One good man
(This was due to be posted on 28 January, but delayed by unavoidable circumstances).
7am, 28 January 2005. The local news is on TV, the foreign ones in Financial Times, and Daily Star from home. The last one has a cover story reading:
Kibria, 4 AL men killed in grenade attacks
I sit there for a while, my tea getting cold. I think about calling my parents, but decide against it — it’s middle of the night there, why wake them up. Why wake them up to the fact that the country was sleepwalking to a disaster?
Or did they need waking up at all? A few months earlier, I received SMS messages from friends and family: Dhaka is hot again, murder attempts on Hasina, we’re safe, don’t worry. For much of the following years, I’d receive more such messages: bomb attacks etc, but we’re safe, don’t worry. Things got so bad that in October 2006, when someone rang my cellphone and started: Have you heard the news? Dr Yunus… my first thought was the sentence would end in … has been assassinated.
Seemingly, Bangladesh has turned the corner since, since we haven’t had assassinations and grenade attacks for a while.
But have we really turned the corner? Five years later, the Kibria case is still unsolved. And for three of these five years, Bangladesh has been ruled by non-BNP governments (at the very least, local BNP men are implicated in the assassination, and there is a belief that BNP high ups were involved). Forget Kibria, three months on, we still don’t know who tried to kill Fazl-e-Noor Tapash.
Have we really turned the corner? Perhaps not.
Even as we mourn him, and demand justice, we should also celebrate SAMS Kibria’s life and achievements. We need more people like him in Bangladesh, particularly in politics.
Kibria was from a generation that entered adult life in Pakistan, and through their life experience came to reject that state for a new one. There was a darth of qualified men and women to shape the newly liberated Bangladesh in the 1970s. Kibria, like many, played his part in steering the state machinery through that turbulent decade in a professional manner. And like many, he chose a better life for his family in the 1980s, to return in a better Bangladesh in the 1990s.
But unlike most others, he returned to Bangladesh not to work as a consultant, businessman, or an NGO boss (worthy as those vocations are), but to be in politics. And even in politics, he did not take the safe route of becoming the advisor to the incumbent prime minister or ambitious generals. Rather, he joined the Awami League, which was still reeling from the shock defeat in 1991.
He chose the difficult task of persuading the AL leadership to drop its dogmas from the 1970s, so that the party could become acceptable to the oligarchs, donors and entreprenuers who control Bangladesh’s economy. When AL won the election in 1996, he was entrusted with Finance Ministry. He saw the economy through the Asian Crisis, the 1998 flood, and the tech bust. After the 2001 election, he was one of the saner voices in AL who tried to keep the party out of politics of street violence and palace conspiracies. In the last months of his life, with other like minded folks in the party, he started working on various policy ideas that the current government is implementing. This was an important innovation in our politics that BNP will do well to emulate.
And he did all these within the constraints of the Bangladeshi politics and bureaucracy. He didn’t seek revolutionary change. But his example should affect a revolution in our mindset.
We often bemoan the lack of good people in Bangladeshi politics. In 2007, we heard a lot of chest thumping about ridding politics of all the thugs and thieves. Kibria was one good man who chose to be in politics, as it existed, and serve the people through their consent. It’s easy to lose hope for Bangladesh when Kibria’s death remains unsolved after five years.
Let’s look to his life to find hope.
(Cross-posted at UV)