Has Bangladesh lost its focus?
After arrival at Dhaka, it does not take you long to realize that here is one country which has lost its ethos. There is not a speck of the revolutionary fervor which had stirred the people in East Pakistan to wage the liberation struggle against the distant and exploitive West Pakistan. Indigenous vested interests have replaced the ones from Rawalpindi.
Still worse is how authoritative Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has become. One, her opponent Khalida Zia has gone down in the estimation of the people. Two, Hasina has made peace with the military, which had once overthrown the government of her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of Bangladesh.
Hasina has increased the salaries of those in the armed forces. More than that she has made them realize that they evoke respect and authority if they remain professional and stay away from politics. Indeed, the army is now professional and considered a force to reckon with.
Only 45 years ago did the people rise against West Pakistan’s armed forces and had their own Mukti Bahini, an ill-equipped force, prove to the world that no nation can be kept under subjugation if it is determined to cut its fetters. Sheikh Mujib was a tall leader in what was then called East Pakistan. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah was his leader. But the Sheikh revolted against him when he said during a visit to Dhaka that the Bengalis would have to read Urdu which, he declared, was the national language.
Bengalis gave the people living in Pakistan then their identity in the otherwise West-dominated country. They realized that the crude Punjabi culture would have penetrated their sophisticated identity. And when they protested against the onslaughts on their culture, West Pakistan’s army brutally crushed them.
Even when Mujib or, for that matter, East Pakistan won a majority in the National Assembly, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, then a real force in West Pakistan and the foreign minister, could not tolerate the Sheikh becoming the Prime Minister. If at all the responsibility of losing East Pakistan is to be put on anyone, it is on Bhutto. He preferred to let East Pakistan go to any dilution in his pursuit for absolute power.
Hasina’s real opposition comes from the Jamaat-e-Islami which still plays a religious card. The Jamaat is not making any headway because it is seen as a sympathizer of Pakistan. Till today, the Jamaat has not condemned even indirectly the atrocities committed by Pakistan against the Bangladeshis.
I thought that the execution of even aged Jamaat leaders, who had sided with Rawalpindi, would have created some revulsion. But, to my surprise, I found the people happy that the collaborators were being executed for the crimes they had committed. The Jamaat’s silence on Pakistan’s role is probably because it is an Islamic country and a part of the Umma.
The left which was a force at one time is no more in the picture. It has lost its appeal as well as its cadre. Careerism attracts the youth and the businessmen influence politics because they bribe every tier of the government. This pattern prevails all over Bangladesh.
Still the silver lining is that people love the democratic system and express their faith in it through protests and agitations.
Not long ago, the people’s unhappiness would pour on to the streets in the shape of processions, which would hamper normal business. It dawned on the people, even though belatedly, that by closing shops in bazaars and factories they were only harming themselves. They also realized that destroying the environment for producing garments, which is the only source of revenue and foreign exchange, is not going to help improve their economy.
What is striking is the wealth that is accumulated in a few hands. They not only dictate day-to-day business but also politics. Many industrialists finance political parties and individuals to make the National Assembly so that they would have their influence on the policies and programmes formulated by the government.
The media in Bangladesh is free only in name as is the pattern in third world countries. Editors have freedom to the extent that their owners want them to wield and the Press is very cautious in reporting matters relating to the armed forces. Somehow, it has come to be recognized that criticizing the military is tantamount to harming the country’s interests. This is blatant even in democratic India, but that the armed forces have the last word is accepted in Bangladesh.
I asked many about the direction in which Bangladesh was going ideologically, economically or socially. One academician who is closely associated with politicians told me that Bangladesh had lost is way and he did not know which direction it was heading.
Sheikh Hasina’s main strength is New Delhi which has put all eggs in her basket. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) says openly that Hasina has even damaged India’s image because of her authoritarian rule. She brooks no criticism and sees that her critics are harmed so that they realize she and India have become synonymous.
It does not look as if Bangladesh would ever have free and fair elections. But if they were to be held, the foregone conclusion is that Sheikh Hasina would not be defeated. Begum Khalida Zia too has not made herself popular by aligning with the Jamaat. In fact, it has been an albatross around the neck which she has not been able to shake off.
However, one thing is sure that Khalida would not this time boycott elections whenever they are held. The BNP has realized that even a few of their members in the National Assembly would have brought Hasina’s acts of omission and commission before the public. The vested interests in the country have never had it as good as they do today because people are disillusioned with both Hasina and Khalida. The two Begums are the inevitable fate of Bangladesh, however unpopular they may be with the people.
Source: The Statesment, 11 February 2016
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