Mukti

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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Cometh the hour…

Posted in elections, music, politics, rock by jrahman on December 25, 2018

One common concern trolling among the Awami League supporters is regarding the leadership of the Jatiya Oikya Front — who is your leader, if you win, who will be your prime minister, who will be the real decision maker etc.  The idea of collective leadership, cabinet governance, the party room deciding who will be its parliamentary leader — these notions are simply alien to Bangladeshi political culture.  Meanwhile, in many seats, it’s hard if not impossible for many JOF candidates to present themselves before the voters — some are in jail, others are forced out of their areas by AL thugs, and violent interruption of electioneering is commonplace.

Does it matter?  Perhaps the public doesn’t mind that JOF is a collective effort.  Perhaps it’s all about the election symbol.  Perhaps the public sentiment is: We don’t need another hero / We don’t need to know the way home / All we want is life beyond the Thunderdome.

If people come out to vote, is state machinery strong enough to suppress the public will?  But will people come out to vote?

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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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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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The middle

Posted in democracy, economics, elections, governance, political economy, politics by jrahman on November 3, 2017

The Middle is an American sitcom about a middle class family’s struggle in the wake of the Great Recession.  I never watched the show beyond the first episode in 2009.  At that time, it seemed to me to be a poor derivative of Malcolm in the Middle and Roseanne.  Facebook tells me that this will be the final season of The Middle.  Maybe I should watch the show.  Set in the mid-western state of Indiana, the protagonist white family might have been just the type that put Donald Trump where he is.  Aristotle wrote that …those states are likely to be well-administered in which the middle class is large.  Some argue that stagnation of the American middle class lies behind the rise of Trump.  I am not so sure — perhaps tribes matter more than class.

I don’t want to spend precious time and energy pondering about the plight of the white American middle class.  Instead, let me talk about the role of the middle class in Bangladeshi politics.  The term Bangladesh paradox is now at least half a decade old, and refers to the idea that Bangladesh has been surprisingly good at improving the lives of its poor despite dysfunctional politics and a stunted private sector — that’s from the Economist.  William B Milam, former American envoy to Dhaka and Islamabad and a keen observer of both countries, often talks about another Bangladesh paradox:

….Bangladesh should have become, over the past 25 years, a modernized democracy, knocking on the door of entry into the middle income category of developing countries. Its economy has grown for most of the last two decades around 5-6 % per year, and its social development indices have improved rapidly and now are generally better than most other South Asian countries except Sri Lanka. Instead, over those same two decades, Bangladesh has regressed along the democracy/authoritarian axis no matter which of the two major parties was in power.

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A Non-Dynastic Prime Minister for Bangladesh

Posted in democracy, dynasties, politics by jrahman on January 24, 2015

(Guest post by Tacit.  First posted at Rumi Ahmed’s).

In the current conflict of attrition between BNP and Awami League, AL’s main advantage is that it has the resources of the state to inflict as much damage as it can on BNP. Furthermore, the creation of RAB means that AL is able to hand-pick the most AL-leaning of armed forces men and send them on killing sprees, while the rest are kept cooped up in the cantonments. Against this, all BNP can hope for is to slowly unravel the unwieldy coalition of military and civilian bureaucrats and businessmen who are now currently keeping AL in power. In this conflict, as in most conflicts in Bangladesh, the situation favors the state.

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Partisan minds 1

Posted in history, politics by jrahman on January 2, 2015

They never liked us.  They, the susheels, the bhadralok, the elite.  They never liked us, the children of peasants.  We are, and have always been, the party of the peasants.  And they never liked us.  They thought we were too uncouth, uncultured for their precious schools and clubs and institutions.  Us, the chasha lot, that we could have a say in how things should be — this was anathema to them.  

Well, guess what?  We are Bangladesh.  We own Bangladesh.  We made Bangladesh.  Yes, they still hate it.  But they have to accept it, don’t they?  

And one man, Bangabandhu, made it happen.  Actually, scratch that.  Bangabandhu started the process.  But in many ways, Netri has surpassed him.  Might be controversial, but I am going to come out and say it — she truly is the greatest.

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Bleak, Ne’er-do-well, Past

Posted in democracy, dynasties, politics by jrahman on December 12, 2014

There is no shortage of punditry along the line of BNP-is-in-trouble, most being pretty vacuous like this.  Shuvo Kibria had a better attempt a few weeks ago:

সরকার ….. নিজের আস্থাহীনতার সঙ্কট আছে।….. জনব্যালটে তার ভরসা নেই। …..সরকার চাইবে রাজনৈতিক শক্তি হিসেবে বিএনপিকে সমূলে উৎপাটিত করতে। বিএনপির চ্যালেঞ্জ হচ্ছে, রাজনৈতিক শক্তি হিসেবে নিজেকে পুনঃপ্রতিষ্ঠা করা।  (The government has its own crisis of confidence…. It doesn’t rely on public ballot…. The governent will want to uproot BNP as a political force.  BNP’s challenge is to re-establish itself as a political force).

I think the above is in on the whole correct.  And there may be a degree of validity in this as well:

বিএনপির প্রথম সারির নেতাকর্মীদের মাঠে নেমে প্রমাণ করতে হবে দলের স্বার্থে তারা যেকোনো ঝুঁকি নিতে প্রস্তুত।  (BNP’s front row leaders and workers will need to prove their willingness to take any risk for the party by getting into the field).

But I think even Kibria misses some key nuances.

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Shahbag to Shapla Chattar — songs of water and fire

Posted in activism, Bangladesh, blogging, Freedom of speech, history, Islamists, media, politics, Rights, uprisings by jrahman on March 26, 2014

The blog went into a hiatus about year ago. The reasons for that extended absence are, unfortunately, still relevant. That’s why the blog has been far less frequent than was the case in the past. However, it is what it is. I am not sure when the blog can be fully operational again. For now, pieces will come infrequently, and the blog will often be an archive for material published elsewhere. Also, the comments section will be off —it is disrespectful to not respond to comments, but since I can sometime be offline for days, if not weeks, it’s better to have the comments off.

This means no direct interaction with the reader.  But this also means the blog will become what blogs originally were — an online diary, a weblog, where one records one’s own thoughts and observations.  I guess it’s somewhat fitting that the first post in the new format is on the set of events that rocked Bangladesh as the blog went into hiatus.

These events, according to the contemporaneous analyses, were going to change everything forever. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that the contemporaneous analyses were mostly wrong. This is a for-the-record post summarising my evolving thoughts as the events unfolded between 5 Feb and 5 May 2013. It is important to note what this is not.  This is not analysis — I am not trying to offer an explanation of what happened, nor provide any insight into what they mean for our past, present or future.  This is not activism either — I am not arguing any particular case.  Rather, this is an extremely self-indulgent post, the target here is really myself years down the track.  If anyone else reads it, that’s just bonus.

 

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Bangladesh’s next persecuted minority

Posted in politics, Rights by jrahman on February 27, 2012

Ahmadiyyas are a heterodox Muslim sect that has been present in Bangladesh for over a century, quite peacefully it seems for much of the time.  This changed during the middle of last decade, when a relatively little known group called Khatme Nabuwat Movement violently protested against the sect.  The government of Khaleda Zia bowed to the protesters, and the sect’s literature were banned in 2004.

I haven’t the slightest interest in the theology of the sect’s belief.  What concerns me are the fundamental rights of Bangladeshi citizens to profess their faith, enshrined in the Article 41 of the Constitution as thus: every citizen has the right to profess, practise or propagate any religion and every religious community or denomination has the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions.

What concerns me is that in the post-15th Amendment secular Bangladesh, Ahmadiyyas might once again face persecution.  Indeed, low level persecution in the form of intimidation has already begun at local levels — there was an incidence in Tangail last year.  I fear worse are yet to come.

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