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.


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.


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.



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.


The House

Posted in politics by jrahman on November 21, 2010

No, not the Fox show, but the one at Shaheed Moinul Road. Anyone remotely connected with Bangladesh know what happened there last week. For the uninitiated, here is UV’s coverage.

I have resisted writing about it so far, for two reasons. First, what is there to say on the event beyond what my friend Syeed said at UV?

Anyone who condemned BNP’s treatment of its then opposition, should condemn this without any qualification, much less falling in the trap of legal or tit for tat arguments.

And secondly, I never thought the event would actually happen.  My working hypothesis has been that the whole issue was drummed up by the government to keep the opposition busy, to distract them from focusing on matters where the government is vulnerable.  Thus, in early 2009 it was Pilkhana, in the current situation, it might have been the transit issue, and in general electricity-prices-law and order are ever-present government failures.  I even wagered my friend Rumi bhai that the BNP chief would still be living in that house come January 2014.  How wrong I was.  And having been proved wrong, I needed to reassess my views before writing anything on the issue.

On reflection, I still stand by my ‘distraction theory’.  The Awami League wants the BNP to focus on issues pertaining to the Zia family, and not on topics such as the transit to India.  But in addition, I now believe there is more.  As the Economist put it:

It is obsessed with airbrushing from history the legacy of the political dynasty founded by Mrs Zia’s late husband, General Ziaur Rahman, hero of Bangladesh’s war of independence against West Pakistan in 1971.

Given the League’s motivation, how will things play out?  I am not a soothsayer, and given my record of getting things wrong, the reader could well to discard everything I say.  Nonetheless, I am going to outline three scenarios over the fold.


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Posted in economics, politics by jrahman on October 11, 2010

It’s been three years today that this blog started.*  Over this time, we have seen some major events unfold at home and abroad, including: the unravelling of the 1/11 regime and the Awami League’s landslide victory; Pilkhana and the aftermath; the global recession.

It’s a good idea to mark such anniversary moments with a bit of introspection.  Over the fold, I note couple of things I got wrong over this time.  Of course I am going to talk about public matters — private mistakes are none of your business.  🙂


On the latest poll

Posted in politics by jrahman on September 1, 2010

The latest installment of the Daily Star – Nielsen poll is out. 

Summary: Awami League has lost popularity since January (when the last poll was done) on the back of worsening power situation and rising prices, but BNP yet to benefit significantly. 

Full details are here, while some salient points are over the fold. 

Before going to the results — Daily Star ought to be congratulated for sticking with these polls, and hopefully their competitors will do better with quarterly surveys. 


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