Friday, July 31, 2009

Yunus bags US Presidential Medal of Freedom


Microfinance pioneer Professor Muhammad Yunus, founder and managing director of Grameen Bank, has been awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom for 2009. Dr. Yunus will receive the medal from President Barack Obama at a special White House ceremony on August 12.

Each (recipient) saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way…Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive,” said President Obama. Dr Yunus has pioneered microfinance movement in Bangladesh which has now become a global phenomenon. Yunus was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work.
In his congratulatory message, Mr Alex Counts, President & CEO of Grameen Foundation, said: “I worked with Dr. Yunus for six years in Bangladesh prior to establishing Grameen Foundation with his support in 1997, and I am delighted that he is being honored for his tremendous work on behalf of poor people worldwide. While living there, I saw Professor Yunus’ humble leadership and pathbreaking ideas changing lives and motivating people at all levels of society to envision and work towards a poverty-free Bangladesh.”
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honor in the United States and recognizes those who have made significant contributions to the United States, world peace and culture.Dr. Yunus will join Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. when he receives the award on August 12.
The US medal was established by President Harry S. Truman in 1945 to recognize civilians for their efforts during World War II and was reinstated by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 to honor distinguished service by civilians.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Two MPs tour West Indies to inspire Bangladesh cricket team

From New Age:
TWO members of the parliamentary committee on the youth and sports ministry are now in the Caribbean islands to, according to the committee’s chairman, who was quoted in a report front-paged in New Age on Monday, ‘congratulate the [national cricket] team on their historic Test series victory’ against the West Indies and ‘also inspire the players during the one-day series’.
The cheerleading mission, so to speak, of the two ruling Awami League lawmakers looks set to become a heavy drain on the Bangladesh Cricket Board’s coffers since, as the report adds, the board will pay for their business-class airfare and also provide each with $250 in daily allowance, at the request of the parliamentary committee. Ironically, the cricket board excluded the media manager from the touring party for the series against the West Indies as an austerity measure.

The reason that the parliamentary committee’s chairman has come up with for the lawmakers’ tour of the Caribbean islands is tenuous, to say the least; after all, had they been so keen to ‘congratulate’ and ‘inspire’ the cricketers, they could well have done so over telephone or via email or any other means of electronic communication available in this era of greater interconnectivity. Also, it is highly unlikely that the visit by two lawmakers, that too at the cost of several thousand US dollars, would translate into any tangible gains for the overall development of cricket in Bangladesh.

The money would surely have been better spent on, for example, organisation of a school-level cricket tournament or even procurement of cricket gears for distribution among schools. The obvious question, then, is why the cricket board has undertaken such a reasonably expensive venture that promises little very little returns, if not none at all, that too when it itself is on a cost-cutting mission. The answer may not be too difficult to assume. The cricket board apparently did not want to cross the parliamentary committee by turning down its request; after all, the committee does have the power to make its life miserable.

Simply put, by making such a request in the first place, the committee may have abused its authority. It is ironical that when the ruling Awami League has seemingly made it its mission to identify instances of abuse of power, especially during the tenure of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led alliance government and the military-controlled interim regime, and punish the perpetrators, some of its own lawmakers may be doing the same.

The government of Sheikh Hasina needs to realise that the people have elected it in the hope that it will remain true to its pre-election pledge for change and not re-enact the mistakes of the past. The government needs also to realise that it takes just a few errant individuals to bring an entire collective to disrepute. Hence, the parliamentarians in question should be called to account with regard to the request to the cricket board and made to bear the expenses of what appears nothing more than an expensive cheerleading mission.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Living without money, in cave!

His name is Daniel Suelo. Nine years ago he decided to stop using money, because he found out the best way to stay solvent is to never be solvent in the first place. He lived in Utah cave and a note outside cave says: FEEL FREE TO USE ANYTHING, EAT ANYTHING (NOTHING HERE IS MINE).

In his blog, Suelo writes: "When I lived with money, I was always lacking.. Money represents lack. Money represents things in the past (debt) and things in the future (credit), but money never represents what is present."

Suelo developed the concept of 'gift economy', based on a principle ""freely give, freely receive", just like nature. And this gift economy is simple: it is faith, grace and love, but sadly destroyed by commercial civilization.

No need to agree with all his observations, but it is really facinating to know someone is out there challenging the way we have been living. Read Suelo's blog here:

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Is Bangladesh's sovereignty at stake?

Kazi Anwarul Masud writes in Daily Mirror of Sri Lanka:

Problems that arise from asymmetrical relationship between big and small neighbor are time worn. Indo-Bangladesh relationship is no exception. Despite Pakistan's repeated requests US continues its drone armed attacks against Taliban from NATO bases in Afghanistan into Pakistan. This argument is not to absolve the US actions but to emphasize that in the twenty first century national sovereignty is not absolute and illimitable but is circumscribed by actions of countries- big and small.

The point in question currently being debated is the limit put on sovereignty. Since Kindelberger's theory of hegemonic stability has fallen by the wayside due to global apprehension over Bush doctrine of preemption, shelved by Barack Obama, the relentless erosion of Westphalian sovereignty continues to frighten, particularly Gunar Myardal's "soft states" which should include Bangladesh. Perhaps what frightens Bangladeshis in general, despite assurances given by India at the highest level, is its experience with the fall out from the construction of Farakka Barrage. Umbrage taken by Bangladesh authorities over its reaction to the reported comments of the Indian ambassador lacks clarity. Both countries are engaged in ascertaining the effects of the construction of Tipaimukh barrage by sending delegations and acquiring documents for examination by experts.

Political dystrophy and dissonance destroying the present and shrouding the illumination of the future can not but vitiate bilateral relations which are not desired by most Bangladeshis. Sovereignty should not be so brittle that it can not withstand constructive criticism. The solution lies in mending one's aberrant ways and to be in total compliance with the internationally accepted code of conduct.

Bangladesh also finds intrusion into its sovereignty in the observations made by some donors in the conduct of its economic policies. Professor Nurul Islam(Making of a Nation- Bangladesh) describing Bangladesh authorities and donors as unequal partners finds it ironical that the donors who have been emphasizing right from the Sixties on the need for implementation of appropriate macro and micro policies have continued even today to nudge forward Bangladesh development strategy instead of it being country owned. Over the years, writes Professor Islam, the donors' priorities have ranged from basic needs, poverty, human development, environment, gender equality, social inclusion, human rights and political freedom. It is inevitable that the donors will ask for good governance from the recipient countries.

After all aid money, despite its declining importance as a percentage of GDP or public expenditure comes from taxes collected from the citizens of the donor countries. And the donors being democracies their governments are accountable to their respective parliaments and in turn to the electorate. Unsurprisingly therefore the donors insist on good governance containing elements of accountability, transparency, participation and predictability.

International concern about Bangladesh had increased as the country had topped the list of most corrupt countries for several successive years. In Marxian analysis poverty stricken great majority of people have nothing to sell but themselves as opposed to the wealth of the few that increases constantly. Inevitably the process of accumulation of wealth is corruption-ridden. Yves Menay(La corruption de la Republique) has ascribed four invariant characteristics of corruption;- (a) violation of social rules and norms; (b) secret exchange among political, social and economic markets; (c) illegal access given to individuals and groups to the process of political and administrative decision making; and (d) resultant tangible benefits to the parties involved in the transaction.

By any definition corruption is illegal and in the first instance results from collusion between political and money elitesthe first party abuses public position of trust for private gains of both parties. Giving a detailed analysis a former World Bank country Director concluded that Bangladesh was losing 2-3% GDP growth a year due to corruption. The GDP loss should be seen in the context of global interpersonal inequality in which the rich is getting richer and the poor is getting poorer. Danish expression of serious concern at the deterioration of governance situation especially of the law and order situation and German readiness to enter into a dialogue with Bangladesh authorities to ensure free and fair elections before the election that changed power from the BNP-Jamaat combine to Awami League led alliance was regarded by some as interference in our domestic affairs instead of being treated as constructive advice given by friends and not foes.

More importantly the donors' developmental aid and assistance policy these days include good governance in the recipient countries where they would like to see multi-party democracy, respect for human rights and rule of law, government with the consent of the governed, accountability, equity and poverty concerns are being addressed.

Many of the demands made by the donors of the recipients may not be readily available in those countries yet to make "developmental transition" and excessive donor influence also raises the question of incursion into sovereignty of the recipient countries. In the tussle between the donors and the recipients particularly after the disintegration of the Soviet Union the developing world is still struggling with the question as to whether capitalism is the right way to development. Sir William Ryrie, a former Executive Director of IFC suggests "market economy" for the Third World where market economy is defined as "properly regulated capitalism", a system which seeks to maximize economic efficiency and growth while minimizing the social ills and injustices which unfettered capitalism can throw up. Though theoretically the market system to operate perfectly would demand withdrawal of the state experience has shown, particularly in the Third World, the role state must play to ensure proper development of the market economy.

In gist, the state must ensure that the system and services needed for a market economy to function efficiently exist. Importantly the legal system embodying the commercial and corporate law must exist. The state must also ensure an environment of competition which both Adam Smith and Karl Marx agreed that capitalists naturally do not want competition and try to avoid it. The basic infrastructure and social services must also be provided by the state. In the final analysis there is no unique constellation of conditions that would require the state to play its role which would vary according to the stage of development an economy is already in.

Due to global economic recession originating from the Western developed economies they seem to have lost some of their habit to lecture developing countries as to how their economies should be managed. The recession has given rise to a global debate about the efficacy of the capitalist system and its usefulness to alleviating poverty in poorest regions of the world. More so as globalization lacks a human face. Columbia University Professor Jagadish Bhagwati takes the contrary view. Giving the example of India and China, "two countries with gigantic poverty problems", Bhagwati argues that they have been able to grow so fast by taking advantage of trade and foreign investment and by doing so they have dramatically reduced poverty.

Fortunately G-8 has realized that global problems ultimately affecting development and security of all nations cannot be done by them alone and therefore G-20 that would be more inclusive and have developing counties as members would be more meaningful. Decisions taken as a group, in a way like the UN Security Council, would be more acceptable to the developing countries and hence would not be regarded as infringement into sovereignty. Wider questions like Gareth Evan's responsibility to prevent and protect endorsed by the UN Summit and demand by some for revision of the UN Charter in the changed circumstances of terrorism by non-state actors that challenge Professor Michael Walzer's laws of war and assurances of inviolability of sovereignty and territorial integrity given by the UN Charter are also relevant in any discussion of the concept of sovereignty.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Butenis's Lanka Mission

Remember Patricia Butenis? The former US ambassador in Bangladesh is now heading for Colombo.

Dailymirror says she was absolutely instrumental in ensuring that a fair and free General elections was conducted in Bangladesh. Stealing credit? What did then Fakhruddin and Moeenuddin do in the last two years of caretaker government? Read below Butenis's wonderful Bangladesh acheivement!

She resurrected Media freedom and restored the Democratic Institutions in Bangladesh. When the independence of the Elections Commissioner was called to question by the Opposition parties which were then in a total disarray with each at the other’s throat, she united them and intensified pressure on the Elections Commissioner . She succeeded in summoning the Elections Commissioner to her Ambassadorial official residence and procuring a certificate guaranteeing a fair and free Election.

The Bangladesh Media personnel trailed her wherever she went on the notion that she wielded a magic wand for restoration of Democracy.. She was extremely popular with the Media and always championed their cause. Towards their cause , she launched a number of programs directly and indirectly . When she became the center of a storm of controversy in Bangladesh , she vindicated her stand via these programs. She explained “many may be annoyed by what I am doing or saying, but I shall carry on as whatever I am doing is for Democracy in Bangladesh”.
She maintained very good cordial relations with Bangladesh political parties and their leaders . When there was a fear psychosis created based on the interim Govt. trying to establish a military regime , she went to great lengths in her endeavors to segregate and save the Bangladesh politics from a military administration.

In order to resolve the conflicts and differences existing among the Opposition political parties she met them personally with the objective of including the Opposition parties to her agenda to restore and strengthen Democracy in Bangladesh.. Her efforts reaped rich dividends – she not only succeeded in restoring Democracy , but also ensured a fair and free election in Bangladesh.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Challenges of detoxyfying Bangladesh's politcis

J. Sri Raman, a freelance Indian journalist and peace activist writes in Truthout:

Was Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed fed poisoned food while in detention during 2007-08? The question should be a matter of concern not for reasons of her health alone and not only for the country that gave her a landslide election victory at the end of last year.

On June 27, in a television program that went almost unnoticed outside of Bangladesh, a top leader of Hasina's Awami League (AL) alleged that Hasina was served poison-laced food for an unspecified period as an under-trial prisoner facing charges of corruption during her earlier term in elected office. She was arrested on July 16, 2007, by an army-backed regime and released on bail on June 12, 2008.

Speaking to a private TV channel, deputy leader of the parliament Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury said Hasina was still not fully free from the effects of slow poisoning. In the prison, added Sajeda, "the leader fell sick after taking the poisoned food and her mouth was swollen. But she never gave in to (pressure from the regime to quit politics and leave the country)."

Within a week, more than indirect support for the allegation came from 61-year-old Hasina's personal doctor, Syed Modasser Ali, now also the prime minister's health affairs adviser. Stating that he, too, suspected Hasina's poisoning, he said she was suffering from some allergy causing her hair to fall.

"During those days (of Hasina's detention), I had several times tried to collect her blood sample for diagnosis, but I was barred from doing so," Ali told the media. He added that, before she was taken to a hospital from the prison, the authorities promised that they would let her personal doctors treat her. "But ... we were not allowed to enter the hospital."

Following the AL's sensational allegation, the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, also detained by the army-propped regime, has charged that its leader was fed toxin-laden food as well. The public focus, however, has stayed on the fate of slow death which, according to Hasina's followers, she has fortunately survived. The prime minister herself has so far kept silent on the subject.

The allegation puts directly in the dock Maj. Gen. (retired) M. A. Matin and Mainul Hosein, who served as advisers in charge of home and law respectively in the military-backed government. Both of them have denied the charge. They claim that the food served to Hasina was, in fact, tasted first by a woman doctor attached to her and four women security personnel, besides jail officials!

The former advisers find eloquent Hasina's own silence - now and during her stay with family members in the US for medical treatment last year. Few, however, would find inexplicable such silence in the face of an army-supported regime that could, after all, hold a popular leader like Hasina in helpless detention for nearly a year.

Matin and Hosein come up with a more serious question when they ask why it took so long for the AL to make the allegation. The poser, of course, does not prove the charge wrong. But it is not only the officials of the ousted regime who wonder what the AL's obvious decision to raise the issue, triggering off a truculent debate on it, indicates.

The snowballing issue may point to aggravation of strains between the army and the democratic, civilian dispensation as a whole. This should cause concern not only in Bangladesh, where the people have repeatedly rejected either direct or indirect army rule as a political option, but also in the South Asian region with stakes in the country's internal peace.

A recent report in Bangladesh weekly Holiday quotes a senior retired army officer describing the allegation as "a dangerous game that could end up with more bloodshed." The strains have found other expressions as well in the recent period.

On February 25, 2009, in less than two months of the new government's takeover, a bloody mutiny by Bangladesh's border guard unit, the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), broke out in Dhaka. The cause of the revolt, which rocked the country and the elected rulers, is yet to be conclusively established. It did, however, ring the alarm bells for a Bangladesh that was beginning to recover from the trauma of two years of army-backed rule.

The lingering legacy of 2007-08 found another illustration in June 2009, when a top Bangladesh army officer reportedly sought political asylum in the US to avoid returning home after his diplomatic assignment was curtailed. Brig. Gen. Chowdhury Fazlul Bari was the director of the powerful Directorate General of Field Intelligence (DGFI) during the military-backed rule and had played a major role in the arrest of several top politicians and bureaucrats as part of an avowed official crusade against corruption.

The strains may seem to be small cause for worry, in view of Hasina's popularity and parliamentary majority. But military ambitions have prevailed over the people's democratic aspirations in the past. A quick rundown of the coups, which dot the less than four decades of post-liberation Bangladesh, shows why concern is warranted.

On August 15, 1975, came the first military coup, culminating in the tragic assassination of the Father of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family (daughters Hasina and Sheikh Rehana escaped only because they were in Germany at the time). Two more coups followed on November 3 and 7 of the same eventful year.

Lt. Gen. Ziau Rahman took over power in 1976. He survived as many as 21 coups during his five-year rule until he was killed in a coup of 1981. Gen. Hussain Muhammad Ershad rose to power after a bloodless coup in 1982 and stayed at the helm till 1990. Bangladesh witnessed an unsuccessful coup attempt in 199l, but the army succeeded in becoming the power behind the throne in 2007.

It may take a while for the people of Bangladesh to detoxify the country's polity entirely and ensure that its democracy endures.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Curing ailing Bangladesh

Dr. M. S. Haq writes in New Nation:

Bangladesh has been - relative to time, space and other variables - suffering from chronic infections caused by bacteria such as injustice, corruption and improper acts of powerful people - all, since independence of the country. Besides, the country is not immune to other types of infection such as fungal, viral - for instance, natural disasters from time to time. As a result, the cause, effect and causality associated with outcomes such as and as appropriate: a partial or otherwise incomplete treatment of or a delayed treatment of or an improper treatment of or a narrowly focused treatment of or an untimely treatment of or no treatment at all of above and other infections is becoming increasingly responsible for weakening - either directly or otherwise - the country's immune system in a variety of ways.

In other words, it can be said developments such as: continuing shortfalls in successive governments' accountability to an increasing number of Bangladeshis and concerned others under continually persistent uncertainties and a near uncontrollable depletion of useful resources, in one form or another though, have so far been instrumental in - among other things and as appropriate - the continuance of country's sickness, as well as ill health as a result of for example above infections.

Accountability of political parties - in a theoretical form, though - to people of Bangladesh and concerned others finds maximum but short lived expressions during for example, the country's election season. Interestingly, commitments associated with accountability usually start evaporating, in varying forms and degrees, from political and other arenas of Bangladesh as the ruling party/parties, the opposition party/parties, bureaucracies and concerned others start settling down into the domain of country's governance after each of the elections. As a result of above and other developments, Bangladesh has been experiencing - on, for example, a more or less continuous basis - several things at local, national and other levels. A few of them, relative to known and unknown variables, have been presented below - not in the order of priority and importance.

1. Election promises made to the people and concerned others by political parties are largely abandoned, and are left with the people and concerned others for such purposes as day dreaming, following the change in government.
2. Practices associated with the breaking of promises (I mean, those survive the abandoning process vide section 1 above) by for example political parties start showing faces to the people and concerned others - in a variety of ways, though - following the assumption of power by political parties. The practices usually continue up to the next election season.
3. Political-power propelled governmental justifications are frequently used to defend or cover-up or both governance related transgressions, irregularities and inefficiencies, to mention a few.
4. Contexts and pretexts are created, used and protected in pursuits of promoting and implementing partisan agendas - whether covert or overt or otherwise - in the name of overall Bangladesh. It has so far led to among other things: redistribution of the state's power, as well as authority mostly among few but influential political actors and beneficiaries including inter alia government servants - used in a wider sense of the meaning.
5. Efforts are made at any given time and successes are achieved in varying degrees, though - in pursuits of narrowing down gaps between promises made (I mean, during the election season) and actual outcomes achieved - - with the help of information that are not reliable or are misleading or both; by data and statistics that are products of engineering or re-engineering or other types of manipulation (used in a negative sense); via institutions or components of institutions that are politicized; and through corruption that remains under the protection of full-proof anti-transparent systems, whether temporary or not; to mention a few. One of the usual end results has so far been: governance by confusions and hiding.
6. The people are led to divide along political lines. The per capita deprivation is allowed to take or modify or both its shape again along political lines. The national interest is allowed to subsume by partisan politics and agendas. The politicians are afforded opportunities to gain maximally from the divide and rule philosophy of governance at local, national and other levels. The outcome from above and other developments has so far made it difficult for independent assessors (say, donors) and concerned others to determine and establish - in a proper and useful manner - the demand side and the supply side of per capita development in the country after the expiry of each term of the government therein.
7. Ordinary Bangladeshis are left at the mercy of for example, powerful and influential politicians as the duration of detention of people's power within the boundary of election season gets renewed - in one form or another, though - each time after the election in Bangladesh.
8. Genes of people of Bangladesh and others - for that matter intra and inter-generational transfers in pertinent areas - are affected (used in a deeper sense) by for instance environmental insufficiency arising out of injustices, corruption, poverty and governance related inadequacies, to mention a few.
9. The effort towards meeting initial requirements such as: a proper stock taking and the preparation of balance sheet by the incoming government is largely overtaken by for example: political expediencies; narrow political visions; a less than required political synergy; revenge taking attitudes plus activities; leadership that is not expectation-oriented, outcome-wise; anti-accountability partnerships and activities; and theories, as well as practices of rejecting everything (I mean, virtually everything); on the part of that government and concerned others. One of the usual end results has so far been: national wastage and insufficient governance at the cost of political ego, as well as emotional intelligence (for example, emotional intelligence in areas of deception).
10. Poor governance due for example to political failures has so far created and sustained opportunities for the country's defense forces, all seasoned opportunists and concerned others to rule the country via military or similar types of government from time to time. The outcome of military governments in Bangladesh has so far been a mixed one - for example: the re-introduction of multi-party political system in Bangladesh by President General Ziaur Rahman (peace be upon him); the holding of national election by the recent army-supported government in a reportedly effective manner and with national ID, as appropriate; and reported unlawful and unconstitutional actions, as well as activities of the army-supported government.

In light of above and other considerations, it can inter alia be said: the continuation of present day political culture and activities - that are for instance more self-seeking than collective in terms of nature, scope and outcomes - would not be of a much help and assistance when it comes to treating ailing Bangladesh in an effective and efficient manner.Let us do something more for Bangladesh. Let us make Bangladesh disease-free to catch up with opportunities of an ever competitive universe.

Let us replace tunnel-vision politics that draws largely its power from family, friends and acquaintances and not from ordinary Bangladeshis - - by politics that is, open, more competent, more pluralistic, more relevant and honest; by politics that could ensure wellbeing of all Bangladeshis for all times and not merely wellbeing of powerful and influential sections of political parties; by politics that is more innovative, more inventive, more dynamic, more futuristic, smarter, more people-friendly, more marketable to Bangladesh and other countries in their greater interest, and more satisfying, as well as beneficial to all (used in a humanly possible sense); among other things.Bangladesh will require several measures for materialization of above things. A few of them have been presented below - not in the order of priority and importance.

A. Identify and re-establish missing links between the culture of good governance and the culture of constructive politics and vice versa. Improve compatibilities between the two by for example: (i) minimization of, if not stopping initially, the misuse and the abuse of power of governance and power of politics - in a quick, result-oriented and sustainable fashion; (ii) strengthening and consolidation of political power, as well as will for better governance and transformation of resultant outcomes into inter alia effective anti-dotes to any future military or similar takeover; (iii) installation of doable and synergistic measures, strengthening of institutions (including inter alia the judiciary, law enforcement agencies) and development, as well as implementation of solid plus useful people-state synergies - for preventing any future failure of political governments, ensuring the government's accountability to people in a more impact-oriented and visible (as far as possible, though) fashion; introducing or materializing or both systems for giving exemplary punishments to say, violators of the constitution; and (iv) replacement of pro-poor political rhetoric by practical support to poor peoples' efforts towards taking the full charge of their development in a quicker and sustainable manner.

B. Develop a more loyal (I mean, to Bangladesh), more professional, more entrepreneurially enriched, more futuristic, more relevant and less peacekeeping opportunity-biased defense forces.

C. Promote sustainable development in the country through for example a rapid popularization of the use of solar energy in both hybrid and non-hybrid forms and through low-cost but reliable technologies for desalination of sea water for human and other uses. Maximize the use of trade, as well as investment potentials of the country for economic growth, per se. At present, Bangladesh does not know for sure: whether or not Padma bridge will be able to serve - at a rate of 100 percent - its beneficiaries and concerned others - 25 years after its commissioning? Whether or not Tipai dam will have adequate water to serve its purposes - 25 years after its commissioning, if that materializes eventually? I am telling it now because the impact of environmental degradation on say, the river systems during the above period is not fully clear to me at this point in time. A piece of advice here: do not kill time - create, as well as promote sustainable outcomes from solar and sea water and ensure their equitable, if not equal, distribution among Bangladeshis - in particular, the poor, the disabled, the sick and the elderly.

D. Explore possibilities such as privatization of collection of government revenues from sources at micro levels with a view to improving the size of collection that are presently constrained by for example Kach-cha receipts, number two receipts, no receipt at all, and so called VAT inclusive product prices (used in a wider sense) at relevant wholesales and retail sales levels. Implement possibilities - either in part or wholly - if found suitable.

E. Promote culture of: respect for people; respect for the rule of law; and livelihoods by honest earnings. Stop using political power, as well as authority and the power, as well as authority of executive branch of government in pursuits of for example: individual gains or group gains; and overpowering the country's criminal justice system in an unfair manner. Bangladesh is, at present, in urgent need of leadership by example - in areas say, anti-corruption, more impact-oriented, as well as cost effective implementation and quicker devolution of development programs, student politics, and partnerships with the poor and the women for their emancipation.

F. Promote market responsive education and education responsive to market competitions; stop private coaching facilities for students pursuing Bangladeshi systems of education; introduce or re-introduce in-campus (I mean, in-school, etc.) coaching for say, below average students and provide additional compensations to teachers who will coach deserving students; assist students in the effort towards optimizing the use of IQ for bringing about improvements in for example their academic and extra-curricular performances; make madrasha education more competitive than that at present; help students to help themselves in developing them as good, educated and useful world citizens; stop parental corruption by checking the financial status of parents of students at the time of their admission and on other occasions, as appropriate; and open the door for interdisciplinary knowledge, understanding and application by for example, enlarging choices in the domain of education and encouraging freedom of knowledge in the country.

G. Fortify the country's security and defense through: development and marketing of antidotes to weapons of mass destruction (say, biological, nuclear); de-commercialization of religions; smarter diplomacies (thanks to Secretary Clinton for the concept); media freedom conducive to local, national and global developments; a progressive integration of environmental accounting into local and national accounting systems; and stopping destructive politics with bureaucrats and bureaucracies; to mention a few.

H. Concentrate heavily on implementation of election promises. It is applicable to all political parties who gave election promises to Bangladeshis during the last election season - AL, BNP, JP, Jamaat and others. Implement a national development agenda to be reached on the basis of consensus of all political parties - during the present term of government. Use the resultant outcomes as a vital means for returning to power through the next election. I. Opinion differentials (involving cabinet ministers and others) are inter alia a healthy sign for democracy in Bangladesh. They should be encouraged - as appropriate - for say, pursuing constructive purposes, transparency and accountability. It is good to see our ministers (for example) have started sharing their opinions with the public.

The last word: do not create opportunities for others to benefit from say, intra and inter-party rivalries and conflicts. Unite meaningfully for the continuing progress and prosperity of Bangladesh and the world at large. Let us work towards that.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The anaemic left parties in Bangladesh


Like in India, the left in Bangladesh is currently anaemic; unlike its Indian counterpart, however, the Bangladeshi left has been in this state for decades. Contesting under the Awami League symbol of the boat, the Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) won three seats and the Workers Party two during the ninth Jatiya Sangsad (National Parliament) election, in December 2008. Yet contesting in the same election under the JSD’s own symbol (a flaming torch), its two other candidates failed miserably, as did two candidates contesting for the Workers Party.

The other left parties – including the CPB, NAP, BSD, Gonotantri Party and Biplobi Workers Party – collectively floated 118 candidates in the polls, but secured a combined total of less than 110,000 votes. Such pitiful results only re-emphasise the continuing weakness of Bangladesh’s left parties among the people. There are about two dozen leftist political parties in Bangladesh, though only seven or eight are visibly active in terms of meetings, rallies and protests.

The remaining few restrict themselves to statements and press notes in the media. But many are happy enough to receive invitations to formal functions at Bangabhaban, the president’s official residence, and the various diplomatic embassies. While the parties do have leaders (who attend such events), their workers seem non-existent. As such, many of these parties exist in name alone.It has not always been so. During the early 1980s, many college and university students moved towards left politics. But today, this trend has vanished. Political analysts suggest two main reasons for this decline. The first includes the collective impact of the upsurge of capitalism, growth of consumerism, onset of globalisation and fall of the Soviet Union.

The second is a general sense of mistrust amongst leftists that prevents the formation of a unified front, which in turn keeps away potential supporters. Inner-party functioning certainly contributes to the general sense of cynicism. Saiful Haque, general-secretary of the Biplobi Workers Party, and Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) leader Mujaheedul Islam Selim both say that many left leaders today are unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices or take risks in the current climate. Furthermore, they say, such leaders are too ready to compromise with ‘capitalist values’ in their eagerness to become MPs or ministers.Others suggest that there is too little independent thought amongst the left leaders. Farhad Mazhar, a columnist and political thinker, calls the left in Bangladesh “dominantly pro-Indian”, and dictated by the political discourse of the US-led ‘war on terror’.

He says that many leaders simply parrot US foreign-policy terms such as ‘fundamentalism’ and ‘Islamism’. In this, they largely lack their own class analysis of Bangladesh society and international politics. “The democratic left, who fought against the oppression of the Pakistani state and also fought for a democratic revolution, has declined mainly because its members did not resolve the relation between the military and political mobilisation of the masses,” says Mazhar.

Perhaps part of the problem is class itself. “The left and right forces in Bangladesh are both from the middle classes,” says political analyst Sirajul Islam Chowdhury. “The left fails on two grounds: They cannot declass themselves, and they cannot uphold the aspirations of the people.” About two dozen left political parties today take themselves to be ‘hardcore’ communists. But analysts say that only a few – the CPB, BSD (Khalequzzaman), Nirmal Sen, NAP (Muzaffar), Badaruddin Umar and the a few others – have remained faithful to left ideology, despite splits and rifts along the way. The others, many complain, are little better than opportunists with a left façade.Even insiders admit that the biggest part of the problem has simply been the left’s inability to present an oppositional choice vis-à-vis the two main parties, the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

“We have made mistakes in the past,” says CPB General-Secretary Mujaheedul Islam Selim. “After Independence, we did not emerge as a force alternative to Awami League. This was a blunder. We failed to say, ‘If you don’t like Sheikh [Mujibur], come with us’.” He continued: “However, we can’t say that the left has been obliterated. It is the left, after all, that is most vocal in protest about vital national issues such as oil, gas, seaports, the Phulbari coalmine and so on.”Such protests have yet to make an impact on the mass public, however.

In the last election, the CPB fielded 37 candidates, but every one lost, together securing only 42,115 votes. (Though, it should be noted, in the local-level upazila elections, two of the 16 CPB candidates for the post of chairperson and five of the 15 candidates for vice-chairperson won.) In its post-election evaluation report, CPB officials stated that their organisational structure had been inadequate for the election, and even admitted that the party was still amateurish when it comes to elections.

“But we are not frustrated,” said Selim. “As the opposition, we will continue in our movement against the government. We will not give the BNP and Jamaat a free hand to take over as the sole opposition.”