Chaired by Sheikh Hasina, the Cabinet recently passed a bill titled Father of the Nation’s Family Members Security Act 2009. It provided for lifetime security for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and her sister, Sheikh Rehana, by the Special Security Force, Bangladesh’s elite protection agency that normally guards the President and the Prime Minister (and occasionally outgoing Chief Advisers). Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana are also to be provided housing for life by the government. Even though Parliament is yet to ratify this draft, the government has announced it will start acting on the draft and treat it as law.
During her last administration, in 2001, Hasina’s AL government also passed a similar measure. Then, Gano Bhaban had been prepared as Hasina’s lifelong residence. However, the move provoked a hostile reaction from the general population. It was seen as a way to elicit lifelong benefits from the state. There were also concerns that the upcoming election, to take place in October 2001, would be improperly affected if one of the leaders, Sheikh Hasina, received protocol equivalent to a head of state, and the other, Khaleda Zia, did not.
After BNP won the 2001 election with a two-third supermajority, it scrapped the law. However, it did not, foolishly, enact a law that provided all past prime ministers with security covers, as is the case in India. In August 2004, grenades were hurled at Sheikh Hasina that injured her and killed Ivy Rahman, wife of President Zillur Rahman, and 23 others. This attack can be seen as the turning-point for the BNP government; things went inexorably downhill for them from there. The attack on a past prime minister, and the country-wide bomb blasts a year later, dealt a body-blow to the aspirations of a party that claimed that it could keep Bangladesh safe. Thus, BNP’s “Desh Bacha0” campaign in 2008 was a resounding failure; the voters punished them, even after five years of unprecendented economic growth, by giving AL an even bigger supermajority.
The current draft law will probably not face significant opposition from anyone, since the 2004 attack is still fresh in everyone’s mind. Sheikh Hasina has a long history of alleging personal assassination attempts on her; during the early 90s, she famously showed a bullet casing as proof that someone had shot at her, even though the casing would normally be with the person who had shot the gun, and not the purported victim. Nevertheless, I think the commonly-held sentiment is that if lifelong protection makes those around Hasina any less paranoid, then it is probably well worth it.
However, I wonder why Hasina has to complicate things by bringing her family into it. Sheikh Hasina has earned her position in Bangladesh by her own efforts. She has had a fabulously rich life-story, led Awami League for close to two decades, championed the causes of one half of our mainstream politics, and helmed Bangladesh for five years previously, and will do so, at least, for five more years in the future, by the grace of the Almighty. She deserves lifelong head of state treatment on her own merits, not on the basis of her lineage.
(Speaking of fabulous life-stories, would someone please take down Sheikh Hasina’s official biography in the Awami League website? While I understand that the current American administration is quiet de rigueur in Dhaka, stealing the words of the inaugural speech by an American president is probably streching it a bit too far. The next thing you know, one of our intrepid web sleuths will be involved, and the story will emerge with an amusing, alliterative marque. Princess of plagarism, anyone?)
Including Sheikh Rehana, an expatriate who resides in London, in the same protective category only needlessly complicates things. If Sheikh Rehana has decided to permanently stay in Bangladesh, that would be welcome news, although we have not heard anything on that note. Barring that, will the Government of Bangladesh, with the taxpayer’s money, outfit a nice residence for her in Kensington? or Soho?
After the brutal death of their father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana adopted, what must have seemed to them, the most sensible strategy for keeping their family safe. Hasina and Rehana had escaped the August 1975 massacre because they had been abroad. Very well, they would keep their family abroad from now on, out of the reach of any Bangladeshis with the wrong notions. Thus, Hasina’s son, Sajeeb Wazed Joy, currently graces the rolling hills of Virginia, US, while Hasina’s daughter, Saima Wajed Putul, lives in Toronto, Canada. Sheikh Rehana’s charming children: Radwan Siddiq Bobby, Azmina Siddiq Rupanti and Tulip Rizwana Siddiq, are also expatriates. Therefore, it is puzzling why Hasina would complicate something as simple as giving an ex-prime minister lifelong security coverage by involving her family into the matter. Surely, there are very few people in Bangladesh who think dynasties are the future of politics in Bangladesh.
The great mystery of succeeding in Bangladeshi politics is to keep things simple. There is no reason why the next five years should not be a period of growth and prosperity. It is only desired that Hasina, and her ministers, display a measure of empathy and moderation. History will take care of the rest.