Wednesday, April 23, 2014




 24 April, 2014
Times of India, Dr. Subramanian Swamy and water issues
M. Serajul Islam

 Times of India, Dr. Subramanian Swamy and water issues

Teesta project: At the time of filing this article, water suddenly started to flow in the Teesta - a nearly dead river suddenly became alive!


A Times of India (TOI) report, a BJP leader's statement and a particular talk show should wake up the spirits of millions who became martyrs in 1971 in disbelief about what is happening in present-day Bangladesh. The TOI report concerned an incident in Dhaka airport. Dr. Subramanian Swamy, a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), claimed 1/3rd of Bangladesh for the alleged 20 million Bangladeshis who, his party claims, have illegally migrated to India. And in the talk show, participants touched both these issues as well as that of the river waters of Bangladesh that are depleting very fast and upon which depend whether Bangladesh lives or dies.

The TOI report is a very disturbing one for a country where patriotism is the issue that dominates all other issues all the time in public life. If one were to believe our writers, cultural activists and some of the politicians, ours must be the most patriotic nation on earth. The TOI story said that RAW, the Indian intelligence agency, grabbed an activist of the outlawed Indian Mujahedeen who was working as an agent of the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence agency, in Dhaka airport as he was being questioned by immigration officials for a passport indiscretion and then managed to take him to India without leaving a trace with the Bangladeshis not doing anything at all or unable to do anything! In fact, had TOI not carried the news, no one in Bangladesh would have even known that RAW had nabbed its biggest catch in recent times with Bangladesh intelligence in complete darkness or an willing accomplice!


The TIO report did not care to ask any of the following questions. First, what was the RAW agent, who first saw Waqas, doing inside Dhaka airport? Second, why was this alleged ISI agent not taken into custody by the Bangladesh intelligence/police? Third, why were the many agencies that work in the airport not anywhere around when the RAW agents grabbed this ISI agent? The TOI report would have made sense if it were reporting the apprehending of the ISI agent in an Indian airport. Therefore, once the news hit the Bangladesh media, these questions are in everybody's mouth and being asked in ways that are ominous both for Indian image in Bangladesh and for the Awami League-led government.

There were other unusual elements in the story too and these concern Bangladesh. The state minister for home, when asked about the incident, stated that he knew nothing about it except what was reported in the media.
Strangely, the vibrant media of Bangladesh, that is so active these days, had no information of such a major incident in Dhaka airport until it was revealed in the TOI. Even stranger is the fact that the Bangladesh government did not react to the news. If it valued its sovereignty and territorial integrity, its interest for good relations with India notwithstanding, it should have at the barest minimum level protested to the Indians about such a blatant interference in its internal affairs.

The news concerning Dr. Swamy was strange and absurd both in the context of what he said and the reaction or the failure to react on the part of the Bangladesh government. Dr. Swamy gave a new twist to an old BJP story against Bangladesh - that there are 20 million alleged Bangladeshis in India. He said that as these people cannot be sent back, Bangladesh should cede 1/3rd of its territory to India as compensation! And what about the reaction of the Bangladesh government to this story? There was in fact no direct reaction, and the media did not seem concerned or interested to seek one from the government. Nevertheless, the foreign minister and the deputy high Commissioner in New Delhi talked about the BJP in the media but in a totally different and ironically opposite context.

The foreign minister said that the government is in contact with BJP that has assured the AL-led government that if it came to power in May it would have the same stance towards Bangladesh as the Congress-led government! The deputy high commissioner in New Delhi tweeted with a reporter of TOI and revealed to him what the foreign minister said to the media in Dhaka. It was unbelievable that the foreign minister would   be seeking assurances from the BJP for the government in case it came to power instead of protesting the absurd claim of Dr. Swamy in the strongest possible way immediately that national interest and national pride demanded.
The talk show discussed these two issues and articulated what the average Bangladeshi is thinking these days: that the fear of India taking over Bangladesh directly is no longer a fear; that it is now becoming a reality and in such a move, the present government in Bangladesh is looking the other way. The three participants are all well-known and not in any way BNP supporters or sympathizers. They came to a very simple conclusion after discussing the three issues that are linked to Bangladesh's sovereignty. The conclusion was that the AL-led government is too much in debt to New Delhi for installing it in power for a second successive term through an election that no one now believes was anything more than a farce.
About the water issue, one said that the process of desertification is now visible as daylight in western and northern Bangladesh as India continues to strangle and kill the rivers of Bangladesh. He added that people whose livelihood is connected with the rivers such as fishing, plying boats etc., have now become beggars while in agriculture, farmers are accessing water by digging wells with costs so many times more that for them agriculture would soon become a forgotten profession! Another participant welcomed the decision of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to hold the Teesta Long March because he thought that finally the party had taken up one issue with which it could lead a movement with the people on its side against the AL-led government.

At a time when history is in the public domain in the context of 1971, it would be only appropriate to take note of what one participant in the talk show said. He pointed to history before 1971 to underline how wrong Dr. Swamy was in what he said. When India was partitioned in 1947, Kolkata and parts of the Indian Seven Sisters were supposed to be a part of Pakistan that would have made these parts of Bangladesh. Bangabandhu mentioned about how the British wrongly gave Kolkata to India in 1947 that the Mohammad Ali Jinnah-led Muslim League did not contest. Looking a little further back in history, in 1905 the British had severed East Bengal and Assam from West Bengal and made the latter two as part of the new political entity it called East Bengal and Assam. Therefore if one were to interpret history in correct perspective, present Bangladesh should claim what the British denied it in 1947 and even more by claiming what the British had given it in 1905 by the Partition of Bengal.
Unfortunately, the AL-led government, set on please-India-mode, cannot dare to either raise these issues of history or ask questions about the TOI story or the slow poisoning of northern and western Bangladesh due to depletion of the waters of the common rivers by India for reasons that the three participants at the talk show stated unequivocally. It is more unfortunate that the media, the civil society and the intelligentsia are doing so little for Bangladesh at risk with its sovereignty. At the time of filing this article, water suddenly started to flow in the Teesta - a nearly dead river suddenly became alive! India opened the sluice gates and the water came flowing like magic just prior to the BNP's Long March. Who says the BNP cannot lead a successful movement?



The writer is a retired career Ambassador.  ambserajulislam@gmail.com

Saturday, April 19, 2014



April 20, 2014

Narendra Modi as India’s prime minister-in-waiting!

M. Serajul Islam


When his supporters started mentioning his name as a possible leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 elections, very few thought he would come this way. The baggage he has been carrying for quite a while is not one to encourage many to think he had any chance of becoming the 15th Prime Minister of India. Narendra Modi carries with him the stigma of being the Chief Minister of Gujarat when that state saw its worst riots in history, when 1000 mainly Muslims were massacred under his watch in 2002. He did not use his office to help the plight of the Muslims. Many Muslims believe that he instead collaborated to the systematic massacre.

The Americans also think so. The US Government has refused to grant him a visa to travel to its country because of “serious doubts” about his role in the “horrific” Gujarat riots. The US Ambassador recently travelled all the way to Gandhinagar and met Narendra Modi at his office. That visit did not result in any decision by the US Government to lift the visa restriction; it nevertheless led to the decision of the US Ambassador to quit her job. It however was great publicity for Narendra Modi as it gave Indian voters the impression that the Americans would have no problem accepting him as Prime Minister if Indians elect him to the position.

Narendra Modi has made it to the top of BJP’s leadership to become a pretender to the Indian Premiership because of his success in business and industry. As Gujarat’s longest serving Chief Minister, he has turned his province into a hub of economic development, attracting into Gujarat foreign investment that no other Indian province has matched. He has also championed anti-corruption as an issue. Indian voters are unhappy with the economy that has stagnated under the Congress leadership and extremely concerned with corruption in which the Congress led government has immersed in pubic perception. In fact, Congress lost Delhi recently to the Aam Admi Party, a group that no one knew not too long ago, just on issue of corruption.

Narendra Modi has emerged ahead in voters’ perception for being pro-business where they expect him to replicate at the national level what he has done in Gujarat. He has also not been tainted by allegations of corruption in running his state. There is a third factor going for Narendra Modi. Voters now know that the Congress failed to deliver because of poor leadership of Manmohon Singh; that in reality it was Sonia Gandhi who was the real power while Manmohon Singh pretended to be the Prime Minister. Narendra Modi has already established himself as a leader capable of giving India the leadership that it needs; that Manmohon Singh failed to deliver. Against him, Rahul Gandhi that the Congress has placed as its Prime Ministerial candidate has failed to attract the voters the way Narendra Modi has. Therefore for all the question marks on him for his questionable role during the Gujarat riots, Narendra Modi has earned wide acceptability as the next Indian Prime Minister because the BJP too has surged well ahead of the Congress as the party to take the largest chunk of seats in the elections. Nevertheless, the regional parties will give both BJP and Congress a run for their money and would take a significant number of seats to make both interested. For example, the Trinamool is expected to take up to 30 seats in Paschim Bangla, a number that could make it a major player in deciding the next government in New Delhi.

Nevertheless, polls in India after the elections started on April 7 (and will end on May 12) indicate that the BJP and its allies would be able to get up to 275 seats in which case it would be able to form government on its own. These polls show that the Congress may hit all time low in national elections and may not cross 90 seats. The foreign media however have predicted a less optimistic outcome for the BJP and Narendra Modi. Both the Washington Post and New York Times have indicated that the BJP will face significant opposition from the Muslim vote and will fall short of outright majority by a good margin. The two papers predict that the Muslims who constitute 14% of the Indian population are scared of both the BJP overtly Hindu fundamentalist agenda and Narendra Modi’s anti-Muslim stance and are likely to pull the BJP’s numbers down significantly. They believe that the Muslim vote could restrict the BJP from a landslide victory but not from forming government.

The Washington Post story carried on April 14 was particularly interesting. It was headlined provocatively “As India votes, Muslims worry” and went on to state “many are suspicious of a leading candidate, a Hindu nationalist, because of deadly religion based riots in his province”. There is little doubt that Muslims will not vote for the BJP. Election analysts have identified 150 constituencies where Muslims constitute 10% of the voters; 35 where Muslims are 30% and 200 seats where the Muslim vote could affect the final outcome “somewhat”. Muslim votes, 180 million in all, will not go to the BJP. Unfortunately, as in the past, the votes would not go to the Congress either and regional parties will take away a good share of the Muslim vote. For instance, in Paschim Bangla that has 42 seats, where they can swing the votes towards the winners, they are likely to vote for Trinamool, no longer a Congress ally and likely to lean towards the BJP. Nevertheless, in this year’s elections, the Muslims and their plight have become a major issue and will no doubt stand in the way of a BJP landslide in a significant way.

That may have a beneficial effect on the plight of the Muslims despite the anti-Muslim plank of the BJP. The sensitization in the media of their current predicament will blunt “Hindutva” under Narendra Modi led BJP Government by making the “Muslim factor” a major factor in politics. For Bangladesh, such a possibility should be good news because one of the major issues of the BJP vis-a-vis Bangladesh, one that still can be seen in the party’s official website is the issue of “push back” of 20 million alleged illegal Bangladeshis in India. Unfortunately, the buck may stop there so far as Bangladesh’s good fortunes are concerned because Indian Muslims in general and their large concentration in Paschim Bangla are not well disposed towards Bangladesh because they believe its creation in 1971 weakened Pakistan that was an insurance policy for them. The Muslims of Paschim Bangla have expressed that dislike openly, one upon which Mamata Banarjee has cashed to woo the Muslim vote away from the Congress, which is also the reason of her animosity towards Bangladesh.

A possible Narendra Modi led BJP government could see a period of cooling of Bangladesh-India relations. For historical reasons, the Congress has looked upon an AL led government in Bangladesh with special favour. The AL led government has been particularly lucky to have in the person of the Indian President a strong backer of the interests of the Awami League that was seen the way New Delhi backed the last elections in the country. In BJP Government, the Indian President may not have the same power and leverage as before. Also, the National Security Adviser SS Menon, the architect of the way Bangladesh-India relations have developed the last few years, will also leave his post in a BJP Government. A new Adviser may not be that sympathetic to the interests of the Awami League and may see the interests in Bangladesh, beyond that party.

Finally, the Congress led government failed to ratify the land boundary agreement (LBA) because the BJP that has ideological and party interests, particularly of its constituents in Assam, to oppose the ratification. If the Trinamool becomes an ally of the BJP led government, then the Teesta deal would also go down the drain. Therefore a Narendra Modi led government in New Delhi cannot be seen as good news for Bangladesh and perhaps even less so for the AL led government.

The writer is a career Ambassador
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Saturday, 19 April 2014
Author / Source: M. Serajul Islam

There are many who used to remain awake till midnight and even after­wards to watch TV talk shows for one reason: to find out what their favourite person had to say on the issues of politics and society. That favourite person is no more. For them as for so many of the people of the country, the death of AMB Musa has been the loss of a national icon, the fastest depleting of the country’s scarcest resource, namely moral and ethical capital. On TV Talk Shows, he did not appear as smart or as savvy as most of his other fellow guests. He was not very articulate and with age so clearly showing on his appearance, he often looked hard pressed for breath. Yet he outdistanced and outshone most of the others, many of who jockeyed for attention of the two mainstream parties in ways not too subtle for the viewers. ABM Musa gave his views based on his integrity and never cared which party was being pleased or which one was annoyed.

He stood out like the colossus, in a class of his own, on the moral strength of his views and arguments despite his fading and dishevelled appearance.  He was really the star of stars. Watching him, I used to be reminded of something that I once heard in a lecture by the eminent jurist, writer and politician of Pakistan AK Brohi that I was lucky to attend. He delivered that lecture at the Civil Service Academy in Lahore, Pakistan after 25th March 1971 that was for a person of his calibre and integrity, one of Pakistan’s darkest hours. 

He had said in that lecture that when a society suffers from deep moral dilemma, people in it drift towards destruction like stuffs drift in a deluge without the ability to swim against the current and save themselves from perishing. In such a society, there are always few individuals with courage and integrity who do not allow themselves to drift away in the deluge and stand against the tide. When that society hits rock bottom and yearns to come back, the individuals who refuse to be carried with the tide become islands around whom it finds its moral and ethical moorings again and returns back from the cold. 

Musa Bhai, as many lovingly called him, was that island of AK Brohi’s imagination for the people of Bangladesh in its current predicament where it is in a deluge being swept towards moral oblivion. His courage to speak the truth without fear knowing what he was saying was not being liked in the highest seat of power in the country was exemplary. Such men can today be counted on the tips of the finger. With him, we have lost one island where we have so few to retrieve our way back from sliding to moral oblivion. 

One occurrence concerning his courage will remain fresh in the memories of his admirers forever. His selfless courage in pointing to the faults of the ruling party had incurred the wrath of the Prime Minister who ridiculed him by stating in public that he was speaking in talk shows against the ruling party because it had denied him the permission for a TV station. Even the pro-AL media did not spin the accusation. Musa Bhai came out of it with his in integrity even more enhanced. The Prime Minister ridicule that would have sent many into fits of fear did not affect him in any way from speaking what he believed was the truth.

His death was witness to how desperate the society is for individuals like Musa Bhai to return from being swept away in a deluge towards moral nothingness. The media took the lead to show this desperate need as it forgot the deep division within it on party lines and wept at his death like children do when they lose a father.
One editor who hosted Musa Bhai on innumerable occasions in his talk shows articulated the nation’s loss by referring to as the “National Guardian” while covering the news of his passing away as the lead story of his newspaper. The outpouring of grief was spontaneous and widespread that cut across party lines and other divisions in the society.

AMB Musa died after a life of fulfilment in every sense. His achievements have been many. He was a journalist of an era now fading if not gone altogether that took up the noble profession of journalism to serve the “fourth estate” loyally.  He was an outstanding columnist who held his readers captive by casting a spell with his words and style where precision and objectivity were of the essence. He held important positions in leading the “fourth estate” and was President of the Press Club before it slipped into moral degradation by dividing on party lines that is undoubtedly the antithesis to the profession of journalism. 

He worked in Bangkok in ESACP that recruited him based on his outstanding abilities as a journalist at home. In 1973, Bangabandhu Sheik Mujibur Rahman acknowledged his outstanding qualities and  he  became a Member of Parliament. He was a freedom fighter and recipient of the Ekushey Award.It was therefore sad to see that even in death against the outpouring of love and affection for the man, there were people within the ruling party who could not rise above their pettiness and join the nation in honouring an icon and send him to his eternal rest with the respect and honour he so richly deserved. 

He was denied a Janaza at the South Plaza of the Parliament that all former members of parliament are entitled. He was again denied the Gun Salute to which freedom fighters are entitled when lowered to their final resting place. He saved the government the embarrassment of a place in the graveyard of intellectuals by wishing himself before he passed away to be buried by the side of his beloved mother.

It was therefore pitiful to see an Adviser of the government defend the denial of the Gun Salute in a TV talk show because he was not a gazetted freedom fighter as required by the regulations. His explanation was quickly dismissed by another participant who said that he had attended many funerals of well-known individuals in public life who had been honoured by the Gun Salute without bringing the issue of the gazette. 
A third participant in the same talk expressed his frustration that a great man was not honoured in death on technicality. Both these participants have no connections with the opposition with one, well known for his pro-AL sympathies.
AMB Musa was denied the honours for reasons of politics because those who could have given him the honours assumed that they would annoy the highest powers in the country by doing so. The Adviser who could have granted the Gun Salute to anyone else of the background of Musa Bhai defended the denial on technicality so that he also would not annoy powerful individuals. In the same way, those who denied his Janaza at the South Block of the Parliament did so to avoid questions from powerful quarters. In his death, Musa Bhai underlined the pettiness in politics that is pushing the country fast towards moral degradation.

The writer is a retired career Ambassador. His email id is ambserajulislam@gmail.com. The views expressed above are the writer’s very own not necessarily shared by this paper

Friday, April 18, 2014



The Financial Express


·       VIEWS & OPINION
Posted: 18 Apr, 2014
Pitfalls of interpreting history along any partisan line
M. Serajul Islam

An Awami League (AL) leader's anger on Tareque Zia is understandable but not the way he expressed it. Tareque Zia served a number of salvos from 1971 that challenged the claims of the ruling party on issues of our independence/liberation that it is not willing to share considering the high voltage political value in such claims. Nevertheless, he reacted and that too in parliament in a totally unacceptable manner. He called Tareque Zia an "idiot", referred to him like the Bengali-speaking people refer to people they consider lesser human by addressing him in "tui" terms and then went overboard on issues of decency and decorum. It is a pity that the Speaker allowed such an unbelievable diatribe in parliament.

The AL leader also crossed the line when he dragged the late President Ziaur Rahman into the disgraceful act. He said that saliva used to drip from his mouth when he addressed him and his colleagues as "Sir." The late President has forever etched a place for himself in the hearts of the people of Bangladesh forever by announcing over the Swadhin Bangla Radio the declaration of independence of Bangladesh. He founded the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) that has today support among half the people of the country. Therefore, even if Tareq Zia may have earned the wrath of the Awami League leader, there can be no reason, good or bad, for this AL leader to have insulted the late President in the most distasteful manner because he is not alive and around and therefore did not have anything to do with the actions of his son.

Another minister did even better in abusing the former President. He called Ziaur Rahman a Mir Jafar. Some of the Awami League leaders called the late President an agent of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan!  Some abused Begum Khaleda Zia in words that are unprintable. There are a few problems in the actions of the AL leaders that they do not realize as they compete who among them would be able to insult the late President and Begum Khaleda Zia more. One is that apart from being objectionable and uttered in bad taste, their actions have hurt millions who do not care about Tareq Zia but for good reasons, respect and revere his father in perfect harmony with the spirit of 1971.

Then there is a matter of history that makes the actions of these ministers/AL leaders utterly wrong. The Prime Minister herself has said that the people should not be confused by what Tareq Zia is saying and that there are enough ways these days to find the truth. The Prime Minister could not have been more to the point but unwittingly by her statement, she has also opened her party's stand on 1971 for inquiry in the court of history. If the people followed the Prime Minister and looked at history seriously, then her party leaders will be found guilty without any effort al all for humiliating the nation's hero in complete distortion of history. At the very least, President Ziaur Rahman had announced the declaration of independence and for nine months fought and led the war of liberation.

The AL has always claimed that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is the architect of the country's independence and in it there is no other stakeholder. It has also claimed that the Awami League led the war of liberation in every aspect and there is no other stakeholder. The AL's zero-sum interpretation of the war of liberation was challenged as soon as it lost power in August 1975. The opponents of the AL brought the role of President Zia into the centre of politics to challenge the AL's zero-sum version of history. In all fairness, it must be said that neither Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman nor Ziaur Rahman were actively a part of writing history on partisan party lines although the former mentioned upon coming to Bangladesh on January 10, 1972 that the country won its independence under the AL's leadership.

In the decade of President Ershad's rule, 1971 was played mostly in the way the AL wanted it. Since his fall, the BNP and the AL each interpreted 1971 in its own way while in power that did not bother the people who accepted the distortions as a part of the negative way that the two parties conducted their politics. The people were also not bothered because the distortions of history did not matter in the socio-economic development of the country. Nevertheless the people have always known that the truth about 1971 still remained to be unraveled and the claims of the two about 1971 were neither all true nor all to be dismissed. The people have always felt there were elements of truth/distortion in the claims of both the parties.

The AL's role after it won the 9th parliamentary elections with a 3/4th majority saw a paradigm shift in the treatment of the liberation war. President Ziaur Rahman has been abused and humiliated in parliament in words that were unbelievable. In the brief periods that the BNP went to parliament, it matched AL in abusing it, its role in 1971 and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Following the January 05 elections, the paradigm shift has been taking a dangerous shape. The AL is attempting to push   a party that is as strong as it is if not stronger out of the political stage. Instead, it is perpetrating an unbelievable farce on the country's parliamentary system. It has placed the Jatiya Party that after the recently upazilla elections have proven it is a worthless political party, as the "official opposition" as well as a part of the government, a nonsense of a system of government to make way for one-party rule. Unfortunately, unlike its first attempt at one-party rule in 1974-75 through the BAKSAL, the AL today does not hold a majority support in the country.

In the midst of the emerging politics of the country, the BNP's options in politics have been limited and its democratic space has been almost totally taken away from it. Therefore, Tareq Zia's attempt to bring 1971 to the dock is a part of a new strategy that the BNP has adopted to do politics where its democratic space is no longer there.  The BNP feels that 1971 could be the party's Achilles heel and attacking it on issues related to 1971 could provide it with rich political dividends without the risks of incarceration or other physical abuses. The 1971 war, the AL's contributions notwithstanding, was much larger than the party. It was a people's war where a nation of 75 million stood as a monolith and ensured that it would succeed when most of the rest of the world at the government level had chosen to be quiet on the Pakistani genocide.

In that war, the people of Bangladesh were encouraged to back the liberation war with their heart and soul by those who took up arms and fought in the battlefield. Of course Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the main source of people's hopes and inspiration. Nevertheless, many people have reservations about the AL's claims of their zero-sum interpretation of the liberation war. People would like to know what the AL's political leadership had done in those nine months of 1971 and what were the reasons for Bangabandhu's courting arrest by the Pakistan army. They would also like to know whether Bangladesh is a new state or a successor state of Pakistan. If it were a new state, then a serious legal issue would ensue - whether the parliamentarians elected in December 1970 for the parliament of Pakistan had the legality to write the Bangladesh Constitution of 1972.

Tareq Zia has pushed 1971 to the dock. Calling him an "idiot" cannot dismiss the issues raised by him. The reactions of the AL ministers and leadership indicate the party is flustered and getting drawn to a political battle that it cannot win by brawns. Zero-sum interpretations of history will no longer satisfy the nation. In people's court, the AL by the filthy and disgusting way its ministers and leaders have abused President Ziaur Rahman, could be the eventual losers.

The writer is a retired career Ambassador. serajul7@gmail.com
 
The Holiday

April 18, 2014
Curtain finally falls on Ganajagaran Mancha
M. Serajul Islam
Imran H Sarker’s (IHS) brief tryst with history and glory is over but his downfall may not be a wasted one. There was at least one immediate outcome. One of his erstwhile guardians in the Ganajagaran Mancha’s (GM) heydays said after his fall in a TV interview that the last one year has proved that in this country, there cannot be any politics without religion!

He and his secular friends were busy spreading the news that Bangladesh was on way to becoming a secular state where religion (Islam) would not be allowed a public space when the Mancha was to the AL led Government special and worthy of the highest attention. One of his comrades, albeit an elder one, even went to the extent and said; before the GM collapsed, that Bangladesh would cease to be a Muslim state and become a secular one!

It is true that the GM had captured the imagination of the nation when it suddenly emerged on the political scene. It is true that the vast majority of the people were very angry because Qader Mollah had been spared the gallows while Bacchu Razakar had been sentenced to die. It is also true that the Mancha had articulated the sentiments of the people in favour of the war crimes trials. These truths notwithstanding, the Mancha was never what it was made to be; it was never a movement where the Projonmo ever had the potentials or the control to lead the county to fulfill the objectives for which millions had sacrificed their lives in 1971. There were too many palpable flaws in the movement to ever reach the lofty heights that the media had predicted it would.

Ganajagaran Mancha’s demise
A new group has relieved IHS of his role as the Spokesman of the GM. Before and after he was relieved, he blamed the government for talking with Jamaat secretly and promised to lead the GM differently and independently of the government. The new group that replaced IHS has blamed him for failing to lead the GM, charging him of financial embezzlement. IHS has served the death sentence for the Mancha’s future by going against the government. In fact, his predicament and that of his followers would now be no better than if the Chatra Dal/Jubo Dal were to take over the GM. The new group that has been named has the ruling party’s imprint so largely written all over it that the people would have no reason to believe that the GM would be any different than the Chatra League or Jubo League.

The GM for all practical purpose is now history. It is however sad that it ended this way because the people had expected so much from the movement. Therefore it is a matter of obligation for those who write about politics and history of the country to look at the GM and find out answers for the people about what went wrong. With curtains down on the GM, it is time to find the palpable flaws in the movement and ask why the flaws had not been revealed and the people were kept in darkness. It was the duty of the media to expose these flaws and therefore it is the media’s primary responsibility for keeping the people in the dark.

The media did not look into the background of the young men and women who gathered out of nowhere as soon as Qader Mollah was given the reprieve from the gallows. It did not inquire why these youth who started by chanting slogans against the ICT and the government changed their slogans and chanted new ones that started with the spirit of 1971 and death to those under trial at the ICT but slowly and surely turned against the Jamat at first and then against the BNP. The media also failed to inquire and find out that amongst those in the GM who were part of a well know group in the Internet who loved humiliating Islam and Prophet Mohammad (pbuh). In fact, had the media questioned before it was too late it would have found out that some of those had been reprimanded in a Dhaka court for anti-Islam postings in their blogs. In that event, it could have saved the GM from its slide after just a few days of glory on the issue of Islam. Instead, the media grossly underestimated the strength of Islam in Bangladesh and instead pushed all these issues under the rug, particularly the anti-Islam bloggers and their postings.

Media’s intentional failure
In retrospect, the media’s failure was not unintentional. Unfortunately for the GM, the pro-BNP newspaper Amar Desh published the offensive postings that it picked on the Internet where it had gone viral and made it public knowledge. The postings were so unbelievably offensive that people deserted the GM as fast as they had gone there when the offensive postings became public. The media went into denial with the way people deserted the GM following the publication of the postings in Amar Desh. In fact, the electronic media misused technology to show that people were still with the GM and had not deserted it when in fact most of them had left it and a section of the print media turned a blind eye to such distortions.

The media’s more serious failures were that it turned a blind eye to the presence of the well-known cultural activists with deep links to the ruling party in the GM. These individuals were seen on live TV guiding the GM leaders. In fact, they became the self-appointed guardians and were with it all the time as if it was their movement. The media did not ask why they were glued to the GM when they were old enough to be the fathers and grandfathers of the Shahabag youth. Instead the media in league with them glorified the GM as a movement of the new generation that would relieve the country from its political and moral ills. The media also did not reveal that these individuals also had an agenda of their own and was using the GM to fulfill it, namely, to banish the public face of Islam in Bangladesh in the name of secularism. 

The mainstream media’s other major failure was not exposing the way the AL led government took control of the movement once the AL cultural activists had delivered the Mancha to its laps. The media turned a blind eye to the hands of the ruling party in bringing the crowds to Shahabag; to arranging the huge finance that was required to keep the GM going; to providing the security for the it and its leaders; to pampering and turning the GM leaders, in particular IHS, into adorable national heroes. The media did not ask why the government was taking orders from the GM, changing laws and doing its every bidding. Even if the media had played its role partly as an honest broker, it would have exposed that the government was using the GM openly and blatantly for its political objectives and not at all secretly.

GM served a purpose
The nation was hardly surprised that the GM has collapsed. To most of the people, it really existed at best for 2 weeks till the anti-Islam blogs became public. For the rest of the period till its inglorious end with accusations of financial embezzlement and alleged flirtations with anti-liberation elements, the GM was kept going by the combined efforts of the AL government and the media for achieving the political objectives of the ruling party. Nevertheless the GM did not really fail the people but not the way its leaders and the ruling party and its cultural allies wanted or expected. The GM by its rise and fall has established that to the overwhelming majority of people of Bangladesh, Islam is of the essence and that secularism can co-exist with it but not at its expense. 

The lack of even a murmur at the downfall of the GM from the people has further established and strengthened the case of Islam. The cultural activist who said in the media that in Bangladesh there couldn’t be politics without religion has underlined that the efforts of the secular forces to use the GM to push Islam from public domain allowing secularism unchallenged acceptance in public life has not succeeded. The way the Jamat has resurged as witnessed in the upazilla lections has also established how important Islam is to the people of Bangladesh. People supported the Jamaat in large numbers not because of any love for the party’s politics but because they wanted to register their protest against the ruling party for allowing the GM to humiliate Islam. The discussions in political circles that the ruling party is now talking with the Jamaat, even if a baseless rumour, underlines that Islam as a political force in Bangladesh is now stronger than before and that this is not due to the fundamentalist forces such as the Jamaat. Perhaps in all these, the country may in the end benefit because the secular forces that were determined to fight Islam to the end, will now know how impossible their case is. The fall of the GM therefore has helped the country avert the possibility of a dangerous civil conflict and given the country the opportunity to let Islam and secularism co-exist as the two did over the centuries.

All united for war crime trial
The curtain over the GM has finally fallen. After all the sound and fury, it has only the head of Qader Mollah to show as achievement and has fallen without a whimper. Â In that too, the circumstances under which he was hanged could some day return to haunt the nation that was as united on the issue of the war crimes trials and demand for capital punishment for the accused as it was in 1971.That unity was squandered because the GM allowed itself to be used by the ruling party for its political ends with the media as a collaborator. The final moments of the hanging of Qader Mollah, when Ministers participated live before TV in the count down left many wondering whether Qader Mollah was hanged in the due process of the law after all.

The writer is a career Ambassador and his email id is ambserajulislam@gmail.com

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


-->The following articles have been carried by The Independent, Daily Sun, Financial Express and Holiday in the last 2 months.



Teesta and LBA go out of Bangladesh’s orbit

M. Serajul Islam



Manmohon Singh has finally communicated to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the sidelines of the BIMSTEC Summit in Myanmar the bad news that the Congress Government would be unable to deliver the Teesta and the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) deals in its present term to end next month. Lest readers forget facts, Bangladesh’s negotiators had assured the nation that delivering the deals was a formality and that these would be signed during the visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Dhaka in September 2011.

Bangladesh had by then delivered to India most of its security requirements, including the hand over of the 7 top ULFA leaders that helped India break the dangerous ULFA secessionist movement. Bangladesh also had provided India land transit on a trial basis from which Tripura built the 700 MW gas based Palatana power plant in Tripura at great harm to its roads. Dhaka had prepared the letters that were to be exchanged to give to the Indians land transit on a permanent basis.

The formality over the Teesta deal did not occur because Mamata Banarjee refused to back the centre that needed her province’s concurrence to sign it because under the Indian Constitution, water is a provincial subject. Her refusal came literally at the 11th hour with Dhaka ready to celebrate the signing of the Teesta agreement as the icing on the cake for the initiatives that Sheikh Hasina had taken at great political risks to further relations with India.  Bangladesh retaliated and withdrew the letters that would have been exchanged in Dhaka between the two Prime Ministers to give land transit to India permanently. The two sides nevertheless signed the LBA in Dhaka subject to ratification in the Indian parliament.

Manmohon Singh gave no hint in Dhaka that the ratification would be a problem. He also said that the   delay to sign the Teesta agreement was temporary. The aides of the Bangladesh Prime Minister backed India to dismiss any concern in the country about its promise to deliver. In fact, one curious thing about Bangladesh’s negotiators was their confidence in New Delhi’s promises. Thus when everybody knew the Teesta deal was off, then Bangladesh Foreign Minister refused to believe that India would withdraw it and told journalists the night before Manmohon Singh’s visit that the deal would be signed the next day!

Subsequently, New Delhi repeatedly many times that the deals would be delivered to Bangladesh  “soon.” Senior Bangladeshi ministers said that the Teesta deal would be signed within two to three months. One of Prime Minister’s Advisers said that Bangladesh would invite Mamata Banarjee to Dhaka to convince people that her objection was not serious. Notwithstanding the assurances, independent sources regularly reported that the deals were stuck due to differences between the Congress and the BJP/Trinamool in case of the LBA and Congress and Trinamool in case of the Teesta deal. The Bangladesh negotiators, acting in blind faith, dismissed such concerns, sometimes angrily. Eventually, nervousness gripped Dhaka as New Delhi continued to keep it hanging on hopes. Bangladesh sent its High Commissioner in New Delhi to Gandhinagar to solicit Narendra Modi’s support for the LBA.  Instead, Narendra Modi tweeted that a predominantly Muslim Bangladesh had knocked at his door by sending its top diplomat to him.

Manmohon Singh’s admission in Myanmar now suggests that media speculations that the two deals were seriously stuck in Indian politics were true. The admission therefore raises new issues that have to be addressed to take Bangladesh-India relations forward. One of course is the need for truth and honesty in carrying forward these relations. In the way New Delhi and Dhaka conducted bilateral relations, the need to be truthful was never taken seriously by either side, much less so by New Delhi. Former Foreign Minister SM Krishnan and incumbent Salman Khurshid time and again assured Dhaka knowing such assurances was misplaced. So did Manmohon Singh. Dhaka negotiators never bothered to check the assurances and instead drummed India’s assurances. Dhaka did so because the AL led government was increasingly fearful of the political consequences, the so-called “India factor’, in case India failed to deliver.

In the end, the “India factor” became irrelevant because Bangladesh did not have the  “inclusive” elections. Many senior Indian diplomats who served in Bangladesh repeatedly said in the media that if the elections were “inclusive” , the AL would suffer the consequences from the “India factor” for its  betrayal, a line that many Indian and international newspapers of standing have also supported. The Congress is now almost certain to lose the forthcoming national elections. USA based PEW research centre’s survey conducted between December 2013 and January 12, 2014 has revealed that 6 out of 10 Indians (62%) want a BJP led government in New Delhi against 2 in 10 (19%), a Congress led government.

A BJP led Government in New Delhi is unlikely to ratify the LBA having opposed Congress Government’s efforts to do so. Trinamool has also opposed the LBA ratification. Additionally, Mamata Banarjee continues to oppose the Teesta deal strongly. The AL, upset with her, is now accusing Trinamool for giving sanctuary to Jamat elements running from law enforcing agencies in Bangladesh. Therefore, Manmohon Singh’s wishes communicated to Sheikh Hasina that the next government in India would deliver the deals was a cruel joke on Bangladesh. Instead, if he was honest, he should have conveyed an apology to Sheikh Hasina and the people of Bangladesh for betraying her trust that she had taken at great political risk.

Of course, he was under no pressure to apologize because the Bangladesh government expressed neither anger nor any dis-satisfaction over the news he conveyed. Instead, the government expressed gratitude to the India for the offer to sell an additional 100 MW of electricity that Manmohon Singh conveyed to Sheikh Hasina while regretting his government’s inability to deliver the Teesta and LBA deals. The bad news on the two deals was followed by steps by the Ministry of Commerce to deliver to India the India land transit on a permanent basis.  One Minister recently reminded that Bangladesh should forever be grateful to India for its role in 1971.  Its reaction to the Indian film “Gundey” that explained the emergence of Bangladesh as the outcome of Indo-Pakistan war was thus lukewarm as if it was afraid to annoy India. The Bangladesh government by its actions appeared apologetic for New Delhi’s failure!

The Bangladesh government is again using the carrot of connectivity with a new spin to take people’s mind off from New Delhi failures to deliver the Teesta and LBA deals. In the new spin, the connectivity carrot is being spun around the concept of Bangladesh, India, China, and Myanmar Economic Corridor (BICM-EC), a transnational highway in which Bangladesh would be the hub of regional economic activity. There has been no official response from China on the BICM-EC in any detailed manner to back what is coming out from official sources in Bangladesh. Myanmar is also silent over the spin.. The spin also does not say what would be the position of the new government in India if it is led by the BJP given the fact that the proposed highway would give China road access to the fragile seven sisters where India has major security concerns vis-a-vis China.

The new spin also does not take into the equation the interests of  US that has recently invested hugely in Myanmar to bring it into its fold for strategic reasons vis-à-vis China. Therefore, this new spin could again be another attempt by New-Delhi to give the Bangladesh Government ammunition to encourage the people happy with new promises without   delivering past ones, only this time the spin will most likely be tested by new developments in India itself and US’ stake in the region. In all these pros and cons, one thing is certain; the Teesta and LBA deals have gone off Bangladesh’s orbit for the foreseeable future and the favours that Bangladesh did to India in the last five years have been largely wasted.

 
The writer is a retired career Ambassador. His email is serajul7@gmail.com


Teesta and LBA go out of Bangladesh’s orbit

M. Serajul Islam



Manmohon Singh has finally communicated to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the sidelines of the BIMSTEC Summit in Myanmar the bad news that the Congress Government would be unable to deliver the Teesta and the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) deals in its present term to end next month. Lest readers forget facts, Bangladesh’s negotiators had assured the nation that delivering the deals was a formality and that these would be signed during the visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Dhaka in September 2011.

Bangladesh had by then delivered to India most of its security requirements, including the hand over of the 7 top ULFA leaders that helped India break the dangerous ULFA secessionist movement. Bangladesh also had provided India land transit on a trial basis from which Tripura built the 700 MW gas based Palatana power plant in Tripura at great harm to its roads. Dhaka had prepared the letters that were to be exchanged to give to the Indians land transit on a permanent basis.

The formality over the Teesta deal did not occur because Mamata Banarjee refused to back the centre that needed her province’s concurrence to sign it because under the Indian Constitution, water is a provincial subject. Her refusal came literally at the 11th hour with Dhaka ready to celebrate the signing of the Teesta agreement as the icing on the cake for the initiatives that Sheikh Hasina had taken at great political risks to further relations with India.  Bangladesh retaliated and withdrew the letters that would have been exchanged in Dhaka between the two Prime Ministers to give land transit to India permanently. The two sides nevertheless signed the LBA in Dhaka subject to ratification in the Indian parliament.

Manmohon Singh gave no hint in Dhaka that the ratification would be a problem. He also said that the   delay to sign the Teesta agreement was temporary. The aides of the Bangladesh Prime Minister backed India to dismiss any concern in the country about its promise to deliver. In fact, one curious thing about Bangladesh’s negotiators was their confidence in New Delhi’s promises. Thus when everybody knew the Teesta deal was off, then Bangladesh Foreign Minister refused to believe that India would withdraw it and told journalists the night before Manmohon Singh’s visit that the deal would be signed the next day!

Subsequently, New Delhi repeatedly many times that the deals would be delivered to Bangladesh  “soon.” Senior Bangladeshi ministers said that the Teesta deal would be signed within two to three months. One of Prime Minister’s Advisers said that Bangladesh would invite Mamata Banarjee to Dhaka to convince people that her objection was not serious. Notwithstanding the assurances, independent sources regularly reported that the deals were stuck due to differences between the Congress and the BJP/Trinamool in case of the LBA and Congress and Trinamool in case of the Teesta deal. The Bangladesh negotiators, acting in blind faith, dismissed such concerns, sometimes angrily. Eventually, nervousness gripped Dhaka as New Delhi continued to keep it hanging on hopes. Bangladesh sent its High Commissioner in New Delhi to Gandhinagar to solicit Narendra Modi’s support for the LBA.  Instead, Narendra Modi tweeted that a predominantly Muslim Bangladesh had knocked at his door by sending its top diplomat to him.

Manmohon Singh’s admission in Myanmar now suggests that media speculations that the two deals were seriously stuck in Indian politics were true. The admission therefore raises new issues that have to be addressed to take Bangladesh-India relations forward. One of course is the need for truth and honesty in carrying forward these relations. In the way New Delhi and Dhaka conducted bilateral relations, the need to be truthful was never taken seriously by either side, much less so by New Delhi. Former Foreign Minister SM Krishnan and incumbent Salman Khurshid time and again assured Dhaka knowing such assurances was misplaced. So did Manmohon Singh. Dhaka negotiators never bothered to check the assurances and instead drummed India’s assurances. Dhaka did so because the AL led government was increasingly fearful of the political consequences, the so-called “India factor’, in case India failed to deliver.

In the end, the “India factor” became irrelevant because Bangladesh did not have the  “inclusive” elections. Many senior Indian diplomats who served in Bangladesh repeatedly said in the media that if the elections were “inclusive” , the AL would suffer the consequences from the “India factor” for its  betrayal, a line that many Indian and international newspapers of standing have also supported. The Congress is now almost certain to lose the forthcoming national elections. USA based PEW research centre’s survey conducted between December 2013 and January 12, 2014 has revealed that 6 out of 10 Indians (62%) want a BJP led government in New Delhi against 2 in 10 (19%), a Congress led government.

A BJP led Government in New Delhi is unlikely to ratify the LBA having opposed Congress Government’s efforts to do so. Trinamool has also opposed the LBA ratification. Additionally, Mamata Banarjee continues to oppose the Teesta deal strongly. The AL, upset with her, is now accusing Trinamool for giving sanctuary to Jamat elements running from law enforcing agencies in Bangladesh. Therefore, Manmohon Singh’s wishes communicated to Sheikh Hasina that the next government in India would deliver the deals was a cruel joke on Bangladesh. Instead, if he was honest, he should have conveyed an apology to Sheikh Hasina and the people of Bangladesh for betraying her trust that she had taken at great political risk.

Of course, he was under no pressure to apologize because the Bangladesh government expressed neither anger nor any dis-satisfaction over the news he conveyed. Instead, the government expressed gratitude to the India for the offer to sell an additional 100 MW of electricity that Manmohon Singh conveyed to Sheikh Hasina while regretting his government’s inability to deliver the Teesta and LBA deals. The bad news on the two deals was followed by steps by the Ministry of Commerce to deliver to India the India land transit on a permanent basis.  One Minister recently reminded that Bangladesh should forever be grateful to India for its role in 1971.  Its reaction to the Indian film “Gundey” that explained the emergence of Bangladesh as the outcome of Indo-Pakistan war was thus lukewarm as if it was afraid to annoy India. The Bangladesh government by its actions appeared apologetic for New Delhi’s failure!

The Bangladesh government is again using the carrot of connectivity with a new spin to take people’s mind off from New Delhi failures to deliver the Teesta and LBA deals. In the new spin, the connectivity carrot is being spun around the concept of Bangladesh, India, China, and Myanmar Economic Corridor (BICM-EC), a transnational highway in which Bangladesh would be the hub of regional economic activity. There has been no official response from China on the BICM-EC in any detailed manner to back what is coming out from official sources in Bangladesh. Myanmar is also silent over the spin.. The spin also does not say what would be the position of the new government in India if it is led by the BJP given the fact that the proposed highway would give China road access to the fragile seven sisters where India has major security concerns vis-a-vis China.

The new spin also does not take into the equation the interests of  US that has recently invested hugely in Myanmar to bring it into its fold for strategic reasons vis-à-vis China. Therefore, this new spin could again be another attempt by New-Delhi to give the Bangladesh Government ammunition to encourage the people happy with new promises without   delivering past ones, only this time the spin will most likely be tested by new developments in India itself and US’ stake in the region. In all these pros and cons, one thing is certain; the Teesta and LBA deals have gone off Bangladesh’s orbit for the foreseeable future and the favours that Bangladesh did to India in the last five years have been largely wasted.



The writer is a retired career Ambassador. His email is serajul7@gmail.com


Asia Cup: Lessons for Bangladesh cricket
M. Serajul Islam



Bangladesh’s cricket reached its highest pinnacle immediately after touching its nadir in the space of just a few days. Its loss to Afghanistan in its second game in the Asia Cup caused uproar in the country and for the right reasons. Afghanistan is a war-ravaged country and playing for the first time in a competition in the company of Test playing countries and only its fourth game against a Test playing team. Yet it won the match convincingly after two of its batsmen staged a rescue operation that saw Afghanistan rise from the debris at 90/5 to reach 254. In chasing, the Bangladesh batsmen made a mess and were bowled out for 222.

Sports scribes, cricket administrators and almost everybody else in the country condemned the team for the defeat as a national shame. Captain Mushfiqur Rahman accused his teammates and the cricket administrators for the debacle. Mushfiq’s grievance against the administrators was that he was not given the best team and was not even consulted in the choice of the team he was given. He accused some of his teammates of not giving the team their best. Nothing changed in between the game against Afghanistan and the one against Pakistan where the Bangladesh team reached lofty heights. There is of course no reason to believe that the one to one meetings that the Board’s President and his colleagues had with the players who were not giving the team their best (they were not named) had any impact in motivating the team. Yet the Bangladesh team totally transformed itself and played against Pakistan like the Afghan nightmare never happened.

In the match against Pakistan, the odds were clearly stacked against the Bangladesh Team. It has a dismal record in the limited overs match against Pakistan having lost more than 30 matches against it so far with only one win. Moreover, Pakistan came to the match with its confidence high having won the match against its arch-rival India. It also has arguably the best bowling attack among all the sides competing in the Asia Cup and Bangladesh batsmen were not expected to perform particularly well against that attack.

The Bangladesh batsmen proved everyone wrong. They batted like champions and except for Hafiz; all other bowlers were given the drubbing that they have not received for a long time. In the end, Mushfiq and Saquib played Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal, considered among the best bowlers in limited over game, like they were playing cricket with tennis ball! Newcomer Alamul scored his second one-day century and all the other batsmen, Imrul, Mushfiq and Mominul, scored half centuries. Saquib was unbeaten at 48 in only 18 balls and the way he was going he could have scored a century effortlessly in near record time. In the end, 326-3 was not just Bangladesh’s highest score ever in one-day cricket; the score was achieved with the Pakistan cricketers looking totally dishevelled and conquered.

With such a huge score and the way it was reached, Bangladesh went to the field defending that total with the odds heavily in its favour. Pakistan had never chased any score in excess of 250. Unfortunately, while defending, Bangladesh’s weakness in the bowling department became palpably evident. The two pacers were nothing more than ordinary. Except Saquib no other bowler seemed to be of any class. Razzak once redoubtable for his ability for length bowling is now a shadow of his old self. He should not have been in the team in the first place when he had more than tough competition from the young Arafat Sunny.

Mushfiq’s batting has reached a high level of class and maturity. His captaincy has not. He did not handle his bowlers efficiently with any degree of vision. He handed the ball to Razzak to bowl the 48th over when Bangladesh came back strongly getting Afridi out with 33 needed of 18 balls. In that Razzak over, Fawad hit two exquisite sixes and turned the advantage that Saquib had given to the team by running Afridi out with a brilliant direct throw. In fact, in a post match briefing, the Pakistani captain gave more credit to those two sixes for Pakistan’s ultimate victory. In fact choice of Razzak in the team was a big mistake. Instead of giving him the 48th over, a better choice would have been Al Amin who was given the 50th over and almost pulled off a miracle when there were only 5 runs to be scored.

The final match of Bangladesh against Sri Lanka helped identify the advances of Bangladesh cricket as well as a few more of its cricketing problems. Bangladesh had Sri Lanka, chasing a moderate 206, on the ropes at 3-8 and then again at 75-5 reviving memories of the match in the bilateral series before the Asia Cup when Bangladesh lost after having SL at 67-8. When to these two matches, the loss to Afghanistan and Pakistan are accounted, the conclusion is that either there must be a jinx working in the team that encourages it to lose from winning positions regularly or the team just has not have what it takes to win! In the 7 limited over matches it played in the last one month, most other international sides would have won at least four. instead  the Bangladesh team managed to lose all seven!

The time has come for Bangladesh’s cricket administrators to return to the drawing board to plan for the future of Bangladesh cricket, at least as far as the limited overs version is concerned. The team has now shown the potentials that could and should make it a winning team against any competition. It is losing because the team lacks the guidance on how to play under pressure. Individual talents are being wasted at crucial times of the games for either captaincy errors or because of unforgivable fielding errors or simply because the team has not jelled as a unit. The management would need to focus on bowling and fielding weakness, phase out a few non performers and ensure that the crop of extremely talented batsmen do not give away their wickets as they are still doing.

That leaves the most important question in the equation, which is whether the management would be able to play the role Bangladesh cricket needs from it in the drawing board. Mushfiq has made it clear that there is a tension between the team and the management. Saquib’s lewd behaviour that led to his suspension at a time when the team needed his services desperately underlined that these young and talented cricketers are not really under a tight leash. The team’s couch does not appear to have any major role in shaping the team to reflect the talent in it. All these points to the conclusion that Bangladesh’s cricketing problems today are largely management related. Otherwise, there is no reason why after coming so close to beating Pakistan and Sri Lanka and matching India as equals, it had to go out of  Asia Cup at the bottom of the table, losing even to Afghanistan.


January 5th elections, democracy and the spirit of 1971
M. Serajul Islam



The Prime Minister had said before the January 5th elections that her government must hold the national elections for the 10th parliament even if the BNP boycotted it to fulfil a constitutional necessity. She had argued that without timely elections, extra-constitutional forces would intervene in the constitutional vacuum that would be created without elections. She and her colleagues had also stated explicitly that after the elections for the 10th parliament was over, there would be discussions with the BNP to find a way out to hold the elections for the 11th parliament.

The AL is now saying that it has a five-year mandate and elections for the 11th Parliament would be held after the 10th parliament completed its term. In fact, some of its leaders are looking even beyond 2019, in particular for the landmark year of 2021 to be around to celebrate the 50th year of the liberation of Bangladesh. Its leaders are spending a good part of their time taunting and teasing the BNP. In what can only be described as politics in its surreal worst, the ruling party’s most favourite pastime at present is to rub salt into the wound of the BNP for its current predicament. The ruling party has chosen the BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia for humiliation where they are abusing her and making fun of her and in between accusing her of committing crimes in a manner like politics with the opposition is a joke! In all these, it is in a state of denial about what the January 5th elections have done to it’s standing in the country and to the country itself.

In the last 43 years, Bangladesh has seen many unbelievable things happen in its politics. Yet, what the country is witnessing with the January 5th elections and subsequent developments would beat all the strange and unbelievable things that have happened in the past taken together.  Take for instance the AL’s stance present stance in the country’s politics. it is behaving like it won a thumping victory in an election participated by all the parties, including the BNP, and that the elections were held in a free and fair manner.

That was hardly the case. The January 5th elections cannot be called democratic elections for many reasons. First, 154 of the 300 members of parliament for the 10th parliament have won their seats without a single vote because of the boycott of the BNP and 33 of the 45 registered political parties and political apathy because the elections were nothing more than one-party. Second, in the remaining 147 seats, the turn out was less than 10 % that meant that only about 5% of the country’s 9.2 crores voters have voted in elections for the 10th parliament! Third, the January 5th elections have given the country a parliament where the Speaker does not have even the vote of a single voter in her favour. Fourthly, 23 Cabinet Ministers, out of 31, like the Speaker, are  “voter-less” and thus cannot be called people’s representatives. Finally, the January 5th elections have dis-enfranchised over 50% of the voters. These realities have taken away from the present government the faintest semblance of democracy and democratic basis of governance.

There were many other bizarre things that happened with regards to the January 5th elections. The opposition BNP that had boycotted the elections for the same reasons for which the AL had boycotted the 1996 elections but under more convincing reasons, was not allowed any democratic space to express its right of dissent. Begum Khaleda Zia was kept detained in her house in full view of the media to ensure that she would not be able to lead her supporters in the  “March for Democracy” she had called on January 29th to encourage the people not to vote for the one-party elections on the 5th of January. The government, however, explained that she was “protected” for her own safety and at her own request! The BNP office was kept under lock where no one was allowed to enter after the party’s Joint Secretary General was arrested following a Bombay-style raid and most senior BNP leaders were either jailed or forced into hiding not just out of fear of arrest but also out of fear of their lives!

That was not the end of eeriness surrounding the January 5th elections. The AL led government through the law enforcing agencies and party activists ensured that the BNP/Jamat were not be able to come out in public without being arrested or shot. In contrast, the government allowed itself all the privileges, lost of it illegal under the election rules, to carry out electioneering. The contrast was so distasteful that any right thinking member of the public found serious problems with what was happening. The Election Commission, whose duty it was to ensure that all political parties were treated as equals, turned a blind eye to the contrast and left no one guessing whose interest it was serving. In fact, the EC went out of its way to serve the interests of the ruling party in matters related to the January 5th elections on occasions galore that were palpably evident to everybody and embarrassed the nation except the ruling party.

The way the ruling party treated the Jatiya Party and former President HM Ershad was absurd. There was no doubt that he had read the political situation correctly when he had decided to boycott the elections when the BNP was adamant about boycotting. The way he was arm twisted to participate by being taken to the CMH by the law enforcing agencies was the substance of a very cheap and third-rate storybook. The unbelievable thing about this story was that everybody saw what was happening. For instance, while the government stated that HM Ershad was sick and thus was in hospital, everybody knew he was hale and hearty and playing golf! An Adviser went to meet him at the CMH to wish him speedy recovery. He knew that the rest of the country knew that all he was play acting but he seemed to have no qualms, like truth has no place in our politics! The way a small part of the JP openly played its disgusting role in this cheap political drama was disgusting.

The Prime Minister, while on a visit to England sometime ago, had said that Bangladesh followed the Westminster type of parliamentary democracy. The January 5th elections have messed the Westminster model where the government that Bangladesh has today and the Westminster model are at two polar opposites.  Jatiya Party has been made the “official opposition” and Begum Raushan Ershad, the leader of the Opposition in the same manner HM Ershad, as the military dictator, had made the JSD as the “loyal” opposition party 1988 and had made ASM Rab, the Leader of the Opposition. In fact, what the AL did this time was worse. It made the JP not just the “official opposition” but also a part of the government! That was done as benefit for the small faction of the JP that played its part against the majority of the JP members who had stayed away from the elections when HM Ershad had decided to boycott the elections before being arm-twisted, many would say “blackmailed”, to participate in the elections in the open political engineering of the ruling party to return to power.

The January 5th elections in the end made a mockery of the right of the people to vote in a free and fair election to elect the government of their choice. It was a mockery of what the people in 1971 fought for under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The war of liberation was fought because the military regime of Pakistan turned down the will of the people of then East Pakistan expressed in the December 1970 elections through which they had voted the Awami League to form the Government of Pakistan and Sheikh Mujib to lead that government as the Prime Minister. The people had voted for the AL to remove the economic disparity between East and West Pakistan on the basis of the party’s Six Points programme. Instead Pakistan’s military regime committed genocide after declaring void the verdict of the people of East Pakistan expressed through the December, 1970 elections. Thus the very spirit of 1971 was to protect people’s right to vote and elect the government of their choice. The January 5th elections, by disenfranchising over half of the voters of the country and electing a parliament with only 5% votes leaving 95% out thus contradicted the spirit of 1971 in no unambiguous term.

All these strange ways in which the elections were held and the government established notwithstanding, the ruling party did not bother about what it was doing. It did it all by taking the nation into “confidence”. Its efforts thus watched in public left no one in doubt that all it was interested was to retain power at any cost. It did not bother that not just Bangladesh but the rest of the world was watching, particularly the country’s development partners, who all advised before the elections were held, not to hold it without the opposition and thereafter, after the way the elections were held, to hold new elections to return legitimacy to the government as elections on January 5th to them were “deeply flawed.”

Thus none of Bangladesh’s development partners, European democracies and Canada, Japan and Australia welcomed the new government in a considered decision designed not to give the elections legitimacy. The Muslim world likewise also refrained from coming forward to welcome the new government. India, China and Russia nevertheless welcomed the new government and were later followed by a good number of countries that appeared more like their welcome was solicited with many in the list, countries that have little to no claim to democracy. India stated that the elections were a constitutional necessity.

India played a major role in the way the January 5th elections were held remaining behind scenes though inexplicably not all the time. The public perception shared by many who are not opposition supporters is that India stage managed the entire process and provided the ruling party the strength and support to hold what eventually turned out, constitutional as it may have been, grossly undemocratic elections. In fact, outside the ruling party and its supporters, India has cone its standing in Bangladesh great harm by not just openly supporting the Awami League but from the way the Indian Foreign Secretary behaved on her official visit to Dhaka in early December; going much supporting its favourite. In fact given India’s claim to democratic credentials, many in Bangladesh felt that Sujata Singh would carry a message from New Delhi to Sheikh Hasina to seek the democratic way over the elections issue.

Instead, she asked the Jatiya Party to support the AL’s efforts to hold elections without the BNP to ensure that the AL once again returned to power! It was unbelievable that the Indian Foreign Secretary did not consider that the proposal she made to HM Ershad was a blatant interference in the internal affairs of Bangladesh. It was even more unbelievable that she trusted HM Ershad who is not trusted by anyone in Bangladesh to keep her proposal confidential. HM Ershad spilled the beans as soon as the Indian Foreign Secretary had left his residence where the meeting was held. India’s role in the elections of January 5th will certainly haunt it in future. The Congress led government has exposed it for sacrificing the very beliefs for which India is respected worldwide. All nations in one way or another pursue its national interests and sometimes, improper ones like what India has done in Bangladesh. The clever ones do not get exposed; India has been and as the expression goes, with its pants down. India’s improper role in Bangladesh in 2013-2014 has placed at jeopardy the country’s gratefulness to it for its 1971 role.

In fact, if it were possible to have a referendum on India’s present standing in Bangladesh, it is most likely embarrass India. India’s blatant support for un-democratic elections in Bangladesh following at the heels of its failure to deliver the LBA and Teesta deals has pushed its acceptance in Bangladesh at its lowest ebb ever. The Mumbai film “Gundey” that suggested that Bangladesh’s independence was the result of the India-Pakistan war of 1971 that ignored the war of liberation therefore came at a wrong time for assessing how people in Bangladesh perceive India. It fanned the perception now gaining ground in Bangladesh about India’s patronizing view of the country. Although there was a grudging “apology” from the producers of Gundey, Ahmed Zafar, the writer and director had this to say: “ Each country has its own version of events… [The Bangladeshis] see it from their point of view, but according to Indian history, the war began when Pakistan attacked India on December 3.”

The January 5th elections have thus messed up with democracy, the spirit of 1971 and the image of the country abroad. It has also exposed that India wants in Bangladesh a regime willing to fulfil its interests with no questions asked. Overall, the elections have seriously dented people’s pride in Bangladesh as a democratic country built upon sacrifices of millions because the country now has a government in which 90% of the people did not have any say, thus very short on legitimacy. Therefore, the January 5th elections have not created problems for the BNP really; the problems are squarely on the lap of all Bangladeshis. They owe it to the millions who gave their lives in 1971 so that present generations and future ones would be able to live in a country where their democratic rights, most important of all to vote to power the government of their choice, would be ensured without any excuse whatsoever.



The writer is a retired career Ambassador and retired Secretary  and can be reached on ambserajulislam@gmail.com



Second round elections: AL changes strategy yet loses to BNP/Jamat
M. Serajul Islam




The BNP backed candidates have again won more seats in the second round of Upazilla elections. In 115 posts of Chairman, the BNP backed candidates won 51, the AL 44 and Jamat 8 when counting was completed in 112 seats. (Source: Daily Independent). The gap between the BNP and the AL has lessened by a few seats while Jamat has not done as well in comparison to first round elections. In straightforward elections, the conclusions should be that the AL has gained some lost ground and Jamat’s surge has been somewhat checked. Unfortunately so far as elections in Bangladesh are concerned these days, nothing really is straightforward.

The AL is the reason why there cannot be straightforward answers to what would appear simple questions regarding either national or local level elections. It held national elections where less than 10% voters voted and called its victory a sweeping one. It literally kept the opposition locked up and on the run and yet called the elections free and fair and held without any hindrance. In fact, it went ahead and claimed that the national elections gave it a mandate to rule for another five years!

After losing the first round comprehensively with very strong showing by the Jamat, it first tried to spin the results as proof that under party government, elections could be free and fair where the opposition could win. That spin was given to explain to the people that the national elections were also likewise free and fair and the BNP should blame itself for staying away. The spin was given that way also to dismiss demands for new national elections.

Nevertheless, the people interpreted the elections, both the national and the Upazilla ones, differently. They perceived the  first round of Upazilla elections results as proof of strong BNP support at the grassroots. They also perceived that contrary to the ruling party’s claims, Jamat has also strengthened its support among the ordinary folks because they thought that party has been victimised and persecuted by the law enforcing agencies for upholding the cause of Islam. The ruling party quickly realized that its spins that the first round results proved the elections could be fair under party government failed to gain traction.

Awami League leaders therefore quickly changed their strategy. They claimed in public that in the second round the AL would come out ahead of the BNP/Jamat by any means. They were not bothered that people would conclude from such claims that the ruling party had decided at the highest level that no matter which way the people voted, the outcome would be different from the first round. The ruling party was particularly upset with the loss in Pirgacha Upazilla. Pirgacha Upazilla falls in the constituency from where the Prime Minister had won a parliamentary seat on January 5th that she relinquished for the Speaker to become a Member of Parliament in the bye-election!

That the ruling party meant business to win the second round elections by any means was palpably evident in the second round from the start of voting. From what people watched on TV cameras, it was evident that fairly widespread vote fraud took place that were much widespread than in the first round that had led the BNP to claim that without the fraud, it would have won 95% of the seats. Opposition candidates and their polling agents were forcibly evicted from polling stations, agents of ruling party backed candidates in collusion with election commission officials stamped votes and denied those they thought would vote for opposition candidates from voting. As a result, opposition backed candidates withdrew from the contest in 4 districts mid way through the voting when the law enforcing agencies and EC officials declined to take action against the wrong doers.

With these withdrawals in perspective, the straightforward analysis that the ruling party has done better in the second round than the first one does not hold to reason. In fact, if  these palpable interferences  were taken into the equation, the BNP/Jamat backed candidates would have done even better than in the first round. Even side-tracking the interferences, the BNP/Jamat backed candidates taken together were able to win a good number of seats more than the AL backed candidates. One win that rubbed salt into the AL’s wound was the loss of the Mujibnagar seat that caused the same type reaction in the ruling party as the loss of the Pirgacha seat in the first round.

When the elections for Vice-Chairman (male) and Vice Chairperson (female) that were also held during the second round, an encouraging picture and not such an encouraging one for the ruling party emerges. In 93 posts of Vice Chairman (male), Jamat backed candidates emerged on top taking 30 seats followed by the BNP and Jamat with 28 each! In 85 posts of Vice-Chairperson (female), BNP backed candidates won 44, AL 26 and Jamat 9. These results have taken away some pleasure from the ruling party for closing the gap in elections for the posts of Chairman.

Increasingly, the ruling party is throwing concerns to the wind about people’s feelings about the way elections are being held in the country. In the second round, it has thus wasted the confidence that some people had that fair elections could be held under party government and strengthened the demand of the BNP for elections under a caretaker government. The EC’s palpably spineless conduct in the two round of Upazilla elections have  also helped weaken the argument for elections under party government. One political analyst on a TV Talk Show has said that EC members in the past had one major problem; in their posts they behaved like civil bureaucrats working for the government that they were before moving to the EC. He said that the present EC is behaving like civil bureaucrats working for the Awami League!

With three more rounds of Upazilla elections to go, people are likely to lose interest knowing that these elections would not be fair because the ruling party would not allow and the EC is too eager to please the ruling party and too weak to stand up to it. Therefore, if the first two rounds have established anything it has established that it is not only national elections that cannot be held under a party government freely and fairly but also local elections. It has further established that the present Election Commission and holding free and fair elections that would put the ruling party’s candidates at risk of losing are standing at two polar opposites. Increasingly the much-criticised CEC under the last BNP government Justice M.A Aziz is being seen in better light than the present CDEC that could only be considered as a damning assessment of him.

The January 5th elections and the two rounds of local government elections have unequivocally underlined that democracy is under threat in Bangladesh. In a commentary in a blog, Lord Avebury, Liberal Member of the British House of Lords; National Secular Society’s award winner as “Secularist of the year” in 2009 and Co-Chair of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission had this to say about the January 5th elections: “The result is today she leads clearly an illegitimate executive heading towards one-party rule.” The two round of Upazilla elections that were held after Lord Avebury had posted his commentary only underlined the concerns he expressed about Bangladesh moving towards one-party rule.

Nevertheless, the results so far, however flawed the two rounds were, have shown that the BNP/Jamat have major hold at the grassroots and quite capable of launching their movement for new elections sooner than later with the ruling Awami League now in no mood to hold national elections before 2019.


The writer is a retired career Ambassador



Benghazi affair surfaces: worries for Hillary Clinton
M. Serajul Islam



In September 2012, armed Libyans killed the US Ambassador to Libya J Christopher Stevens and 3 others in an attack at the US Embassy compound in Benghazi. The incident has ever since remained a contentious matter in US’s diplomatic history.  Hillary Clinton under whose watch as the US Secretary of State the incident happened has been under a cloud about the Benghazi Affair with her opponents arguing that she did not do enough to prevent the attack that she should have seen was coming.

With the former Secretary now most likely to become the Democratic nominee for President in the elections to be held in end of 2016, the Benghazi Affair has again hit the national headlines. A bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee has last week published a Report that contradicted the testimony that the Secretary of State had given in the Senate following the attack. In that testimony and in statements issued by her from the State Department, she had argued that the attack was the result of impromptu-armed attack by armed Libyans incensed over an anti-Islam video documented in USA ridiculing Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) and aired over the YouTube.

Democratic Party Senator   Dianne Feinstein chaired the Senate Committee. It concluded convincingly that the attack was not spontaneous street protest based on TV footages from cameras surrounding the Embassy compound that recorded no signs of such protests. Instead the Committee “flatly concluded that fighters loyal to groups with ties to Al Qaeda took part in the attack.” In fact, the Committee named the groups that used the acronyms of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula that worked together to plan and execute the attack on the Embassy compound.

The Senate bipartisan Committee’s Report came in the wake of an investigative report by the New York Times that had cleared the former Secretary and in turn the President of any negligence for preventing the deaths of the Ambassador and his three colleagues.  The NYT investigation released in January had “argued that no international terrorist groups were involved in the assault, which the paper said was spurred, in part, by an anti-Islam video.”

The Committee Report thus places Hillary Clinton in a soft spot with focus now increasing on her with parties and candidates now beginning to posture for the next presidential election in which the former Secretary is seen as a formidable candidate both by the Republican Party and those likely to challenge her for the Democratic Party’s ticket. In fact, with the presidential election in view and Hillary Clinton’s candidature in particular, it is natural that the Benghazi Affairs has again hit the news headlines.  Rasmussen Reports had therefore conducted a survey on the issue even before the Senate Committee Report was made public.  The survey found that most Americans thought that the US Ambassador and the three others were killed as a result of a terrorist attack and a “growing number think Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations are likely to suffer because of the Benghazi affair.”

In the Rasmussen survey, 46% thought that the Senate report will hurt Hillary Clinton is she runs for President. When likely voters were asked the same question in October last year, 42% thought the Benghazi affair would affect the former Secretary. In the latest Rasmussen survey, 53% believed that the Benghazi Affair was the result of planned terrorist attack and only 13% thought it was a spontaneous attack in response to the anti-Islamic video. 34% were undecided about the Benghazi Affair. The percentage of likely voters who had felt earlier that the administration’s explanation that the attack was spontaneous was good or excellent has fallen from 37% to 28% in the latest survey, something that should worry the Clinton camp.

The other matter of concern for the former Secretary in the Rasmussen survey conducted among 1000 likely voters on January 17-18 was the response of likely voters about the importance to find out what happened in the events surrounding the murder. 78% thought that it was “at least somewhat important”, 47% felt it was “very important” and only 19% considered it was “unimportant.” Given the fact that the perpetrators of the murders have not been brought to task as was promised by President Obama, these responses could suggest that the Benghazi Affair could become a major election issue to haunt Hillary Clinton. Her concern would be enhanced given the fact that this Rasmussen Survey Report was published before the  Report of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

There were however a few positive outcome from the Senate Report for the former Secretary of State. The Report did not place the blame for what happened in the Benghazi Affair upon the Secretary of State directly but on security lapses committed “further down the chain of command.” The Report also cleared the former Secretary fro attack by critics who questioned the wisdom of the US being the only country keeping its mission open in Benghazi. The Report stated that a number of other countries also had their missions open together with the US mission. The Report found that the US military was not responsible as alleged for blocking relief efforts and failing to get assets moving quickly enough, allegations meant to criticize the way the Pentagon and State Department handled the Benghazi Affair. The Report also came out with a “stark revelation” that will help Hillary Clinton. Ambassador Stevens was offered “more security by extending the deployment of a military site security team” by General Carter Ham, head of the US Africa Command but the Ambassador turned down the offer without referring it to the State Department.

Nevertheless, with a lot at stake in US politics these days, the Republicans have given a spin the Senate Committee Report to tie Hillary Clinton for the security lapses. Republican members in the Senate Committee on Intelligence signed the but also gave an addendum in which they said these findings did not go far enough to bring into focus “the role of White House and State Department officials who pushed the intelligence community to blame protests rather than a coordinated terrorist assault.” In a fund raising event on February 17th, Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Congressman Darrell Issa provocatively said “I have my suspicions which is Secretary Clinton told Leon Panetta to stand down”.

The “stand down” order that was allegedly issued by the Pentagon to US military personnel in Tripoli who sought to join the fight in Benghazi was used by Hillary Clinton’s critics to pin her down to the Benghazi Affair for serious lapses in responsibility and judgment.  Her critics had alleged that the stand-down order was given by Pentagon at her instance. The Congressman’s “suspicions” however went to the advantage of the former Secretary as it allowed her name to be cleared in the context of latest developments in the matter, including the report of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Glen Kessler, writing for the Washington Post, stated categorically that based on the Senate Committee Report and another Report by the Republicans in the Armed Services Committee, the Darrell Issa’s “ suspicions that Clinton ordered stand-down on Benghazi aren’t supported “. He used a quote from the Armed Services Committee Report that stated categorically: “There was no stand-down order issued to US military personnel to join the fight in “Benghazi” to place the former Secretary in the clear on the issue of “stand-down” order that, without proper explanation, could harm her in her campaign for the White House.

Nevertheless, the Benghazi Affairs would in all likelihood continue to cause worries for Hillary Clinton as she herself acknowledged publicly recently. In a recent address to the US Automobiles Dealers Association she said that “her biggest regret is what happened at Benghazi” .


The writer is a retired career Ambassador and Secretary to the Government.



Jamat and first round of Upazilla elections and Jamat
M. Serajul Islam


The good performance of the BNP in the first round of the Upazilla elections was expected. What was not expected, in fact worrying for many, was the way the Jamat performed, coming as a strong third after the BNP and AL. The ruling party has been telling the nation ever since it assumed power in January 2009 that its main aim in politics would be to expose the Jamat as an anti-liberation force and try its leaders for war crimes committed in 1971. In fact, it brought the top leadership of Jamat to the War Crimes Tribunal where many are incarcerated with death sentences or life imprisonment. One leader, Qader Mollah, has already been hanged.

In the period following the Shahabag uprising last year and leading to the January 5th national elections, Jamat cadres, particularly its student wing, the Shibir, have been targeted not just for incarceration but also for extra judicial killings by the law enforcing agencies. The government, in taking actions against the Jamat, has argued its terrorist links to convince the people that the actions taken against Jamat have been correct and that such actions have been able to contain the Jamat in a major way.

A media largely pliant to the views of the government, particularly on the issue of our liberation and the spirit of 1971, accepted the actions of the government against the Jamat without much question. Some in fact have written editorials that militancy is the major problem in the country that must be tackled at any cost. These editorials and the line taken by the media against the Jamat have only encouraged the government to set the law aside and deal with it even to the extent of overlooking the conflict that such actions have with the rule of law that is at the core of the spirit of 1971.

In fact, the media has been highlighting the success of the government in weakening the support of the Jamat across the country. Opinion polls by a few of the leading dailies have  shown that the support of the Jamat has come down into the lower end of the single digit. The country’s secular forces have consistently been putting pressure upon the government to ban Jamat to end, in their view, the menace of this fundamentalist Islamic party that did not believe in Bangladesh.

The results of the first round of the Upazilla elections have thus come, to put it mildly, as a shock for the ruling party, the media and the country’s secular force as far as Jamat’s performance was concerned. In the 97 posts of Upazilla Chairman it contested, Jamat backed candidates took 12. In the overall contest that also included 97 posts of Vice-Chairman (male) and 97 Vice- Chairman (female), the Jamat took 46 of the total positions. Against the Jamat, the ruling party took 92 and the BNP 114. The reaction of the media to Jamat’s performance was interesting At first, it was reluctant to show Jamat’s strong performance separately and tried to hide it under heading “others”.

When that did not hold, the media tried to confuse the people by suggesting that Jamat’s strong performance was because of its alliance with the BNP. It was however revealed that was not the case. In fact, in some of the positions of Chairman, Jamat and BNP contested against each other and Jamat backed candidates won by defeating both the BNP and AL backed candidates. Therefore, the results were not an eye-opener for the ruling party but also the BNP that was considering cutting its ties with the Jamat for future politics in the country. Over all, in the first round, Jamat backed candidates won 15% of the total votes cast in these elections placing it in a strong third position. In contrast, the Jatiya party that the ruling party has placed as the opposition in parliament won just 5 posts that included just one of Chairman.

Jamat’s strong performance becomes more of a concern for the ruling party and the secular forces because it has been earned when it is in pursuit by the law enforcing agencies and ruling party activists. A large number of Jamat leaders/activists have been incarcerated and many have been killed extra-judicially and most of the party supporters are on the run. If the allegations of the BNP that that the government agencies openly worked for the candidates of the ruling party are correct, and there are good reasons to believe that such interferences were there, than Jamat would have done even better than what it did.

The facts that have emerged from the first round of Upazilla elections therefore point at the opposite direction than what the ruling party has been telling the nation with the media backing it that Jamat’s acceptance at the grassroots is on a sharp decline. The media is still shy from answering the reasons for Jamat’s rise in popularity. Those in the media that have dared to take an objective look at what has happened have concluded that one main reason why Jamat has done so well is because at the grassroots, people have taken a sympathetic view of its sufferings at the hands of the law enforcing agencies and the government’s attempts to eliminate the party totally. Their arguments are based upon the strength of Islam among the ordinary voters at the local government level where Jamat has been viewed as the victim for upholding the cause of Islam.

In fact, this view has re-established the reaction in the country to the message that had gone out from Shahabag last year. Once it was revealed that among the leaders of the Shahbag movement there were those who thought it fit to ridicule Islam and Prophet Mohammad (pbuh), people who had thought it was their national duty to own and support the Shahabag movement abandoned it as quickly as they had stood behind it. The lesson here therefore is a strong one; that Bangladesh is essentially a predominantly Muslim country that though liberal, would not stand up and watch the defenders of Islam being persecuted as the witnessed the fate of Jamat in recent times and have thus stood behind Jamat backed candidates in the Upazilla elections.

The more important lesson for everyone to take, more so the ruling party is that branding Jamat as anti-liberation and against the spirit of 1971 is losing traction at the grassroots. In fact, the way the national elections were held, where today Bangladesh has a parliament and a government for which less than 10% have voted, have significantly weakened the strength of these calls. The ruling party and its supporters have used these calls so often without themselves showing their commitment has turned these calls into clichés. These facts notwithstanding, the strengthening of a party like the Jamat that did not support the liberation of Bangladesh with Shibir recently being named by a foreign organisation as the third most dangerous terror outfit in the world should worry not just the Awami League and the secular forces of the country but the nation. The strength of Islam in the country notwithstanding, the path to the well being of Bangladesh and the cause of Islam cannot be served by allowing a party that uses Islam and terror tactics for gaining its political ends.

Nevertheless, Jamat must be given democratic space to remove apprehensions from the minds of the common folks that it is being made a victim because it is defending Islam.  The election results have flagged this reality for the government in no uncertain ways.


The writer is a retired career Ambassador and Secretary to the government