What divides us

Posted in history, politics by jrahman on October 19, 2009

One of the coolest people I met at the BDI Conference at Kennedy School a few days ago was Lawrence Lifschultz, whose Bangladesh: The Unfinished Revolution should be a must read for anyone interested in the country’s politics, governance, and history.  Without necessarily accepting its normative/prescriptive judgment, it is easily one of the best positive/descriptive account of what happened in Bangladesh in 1975. 

At the risk of sounding heretical, 1975, not 1971, is the pivotal year for Bangladesh — Forum’s Zafar Sobhan once told me.  1971 is settled history.  The important issue of war crimes trial notwithstanding, there is no political division over 1971 — no one is really anti-1971, no one says Bangladesh should become East Pakistan.  The division is, or has been for much of the past 3 decades, over the direction a sovereign Bangladesh should take, with 1975 providing the crossroads.  How one interpretes 1975, who one considers to be the heroes and villains of that blood-stained year, have been the key determinants of one’s politics until recently.

 Last September, two prominent Bangladeshi political scientists echoed these points in back-to-back interviews to Prothom Alo.  There is much that the professors predicted right.  And there is some that they missed.  I thought it would be a good idea to revisit these interviews a year on. 

Talukder Maniruzzaman gave the first interview.  He notes the following:

  • Our future is a limping democracy.
  • 1/11 achieved nothing except for increased militarisation of the country.
  • Our political faultline revolves around India.  BNP is the anti-Indian party, majority of Bangladeshis are anti-Indian, therefore the electoral field is tilted in BNP’s favour.

Harun-Ar-Rashid followed, with these key points:

  • In addition to India, the fact that the anti-Awami politics in Bangladesh directly benefited from 15 August massacre has been a dividing factor.
  • While 1/11 didn’t achieve much institutionally, at a personal level many politicians drew lessons from it.
  • AL’s better record at office at least partially off set the India factor.

The regular reader would know that this blog does not believe 1/11 achieved much.  And this post isn’t about that anyway.  Instead, let’s focus on the broad political divisions — India and 15 August —highlighted by the two professors. 

The point both academics make is this: until Aug 1975, there was an unpopular pro-Indian regime in power, through coups and countercoups, an anti-Indian coalition emerged and came to dominate electoral politics, and because this coalition benefited from the Aug 1975 massacre, those who supported the pre-1975 regime could never trust the post-1975 coalition. 

Prof Maniruzzaman rather dramatically wagered 100 taka on a BNP victory, claiming that the India factor trumps everything else.  Of course he got it wrong.  


One thing they both miss is the impact of the generation that was born after the guns of 1975 fell silent.   First-timer voters made up 23% of total voters in Dec 2008.  For simplicity, let’s assume that they made up about a quarter of all votes cast (we know that they turned out heavily) and the rest of the 75% voted pretty much same way as they did in 2001 — ie both AL and BNP would have received about 30% votes, with BNP’s alliance giving it an edge.  What was the final tally?  AL 49% (plus 8% allies) against BNP 33% (plus 4% allies).  That is, the young voters broke decisively for AL. 

I have discussed why AL won here (Syeed Ahamed provides a more detailed analysis here).  The point to note here is that India or 1975 don’t divide the new voters, bulk of whom don’t even have any memory of the 1970s. 

The majority of these voters voted against their family trend in this election.  This means that AL cannot take these voters for granted.  Having voted nouka against their elders’ preferences in Dec 2008, they could easily switch their preference to someone else in early 2014.  AL will have to earn their vote next time — dynastic loyalty will not do.

And BNP should learn that harping on about India won’t work.  It will need to demonstrate why AL’s approach is not working and what it will do differently.  Only that will actually deliver the younger voters to dhaner sheesh.  And let me stress what it will do differently bit — merely we’re not AL won’t be enough, not voting / voting no are perfectly valid alternative to voting nouka.  BNP will also have to earn their vote. 

What divides us then?  India and 1975 divided people who remember the 1970s, people who have a living memory of not being Bangladeshi.  In the coming years, these issues will not divide us any more.  As we say good bye to all that, we will be divided on how we think the government of Sheikh Hasina Wazed is doing, and what we believe the alternatives are.

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42 Responses

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  1. Unheard Voice » What divides us said, on October 20, 2009 at 7:58 am

    […] (More at Mukti) […]

  2. Rumi said, on October 20, 2009 at 9:53 am

    I am not so sure about this. Show me an example where there the population of a smaller neighboring state is in perpetual love affair with the massive powerful nation along its border? I also do not believe that December 2008 election disaster of BNP is because of its India rhetoric which young people rejected. BNP lost due to a perceived bad governance during its rule and anti incumbency factor. India is not an issue of only Generation 70. India is very much an issue of generation 2021.

  3. kgazi said, on October 20, 2009 at 10:57 am

    I think BD is very much divided along a heavy line between pro and anti India. Had Hasina managed to clearly divorce herself from India, and all things India, she would get a lot more cooperation from BNP and supporters, which are roughly 50% of BD.

    Immediately withn its first 12 months Hasina is scrambling to complete all the AWAMI pent-up demands, which were on hold since 1996 – Tipaimukh, transit, CHT, offshore drilling, SSF, Ashuganj Khulna port, Mujib trials, etc, ALL OF WHICH are related to India. Not much else has been accomplished in BD in last 10 months.

    What divides us? India !!

    • Udayan said, on October 20, 2009 at 11:47 am

      Why are Mujib trials related to India?

  4. Fariha said, on October 20, 2009 at 10:58 am

    did i read this wrong or did rumi bhai actually write “perceived bad governance during its rule” vis a vis bnp?

    • Rumi said, on October 20, 2009 at 6:57 pm


      Until you have data to compare the governance two governments prior and two governments after, in my POV any failure we talk about will be perceived failure. Dig in the data like Consumer price index, corruption perception index, inflation rate, GDP, FDI, crime rate, rate/ depth of politicization of institutes, service sector ( energy/ transportation/ traffic) improvement indexes, MMR, IMR, woman’s indexes etc and put them in a time continuum graph form. You will not need two executives of a baby food product and Television sales merchant corporate to tell you which was and which was not bad governance.

  5. Fariha said, on October 20, 2009 at 11:16 am

    and JR

    “First-timer voters made up 23% of total voters in Dec 2008”

    33%…23% was a typo that ZS never got around to correcting!

  6. jrahman said, on October 20, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Rumi bhai, no one is saying anything about ‘love affair’ with India. The very fact that you’re using that language surprises me.:-)

    TM claimed that ‘we are anti-Indian’ would trump ‘perceived bad governance’. It didn’t. I think the reason is because today’s generation is not satisfied with ‘we’re anti-Indian’. As I said, BNP will need to show what it will do differently than AL — simply saying ‘AL = desh bikri, BNP = desh bachao’ has clearly failed. One can be very anti-Indian, but still reject BNP because of empty rhetoric. That is the difference between generation 1970 and generation 2020.

    KGazi, if only we could dig a big canal around our border, and float Bangladesh away from evil India and everything to do with it, eh?

    Udayan, I don’t think anyone claimed Mujib trials were related to India.

    Fariha, the essential point remains whether the number is 23 or 33%.

    • kgazi said, on October 20, 2009 at 1:09 pm

      Jyoti – the issue is not “we need to float away from evil India”, the issue is INDIANIZATION of Bangladesh, and basically “selling-off” BD to India (by AL), that the “anti-Indians” are concerned about.

      People are concerned that ‘agreements’ and ‘treaties’ made hurriedly with India today will backfire against the interest of BD in future, eg the tin-bigha agreement apparently signed by Mujib in 1974 with India. I bet he had no clue what he was getting into – it must have sounded a PERFECT plan to him at the time, and today its a “jilapir Petch”! The concern is valid – because NO single border dispute with BD and India has been ever settled to date. And so what Hasina does in her “love affair with India” as Rumi observed in her foregn agreements, may be a disaster for Bangladesh.

    • Rumi said, on October 20, 2009 at 7:11 pm

      Yes that may be right. Generation 2009 did not suddenly turn pro Indian. It was a disorganized, demoralized, voiceless BNP which failed to clearly device an election/ campaign strategy. I also have no data to suggest that 70s generation also did not switch side and voted for AL.

      Unlike what other commentators has eluded to, I do not believe that pro AL automatically mean pro India.

  7. fugstar said, on October 20, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    These boring cartoons of political variables only exist because the parties havent done any thing else of consequence since the 70s.

  8. jrahman said, on October 20, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    KGazi, if what Hasina does is a disaster, then people will turn against her and her party. That’s exactly what I said: what divides us is how we think Hasina is doing, and what we believe the alternatives are. India may well be part of that equation, but it’s not the trump issue Prof Maniruzzaman claims it once was.

    Fug, you are right to some extent. But then the question is, why didn’t parties do anything else of consequence since the 1970s? The two political scientists would argue that people were so fixated on these issues, parties didn’t need to do anything else. And it seems to me that this is no longer the case. That’s a good thing.

    • kgazi said, on October 20, 2009 at 8:42 pm

      jrahman – “if what Hasina does is a disaster, then people will turn against her and her party.”

      By the time people realize their disastrous dilemmma that Hasina cooked with India, it will be 2020, and neither Hasina nor those folks may be around any more, to worry about elections or her party’s future. It will be too late, a done deal.

  9. fugstar said, on October 20, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    Parties are fixated, especially over crimes in the 70s and their political cascade effects in the here and now. People are too, because they havent opted out of these emotional games and made a break for the future.

    • sensible said, on October 20, 2009 at 7:30 pm

      I don’t think the majority of Bangladeshis understand the technical details of the various issues with India or the consequences of being pro- or anti-India. I think they are too busy fighting for survival and finding ways to feed their families. So they’re still voting for one of these parties. And the reason is there no alternative leadership. Bangladesh has been suffering from lack of leadership for a long time now. I’m talking about a leader who understands the needs of the people, who is really concerned about the people and willing to risk it all to improve the conditions at the ground level. If we can find a leader like that, we’ll not need cross-fire type strategies any more. But if we can’t find that one, then we’ll be revolving like a pendulum between pro and anti India groups.

      When Hasina formed her cabinet, I have seen comments about how great an attempt it io bring up new faces and how that is “din bodol”! But what I think many of the bloggers failed to understand or didn’t care to reveal is that all that is being done was to ensure loyalty to Hasina. There is not one person in the cabinet who has the guts to say no to her. She has established total control over the govt. and the institutions. And that is not helpful to democracy in any way. Thus we’re busy talking about Muzib murder, war crimes, Jatir Pitar Poribar Nirapotta Ain, etc. What we’re not talking about is how law and order is breaking down, what impact the proposed transit will have to the infrastructure and economy of Bangladesh, and most importantly, what happened in February at BDR and why.

      And why AL won in the last election? I think a lot of factors worked them. There was corruption then and there is corruption now. But the perception of corruption has changed even though I think the level of corruption has not. Media played a big role then and is playing a big role now. Anyway AL was expected to win in the last election. But I think as a party BNP is not that small as it shows now.

      • kgazi said, on October 20, 2009 at 9:26 pm

        As I discussed in UV, people in BD are not displaying their dissent & DIS-SATISFACTION with Hasina’s failure and Bongobondhu cultism – because, people in BD have been wrongly trained with a huge misconception that:
        “any civilian govt = democracy”

        But that formula is totally wrong. Yet because of the political dictatorship of Hasina and her Mujib cultism, it will be difficult to bring a change soon.

  10. Mohammad said, on October 20, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    1975 has drawn a new political map. BNP born and AL reborn ! Rise and Fall of BAKSAL is an important milestone of our political history. Diary of 1975 can not be written without getting BAKSAL involved. Demise of BAKSAL was welcomed by the people of all walks. The massacre overwhelmed the nation with shock and grief. But surprisingly almost no reaction !!

    India card is a political tool. All most all the political parties including AL uses it when needed. JSD too used it during it’s hey days.

    Probably BAKSAL syndrome scares and divides people more than the India card.

  11. DS said, on October 20, 2009 at 11:56 pm

    “One can be very anti-Indian, but still reject BNP because of empty rhetoric. That is the difference between generation 1970 and generation 2020.”

    You just made my point JR bhai, but your original post doesn’t make it I’m afraid. Over lunch with our mutual friend the other day, he remarked on something that I’d never thought of. When I told him that the younger generation broke overwhelmingly for AL – and added in the same breath that the war crimes trial was a big issue – he expressed surprise, saying, “But I felt that India would be a bigger issue for the younger generation”. It definitely is (at least for the younger Dhaka generation), and will continue to be. Why they rejected BNP’s anti-India politics needs further investigation. It could very well be BNP’s bad governance. Could be the TR issue (sorry!). Could be anything really.

    All this comes with the caveat that these are issues close to the heart of those of us young and affluent enough to have the leisure to pursue issues. What were the issues close to the youth outside the urban areas and the university campuses? Is there any reason to treat them as similar or different? Your (plural) views would be most appreciated.

  12. sensible said, on October 21, 2009 at 1:03 am

    “All this comes with the caveat that these are issues close to the heart of those of us young and affluent enough to have the leisure to pursue issues. What were the issues close to the youth outside the urban areas and the university campuses? Is there any reason to treat them as similar or different?”

    …exactly my point. but I think it’s not only about the young, post 75 group. I think it’s about urban, middle-class,upper middle class population vs. Rhim chasi and Karim dinmojur of rural Bangladesh. These people I don’t think care or have time to care about the technical details of what happens in Dhaka. They have brand loyalty: Nouka vs. Dhaner shish, unless they’re personally affected by one or the other. There political involvement is limited to BTV, and Chayer Dokan discussion based on some newspaper article. So whoever controls these two or whoever gets the support from these two wins their vote.

  13. kgazi said, on October 21, 2009 at 5:23 am

    I think Mujib Zia legacy is too big in BD, for even farmers to be unaware of their history and dynasty politics. Just as every Bangali knows the history of MirJafor, Rupbaan, Shirajuddowlah thru village-plays, jatra dramas, and legends, so they ALSO know about the living politics of Hasina and Khaleda.

    Today, most villages have access to TV, cellphone and solar power and are fully aware of hartals, boycotts, corruption and oborods. They know the pro and anti-India politics I am sure. They are fully aware how India trump card affects their poultry farms, egg supply, fertilizer, rice prices and livelihood. Remember the old poem “Hasina re hasina, tor jalay basina….” came from the villages.

  14. bandu_dandu said, on October 21, 2009 at 5:46 am

    My thoughts have been summed up by ‘sensible’ already. This post just highlighted the growing divide between the educated class, the professors, academics, writers and the masses of Bangladesh. These professors and writers have completely failed to understand the mindset of the ordinary lower income bangladeshi. Sensible is absolutely right, our ordinary people are not concerned as well read as Mr Jyoti Rahman or Professor Maniruzzaman, they make their vote based on their own situation…If their situation is terrible under a particular government, which was the case for most of them in 2001-2006, they will automatically vote for the other party.
    India is not such a big deal when it comes to voting for a vast majority of the population, and the sooner our “intellectuals” like Jyoti Rahman, Zafar Sobhan and Prof Maniruzzaman understand that, the better they will be at making predictions about who will win the elections and why.

  15. jrahman said, on October 21, 2009 at 5:54 am

    Wow, this thread is going places. I can’t remember when I last got so many comments here as opposed to UV. 🙂

    Let me address some of the points raised — apologies if I miss something.

    1. DS, sorry if the point of the post wasn’t clear. Here is a basic summary:
    – TM says people like BNP because it’s anti-India party, and this trumps everything else;
    – HR says anti-India is an issue, but there are other things, plus AL-ers hate BNP because of 15 Aug;
    – election result suggests that ‘hate India ==> support BNP’ logic doesn’t hold any more.

    This much is factual, not my analysis. My own 2 cents is that we have seen a fundamental change in our politics:
    – AL can’t count on dynastic loyalty, old or new, many voters who didn’t vote AL until 2008 did so now, and these people can switch side again;
    – BNP can’t rely on India card alone.

    2. Rumi bhai, the 1970s generation could also have switched side. If that happened, it would further support my point that the TM thesis is no longer true.

    3. Sensible, Rahim chashi and Karim dinmojur are far more connected and politically aware than you give them credit for. 48% of Bangladeshi households have a tv set. This is in a country where 40% of people live below poverty line. Basically, anyone who can afford to eat twice a day has access to tv and cell phone. I have seen people following talk shows in rural bazaar. These people know ‘how much paddy how much rice’ (koto dhane koto chaal).

    4. DS/Sensible, what do the people care about? According to the Nielsen polls done in December and April, the issue that most cared about more than anything else is not India or Mujib trial (or corruption or war crimes). It was food prices, and this is robust to the usual caveats like sampling/margin of error etc. And people didn’t need ‘
    executives of a baby food product and Television sales merchant corporate’ to tell them the track record of different parties on this.

    Again, just because AL kept prices stable in the 1990s doesn’t mean they will get voted back in 2014. AL will have to perform now. And if AL doesn’t, BNP will have to show why it can do better next time. I contend that this marks a fundamental change in our politics. And that has been the point of the post.

    5. Bandu_dandu, unless you have some special connection to what Fugstar calls the ‘spirit of the ganj’, how exactly do you know what the ‘ordinary lower income Bangladeshis’ think? And while you disparage me, Zafar, and Prof Maniruzzaman as ‘intellectuals’, you should know that not all of us made the same predictions. Like Prof M (and indeed most pundis), I predicted BNP to do lot better through the India card (and make no mistake, BNP played the India card very hard). We were wrong. Zafar was one of the few ‘intellectuals’ who predicted a massive AL landslide. He was proved right.

  16. Rumi said, on October 21, 2009 at 8:39 am

    Jyoti Let me be frank. 🙂 .

    To me your main post sounded like saying, … BNP lost because BNP resorted to anti India rhetoric. Generations have changed. They are not worried about India anymore. They want to be friends with India. Anyone speaking against India will face the fate of BNP in 2009.

    But you later comments clarified the issue a bit better to suggest that exactly that may not be the case. Now, if I understand you correctly, a man may see India in unfavorable eye and yet can vote for AL. And BNP’s campaign should include stuff other than India. I think you are right here.

    By my worry is that this sort of passionate bashing of India bashing may have its negative consequences. A young blogger who sees Jyoti Rahman as his role model may now shy away from voicing his concern about Tipaimukh, trade gap, Transit, Hawkish nationalistic Indian media or India govt’s Bangladesh policy. BY our passionate and aggressive campaign against anti India bigotry, we may end up trashing any India related concern as another bigotry. We already have achieved a similar status vis a vis muktijudhdher chetona or war crimes trial or Bangabandhu.

    • jrahman said, on October 21, 2009 at 10:06 am

      My bad. I didn’t mean ‘BNP lost because …. India will face the fate of BNP in 2009.’ I did mean: ‘a man may see India … include stuff other than India’. Plus, I also meant ‘AL can’t keep using dynasty to retain support’. Now, if long time readers misunderstand you, then as a writer you’ve done a poor job. And re-reading the post, it is clear that I could have done better. Will be more diligent in the future.

      I agree that the intellectual climate in Bangladesh isn’t conducive to contrarian views on subjects like Mujib or war crimes trial. And it would be unfortunate if India was added to that list. I guess to any young blogger, I would point to various pieces I have writtern, on most of the issues you mention, and say ‘write what you want to write about’. I would also say, don’t be passionate or emotional, be rational and logical. I’d contradict Yoda and say ‘think, do not feel’. Only that way can we change the intellectual climate.

  17. kgazi said, on October 21, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    But even decades after Hasina, I believe there will always be 2 groups of voters – liberals and conservatives, of 2 different mindset. The conservatives will be nationalists (anti-Indians) and the liberals will be multi-nationalists (pro-indians).

    And despite governance performance of Hasina or whoever, there will still remain TWO such distinct types of voters, and their votes will be determined by how effective the party has been on protecting the INTEREST of the nation. And so what divides us is probably a sense of nationalism, or protectionism of Bangladesh.

    • jrahman said, on October 21, 2009 at 1:44 pm

      Kgazi, what you say has an Awami counterpart: muktijuddher chetona. What both of you have in common is that you’re both convinced your views represent the true national interest. 🙂

      Rumi bhai, you may worry about ‘anti-India bashing’, but in my observation, ‘India bashing’ is still the more potent threat to intellectual discourse. See Mr Gazi’s comment. This to me doesn’t seem any different than being dubbed a war criminal sympathiser for saying what happened to Brig Azmi was wrong (I know because I have been in the receiving end of that attack).

      • kgazi said, on October 21, 2009 at 9:07 pm

        jyoti – yes, some will think ‘muktijuddher chetona’ supports the interest of the nation as it pertains to liberation, therefore its nationalistic, while others will think ‘muktijuddher chetona’ does NOT support the interest of the nation as it may be created for awami marketing, and affiliated with India!

        So the *perception* of national interest, (eg yes or no on Tipaimukh) will determine their vote. Like say, if Hasina fails to stop Tipaimukh, she may lose the next election, as it will be seen as her failure to ‘protect the interest’ of the nation.

  18. DS said, on October 21, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Bandu_dandu “Sensible is absolutely right, our ordinary people are not concerned as well read as Mr Jyoti Rahman or Professor Maniruzzaman, they make their vote based on their own situation”

    Just to be clear, the intention of my original comment was not to start some sort of class warfare that leads to anti-intellectualism. Ok, so JR and TM have it wrong. What data do you have, bandu (and sensible) to convince me that those are NOT the things that people outside the urban areas and academies care about? JR bhai cites the Nielsen poll that showed food prices were a major concern. Again, my only worry about that is that concerns about food prices might not have had any effect on voting. Many examples can be found of people voting against their own personal interests – not all of them negative. And food prices were stable for most of the time under BNP – it was just under the CTG that they seriously skyrocketed. So how much does that explain?

    Lastly, why such anti-intellectualism? Resentment of specialisation? Resentment of other people’s achievements? I understand that shob politicianra durnitibaaj, shob byabshaira chor/smuggler, shob amla incompetent, etc. etc. But intellectuals der against e stereotype ta exactly ki? Can’t we all cultivate a bit of the “You don’t arrest Voltaire” sentiment. And that came from a military man, mind you.

    • jrahman said, on October 22, 2009 at 4:17 pm

      Food prices were not stable for most of the time under BNP. They started rising from 2004, first gradually, then rapidly. To put it in context, a male farm labourer earned an average daily wage of 48 taka in 1996, with which he could buy 3.1 kg of rice. In 2001 the wage was 67 taka, buying 4.3 kg of rice. In 2006, he earnt 95 taka, which bought him only 3.7 kg of rice.

      Unless you ask every voter why they voted one way or other, all we have are reasonable guesses. India, 15 Aug, rice prices — you be the judge.

      • kgazi said, on October 22, 2009 at 9:27 pm

        I will give ZERO credit to AL for food price control, the real price is based on world food and oil prices at any time, because many of BD foods like sugar, wheat and even rice are imported. World food price charts from 1991 to 2009 clearly show this.
        1996-2001 AL had low world food price advantage, 2001-2006 BNP suffered world food price SPIKE, as did CTG 2006-2008. None of them deserve any credit or discredit for food price control.
        In 2009 AL has a disaster in its food price record, but has lucked-out due to a rice crop BOOM in BD.

      • DS said, on October 23, 2009 at 12:28 am

        My bad. I should have referred to that chart you produced. But going by your data, wouldn’t it be reasonable to suggest that things were improving? Wouldn’t voters have voted on the issues of 2006 rather than 2004. Alright, all this is going towards very speculative territory, I admit.

        We don’t need to ask every voter. Just a reasonable, random sample ;). I’m surprised I’d have to remind you of that.

  19. sensible said, on October 22, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    First I apologize to everyone who might think that I’m attacking them in the comment below. I like having this opportunity to discuss these issues with you all and have nothing against you. I’m just trying to make a point as part of the debate. That’s all.
    My intention was not to be anti-intellectuals. I was talking about the narrow, Dhaka/West based TV intellectuals who does not have any connection to the vast majority of Bangladeshis. Some of these people even have their vested interest in how they shape the discussion in the media. But almost all of them have their own prism through which they want to highlight into un-unified, very specific parts of Bangladesh life. Jyoti talks about these people having access to TV and watching TV talk shows. Well, I don’t have any data on that, or what I claim that the majority is too busy to think about macro-economic or big political issues of everyday Bangladesh and these people are too busy fighting for survival. Even a Dhaka based Rickshawala went to a political rally because he got paid by the party official. Or the garage owner is a supporter of the political party. The garage owner in turn is a “political activist” because to maintain his rickshaw garage, he needs political coverage from someone. None of these people are thinking about the broader picture that the intellectuals on TV are talking about. Their concern is more near to home: food and shelter for their own family.
    As a kid, I was part of the craze when everybody in the border regions of Bangladesh used to raise aluminum pots and pans on a pole in a vein effort to watch Indian TV channels. At that time, none of us were concerned about the fact that India blocks all Bangladeshi TV channels to their viewers. And now, I watched a few episodes of the Channel I show “Sur doria, epar-opar” and I could not stop thinking about how everything on the show is from “opar bangla”: set design, camera, the orchestra, etc. All these money went to India (Kolkata) and helped their economy. Compare this to Channel I’s other show: Sera Kontho. Everything there is from “epar bangla” and helped our economy. I saw in a newspaper article that even Bangladeshi people are watching the “epar-opar” show on the Indian channel “e-TV Bangla” because they air it at a more convenient time. So even the TV ad-revenue is going to India and not coming to Bangladesh.
    Now think about the average TV viewer in Bangladesh who is more likely watching this show on the Indian channel e-TV. Do you think he/she is thinking about how Indian economy is more benefitted from this one show which is on paper an equal partnership between the two channels from countries? Is Nielsen poll asking this question?
    This is how the TV intellectuals are disconnected from the TV viewers and non-viewers.

    • DS said, on October 23, 2009 at 12:47 am

      sensible bhai,

      I wasnt offended by the anti-intellectualism on display. It’s a valid (intellectual) position to maintain. My question was why. Live and let live was my message.

      More than proving anything against intellectuals – media owners and producers were not the people I had in mind – you bring up an interesting dynamic via a vis India that I’ve noticed before. Forget Channel I for a minute. Forget India for a minute. How much of our consumption decisions do we really care about? I have a friend who has refused to have a Coke or Pepsi over the past 7 years because – apparently, still unconfirmed – they give money to a country for which our passports are no good. Now I don’t agree with him (I’d have a coke with every meal if I could), but I respect his consistency.

      Very FEW people in Bangladesh are willing, like my friend, to put their money where their mouths and beliefs are. Indeed, to do so conscientiously would risk us being labelled “aatel” (my friend has suffered from his anti-coke stance, mostly at the hands of other B’Deshis!)

      I’m lucky to know two girls in B’Desh, who hold very anti-Indian view inherited from their BNP-leaning families. On separate occasions, while they were bashing India, I asked both with a straight face if they wanted to get married someday. Both said “yes”. So I asked them if they would do their pre-wedding shopping in India, as seems to be the norm among the Dhaka upper class. Without flinching, both said “yes”. In other words, their life habits have little to do with their political views.

      And who am I toblame them for it? Forget them. If I dislike India passionately, am I supposed to stop watching cricket on ESPN-Star India because the ad revenue goes to India? What about onions? Should I tell my cook to stop using peyaj from India when I’m back home (for the record – she’ll kill me!)? What about maggi noodles? Lay’s chips (one of the biggest factories is in India – serving the Gulf and South Asia)?

      I like your example. But it proves very little regarding intellectuals, and says a lot more about our India dysfunction. All I ask is that you think it through to its logical conclusion, and see that its a mass phenomena. For the record, I am all for some forms of economic nationalism – but that means pushing for our channels to be shown in West Bengal – not us shutting ourselves down.

      • sensible said, on October 23, 2009 at 7:11 am

        Well, I was not standing in line to buy my first gun to shoot all the intellectuals in Bangladesh! So I’m living myself and letting them live as well. They can have their TV talk shows and talk all they want about what they think Bangladesh needs today and tomorrow. I’ll keep telling my side of the story that these (well, a majority of them anyway) live in a bubble and really do not know the everyday struggle of common Bangladeshis. The channel I story was not about the shutting down Indian channels either. Rather my point was that the majority of the people are not concerned about their actions in their everyday life. When watching TV, even college going students are not thinking about macro economic theory! So when Rahim chasi and Karim dinmojur joins a political rally, it’s not about the political stand. Rather, it is all about the survival in a really crowded country. I was in Bangladesh last February after about 10 years. I was shocked to see how crowded Dhaka city has become! No one has time to think about anything anymore. They get up in the morning, get their kids to school, run for their office, stay there for the day time (may be), may run to get the kids from school to coaching, get their shopping done, goes to a party sometimes…..get the meal ready for the night and the next day and goes to sleep just to do the same on the next day. And this is just the life of a city-living family man/woman. Just think about the routine in the rural area where communication is that much more difficult and life is a lot more challenging. Even the intellectuals in question are running from one TV studio to another because they too need to supplement their income!

        Anyway, I think the discussion is getting off-track here. Jyoti’s question was “what divides us?” I think what divides us is this disconnect between few well-educated, city living intellectuals and the commoner living in the city or the village. 1971, 1975, 1990….all these are just different rest-stops: the educated will bring up the one that helps them most a one particular time. The commoner will run with it as if their life depends on it.

        How can we change this? I would like to see the intellectuals talk about the everyday struggle, their own struggle, honestly. Not in a language that goes over the head of the common people. Everyone has a story and I want them to tell that. Tell Rahim chasi why he matters and why his opinion matters. Not only tell them, but listen to what they have to say. If we can have this national dialogue going, at least get that started, then we’ll make real progress.

        On a lighter note: I’m glad that you know TWO girls in Bangladesh and courageous enough to say so openly!!! Does your cook read your comments here? Just kidding!

  20. sensible said, on October 22, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    BTW, could anyone explain this concept of “Muktijuddher Chetona”? Unfortunately, I’m all confused about this. It seems even if you are a medal-winning, well-known freedom fighter, if you support anyone other than BAL and the leftist parties in Bangladesh, you’re against “muktijuddher chetona”! Is that the true definition of this?

    • kgazi said, on October 22, 2009 at 9:36 pm

      it should be better defined as “Awami-tontrer chetona”
      or “Desh-dubaner khelona” 🙂

  21. jrahman said, on October 23, 2009 at 10:38 am

    DS: We don’t need to ask every voter. Just a reasonable, random sample.

    ****A reasonable, random sample told us in Dec and April that they care about food prices. Party A talked endlessly about cheap rice. Party B talked about India. Party A won a landslide. What do you conclude from that?

    We can theorise and speculate about many possible reasons. But the simple observation. that Party A’s message clicked and Party B’s didn’t (contra Talukder Maniruzzaman) seems pretty sensible.

    Sensible, I am most definitely not the person to define muktijuddher chetona. You should ask someone who claims to represent it.

    • DS said, on October 24, 2009 at 8:37 am

      JR bhai, a bit unfair that you’re taking the facetious part of the comment seriously. 🙂 Fine, I’ll play. The entire comment thread is filled with people contradicting your characterisation of the facts. Party B came with the additional baggage of being the incumbent, and an incumbent with a bad reputation at that. So, once again, it may not have been India at all. I certainly hope it wasn’t, and that voters are aware of our big neighbour to the west.

      Sensible – I probably misread your comment. I agree that everyone makes some decisions disconnected from political beliefs. I thought you were only accusing the elite of doing that. As for knowing two girls – well, I really did mean I know them, not that I “know” them. 🙂 My cook is an excellent example of specialisation: she doesn’t keep up to date with her politics either – but she cooks like a maestro. If knowing your field well is akin to being an intellectual, she most definitely is a (practising) one.

  22. bandu_dandu said, on October 23, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    DS, if you are looking for mathematical/empirical date based on empirical studies/surverys, I do not have those unfortunately. My opinion was based on years and years of casual ordinary interactions with Bangladeshis from different classes, income groups, educational backgrounds, ages etc.

    “Lastly, why such anti-intellectualism? Resentment of specialisation? Resentment of other people’s achievements? I understand that shob politicianra durnitibaaj, shob byabshaira chor/smuggler, shob amla incompetent, etc. etc. But intellectuals der against e stereotype ta exactly ki? Can’t we all cultivate a bit of the “You don’t arrest Voltaire” sentiment. And that came from a military man, mind you.”
    I am sorry if my comment came out that way but my intention was not to express anti intellectualism. I was just pointing out without any personal malice far the intellectuals in our country are from what the masses are thinking. Now once again I am not going to quote any official polls or anything but a conversation I had with a rickshaw puller whose rickshaw I was travelling and he was terribly upset with both BNP and Awami League and it had nothing to do with India, Gas, Mujib, 1975, etc etc. Guess what it had to do with? Starting from toll collected by gundas and police from rickshaw pullers, to rising prices, to traffic congestion, to the pathetic condition of the government hospitals etc.
    So if our intellectuals who are supposed to be political scientists make ridiculous and fallacious statements that votse in Bangladesh are influenced by India, Mujib, 1975, then they should be severely criticised, ofcourse without any personal malice which is exactly what I was doing. I am sure Maniruzzaman, JR and Zafar Sobhan are great individuals with sincere intentions, but they really need to come out of their shell and hear us “unintellectuals”!

    • jrahman said, on October 24, 2009 at 3:46 am

      Bandu_dandu, would we (Prof Maniruzzaman, Zafar and I) benefit from more interactions with all segments of the society? Absolutely. But I do find your blanket statement that we are all saying votes in Bangladesh are influenced by India, Mujib, 1975. May be I am a terrible writer who cannot convey the simplest of messages. So here again:
      – TM said when an election comes, India trumps everything else, and BNP wins,
      – this election BNP lost,
      – I made an informed guess that it was about prices.

  23. fugstar said, on October 26, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    About the distance between humble people’s curiosity and officially sanctioned knowledge nurturers (read media cabal, buddhi jibbi et).

    Its true.

    What would be interesting is more than a survey, but a searching piece of work illiciting problems queries and values of people with regards to topical issues and underlying happenings, which they themselves could frame. Then an appropriate distribution of mental tools and economic support to support such research.

    The generative end of the educational network is meant to see to this.

  24. Things I’ll look out for « Mukti said, on January 5, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    […] Over the past couple of decades, India ceased to be a political factor in Bangladesh.  In 2008, BNP made the election about India (and Islam), and it didn’t work. […]

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