics, macro, political economy by jrahman on May 6, 2018
Rubbish, Worthless, Nonsense, Silliness
(Urban Dictionary)

Upon being asked by a friend whether I had read Kaushik Basu’s recent piece on Bangladesh, my first reaction was — is that the rather lazy piece on why Bangladesh is doing well?

Let me note my gratitude to the friend for pushing me to read the piece. It is, to use the favourite adjective of Bangladesh’s Finance Minister, just bogus.  Out of respect for my personal interactions with the author, I will refrain from using that term.  But this bizarre article should still be debunked.

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Memoirs of a wimpy kid

Posted in Drama, family, gender, movies, society, TV by jrahman on April 28, 2018

Not only has my pre-tween boy read all 12 Wimpy Kid books, watched various movie versions, played the board game, and been through various activity books, he has convinced me to read (by which I mean listen on audibles) a few.  They are fun.  It’s not hard for me to see a bit of my own wonder years in these stories.

Of course, my tweens were in the 1980s Dhaka, not modern American suburbia.  My teen years were in international schools in the tropics, owing to my father’s job.  I was in high school (in the American sense) at the same time as the gang from 90210.  A quarter century before social media, our social lives were shaped by and mirrored what we watched on the tele.  It was appropriate years before Rage Against the Machine penned — Cinema simulated life in trauma / Forthright culture, Americana / Chained to the dream they got you searchin’ for……

Imagine then how old I felt when watching Dylan McKay grounding his teenage son in Riverdale.

Now, here was an idea — take the key characters from a comic book set in the happy days and set them in a town that must be the twin of Twin Peaks, this was stuff of inspired imagination.  I found the first few episodes of Riverdale riveting, but then somehow lost track.  I guess these days, if it is not binge-watched, it’s hard to watch at all.

Well, I wouldn’t at all recommend binge-watching the other Netflix teen drama from 2017.  Then again, I found the show quite padded, and just-not-good-TV, so I wouldn’t really recommend it at all.

But even a bad show, sometime, makes you think.   (more…)

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Games of Peacock Thrones

Posted in fantasy, history, South Asia, what ifs by jrahman on April 8, 2018

I haven’t read Helen Dale’s new book, but Jesus as an extremist, political philosophy of imperialism — sure sounds promising.  However, what about the counterfactual of an industrialised Rome?  I did read the author’s notes, and some commentary, with much interest.  This got me thinking.  What about a counterfactual of an industrialised Mughal Empire?

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Libraries…

Posted in family by jrahman on February 21, 2018

… are fun places with lots of books.  I love reading books.  I want to be the class librarian because I want to protect the books and help you read them.

That was the eight year old’s ‘statement’ as he nominated himself for the class librarian on the first day of Grade 3.  He was super excited to tell me about it as we walked home after school.  I shared his excitement as I too had great fun at libraries.

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