Democracy


The eviction of Khaleda Zia from her residence of 38 years has forced pro-Awami League media personnel to display a particularly riveting form of bipolar disorder. With exceptions such as Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury, most of these reporters/columnists/commentators have had to acknowledge that evicting a former prime minister forcibly from her residence, while her case is pending in the Supreme Court, is just not done. On the other hand, they can’t really come out and condemn Sheikh Hasina for these actions either; that sort of negates the utility of being a pro-Awami League media person. Thus, the bipolar disorder. Condemn eviction, but… bring up the cancellation of the house allotted to Sheikh Rehana by her sister, Sheikh Hasina, or somehow turn this about Sheikh Mujib’s murder, or, if everything else fails, blame Lord Clive.

Zafar Sobhan adds an interesting twist to this approach. His take is – yes, Khaleda Zia has been evicted, but… she’s not dead yet, and BNP is just a “mafia” while Awami League is an actual political party. So, whatever.

Mr. Sobhan is an extremely capable media personality. He is one of the individuals described here whose views about Bangladesh shape how the world media sees us. Such drivel should be beneath him. That it’s not, is a good sign of where our politics stands right now.

How does one deal with the claim that the party that has administered Bangladesh for ten of the last twenty years, and at the nadir of its popularity, still commands the allegiance of one in three Bangladeshis, is a mafia? Not that particular leaders of BNP have indulged in criminal actions in the past. Not that its student or youth wings contain criminal elements. But that the entire outfit is a criminal organization?

In a sense, it’s an extremely simple solution to a pressing problem. A problem that is growing more pressing by the day in Bangladesh. Normally, when the party in power fails, the opposition is given a mandate. But what does one do when there exists a sizable group of individuals who have staked their careers and professional reputations on the premise that the opposition will never, ever come to power again? And when the party in power, which was supposed to govern uninterrupted till 2021, has seen such precipitous drops in its popularity that it doesn’t even dare hold an election to elect the capital’s mayor?

Apparently, one labels the opposition the “mafia.” Because, you know, they’re criminals. And not just any criminals, but a particular group of state-designated criminals. They type of designated criminals who don’t have rights.

Here is the money quote from Mr. Sobhan’s article:

Two senior AL leaders were separately assassinated, and another 24 party members were killed in a grenade attack that came within seconds of wiping out the entire party leadership. For all the troubles it faces, the BNP leadership has not had to fear assassination.

What he leaves out, of course, that both the assassination of senior AL leaders, presumably Ahsanullah Master and SAMS Kibria, were prosecuted during BNP’s tenure and those involved were convicted and sent to jail, again during BNP’s tenure. Convictions that the current government has not revisited or appealed in a higher court.

And what about the 21st August grenade blast? Almost two years after this government’s ascension to power, it is still busy taking time from the courts to prolong its investigation, no doubt to implicate as many BNP leaders in this case as possible.

And finally, when responsible individuals like Mr. Sobhan make absurd accusations about whether BNP is a mafia, it makes us wonder whether journalistic ethics is sleeping with the fishes. His description of the events involving Ziaur Rahman’s home, where his wife slept, where his sons played with their toys, makes us wish that the law enforcement individuals who evicted Khaleda Zia had left their guns and taken the cannolis. Of course, when one’s being evicted facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference? While Mr. Sobhan needs the BNP so that he can point at them and say that’s the bad guy, we all have to ask, is this the end of Rico? We fear that our esteemed friend may end up, like a lot of other AL supporters, sobbing, broken-hearted, in a Havana cafe and saying, “You broke my heart. You broke my heart.”  Perhaps the Appellate Division will make BNP an offer they can’t refuse, but we fear a lot of people are soon going to be saying hello to the Police’s (and RAB’s) little friend.

All jokes (and forced analogies) aside, it doesn’t take too much imagination to think of Khaleda Zia as the broken Don Corleone, while her heir recovers in the Sicilian countryside (London). The problem for Mr. Sobhan is I’m sure he remembers, as we all do, how that one played out.

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After the military coup of 1/11/ 2007, the political role that 1/11 military leadership, did irreparable harm to the image of the military in public minds. The latest incident of using ISPR ( MoD’s media wing) to malign the opposition leader acted as the last nail in the coffin of the credibility of the military institution as a nationally respected organization. What the ISPR did regarding the eviction of the opposition leader from her home is reprehensible beyond expression.
In a nutshell what ISPR did is
1. On the day before the eviction, started a campaign of lie that Mrs Zia is vacating her home on her own
2. On the day of eviction, while keeping journalists, family members, political leadership away from her house, kept on lying that Mrs Zia is leaving her house willingly.
3. After Mrs. Zia complained of forceful eviction in a press conference, ISPR kept on their self contradictory lies and gave a tour of the bedroom/ personal items of the opposition leader to the media. Their attempts to hide forceful rentry and breaking of doors did not escape journalists curious eyes. And the most disgraceful thing ISPR did was planting a porn magazine in opposition leader’s bedroom wardrobe,  some alcoholic beverages and inviting journalists to take photos of that. This was so disgusting that even most of Government friendly columnists / news papers bothered not to talk about it.

So when 26 retired army officers belonging to BNP protests the mindless partisan use of ISPR; over 150 retired army officers convenes a press conference and reads a statement supporting the acts of ISPR and repeating all the over-used negative political talking points against the opposition party. In the press conference, the politically divisive and hateful languages of ex Army chief Lt Gen Harun Ur Rashid clearly indicates the partisan agenda of Gen Harun and the sector commander’s forum he now leads. If General Harun sincerely wanted war crimes trials, he could have kept himself out of this dirty petty partisanship and extend his hands to embrace/ motivate BNP supporters to join the war crimes trial campaign of sector commander’s forum.

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It’s hard to know what the Awami League government was thinking when they decided to evict Khaleda Zia from her home. However, it did not go completely as Sheikh Hasina had planned. Khaleda Zia’s televised press conference affected almost everyone. As Syed Abul Maqsud put it in a column aptly titled “The Government’s Truth:

স্বেচ্ছায় বাড়ি ছাড়ার দৃশ্যটি দেখে অন্তত কিছু মানুষ তাদের জীবনের সর্বোচ্চ সুখ উপভোগ করেছে। কয়েক কোটি মানুষ হয়তো মনে মনে বলছে, বেশ হয়েছে। তবে আট-দশ কোটি মানুষের মনের অবস্থা আমাদের মতো অ-মনোবিজ্ঞানীর পক্ষে জানা সম্ভব নয়। তাদের মনোভাব জানা যাবে ২০১৩-র ডিসেম্বরে। (“The way in which the home was ‘voluntarily left’ has probably given some people the greatest happiness of their lives. Perhaps a few crores of our people thought to themselves: this isn’t too bad. What the rest eight or ten crores thought is unknown to non-psychologists like us. However, we shall find out in December 2013.”)

Syed Abul Maqsud’s political orientation is not unknown. When columnists of his stripe start talking about December 2013, one must realize that this is the most serious message they can deliver to the Awami League Government. They are politely reminding Sheikh Hasina: “এই দিন দিন না আরো দিন আছে

As Maqsud noted, the full extent of the reaction to this event shall not be known until well into the future. But the fact that there was a reaction was evident to everyone. Awami League had not expected this; they thought they what happened inside Jahangir Gate would, so to speak, stay inside Jahangir Gate. They even issued a press statement “thanking” Khaleda Zia forleaving voluntarily. However, once it became apparent that explaining away this action was going to be a bit more complicated than that, Awami League quickly set out to bring this reaction in their favor through a two-prong strategy.

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প্রয়াত পটুয়া কামরুল হাসান একজন শিল্পী ছিলেন আপাদমস্তক. যা ভেবেছেন সত্য সুন্দর ন্যায়, তার জন্য লড়াই করে গিয়েছেন আজীবন . তবে ‘ একজন দূরদৃষ্টি সম্পন্ন রাজনৈতিক ভাষ্যকার’ এভাবে তাকে কখনো ভাবা হয়নি. আমার জানা মতে. এরশাদ বিরোধী গণআন্দোলনের মাঝ পর্যায়ে এসে পটুয়া কামরুল আঁকেন বিশ্ববেহায়ার বিখ্যাত ছবি . 

কামরুল যা বুঝেছিলেন আশির দশকে, আমরা তা আজও সত্য বলে টের পাচ্ছি সিকি শতাব্দী পরে এসেও. পতিত স্বৈরাচারী এরশাদ গতকাল এক অনুষ্ঠানে দশ ই নভেম্বর কে গণতন্ত্র দিবস বলে দাবি করেছেন এবং বাংলাদেশে গণতন্ত্র ফিরিয়ে আনার সব কৃতিত্ব দাবি করেছেন. সবচেয়ে ঘৃণ্য ক্রূর পশুর ও এর চেয়ে বেশী চক্ষুলজ্জা থাকে.

Yesterday was 23rd anniversary of the killing of Shahid Nur Hossain. Shahid Nur Hossain was in a political rally staged at Dhaka’s zero point to demand resignation of the illegal autocrat. Ershad’s police took aim at Nur Hossain, shot and killed him. Nut Hossain was easy target as his chest and back was marked with graffiti demanding fall of the autocrat and  rise of democracy ( গণতন্ত্র মুক্তি পাক, স্বৈরাচার নিপাত যাক).
Here is how celebrated photojournalist Pavel Rahman describes the event.

nurhossain1.jpg

I grew up in the back lane tin shade colony in Banagram near Narinda of old Dhaka. For me, mere going to school was a big leap, doing well or thinking of continuing beyond high school was not even in my dreams. School was no fun for me also. How would you like to be confined to a place where you are always rebuked and yelled at by your teacher for being the bad backbencher of the class? In addition, not only academically, I was also the social backbencher too. When my friends used to come to school with nice dress, nice shoes and school bag, we had to wear the same dirty shirt, pant, and sandal throughout the year and carry he books in hand. Tell me, how I can be a good student. Who will help me with homework? The 1/1/2 room shanty my auto rickshaw driver father manages to rent, does not enough space for us 5 brothers sisters. So most our day and evening are spent on the streets.
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Five Army officers have been convicted in Court Martial for attempted murder on Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh, MP. They are: Major Helal, Captain Rezaul Karim, Captain Rajib, Captain Fuad, and Captain Subayel Ibne Rafique. They have each been setenced to five years of jail, stripped of their army rank, and denied any retirement benefits. They will be serving out their sentences in Dhaka Central Jail.

Bangladesh has an unfortunate tendency of either seeing such attacks go uninvestigated or using them for political gain. The investigation and trial of the attackers on Sheikh Taposh could have been an exception to this trend. Court Martial proceedings are much more restricted in nature than civilian trials, that much is understood. However, to hold the entire trial in secret, and only allow it to appear in the media once the sentence has been delivered seems to be much more restrictive than was necessary.

A Daily Star report by Julikar Ali Manik says that the five officers were charged with “Violation of Good Order and Discipline,” under section 55 of the Manual of Bangladesh Army Law. The relevant section states “Any person subject to this Act who is guilty of any act, conduct, disorder or neglect to the prejudice of good order and of military discipline shall, on conviction by court martial, be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years, or with such less punishment as is in this Act mentioned.”

Five Army officers, on their own, reach a conclusion that a Member of Parliament and a nephew of the Prime Minister is responsible for one of the worst carnages in our nation’s history. They do so by expressly going against the Prime Minister’s words, who is also their boss because she holds the defence portfolio. They disavow the investigation report compiled by the Army itself. They steal explosives and munitions and attempt to murder a Member of Parliament.

 

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Police foil BNP's peaceful protestUpdated: এ যেন ‘পুলিশেরই মানববন্ধন’.

Hartal is unpopular and inconvenient for the citizens. Hartal related violence is bad. We all agree. So what is the alternative? Over the years we have seen that formation of human chain on road side pavements as a mode of protest is gaining popularity. This mode of protest is popular as this neither cause traffic congestion nor interrupts public life.

When Bangladesh’s opposition party BNP announced it’s programs protesting indiscriminate arrest and police-ruling cadre torture on opposition; they were careful in selecting non confrontational non disruptive mode of protests.

BNP’s scheduled human chain took place today. There was no violence preceding the event.   No confrontational steps were taken by the opposition.

Yet, like the hartal of June 27, AL used the police force to come down hard on oppositions peaceful protest.  According to the daily Star,

Police Wednesday morning obstructed the leaders and activists of opposition BNP from holding their scheduled human chain programme in the capital and Chittagong city.

The law enforcers barred the BNP central leaders in front of National Press Club at about 11:00am while they were trying to form a human chain.

Question rises, if government can not tolerate 1 hour peaceful roadside human chain by the opposition, on what face they call them a democratic government and more importantly what awaits the country in the future?

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