July 17, 2007

As the Dust Settles.....

(A little later than promised. The "real" world is not punctual and neither am I. My apologies)

The day after the arrest the entire Bangladeshi community in the 'desh and spread across the world seems to be holding its collective breath. "What will happen from here?" is the million dollar question. A clue to the answer lies in the reactions.

First, the reaction of the "masses". Apart from sporadic crashes between AL workers and police in Dhaka, Khulna and Mymensingh there really is nothing much to report. As a friend commented, six months ago, they shut down the entire country and now there is no sign of the concerted, organized movement that we know the AL is capable of. This either means that the CTG really has things under control by judicious use of the security forces (improbable), and/or the army spectre is weighing heavily on the AL grassroots' minds (bit more probable) and/or the reformists have managed to successfully get some grassroots support and control them (most likely). I think it is safe to say that the Awami League is split and the reformists have the upper hand for now.

I say for now because Bangladesh Chattra League, the AL-affiliated students' union, has called for a day-wide strike at all educational centres and the Jubo League will protest the arrest. These constituencies might win out just yet. As a rule students don't like being dictated to, but student politics nowadays is hardly the same as those of the 70s. Instead of peaceful, principled dissidents we have violent, unprincipled crooks running around. And AL has had quite a hand (though not the entire hand) in that transformation. Read about it here and do scroll down to the end for a good laugh. Someone is quoted as saying that the arrest might put "secular politics" at risk. Just provides me with more ammo to show people that "secular politics" means jackshit to Awami Leaguers. I await news of the strike with much interest and apprehension.

One last point about the protests. Property damage. Two years ago, during the grenade attack I could understand how people faced with that level of terrorism can respond violently. So I excused, in my head, AL activists setting fire to a train carriage. Today, their leader was arrested allegedly under the law of the land. What is their excuse today to resort to violence?

Which brings me to the "elite" reaction. Two of them stand out. Mrs. Hasina's son Sajeeb Wazed has given his reaction on television channels, as the DS reports. He has also given an exclusive interview to e-bangladesh, an online forum managed by fellow blogger Sushanta Das Gupta. What comes out in both is his attempt at trying to put this latest event into an easy mould for everyone: namely, his attempts at comparing this to 1971. It's a viable strategy only for the AL base, an attempt I feel at luring AL activists away from the reformists. What this sort of rhetoric will do with the rest of the nation is best left unanswered. People might buy it, they might be revulsed by it. Just one thought: if Mrs. Hasina comes back to power, or one day even Mr. Wazed comes to power, will they be able to get along with the same group of people they've compared to the heinous Hanadars of 1971? Just a simple thought that shows the futility, the parochialism and the short-term thinking behind adopting these simple slogans to sell people stuff we know is not true.

Mr. Wazed's laughable attempt at stepping into his grandfather's shoes is another thing altogether. Addafication reports on it thus:

"Of course, the coat tails of history weren’t far and Joy tugged on them best he could.

Ebarer shongram desher bhobishoter shongram

Ebarer shongram gonotontrer shongram "


Ahhh the coat-tails of history. I couldn't have put it better myself. One famous slogan did not make Mujib who he was in 1971. He was reduced to a simple slogan after 1975. Something to think about. By the way, if Zillur Rahman is the president and Mr. Wazed is not formally part of the Awami League and is thus a simple activist, do we know for sure who is taking orders from whom at this point? AL critics of the Zia dynasty, let us hear from you on this.

The second "elite" reaction was the more exciting. As I said earlier today, Mr. Mahfuz ("Ma Man") Anam doing what I've known him to do all my teenage life: telling Truth to Power. It's a risky job, cause Power can come back to bite. But if no one does it, Power runs rampant and destroys itself along with Truth. So please, agree with him or disagree with him, love him or loathe him, a round of applause for the man.

He takes the CTG to task for its arbitrariness, for its own opacity, for its own flouting of the very rules it says it wants to see, and lastly, almost subtly, for press censorship. I'm not going to quote anything from it because I want everyone to read it fully. My respect for him has never been higher.

This is real civil society, our much maligned "shushil shomaj", the way I personally would like to see it: a check against the arbitrariness of power instead of being in bed with it. Those who denounce the entire concept of "Shushil Shomaj" and favour a sort of fake populism instead (I say "fake", because most anti-"shushils" themselves live in Dhanmondi, Gulshan, if not the US and the UK itself), please explain yourself today. When this man criticised the BNP, BNP-ites said he was "just another big talking Shushil". When this man aligned himself temporarily with the CTG, "Down with Shushil Shomaj" became the cri de jour among AL-ers. What now folks? Seems like Anam's still gunning for Power, but when he comes gunning for your favourite political party you don't say "Aim somewhere else fool!" or give him any reason to. You simply seem to say "What right do you have to shoot?" If you contest his right to speak to a political party, what are you doing to your own right to do so? *shakes head* End of this mini-rant.

What does this mean for the coalition of "bhodrolokes" who brought about 1/11? Given the opacity of the situation, hard to tell. Anam and Debapriya seem to have split off, given what the former sees as "command politics" and the latter as "kowtowing to the IMF". But it's shown them to be less the intiators of 1/11 and more "intellectual footsoldiers" (h/t J.R). They are increasingly not getting along with dissimilar ideological elements who are increasingly calling most of the shots. My personal worry is that the CTG has indeed crossed the Rubicon. I.e. no turning back. If there's no turning back, most people do not like the arrest (but are staying mum) and the press are critical, what's the solution? Gagging the press of course. So I'm expecting some censorship attempts, some media harrassment and hoping against it.

A trivial observation to sign off: I do not know if this is irony or poetic justice, but Mrs. Hasina, who once refused of her own free will to sit in our National Assembly as Leader of the Opposition, is now forced to remain inside Louis Kahn's ode to Democracy as prisoner of state. If there is poetry there, be sure it's tragic.

1 comment:

Jyoti said...

Few observations.

1. Whatever excited AL-supporters might say, the Army will not shoot thousands of people in the street. Let alone 1971, the Army will not even countenance a Tiananmen style crackdown. Why? Because the army rank and file is drawn from the same middle class that most party activists are from. It's very important to understand this - army folks really are our brothers/sons/fathers. So if there are 500,000 people in Dhaka streets, something AL is quite capable of doing, army will not send in the tanks. So I doubt the spectre of army is the reason the AL reaction has been so muted.

2. I think the RATS are very much in charge of the party machine. It'll be interesting to see how the Matia Chowdhury issue unfolds.