Updated: Prothom Alo report says “কবে সরাসরি রাজনীতিতে আসবেন, সে সিদ্ধান্ত একান্তই জয়ের। যদিও চূড়ান্তভাবে প্রধানমন্ত্রী শেখ হাসিনার ওপরই বিষয়টি নির্ভর করছে। তবে জয়ের মার্কিন স্ত্রী ক্রিস্টিন ওভারমায়ার এ ব্যাপারে আগ্রহী নন বলে জানা গেছে।” (The decision of when he will directly enter politics is exclusively Joy’s. However, the final decision in this regard is Sheikh Hasina’s. Joy’s American wife. Christina Overmyer is not interested in Joy joining politics.) Poor Joy, not yet in politics, and already torn between mother and wife. He has our sympathies.

On February 25, 2010, Awami League Joint General Secretary and Sheikh Hasina’s right-hand man Mahbubul Alam Hanif submitted Sajeeb Wazed Joy’s membership form for Rangpur Awami League. Joy is now in Bangladesh, and has been working with programs involving AL’s “Digital Bangladesh” slogan.

One small quibble to Joy’s handler in Awami League, and the Bangladeshi media: please stop referring to him as a “computer scientist.” The term is awkward; try “computer specialist,” or “IT policy analyst,” or if the mood takes you, “programmer extraordinaire.” We will still believe you, I promise.

Now, the question is: why? Why would Joy join politics so early in the second year of AL’s term? This ensures that all the missteps and misdeeds of the next four years will also cling to him. And why in Rangpur, and not his family stronghold of Gopalganj-Faridpur, under the tutelage of his uncle, Sheikh Selim, his aunt, Sajeda Chowdhury, and his mother’s in-law, Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain?

The answer to the timing part can be found in the Amended Representation of the People Order issued in 2009. Section 12 (j) holds that a person will have to be a member of a party for at least three years before he can contest an election from that party. Thus, Joy won’t be able to take part in an election as an AL candidate until February 25, 2013. Since the next parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2014, that should give him plenty of time to fulfill this requirement.

Now, why Rangpur and not Gopalganj? It has been commented upon how Sheikh Rehana and her family are rarely in Dhaka the same time as Joy; it’s almost as if they take turns to visit Sheikh Hasina. Rehana’s son, Radwan Siddiq, has already been noticed by many political observers as someone to look out for. His sister, Tulip Siddiq, is active in local-level Labour politics in England. If it ever comes down to it, will Joy be able to take them on? Is that why he is being shifted to Rangpur, which is somewhat of a political tabula rasa as far as Awami League is concerned? Now that Rangpur has been announced to be a division, he can use his paternal identity to build a loyal base there?

Joy has been an expatriate in the United States for more than a decade. Will he come back to Bangladesh and settle here full-time? How will the American immigrant in him respond to the nature of politics in Bangladesh? In 2007-2008, when his mother, now Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, spent time with him during her trips to America, a long line of Awami League leaders would always be visible outside Joy’s Falls Church residence. The reason for this was not pretty: unless Hasina was actually talking to someone, that person could not stay inside the home. If Hasina needed someone, she would make a phone call or send someone, and the lucky leader would rush inside. After returning to Dhaka, Joy has already instructed the media to refer to him as Sajeeb Ahmed Wazed, dropping Joy from his name. One presumes that’s how his name is in all official American documents, such as his driver’s license and bank accounts, so he is also conforming to that standard in Bangladesh.

Joy’s arrival in politics seem to have solidified, at least in the short-term, many of the negative traits that are currently so visible in Bangladeshi politics. We have seen our parliament go through some turbulent phrases during the last two weeks. Personal name-calling, especially about dead people, is extremely frowned upon in our society. It is also the clearest sign of intellectual bankruptcy. Unfortunately, with their families ensconced at the head of our two political parties, making ad hominem attacks on Sheikh Mujibur Rahman or Ziaur Rahman have become convenient short-cuts for attacking the party itself. However, one hopes that if the heads of the two parties discourage their party members from making these sort of attacks, they will gradually disappear in the future.

Do we really need a conference center, a hospital, a stadium, and a planetarium named after the same person in one city? Has anyone seen so many buildings named after the same person in a city that is not in an African or Central Asian dictatorship? How many buildings named after President Kennedy are in DC? Or named after Churchill, in London? Normally, I would consider it the prerogative of elected governments to name institutions as they wish; however, we will have to wait for an Awami League government headed by someone who is not a family member of Sheikh Mujib to really get to know what his party thinks on this matter.    

Joy’s ascent into Awami League politics will elicit many reactions from inside the party: from Hasina’s personal loyalists, from discarded veterans like Tofael Ahmed, and from the young leaders of Jubo League and Chatra League who will look to ingratiate themselves quickly to the heir-apparent. How Joy keeps his head in the midst of all this, and goes ahead with realizing Digital Bangladesh, will be an interesting sign of things to come.