Sajeeb Wazed Joy

Showing us that all sorts of dynasties can coexist and flourish side-by-side in Bangladesh, Zafar Sobhan has very capably taken over the defense of Dr. Yunus (here and here) from his illustrious father. Mr. Sobhan’s main point is that this witch-hunt against Dr. Yunus hurts Sheikh Hasina’s international standing abroad, and detracts from what should be the Awami League’s real mission: the destruction of Tarique Rahman.

I absolutely defer to Mr. Sobhan on the ups and downs of our prime minister’s international standing. However, I am still left with some disquieting thoughts. Dr. Yunus is arguably the most accomplished Bangladeshi alive. He is certainly the most well-connected Bangladeshi alive. If all Mr. Sobhan is left with is appealing to international sentiments, one has to ask, is there no domestic constituency left in Bangladesh that can dissuade or counsel Hasina from this disastrous policy? The fifty-plus cabinet, the half a dozen advisers, too many MPs to count, the much-vaunted sushil brigade, and no one to tell or show Hasina that you can’t sink Dr. Yunus?

Instead, Mr. Sobhan is left appealing to the prime minister’s international standing. It’s not a completely futile threat. Joseph Stalin once asked, “How many divisions has the Pope?” Sheikh Hasina isn’t likely to be quite as flippant; she knows better than any of us the path that took her to Gono Bhaban in 2007 – 2008. However, it’d have been nice to be able to solve this one mess by ourselves.

Speaking of 2007 – 2008, we have fond memories of the glory days when the unbeatable troika of Messrs. Sobhan, Wahid, and Ahsan used to regale us with grand tales and lofty ambitions from the rarified perch of Daily Star’s op-ed page. However, as they say, all good things come to an end. Mr. Sobhan is no longer at Daily Star, and Mr. Wahid now graces Shah Alam’s Daily Sun. Syed Badrul Ahsan alone is left to educate and inspire us. But he has switched into over-drive recently; there are only so many rags that pro-AL tycoons will be able to publish in the next three years, and the plum editorial jobs aren’t going to land themselves. Thus, we got this gem:

Khaleda Zia’s vow of nullifying every act of the Awami League is a patent threat to all of us. If the threat comes to pass, the sunlight will go fleeing from our lives, the moon will lose its luster, poetry will die, politics will be no more, rivers will not run and good men and women will be fugitives in the wild woods.
Everything will pall. Everything will pale. Everything will fall.

If Mr. Sobhan is sending a message from the Awami League base to its leadership, Mr. Ahsan’s message is from the Awami League leadership to the people, and especially those who make up the readership of the Star: Yes, we are proving to be quite bad, and we have also started losing elections, but stick with us, otherwise, dum dum dum…

Yes, those currently in power have started thinking about the next elections. Which is good, because our opposition seems to find it difficult to focus on a time-window past the next two weeks. They should take a leaf from Sajeeb Ahmed Wazed Joy, the eminent computer scientist “with graduation from Texas University at Arlington, USA” who, like many before him, has discovered the convenient advantages of one-party rule, as long as it’s his party doing the ruling. Another message from AL, and perhaps the most significant one yet.

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.

 Update 03/19/10: Sajeeb Wazed Joy accused of running illegal VOIP operations by Opposition Chief Whip Zoinul Abedin Faroque MP. Cases filed against Faroque all over the country; arrest warrant issued against him. Government launches anti-VOIP drive against private telephone operators. 

Update 12/21/09: Advisor Dr. Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury just muddied the waters, even further today, blatantly and categorically lying about his trip to the United States at the press conference.

When asked about his trip:

Dr. Chowdhury said that he did not do anything except for participate in an expatriate (BDI) conference.

However, this press release from the Bangladeshi Embassy in Washington DC (page 15 of 18) shows that he came down to Washington DC the day after the conference closed, had meetings at the Department of Energy, and had lunch as the US Chamber of Commerce with, alongside others, officials from Chevron.

Original Post:

On 17th December, Amar Desh published a news report alleging that Sajeeb Wazed Joy, the son of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, took bribes from Chevron, the US power giant, with Advisor to the Prime Minister, Dr. Towfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury acting as the middleman. The report made these specific allegation:

1. This bribe was given in exchange for allowing Chevron to proceed with the installation of a $52 million compressor station. The installation of this compressor station was awarded to Chevron without inviting any tenders from competing bidders.

2. A $5 million bribe was taken from Chevron in exchange of this work-order.

3. Out of this amount, $2 milion was given to Sajeeb Wazed Joy by Dr. Towfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury on 14th October, 2009 at Texas.

4. The proposed compressor station is currently unnecessary.

5. The above allegation are made in a letter on Petobangla (state-run organization responsible for oil and gas exploration) stationery, which was sent to the Prime Minister’s office.

6. Subsequently, Petrobangla and the Ministry of Power, Energy, and Natural Resources exchanged letters about which organization should be the lead agency in investigating this matter.

The first thing to note about this report is that Amar Desh is not claiming to have found out this alleged corruption by themselves. Rather, they are claiming they have the copies of the specific documents that record these allegations and the subsequent exchange of letters between the two agencies (quiet understandable given the people involved). The allegations are extraordinarily detailed. They mention the project in which this alleged financial impropriety took place, the reason for the bribe, the amount of the bribe, and even the location where bribe was handed over. What is left unmentioned, but remains pertinent, is that Sheikh Hasina is the minister in charge of this ministry, and thus, bears direct responsibility for all activities and transactions in this ministry.

Now, had this been the end of the matter, the story would have died down in a couple of days. The editorial stance of Amar Desh is decidedly anti-government, and absent further developments, this story would have gone nowehere. However, this story was given further rleevance by the Awami League themselves.

At a discussion meeting held the day after this report was published, Awami League leaders roundly criticized this news report, and the newspaper publishing this report. The money quote would be from Jahangir Alam Nanak, Minister of State for Local Government and Rural Development, who addressed his comments directly to Mahmudur Rahman, the editor of Amar Desh: “Do not exceed the limits of our patience. If people get angry, you won’t be able to come out in public. You want to belittle Sajeeb Wazed Joy and rehabilitate Tareq Rahman? That will never happen.”

The over-the-top reaction from Awami League leaders was a fairly accurate representation of their tolerance of negative press. No one has the right to threaten a newspaper and its editor simply because a report containing an allegation of corruption is published. One suspects that with the negative news emanating from the Copenhagen where Prime Minister Sheikh Hasins is currently leading a high-profile delegation (although a final deal will definitely materialize), the stripping of Jatiyo Party MP Abul Kashem of his post by the High Court, the news about Jubo League men beating up two reporters in Bogra, the Supreme Court holding the appointment of the Law Secretary illegal, the fact that disqualified MP Jasimuddin is still drawing benefits from the Parliament Secretariat, and pressure mounting in the government to stop extra-judicial “crossfire” murders and bring RAB under accountability, the government and the ruling party was already buffeted by an extremely negative news cycle. Meanwhile, the opposition BNP appears rejuvenated after its successful council. The Amar Desh report was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

 Today, Amar Desh published the rejoinder that the government sent in, and its own response to the rejoinder. The government rejoinder does not address the main allegations raised in the news report. As Amar Desh’s response correctly notes, the newspaper is not pulling these facts out of thin air. They claim to have copies of the documents that detail this allegation and the subsequent bureaucratic hissy-fit. The governemnt’s rejoinder ignores the initial complaint sent from Petrobangla, and whether the accusations made in that letter were true.

Assuming that these allegations are completely false, it should be an easy matter to disprove them. They can be rebutted point-by-point. One hopes that that is the path the government takes; rather than resorting to jingoistic threats against journalistic independence. This is also a good point to remind ourselves that we are all innocent until proven guilty, and those who are proved innocent can then, in turn, bring their own claims in a court of law. Also, such allegations are rather a rather common occurrence in democracies. Factual inquiries should be met by facts, and facts alone. Along that path lies democratic maturity.