March 25, 2008

Pilger-Moudud Controversy

Background here

Mr. Moudud is a snake no one likes but every politician wants on their team.

Mr. Moudud is also incarcerated on ridiculously trivial charges.

The “controversy” over at UV is starting to border on the Gulliverian debate of which side to break an egg on. It pretty much boils down to this: when advocating for due process in Bangladesh, should we or should we not note that some of the most ill-reputed people are on trial. That’s really all there is to it folks! Otherwise, I think it’s safe to say that everyone arguing there is for fair trials and fair convictions/acquittals, instead of kangaroo courts and rubber-stamped verdicts.

So what’s interesting here and why am I writing about this?

I think the debate is a preview of what promises to be the next major cleavage in Bangladeshi politics, assuming we continue down the path we are on: minus-2 version-2, candidates barred from contesting polls based on speedy trials, the neutering of the AL and the hijacking of the BNP. As each side’s position hardens and moves away from the other’s, two camps will emerge among the chatterati: the Daily Star-CTG camp and the BNP (mainstream/Khaleda-ponthi… is there any other kind?) camp, for lack of better terms. The DS-CTG camp will keep reminding people of all the bad things that “these politicians” did. The BNP camp will simply say that this is undemocratic, unconstitutional and against the fundamental rights of our people.

Squeezed in between will be genuine human rights activists like those at UV – and I want to draw a distinction here between those truly committed to human rights above partisanship like the good people at Drishtipat, and those who use “human rights” to further their own agenda, from the left or the right or simply out of a commitment to “journalism without fear or favour”!

Now please note that both camps will be right. Factually correct, if only partial in their reporting. If I had to choose sides – and I hate choosing sides that are partial in their acknowledgement of the truth – I would choose the BNP side over the other any day. Not because I think the crimes of the 4-party government were small (they weren’t), but because the BNP-camp addresses concerns more dear to my heart.

Politicians make mistakes. To repeat an old cliché, these must be dealt with politically: i.e. through the political process as outlined in the constitution. Reminding us constantly that Moudud reaped what he sowed is unfortunately a bit too much like the tastelessness of certain remarks made against both Mujib and (at times more so) against Zia. And equally wrong-headed!

Yes, incarceration is not assassination. But – this might come as a shock to some - the land and its underestimated people recognize two ways of dealing with errant political leaders: constitutionally and unconstitutionally. It doesn’t matter to the law - and, I argue, to the people - whether the unconstitutionality involves brutality and murders of the past. Or the hostage-taking and torture of politicians by holier-than-thou bureaucrats of the present. Mujib and Zia were dealt with unconstitutionally and I doubt the good people of the DS-CTG camp applaud that or the resultant complications that haunt us to this day. Bloggers like Mash have been pointing this out since January 12th, and I confess that it took some time before I came to a similar realization.

So why are they silent, complicit or active at further unconstitutionality?

It’s a fallacy of bhodrolokes in the DS-CTG camp that they underestimate the “ordinary people”. They think that our people see only the surface of events without noting their deeper significance. They have no idea about such difficult phrases/ideas as “due process” and “constitutionality”. Inherently, we all have an idea about these things. In the long run, only those who advocate (or are seen to advocate) fairness and consistency who are going to win out. The BNP-camp is the one that’s doing it right now. Not their opponents.

Which is a pity, for the Daily Star was a good paper for a while there while Moudud ran amok. As a friend of mine far, far more experienced in the ways of Bangladeshi politics said soon after 1/11: “Where you stand today will determine how you’re perceived for the next decade or so.” The Daily Star people seem to be standing on the wrong side of history after getting it more or less right on a host of key issues for more than ten years.

A pity really.


Rumi said...


It is so saddening to see you switch side from the righteous pro-Independence side to the side of Swadhinota Birodhi rajakar and "war Criminals". What a loss!

Anonymous said...

You brought a smile to my face as always, Rumi bhai. Sarcasm and DS-enabled false dichotomies aside, I still remain pro-independence and for trying the war criminals as you yourself no doubt also advocate.

I just want to ask a few DS-camp people why they think that we need an undemocratic regime to do all this or why they think that such a move will be politically sustainable. And secondly, why are they more vehemently opposed to all (democratically elected) BNP figures than our current non-democratic technocrats.

They won't be the first people to have lost faith in our democratic process. I have a feeling many people did not like the paternalistic liberalism of the early 70s either.

My switching allegiances are a loss to no one. ;)


Tacit said...

Great article, DS.

I'm going to develop this theme in the coming days, but ponder this, why does this fight only have to be between the DS/CTG and the BNP? Are we missing something here? Where is the rest of Bangladesh?

Jyoti said...

Tacit, at the moment this is very much an inra-elite fight, and the bhodrolokes are divided along the lines described by Dhaka Shohor. One portion of the elite got a lot in the 5 years to 1/11. Another group is getting a lot now (and some of them got a lot in the previous five years, and many got a lot in the five years before that).

The rest of Bangladesh, who are fairly evenly divided between Awami and Nationalist brand of politics, are not in the fight. How can they be when there is no politics?

Well, if politics is denied too long, perhaps they'll take matters into their own hands. I certainly hope it doesn't come to that.

Rumi said...

Question: Who is a reformist?
Answer: Those who gained during either of the two previous five years rule and want to continue gaining.

Question: What are these new political partuies?
Answer: Those who could not gain in last 15 years and want to give the last push for some gain.
[ Ref: Jyoti's comment]

Tacit said...

That would be sad, Jyoti bhai. Aren't the issues at stake large enough to concern all of Bangladesh? Or was our democracy so limited that it really did not affect the lives of the rest of our population?