June 2010


Mr Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury is an injured freedom fighter, a wounded veteran of our war of independence. He fought our liberation war as an Army Captain and lost his leg. He was awarded second highest gallantry award for living war heroes, Bir Bikram. Mr. Chowdhury retired from active military duty January of 1975 and joined foreign services, where he climbed up the ladder by means of his efficiency as a diplomat. He served as Bangladesh ambassador to different countries including USA, Germany, Vietnam etc. He also served five years as Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh.

Mr. Shamsher M Chowdhury and the likes of him are welcome new face of BNP. This is sharp contrast to the faces of Nizami or Mujahid flanking BNP leader Khaleda.
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Update I: Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury granted bail and then again arrested as he was leaving the jail premises.

Awami League’s reaction to BNP’s June 27th hartal was an important event in our recent political history. Coming in the government’s eighteenth month of power, this hartal was not aimed at forcing the Awami League Government to resign or to call new elections; it was simply to protest the increase in public suffering caused by lack of gas, electricity, water, and some other issues. So far, BNP has been the most benign of oppositions. Had Awami League not resorted to violence and let this hartal go without incident, we would have seen an extended period of calm and stability in our politics. Unfortunately, Awami League chose to use the Police, Rapid Action Battalion and its own student wing, Bangladesh Chatra League, to suppress the peaceful pro-hartal protests. The results were as horrifying as they were decisive.

All around Dhaka, law enforcement officials and Awami League party-men swooped upon BNP supporters and assaulted them. This attack on Shahiduddin Chowdhury Annie, MP is extremely illustrative of what happened all over Dhaka that day. At the beginning, Annie is clearly leading a procession BNP supporters, all of whom are trying to protect Annie. Successive attacks peel away everyone around him, until Annie himself is left naked in front of Chatra League brutality. Such episodes were repeated all throughout the day; the only difference was that since Annie is a Member of Parliament, this news made it to the national media.

The attack on Mirza Abbas’s house, when his wife, teenage daughter, and octogenarian mother were all attacked by the police and RAB, and assaulted violently, was another low point for democracy in Bangladesh. All of us know that Bangladesh is the mirror-image of Clauswitz’s famous dictum: in our country, it is politics that is continuation of war by other means. Even accounting for that, and remembering that this is the same party in power who gave us BKSAL and Rakkhi Bahini the first time around and Joynal Hazari and Shamim Osman the second time around, this behavior will come back to haunt Awami League in the years to come.

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On June 25, Friday elected Councillor Dhaka City Corporation and opposition leader, Mr Chowdhury Alam was arrested by the police. Per newspaper report, law enforcement men picked him up on his way home from opposition party office.  Since then he is totally untraceable. Nobody, neither Mr Alam’s family members  nor his lawyer/ colleague at Dhaka City Corporation have any knowledge of his whereabouts.

Mr Alam’s family members were in a press conference today along with the elected mayor of Dhaka City corporation. In the press conference, the family expressed their worry about the worst. Over the last year, law enforcement agency members of this government were alleged to have committed many premeditated murders. Bodies of people taken away by law enforcement men are being found buried underground, dumped into marshes etc.

When an arrest is made by the government, by law, the person being arrested needs to be produced before court within certain time. And law enforcement agencies ought to keep family informed of the whereabouts of the person being arrested. Nothing happened in Mr Alam’s case. His family has no clue where Mr. Alam was taken and why he is being detained.  No agency in the government is accepting the responsibility of this arrest. It is very unclear what happened to Mr Alam. But it is very destabilizing to see such a powerful government with such an overwhelming parliamentary majority resort to undemocratic means of kidnapping opposition elected representatives  and detaining them  in undisclosed locations. We certainly hope Mr. Alam did not have to face the consequences his family is most worried about.

Interestingly, the Mayor of Dhaka city raised the concern in a press conference in the afternoon. And late in the evening around 830 PM, several hours after government office closure, the government controlled Anti Corruption Commission came up with a corruption case against the Mayor.

Unfortunately this is only the 18th month for the current ruling party’s ascension to power.

Today a daylong general strike was called by the main opposition party in Bangladesh. This is first such event in 3 1/2 years. The opposition party BNP had laid out the strike plan last month in protest of certain issues they have pointed out as government failure.

The general strike ( Hartal) is not a very popular mode of protest in Bangladesh. Yet opposition parties resort to this tactic more often than other means as they don’t find the alternatives to hartal as biting. One reason the opposition resort to this sort of general strike is because hartals make the government feel insecure and vulnerable. For this same reason current ruling party Awami League resorted to 303 ( nearly a year) days of general strike since 1991. Otherwise a so called successful hartal is never a testament to opposition’s popularity.

Hartals are now more a test of the mindset of the government than anything else. Accordingly today’s hartal was an opportunity for the government to show how tolerant and democratic they are and at the same time it was a tool of the opposition to trap the government into exposing the government’s intolerant fascistic mindset ( if there is any).

Clearly the following photo assay shows heavy handed repressive acts of the government in a day which otherwise would have been a day of peaceful non-violent exercise of democratic right.

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“It might make more sense for Afghanistan to invade and occupy the U.S. in order to spread the rule of law and constitutional values here.”

– Glenn Greenwald, in Salon.

In June 17, Chittagong elected itself a new mayor. BNP supported Monjur Alam beat out the incumbent Mohiuddin Chowdhury, who is also the president of Chittagong Awami League by 95,528 votes. Manzur obtained 4,79,145 votes, while Mohiuddin obtained 3,83,617 votes. Mohiuddin was last elected in 2005, when he beat out BNP’s Mir Mohammed Nasiruddin by a margin of 91,480 votes.

Mohiuddin Chowdhury, who served as a naval commando in our 1971 War of Liberation, is probably the longest-serving public official in Bangladesh’s history. His record, serving continuously for seventeen years, is likely to survive for a while. In my few visits to Chittagong, I had been consistently impressed with the city’s cleanliness. After serving just five-year terms, our national leaders have extended hangover when they lose office. Keeping this in context, it must be said that Mohiuddin has handled the end of his seventeen-year old tenure, throughout which he enjoyed the status and rank of a Minister of State, quite well. It’s also extremely disappointing to see political commentators sympathetic to Awami League making this a referendum on Mohiuddin Chowdhury the person. Winning and losing are just normal outcomes of elections; they do not translate to “rejection by the people.”

Monjur Alam was first elected as a City Councillor in 1994, the same year that Mohiuddin, his former mentor, was first elected to the office of mayor. He fell out with Mohiuddin during the tenure of the former Caretaker Government and subsequently left Awami League before the 2008 elections; contesting it as an independent and losing. In this election, Monjur essentially took a leaf out of Mohiuddin’s 2005 strategies and used it to better effect against the incumbent; it was extremely impressive to see him matching Mohiuddin worker-for-worker as election results were being announced. Considering the fact that he is universally described as soft-spoken and polite after at least seventeen years in the extremely cut-throat world of Chittagong local politics, is a successful entrepreneur with more than eighty business ventures, and has established more than thirty schools and other charitable institutions so far; what was said of Bilbo Baggins must also be said of the mayor-elect: there is more to him than meets the eye.

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Updated XV: BNP wins 28 out of 41 Councillor seats.

Updated XIV: Mohiuddin Chowdhury alleges vote-rigging; has not accepted election result. Manzur Alam wants to work with Mohiuddin for Chittagong’s development.

Updated XIII: And finally, Manzur Alam unofficially declared the Mayor of Chittagong. He wins by a margin of 95,528 votes. Congratulations to him and to Mohiuddin Chowdhury, for his two decades of service to Chittagong. Mohiuddin is, by far, one of the ablest administrators in Bangladesh today. Let us hope he will be given a cabinet post by Hasina.

Update XII: With 580 out of 673 voting centers reporting, Manzur Alam is leading Mohiuddin Chowdhury by 88,201 votes. This is interesting, because in 2005 ( 4 years into incumbency), when BNP’s popularity was at its lowest point, BNP andidate Mir Nasir lost by around 91,000 votes.

Updated XI: With 400 out of 673 voting centers reporting, Manzur Alam (257,645 votes) is leading Mohiuddin Chowdhury (223,971 votes) by 33,674 votes.

Updated X: Manzur Alam now leading Mohiuddin by 17,599 votes.

Updated XI: Manzur Alam, like Lionel Messi, accelerating and pulling away now. Daily Star has him at 161,312, leading Mohiuddin at 147,006 by 14,306 votes.

Updated VIII: Daily Star gives up; reports Manzur leading Mohiuddin by more than 5,000 votes.

Updated VII: Prothom Alo reports Manzur leading 83,843 to Mohiuddin’s 78,844. Bdnews24 concurs.

Updated VI: Prothom Alo, Daily Star, and Bdnews24 are delaying reporting Manzur Alam’s lead, even though Returning Officer Jasmine Tuli has announced Manzur to be in the lead.

Updated V: Manzur Alam jumps into the lead. He has 58,395 votes to Mohiuddin’s 55,043, for a lead of 3,352 votes.

Updated IV: Daily Star reports Mohiuddin leading by 2,828 votes (41,425 – 38,597).

Updated III: One dead. Situation threatening to turn spiral out of control.

Updated II: Manzur’s supporters gathering outside Election Commission office. One police officer seriously injured in clashes between Manzur’s and Mohiuddin’s supporters. Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury, Manzur Alam’s Chief Election Agent, claims that the Election Commission officers are not allowing the publication of results from the centers in which Manzur is leading.

Updated I: The unofficial result shows Mohiuddin leading by only by 2,003 votes (36,799 – 34,796), but the figures coming out of the Election Commission consistently show Mohiuddin enjoying a far higher lead. According to the EC, Mohiuddin leads by 4,365 votes (28,750 – 24,385), more than double what the unofficial figures are predicting.

The odds were that the incumbent, Mayor Mohiuddin Chowdhury would easily beat out his main supporter, Manzur Alam. Things started to get interesting when police detained Slahuddin Quader Chowdhury for six hours the night before the election. They wanted to arrest him, he refused to get down from his car (and stayed inside all six hours), the news quickly spread all across the city and thousands of opposition activists turned up to see what was going on, the Election Commission refused to be used as pawns for Chowdhury’s arrest, and he was ultimately allowed to go free. Unfortunately, the Government seems to be sticking to its ill-conceived domino theory, that led it to grossly manipulate the Bhola by-election: any BNP truimph will in turn precipitate a bigger truimph and lead to a more confident opposition which shall pressurize the government further.

All this only leads an air of tragic inevitability to the Government’s attempts to rig the Chittagong City election. First Mohiuddin Chowdhury, with 23,153 votes, was leading Manzur Alam, with 21,692 votes, by a meager 1,614 votes. But then, by magic (digital magic), Mohiuddin Chowdhury has 24,579 votes, while Manzur Alam has 19,051 votes, and the lead is a much healthier 5,528 votes. Can anyone explain how the government candidate’s vote tally can increase while the opposition candidate’s decreases? Actually, I’m sure most of us can, but the explanation is not a pleasant one.

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