Guha raises a glass
A trained economist turned historian, a liberal who has written on cricket, you can see why I might like Ramachandra Guha. When it comes to our corner of the subcontinent, Mr Guha particularly resonates with me because unlike so many other liberal-progressive Indians, he is unsentimental about partition. This allows him to observe Bangladesh (and Pakistan) with less blinkered eyes. This was evident in the two op eds he wrote after visiting Bangladesh late last year.
Based on ‘ long, drink-filled, evenings’ of addas with his local interlocutors as well short trips to Manikganj and Tangail, he concludes the first piece as:
The present is scarcely trouble-free, the future is clouded and uncertain. That said, this Indian would like to raise one cheer, and perhaps even two, for the people of Bangladesh. They were once part of Pakistan; after separation, they have been somewhat more successful in thwarting Islamic fundamentalism. They were once part of the undivided province of Bengal; after separation, they have shown more entrepreneurial drive and constructive social activism than their counterparts to the west.
Little quibbles — for example, Bangladesh is not, nor has it ever been, an Islamic Republic — aside, I agree with Guha’s assessment. It is his second piece, however, that I found more interesting. Let’s remember that one of his hosts in the Dhaka Lit Fest is an Awami League MP, and his trip was — as things tend to be — quite carefully managed. I suspect the literati and the chatterati he interacted with have little enthusiasm for the non-existent opposition politics. And yet, he came away with this stinging indictment of the current order:
… the manner of her administration’s present functioning is dangerously reminiscent of her father’s most ignoble period, those early months of 1975 when he amended the Constitution to virtually outlaw dissent and consolidate power in himself.
Thus, Mr Guha raises his glass, but not three cheers for Bangladesh — politics is letting us down, and the current prime minister deserves the blame. Who could disagree with that assessment? Foreign correspondents were coming around to that view over four years ago.
And yet, is that the full picture? Perhaps the glass Mr Guha raises contains a cocktail that the
people of Bangladesh the establishment is willfully imbibing. Perhaps, Mrs Wajed’s autocratic ways are accepted because the alternative in our winner-take-all set up are perceived to be too risky for stability that underlines social and economic achievements he lauds?