Mukti

The day after tomorrow

Posted in democracy, elections, politics by jrahman on January 6, 2019

The infamous 30 December not-quite-an-election is now truly behind us, and Bangladesh today is exactly where it was five years ago.  And there is no sign of anything changing anytime soon.  The regime of Prime Minister Hasina Wajed holds a tight grip on power, and it’s hard to see anything loosening that grip today.  But tomorrow — figuratively, not literally — will certainly be different.  The super-densely populated humid swamp that is Bangladesh is always at the edge of chaos.  Credit where its due — Mrs Wajed has been extremely deft at keeping her regime, and the rest of us, from falling over the cliff.  But nothing lasts forever.  Sooner or later, there will be a tomorrow when the regime finds itself out of credit to pay off the crisis.

What will happen the day after?

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Politicsback

Posted in democracy, elections, politics by jrahman on November 25, 2018

These old men are bringing politics back, yeah / Them other guys don’t know how to act, yeah…. — okay, that’s enough frivolities, this is a serious political post.  Jatiya Oikya Front is taking on the regime of Hasina Wajed through the ballot box, thereby bringing politics back, politics that was sent packing by the prime minister of East Peccavistan five years ago.  What exactly is going on?  How did we get here?  That’s hard enough to answer, never mind any prediction of what will happen next!

What do I mean politics was sent packing?  Four years ago, I argued that our institutional settings — unitary republic with a unicameral legislature, constitutional bar against floor crossing, and the first past the post voting system — plus the historical baggage carried by the two party chiefs led to the autocracy of Mrs Wajed.  Her rival, Mrs Zia, was soundly beaten.  And with that, politics as we knew it ended.

The institutions we created/inherited, with the historical factors, led to the politics of the past decades. After 1991, BNP realised that it had power over so many things, while AL realised that it had power over absolutely nothing.  AL immediately set on winning power. It went with what it knew well —andolon. BNP panicked and rigged a by-election in Magura, giving AL a casus beli. After 1996, BNP figured that andolon would not do, so they introduced the alliance concept. After 2001, AL did andolon, but also formed a bigger alliance and introduced behind-the-scene moves with the establishment. Meanwhile, each successive government took centralisation to a new level.

And all this, because losing is not an option in a winner take all world.

At least in that world, the existence of two parties created some form of balance of force.  That balance is now gone.  BNP is not able to dislodge the government.  Calling for a free and fair election is a pointless exercise because the government isn’t interested in offering one, and the establishment isn’t convinced switching the masters will do anyone any good.  As a result, politics as we have come to know is finished.

A few hours after I posted that, another round of andolon ensued.  I don’t know whether this was premeditated or spontaneous, but the opposition BNP’s apparent number two called for the street protest to continue until the government fell.  I don’t know whether the violence that ensued were acts of agent provocateurs, but force did not bring politics back.

So, how did politics come back now?

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A Bangladeshi superhero

Posted in adventure, Bangladesh, books, desi fiction, history, thriller by jrahman on May 11, 2017

It’s a sun-drenched, ocean-front, posh hotel where the scene is set.  A diabolical fiend is cheating on a game of cards with the aid of an earphone and a skimpily clad assistant with a binocular.

Enter our hero.

Watching the classic scene for the first time all those years ago, my thought was — whoa, 007 ripped off Masud RanaI had read Swarnamriga a few weeks before watching Goldfinger — first Rana novel and Bond flick for the schoolboy who didn’t know the original.  I suspect many Bangladeshis of certain ages would have similar Rana stories to share.

Okay, it is quite possible, likely even, that the typical reader has no idea what I am talking about.  A brief primer from wiki:

Masud Rana is a fictional character created in 1966 by writer Qazi Anwar Hussain, who featured him in over 400 novels.  Hussain created the adult spy-thriller series Masud Rana, at first modelled after James Bond, but expanded widely. …  books are published almost every month by Sheba Prokashoni, one of the most popular publishing house of Bangladesh….

Although there is no superpower as such, his attributes would make a combination of Batman, Bond, and Bourne pale before Rana. Of course, superheroes need supervillains.  Rana’s arch-nemesis is a megalomaniac genius scientist criminal mastermind named Kabir Chowdhury, who’s also a fellow Bangladeshi.  And then there is Israel.  However, it’s his foes from the first decade or so of the series that make for a fascinating political study.

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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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Politics is hard work — are we willing?

Posted in democracy, politics by jrahman on December 7, 2013

Will future historians think of 2013 as a pivotal year for Bangladesh?  If they were to do so, it will not be because of anything that happened in the first half of this eventful year.  The Shahbag Awakening, violence following the verdict in Delwar Hossain Sayedee’s war crimes case, peaceful and violent rallies by Hefazot-e-Islam, the Rana Plaza tragedy — none of these will rate alongside even 1975 or 1990, let alone 1947 or 1971.

All those events, and yet, as the year draws to a close, we are seeing replays of a drama we witnessed in Decembers past, where a government wants to hold an election come what may, citing the Holy Constitution, while the opposition wants to resist it at any cost, citing the fear of rigging.  The political gridlock leads to violent images like this.

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Making a stand, taking a side

Posted in AL, army, BNP, democracy, Islamists, politics, uprisings by jrahman on March 4, 2013

I argued in the last post that Bangladesh is back to politics-as-usual.  Whereas I was surprised by the Shahbag Awakening*, needing a reassessment of a lot of my priors, nothing like that is needed to analyse politics-as-usual.  I can use my mental model of politics — including the key players and their objectives, incentives and strategies — to analyse the situation.  That doesn’t, of course, mean the analysis will be necessarily correct.  But even when I get things wrong, I can update my views with the latest infromation as long as the basic framework of my analysis is intact.

An analysis of unfolding events since Friday makes for some rather uncomfortable conclusions for me.  And yet, there are times when one ought to make a stand, even if it means taking a side.  I believe now is such a time.  Over the fold is why this blog rejects tomorrow’s hartal.

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All about Citizen Mati

Posted in democracy, economics, Islamists, media, micro, people, political economy, politics by jrahman on January 7, 2013

All About Eve Poster

All About Eve, the Oscar-winner in 1950, is a drama set in the black-and-white era Broadway.  It shows how the seemingly innocent Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) connives, deceives and manipulates people and event to eclipse the ageing star Margo Channing (Bette Davis).  In her quest, Eve is initially assisted by the theatre critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders).  But before long, DeWitt makes it clear who calls the shot.  Let me outsource to wiki to describe how the movie ends:

After the awards ceremony, Eve hands her award to Addison, skips a party in her honor, and returns home alone, where she encounters a young fan—a high-school girl—who has slipped into her apartment and fallen asleep. The young girl professes her adoration and begins at once to insinuate herself into Eve’s life, offering to pack Eve’s trunk for Hollywood and being accepted. “Phoebe” (Barbara Bates), as she calls herself, answers the door to find Addison returning with Eve’s award. In a revealing moment, the young girl flirts daringly with the older man. Addison hands over the award to Phoebe and leaves without entering. Phoebe then lies to Eve, telling her it was only a cab driver who dropped off the award. While Eve rests in the other room, Phoebe dons Eve’s elegant costume robe and poses in front of a multi-paned mirror, holding the award as if it were a crown. The mirrors transform Phoebe into multiple images of herself, and she bows regally, as if accepting the award to thunderous applause, while triumphant music plays.

You see, whether it is Margo or Eve or Phoebe — it’s Addison who makes or breaks the star.  The question is, what makes Addison tick? 

And more generally, what motivates the media?

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On the BSF atrocities

Posted in AL, BNP, Border killings, foreign policy, India, politics, Rights by jrahman on March 7, 2012

The last post on this topic is now the most popular in this blog, showing how much people care about this issue.  This post covers various aspects of the issue that seems to come up again and again in discussions.  Some of it is going to challenge popular perceptions.  Others repeat of what I’ve already said in this blog and UV.

Details over the fold.

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Forget about Mahmudur Rahman

Posted in AL, BNP, politics by jrahman on August 6, 2011

Here is how Mahmudur Rahman, successful engineer-business executive turned prime ministerial advisor turned anti-government editor arrested for his writing, describes his moment of freedom:

জেলগেটের বাইরে পা দেয়া মাত্র দূরে রাস্তায় অপেক্ষমাণ জনতা সমস্বরে গগনবিদারী চিত্কার করে উঠল। আমি আকাশের দিকে মুখ তুলে উচ্চারণ করলাম, শোকর আলহামদুলিল্লাহ্, আল্লাহু আকবর।

And that, dear reader, shows why he will not lead Bangladesh anytime soon. 

Until the 1970s, Bangladesh’s polity was divided along two different concepts of identity, which were symbolised by two slogans — Joy Bangla and Allah Akbar.  Today’s Bangladesh is not divided along those camps. 

Today, we have a Joy Bangabandhu camp, which supplants the Joy Bangla and Allah Akbar with a cult of personality around Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.  This is the Hasina synthesis, which is articulated in the 15th Amendment, and is the Awami League is the party of Joy Bangabandhu.  Needless to say, the League will be led by Mujib’s family for a long while yet.

Against this, there is the Bangladesh Zindabad party, which is a synthesis of Allah Akbar and Joy Bangla.  This is the Zia synthesis, articulated in the 5th Amendment, and mainly defended by his BNP, though HM Ershad and Moeen U Ahmed tried to grab this at times. 

Mahmudur Rahman could have had a plausible claim to win the leadership of the Bangladesh Zindabad party.  Sure, under him this would have a bit more Allah Akbar than was the case under Zia.  But it would still have to be a Bangladesh Zindabad party. 

But tellingly, Mahmud did not shout Bangladesh Zindabad.

Bangladeshi mainstream is divided between Joy Bangabandhu and Bangladesh Zindabad.  Mahmudur Rahman cannot replace either of these with Allah Akbar.

A tale of two Rahmans

Posted in politics by jrahman on July 21, 2011

This country was created by two Rahmans, and you’re a Rahman, you’ll do fine here — a friend said something to that effect in a facebook message recently. 

Dear reader, I am not in any way or form related to either of these two founding Rahmans.  And as far as I know, neither is one of the Rahmans I am going to talk about.  The other Rahman I’ll discuss is the son, and presumptive heir, of one the founding Rahmans.  Could the unrelated Rahman (not me) be the one to break the grip on power that the two dead Rahmans have held over us for so long?

Okay, if that para is too much of a riddle, here is the basic idea: BNP’s heir apparent Tarique Rahman faces unprecedented odds; is Mahmudur Rahman a likely future leader?

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