Don’t let them fool you
Spiralling prices, terrorist attacks, blatant attempts to rig the election — the third BNP government’s many failures are self-evident. And yet, even this incompetent government presided over the fastest growth rate in our history. But one would be hard pressed to find much good news about that government.
This is because, in addition to incompetence in general governance, that government was also a disaster in terms of media manipulation and the retail politics of daily news cycle. In contrast, the current lot is probably the most media savvy in our history.
It’s therefore vitally important for the independent media — that’s you, dear reader — to be alert. It’s absolutely crucial that you remain vigilant, and keep the third AL government honest.
Let’s think about what has happened in the past week or so.
We had a much publicised all-party parliamentary delegation to visit Tipaimukh India. As far as one can tell from the publicly available information, India has not formally, officially, in writing, offered anything to Bangladesh. And yet, the delegation head is absolutely convinced with the Indian assurance. It would be interesting to see how the public views the outcome (if anyone from the Daily Star is reading — where is that AC Nielsen poll?) of this costly visit. My guess is on the right (photo: Rumi Ahmed).
And the image on the left suggests that the government has a message problem that could turn into a credibility gap very quickly. This is the cover of August issue of Forum — the monthly publication of the Daily Star. The Daily Star, dear reader. Not Daily Naya Diganta or Amar Desh. This is not going to be read by rabid right wing paranoid fringe that sees Indian conspiracy behind every little thing. Its readership includes the best and the brightest, the movers and shakers of Bangladesh.
That readership is getting the message that we don’t have enough information. The message is coming from Prof Nazrul Islam, a renowned economist whose politics is firmly in the progressive camp — he is no Mahmudur Rahman or late Aftab Ahmed who can be readily dismissed. And the same issue of Forum has a piece that questions the economic logic of giving India transit signing on to the Asian highway.
It’s good to see rigorous debate on issues like this in a serious magazine like Forum. But any such debate flies in the face of the propaganda message Mr Razzak is trying to peddle. And that’s a political problem for the government.
How has the government tried to handle this? What else has happened in the past few days?
The trial of those guilty of so much heinous corruption recommenced. Meanwhile, the process of establishing the proper history of our glorious war of liberation started, with blows struck against that diabolical military dictator and patron of war-criminals. A clear message seems to be coming out here: the Din Bodol express has left the station, you are either onboard, or you are on its way, in which case you will be ruthlessly ground down.
Okay, sarcasm aside, the government spin doctors seem to think that physical vandalism and legal intimidation can goad BNP into a suicidal politcal miscalculation. Perhaps BNP leadership is wise enough to avoid the trap. More likely, they are incapable of protesting anything. Either way, we are fortunate not to see any andolon.
But there is a danger that these issues will side track the political focus away from issues such as our relationship with India, of which Tipaimukh is an important element.
And this is not the first time Awami spin doctors have successfully changed the subject. After the Pilkhana tragedy, when BDR jawans started committing ‘suicide’ and no ‘militant connection’ was found, questions were beginning to arise. Bam! The government moved to evict Khaleda Zia from her cantonment house. All these months later, she is still there. But we did talk a lot about her house, and in the process forgot Pilkhana.
It is vitally important that we don’t let these sultans of spin dazzle us. The Prime Minister has made a categorical promise that she will resolve this issue. Razzak may be assured, but no one else is. Certainly not the Prime Minister, or else she wouldn’t have asked for an expert committee.
The opposition made a very legitimate and constructive suggestions — a rarity in our politics — of including some experts in the delegation. I haven’t seen any convincing reason why Ainun Nishat or Asif Nazrul couldn’t have been included in the team. Well, that useless trip is now behind us. Let’s keep the pressure on so that the issue is resolved appropriately.