How soon is now?

Posted in AL, BNP, democracy, dynasties, elections, music, politics, rock by jrahman on June 5, 2012

It’s an iconic 1980s song, played in the stereo systems of many a nerdy college kid over the past decades.  Along with Hanif Kureishi’s work, apprently it’s among the best commentary on the Thatcher era England.  It was also one of the themes of this classic Aaron Spelling drama.  And now, it seems to be a great commentary on Bangladeshi political scene. Reading the Economist’s recent editorial and news story on Bangladesh, I kept recalling Morrissey’s matter-of-fact statement:  when you say it’s gonna happen “now”, well, when exactly do you mean? see I’ve already waited too long, and all my hope is gone.



Posted in action, AL, BNP, China, culture, democracy, development, economics, macro, movies, politics, sci-fi, society by jrahman on June 1, 2012

Seven trashes collected by the senses.


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Peaceful co-existence or 2/11?

Posted in AL, army, BNP, elections, politics by jrahman on April 22, 2012

That’s a shot of Farmgate during today’s hartal (from the Daily Star).  Bangladesh seems to be heading towards another spate of political violence.  For over a year now, I’ve heard speculations of 2/11.  Now I am beginning to believe this might be a real threat.

Is there no way out of this cycle of election-andolon-coup?

Five years and five days ago, I posted my first piece on Bangladeshi politics.  Over the fold is that UV piece reposted.


History Wars

Posted in 1971, AL, Bangladesh, BNP, history, politics, South Asia by jrahman on March 27, 2012

It’s a shame that the New Age has such a poor circulation, because its supplements and opinion pages are usually much, much better than the more widely read Daily Star or BDnews24.  Its Independence Day supplement covers a number of good articles, including Naeem’s on Shothik Itihash.  This post is about this particular bit:

A blogger friend sounds a pessimistic note: ‘Our countrymen are maybe more blatant about it than most, but there is no “true” history anywhere in the world. It’s all air-brushed, covered with pancake makeup, and then dipped into rosewater.’ He suggests that these history wars are just a form of dialectic struggle, perhaps a healthy one at that.  

No, I am not the blogger friend.  I missed the chance to discuss the piece before it was published.  In any case, I agree with both Naeem’s general thesis, and the particular statement by our mutual blogger friend.  It’s just that thinking about the dialectic makes me even more depressed our intellectual poverty. 


The general out of his labyrinth

Posted in AL, army, Bangladesh, BNP, history, politics by jrahman on March 25, 2012

Couple of weeks ago, I showed how the Ershad regime had the worst economic record of all the Bangladehsi governments of the past three decades.  Why did the regime perform so poorly?  At a first glance, as finance ministers, Syeduzzaman or Maj Gen MA Munim appear to be no less qualified than Saifur Rahman or SAMS Kibria, while the current top econocrat AMA Muhith served in that role back in 1982-83.  All five are/were professionals and technocrats with personal integrity.  All pursued similar economic policies — macroeconomic stabilisation packages and structural reform programmes — with similar imprimatur from the IMF and the World Bank.  Why then the disparity in the results?

The difference was not in the ministers and their policies.  Syeduzzaman and Munim did their best.  It’s just that their best wasn’t enough to off set the reckless and cavalier way Lt Gen HM Ershad ran the country.  While the finance ministers would negotiate a macro stability package and do the hard work in restoring order to public finances, Ershad would dispense political patronage that would blow a hole in the budget.  While the ministers worked out a privatisation plan to revive industrialisation, Ershad would give bank credits to favourite cronies.  The result was the dismal performance shown in the earlier post.

And not just in economic affairs.  In his nine years in officer, and in two decades since, Ershad has done tremendous damage to Bangladesh, killing — in a spiritual sense — an entire generation, the generation that is actually running Bangladesh today.


Who’s the best?

Posted in AL, army, BNP, development, economics, history, macro by jrahman on March 11, 2012

Notice (12 March, 0610 BDT): charts have gone funny, and will be updated in the next 48 hours.

Updated (13 March, 1001 BDT): charts have been fixed.

With yet another confrontation looming between Bangladesh’s two major political parties, I thought it would be interesting to see how they compare against each other.  There are, of course, many ways of doing this.  I am going to do this by looking at four indicators: GDP per capita growth, manufacturing output growth, inflation, and foreign aid-to-GDP ratio.

Why these indicators?  Simply because I have good data handy for these metrics.  But they still tell us a good deal.  Growth in GDP per capita is a standard measure of welfare.  Manufacturing growth is associated with strong employment in the ‘modern’ sectors of the economy – by and large a good thing.  Inflation is self-evidently important.  Reliance on foreign aid is clearly something we can do without.  And improvements in these economic indicators, over time and across countries, are highly correlated with decline in poverty and rise in living standards.

Nonetheless, they miss out a lot.  For example, I don’t have up-to-date data on inequality.  Further, these economic indicators don’t tell us anything about governance or civil liberties.  A government might preside over fast growth and rapid fall in infant mortality, but could also gag the media, and be extremely corrupt.  Nor do I have any time series on crime statistics – arguably, maintaining law and order is a government’s first priority.  And I am not even sure how one could quantify foreign policy success or failure.

Therefore, the rankings presented below should be taken with a grain of salt.

I am also going to ignore the governments of the first decade.  While a good old fashioned Mujib-Zia food fight is enjoyed by all, given the impacts of the Liberation War, I don’t think the 1970s is comparable with the subsequent decades.

So the comparison is between six governments – Ershad, first Khaleda, first Hasina, second Khaleda, 1/11 regime, and second Hasina – over the four categories.  In each category, the best performing government gets five points, while the worst one gets zero.  Add all up, and we get the final tally.

The worst government of the past three decades turns out to be, with zero points, the Ershad regime.  This shouldn’t come as surprise to anyone who knows anything about economic history of Bangladesh.  But evidently, few people know anything about economic history, because if I had a cent for everytime I hear ‘things were great under Ershad’, I’d be in the 1%.

And the winners?  Read on.


On the BSF atrocities

Posted in AL, BNP, Border killings, foreign policy, India, politics, Rights by jrahman on March 7, 2012

The last post on this topic is now the most popular in this blog, showing how much people care about this issue.  This post covers various aspects of the issue that seems to come up again and again in discussions.  Some of it is going to challenge popular perceptions.  Others repeat of what I’ve already said in this blog and UV.

Details over the fold.


Lies, damn lies, and Zia-bashing

Posted in 1971, AL, Bangladesh, BNP, history, people, politics by jrahman on May 30, 2010

Nineteenth century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli is meant to have quipped ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics’.  It seems to me that in Bangladesh we have three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and Zia-bashing.

Sometimes these lies about Ziaur Rahman get out of hand.  For example, when Quamrul Islam, the State Minister for Law, claimed Zia was a Pakistani spy, even some of his fellow partymen thought he went too far.  And the mainstream media, otherwise happy to partake in Zia-bashing, chastened him.  The minister eventually backtracked.

But such backtracking is rare.  The usual state-of-affair is one of unabashed series of distortions, half-truths, and intellectual bullying when it comes to Ziaur Rahman.  And no, I am not talking about the Prime Minister or senior Awami League leaders’ bloviation.  I am talking about what passes for conventional wisdom among our pundits and intellectuals when it comes to Zia’s views on Mujib, 15 August, Jamaat or India.

On each of these subjects, Zia’s positions are presented in the worst light possible by the supposedly non-partisan punditry.  The irony is that his political opponents have adopted, in one form or other, most of his ideas.  And the tragic thing is, his own political heirs are completely ignorant of his legacy.