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.


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.



Posted in democracy, politics by jrahman on June 14, 2010

‘It’s a fascist regime’ is a common refrain in Bangladesh.  Every opposition party in our history has accused the government of being fascist.  And every opposition in the past has been wrong.  And I hope that the current opposition is wrong too.

But I fear the current government is much more likely to become fascist than any in our history.  And the reasons are not what most people think.

Fascism doesn’t mean any odd dictatorship or undemocratic regime.  Mere intolerance of the opposition is not enough to be fascist.  To be a fascist regime, a government needs a large enough popular base, a cult of personality, and a dogma/ideology which is going to invoked by academics and intellegentsia to support the regime.  

The 1/11 or Ershad regimes were not fascist — they had none of these ingredients.

Bakshal had the cult of personality, ideology and intellectual cheerleaders. Had Sheikh Mujib instituted Bakshal in 1972, he would also have had massive popular support.  But by 1975, it was too late.

BNP in 2001 had the popular support to become fascist, but for all its thuggery and brute force, it wasn’t fascist because there was no ideology or intellectual support.

The current AL government is popular enough, has a sufficiently coherent ideology and a cult of personality, and a very strong intellectual support base.

When Ershad or BNP stepped over the line in terms of censorship or rigged election or sheer decency (think about Mrs Zia’s bogus birthday), there were massive outcries.  

Nothing like that happens now because those who are supposed to protest are all on the same side as establishment.  

And that’s why, for the first time in our history, fascism is a genuine threat.