Democracy


The current political problem in Bangladesh is primarily one of imagination. Obviously, neither Khaleda Zia nor Sheikh Hasina will accept an option that is total defeat for them. However, a study of the priority of the two leaders may allow us to glimpse what s solution to the current, bloody impasse may look like.

If Sheikh Hasina currently allows an election, she will lose. She will hand over the government to BNP for the next five years. She will certainly face many uncomfortable cases and inquiries about the BDR massacre, the Padma Bridge controversy, the atrocities committed by RAB in the days leading to and the aftermath of the 2014 election, the Share Market scam, and so forth. Moreover, given the age of both these individuals, it is highly likely that this would be the last time they would face off. Hasina understandably does not want to end with a defeat.

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“The glorious role that the armed forces played in the reconstitution of the caretaker government saved the country from a one-sided Jan 22 election, full of clashes and confrontations. We thank them for this. Now the nation expects arrests of those who plundered people’s wealth in corruption, and recovery of the lost wealth.”

Abdul Jalil, Awami League General Secretary, January 14, 2007

“Everyone suffers when democracy is under attack. We (political parties) may have different points of view. But everyone will have to be united when the issue is democracy.Whoever they are, they will be identified, they will be brought to justice and they will be handed the maximum punishment.”

Syed Ashraful Islam, Awami League General Secretary, January 19, 2012

When President Ziaur Rahman was killed, he was only 45. But within this short life span he contributed enormously to Bangladesh. His catalytic role in initiating the mass revolt among Bengali members of the armed-forces after the brutal military crackdown of 25th March 1971, and his contribution as a military leader of Bangladesh’s war of independence distinguishes him as one of our top national heroes. Zia’s post independence role in building modern Bangladesh brick-by-brick by revamping all sectors starting from mutiny-ridden ‘broken-chain-of-command’ military, to her global image, to initiation of open-market-economy, are enough to immortalize him.
Yet, Ziaur Rahman’s lasting legacy will be his contribution to give the people of Bangladesh an identity — ‘Bangladeshi’ — that is inclusive of all the races, ethnic groups and religions. This identity emanates from Zia’s political philosophy of Bangladeshi nationalism, which was embraced very enthusiastically by an overwhelming majority of Bangladeshis. The political philosophy of ‘Bangladeshi Nationalism’ was expressed as his forward looking, conciliatory, inclusive and tolerant modus-operandi of nation building.
In an orientation session for the newly-elected BNP members of the 2nd Parliament, Zia explained Bangladeshi nationalism the following way,

“Now the question is, what is nationalism? If we study history of the world, we will see rise of different sorts of nationalism at different times and places. In this regard, first comes ‘racial’ or ethnic identity based nationalism. Arab or German nationalisms are prime examples of this kind of nationalism. German nationalism is based on Arian race. Hitler might not have talked about German nationalism if after World War I; parts of Germany were not occupied and shared by states like Britain, France and Poland. This act prompted Hitler to promote race based German nationalism. And we all know of Arab nationalism. … The late president of Egypt, Mr. Jamal Abdul Nasser was able to give a significant shape to Arab nationalism. Arab nationalism still exists and stands tall proudly with all other races in the world.
Next comes language-based nationalism. The slogan of Bengali nationalism is built on this philosophy. And for this reason, Awami League still dreams of establishing Bengali nationalism.
And then Muslim League, IDL and the Jamaatis talk about religion based nationalism. At the beginning of this century, Jamal Uddin Afghani preached Pan Islamic nationalism; the spirit of religion-based nationalism originates from that pan-Islamism. To be frank, since inception of Pakistan, Bangladesh was exploited and ruled in the name of this religion-based nationalism. But the ‘politics of exploitation‘ in the name of Islamic Nationalism could not keep Pakistan intact. Independent-sovereign Bangladesh was born.
Politics can be based on regional identity also, thus creating a new regional nationalism. In this regard we can mention the name of EEC (European Economic Commission). EEC has her own parliament i.e. the European Parliament. Many EEC countries are not even connected via land, yet they were able to bring forth new spirit and new idea of cooperation among themselves. They are collectively trying to give themselves a distinct identity as Europeans. Broadly one can assume that they are moving towards a new nationalistic identity.
War can be the base of nationalism too. But that is not a ‘compulsory’ or essential pre-requisite of nationalism.
Bangladeshi nationalism is based on all of the above components of nationalism…. We have ethnic heritage, a rich language and religious tradition. We all live in a single important geographic location. We have the dream of building a new economic order. And the blood-drenched spirit of our war of independence motivates us all. Presence of so many nationalistic elements is unprecedented in one nation’s identity.
When people say that Bangladeshi nationalism is not embracing religion, they are wrong. Religious identity and fidelity to faith is a great and historic trait of Bangladeshi nation. It has been mentioned in the Holy Quran that ” La Iqra Fidweene“, ‘religion should not be forcefully imposed’. Hence Bangladeshi nationalism is neither religion based nor religion averse. This nationalism ensures each and everyone’s faith and religious rights. And Bangladeshi nationalism is also not a purely language based nationalism. …
The philosophy of Bangladeshi Nationalism has ‘absorption power‘ and ‘elbow room.” [Translated into English from original Bangla speech by the author.]

Zia responded to the call of Bangbandhu to take up arms and lead the fight for Bangalee nationalism. But in an independent Bangladesh, he understood the need for an inclusive nationalistic identity for people of erstwhile East Bengal / East Pakistan who are predominantly religious Muslims Bangalees but very tolerant and accommodating to the rights of non-Muslims and or non-Bangalee ethnic groups.

Even today, over 30 years after his death, changes in Bangladesh constitutional framework initiated by Zia has been the basis of governance in Bangladesh. Zia re-introduced multi party democracy and press freedom back to Bangladesh. Thanks to some activist judges and an overwhelming parliamentary majority of currently ruling Awami League, a big push is being made to remove Ziaur Rahman initiated changes in the constitution of Bangladesh. Despite all the vicious attacks on late President Ziaur Rahman from the highest levels of the government, Zia introduced constitutional changes enjoy enormous public support and it is very likely that practically most of his changes will remain in the constitution. This is the ultimate success of Ziaur Rahman’s political philosophy, Bangladeshi nationalism.

May be there soon will be a winner in Narayanganj City Corporation election. But question mounts, will she or he really be a winner eventually or will they represent a victory of their backers?

May be NCC citizens are getting an elected rep, they may be the only winner. But without any clout, control, power, money– in Bangladesh context under current system, a mayor is a talpatar shepai — simply a symbolic city father.

But then rest of it is also a lose lose lose lose game.

If Shamim Osman finally pulls through a victory, fair election or not, the demand for CTG will gain momentum. Sheikh Hasina and her ruling part that backed Shamim Osman will lose by winning.

If Osman loses to Ivy, both Awami League and opposition BNP loses big time. Anti CTG rhetoric will gain traction. Tainted civil society ( We all know who they are- new faces Syed Abul Maqsud, Mizanur Rahman Khan, Rubayat Ferdous with Anams and Motiur Rahmans in the background) will again stat jumping with double vigor. Civil society thinks Ivy is their candidate. Selina Hayat Ivy is civil society’s dream candidate. A hardcore Awami League leader, close to Sheikh Hasina currently at odds with another Awami League candidate not in good terms with the civil society leaders. But by no means civil society’s customized candidates are any good for a long-term healthy grassroots based democracy.

If Taimur wins, BNP also loses. Hasina will say, see we lost election to BNP and we can hold fair elections.

This Taimur Alam Khondokar is a pathetic case. If BNP wants to come back, exactly this sort of candidates BNP must shun. This man is running such a lackluster campaign that even Amar Desh is mentioning him in 3rd sequence after Shamim/ Ivy. He cannot talk, cannot make a point. cannot organize get out the vote, cannot gain on anti Awami League incumbency of Shamim, and capitalize on anti Narayanganj incumbency of Ivy. Only thing he is saying very ineffectively is “EVM mani na”, “EC is bad”. Are vhai he is not running against EC. He is running against Ivy and Shamim. And he must have made this a campaign of a referendum to Awami Leagues misrule.
This man is a failure in all way. He was BRTA chairman. That was shame of a record. I don’t know why BNP can’t find a good new fresh face, young blood. There are so many business leader from N Ganj, so many sports stars. Every time I see him walking along Narayanganj roads, he reminds me of the Zombies at the TV series “the Walking Dead”.

BNP must know that if they keep on relying on these Zombies, whatever misrule Awami League exerts on Bangladesh, they have no chance of winning back Bangladesh.

In CCC election an ex Awami Leagues, soft spoken clean image candidate helped BNP regain CCC mayoral seat.

In that context BNP needed Selina Hayat Ivy as their candidate. An honest, smart and bold young woman. In several debates I watched in TV, she was only one who talked some sense and was found to understand what it means to be a city corporation Mayor.

The latest news from Narayanganj tells us that Government decided to ignore Election Commissions request to deploy Armed forces for election eve / day violence prevention.

What will happen in Narayanganj on the election day — no one except the God and Sheikh Hasina can tell. But this blogger can assume that the election day events will be based on which advisor Sheikh Hasina listened to.

It could be a repeat of Bhola, which will be impeccably hidden under the carpet by a submissive friendly media ( In Bhola style). Shamim Osman will just rob the election by forcefully bagging 99% of rural Narayanganj vote.

Or if Mrs. Hasina this time listens to a different advisor, it could be an “apparent” fair election with Sheikh Hasina niece Ivy winning against Shamim Osman. That means civil society is managed for the time being and for next national election, a good example has just been created — ” FOR HOLDING A FREE AND FAIR ELECTION, NEITHER WE NEED A CARE TAKER GOVERNMENT NOR MILITARY DEPLOYMENT”.

Guest Post By Khaled Gazi

BMW = Black money whitening
DNA = Dur niti agomon
OPP = One party parliament
TIB = Thank you India for B’desh (& corruption)
ACC = Awami corruption commission
IJK = Independent-judiciary killing
CHT = Chittagong hoi-choi treaty
RAB = Remand All BNP supporters

Updated: Some redemption.

I am a fan of Zafar Iqbal the science-fiction writer. The columnist, not so much. After a long time, he once again wrote a column in the Prothom Alo. According to him, the two greatest problems facing our country are:

1. We don’t know the lyrics of our national anthem.

2. We don’t make our national flag according to the correct specifications.

Compared to Professor Iqbal, Sohrab Hasan is a paragon of reality-based discourse. He very aptly points out the plight of Bangladeshi blue-collar workers in Libya and the AL government’s slothful reaction to this problem. However, then he seeks to balance his attack by blaming the opposition BNP for not going to the Airport when the workers returned from Libya. Given that two months ago, our government did not allow BNP MPs to enter the Airport when Khaleda Zia departed for China, one has to wonder how Sohrab Hasan believes that the same government would have just allowed the BNP leaders to stroll into the airport without any hassle.

Hasan commits the added offense of minimizing the current controversy of the reprinting of the Constitution ( সরকারি ও বিরোধী দল বাহাসে লিপ্ত হয়েছে সংবিধান পুনর্মুদ্রণ, গণ-আদালতে বিচার এবং তত্ত্বাবধায়ক সরকার থাকা না-থাকা নিয়ে). Prothom Alo’s Mizanur Rahman Khan has been conducting a one-man war against the complete chaos regarding the new, phantom Constitution. His columns on this matter should be mandatory reading for anyone concerned with the fate of parliamentary democracy in Bangladesh.

But no amount of myopia can compete with that displayed by the government in its handling of Prof. Yunus. Sheikh Hasina is going to look back to the day when she decided to launch her vendetta against Prof. Yunus and rue it.

The recently concluded municipal election highlights several points about the current trend of Bangladesh politics and further fuels the debate about possibility of fair elections under a political government. But before going into the messages this election sent and what our democracy can learn form this election, let get a short overview of the results and other political issues relevant to this election.

1. In a snapshot, the overall results show a near equal number of victorious candidates from ruling Awami League (AL) and opposition Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP). If one adds pended Cox’s bazaar, BrahmanBaria municipals in BNP column, Tangail to AL, the margin might go in BNP’s side. Then hypothetically if one adds 10 plus Stolen Noakhali/ Feni/ Barisal councils to BNP, the gap widens further in BNP’s favor.

2. This election gives a good sampling of Bangladesh. This election was neither one of the major city Corporation election nor totally rural Union Porishod election. This election samples the population where urban folks come in contact with rural Bangladesh. These are small towns of Bangladesh where villagers travel on almost daily basis to sell their produce or do necessary purchases. These are the perfect mixing bowl of urban and rural Bangladesh. Unlike Dhaka where major concern would be traffic or load shedding or the remote village, where people concerns mostly about price of seeds, fertilizer etc. — these city council election covers both sort of perspective.
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