Intended consequences

Posted in politics by jrahman on July 10, 2010

Last week I wrote about the unintended consequences of the arrest of two opposition personalities in Bangladesh.  Of course, since these arrests, there have been more high profile arrests.  Top three leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamist party and the second largest opposition party, have been arrested.  Since all three are alleged to have committed grave atrocities during the Liberation War of 1971, the arrests have been met with jubilation in most corners.  Amid the din, however, some uncomfortable questions go unasked or unanswered.

So far the consequences have been by and large what the government intended.  What remains unclear is, what’s behind the government’s move?

Firstly, randomly asking a relatively knowledgeable layperson, one is likely to get the idea that the Jamaat trio has been arrested on war crimes or crimes against humanity related charges.  Of course, this is not the case.  They have been arrested for a blasphemy related charge.

Anyone calling themselves progressive should clearly denounce this chicanery.  To quote Syed Abul Maqsud Ahmed:

জামায়াত নেতা মতিউর রহমান নিজামী, আলী আহসান মোহাম্মাদ মুজাহিদ এবং দেলাওয়ার হোসাইন সাঈদীকে গ্রেপ্তার করা হয়েছে ধর্মীয় অনুভূতিতে আঘাতের মামলায়। তাঁদের গ্রেপ্তারে কেউ খুশিতে বগল বাজাচ্ছে, কেউ মিষ্টি বিতরণ করছে, কেউ আনন্দ মিছিল করেছে। আমাদের সাংবাদিকেরাও যে খুব খুশি হয়েছে, তা বোঝা যায় গ্রেপ্তারের খবরটি পরিবেশন দেখে। প্রকাণ্ড শিরোনাম—সাত-আট কলামব্যাপী। কিন্তু অনেকেই বোঝার চেষ্টা করছেন না যে এটি একটি খারাপ দৃষ্টান্ত হলো। ভবিষ্যতে এ-জাতীয় ধর্মীয় অনুভূতির মামলায় জেলে ও মাস তিনেকের রিমান্ডে যাবেন বহু সাংবাদিক, রাজনীতিক, সম্পাদক, কলাম লেখক, নাট্যকার, অভিনেতা, শিক্ষক ও পেশাদার প্রগতিশীল বক্তা।

সরকারের লোকজন বটতলার উকিলের মতো প্যাঁচের কথা বলছেন। তাঁরা বলছেন, এ মামলা তো আমরা করিনি। করেছেন তরিকতের নেতা। সরকারের সহজ-সরল নীতি রচনাকারীরা কী করে ভাবছেন, তরিকত আর হকিকত আর সরেফাতীদের সাহায্যে তাঁরা অসাম্প্রদায়িক বাংলাদেশ গড়বেন? মনে হয়, জামায়াতি নেতাদের মুসলিম বিশ্বের সু চি বানানোর চেষ্টা হচ্ছে। এক তুচ্ছ মামলায় আজ তারা বিশ্বব্যাপী পরিচিত। আমরা কি পেতে চাইছি একজন ‘ইসলাম বন্ধু’ মতিউর রহমান নিজামী। মুজাহিদ হবেন মুসলিম বাংলার আয়াতুল্লাহ। সাঈদীও হয়ে উঠবেন একুশ শতকের জালালুদ্দীন আফগানি।

Maqsud is quickly becoming the lone consistent voice of reason in his side of politics.  How come others don’t see the danger?

Others don’t see it because of the opium of ultra-nationalism and chest thumping around 1971 — examples of which abound in Bangla blogs that begin and end with calling Jamaat বরাহ (pig) or worse.  Curiously, when the government put up the Act that is to govern the trial process for comments, these বরাহশিকারীs were nowhere to be seen.

And the government knows all this.  They know that once the Jamaat trio are arrested, on the flimsiest of ground, everything else will be drowned out.  No one will talk about missing opposition politicians, or repression of peaceful protest, because, hey, the Jamaatis are behind bars.

The consequences, thus far, have been exactly what the government intended as far as the chattering classes are concerned.

The government also figured the arrest would put the opposition BNP, an ally of Jamaat, into a quandary.  And again, to some extent, the government was right.  The BNP chief protested the arrest, calling the charges farcical.  Predictably, the government seized on this, with the Prime Minister accusing her opponent of trying to save war criminals.

Things didn’t quite go according to the script when the BNP decided to take a cautious approach to the issue.  As the Shamokal’s Lotan Ekram reports: বিএনপির স্থায়ী কমিটির কয়েকজন নেতা সমকালকে জানান, যুদ্ধাপরাধের বিচারকে সামনে রেখে জামায়াতের সঙ্গে বিএনপির ঐক্যবদ্ধ কর্মসূচি পালন দেশের জনগণ ভালোভাবে নেবেন না।

Habitual BNP-bashers in the Daily Star chose to put the worst spin possible, dubbing BNP’s stance confused.  Looks like even if BNP doesn’t play ball, the government can count on the Daily Star and suchlike to do its bidding.  I would have thought our learned classes know the term useful idiot — evidently not.

What remains unclear is, however, why — why is the government pursuing this?  

In a game of trump, there is an optimum moment to play the trump card: play it too quick, and the other side can over-trump you; leave it too late, and the trump card is wasted.  

Raising the Jamaat bogey and force the opposition into a false move is the government’s ultimate trump card.  Why is it played merely in the 19th month of its term?  Is the government really that desperate?

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6 Responses

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  1. Udayan said, on July 12, 2010 at 2:11 am

    But if they arrested Jamaat leaders 4.5 years into their govt, surely it would be seen as too politically motivated before the election (both to its core ideological base who would be cynical as to delay and timing, and to its opponents smelling dirty tricks who would be more likely to risk mass movement on the issue or collude with external forces or army), and with the practical risk that the whole operation would not come to conclusion before dissolution of final parliament. I would think the timing now gives a couple of years to drag this out for full effect and divert attention (though am not sure if the Jamaat arrests are supposed to be diverting attention from BNP confrontation or vice versa)

  2. tacit said, on July 12, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    That’s true, except that it’s also being seen as politically motivated right now. The government did not set up the crime against humanity charges, submit chargesheets, and then arrest them. The government arrested them on a very flimsy pretext and is now adding every case they can think of to their record, so that they can be kept in jail longer.

    Awami League would like to think it can stifle all dissent by using the Jamaati bogeymen and painting any opposition to the government as support for those charged in the crimes against humanity trial. Of course, the government has neither the willpower nor the horsepower to do any such thing. What they may quite conceivably achieve, instead, is making Jamaat the face of resistance to this government. Right now, Jamaat is still repulsive to a majority of Bangladesh’s voters. But as the contrast between BNP, whose leaders are doing everything possible not to get in the government’s bad book and end up in jail/lose their home/ see their sons in jail, and Jamaat grows, our countrymen may start looking on Jamaat more favorably.

  3. jrahman said, on July 21, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    There is no question that AL is playing politics. It’s also clear that BNP has thus far avoided the trap — no one really believes that BNP’s programmes have anything to do with war criminals.

    I think Tacit’s concerns about Jamaat’s approval rating rising from this at BNP’s expense is overblown — plenty of BNPwallahs are facing Awami danda alright.

    However, there may be more to the story about AL’s intentions than meets the eye, and some of the intentions will have this blog’s endorsement. Stay tuned. 🙂

  4. Things I’ll look out for « Mukti said, on January 5, 2011 at 6:14 am

    […] The War Crimes Trial was always going to be political.  There is no getting around to the fact that most of the accused are actively involved in the opposition politics.  The BNP had benefited from associating with them in the past.  It was now the AL’s turn to wedge on this issue.  This much was expected. […]

  5. The politics of the Trial « Mukti said, on February 20, 2012 at 10:42 am

    […] mean AL reaps no political benefit from the trial.  For one thing, it’s a great political diversion.  Every time something inconvenient happens, the trial can be counted on to provide a story about […]

  6. […] the country’s largest Islam-based party.  It’s of course currently under siege on the war crimes issue.  As it happens, targeting the Ahmadiyyas has been one weapon in Jamaat’s armor for over half […]

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