Saturday, April 26, 2014

A legal system against medical malpractice and rights of patients

M. Serajul Islam

 I was recently talking with a nephew who is studying to become a doctor in the United States where to become one is very expensive and takes away almost a good part of one’s lifetime. We were trying to understand medicine as a profession and health system in Bangladesh in comparison to what these are in the United States. We concluded that doctors in the United States are compensated handsomely after their gruelling efforts. We also concluded that doctors in the United States are never allowed to forget how important human life is because the law makes sure of that.

I told my nephew that there are no worries/problems for doctors in Bangladesh on account of human lives. His eyes almost popped out when I told him that the doctors in Bangladesh are given an unwritten license with the one they are given legally to practice and that the unwritten license is similar to the one James Bond of fiction has been given, the 007 one or the license not too worry who dies in his hands. I also told him that to my knowledge no Bangladeshi doctor has ever been taken to court with a case of malpractice against him or her and that no one is sure whether there are any such laws in the country to take a doctor to court even when a patient dies in his/her care due to his/her negligence or inefficiency. I further told my nephew that hospitals also enjoy similar unwritten immunity from legal hassles.

Doctors and hospitals in the United States are the most heavily insured among professional groups and institutions. Relatives of patients can take doctors and hospitals to court if they think they were responsible for the deaths of their patients due to negligence or wrong treatment. The laws allow such action against doctors/hospitals within a year of the deaths. Doctors and hospitals are taken to court regularly by relatives of patients where, when cases are proven, huge compensations have to be paid by court orders or by out of court settlements. The insurance companies in which the doctors and hospitals are insured heavily make such payments. Similar laws to protect the rights of the patients and insurance to protect the interests of doctors/hospitals are integral parts of health systems where both doctors and patients are stakeholders and not on opposite sides.

In Bangladesh, there is perhaps no family that has not had a member pass away due to negligence of the attending doctor or the hospital in question. Unfortunately, in the country, there is no legal system to take doctors/hospitals to court. In Bangladesh, doctors/hospitals and patients/their relatives are opponents where the former do not see the latter as stakeholders in the apology of the health system in the country. Therefore, the recent incidents in BIRDEM, Rajshahi Medical College Hospital and Dhaka’s Salimullah Medical College/Hospital where relatives of dead patients went on rampage were neither unexpected nor unusual. These incidents were always likely to happen. In fact, many such incidents have happened in the past regularly but did not make news the way the present ones in the three government hospitals have. The current ones have come into the public domain as leading news because the doctors who came under attack retaliated, turning the three hospitals into battleground that can happen only in a nightmare or in an uncivilized country.

The doctors, not satisfied with taking the law into their hands, declared strike to follow upon their most un-doctor like behaviour imaginable. The media added a new element of ugliness to the conflicts when they became victims in the hands of the junior doctors while covering the conflicts and the strike. They were beaten and their professional equipment destroyed/damaged. The private TV Channel, Channel 21, went ahead and filed a case against the interns for beating up its journalists and destroying its equipments. The Home Minister came on the side of the public and the media and warned the doctors that the government would not take their strike lightly. In fact, he was most threatening in warning the doctors.

The conflicts exposed the surreal nature of the health system of Bangladesh. Clearly, there can be no justification whatsoever those relatives of patients would go unpunished where they take the law in their own hands and try to punish doctors/hospitals that they think are responsible for deaths of their near and dear ones. Therefore, the arm of the law must come down strongly and heavily against those who take up law into their hands. Nevertheless, the government and society must also consider that the anger of those who take the law in their hands are not the outcome of any criminal intent but often the result of genuine grievances of negligence of doctors and hospitals that result in deaths that are preventable.

The public perception about the institutions where the conflicts/deaths have taken place is very negative; that doctors there care very little about human lives. Deaths in these hospitals have been occurring with monotonous regularity where relatives of patients have felt the deaths were due to negligence of doctors. The doctors in taking the law into their hands have not done themselves any favour. They have instead helped the nation focus more on their 007 licenses that are now under threat due to public anger. However, the resolution of the problem is not in exposing these occurrences in the media but ensuring that these do not occur. The Health Minister’s description of the doctors who took law into their hands as “terrorists” will not help making the Bangladesh health system civilized. In fact, the Minister’s stand against the doctors was for public kudos and media support that may only quieten things for the moment but the basic problem, that of holding doctors responsible for deaths that relatives of patients think should not have occurred, will not happen.

The answer for a sustainable resolution lies in ensuring what Bangladesh does not have, laws for bringing to court doctors/hospitals for what is known worldwide as malpractice in the health sector. If doctors /hospitals know that relatives of patients can take them to court to make them pay for negligence, then only will they treat their patients and the need to explain to their relatives about their treatment as matters of the highest priority in their professions and relatives of patients would not need to take laws into their hands. Lest it be misunderstood, the medical profession in Bangladesh, the lack of a system notwithstanding, has extremely dedicated doctors and hospitals also render yeoman services. Yet, there exists very deep-rooted perception in the public mind based on personal experiences that doctors/hospitals do not believe that patients and their relatives have any rights except what they decide.

Therefore, the urgent need, something that has been pushed under the table for long and cannot be ignored anymore, is to bring the country’s medical profession under a legal system where those aggrieved by deaths in doctor’s/hospital’s care can easily go to court and get redress. At the same time, laws must also ensure that doctors/hospitals are insured against such cases. Unbelievable as it is, no doctor in Bangladesh insures himself against malpractice cases because he/she and the hospital where they work, the massive services they provide notwithstanding, has also the 007 license that must be taken away from them without any further delay.

The writer is a retired career Ambassador.
April 26, 2014
Career diplomats on the mat
M. Serajul Islam

The news that came in the media about two top Bangladeshi career diplomats recently, one in London and the other in New York, should be particularly worrisome for the new Foreign Minister of Bangladesh as he takes charge of his Ministry.  The two career diplomats are supposed to be the best among the career diplomats to have been posted in two such important posts. One of them, Mijarul Qayes was the Foreign Secretary before he was sent to the coveted post of High Commissioner in London. The other, former Consul General in New York is the new Bangladesh Ambassador to Morocco.

The allegations against the two are of different nature. The High Commissioner in London is under the spanner because of a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), the statutory watchdog of the government to oversee that its expenditures are all accounted for. The allegations against him are all what is known in the foreign ministry circles as audit objections. There are in all 57 such objections in the way he ran his High Commission’s finances and administration and with 47 of these objections; he has failed to provide satisfactory answers. In the way the media carried the news, it tried to give the impression that these are cases or corruption through which he has misappropriated government funds for himself.

The media, deliberately or otherwise, has also missed out of a number of other crucial issues in the way it reported the report of the CAG related to the High Commissioner.  In its eagerness to prove that the High Commissioner is a corrupt person without giving him the right to defend, the media has failed to consider that he is still in service and has a pension awaiting him that would be a very healthy one no doubt. If he failed to meet the audit objections, the government would simply deduct the amount from his pension at the time of his retirement. The audit objections against the High Commissioner will become charges of corruption only when the government would fail to recover the amount from his pension and that too, only after he would refuse to return the amount in balance. Thus, the media clearly jumped to wrong conclusions on misinterpretation of facts.

The media also forgot or cared not to consider that the High Commissioner is posted aboard and that too in a major station where Bangladesh’s image is important for developing bilateral relations with which the country’s interests are directly involved, in covering the CAG’s report. The CAG acted within its rights in bringing the audit objections by the High Commissioner to the notice of the government. However, it hurt Bangladesh’s image abroad adversely because it failed to appreciate the dangers of the report ending in the media that sent the message to Great Britain that the Bangladesh Government has serious questions about its High Commissioner there.  Therefore, the CAG is guilty of allowing a matter of audit objections against the High Commissioner become an issue of embarrassment to the country. The CAG, in view of the delicate nature of the case, should have brought the audit objections to the attention of the Foreign Ministry and together resolved the matter. If the objections were serious and needed immediate attention, the High Commissioner should have been recalled to Dhaka to allow proceedings against him to continue.

The Foreign Ministry, instead, defended the High Commissioner in the media, arguing that the issues against him are not corruption charges but audit objections thus weakening the case of the CAG. The rejoinder unfortunately came too late because the damages had all been done with the report going to the media in the first place. Therefore both the CAG and the Foreign Ministry must share responsibility for harming the country’s image in handling audit objections against the High Commissioner from being interpreted at home and abroad as issues of corruption.  The Foreign Ministry complicated matters by posting the High Commissioner to Brazil that the media interpreted, and in this instance correctly, as a punishment that lent credence to the CAG’s report as serious ones of corruption. It has also given Brazil cause to feel slighted for sending to it an Ambassador whose integrity is in question. As for Bangladesh, it made little sense sending an Ambassador to a post with such a baggage. Thus between the CAG and Foreign Ministry, the case with the High Commissioner can be described appropriately as a “tragedy of errors.”

The Foreign Ministry is much more at fault with the case of the Consul General in New York. The officer was under order of transfer to Morocco as Ambassador when his male domestic aide charged him in a federal court in New York for not paying him the amount he said he would in the contract he signed with the US Embassy for his visa.  The charge is similar to that against the Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade but also   much worse. The Consul General and his wife have been accused of gross human rights violations not there in the case of the Indian diplomat. The news of these violations became top news in New York and rest of the United States that gave Bangladesh very bad publicity.

The Consul General did a trick on the US legal system that the Indian diplomat was unable to do or was not allowed to do. He simply decamped without a word to anyone and went to Rabat to take up his post. The case against him is still on and will go full course where the CG can come back and defend his case or appoint a lawyer to defend him. There is no doubt that the CG has been allowed to decamp with the green signal of the Foreign Ministry that brings to question the wisdom of its action. While the media in NY and elsewhere in USA made mincemeat of the CG, the Moroccan Embassy in Washington most certainly has also sent reports on what came out in the media about the CG to Rabat. Therefore, the former Consul General went to his post in Rabat with a baggage and that too, on issue of integrity.

Even the barest level of common sense should have dictated the Foreign Ministry to bring this Ambassador home instead of allowing him to go to Morocco. To expect the Bangladesh Mission under him to build Bangladesh’s image in Morocco and develop Bangladesh-Morocco bilateral relations would be expecting something that would just not happen. In fact, leaving the Bangladesh Embassy in charge of a CDA would have served Bangladesh’s interest incredibly better instead of allowing this former CG to join as Ambassador. And, such a step would have also saved the government a huge deal of money too.

The Foreign Service cadre officers, the BCS (FA), suffered a great deal under the last Foreign Minister as posts of Ambassadors/High Commissioners at important posts went to retired BCS (FA) officers or to political appointees. The cadre officers were also unable to prove their worth. Some of them were involved in activities unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman. Two very senior cadre officers were retired; one of them senior to the present Foreign Secretary. Another Ambassador was brought home on charge of sexually harassing a local staff at the Embassy. There are charges galore about BCS (FA) officers ranging from audit objections to issues of more and sexual nature.

Now that a new Minister, a former career diplomat is in charge of the Foreign Ministry, it is high time to look into the BCS (FA) cadre seriously. He would do his own reputation that is well acknowledged a great deal of good and so to the country’s image if he were to pull up the cadre as well as ensure that the country does not pay huge sums of tax payers money to have Ambassadors/High Commissioners embarrass the country where ironically such credible institutions as the office of the CAG, wittingly or otherwise, become a party and where it too is adding its fair share of responsibility by sending the two top diplomats to new posts as Ambassador while under cloud on issue of integrity.

The writer is a retired career Ambassador. His email id is

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.

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

Bottom of Form
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 The views expressed above are the writer’s very own not necessarily shared by this paper

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Financial Express

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.
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