Mukti

A tale of two Rahmans

Posted in politics by jrahman on July 21, 2011

This country was created by two Rahmans, and you’re a Rahman, you’ll do fine here — a friend said something to that effect in a facebook message recently. 

Dear reader, I am not in any way or form related to either of these two founding Rahmans.  And as far as I know, neither is one of the Rahmans I am going to talk about.  The other Rahman I’ll discuss is the son, and presumptive heir, of one the founding Rahmans.  Could the unrelated Rahman (not me) be the one to break the grip on power that the two dead Rahmans have held over us for so long?

Okay, if that para is too much of a riddle, here is the basic idea: BNP’s heir apparent Tarique Rahman faces unprecedented odds; is Mahmudur Rahman a likely future leader?

Mrs Zia is old, she is ill, she doesn’t have much friend or family in the country — to put it bluntly, her life insurance premium must be pretty high.  Perhaps things will not need to play out in the dramatic way as Syed Abul Maqsud describes:

খালেদা জিয়ার বিরুদ্ধে জিয়া চ্যারিটেবল ট্রাস্টের মামলার কথা পুনঃপ্রচারিত হয়েছে। বুদ্ধিদাতাদের পরামর্শে ‘অতি দ্রুত’ ওই মামলা নিষ্পত্তি হতে পারে। বেগম জিয়ার সাজা হলে, ক্যান্টনমেন্ট তো আগেই ছেড়েছেন, এবার তিনি কাশিমপুরের বাসিন্দা হবেন। তাতে বিএনপি শেষ হবে। আর তখন তাঁর জীবনের পরম পুলক অনুভব করবেন জেনারেল এরশাদ। বিএনপির সময় সাজার কারণে তিনিও একবার নির্বাচনে অংশ নিতে পারেননি। বেগম জিয়া কাশিমপুর গেলে এরশাদের অন্তিম দিনগুলো আনন্দঘন হয়ে উঠবে। তিনি গাইবেন:
‘মম চিত্তে নিতি নৃত্যে কে যে নাচে
তাতা থৈথৈ, তাতা থৈথৈ, তাতা থৈথৈ।’
বেগম জিয়া জেলে গেলে নয়াপল্টনে নেমে আসবে কবরের নীরবতা। ওদিকে বিয়েবাড়ির মতো মরিচ-বাতি জ্বলে উঠবে বনানী, তোপখানা রোড ও বঙ্গবন্ধু এভিনিউতে। চিত্ত নেচে উঠবে ওয়ার্কার্স পার্টি, জাসদ ও সাম্যবাদী দলের নেতাদেরও। খালেদাবিহীন ’৮৮ মার্কা নির্বাচনে আওয়ামী লীগ পাবে ২০১টি, জাতীয় পার্টি ৪৯, ওয়ার্কার্স পার্টি ও জাসদ প্রত্যেকে ২১টি করে, সাম্যবাদী দল ও আওয়ামী ওলামা লীগ অবশিষ্ট আসন।

Perhaps it will be much more mundane. 

When the current chairperson is gone, what will happen to BNP?

Khaleda Zia doesn’t need a will, like Benazir Bhutto, to bequeth the party to her son.  BNP chose Tarique Rahman as its number two in the party council in December 2009.  Presumably he will step in as the party’s leader in his mother’s absence. 

And then what?

Tarique faces charges that, if convicted, will carry a death sentence.  Does he have the moral courage to return to Bangladesh and face these charges?  Whether he is guilty or innocent is not the point here.  Neither does it matter whether the courts are of the antipodean marsupial variety.  Sheikh Mujib was certainly guilty of wanting to destroy Ayub-Yahya’s Pakistan, and he most definitely did not face a fair trial in various military tribunals and conspiracy cases.  But he faced those trials head on, risking his life, and lived reap the political benefits.

Can one expect the same from Tarique? 

Nothing we know about this pampered (not anymore so) young man makes me think the answer is in the affirmative.  Unless political climate changes, it’s hard to see Tarique returning to Bangladesh. 

Can he then play a part in changing political climate from exile?  Hard to see how. 

Will he lead an election campaign from his London apartment?  Will he direct a popular uprising?  Scoff, and more scoff — surely that’s the appropriate answer.  Will he be part of some ‘conspiracy’?  He can try, but why would any would be conspirator want him involved?

Rather, the history of political unravelling suggests that the current power-dispensation will unwind in a very unpredictable manner, and the beneficiary will be someone who commands a political oranisation in Bangladesh. 

Can Mahmudur Rahman be such a person?

Consider his pluses. 

Unlike Tarique, whose only qualification seems to be his birth, Mahmud has had a stellar professional life thus far.  An engineering degree from BUET and an MBA from IBA — how many of our politicians can cite qualifications from two of the country’s finest institutions? 

He has been a successful executive — drawing a multi-million taka salary from Beximco back in the 1990s — as well as entreprenuer — he left his father-in-law’s business to start his own.  And he has done this without the cronyism and patronage that taints most of our major business owners. 

Even as he served in a cabinet level post in the last BNP government, the 1/11 regime didn’t arrest him as part of its anti-corruption drive, mainly because there wasn’t any whiff of corruption or any rumour questioning his personal honesty.  Surely a rarity in Bangladesh.  And it’s not like he was silent about that regime.  In fact, his was one of the first voice that publicly called the coup by its name and protested it in no uncertain terms.

Of course the current government has gone after him.  But consider the reason for the government’s ire.  May be it is pure rumour mongering, may be not.  One thing is certain, it took guts to challenge the crown prince the Prime Minister’s son publicly. 

So the government arrested him, tried to gag his newspaper, tried and failed to connect him to the so-called Uttara conspiracy, and then had him convicted for, well I am not sure what he was convicted for

Unlike Tarique and so many others, Mahmud didn’t cut any deal.  Rather, he pleaded not guilty, accepted the punishment, and served seven months in jail.  And now he is publishing his prison diary in a daily series which is dissmenitated electronically in real time, and which will be published as a book come next February (okay, this is speculation on my part).

As an aside, read the series, and compare with his columns from 2007.  Mahmud has improved a lot as a writer.  These prison pieces are laced with human stories about various inmates — one can easily see the author trying his hand at short story or TV drama.  And then there are glimpses about his own likes and dislikes — he reads Indian writers like Shankar, is reminded of Tagore’s poetry on a monsoon afternoon, and likes Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.  Oh, here is a gem, he is so morally upright that he refused to share a meal with a corrupt person like Giyasuddin Al Mamoon.

Anyway, back to Mahmud’s story.  Since publishing the December 2009 news item linking Mr Wajed with corruption, Mahmud has been travelling the length and breadth of the country.  These days, wherever he goes, he is met by all and sundry anti-AL folks, and he talks about his relentess struggle against injustice and for the truth.   I don’t have any hard statistics, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Mahmudur Rahman is the most popular person after Khaleda Zia in the 43% of Bangladesh that did not vote for the Grand Alliance in December 2008.

So, Mahmudur Rahman has a strong biography, money and a way with words.  If Bangladesh was like any ‘normal’ country, these would be enough to launch an election campaign.  If the government eliminates Tarique Rahman as a factor in our politics, will Bangladesh become a more normal country?

And if it does, how will a Mahmudur Rahman led BNP (or whatever party is the centre of the anti-AL politics) perform?

Here things become not-so-clear for Mahmud.  His personal narrative and political positioning seems to suggest that for him to win power, Bangladesh will have to change in a radically different direction. 

Consider his personal narrative first.

Open a random piece by him and you will be reminded endlessly about how he comes from a middle class background, how he is the salt of the earth, and how different he is from those rich elites of Gulshan-Banani (you know, the kind that reads the Daily Star).  Never mind the fact that this is utterly hypocritical, that he is every bit part of that Gulshanite society.  More important point is, there is no evidence whatsoever that this kind of class envy or resentment is at all attractive to the average Bangladeshi. 

Ours is a society of aspiration, of the upwardly mobile.  Take any random Bengali Muslim businessman, bureaucrat, media personality and go back two, three generations, and you have the peasantry of rural East Bengal.  We don’t hate the rich, we aspire to be the rich.  There is a reason why the politics of class struggle completely flopped in Bangladesh. 

Ours is also a closely-knit homogenous society.  I am always struck by how well informed the ‘person on the street’ in Dhaka is.  They know the score.  And I suspect they will see through Mahmudur Rahman when he says ‘Daily Star readers hate me because of class difference’.

And if this pretentious personal narrative is not problematic enough, consider his bigger political vision. 

He talks about Bangladesh being at the frontline of the global clash of civilisation.  He talks about his struggle being not just against Awami rule (which the anti-AL base readily identifies with) but also against global imperialism and Indian hegemony.  India may well be an electoral factor in our politics again, but Bangladesh is just not the country where an anti-India, anti-west, anti-rich populism thrives in and of itself.  Certainly not if its leader has Delwar Hossain Sayeedi and Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury as brothers-in-arms (while Mahmudur Rahman refuses to share food with Mamoon the corrupt, he addresses the two accused war criminals as bhai).

Whatever the future holds, Mahmudur Rahman’s rise thus far has certainly been stellar.  Let’s see how the story plays out for this Rahman, even as the curtain draws on the other, London-exiled, one.

20 Responses

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  1. Udayan said, on July 21, 2011 at 11:53 am

    Why is the curtain drawing on Tareq? Won’t he be free to return and be rehabilitated in the event of an AL defeat at the next election?

    • jrahman said, on July 21, 2011 at 12:36 pm

      Why would anyone able to defeat AL in an election hand over power to Tarique? He will be able to return, sure. Just not to leadership.

  2. Dilbor said, on July 22, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    JR,
    You have articulated what I have been observing for the past few years. I also wrote about the rise of MR in a comment in UV ( http://unheardvoice.net/blog/2011/04/17/it-is-what-it-is/#comments ). To me, growing popularity of MR is much more than leadership vacuum of BNP. It is vacuum of good leader in BD politics. He is considered to be honest, qualified and brave. He has been aligning himself as an pious and sincere value oriented personality. His actions have already proven that he stands on what he believes in. I will not be surprised to see him as personality as popular as Ziaur Rahman himself in near future….and that is going to be his problem. His popularity will be overshadowing the dark prince….

    So don’t be surprised if BNP becomes his own enemy. In that case, he will pick up splintered folks from Jamaat and large BNP following and perhaps start a new party in model of Turkish AKP….I know, I know its wild thoughts🙂

    Dilbor

    • jrahman said, on July 22, 2011 at 5:52 pm

      Dilbor, a Turkish AKP style party in Bangladesh is not as wild a thought as you might think. For one thing, I’ve already talked about it well over a year ago:

      https://jrahman.wordpress.com/2010/05/17/when-the-trial-is-over/

      Here is the thing. Such a party is not going to happen as long as there is living memory of 1971, and people who fought against the creation of Bangladesh are active in Islam-based politics. If Mahmudur Rahman embraces Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, then he loses the mainstream Bangladesh, simple as that.

      But yes, when the Sayeedi-Nizami generation is gone — these are old men, never mind the trial, they will die soon enough through natural causes — Insaf o Kalyan Party may well become the dominant anti-AL party.

      Then again, if there is to be such a party, why will it need Mahmudur Rahman? Why not someone like Mir Quashem Ali? He is also a successful entrepreneur/executive. He is also considered to be honest and qualified. And he already has a political party. Look at this video:

      Why would this guy loose out to Mahmudur Rahman?

      • Udayan said, on July 23, 2011 at 9:03 am

        “If Mahmudur Rahman embraces Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, then he loses the mainstream Bangladesh, simple as that.”

        Didn’t BNP embrace Sayeedi and others like him, and people like SQC before 2001 elections, and still gain a victory based on support from “mainstream” Bangladesh? Didn’t they still have 40%+ of support in 2008?

      • jrahman said, on July 23, 2011 at 2:08 pm

        Not quite. Firstly, for a quarter century or so since Zia’s time, BNP was the party of the mainstream and the establishment. As such, it’s probably more accurate to say that Sayeedi/SQC et al were the ones who came to the mainstream from the fringes by embracing BNP. And secondly, and more pertinently for the post, to the extent that promotion of SQC or reliance on Jamaat meant a rightward drift for BNP, it exacted a heavy price.

        Yes in 2001 BNP captured 41% vote. But was it because of Jamaat alliance? The seats that changed hands in 1991, 1996 and 2001 had very small Jamaat presence. The major factor in these seats in greater Dhaka/Mymensingh/Comilla were the Jatiya Party vote. So one can argue that BNP won in 2001 despite Jamaat alliance, not because of it. The utility of Jamaat to BNP’s electoral prospect comes into further question when we look at the recent elections. In 2008, BNP’s vote share slumped to 33%. Evidently, whatever was turning people off BNP, Jamaat couldn’t compensate for it (and at least partly, Jamaat alliance was turning people off BNP). In the local government elections this year, BNP contested alone in most places, often openly rejecting Jamaat alliance, and consciously choosing ‘pro-71’ candidates. The result: https://jrahman.wordpress.com/2011/01/19/40-40-politics/, which was broadly repeated in rural elections more recently. And this is under political circumstance that are decidedly less-than-friendly for BNP.

        Of course, BNP’s foundation stories are intertwined with Major Zia. Mahmudur Rahman has no such claim to 1971 glory stories. And he starts out as an ‘insurgent’ candidate against the ‘prince’. Still, say in a decade or so, 1971 ceases to matter. In which case, it’s not clear to me that Mahmudur Rahman has any more advantage over someone who comes from outright Islamist politics.

  3. Dilbor said, on July 23, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    I don’t expect existing JI leadership to be part of any new party. I think it will make sure it takes only the JI’s post 71 projonmo. How can you label someone Razakar if he/she is born on or after 71. However Mir Kashem Ali will be the big player in the new party but it remains to be seen what the public involvement will be. But, MKA does not have the popular image as does MR. Besides, if the new party is created to bypass the JI’s 1971 image problem, why take those oldguards with tainted history. It seems like there are lot of ongoing discussions with the party ( JI ) . MR is fresh and new face to lead it. If you notice, MR is shifting towards more religious values (using reference to Islam and his strong faith etc.. in his article) in past year and half. He is building his credentials to religious value oriented folks.

    You can check out this link to fit the two parallel events together ( Remember Turkish AKP splintered from Virture Party) :
    http://174.120.152.66/~pratidin/print_news.php?path=data_files/19&cat_id=1&menu_id=1&news_type_id=1&index=0

    As far as MR’s portrayal of middle class average folks image, I do not agree with your comment that he is getting it wrong. I think you are equating MR’s attempt as pitting as traditional “class struggle” as seen in leftist politics. In BD, average folks do not hate the rich, they want to be rich however there is wide perception that you cannot be rich without being corrupt. This is what MR is trying to portray that he has gained his wealth through honest means. And…he has proven it to be. No single corruption case stuck against this guy even in the worst of times.

  4. Dilbor said, on July 23, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    I don’t expect existing JI leadership to be part of any new party. I think it will make sure it takes only the JI’s post 71 projonmo. How can you label someone Razakar if he/she is born on or after 71. However Mir Kashem Ali will be the big player in the new party but it remains to be seen what the public involvement will be. But, MKA does not have the popular image as does MR. Besides, if the new party is created to bypass the JI’s 1971 image problem, why take those oldguards with tainted history. It seems like there are lot of ongoing discussions with the party ( JI ) . MR is fresh and new face to lead it and he can also bring in traditional BNP supporters as well. If you notice, MR is shifting towards more religious values (using reference to Islam and his strong faith etc.. in his article) in past year and half. He is building his credentials to religious value oriented folks.

    You can check out this link to fit the two parallel events together ( Remember Turkish AKP splintered from Virture Party) :
    http://174.120.152.66/~pratidin/print_news.php?path=data_files/19&cat_id=1&menu_id=1&news_type_id=1&index=0

    As far as MR’s portrayal of middle class average folks image, I do not agree with your comment that he is getting it wrong. I think you are equating MR’s attempt as pitting as traditional “class struggle” as seen in leftist politics. In BD, average folks do not hate the rich, they want to be rich however there is wide perception that you cannot be rich without being corrupt. This is what MR is trying to portray that he has gained his wealth through honest means. And…he has proven it to be. No single corruption case stuck against this guy even in the worst of times.

  5. Rumi said, on July 24, 2011 at 8:41 am

    1, Mahmudur Rahman, in my POV, is not in am image making venture. As a new writer and unexpected high readership he is simply enjoying himself. he does not any political plan behind what he writes.

    2. Mir Quasem Ali probably is overrated in this post. AL has thousands, BNP has hundreds, Jamaat also has one business tycoon. Any mid level ex Shibir Jamaat leader is as articulate as Mir Quasem Ali. His 71 role and business profession makes him Vulnerable.

  6. jrahman said, on July 25, 2011 at 10:09 am

    Rumi bhai, I cannot think of an example where we publicly differed on our predictions and I was proven right. So if you asess that Mahmudur Rahman has no political ambition, I am not going to argue. 🙂

    As for MQA, the post is not about him. I used him as an example in replying to Dilbor’s comment. I agree with you that many mid-level ex-Shibir leaders are as articulate as MQA. But that rather supports my point, which is that post-1971 Jamaat has a number of articulate professionals. As such, while Mahmudur Rahman appears novel in the context of post-Zia dynasty BNP, there is nothing special about Mahmudur Rahman in a post-1971 generation Islam-based party.

    Dilbor, that partly answers your comment above. Regarding your other point about what MR is trying to convey with his ‘class image’ — I wish MR was ‘trying to portray that he has gained his wealth through honest means’. But I do not see that in his writing. For every example about how he worked hard to achieve his financial success, there are five about the evil elites and the establishment. In fact, some of the anti-establishment populism is really indistinguishable from an average column by Farhad Mazhar or Badruddin Umar.

    Whether Mahmudur Rahman has political ambition or not, and whatever his feelings may be about Sayeedi, I think it’s important to acknowledge one thing — he has shown that it is certainly possible to break the grip of the dynasties without resorting to a 1/11 type minus-2 solution. Regardless of what he does in future, there are many successful professionals in Bangladesh — from across the ideological spectrum — who can do what he has done. That’s one reason to be hopeful.

    • Rumi said, on July 28, 2011 at 6:58 am

      It is not about whether Mahmudur Rahman has political ambition or not. He alreday joined a political position during last government, so there is nothing to believe that he is averse to political positions. My feeling is that his writings are not carefully choreographed to create an image of himself or push forward an specific agenda ( Other than typical expected India/ West/ Shushil/ DS/ PA bashing and Sayedee bhai booze-ing) .

      • jrahman said, on July 28, 2011 at 9:18 am

        So that I understand you correctly, are you saying that his only genuine agenda is “India/ West/ Shushil/ DS/ PA bashing and Sayedee bhai booze-ing”?

  7. Rumi said, on August 3, 2011 at 12:20 am

    He may not have any agenda while writing his jail memoir. MK Alamgir wrote one about his post 1/11 jail time, other wrote in the past.
    Why every single piece of writing has to have an agenda. What is the agenda of your writings
    ?🙂

    • jrahman said, on August 4, 2011 at 11:47 am

      I thought my global plan agenda was well known: a Jamaat government that is also subservient to India. :p

  8. Rumi said, on August 6, 2011 at 4:16 am

    Your agenda is alreday implemented. Don’t we now have a governmnent with state religion Islam, strong values regarding blasphemy and very subservient to India?

    • jrahman said, on August 6, 2011 at 3:28 pm

      Yes, but we must remain ever vigilant against those secular nationalists. As the Prime Minister often says, there is conspiracy everywhere. Are you a conspirator? 🙂

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