The House

Posted in politics by jrahman on November 21, 2010

No, not the Fox show, but the one at Shaheed Moinul Road. Anyone remotely connected with Bangladesh know what happened there last week. For the uninitiated, here is UV’s coverage.

I have resisted writing about it so far, for two reasons. First, what is there to say on the event beyond what my friend Syeed said at UV?

Anyone who condemned BNP’s treatment of its then opposition, should condemn this without any qualification, much less falling in the trap of legal or tit for tat arguments.

And secondly, I never thought the event would actually happen.  My working hypothesis has been that the whole issue was drummed up by the government to keep the opposition busy, to distract them from focusing on matters where the government is vulnerable.  Thus, in early 2009 it was Pilkhana, in the current situation, it might have been the transit issue, and in general electricity-prices-law and order are ever-present government failures.  I even wagered my friend Rumi bhai that the BNP chief would still be living in that house come January 2014.  How wrong I was.  And having been proved wrong, I needed to reassess my views before writing anything on the issue.

On reflection, I still stand by my ‘distraction theory’.  The Awami League wants the BNP to focus on issues pertaining to the Zia family, and not on topics such as the transit to India.  But in addition, I now believe there is more.  As the Economist put it:

It is obsessed with airbrushing from history the legacy of the political dynasty founded by Mrs Zia’s late husband, General Ziaur Rahman, hero of Bangladesh’s war of independence against West Pakistan in 1971.

Given the League’s motivation, how will things play out?  I am not a soothsayer, and given my record of getting things wrong, the reader could well to discard everything I say.  Nonetheless, I am going to outline three scenarios over the fold.

The first scenario is নরম (soft).  BNP’s street agitation goes nowhere.  The grass root is beaten mercilessly, and completely demoralised.  Meanwhile, the Zia family is kept busy with further legal actions against the Rahman brothers.  At some point, the matriarch throws in the towel and accepts an exile.  BNP splinters.  Opposition to the League is increasingly from underground groups (Maoists, jihadis) and conspiracies by civil-military oligarchies.

The second scenario is গরম (heated).  As part of the agitation, BNP resigns from the parliament.  Government calls a snap election, but with a constitutional amendment, this is held under a partisan administration.  Meanwhile, the war crimes trial indicts BNP leaders, and Tarique Rahman is tried (possibly in absentia) for the 21 August assassinations.  BNP and Jamaat boycott the election, Jatiya Party emerges as the opposition party, and the League’s re-election is accepted by the political class, and opposition comes only from underground groups.

The third scenario is হাটবাজার (chaos).  The agitation spirals out of control as local issues such as poor electricity connection or an ill-behaving MP bring out ordinary citizens into the street.  Tarique Rahman returns to Dhaka and courts a jail sentence in a rather Gandhian fashion.  The League’s attempt to enforce a one-party election creates a 1/11 like situation.  But the resulting military coup is far more clinical and ruthless, with the generals leaving no ambiguity about their intention.  The coup is endorsed by the political class, and minus-2 is implemented successfully.

Democracy in Bangladesh, already precarious, looks to have a dim prospect.  Is anyone paying attention?  Or are we all fooled by the PR campaign?

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18 Responses

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  1. Udayan said, on November 21, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    I’m curious. You don’t seem to have public opinion shifting in favor of BNP, as a result of either the eviction or the other issues, in any of your scenarios. Or is it that you think that even if they gain in popularity, there’s no way they can come back to power?

    I’d be interested in analysis of “man on the street” reaction to the eviction. The blog space seems to be dominated by the same partisan voices clinging to their respective loyalties with the tit-for-tat and legal arguments referred to in Syeed’s comment.

  2. Kgazi said, on November 21, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    The ‘man on the street’ are fed by gossip, and half-jointed theories of “democracy’, the very concept of which is flawed in entire BD-Indo-Pak, not just in the streets, but even in the ivory towers of parliament.

    I like to ask Jyoti, how long can people allow this type of governance to continue, before they raise their hand and say “OK enough is enough, this is NOT “democracy”? I ask this because a section of ‘intellectuals’ have the concept (fallacy) that we MUST let this continue, so that eventually (some unknown time) Gonotantra will arrive at the door!

    My feeling is the near-future outcome could be neither norom, gorom or hatbazar, but it will be “jotil”! Something very unforeseen is likely to happen, but different it will be.

  3. jrahman said, on November 21, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    Udayan, I would be interested in the ‘man on the street’ view as well. But I have no way of knowing it, and neither does our friend Kgazi. I understand the Daily Star will do a poll in January to mark the government’s two year mark. That will give us an idea.

    As for the BNP returning to power, well, if a free and fair election is held in early 2014, it’s not too difficult to imagine a BNP comeback given AL’s failure to meet key promises. Chances of a BNP victory would also be enhanced if moderate / non-controversial candidates are chosen. That is the lesson of the CCC election.

    But two of my three scenarios are not based on free and fair election. And while the first scenario doesn’t involve a rigged election as such, nor is it exactly the stuff of democracy.

    Kgazi, my views on democracy in Bangladesh are in the series by that name. Here is the last installment:

    However, I am afraid I’ll disappoint you, because I am one of those who thinks we have to persist with this. I remember all-too-well your euphoria about extra-constitutional changes. I agreed to disagree with you then, and I suspect we’ll have to do so again.

  4. Rumi said, on November 21, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    Unfortunately what “the man on the street” thinks depends on who you ask. If you ask me, I’ll tell you that although government could fool it’s intelligentsia into subscribing the stay theory; this did not cut through the grassroots Awami minds. In ideal world, it could have been the other way around. If you ask other folks, they will tell you, ” Ok it’s not an issue, Man on the street does not care. Mostly some urban folks are making some fuss. If the lawyers requested Stay, it would not have happened”.

    But I can give you some signs.

    Sign #1. Government is not holding the local government elections. These elections are seen as mid terms in BD context.
    Sign #2. Full results, full analysis of last DS-Nelson poll was never published. We only got a snapshot of Daily Star’s take on the poll. I guess similar thing will happen in January or the whole poll may be deferred.
    Sign #3 Many parliamentary seats are set to be declared vacant and re-election may happen. In all those contexts, government is either using judiciary or bureaucratic manipulation to defer them as much as possible.
    Sign#4. Only Bye election you will see happening in Habiganj 1 of Dewan Farid Gazi. This is a safe Awami League seat. Even the results of that election and use of ruling part muscle will shed some light on how much AL cold retain the vote it gained in 2008.

  5. Kgazi said, on November 21, 2010 at 11:15 pm


    You said “I remember all-too-well your euphoria about extra-constitutional changes.”

    Current functioning of Hasina regime is NOT AT ALL constitutional, EVERYTHING in this awami system is extra-constitutional —

    1) Only one party in parliament
    2) student terrorism and crime
    3) manipulation of tenders and purchasing
    4) Physical harrassment of Opposition Leaders
    5) Foreign agreements WITHOUT national consensus
    6) etc etc

    None of the above are constitutional. So, if you are so fond of this joba-khichuri governance (which you call ‘constitutional’) then you TOO are euphoric about extra-constitutional changes.

    The DIFFERENCE between Hasina-type of uncontrolled extra-constitutional governance and a controlled governance process (even like CTG) is that the SYSTEM will have a SYSTEMIC opportunity to reach the goals of democracy. But in the Hasina-type extra-constitutional system, there will NEVER be a convergence to democracy.

    What WILL happen is either a norom, gorom or jotil ending (never democracy) which you yourself predict, and that is exactly what happens in Pakistan and BD, repetitively.

    That is why I prefer a controlled extra-constitutional process to reach democracy, than a directionless travel of awami/pakistani exploitation of extra-constitutionalism.

  6. Udayan said, on November 22, 2010 at 2:09 am

    I didn’t word my original point/question well. Given your scenarios, do you think the establishment (domestic and foreign) will not allow BNP to return to power (in a free election) even if they regain sufficient popular support that would otherwise have allowed them to get elected?

  7. Udayan said, on November 22, 2010 at 2:13 am

    This line from the ECONOMIST article is the key missing piece of the puzzle for me. I can’t understand these recent actions of the BD govt except in an endgame scenario where the end is imminent – does Sheikh Hasina really not comprehend that she may one day be in opposition (or worse) again?

    “Despite the government’s sliding ratings, popular support for Sheikh Hasina’s clan dwarfs that for Mrs Zia’s. And with such a tailwind, it is extraordinary how the League remains stuck in a divisive politics based on personal grievances that go back nearly four decades”

    • tacit said, on November 22, 2010 at 7:19 am

      So, what does this line from the Economist article tell you?

      • Udayan said, on November 22, 2010 at 10:03 am

        That they didn’t need to do this given their still popular support base. That the current govt is either very stupid or very cruel, and either way, very dangerous. That the govt is/was in a position of strength and could have taken the lead in trying to end the divisive politics trap instead of exacerbating it, but chose an alternative path.

        Which means they either see a scenario with the end in sight and a supposedly positive outcome as perceived by them (scary, ruthless, cruel etc – see Jyoti’s scenarios above) or that they are totally miscalculating, and will be at the receiving end of the next round of revenge when the time comes.

  8. Kgazi said, on November 22, 2010 at 7:28 am

    Udayan – if Hasina really understood the concept of democracy, then she would not introduce the practice of national shutdown (hartal) & parliament boycott in 1991, when the first civilian regime started with Khaleda. Those practices have stunted the growth of democracy in BD, with successive regimes doing the same, and exposed Hasina’s obsession with wiping out the name of Zia (as observed by Economist article).

    And this “mentality” of autocracy (single party/monarchy) obviously runs through the Mujib family, as in 1973 Mujib had also declared a SINGLE-PARTY rule which he named BAKSAL. That idea not only declared Mujib an autocrat, but also managed to divide the nation against such ideas.

    Today, even after the whipping punishment from CTG, the autocracy/single-party obsession has not been healed, and Hasina continues to suffer from that disorder!

  9. jrahman said, on November 22, 2010 at 10:24 am

    Rumi bhai (4), even if the DS doesn’t publish the full poll, it will still give us some idea about how the public is reacting to all this.

    Kgazi (5), I am not euphoric about anything. This is what I said on 29 December 2008:

    In our first past the post system, a 5% margin in terms of votes can lead to a lopsided parliament. It is quite possible that AL-JP will get 45-50% of votes against BNP-JI’s 40-45%, and this could well result in an AL-JP 2/3rds majority. If that happens, past records don’t augur well for an AL brute majority.

    I feared an AL landslide. And I am pretty sure I was the first blogger (or even the first analyst) to mention ‘AL brute majority’. The question of me being euphoric about the current state of things simply doesn’t arise.

    Udayan (6), I think I am far better placed to discuss ‘the establishment’ than ‘the man on the street’. One shouldn’t over interpret these things, but my reading of the situation is that the Economist summarises the establishment view (both foreign and local) pretty well. I don’t believe the foreign (western as well as regional) establishment is as powerful as many think. But the local establishment (business houses, civil-military-legal bureaucracy, media) is still squarely anti-BNP. Particularly, I believe BNP’s stated heir, Tarique Rahman, has little credibility with the establishment.

    Therefore, the establishment will do everything possible to prevent a BNP victory (were one to materialise — a premature movement leading to a splintered party is very much possible: for example, even as we have this discussion, Nazmul Huda, someone who started the party with Zia, has been expelled). To overcome the establishment, a Tarique-led (or one that is slated for Tarique’s leadership) BNP will not only have win an election, the margin will have to be large enough to withstand rigging, and there will have to be enough popular support such that any attempt to overturn the result will cause a people’s power uprising.

    My record at forecasting these things is pretty poor. But since you asked, I don’t see Tarique Rahman being able to pull this off.

  10. Kgazi said, on November 22, 2010 at 10:45 am

    Jyoti, you may not be euphoric of the situation at this instant but you seem to be euphoric that current system of governance as run by our politicians is ‘democracy’.

    • jrahman said, on November 22, 2010 at 10:53 am

      Bhai Kgazi, it’s impossible to have any discussion if we don’t speak the same language.

      Here is the key sentence from the ‘Democracy in Bangladesh’ series: Bangladesh under these governments falls short of being a democracy.

      Here is how the dictionary defines ‘euphoric’: Adj. – exaggerated feeling of well-being or elation.

  11. fugstar said, on November 22, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    the men in the bazars, the men in the masjids and temples, the men in the colleges and colleges and the men in the offices. Youd think the men in the parliament would have some courage, but i reckon they are cowards and beholden to the patronage system, either that or simply not interested.

    the men in the streets, what on earth does that mean? Its like when the western media patronises Arab opinion through the ‘Arab Street’ The men sleeping in the street who have no homes? or those on the way to their offices. Some imaginary subaltern? I’d imagine the megaphone, demonstration equiplent industry is looking forward to the c oming weeks. and the press baiters. probably the only ones.

  12. kgazi said, on November 23, 2010 at 12:20 am

    Dada (grandfather) Jyoti,
    If the “fall short of democracy” then they should not be in Parliament, and therefore your belief that after 200 years (or whatever) they will have democracy, is unfounded.

  13. tacit said, on November 23, 2010 at 8:38 am

    Someone up high likes the soft option.


    The Anti-Corruption Commission has claimed to have found “convincing” evidence that former prime minister Khaleda Zia had shown fake sources of funds for establishing Zia Charitable Trust.

    The print and electronic media ran reports and programmes based on the rumour that the government might move to file cases against Khaleda and her two sons to compel BNP to drop its plan for anti-government programmes.

    ACC Chairman Ghulam Rahman however brushed aside any possibility of the government using the commission for the purpose.

    • Kgazi said, on November 23, 2010 at 12:04 pm

      ACC = AWAMI corruption commission ? 🙂

  14. The trouble with Naik « Mukti said, on December 2, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    […] there a debate was beginning in UV when politics of the house consumed all else.  Of the three reasons to worry about Naik presented in UV, I find one to be […]

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