In Bangladesh Now, Wrong Is Right

  0 comments   |     by Fazal M. Kamal on January 16 , 2014

“India has done well to defend Bangladesh from the international onslaught and from the comments of human rights organisations that have followed. Against that backdrop, clearly, a new turf war has been initiated over the fate of Bangladesh. In recent months Indian mouthpieces---official and unofficial---have been repeatedly emphasizing, underscoring and underlining that matters relating to Bangladesh are primarily their prerogative. This of course begs a simple question: Hey! What about the Bangladeshi people themselves?

 It sure looks like it!

To use contemporary phraseology, wrong is the new right in Bangladesh. Everything that’s not right or truthful or genuine or whatever else, at this point in time, has to be considered acceptable, correct and factual.

And that includes, of course---and why on earth not!---parliamentary election voter turnout, voting numbers and all the consequences and ramifications of having such a dispensation strung around the neck of an entire nation.

It would all have been incredibly hilarious were it not for the intrusive fact that all the mockery that’s going on in the name of democracy is, in effect, mocking the innocent people of that country.

The most gratifying part of the whole operation was that it all went according to plan; not every aspect as planned by administration nabobs, but some, while some other parts as predicted by others (including this hack):

Election result overwhelmingly in favor of the incumbent party and selected avaricious tailists, yes. Continuation of the regime in power, yes. Intimidation of political adversaries, that too. Isolation of the government from the people and the international community, as expected. Completion of onesided voting under the supervision of the ruling party (to ensure it returns to office), absolutely.

One of the most conspicuous elements, however, was the consistent egregious encouragement from just across the border from an assortment of opinion leaders, bureaucratic mandarins and amoral commentators---all of whom were stridently instigating the administration in spite of the evident dissidence of the people of Bangladesh.

Against that backdrop, clearly, a new turf war has been initiated over the fate of Bangladesh. In recent months Indian mouthpieces---official and unofficial---have been repeatedly emphasizing, underscoring and underlining that matters relating to Bangladesh are primarily their prerogative. This of course begs a simple question: Hey! What about the Bangladeshi people themselves?

Here are some fascinating points that highlight this phenomenon.

In view of the extant circumstances in that country the United States Senate adopted a resolution earlier this month which, inter alia, noted that the Bangladeshi government had eliminated the constitutional provision which provided for the governing party to cede power to make way for a neutral caretaker government three months before an election.
It further noted that hundreds of people have been killed in recent clashes, which erupted as a result of political violence and unrest. Moreover, it said, the International Crimes Tribunals, which held the trials of those charged with war crimes in the 1971 Liberation War have fallen short of international standards.

Given these realities the resolution made six recommendations: 1. The Senate condemned the political violence in Bangladesh and urged political leaders to engage directly and substantively in a dialogue towards free, fair, and credible elections. 2. It urged political leaders in Bangladesh to take immediate steps to rein in and condemn the violence, as well as to provide space for peaceful political protests. 3. It expressed concern about the continued political deadlock in Bangladesh that distracts from the country's important challenges. 4. It urged leaders in Bangladesh to ensure the safety and access of observers in the elections that needed to be held again. 5. It supported the ongoing efforts by UN Assistant Secretary General Oscar Fernandez Taranco to foster political dialogue between the political parties. 6. It urged the Bangladesh government to ensure judicial independence, end harassment of human rights activists, and restore the independence of Grameen Bank.

As opposed to this rational and positive approach one commentator (among many others) from across the border stated, astonishingly, “India has done well to defend Bangladesh from the international onslaught and from the comments of human rights organisations that have followed. There are several reasons why Ms. Hasina had no alternative but to hold elections. To begin with, Bangladesh would have been headed for a constitutional crisis if they had not been held in January. Ms. Hasina’s decision to hold them without a caretaker government at the helm was, in fact, mandated by the Supreme Court. Secondly, Ms. Hasina can hardly be blamed if other parties chose to boycott.”

Even though there are a number of factual errors in the above paragraph, for now let’s ignore them because there’s more intriguing quotes from that same commentary which went on to declare, “The U.S. has consistently issued statements against Ms. Hasina’s government for the working of that [ICC] tribunal, getting vocal support from British parliamentarians, and groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Ms. Hasina has stayed the course in supporting those trials, carrying out the execution of Jamaati leaders at no small cost to her image domestically and internationally. Ms. Hasina has also risked losing some of Bangladesh’s biggest donors from Saudi Arabia after she took on NGOs that she claimed were funding jihadist activities by JI cadres.”

I will leave those words to stand without elaborate comment to let the readers judge for themselves what sentiments those statements disclose and what attitude can impel someone to write those especially when the people of Bangladesh have demonstrated their aversion to the administration’s policies of asphyxiating dissenting voices, terrorizing human rights activists and arresting political adversaries. Nevertheless, one cannot but discern in these declarations the arrogance that has been built on the shifting sands of hubris.

However, the main cause for the expenditure of all that energy on ownership is, as they say, not far to seek. To quote from the same commenter: “India’s garments exports business is a rival of Bangladesh’s, but there is no reason why India can’t pick up some of the slack in Bangladesh’s exports for its own retailers. In the field of IT and telecommunications too, for example, Indian companies must be encouraged to invest in Bangladesh, which is poised for a second revolution once it speeds up its internet access. In the bigger picture, the key to prosperity in both Bangladesh and India’s northeastern States is the development of the highway and infrastructure corridors to the east…”

It is not possible---however much one may try---to escape the realities. And the fact on the ground, as enunciated in a recent article by former US ambassador William Milam, is this: “Politically, Bangladesh has come full circle to the tipping point it faced almost 40 years ago. The election of January 5 brought one-party government back. History tells us that the next likely step is a consolidation of a one-party government into a one-party state. But history does not always determine politics. “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” and Bangladesh has a way of confounding pundits who predict its future. Remember, for example, that famous 1972 prediction that it would be (forever) ‘a basket case’….

“But politics aside, it is 2014 in Bangladesh. The chronic instability and near-anarchy, as well as the abject poverty that prevailed in 1975, have long since disappeared. Bangladesh, while still poor and in the stage of economic development where gains can easily be reversed, is now wired into the global economy with its vibrant garment and other export industries. Growth has been strong for most of the past two decades, and the country as a whole is much more prosperous. More importantly, it has a much more literate and healthy population because of the strides that have been made in mass education and in reducing gender disparity.”

Given these realities, both negative and positive, it will not serve any country well if it feels that it must have its way regardless of the facts, and the feelings, beliefs, perceptions and aspirations of the Bangladeshi people. History is replete with lessons on this topic---but of course, who has learnt from history! Hence, it’s no wonder that it repeats itself.

The writer has been a media professional, in print and online newspapers as editor and commentator, and in public affairs, for over forty years.

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