Mukti

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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Degenerating the Faith (2)

Posted in books, classics, culture, faith, history, Muslim world, society by jrahman on December 5, 2015

Part 1.

Classical Muslim scholars used to divide travel and travel writing into two categories. First is what they called rihla — a description of what the traveller did, saw or experienced.  Ibn Battuta’s travelogues are the best known in this genre.  However, rihla can also be more than mere narratives and descriptions. They can form the basis of scientific enquiry.  An example of this kind of rihla is the 11th century polymath Al Biruni’s description of India.  Travelling under the protection of Mahmud of Ghazni, Al Biruni studied sciences and mathematics and wrote Tarikh al Hind — one of the most comprehensive books on pre-Islam subcontinent. In fact, great rihla, according to the scholars, had to have some analysis as well as description.

There is another tradition of travel and travel writing among the learned Muslims of yore, that of safr.  Safr is the word for travel or journey in most north and east Indian languages, including Bangla.  To the 11th century Sufi philosopher Al-Ghazali, safr meant any travelling through which a person evolves.  To him, safr meant as well as the physical act of travelling somewhere, mixing with the inhabitants of that land, imbibing oneself with their customs and ways, and evolving into a person closer to Allah.

Al-Ghazali further categorised travellers: those who travel seeking knowledge, the best kind; the Hajis; the immigrants — the Prophet himself was an immigrant; and the refugees, the worst kind.

What is the line between an immigrant and a refugee?  Salman Rushdie and VS Naipaul have both written about the uprooting involved in migration.  Both have noted that at some level or other, all migrants are really refugees.  But for Naipaul, the uprooting is mostly a bad thing.  Rushdie is open to the possibility of migration leading to something new.  Migrants are works of translation, he writes.

Those of you who have read the Quran probably have done so in translation.  Translation then can’t always be bad.

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Flying with broken wings

Posted in army, books, democracy, elections, politics by jrahman on January 16, 2014

A magical realist masterpiece, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children has weird and improbable events and people juxtaposed against the history of the 20th century South Asia up to the late 1970s. One such improbable fact was that at the time of writing, and thus the story’s culmination, military rulers of the erstwhile two wings of Pakistan had the same first name.

This is not the only parallel between the political history of Bangladesh and post-1971 Pakistan.

Both successor states of United Pakistan started with larger-than-life charismatic leaders, whose rules ended in tragic denouement inconceivable in 1972.  Both giants found governance to be much harder than populist rhetoric, both resorted to un-democracy, and both ended up meeting cruel ends at the hand of their trusted guards.  Both countries succumbed to dictatorships in the 1980s, although the extent and mechanism varied.  In both countries democratic opposition developed.  In both countries, some form of democratic politics came into practice by the 1990s.

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