Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bangladesh Catharsis

In South Asia Analysis Group, Bhaskar Roy contends that to take Bangladesh "forward it is imperative to boldly revisit 1971 and 1975 and root out the poisonous weeds. There is no other way." Read the full article:

No political pundit could have forecast the result of the December 29, 2008 elections to the 9th Bangladesh Parliament (Jatiyo Sangsad). In SAAG Paper No. 2991 this columnist had written it was difficult to make an approximation of the results, and there were serious issues facing the country to be considered. Apparently, the people of Bangladesh had seriously considered the challenge and gave their verdict accordingly on December 29.

It was the biggest win by a single party since 1973, the first election after liberation of the country, when Sk. Mujibur Rahman’s Awami League swept the polls. That was, of course, different. Sk. Mujib was seen as the liberator of Bangladesh from Pakistan’s oppression. That euphoria was, however, short lived. Sk. Mujib and his entire family were assassinated on August 15, 1975 by a group of young army officers. It is well known that the coup was executed by Pakistan through their agents in Mujibur Rahman’s cabinet. More interestingly, recently declassified US State Department papers reveal they were kept informed on a real time basis the happenings in Dhaka that fateful night. Well, those were different days.

With 231 of the 300 seats in its pocket, the Awami League takes one back to the 1970 Pakistan elections which the party won handsomely but was denied their opportunity to form the government by the power in Islamabad. That led to the simmering independence movement to come out to the surface. That, as they say, is history.

Bangladesh’s spiritual liberation was arrested for a long time. Following the massacre of Sk. Mujib and his family, the top leaders of Awami League were also murdered in jail that November by a section of the army. It was the handiwork of Zia-ur-Rehman, who claims he is the liberator of Bangladesh. Zia, who became President of Bangladesh, was assassinated in 1981, in another coup.

Maj. Zia was a Sector Commander only during the liberation war. But his was the greatest betrayer of the cause and soul of Bangladesh’s liberation. He rehabilitated the liberation war criminals – the Razakars, the Al Badrs and the Al Shams – who had raped and killed Bangladeshis on behalf of the Pakistani army, were amalgamated into the new Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) party to support Zia’s newly formed Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in 1978. Begum Khaleda Zia, widow of Zia-ur-Rehman, carried on his political legacy but with one difference. Zia-ur-Rehman was not personally corrupt. Khaleda Zia and her two sons raped the country especially during the BNP-JEI led four party rule from 2001-2006.

Very briefly, the BNP won 116 seats in 1996, 193 in 2001 (October), and 29 in 2008 (December). The JEI won 03 seats in 1996, 17 in 2001, and 02 in 2008. The Awami League won 146 seats in 1996 and formed the government. It lost in 2001 winning only 62 seats and came back in 2001 with 231 seats. The Awami League and its grand alliance won a total of 262 seats. The achievement goes beyond any conceivable charges of rigging.

The Awami League and their grand alliance partner including former military President H.M.Ershad must try and introspect why the people gave them such a huge mandate this time, and why such a mandate was not given to any one political party after 1973.

The soul of the December 29, 2008 people’s mandate actually goes back to 1948, a year after Pakistan (West and East) was formed in 1947 as part of the British brokered partition of the Indian subcontinent. The 1952 “Language Movement” in East Pakistan (Bangladesh) did not happen overnight. Pakistan was created on the basis of religion, Islam. But West and East Pakistan experienced that religion was subservient to much more tangible facts of life which can be touched, felt and experienced. There were history, language and culture – in brief, the way of life. Way of life is more genetic, and shaped by the immediate social environment. Religion can be inherited, adopted, and even changed in its various interpretations. Islam among the people of East Pakistan i.e. Bengal and now Bangladesh has always been tolerant and liberal.

In undivided India, there was little in common between the Bengali Muslims in the eastern part of India and the Punjabi Muslims with the Western wing who came to dominate East Pakistan. It was a forced marriage of discontent between the two. Bangladesh was born in 1971 from the blood, dead bodies of Bangladeshis. The “Mukti Bahini”, the freedom fighters against West Pakistan military domination were entirely Bangladeshis.

The question may arise why the people did not rise up when Sk. Mujibur Rahman and his family were massacred on August 15, 1975. There is no simple answers to this question, but answers must be sought urgently. And while seeking answers the Awami League leaders especially Sk. Mujib’s daughters Sk. Hasina and Sk. Rehana must be bold enough to accept the truth, and ensure the mistakes and not repeated.

People know what the mistakes were. They fought the war, mourned their dead, licked their wounds and went home. They truly hoped their sacrifices would be honoured and “Sonar Bangla” (Golden Bangladesh) would be reborn.

Late A.L.Khatib, a journalist of Indian extraction who became more of a Bangladeshi, wrote a small essay “Where the Shapla (water lily) smiles”. This small bit of prose, which was sheer poetry, epitomized Bangladesh. It was truly a paradise after evicting the marauding Pakistan’s and their JEI killing and raping machines.

Two very basic things happened after liberation. The poison of pro-Pakistan religious extremists was not fully expunged due to some misplaced ambitions of new political leaders like Zia-ur-Rehman. Some of the new rulers felt they could exploit the situation as they liked. In addition, the main liberation leaders were assassinated in November, the same year, in Dhaka jail by those who killed Sk. Mujibur Rahman. Bangladesh was left with no real political leaders.

The people generally turned away. They did not have any honest and upright leader. They were also confused, concluding corruption and religious manipulations were part of life. But then, everything has a limit. The December 29 verdict is clear – the new government has been given the responsibility to bring back Bangladesh what it was and supposed to be – Sonar Bangla, the land where the “Shapla smiles”.

The people’s verdict enjoins upon Sk. Hasina, Prime Minister–elect of Bangladesh certain clear, doable responsibilities: get rid of corruption, accelerate economic development, follow moderate and tolerant religious policies, strong counter-terrorism drives to eradicate this scourge, and put street politics in the box. If this opportunity is wasted for reason other than the repair of the country, the new leaders will have to pay a heavy price. To take the country forward it is imperative to boldly revisit 1971 and 1975 and root out the poisonous weeds. There is no other way.

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