Mukti

A song of power

Posted in action, Drama, TV, Uncategorized by jrahman on April 14, 2019

Only a few more hours to go before the final season of Game of Thrones begins, and over the following six weeks life will be quite annoying for people who do not partake. A fellow Deshi political junkie friend who had never watched the show once asked me why I would recommend it — I know it’s got dragons and stuff. But that’s not my thing. Doubt you watch it for that. So, what’s the deal?

I replied that it’s a show about Bangladesh.

No really, I am not kidding. Think about it.

Once upon a time there was a legitimate, but inept, king whose misrule brought the realm to ruins. The king was killed by his own guard, and the rebels massacred most of his family. The usurper, however, proved just as unfit to rule, and before long he too was gone, triggering a vicious power struggle. Behind the scene, a shrewd, master strategist consolidated power, forging alliances of convenience. But he too was killed, along with most of the contenders for the throne. His capricious heir ascended to power, while a challenger emerged from beyond the border — the old king’s surviving daughter had assembled, in exile, a coalition of discontents and foreigners that was about to capture the throne.

Wait, you telling me Hasina is Khaleesi and Khaleda is Cersei? Bhai ki deshe ferot jaben?

What about he White Walkers?  They are the mullahs?

And who’s Jon Snow?

Questions followed from friends who clearly had watched the show.

Of course, I was being facetious.  But only just.  No, the show is not about Bangladesh, even though the parallels are quite uncanny.  More profound, however, is the fact that I couldn’t think of any Jon Snow, or Tyrion for that matter, parallel. None of this makes sense to anyone who hasn’t watched the show, or read the books.  Therefore, if I were to convince my friend to watch the show, or make any political points about Bangladesh, I would need to elaborate a bit more.

Ultimately, Game of Thrones, and the book series whence it’s based — A Song of Ice and Fire — is a meditation on political philosophy, political economy, and moral philosophy.  And there is sex, violence, and yes, dragons, and ice zombies.  Over the next few weeks, as winter comes to my town and the show ends, I plan to elaborate on these themes, posting here and in Facebook.

Oh, I will end the series well before the show is over.  How do I think it will end?  To quote one of the characters — If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.

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2019 wishes

Posted in Uncategorized by jrahman on December 31, 2018

The nearly-nine will be going for a brown belt in taekwondo in 2019.  A few months ago, he graded for the brown tip.  I asked him if he was sure, because he had missed several weeks of training in the winter.  He said he felt confident.  So he tried.  Unsuccessfully.  He was distraught.  Massive waterworks.  Then he trained his heart out for the next few weeks, and got the tip before the end year break.  But he was still quiet on the drive home.  A number of kids who started after him has passed him to get black belt.  Did it upset him?  No.  They are better.  Well, yes.  I am not that good, am I?  Meanwhile, the nearly-seven got a C in maths and was upset.  It’s not fair.  I do my homework all the time, and listen to my teacher all the time, and work hard!  It’s true, she does.

We tell them that we are proud of them because they work hard, and whether it is teakwondo or maths, they give it a full shot.  I guess they are learning that the game of life may not always be fair, but it’s alright as long as we can look into the mirror and say — I gave it all I had.

Here is to giving it all in 2019.

The choice is clear

Posted in Uncategorized by jrahman on December 29, 2018

K Anis Ahmed’s New York Times op ed is half-right, and therefore is all wrong. Bangladesh indeed does face a choice, and on one side stands authoritarianism.  The other side, however, is not extremism as he alleges.  On 30 Dec, Bangladesh faces a choice between continuing a brutal authoritarianism and the beginning of liberal democracy.  This blog stands for liberal democracy, and urges all its readers who are eligible to do so to go out and vote for Jatiya Oikya Front.

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Summer of ’77

Posted in Uncategorized by jrahman on December 15, 2018

Abu’l Fazl, the Grand Vizier of Akbar, didn’t like Bengal much.  Since he wrote in the 16th century that the country of Bengal is a land where, owing to the climate’s favouring the base, the dust of dissension is always rising, Bengal delta had been part of Empires, a monarchy and a republic, all of which extending beyond the current borders of Bangladesh.  In all these years, only three Mughal Governors — Shah Shuja, Shaista Khan, and Azim-ush-Shan — and Nawab Alivardi Khan had ruled this for a longer period than Prime Minister Hasina Wajed has.  One cannot be in power for this long without having certain leadership qualities.  And one admirable quality of Mrs Wajed is her ability to learn from experience.

Take for example her loss in the 1991 election.  While rejecting the result in a knee-jerk fashion — shukkho karchupi — she accepted that merely asserting the Awami League’s claim to power on its pre-1971 leadership role or the tragedies of 1975 would not be sufficient.  The party needed to appeal to the majoritarian sentiment to win votes.  At the same time, there was a need to assuage the urban, educated, increasingly affluent section of the society that the party had broken decisively from Bakshal-style socialism.  By donning a hijab and downplaying secular credentials, she achieved the former.  To manage the latter, she brought into the fold acclaimed professionals like SAMS Kibria.  Similarly, from her loss in 2001 election she learnt the importance of alliance and electoral arithmetic, which paid dividend in 2006-08.  Also from that election and the aborted 2007 one, she learnt the difficulty of remote control management of the caretakers — so she did away with the caretaker system altogether.

What will happen in Bangladesh in the coming weeks and months will depend crucially on what lessons the Prime Minister learnt from two elections of the summer of 1977.

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A few old men

Posted in Bangladesh, democracy, elections, history, politics, Uncategorized by jrahman on December 4, 2018

A corrupt, selfish elite rules over you, an elite in cahoots with foreigners, to whom the nation’s assets and future is being sold; and the lying media and rootless intellectuals stop you from seeing the truth; and yet, you sense the truth, that’s why you flock to the leader; even as the enemies of the people demonise him for not echoing their sophistry, you feel he tells it as it is — that he will kick the elite out, drain the swamp, lock the corrupt up, kill the criminals, and fix what ails the country; and make no mistake, it’s not hard to fix things, it’s just the knavery and perfidy of corrupt elite that need to be rooted out, and the leader will do just that; and he has proved it, hasn’t he, in his remarkable career as (business tycoon or mayor or army officer or whatever); he will make the country great, because he is truly of the country, like you are, and unlike those footloose elite who will flee the land with their ill gotten wealth if things get tough.

In recent years, variations of the above have reverberated from Washington DC to New Delhi, Warsaw to Brasilia, and Istanbul to Manila.  And politics around the world has been shaken.  There appears to be one exception — there doesn’t appear to be a Bangladeshi strongman on the scene.

There might have been.  After all, charges of corruption and ‘selling the country to foreigners’ can be laid quite easily against the current regime in Dhaka.  And historically, Bangladeshis have proved as susceptible to the cult of the leader as any other people.  So there might well have been a would be strongman leading the opposition.

Curiously, as Sherlock Holmes might have said, strongman in Bangladeshi politics is a dog that didn’t bark.

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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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