Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Dr. Y + Dr. K + Dr. B = ?

Recently someone asked me the following question:

“how do u reckon the chance of Dr. Younus, the 'man of the moment' in Bangladesh, joining hands with old horses like Dr. Kamal and Dr. B. Chowdhury???? And, what could be the result in that case, any idea???”

I'd like to split my answer into three. 1. Will it happen? 2. What if it happened? 3. What probably will happen?

Well the first answer is quite easy. Not likely. Though given current turns that politics in Bangladesh have taken, cannot be ruled out.

The second answer is somewhat more complex. To understand it I think we have to analyze each of the components of the equation.

Dr. Y: riding high after the Nobel. Plus has tremendous amount of goodwill without any major political baggage. He, I believe, can galvanize a lot of popular support. And if he made the request, many "clean" candidates will take the plunge. But so far he has disappointed me personally. Over the last few months (since his Anti Corruption Commission article in early '05 - my criticism in my blog) he has made many calls and inspired others without necessarily leading from the front. As a leader you need to be at head of the charge. His ideas are great but we don't need ideas as much as we need someone to take the reins and say this is where we are going. Dr Y has failed there.

Dr. K: a man with impeccable mental ability. He is someone who is articulate in his thought and decisive in his judgment. The biggest mistake he made was forming Gono Forum. Though I was a supporter of the GF in the '96 elections, I never thought they had a chance. Dr. K would have been better as an "elder statesman". He could have been like a political ombudsman; one who could be the nation's conscience. We would go to him at times of crisis like this or when we needed guidance or a goal. Unfortunately he is now seen to be a small partial player.

Dr. B: another articulate man. He has enough personal charisma to charm the voters. Over the years has built up excellent organizational skill and experience to run a grassroots political party. He has enough cache with the international community, civil society and general mass to have pulled himself above petty politics and take a stand on issues. His initial gambit of putting out political posters with Bhasani, Mujib and Zia was a marketing / PR genius! Unfortunately it has been downhill since then. He has failed to build his party. Why, he has failed to appeal to even the middle class intellectuals who are looking for leadership. He has failed to show what he stands for. The recent LDP is a good initiative though they still haven't given us clarity about their philosophy and guiding principles. While LDP makes a big thing about the corruption of BNP's Hawa Bhaban crowd, they have amongst them the notoriously dishonest Jahanara Begum and morally corrupt Alamgir Kabir.

On paper Dr. Y + Dr. K + Dr. B = winning combination. But in reality I think it has the potential of blowing up in our faces. Or even worse - dying without even a whimper!

If we can get Dr. Y to join active politics, why do we need the other two? They bring baggage that some of the Gen71 (amongst others) will find that they cannot live with. Dr. Y himself is good enough to bring moral strength and fortitude to build an honest, efficient and effective third force. Just think about it. If he called you and said "I'm looking for people who will join my new crusade, will you accept?" I don't know about you, but I will be willing to give up my world to stand behind him. And I know hundreds if not thousands other who will as well.

Dr. K + Dr. B did try the formula without the "magic" ingredient. But it did not create a stir.

The answer to the third question is that Dr. K & Dr. B have already have understanding of the political maneuvering need till the next elections. Dr. K will go back to the AL for support and Dr. B to LDP. Hence it looks as if LDP and AL will have a pre-election agreement. The basis of this agreement I think will be that AL will agree not to put any candidates in 25-30 constituency where LDP candidates have a chance of winning. LDP will also run campaigns in another, say, 100 odd seats where they will play the role of "spoiler". That is they will split the old BNP votes and in-turn allow the AL candidate to win. Do remember that the winning margin in more than 150 seats in the 2001 election was in single digits. Even a small 4% swing of voters away from the BNP can lead to a loss of these seats. [For election analysis see http://nazimkamranchoudhury.blogspot.com]

Dr. Y in the meantime will not do too much except keep saying that we need "clean" candidates in the election.

Dr. Y + Dr. B + Dr. K = could be, would be, should be!

Why this round actually goes to AL?

I give AL the upper hand in the parlour politics is because they have come out better after flinging all the mud.

a. Hasina, Jalil and the others were very vocal that they did not want the President to be CTG. Hence when they are now “reluctantly” agreeing people will take it as a goodwill gesture from the AL.

b. Article 58e states: “Certain provisions of the Constitution to remain ineffective. Notwithstanding anything contained in articles 48(3), 141A(1) and 141C(1) of the Constitution, during the period the Non-Party Care-taker government is functioning, provisions in the constitution requiring the President to act on the advice of the Prime Minister or upon his prior counter-signature shall be ineffective.”
The above-mentioned clause hence allows the President not (yes that is right – NOT) to listen to the advice of the Caretaker Government! “…provisions in the constitution requiring the President to act on the advice of the Prime…shall be ineffective” Effectively what this means is that the President practicality exercise supreme power when it comes to the functioning of the Government.

c. So isn’t it better that we are aware that the President could be a party stooge now, rather than he doing something behind the scenes to jeopardise a free and fair elections?

d. They now have the reform of the Election Commission. (which it seemed they had to give up earlier as they “won” the CTG head!) How can the President now not change MA Aziz and the others, and appear neutral?

e. How has the BNP done? They seem like people who bullied the President into this. We do not have any newspaper, experts or civil society person (other than the obvious BNP people) saying the President did not take liberties with the constitution! And most report backroom politicking by the BNP as a reason for this.

f. Viz a viz the Army. I agree it is still too early to call. The scenario does exist where the President will not agree to Election Commission reform. AL then will start its agitations again. And the gloves will come off. Army has to step into the scene to restore law and order. But they cannot but remain neutral. Hence come out against the worst of BNP activists as well.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The AL Response

As most of you must be knowing by now, President Iajazuddin has decided to name himself the head of the CTG despite an AL plea for him not to. His interpretaion of the constitution (in advice of the partisan Attorney General) can not hold up in any court and the events leading to the decision quite untransperant and dubious.

Like rest of the country I expected the AL to be crying from every rooftop. But I must say I am quite surprised and impressed by the AL reaction. Their response was very measured. It was following the argument that "we can not agree to the process through which the head of the CTG has been chosen but we are willing to give it a go and see if the President can be impartial.”

This has done a few things for them:

1. Shows AL in a positive light. They seemed politically wise and compromising
2. They were practical and showed that violence is not their only tool
3. Gives them bargaining power to have a strong say in selection of the caretaker advisors, and to extract other compromises. (eg reform of the Election Commission)
4. Has not pushed the AL to the corner viz a viz the Army

I am sure over the next few days we will see AL getting the upper hand in the political process.

The mood in general in Dhaka is that “yes the President has used a very Clintonesque argument in naming himself to the position, but hey, give him a chance to prove himself.” Onus is now on the President to rise to the occasion. The AL (and most of media/ civil society) will no doubt now putting everything the President does under a microscope. And if the choice of the other advisors is correct, then the room for one-sided manoeuvrability on his part is severely curtailed.

I also hope (though do not believe) that the AL shows such maturity when it comes to events leading up to the elections.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Update on Who's Next

The latest update/ rumour is that the President is now promoting his own name as the next head of the CTG under Clause 6 of Article 58.

Rightly this is not acceptable by the AL.

If we are to look at the abovementioned article we will find:
“Notwithstanding anything contained in this Chapter, if the provisions of clauses (3), (4) and (5) cannot be given effect to, the President shall assume the functions of the Chief Adviser of the Non-Party Care-taker Government in addition to his own functions under this Constitution.”

So the President can be the head of the CTG. BUT and this is a big but, he can only do so if “provisions of clauses (3), (4) and (5) cannot be given effect to”.

Clause (3) talks of all the Chief Justices
Clause (4) talks of all the Judges of the Appelate Court
Clause (5) talks of a concensus candidate.

So without asking the next in line (ie Mahmudul Amin Choudhury) and those after him, the President cannot jump to Clauses (5) or (6).

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Who Next?

Following is my first "guest" blog entry for www.Dristipath.org/blog

Bangladesh can take a collective sigh of relief; Justice Hassan is embarrassed enough for him decline to take charge of the CTG. Though late, I think good sense prevailed on the good Justice. He was in a no win situation. I am not saying that he would be a bad CTG head (most indicate that he would be a capable leader) but look at the scenario here. What if BNP won an election under him, would AL ever agree? And in the meantime where would the law and order situation go?

So the question begging to be asked is who next? Well I don’t see what the fuss is all about. The Constitution is very clear on this topic.

“The President shall appoint as Chief Adviser the person who among the retired Chief Justices of Bangladesh retired last and who is qualified to be appointed as an Adviser under this article:
Provided that if such retired Chief Justice is not available or is not willing to hold the office of Chief Adviser, the President shall appoint as Chief Adviser the person who among the retired Chief Justices of Bangladesh retired next before the last retired Chief Justice.”

Article 58c (3) Bangladesh Constitution.

The first paragraph basically points to Justice Hassan. But paragraph two states that if “he is not willing to hold the office” then we move to the next retired Chief Justice.

Here lies the confusion. The next retired Chief Justice (ie one before Justice Hassan) as it happens has passed away. So different people are looking at different interpretations. But this confusion can be put to rest if the following clause is read.

Article 58c (4)
“If no retired Chief Justice is available or willing to hold the office of Chief Adviser, the President shall appoint as Chief Adviser the person who among the retired Judges of the Appellate Division retired last and who is qualified to be appointed as an Adviser under this article:”

As far as I remember English. The phrase “if no retired Chief Justice” means that we have to exhaust the list of all other retired Chief Justice [given he is younger than 72 years – as per Article 58c (7)] before we head into the list of retired Judges of the Appellate Division. (ie before Justice Aziz’s name can come into play)

In this case a gentleman by the name of Justice Mahmudul Amin Choudhury is the next constitutional choice. As far as reports go AL is okay with him. Shiek Hasina has stated this without naming him, saying AL will agree to the next constitutionally ordained person. Supreme Court Bar Association plus many of the “Civil Society” seems to be in favour. It is now for BNP to “agree”.

It will then be upto Justice Choudhury now to appoint his “cabinet”. Article 58c(8) states:
"The Advisers shall be appointed by the President on the advice of the Chief Adviser."

And collectively their main responsibility will be to as per Article 58d (1) & (2):
“Functions of Non-Party Care-taker Government:
(1) The Non-Party Care-taker Government shall discharge its functions as an interim government and shall carry on the routine functions of such government with the aid and assistance of persons in the services of the Republic; and, except in the case of necessity for the discharge of such functions its shall not make any policy decision.
(2) The Non-Party Care-taker Government shall give to the Election Commission all possible aid and assistance that may be required for bolding the general election of members of parliament peacefully, fairly and impartially.”

An interesting point to note is Article 58e
“Certain provisions of the Constitution to remain ineffective
Notwithstanding anything contained in articles 48(3), 141A(1) and 141C(1) of the Constitution, during the period the Non-Party Care-taker government is functioning, provisions in the constitution requiring the President to act on the advice of the Prime Minister or upon his prior counter-signature shall be ineffective.”

The above-mentioned clause hence allows the President not (yes that is right – NOT) to listen to the advice of the Caretaker Government! “…provisions in the constitution requiring the President to act on the advice of the Prime…shall be ineffective” Effectively what this means is that the President practicality exercise supreme power when it comes to the functioning of the Government.

Source: The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. {As modified up to 31st December 1998}
Issued by the Government of People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Third Wave!

As predicted in my article "1+1=-53" Oli has bolted from BNP taking with him many disgruntled old gaurds. Take my word more will join soon.

Most likely LDP will have a tacit support of the AL in the up coming election. They will most likely contest in 20 - 25 seats, with the aim of winning 12-15 and ensuring BNP looses in the others!

I hope that good sense prevails with LDP and they will play the part of a responsible opposition in the next Parliament. If Nazim Kamran's predictions are correct (there is no reason it is not) AL will win a substantial majority. BNP in most likelihood will boycott the parliament. In this scenerio the MPs of LDP can become the "shadow" government and serve as check and balance to AL's treasury bench.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

This or That

My comments on the www.drishtipat.org blog about Dr Yunus joining politics. [press headlines of this post to take you to the main arguement]

Some of the arguments here seem to stem from the “either-or” school of logic. We need either to be in Bangladesh or be a part of the diaspora. We should be either praising Doc Y in DS or writing in NYT. We should either be in awe of Grameen Bank or we need to call it a “loan shark / Kubliwala”. Either Doc Y joins politics or runs GB.

I never understood the idiom “have ones cake and eat it to”. I always (wrongly) thought that I need to have the cake to eat it!

Why am I rambling? Well I think we need to do both.

Naeem is absolutely right we need to focus our efforts internationally to bring “Bangladesh” to a more positive light in international media. But at the same time we need to reinforce the “greatness” of the Nobel Prize win to the local audience.

While it is true that we need to reverse the brain drain from Bangladesh. Our citizens (hyphenated or not) have a pivotal part to play in the nation’s development from where they are now. NY, London, LA, Dubai, KL, Moscow – wherever! You can be across the world and help the nation so don’t give into the “etho jodi dorod, thahole Bangladesh eshe kaaj koro” logic. It is by people who are so intellectually poor that they just can’t fathom the fact that our progress is a joint-global-every-person-everywhere-for-the-nation role! You guys who are out of Dhaka are doing a swell job!

To come to the point – Doc Y’s role in politics I think should not to be limited to CTG. The responsibility is not his alone. Moreover constitutionally he is not allowed to head the CTG. I don’t believe that we should take decisions based on one person. It sets a bad precedence.

The role that I see for Doc Y is to lead a “people’s movement” and head an National Coalition Government comprised of civil society, bureaucrats, armed force, NGOs, business, political representatives and the youth. The mandate of this NCG will be to “clean-up” the current system of government and put in the basic road map for growth (aka CDP’s Citizen’s Charter). After 18-24 months they will hand over power to a democratically elected parliament.

After that Doc Y can take a role of a political “ombudsman”. Or as Kawser suggested, form a political think tank / institution to help promote the virtues of clean politics.

(BTW Naeem – how about doing a comic character with the hero as Doc Y the fighter of evil? Aimed at educating Bangladesh’s population about democracy, government and their role in it).

Let us have our pitha and eat it too!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Dr. Yunus launching a platform?

In a recent Salam Dhaka blog (pls click the headline of this blog to take you there) THE question was asked. My answer was

While I do not think Dr. Yunus should come into active polittics, it is time for us to form a "National Colition Government". The NCG will be like a caretaker government with a longer mandate (say 12 to 24 months). Their responsiblitity will be to ensure three things

1. Spring cleaning of the government mechinary. While this is a task that is long and difficult task, they can lay the seeds of process
2. Facilitate a re-look and modification of the constitution so that all political parties are on board
3. Conduct a free and fair election at end of this period.

Dr. Yunus can head the NCG.

I further added

You see if you want to go swimming you got to get wet! The role Doc Y should take is not going to be unpopular. In recent surveys more than half of the electorate says that they have lost faith in the current political parties. They are looking for a viable "third force". The CPD/DailyStar/Prothom Alo/Channel i supported Citizen's Task Force is speaking of us pressurising the current political parties to nominate “clean candidates”. I can bet you my collection of Kaniz Shuborna CDs that is not going to happen. If we want change we must do more than just talk about it. We need to get into politics and change the system.

Now I am not suggesting that Doc starts his political party. That is the mistake Dr. Kamal and Dr. B Chowdhury did. He ofcourse needs to play the role of the political mentor in the future. But now as the head of the citizen’s run NCG (National Coalition Government) he can get in for 12 to 24 months with mandate to clean up shop and help for transition to a democratically elected popular government.

Some good discussions going on at Salam Dhaka on this topic. Have a look.

Incidentally you might want to look at an article I wrote a long time ago called "Repentance of a Sinner". It was in reply to Doc Y's dream of being the chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission.

So what do you think Doc Y should do?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Call me - Don Farhan!

Introducing Ayaan "Rocky II" Munshi - son of Ayesha Dada and Raquib Fakrul. AND more importantly my Godson! :)

We have big plans for little Ayaan. (Can't tell them here as his mom and dad might find out and spoil the party!) But let's say it involves fast cars and even faster females! Hah haa! Just Kidding -Faiza!

But seriously, let us pray that Ayaan grows up to become a Bangladeshi who will contribute positively to his country and her citizens.

Ayaan: "May Allah give you strength, courage, wisdom and fortitude to be a great human being. I am sure you will bring much laughter, joy and happiness to everyone your life touches. And most importantly I know this little bar off Patpong...." - your Godfather

Monday, October 09, 2006

The New Arithmetic: 1+1= -53

This is the "director's cut" of my article that has appeared in today's Daily Star. The printed version is available if you click on the title of this post. Happy reading

Basic principle of democracy is the right to choose. Our vote is an indication of who we want to represent us in the Parliament and hence in the decision process that govern our life. The biggest learning that I have taken out of Mr. Nazim Kamran Choudhury’s recent article [Prothom Alo & The Daily Star 6th October 2006] is that the vote base of all our major (and not so major) political parties have eroded to an extent that “undecided” voters account for up to 53% of the electorate. This figure is apparently reflected in many such opinion polls. For the first time in Bangladesh’s young democratic life we are heading into a poll that in theory is going to be decided in the polling booths.

It does not take a political pundit to analyse the rational behind this phenomena. We the voters have lost all faith in our politicians. The current leadership, which have been, pretty much ruling the roost for the last four decades have allowed their parties to become bankrupt of political ideology. To a common voter neither party offers any clear-cut choice. Hence while BNP has lost this support base so has the Awami League. The AL, though not in power, has seen their vote base almost half from 40% to mere 23%. So when majority Bangladesh’s electorate step into the polling booth next the choice will be between for lesser of the two evils.

As Mr. Choudhury predicts, AL might come out on the top with a very clear mandate indeed. One however fears that they will translate this victory as an indication of support for their politics. Far from it. The result will only be a clarion call of people’s anger with the incumbent’s notoriously inept handling of governance and the economy. The voters are not saying that AL will be better masters, rather that BNP will not.

I am an advertising practitioner. In my job it is paramount for us to find out the unique positioning for my product, making it stand out to the consumer. I cannot think of any brand that has been successful in marketing itself by saying “you have no other choice but to use me!” AL seems hell bent in doing just that. Since being sent to Jatiya Sangsad with an increased vote base in 2001, they have not played role of a constructive opposition. If we are to look at their policy in the last 5 years, it has been mostly based on removing a democratically elected government through street protests. Can anyone tell me what has their policy stand been on Education, IT, Tax Ombudsman, Environment, FDI, or anything other than mis-guided notion that BNP party has no legitimacy to rule? In a parliamentary democracy the role of the opposition is to be that of a government in waiting. Their shadow cabinet’s main job is to critique (as opposed to only criticise) the Treasury bench. They are to match policy to policy, statement to statement, and paper to paper the Government on all fronts. AL has failed in that job. Now I am not at all saying the Government has been remotely capable of handling their responsibilities. But come election how do I judge which box to put my seal on?

Ideologically, conventional wisdom says that AL is left of centre in their political belief. And that BNP is right leaning. However if you are to analyse that manifesto of the two parties, it will be difficult to decipher any difference between the two. If you are to look at the speeches of the leadership of the two parties when they are not spilling venom against their bitter rivals, you will see an uncanny similarity in their thought process. It seems that we have entered into an Igloo Ice Cream Parlour and all the choice we have is vanilla or vanilla.

AL today has been given a historic chance. Given the fact that 10 million more people will come into suffrage by next elections, AL’s mistakes of mid-70s is no longer a deciding factor in voting for (or against) them. The slate has been wiped clean. If AL can show maturity, if they can show that they actually have sound political motives, if they can show they have the positive roll to play in our future, the mandate that they get when the election results are announced will give them the foundation to rule the nation into the foreseeable future.

There is as always another way of looking at the “new arithmetic” that Mr. Choudhury wrote about. In advertising we always look out for a consumer need-gap that can be filled. Many brands have been extremely successful exploiting this demand by tailoring their message to suit this need. Our political arena offers such an opportunity. We have lost faith with the two brand leaders. We do not believe in their message. Look at it this way; say if the leading brand of shirt is no different from the second brand, and if both the shirt brands are talking about fashion while their buyers want comfort. Then is it not the perfect time for a third brand to come in and say “we are the most comfortable brand?” What I am getting to is that the field is wide open for a third party to emerge to fill the void left by our current political parties.

So who will bell this cat? Let us look at our usual suspects:

Jatiya Party and General Ershad: JP’s vote bank has according to Mr. Choudhury’s survey reduced from 7 to only 4%. They have become a regional party without the political capital to become a phoenix.

Jamaat: JI too has been reduced to oblivion. Mr. Choudhury predicts but one seat in the next elections to them. It seems the party is caught between a rock and a hard place. Their fundamentalist vote bank is abandoning them for the far right Islamist movements like JMB et. al. While at the same time they are failing to attract the mass voters because of this extreme image that they have.

Bikalpa Dhara / Gono Forum: Bikalpa Dhara showed initial promise. In their first set of posters that they printed, had both Sheikh Mujib and Ziaur Rahman on the same page. But since then it has been downhill. They have not been successful in making themselves noticed outside the diplomatic belt of Gulshan and Baridhara (and of course Munshiganj). Gono Forum, which was to AL, what Bikalpa Dhara is to BNP, has failed to even win a single seat they have so far contested for. In 1996 election, their leader, the much-respected Dr. Kamal Hossain lost his deposit from an “intellectually enlightened” constituency like Dhanmondi. And now to top of all this they have strategically aligned themselves to the AL and hence in the eyes of the voter have blended in with their more stronger partner.

Oli Ahmed: Does anyone still doubt if Col. Oli will bolt from the BNP once the caretaker government takes oath? It is believed that he will take with him a sizeable number of dissident BNP leaders. Mostly they will be the old guards who have lost all their standing under the rising influence of the young turks of the Hawa Bhaban. Col. Oli and his merry men have the distinct possibility of becoming the defacto opposition in the next parliament, with it the power to influence policy in the new era. But for this to happen, they have to play their cards just right. A lot depends on how many seats they can get for themselves through a tactical alliance with the AL.

Civil Society and/or the Army: One scenario that no-doubt will be playing in many political conversation in the next few weeks will be what might happen if the on-going talks between BNP-AL fail. Let us explore a possibility. Say, both AL and BNP refuse to budge from its position on Justice K.M. Hassan. Surely law and order will break down forcing the President facing a constitutional crisis to call on the Armed forces to restore order. The Army are reading the same polls as we are. The people are exasperated with the politicians and will not mind for some authoritarian spring-cleaning. The men in green might call for a national unity government, manned with civil society leadership and look at a longer time horizon till the next elections. The international community will make the required grumblings about the need to return to democratic rule but in essence, looking at popular support behind the new government, not do much to add power to their “official” stand.

The “New” BNP: Let us say we are now in middle of first quarter of 2007. Elections in Bangladesh have taken place and as predicted by Mr. Choudhury, BNP has between 60 and 70 seats in Jatiya Sangsad. Most of its leadership having either lost the elections or having defected, is in disarray. The new AL government moves with vengeance to prosecute the reported corruption of the current young leadership. The party will be ripe for the taking. If Begum Zia has even a fraction of political acumen, she will allow new “clean” leadership to replace the stooges of dubious moral standing being currently promoted by her son. Many from the pro-business caucus find BNP more attuned to their needs than AL and may flock to a re-emerging BNP. Once purged of corrupt self-serving overlords the party can get back to re-energising their base. Rajiv Gandhi successfully did something similar with the Bofor’s Scandal hit Congress party in India after their disgraceful loss to VP Singh.

The “New” AL: Like in BNP, AL too has seen a power struggle between the young and old guards. I am not a betting man. Otherwise my money would be on Saber Hossain Choudhury and him bringing in the Chattra and Jubo League under his belt. And use this as a base to fire up the new entrants to our voter rolls. Let us hope good sense prevails and from the midst of the negativity that is everywhere now, they become the harbinger of positive politics.

Generation 71: The average age in Bangladesh is 21. Vast majority of our population were born post 1971. Sheikh Mujib, Generals Zia and Ershad and all their politics do not mean much to us. While they have their rightful place in our history, we look at our leaders to bridge us to the future and not be lost in our past. Many of us are well educated with degrees from the best institutes of learning from across the world. We see a dream of a strong Bangladesh. We see the hope of a successful Bangladesh. We believe in the promise of a prosperous Bangladesh. I will not be surprised if we soon say enough is bloody enough, it is now our turn to rule. You only need to talk to anyone under the age of 40 today to see that not only does this generation of leaders march to a different beat; they have decided to take altogether a different route to Bangladesh’s future.

Many possibilities. But two things as we see today are certain. Firstly the eventual master of our destiny will be the one who speak and believe in the language of hope. Secondly the politics of the next six months are going to be crucial in deciding what the long-term future of each of the political party is going to be. We are indeed looking at a new arithmetic. Let us now hope our leaders can add.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Elections 2007: A New Arithmetic by Nazim Kamran Choudhury

It seems due to a IT glitch, Daily Star has not been able to upload a copy of Mr. Nazim Kamran Choudhury's article on the Election 2007.

As many readers have requested me for a copy, I have uploaded it on a seperate blogspace [http://nazimkamranchoudhury.blogspot.com/]. You can click on the title of this post to take you there.

It is definately something all Bangladeshis should read.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Resort to violence or turn the other cheek?

New Age today 5th October has printed my last entry "Read this or one tight slap" (albeit under the more acceptable title!) Hope you enjoyed it!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

“Read this... or one tight slap!”

Do you get a feeling that we Bangladeshi’s have gotten very short fuses these days? At a drop of a circuit breaker we are ready to pounce on each other. Be it the police or the demonstrators.

Just today in a simple altercation over parking space, a fight broke out between some sportsmen and the police leading to Commonwealth Game medallist Asif being brutally beaten up. Now each of the groups blame the other for starting the fight. But end of the day police yet again lost credibility with the common man. And all this during Ramzan. Are we not supposed to be more civil during this month?

I had such a run in with the police a few years back. I had apparently parked in front of an embassy when I was not supposed to. Anyway when I got back to my car the cop there started shouting at me. I replied that he should have told me when I had parked and I would have moved it. Anyway as I was moving out how did it matter. Without warning he grabbed me by the collar and hit me with the butt of his gun. I was stunned! Before I could react some drivers near the area came and pulled the cop away. It seems he had done this a few times before the previous weeks. Though I complained to the Gulshan Thana I doubt anything happened to the policeman.

It is not police brutality only. Just recently in an incident, that I am being forced to be a judge to, an argument over keeping one’s voice down got into a point where punches were exchanged. Mind you both the aggrieved parties are from “bhodro” background and it happened in an executive setting!

All this frustration I guess is basically, stemming from the helplessness we feel. Might, we have been proven time and time again, is right. Look everywhere. Whenever we rave and rant we seem to make headway. Be it shouting for exams to be postponed because of the World Cup, or to keep loss-making Biman flying – all it takes seems is a loud voice. Kansat, Phulbari, Mirpur all are branded around as successful examples of “people power”. While I am not getting into the rational or justifications for the actions in these places, I am worried that the apparent success of such movements in the long run shows the way for others. In the future movements might not have popular support or justification. All it will take is someone to whip up a fervent crowd and we get what we desire! Is that not how the Nazi Party came to power in pre-war Germany? Burn down the Reichstag – down with the Jews!

Then again what can we do? Our leaders are not leading. Their example is also that of the “gunda” raj. If I have musclemen on my roles, it translates to I have power over my constituents. It is matter of time before the ones that I dominate with rise up against me. Off with the head! French Revolution will not be far behind if all we do is use sheer strength to make oneself heard.

In 1947 and then again in 1971 we decided that we do not have a shared heritage with rest of the sub-continent. So we never recognised some of the role models of pre-Partition days as rightfully ours as well. Gandhi somewhere got erased from our history. And with it the most valuable lesson he taught. Turn the other cheek. Now Bengalees from all sides of the divide had an equal role as any other Indians or Pakistani to throw the English out of our country. And with the exception of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and his INA, we did live true to Gandhi’s directives. Non-violent movement paved the way for our independence alright, but in the backdrop of the bloodshed of the Partition that lesson was easily forgotten. And since then any change we have had has been rooted in violence. The language movement, the 1969 student’s movement, 1971, 1975, 1980, 1991 all those dates have one thing in common – violent uprising. Anytime we needed a catalytic change we resorted to violence. So now if the shopkeeper wants electricity in his shop in the evening all he has to do is threaten violence and government does a 180 degree volte-face.

Will we ever find Gandhi again? India is currently going through the “re-birth” of Gandhi after appearance in the hit movie “Laghe Raho Munna Bhai” (ironically the lead actor Sanjay Dutt was jailed after being implicated in Bombay Blast case). The film’s protagonist is a muscleman who discovers the learning of Gandhi when he tries to impress his love interest. Weaved around the plot of the movie is that being true to the non-violent path will eventually lead to the desired outcome. This movie has rightly sparked up a lot of interest in the teachings of the Mahatma.

Despite what many in the world think, Islam too is a religion of peace. And the basic tenant of the holy month of Ramzan is purification. We need to do away with the evil of our hearts and re-pledge our allegiance to the purity of Allah’s ways. The “new” jihad needs to be against violence and not be the root cause of it.

I believe the time has come for us to look at these lessons well. Violence will beget more violence. Peace will lead to peace. Does it not make more sense to talk things out rather than to throw punches?