Contemplating Minus 2

Posted in politics by jrahman on July 8, 2008

Previously in Mukti’s mid-year political roundup:

  • the three players in Bangladesh’s current political game may have non-negotiables that are far smaller than absolute power (indemnity for Moeen, safety of her sons for Khaleda, justice/retribution for Hasina);
  • Moeen would be hapy to cut a deal with either netris;
  • but both of them have reasons to break whatever deal is brokered.   

That is, Minus 1 won’t work – either both the netris will be gone, or neither will.  This post contemplates Minus 2 seriously, and discusses two questions.  Firstly, exactly what makes the regime think it can pull off Minus 2?  Secondly, should it happen, what might the future hold?

The reader should keep in mind that what follows is the analysis of a likely out-of-touch NRB.  I don’t pretend that what I write necessarily reflects the reality of Bangladesh, and would appreciate being enlightened and educated where appropriate.

Let’s start with what appears to be the regime’s gameplan.  It now seems that the (at least temporary) exiling of Sheikh Hasina is the first phase.  Whatever she has been promised, the deal won’t work unless Khaleda Zia is also effectively minussed – and I stress minussed, any deal that leaves Khaleda in politics means Hasina will be back.  It seems that the only way to force Khaleda out of politics (if not out of the country) is to torture her sons to such an extent that she/they cannot bear it anymore. 

But even if Khaleda is minussed, why won’t Hasina renege on whatever deal she has struck, and return to Dhaka two weeks after Khaleda’s capitulation?  Presumably she would.  And if she does, presumably the regime will face a confrontation.  What makes the regime so confident that it can handle that showdown?

To begin with, is Awami League willing to lead an all out people’s power uprising?  As repeated conflagrations – Kansat, Phulbari, Shonir Akhra, Dhaka University – in the past few years show, Bangladesh is one incidence away from the generalised anarchy that predates revolutions.  But does Awami League want to lead a revolution?  Probably not.  It is not a revolutionary party.  It has never been one.  And it’s not about to start now. 

However, AL has traditionally placed a lot of stock on the politics of street agitation.  Its veteran leadership – whether the RATS faction or staunch Hasina loyalists such as Matia Chowdhury – is made up of a generation that considers andolon as an integral part of politics.  If its leaders were unified, perhaps AL could lead an andolon that is well short of a general uprising but violent enough to topple the regime (think 1996). 

But even this can be questioned.  AL could not force Iajuddin to concede anything of substance in the period leading to 1/11.  Maybe the generals think that if AL couldn’t budge Iajuddin, how can they force the regime out of power now?  Perhaps the generals figure that Hasina may lead a few days of protests before being crushed just the way Tarique Rahman dealt with the opposition in 2004-06.

With AL effectively defanged, is there any chance that the opposition will come from the jatiyatabadis?  It’s hard to see how that will happen.  After all, the only way jatiyatabadis are going to get energised is if they are led by Khaleda.  If Khaleda capitulates – without which Minus 2 is a non-starter – it’s hard to see a BNP-led opposition in the near future.  In fact, in a world where Khaleda is minussed, the regime will probably able to count on the BNP grassroot to keep the Awamis in check.

The generals probably feel more secure from the fact that the traditionally most vocal anti-dictatorship segment of our society has been neutralised long before 1/11.  Why student activism has withered in the past generation is a subject worthy of its own post (see this for an analysis).  Even today, the first challenge to the army came from students.  But unlike the 1980s, this uprising had no political mooring, and predictably it was snuffed out (perhaps in a less brutal fashion than the 1980s).

Bottomline then – the generals are confident that they can take on any opposition.  This is why Gen Moeen can say to the Time magazine: If they want to make trouble, let them.  One doesn’t have to buy Farhad Mazhar’s so-called anti-imperialism to share his dim view of the state of our political parties: despite Sidr, Rangs building, inflation, power shortage, economic breakdown and thousand other causes, the goat is still tied to the same post; it brays, shakes its horns, but it simply can’t break the post (see here for the full piece).

Of course, none of this need happen.  As fellow blogger Tacit says, let’s trust Khaleda’s resolve and Hasina’s judgement (or a sense of self-preservation for both).  But suppose Minus 2 did come to pass, what then?

No historical parrallel is accurate.  But perhaps we could still draw some optimism from our own history.  This October will mark the 50th anniversary of the first ever military coup in South Asia.  Gen Ayub Khan cited pervasive corruption of venal politicians to justify his ‘revolution’.  Sounds familiar?  He talked about democracy not being ‘suited to the genius of our people’ – echoes of any ‘Harvard-educated’ officer?  And he successfully minussed two political giants – Fazlul Huq and HS Suhrawardy were as titanic figures in their day as the netris have been until recently.  Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

Ayub Khan lasted a decade.  It took a popular uprising and tectonic shifts in our politics to remove him.  And it took a mercurial figure like Mujib to make these happen. 

Is that what it comes down to then, another Mujib?  At this point, I don’t know if I should despair or be hopeful.  Despair because someone like Mujib comes only once in a few generations.  Waiting for another Mujib does sound like a desparate cry.  But we can also be hopeful.  We can be hopeful because the task before the new leader will be much easier than that Mujib faced.  If nothing else, the new leader can learn from all their predecessors including Mujib.  We might despair because we don’t see anyone on the horizon.  But we can also be hopeful from the fact that 50 years ago, Mujib too was a 38 year old relative newbie. 

And we can be hopeful because we may already be seeing flashes of the new generation in people like Rizvi.  If BNP survives as a coherent political force, it will be because of Rizvi.  And we don’t even know his name right, is it Rizvi Ahmed or Ruhul Kabir Rizvi?  The media reports both.  This is what a knowledgable person tells me when I asked how come no one heard of him:

Because in our country, you don’t get into the news if you just do your job and keep your head down.  And North Bengal is never in the limelight much anyways.  He was chairman of Bangladesh Krishi Bank, and given that you do not see any investigative reports in Prothom Alo or Daily Star (yet) detailing his alleged corruption or his sponsorship of extremists, you can tell that he did a good job.  He is also well-read in political philosophy.

Dear reader, don’t get me wrong.  I’m in no way comparing Rizvi to Mujib.  But make no mistake, if Minus 2 comes to pass, it is to people like Rizvi that we must turn.

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  1. Rumi said, on July 8, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    Official name is Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, but he was more populary known as Rizvi Ahmed since his days as a student leader.

    On to the main thrust of the post, I do not strongly believe that BNP grassroots are that easily up for grab. Khaleda Minused and all will line up to join Moeen party, that is probbaly not the reality of 2008. With every grassroot leader given the position to lead Moeen’s outfit, there will be at least two more holding the BNP fort in the same locality. Zahiruddin Swapon joined hands with Moeen-Mannan-Hafiz; the local leaders expelled him from local unit of BNP. Swapon’s prospect of a BNP ticket nomintion is almost over.

    Minusing Khaleda will be a tough task. Khaleda and both her sons and daughter in laws will need to be killed if anyone dream of such a scenerio.

    1/11 has failed because it was kind of a “catching fish, not touching water” effort. The organizers wanted a 15th August like changeover, but they did not have the courage-support-logistics-mindset to repeat another 15th August type massacre.

  2. jrahman said, on July 9, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Thanks Rumi bhai for the clarification.

    I certainly hope that minussing Khaleda will be a tough, if not impossible, task. And whereas the regime could handle only AL, I don’t think they have a chance against both AL and BNP.

    On the resolve of BNP grassroot, what you say is true to the extent that there are many people like Rizvi – relatively unknown nationally, but capable grass root politicians. And one main thrust of the post is that it is to people like Rizvi that our future belongs.

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