Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Take Back Bangladesh

Friends, Bangladeshis, Countrymen

There comes a time in our lives where we have to stop for a while and take stock of the situation around us. This is one of those times. I can't believe what is going on. It is surreal. The nation is facing one of its worst crisis of the last two decades. A handful of people from both sides of the political elite is taking our nation down a very destructive path. During this time most of people I talk to say that they do not feel that they have a choice. Isn't that ironic? Our leaders say they are fighting for our democratic rights - but we don't think we have a choice in the matter. Isn't it time we said "Enough is enough." We have had our fill. It is time for a new way to think. It is time for a new vision of our future. It is time for a new leadership.

We want free and fair election. We do not want violence. It is time for us to TAKE BACK BANGLADESH!!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Laughter the Only Medicine

Did you hear, that night after Khaleda’s visit they found a bag of viagra next to Iajuddin’s bed? Don’t worry, he isn’t thinking of screwing the nation. He just uses it to stand up straight.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Read this and get an advice – FREE!

This article appeared on today's<20th November> New Age as an Op-Ed piece under the title of "Is Advertising a Crime"

BdNews24 reported recently:

“GrameenPhone, Aktel sued

Mobile giant GrameenPhone and its rival Aktel were sued Wednesday on charges of deceiving subscribers with advertisements.

Advocate Rafiqul Islam charged GrameenPhone Managing Director Eric Aas and Marketing Director Rubaba Doula Matin with 'deceiving the subscribers by alluring advertisements.'

The lawyers alleged mobile operators run 'alluring advertisements' on newspapers and televisions and 'deceive' the general people to make windfall profits.

They also alleged that the operators in an advertisement printed and aired on November 7 offered special prizes for subscribers.

Subscribers spending between Tk 300 and Tk 500 will be in with a change [sic] to win a camera phone through lottery, Plasma TV if they spend Tk 501 to Tk 1000, Japanese car for Tk 1001 to Tk 3000 and an apartment for Tk 3000 and beyond.

The lawyers said such advertisements are illegal as they violate the Section 295 (b) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.”


Isn't that the point of advertising, to allure consumers to buy products or services on offer?

As most who read this blog know, I work in advertising. So I guess I am a guilty party as well. And this is my defence.

I know it is fancy to blame advertising for the evils of consumerism. I was shocked to learn that my young nephew at a junior class in a fancy Australian school in Dhaka was taught that advertising was evil and all of it is a lie. And often in polite company I am asked, "but do you actually believe what an ad says?" Isn’t it easy to make advertising the scapegoat for all the flaws of our desire? After all if you did not see the ad for the shimmering new mobile phone you might not ever want one.

But let us examine some of the finer points of this notion. We advertising professionals believe that we promote competition and hence benefit consumers in the end. Without the ad fuelled marketing blitz would call rates have dropped in the manner it has recently? And it is not only limited to consumer advertising. Bangladesh's success story in population control is in a large part attributable to the superb work done by SMC [Social Marketing Company - the owners of Raja, Maya, Hero, Nordette, Minicon, Sensation and Panther] and their advertising agencies (yes, we are one of them).

Advertising we believe gives a consumer choice. I could feel thirsty and want to drink Coke. Or Pepsi. Or RC Cola. Or Uro Cola. Or Pran Cola. Or Suncrest. Or Mecca Cola. Or Mojo (our client). If there were no advertising, then how would the consumers know the bevy of alternatives available?

Advertising encourages better products. I still remember when Mr. Mustafa of Kollol Industries came to us first with the idea of facial tissues in the early 90s, we secretly wondered, "who in Bangladesh would pay money and use this product?" Good sense prevailed and the brand Fay was born. After years of successful advertising, today it is the market leader in a vibrant product category with many brands. The quality of the product too has not stayed static. Faced with competition, clients diligently invest in R&D of products, and to use an advertising parlance "new, improved" versions come to market in a regular stream. Let me remind you of the boom in advertising that started in mid to late 90s. Out of nowhere came this "halal shaban" [religiously pure soap] and obliterated the market leader till that point of time. Consumer research showed that while the "halal" was a hook for people to try the product for the first time, they stuck on because consumer's felt that it was a far superior product than the market leader Lux soap. Then started the real fight. Brand managers at Lux began rebuilding the brand and more importantly the product. Since then the soap market has been highly competitive. It is true both on advertising and product quality side. It can be argued that for its retail price, soaps available in Bangladesh today are probably the best value in the world.

Abraham Lincoln had famously said "you may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time". I think at heart honest Abe was an advertising man (politicians being practitioners of the same profession!). What he said is a maxim of advertising today. A consumer will believe you only once when you give an attribute to a product that it does not deliver. I might “allure” you with the promise of long shiny hair or to make you attractive to the opposite sex but if it does not deliver on those promises will you ever buy the product again? As a proof I give you all the miracle diet pills in my medicine cabinet.

Now of course there might be dishonest vendors out there who will abuse the trust a consumer puts in them. But let me promise you this. On the long run their product is not here to stay and they are nothing but con artists. Every industry has these charlatans. But just because a quack prescribes you lizard tail wonder drug does not mean that the whole medical profession is a sham.

So to come back to the central premise of the lawsuit against Grameen Phone, did they say anything that is not true? Well actually no. If you see the ad they are basically saying that to celebrate their 10 years of service they will give away some gifts to users of their product. Now will they do it? Of course! Grameen Phone is no fly by night operator. They are amongst Bangladesh’s most respectable and professional companies. (Confession time: they too are clients though not for this particular campaign). The problem it seems that they have violated Section 295 (b) of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Okay let me spare you the task of calling up your lawyer friends. This section, please bear with me, states: “Offering of prize in connection with trade, etc – Whoever offers, or undertakes to offer, in connection with any trade or business or sale of any commodity, any prize, reward or other similar consideration, by whatever name called, whether in money or kind, against any coupon, ticket, number or figure, or by any other device, as an inducement or encouragement to trade or business or to the buying of any commodity, or for the purpose of advertisement or popularising any commodity, and whoever publishes any such offer, shall be punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six month, or with fine, or with both.”

Well I am not a lawyer (and needed to read the above more times than I care to confess) but the gist of it is quite simple. One cannot offer any gifts that will entice you to purchase a product. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, strictly speaking advertising is illegal. Or atleast giving something for something (e.g. buy a powder and get a soap free); or more of something (20% more shoe polish in each bottle); or even a price discount (Tk 2 off the next purchase of x washing powder) is a strict no-no. Does that make sense? Does the consumer, for who this law was enacted in 1965, benefit?

“The times they are a-changin,” sang iPod’s latest brand ambassador Bob Dylan. Forty years on, this law should no longer remain in the Penal Code. Matter of fact most of us criminal advertisers have devised loopholes to get around this speed breaker. Unfortunately the only ones being disadvantaged are the consumers, as it ultimately limits the benefits that they would get. I mean if Grameen Phone wants to give away an apartment or two, who’s to complain? Well hopefully, the subscribers of the other telcos. And if that means they too give away apartments in Dhaka then at least a handful of subscribes benefit. The marketing companies are not holding a gun to our heads and telling us to buy their product (or in this case talk longer). We are doing it on our own free will. Advertising encourages us to purchase the product from where we will benefit the most. We are basically making a choice with our wallets. I might decide that to use Grameen Phone or I may decide not to. And if I do decide to avail of their services and in the process win myself an apartment I am not complaining. Would you?

In today’s ever-changing fast paced globally synergized advertising campaign world a product cannot afford to stay chained to obsolete and arcane laws. We need to give our marketers the freedom to develop and execute effective consumer promotions. And our consumers the freedom to benefit from these offers. Time has come for the Penal Code to go through a relaunch and drop article 295[b]. As the famous ad commanded, “Just do it!”

Take Back Bangladesh

Today is TBB day. It is a day when we pledge that we will take back Bangladesh from the path of destruction. Free & fair elections are our inalienable right. It is up to each and every citizen to stand up for it.

Another of our basic right is that under Article 32 of the Bangladesh Constitution, “No person shall be deprived of life or personal liberty”. So any action, however well meaning, that takes away our liberty to live a normal life should be rejected. We should not live in fear.

Today we take a small step that we hope with your support will become a giant leap!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Wear Black Badge

We all want free and fair elections.

It is widely agreed that neutrality of the Caretaker Administration and Election Commission is a pre-requisite for free and fair elections.

The Chief of the Caretaker Government, it appears is neither non-partisan nor neutral, and the conduct of the Election Commission has hitherto been shocking.

At the same time while many in the Nation agrees with the 14-party agenda in regards to securing free and fair elections, their destructive methods have precluded public participation on a mass scale.

Yet, we wish to participate in the destiny of Bangladesh. We want free and fair elections.

It is time that we the general public take a stand.

Back in 1969-71, wearing a small rectangular BLACK BADGE on the arm or chest became a powerful symbol of protest against the vile political machinations of the Pakistan Government. Virtually everybody wore it. The BLACK BADGE expressed the single-mindedness of the people in their quest for justice.

It is once again time that we the general public take a stand.

Starting November 20th, 2006 wear a BLACK BADGE on your arm or chest, or fly a BLACK FLAG on your roofs to protest against election engineering and also the violence that is being done in our name. And encourage others to do the same.

Free and Fair Elections is one of the basic entitlements we have as a citizen of this great nation. It is now upon us to protect it.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Milton Friedman: 1912 – 2006

“A society that puts equality...ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom.”

What Friederich Engels said of Karl Marx upon his death should really now be said of Friedman, that today "the greatest living thinker ceased to think."*

This is a man for whom my admiration while growing up was more than that of other teenagers’ for Marilyn Monroe. The 1976 Nobel Prize winner in Economics is to a laissez-faire capitalist the equivalent to Bob Dylan is to the flower-power peaceniks; or a on a more comparable level – equivalent to Karl Marx to the Communists.

Milton Friedman was an intellectual tiger. The father of monetarism. Leader of the powerful “Chicago School” of economic thought. Based on his theories the “trickle-down” Reaganomics of the roaring 80s fuelled growth and globalization in an unprecedented pace. It led to the fall of communism and birth of free trade.

I am not going to try today to either explain his economics or try to debate them. All I want to say is that a person who had a profound influence on our world (and do me personally) is dead. A legend in his own time, a legend for all time.

Some more of his quotes

“Political freedom means the absence of coercion of a man by his fellow men.

Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.

The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem

A society that puts equality...ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom.

I’m in favor of legalizing drugs. According to my values system, if people want to kill themselves, they have every right to do so. Most of the harm that comes from drugs is because they are illegal.

Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.

The Great Depression, like most other periods of severe unemployment, was produced by government mismanagement rather than by any inherent instability of the private economy.”

The following link takes you to the "autobiography" Milton Friedman had writen for the Nobel Committee:

For more information / tribute read:

*Grateful to for both the picture and this quote.

Friday, November 17, 2006

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Are we fighting for Democracy?

This election aside, true democracy will not come till there is independence in the parties themselves. Both AL & BNP will need to have elections to party posts. MP nominations need to come from the constituency level. And MPs should have the right to vote against their party in Parliament. Otherwise in the “winner-take-all-my-netri-is-always-right” system we have currently, Iajuddin is right, it is Presidential. I would even go as far as to claim it to be dictatorial.

People get the government they elect! And they can only elect the people who run. Doc Y, CPD and the rest can go on crying “elect clean candidate” but till we are willing to take a stand and contest in elections and get involved in politics there will not be any change. We will just replace one corrupt and ineffective government with another.

Power also needs to devolve to the people. Rajiv Gandhi championed the Panchayat Raj in India. We need to do this here. Development work and local administration should basically happen where it all happens – the villages. A working body of Union Chairmen plus the UNO (Upazila Nirbahi Officer) should decide on how to best use the development funds available to the various unions in an upazila. And for God’s sake they should arbitrate on petty constituency level issues (e.g. who stole who’s goat) and not allow the MP to be involved in everything. Our honourable MPs should be free to be honourable. Their role is to lay down the vision for the nation; the laws that effect us; the guidelines of governance (budget, policies, and to act as auditors of the local government.

Until these two fundamental changes occur all these oborodhs, rallies, processions, backroom manoeuvring, constitution readings, talk-shows, articles in newspapers, blogs, debates, bothi-logha-kanchi, fiery speeches, posters on the wall, politically motiveate killings, white papers, corruption charges, mean nought, nada, nothing!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Power of One

As the President Professor Dr. Iajuddin Ahmed appointed himself the head of the Non-party Caretaker Government, many cried foul. No intelligent interpretation of our constitution would put the President at the head of the caretaker government (CG) without exhausting a bevy of other appropriate alternatives. However convoluted his reasoning may have been, AL showed restraint and gave him the benefit of the doubt. The nation gave their President a chance to prove himself to be neutral and rise over the petty politics that had gripped the nation. We reasoned that mild mannered educationist will appoint an able body of advisers and they, like their predecessors before, would turn out to be impartial and more so, effective.

The Chief of CG (CCG), as the constitution allows him appointed 10 respected members of the society as advisors. With the exception of a few, the “wow” factor it seemed was missing from the line up. It was widely reported that the advisors were drawn up from a list submitted by the major parties. While the question was raised, about if they met the Constitutional provision of being “non-party”; the society, and to its credit the main political groups accepted the choice and hoped that this will end most of the controversy in this regard. Unfortunately when we thought it could not get any worse, it did! A few questioned the composition itself. Why did the business community not have a representative? The citizenship of a certain advisor was questioned. And then it got a whole lot more serious.

Common citizens quickly complained that the Advisors did not show the energy levels expected from them. Of course they did not have time to do the homework required for the job and therefore took some time to find their “sea legs”. But it seemed that they were kept in the dark about many of the decisions that the constitution entrusted to them to take. The President, it was obvious, was politically too inexperienced to differentiate his role as head of the nation to that of his duty as the CCG. Worse, accusation levelled against the Bangabhaban was that the President’s politically appointed minders were calling the shots. They were present at advisory council meetings and refused to heed opposition demands to step aside. Any person even slightly knowledgeable of the workings of the government could easily point out that there was backroom politicking happening in scales that has not seen in our young democracy in many years.

The difference between the CCG and rest of his advisors was soon out in the open. Many believe that the advisory council painted themselves into a corner when they openly said that the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) had to go. While it bought them time from the AL, political manoeuvring by the President’s secretaries ensured that this could not be translated into actionable deeds. And then out of the blue came the most damning action of all. The Home Secretary without the knowledge of the CG (it is not known if the CCG was aware of this move) attempted to call in the Army. How could such a bold and potentially course altering decision be taken without consulting the CG? More so when they had met that very same day? More than a few questions are raised. Did the President / CCG know? Did he comprehend the gravity of the action? Was there someone else calling the shots? And the most worrisome of the questions, was the constitution itself violated?

While I cannot answer the first few of these questions as I am not privy to what goes on in the great mind of the President, I believe the last is easy to dissect. The Article 58B [3] states “The executive power of the Republic shall, during the period mentioned in clause [1], be exercised, subject to the provisions of article 58D [1], in accordance with this Constitution, by or on the authority of the Chief Adviser and shall be exercised by him in accordance with the advice of the Non Party Care-taker Government.” Basically this clause states that the executive power (i.e. the responsibility of day to day functioning of government) rests with the Chief Adviser (as opposed to the President) and can only be done with the agreement of the remaining of the Advisors. “…in accordance with the advice of the Non Party Care-taker Government.” These words are very important. “Advice” in this case is not same to the one my wife takes when she asks which sari she should wear. This “advice” is not open to acceptance or rejection. This “advice” is the legal wording that says, “Must do”.

Now I know, some might be thinking “hey, the CCG is the same as the PM in a normal time. So isn’t the PM’s wish supreme? Could she not have disagreed with rest of her cabinet on a topic and still come out on top?” Well that logic, though enticing, breaks down in two counts. In a Parliamentary system the PM is Primus Inter Pares – Latin for First Amongst Equals. That means the PM is one of the many ministers of the cabinet, who while having the overall responsibility of the co-ordination of the cabinet does not supersede remaining of the members of that body. It is another matter that in our fragile democracy PM acts as the defacto President of yesteryear with complete authority.

More importantly one needs to look at the clause giving executive power to the PM during normal time of functioning. Article 55[2] states “The executive power of the Republic shall, in accordance with this Constitution, be exercised by or on the authority of the Prime Minister.” Full Stop! None of the “advice” of the council of minister business. She has, according to our constitution, the last word on what is correct for her Government to take. Of course she has to get it ratified by the Parliament but she and she alone bears the ultimate responsibility of any government decision or action. And if her ministers do not like it, she has the liberty of firing them.

That is not the case with the advisors. The President or the CCG has no authority to remove them (except in extra-ordinary circumstances). And while the CCG is the person who chooses the body of advisors, once they take the oath, their roles are equal.

So here we stand, the CCG has to work in accordance to the collective (or at least majority) wisdom of the Advisory council of which he is another member. This body is entrusted by the Constitution and by the nation to carry out the responsibilities of government. The onus is now on the Non-party Caretaker Government to take responsibility for their action. As Dr. Yunus said, it is time to be strong and hold steady. The framers of our constitution (and of its amendments) did not give complete executive power to the unelected CCG but to the body of eminent members of the society. It is now upto them to show leadership. It is upto them take the necessary steps required to faithfully execute the decisions that will lay course to our prosperous future. They cannot hide behind the excuse of powerful bureaucracy or Bangabhaban bullies. If someone puts up a roadblock or if someone believes he is above the Constitution, it is within the power of the CG to take that person to task. There is no need to be afraid. Hold steady, and no one can move you from the path of righteousness. It reminds me of the Bangla saying “Doshay milay kori kaaj, hari jitee nahi laaj”. (A rough English equivalent being “United we stand…”)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Enayetullah Khan : 1939 - 2005

"The state of non-happening is once again strung together by the beads of rhetoric. But it no longer sparkles as in the olden days to cover the dark patches of national failures.

Nothing possibly could be worse than what it is today. Only doom can beat it all. Hence optimism fights back in a pitch dark tunnel of an unrewarding politics that holds little light at the end of it. Or it may as well be a blind tunnel with no way to go. We are just in the middle of it singly, collectively, and as a nation.

If the flower of democracy has wilted before it could blossom, we have no tears to shed for it. Because it hardly existed even in its distorted frame."

Weekly Holiday, March 1975

Today is one year anniversary of the late great journalist Enayetullah Khan