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

No comments: