Mukti

Ghosts of Shapla Chattar

Posted in Bangladesh, history, Islamists, politics, Uncategorized by jrahman on November 4, 2018

What is the current status of Jamaat politics in Bangladesh?  The country’s largest Islamist party — at least in terms of parliamentary representation over the past few decades — is denied registration by the Election Commission.  So it can’t participate in the next election under its own name.  Its members can, of course, participate as independent candidates, or under some other party’s ticket.  In either case, they won’t be able to use the party’s traditional electoral symbol of scale.

But Jamaat is not officially banned.  The party still exists.  And is used as a cudgel by every Awami hack to beat up, literally all too often, any opposition voice.

Ironically, the legal status of Jamaat in today’s Bangladesh seems to be pretty much what it was under the bette noir of the current regime.  As Rumi Ahmed describes in detail, Jamaat was denied electoral registration when Ziaur Rahman restored multi-party politics.   ‘Zia rehabilitated Jamaat’ is one of the commonest lie in Bangladesh, and is so successful as a propaganda that even BNPwallahs don’t tend to refute it.  The fact of the matter is, to quote Rumi bhai:

Ziaur Rahman’s assessment was that after their direct opposition to Bangladesh in 1971 and their atrocities – Jamaat brand politics is too toxic and unsuitable for Bangladesh. He was also very aware of Jamaat’s organizational base and 5-10% vote base which he wanted to be used in the joint moderate IDL platform.

To elaborate on this, Zia was acutely aware of the risk of disenfranchising a part of the country that was capable of ruthless, organised violence.  In that regard, allowing a parliamentary party that explicitly drew its politics from Islam was an act of far-sighted statesmanship in 1978 — that is, before the Muslim world was rocked by Ayatollah Khomeini’s triumphant return to Tehran, Soviet tanks in Kabul, and the bloodbath in Mecca’s Grand Mosque.

Anyway, this post is not about Zia’s legacy.  Instead, I want to think through some issues around Islamist politics in Bangladesh as we head to what might be another politically charged winter.

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Mountains of the moon – 9

Posted in Uncategorized by jrahman on January 2, 2018

For those who came in late:

Eruption

Shankar woke up around midnight.  There was a noise somewhere out there in the woods, something was happening somewhere in the forest.  Alvarez was also sitting up in his bed.  Both listened carefully — it was quite strange.  What was happening outside?

Shankar was quick to come out with a lit up torch, but Alvarez stopped him.  He said — I warned you many times to not go out of the tent like that at night time in these woods.  And where are you going without a gun anyway?

It was pitch dark outside the tent.  Following the rays of lights from their torches, they saw —

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2018 wishes

Posted in Uncategorized by jrahman on December 31, 2017

Facebook tells me that exactly four years ago we watched Frozen in the theatre.  To anyone born in the west in the past decade, there is no bigger cultural phenomenon than this Disney production.  My then not-quite-three discovered it in kids youtube — about that some other time — and then went through a phase of memorising every song by line.  And then, just like that, he got over it.  Initially I thought it was just a ‘boy’ thing, but it would seem sometime around when they finish kindergarten, kids of all genders get tired of the princesses.

I wonder what the kids understood from that movie.  What does a five year old know of pressures to conform, or courage to be themselves, or the balance between expressing oneself and the great responsibility that comes with great power?  Surely these lessons will be important when the kids are in their teens?  Will they return to it in a few years?

Come to think of it, the theme of the movie applies to us grown ups too.  Here is to letting it go in 2018.

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Dadagiri

Posted in adventure, books, movies, thriller, Uncategorized by jrahman on December 20, 2017

When Shashi Kapoor passed away a few days ago, my facebook was abuzz (or should I say alight?) with clips of mere paas maa hai.  I wanted to post my favourite Kapoor as my childhood favourite hero.  I was sad to find no clip of Kissa Kathmandu ki — Satyajit Ray’s small screen adaptation of his Feluda caper in Nepal.  Granted it wasn’t Ray’s finest, but all sorts of weird and improbable stuff can be found online, why not this, I wondered.  My mind then wandered to why Ray cast Kapoor and not Amitabh Bachchan, the only tall man in India, for the role of the towering Bengali detective?  Perhaps because Bachchan was by then too busy with politics.  But that leads one to wonder why Ray hadn’t made a Hindi Feluda earlier?  For that matter, why did Ray not make more Hindi movies?

The latest on-screen adaptation puts Ray’s sleuth in the modern day — check out the trailer:

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2017 wishes

Posted in Uncategorized by jrahman on December 25, 2016

Every holiday season, I come across the line that gifts are a terrible idea.  Some years it’s a confident-sounding man trying to impress a social crowd with his neoclassical economics.  At other times, the argument pops up in places like the Financial Times or Vox — that you know best what to do with the money that’s spent on the gift bought for you, and as such, everyone will be better off without gifts: give cash if you must.

Of course, looking for pareto improvement in O’Henry shows just how clueless such male economists (oh, such types, in my experience, are always men) can be.  Gifts are as much but about you-the-giver as you-the-receiver.  What you give to whom tells everyone about the who/what/how of your values.  Buying the shiniest, largest toy, without regards to the recipient’s feelings — well, that says a lot, though perhaps not favourably of the giver.

The most precious thing you can give your loved ones is the gift of time.  If you love someone, spend your time with them and on them.  Whatever you did in the past, wishing you a fresh start from this holiday season.

Happy 2017.

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Recipe — goat rezala

Posted in culture, food, Uncategorized by jrahman on April 10, 2016

There appears to be a lot of variation in how people make rezala.  Mine is definitely not authentic as I tend to improvise a lot while cooking this, which these days is regrettably rare.  Back in the day, however, this had never failed.  Go ahead, give it a shot.

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Guha raises a glass

Posted in Uncategorized by jrahman on January 15, 2016

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?

 

 

Prisoner of Jhind

Posted in action, adventure, books, Drama, movies, thriller, Uncategorized by jrahman on November 20, 2015

Good thing you skipped Salman Khan’s new movie.  They made the movie around 14 songs collected over many years. Waste of time!

That’s my brother on the recent Bollywood adaptation of The Prisoner of Zenda.  The lookalike-as-a-plant has been used as a plot device many times, including those starring Bollywood bigshots.  My favourite retelling on pages is the Flashman caper involving the Schleswig-Holstein Question — note to self, must blog about Flashman sometime.

But for the screen, let me recommend the 1961 Bangla adaptation.  Adapted to the Indian settings by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay of Byomkesh fame, the movie contains great visuals of the rugged Central and Western Indian terrain, decade-and-half before Sholay.  Uttam Kumar in the title role is solid, but Soumitra Chatterjee as a villain is sublime — an early cut of his performance in Ghare Baire two decades later.  Oh, there is also a Bengali nationalist twist in the mix.

The best thing about the movie, however, is its music.  Ali Akbar Khan matches the likes of Ennio Morricone.  They just don’t do tunes like that any more.

 

 

 

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Game of coups

Posted in army, Bangladesh, history, politics, Uncategorized by jrahman on November 5, 2015

In the blood-soaked history of Bangladesh, this week marks the 40th anniversary of a particularly dark and grim episode.  On 7 November 1975, dozens of army officers of were killed by mutinous jawans.  The mutiny was orchestrated by Lt Col Abu Taher, who was retired from services a few years earlier and at that time was a key leader of the radical Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal.  The mutineers killed Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf, who had instigated a coup few days earlier against the regime of Khondaker Moshtaq Ahmed, in power since the bloody putsch of 15 August that killed President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and most of his family.  Amid the confusion caused by Mosharraf’s manoeuvres against the ‘killer majors’, four senior Awami League leaders — including Tajuddin Ahmed, the country’s first prime minister who led the war effort in 1971 when Mujib was interned in Pakistan — were assassinated in the central jail, allegedly with the consent of President Moshtaq.  The chaos and carnage of 7 November, coming on the heels of the August massacre and the jail killing, threatened to put the very existence of Bangladesh at risk.

Fortunately, Taher’s mutiny proves short-lived as the army rallied behind Major General Ziaur Rahman.

This post isn’t about revisiting our coup-prone history  or explaining it.  Rather, using the ideas of Naunihal Singh, an American political scientist, I want to discuss why some of those coups were more successful than others, and what they might tell us about the present day Bangladesh.

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Tin Kanya

Posted in Dhallywood, movies, Uncategorized by jrahman on October 31, 2015

According to google, Bangla movie Tin Kanya refers to either the 1961 Ray adaptation of Tagore or the 2012 risque Rituparna starrer.  The 1986 Bangladeshi film starring Suchanda, Babita and Champa is completely ignored.  That’s a shame, because it deserves to have a cult following, if Dhallywood had cult following that is.

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