September 22, 2007

The State of the Revolution - Part 3

Part 1
Part 2

If those 5-points (see part 2) sounds too much like Mr. Motiur Rahman of Prothom Alo, then that is of course no coincidence. He is the poster-child (La Moudud a la Moudud if you will) of this faction, having come full circle since his early Leninist days. And it was his latest digbaaji that inspired this piece. While I liked his paper from the outset, I did not like Mr. Rahman's editorial stance over the last 2 years nor the personal animosity that showed through at times. I'm no fan of BNP or Falu (there's something really creepy about that smile!), but neither am I a fan of trial by media. Let's get one thing clear: the media is there to expose suspicious acts and bring them to the public eye. It is NOT there to determine the criminality of supposed acts. That is why we have judges and courts.

This is an important point that is sometimes lost in the argument over democracy. Democracy means that individuals are judged for their crimes by experts not the public, while national issues affecting everyone are discussed by the public not JUST experts. That is where a free media comes in. Under this CTG, what we have seen is the exact opposite, and that is where Mr. Motiur Rahman came in. We have seen the CTG stifle public debate over issues through censorship of its critics and appointing its own "experts" into the debate, all the while ensuring that the trial of allegedly corrupt public figures become a matter to be decided by the Prothom Alo-roused public rather than the experts in courts of law. (Tragedy if you ask me. Last thing I want to see is SaQa Chowdhury and his cousin from the AL side running for public office and funding parties again. But such is the tragedy of a tragic nation.)

It is therefore with some small measure of irony that we note that this trend that Mr. Rahman has helped fuel - one of trial by media and an ill-informed public - has now come back to bite him in his nether regions. Like all good comprador liberals who underestimate the power of religion, he forgot that he alone does not play the pipe that enchants the flock.

But other than the irony, what does it mean in terms of the broad based coalition?

Revolutionaries once assured of their own power against their former enemies tend to turn against one another, some quickly, some not so much. Stalin versus Trotsky, Nasser versus Naguib and perhaps most relevant, the different factions who brought about the Iranian Revolution. It might come as a surprise to many readers nowadays, but Iranian women, leftists, Bahai's and Jews celebrated in the streets of Tehran the day Khomenei returned. Secular leftists, left-Islamists (there is such a thing in Iran), right-Islamists were all active parts of that revolution. The first one to bite the dust were the secular left, then the Islamist Right. That went on until the Contra-Iran crisis discredited the leader of the Islamist Left and they further subdivided amongst themselves on the issues of the day and eliminated each other. So on and so forth. I hope the readers see what I'm getting at.

After the twin arrests of our squabbling twins, the "revolution" has been consolidated. Time for the internal conflict folks. Motiur Rahman has been neutered. Debapriya Bhattacharya has been exiled given an ambassadorship to Geneva.* Yunus has been silenced deservedly for his betrayal of the Bangladeshi masses. Mahfuz Anam alone is not going to do anything. People are baying for his blood too.

Factions 4 and 6 seem to be revelling. Naya Diganta is running stories that reminds one of Hind after the Battle of Uhud (ahem... we democracy advocates freedom-loving reprobates sometimes know our Islamic history). Now I'm not going to warn the likes of FM and MR that Islamists make very unreliable allies with little political capital in the long run. If wise ones such as themselves do not know that, that's their problem. I would like to remind them that after eliminating the Shushils, they might just start fighting amongst themselves. "Counter-revolutionaries" and "betraying the spirit of January 11th" and all that, translated into the latest parlance: don't be shocked if a certain ex-chairman of BOI actually has some extra cash hidden somewhere in Swiss accounts, or Amader Shomoy suddenly decides to run stories critical of a khatib who spends time giving khutbas about important issues like "who said what" rather than the more unimportant ones such as inflation, arbitrary arrests, the misuse of "Islam" in his own country and the world.

Once you start down the slippery slope of "revolution" and "takfiring" others out of a voice, it's a hard fight folks. You might just be next or the one after that. Naya Diganta editors, Jamaat-e-Islami and like-minded parties, the ulema, high-flying bureaucrats and armed forces members: I wish you all the best of luck.

* The 3rd World View has some news on interesting developments in the use of ambassadorships as tools for exile.


zakir said...

i am not much politically aware , but it looks like events are unfolding similar to the pakis, will hasina be our benazir ?

things might have changed in the last decade,but as far i remember the islamists trend in the army was minimal and beards were frowned upon.although the air force was a different story. thus , i am assuming hasina will be chosen.

Jyoti said...


Revolutions don’t happen in a vacuum. We should also analyse how our democracy evolved, and the roles various groups played. My thoughts. Let the debates begin.

A simplified story of those 16 years would go something like this:

- No one expected a BNP win in 1991. BNP was ill-prepared to govern, and AL was a sore loser. There was little trust between the parties, and antagonism developed very quickly.
- In the run up to the 1996 election, AL successfully absorbed the left, moved to the political centre, and split the right. It proved to be more prepared for government. Unfortunately, it was also more adept at dokhol politics.
- In the 2001 election, BNP outflanked AL with the Jamaat alliance. In government, BNP proved to be far more aggressive in dokhol politics, but was a failure in most other respect.

Now, what roles did various groups play?

The army stayed out of it, despite provocations in 1996. Islamists — Jamaat and others — played their own game.

Bureaucrats allied themselves with both parties from the mid-1990s, resulting in the set up that Iajuddin Ahmed was in charge of late last year. Who deserve the bigger blame for the party politicisation of the state bodies in the past decade – politicians or the bureaucrats? Turncoat politicians of course wanted to make sure that the parties remained antagonistic. But who allowed the turncoats’ rise in the parties?

And finally the intellectuals/sushils of both left and right — what was their role in the past 16 years? Start with the right — not faux right like Farhad Mazhar, real conservative nationalists like Talukder Maniruzzaman. These guys helped Zia form his politics in the late 1970s. Where were they in the 1990s? Why did they allow their politics to be hijacked by turncoats like Moudud? And when the BNP-JI government proved to be a total failure, what did the left intellectuals do? When AL adopted a rejectionist stance after 2001 election, these guys said ‘dui dal-i kharap, 3rd force chai’.

Saif said...

This is good stuff, and I think I agree almost completey. Like Jyoti bhai - I'm glad "Matrix" 2 and 3 did not disappoint. Parts 2 and 3 are more like Godfather 2. (Please do not refer to it as a trilogy...)

All this talk of "revolution" - Bhodrolok and otherwise - is getting tiresome. 1/11 could have changed that lay of the land fundamentally, but it didn't. We keep forgetting that we've seen the rhetoric of the SOE before, at multiple times in our own history (pre- and post-1971). The fundamental issues are still the same, and I think it is a fundamentally a problem with our elites - 1) The failure of our political elite (the same people too!) to come up with a credible model that is operational and addresses the needs of the polity (as opposed to their needs), and 2) The failure of our intellectual elite (in which I include the religious elite) to present pragmatic, principled and imaginative thought leadership. I do not for one moment believe that we are doomed to autocracy because our "uneducated" populace, for I have yet to see empirical evidence (from experience or otherwise) to sustain the claim.

tacit said...

Great posts. Totally satisfied with them. Something that'd also be interesting, and in similar lines, would be a topology of the individuals who are involved in the current government. For example, I think Generals Mashud, Masud and Moteen have decided to align themselves with each other, while Barrister Mainul and General Moeen constitute another group. A categorization effort such as this would be helpful in sorting things out further.

asif said...

Lots of interesting comments. I was trying to let others get the debate started, but I feel that a lot of the questions are directed at me.

Zakir bhai, Hasina has already been our Benazir in that in 1986 she participated in an election whereas KZ didn't. Benazir is about to become Pakistan's Hasina I'm afraid.

Jyoti bhai, enlighten us: where has Talkuder M been hiding? And did bureaucrats really align themselves with BNP 91-96? Lastly, how do you safeguard and sacralize the role of intellectual elites (broadly speaking) in a violent and arbitrary polity such as ours?

Saif, I'm going to disagree with you slightly about the lack of a revolution. There has not been any fundamental change in society as following Russian/Chinese/Iranian revs. However, I will say that the power dynamics have changed significantly for the first time in 16 years. And to do that has required the complicity of a large portion of the political elite, as outlined here. In that sense, you can compare it with past revolutions. I also compared it to the Free Officer's Coup in '52.

I agree with you wholeheartedly about the complete failure of our political elite, the intellectual elite, Godfather 3 as a work of art and Sofia Coppola as an actress. However, I find our intellectual elites to be less culpable. Let us not forget that our universities are not the most peaceful places to speak your mind, whether you are left or right. If anything, I'd say extremists have more coercive abilities on campus than centres.

Finally tacit, excellent points as usual. As a rule I do not do individual level analysis and leave it to other blogs that know the nitty gritty details better, such as Shadakalo and In the Middle.

I have no credible information as to the factions within the armed forces themselves, only rumours, hearsay and speculation. A part of me wants to believe that as Army Chief, General Moeen commands the loyalty of all those under him. That is the way it should be in the armed forces and hopefully it will remain that way.

I am not discounting the importance of individuals. I'm glad that Mr. Fakhruddin Ahmed and General Moeen are in charge instead of other people I could think of. Under them, I can foresee an election happening in the short term, although probably not the return of the "netris" which a lot of people might put up as the standard for "free and fair". Whether that standard is fair or not, I leave open to the potential debate.

As for the honourable Barrister: the less said the better. Shadakalo has summarised a lot of my complaints against him. I know little of his history. His stint as Information Advisor has made me put him in faction 3. If he cannot win, he will side with whoever is the winner. He's an old-fashioned man, the kind who will label all forms of political opposition to his interests as "conspiracies against the nation". Orwellian is an adjective that seems highly appropriate, but having never read 1984 I will refrain.

Does anyone want to speculate as to how the current regime stands with regards to Mr. Ershad? Why is he getting pensioned off? Are our diplomatic relations with China such a value-less thing that he is being sent there?