Mukti

You say you want a revolution….

Posted in Bangladesh, history, politics, TV, uprisings by jrahman on June 6, 2018

During the 1972 Sino-American summit, Premier Zhou Enlai told President Richard Nixon that it was ‘too early to say’ what the impacts of the French Revolution were.  Deep and poignant?  Apparently not! It turns out, the Premier was not talking about the July 1789 storming of the Bastille, but the protests that brought France to a standstill fifty years ago this month.  Of course, it wasn’t just Paris where one heard the sound of marching, charging feet.  Protests against the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement had been raging in the United States for a while, there was the Prague Spring east of the Iron Curtain, and the global south — from Mexico to Pakistan — were rocked by upheavals.

Channelling the Stones in his 1960s memoir, Tariq Ali lamented the failure of the street fighters to usher in revolution anywhere.  Reviewing his work for my first published article (in a student magazine — it was the 1990s, and I don’t even have a copy, let alone a link) ahead of his visit to our campus, I wondered as a Gen-Xer whether the fascination with 1968 reflected the Baby Boomers’ demographic plurality.  Of course, they are still reminiscing about the glory days, but there is a lot in the reflections of the ultimate soixante-huitard that resonates with me, for example: pseudo-revolutionary violence would change nothing, but peaceful reforms might.

What are the Deshi equivalents of Baby Boomers and Gen-X, and for the sake of completeness, Millenials?  Following the Pew Research, let’s roughly divide these generations as those born between: mid-1940s and the mid-1960s; mid-1960s and 1980; and after 1980.  I guess we can channel Rushdie and call the oldest generation the Midnight’s Children.  The middle generation can be called the Liberation generation — for the older part of this group, events of 1971 and aftermath form the first memory though they would have been too young to recognise their significance in real time, while the aftermath of the war shaped the childhood of the younger ones.

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Jammin until the break of dawn

Posted in army, books, democracy, economics, history, political economy, politics, uprisings by jrahman on December 2, 2017

What do you do during the evenings, after the day’s tasks are done, of work trips?  You might be tired of being up in the air, or just simply tired.  But depending on the jet lag, you might not find much sleep.  I certainly don’t, even when there is no jet lag — I hate hotel beds.  If you find yourself in a hotel that used to be one of Idi Amin’s torture chambers palaces, and your colleagues are fellow political junkies, you will likely talk about politics over a nightcap.  So did we that rain-soaked Kampala evening.  We talked about, among other things, Zimbabwe.

Why didn’t they get rid of him the old fashioned way, you know, APCs on the streets, tanks in front of the presidential palace, radio or TV broadcast by some unknown major…..

An old Africa hand explained why Robert Mugabe wasn’t toppled in a coup.  No, it wasn’t because of his liberation cred.  Kwame Nkrumah or Milton Obote were no less of independence heroes to their respective countries.  Both were ingloriously booted out, not just of their presidential palaces, but also the countries they led to existence.  At least they lived, unlike say Patrice Lumumba.  Clearly being a national liberator figure didn’t make one coup-proof, particularly if one had turned his (can’t think of a mother of the nation top of my head!) country into a basket case, and had faced concerted political pressure from home and abroad.  According to my colleague with years of experience in the continent, the key to Mugabe’s survival was in relative ‘latecomer’ status.

Mugabe came to power much later than was the case for other African founding fathers.  And the disastrous denouement of his rule happened during a period when the great powers saw little strategic importance in regime change in an obscure corner of the world.  The second factor meant there was no foreign sponsor to any coup.  The former meant that any would be coupmaker, and their domestic supporters, knew from the experiences elsewhere in the continent about what could happen when a game of coups went wrong.

Mugabe gave them hyperinflation.  Getting rid of him could lead to inter-ethnic war.  Easier to do currency reform than deal with refugees fleeing genocide….. 

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Between the war and the history wars….

Posted in 1971, action, Dhallywood, history, movies by jrahman on November 19, 2015

…. there was a time when acknowledging Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s unquestioned leadership in 1971 did not stop one from acknowledging the significance of Ziaur Rahman’s broadcasts from Chittagong.  Chashi Nazrul Islam’s film Sangram is from that time.  It’s a fictionalised account of the experiences of the 4th East Bengal Regiment during the onset of the Liberation War.

In March 1971, the seniormost Bengali officer in the 4th Bengal, stationed in Comilla, was Major Khaled Mosharraf.  Just before the 25 March crackdown, he was sent to border regions in Sylhet, ostensibly to fight Naxalites but really to be ambushed by the Pakistanis.  Khaled avoided the trap and returned to Comilla where Captain Shafaat Jamil and others had already rebelled.

In the movie, Khaled is renamed Major Hassan.   Jump to about 44 minute mark in the video below to see how the major addresses his troops — Pakistanis have attacked us, Sheikh Sahib has declared independence, our job is to defend that independence.

 

Immediately after that, he is shown as listening to Zia’s radio speech and noting that his is not an isolated mutiny.  That is the real significance of Zia’s March broadcasts, to tell the world that Bangladesh was an independent but occupied land and a war of resistance had begun against that occupation.

When Mr Islam made that movie in 1974, he understood the significance perfectly well, as did his leading man Khasru — both were freedom fighters, the actor was and remained an Awami League activist, the director ended up in BNP.  In the last scene, Sheikh Mujib is seen as taking salute from the Bangladesh army, with Khaled, Zia and other senior officers behind him.

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Game of coups

Posted in army, Bangladesh, history, politics, Uncategorized by jrahman on November 5, 2015

In the blood-soaked history of Bangladesh, this week marks the 40th anniversary of a particularly dark and grim episode.  On 7 November 1975, dozens of army officers of were killed by mutinous jawans.  The mutiny was orchestrated by Lt Col Abu Taher, who was retired from services a few years earlier and at that time was a key leader of the radical Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal.  The mutineers killed Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf, who had instigated a coup few days earlier against the regime of Khondaker Moshtaq Ahmed, in power since the bloody putsch of 15 August that killed President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and most of his family.  Amid the confusion caused by Mosharraf’s manoeuvres against the ‘killer majors’, four senior Awami League leaders — including Tajuddin Ahmed, the country’s first prime minister who led the war effort in 1971 when Mujib was interned in Pakistan — were assassinated in the central jail, allegedly with the consent of President Moshtaq.  The chaos and carnage of 7 November, coming on the heels of the August massacre and the jail killing, threatened to put the very existence of Bangladesh at risk.

Fortunately, Taher’s mutiny proves short-lived as the army rallied behind Major General Ziaur Rahman.

This post isn’t about revisiting our coup-prone history  or explaining it.  Rather, using the ideas of Naunihal Singh, an American political scientist, I want to discuss why some of those coups were more successful than others, and what they might tell us about the present day Bangladesh.

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1971: beyond reading

Posted in 1971, Bangladesh, history by jrahman on January 15, 2015

I’ve been asked recently about what to read to clarify one’s thoughts about 1971.  My answer is over the fold.

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Gone politics

Posted in democracy, politics by jrahman on January 5, 2015

Present is like Rome — all roads lead to it.  Wherever we find ourselves today, we look back and think of many reasons that brought us here.  A year ago today, we ended the ‘compact of co-existence that was forged between the AL and BNP at the end of the 1980s, and that has provided the pattern for the past quarter century of political life’.  I am quoting Zafar Sobhan:

As far as the AL is now concerned, the BNP is a party founded in the cantonment, by the man they hold responsible for the massacre of August 15, by the party that rehabilitated the war criminals, and is nothing more than a rag-tag assembly of opportunists, criminals, and killers that created political space for itself at the point of a gun. It represents only those Bangladeshis who are enemies of the state. There can be no compromise with such a party, no accommodation, no peaceful co-existence. After the grenade attack of August 21, 2004, the AL has come to the conclusion: It is us or them. There is no space in Bangladesh for both the AL and the BNP. The AL plan for the coming year is therefore straightforward: Continue to squeeze the life out of the BNP.

Maybe the partisan minds made this inevitable.  Maybe not.  Maybe the institutional set ups of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh made such an outcome quite likely, with events and contingencies doing the rest.  And maybe what actually happened a year ago today was the beginning of the end of politics in that republic.  Maybe politics as we have known it simply won’t do.  Maybe the only way out of this is to begin anew.  Let me quote Zafar from February 2014:

The simple truth is that the current system we have in place is incapable of delivering to us a workable political solution that is competent to address the needs of the country.

Our single constituency, first-past-the-post electoral system, that delivers all power to the winner, fails to keep any kind of a check and balance on our elected representatives, and cannot ensure any kind of separation of powers so that independent branches of the government can actually operate independently, has reached the limits of what it can deliver.

Let’s take this one step at a time.

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How to lose the history wars

Posted in 1971, Bangladesh, dynasties, history, politics by jrahman on December 17, 2014

I said in the previous post:

They didn’t think much of him last winter. And since then, sporadic forays in our pathetic history wars have done nothing to improve his standing. They create media buzz, senior Awami League leaders end up looking quite stupid, and BNP rank-and-file feel fired up for a while. But what do they do to alleviate Mr Rahman’s extremely negative image?

Obviously, I don’t approve of the way Tarique Rahman is engaging in the ‘history wars’.  It occurs to me that I should elaborate and clarify.  Hence this post.  I don’t agree with Mr Rahman’s interpretation of history.  More importantly, from a partisan political perspective, I think they cause more harm than good for BNP.  And most frustratingly, a few solid points that BNP could make very usefully are utterly wasted.

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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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Street failures, and successes

Posted in AL, Bangladesh, BNP, democracy, history, politics, South Asia, uprisings by jrahman on March 2, 2014

The party’s undisputed supremo has given an iron clad ultimatum to the all powerful government, while an unequivocal promise has been made to the party rank and file that victory is imminent.  Political temper is reaching an unprecedented level.  Violence has spread to even the remotest village, and the government repression is just as fierce.  Ultimately, with the economy on the verge of disintegration, the urban and moneyed classes prevail upon the leader to call off the protests.  The andolon has failed.

Mrs Khaleda Zia.  BNP.  Awami League.  2013-14.

MK Gandhi.  Indian National Congress.  The Raj.  1921-22.

images (14)

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Two wings and a prayer

Posted in 1971, Bangladesh, history, South Asia by jrahman on March 19, 2013

Ask for a piece on Pakistan and Bangladesh during December and you’re likely to get something about the 1971 wars — note the plural, because the eastern part of the subcontinent simultaneously experienced an inter-ethnic civil war and ethno-communal cleansing, genocide, inter-state conventional war and a war of national liberation, all climaxing in the crisp Bengali winter of 1971. Naeem Mohaiemen’s seven part series is an example, covering many aspects of that fateful year.

Let me skip 1971 in this post. Instead, I’ll begin by marking the other December anniversary, one that will have a particular relevance for Pakistan and Bangladesh in 2013. And I’ll note the parallels between the post-1971 developments in the two wings of former United Pakistan.

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