Thursday, 7 March 2013

While Bangladesh reclaims its history

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 5th Mar 13

It is hardly surprising that Begum Khaleda Zia, the chairperson of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), cancelled her scheduled Monday meeting with visiting Indian president Pranab Mukherjee. The reason she offered the Indian foreign ministry --- viz. the two-day hartal called by her alliance partner, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) to protest the death sentence handed down to top JeI leader, Delwar Hossain Sayedee, for war crimes in 1971 --- was true enough. Except that Khaleda Zia’s real motivation was not the difficulty of moving around in a hartal, as she claimed, but the need to publicly indicate that, while Sheikh Hasina and her Awaami League had sold out to India, the BNP (and the JeI) remain true Bangladeshi patriots.

Khaleda Zia has an unenviable balancing act to perform. On the one hand, there is an outpouring of public sentiment against the JeI, which stands discredited amongst large sections of the Bangladeshi people because of its role in supporting the Pakistan Army in the commission of war crimes in 1971. From March to December 1971, when a genocidal Pakistan Army killed three million Bangladeshi fighters, activists, students and academics and raped 2,00,000 women (Bangladeshi figures), so-called Razakars of the JeI --- who identified more with the Pakistani wing of the Jamaat than with their own Bengali identity --- played a major role in supporting the Pakistan Army’s brutal crackdown. Few in Bangladesh buy the JeI story that it committed no atrocities.

Lakhs of common Bangladeshis, mobilized through various means including social media, have converged on Shahbagh Projonmo Chottor, a Dhaka locality that many tout now as Bangladesh’s Tahrir Square. While their immediate demand is that the guilty of 1971 must be punished suitably (and many want the death sentence) the crowds also want that the JeI be banned along with its student wing, the Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS). These crowds are driven by a surging nationalism that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has unleashed and tapped into, and which Khaleda Zia finds herself on the wrong side of.

Begum Zia, however, is driven both by ideology and by electoral arithmetic. Her late husband, General Zia-ur-Rehman, who seized power in a military coup and was president of Bangladesh from 1977 till his assassination in 1981, introduced an Islamic character into the constitution of the country. The BNP, which Khaleda Zia has led since his death, is the inheritor of that conservatism. Besides this link, the BNP’s relationship with the JeI is also driven by the latter’s political standing. With about 8-9% of the popular vote in Bangladesh, the JeI remains the most influential of the Islamist parties, particularly in the Chittagong region.

Initially, the BNP believed that it had to support the broad political consensus that war crimes trials were essential. But later, the BNP came out in support of its alliance partner, the JeI, with the argument that the process has not been legally valid and transparent.

Most BNP supporters realize the political pitfalls in this position, which is at sharp variance with the popular consensus in favour of war crimes trials. And they realize that they have been comprehensively outmaneuvered by Sheikh Hasina, who has made a daringly successful play for the political soul of Bangladesh, which she realizes rests on the foundation of Bengali ethnicity and Bangladeshi nationalism, at least as much as it does on Islam.

On June 30, 2011, Sheikh Hasina enacted the Constitution (15th Amendment) Bill, which provides for secularism and freedom of religion. The 15th Amendment is a move back towards the original Constitution of 1972, even while compromising on some of the Islamization that President Zia-ur-Rahman inserted via the Fifth Amendment. Even as Sheikh Mujibur Rehman has now been given prominence in the constitution, Islam has been retained as the state religion and 'Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim' remains in the preamble.

Khaleda Zia and the BNP realize that time is running out, with Bangladesh due for general elections at the end of this year or early next year. Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League is on a strong wicket, riding the popular nationalistic mood and presiding over an economy that is growing at 6%. The 15th Amendment also eliminates any BNP hopes that a friendly “caretaker government” might rig the elections in her favour. The 15th Amendment abolishes the practice of caretaker governments, which had been in vogue since 1996. Sheikh Hasina insists that Bangladesh’s Election Commission is competent to ensure an impartial vote.

All this is good news since Sheikh Hasina has initiated a serious attempt to mend fences between Dhaka and Delhi, cracking down on insurgent sanctuaries, signing a border settlement, and opening up trade and transport links with India. But the weak link in the chain that binds the two neighbours remains New Delhi’s historically poor relations with Khaleda Zia and the BNP. South Block has been making efforts to befriend the BNP chief and to dispel the impression of leaning towards the Awami League in Bangladesh. Khaleda Zia made a successful visit to New Delhi last October, which she termed a “new beginning”.

With developments in Bangladesh largely going India’s way, it would be counter-productive to make an issue of Khaleda Zia’s discourtesy to President Pranab Mukherjee. It will be difficult for the BNP to reverse Sheikh Hasina’s bold new initiatives, since a nationalistic new generation in Bangladesh is clearly throwing out the old baggage of negativism. Bangladesh’s business community, which is keen to expand economic links, has been buoyed by India’s decision in December to prune down the negative list to just 25 items. New Delhi must move quickly to enact the constitutional amendment that will be necessary to operationalize the historic border settlement that Sheikh Hasina and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have signed. And, with Trinamool Congress leader Mukul Roy having been permitted to travel to Dhaka with the president, perhaps West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee might even agree to sign the settlement on the Teesta River waters that Dhaka so badly wants.


rustom said...

The fact is that a notional " Muslim brotherhood" brings Bangladesh closer to Pakistan than it to India. Also the massacre of intellectuals by Pak forces left a void in the country filled with poor people who are easily target of brainwashing thru madressas. The same notions brings within the network cells within India. These cannot be all monitored nor controlled even if Indian intelligence was worth its salt. It is like killing ants which are masses produced whilst promoting harmony, diplomacy and friendship with the "ant-hill" while the ant hill using religion as a bonding notion spreads its tentacles all across India and within her borders.
India continues to be the cat drinking milk from a saucer thinking all is well while the 'IAS' continue to want India to believe this fantasy. One of the biggest fantasy of Humankind is also lived by Indians the fantasy of " War not being an option" continuously brought out to Indians by the Indian administration. How can one claim such absurdity when the beginning of war is beyond control of oneself. In fact this fantasy makes Indian soldiers get killed everyday and India maintaining she is not at war! This same fantasy makes India become toothless yapping power thinking the ant-hill will dissapear whilst it is arming itself, politicaly, strategicaly and militarily against India

India will have no option but to go to war with Pakistan in the near future if she wants to survive as India, cutting off the hill from the ants..theer is just no other option other than fantasising

Mr. RA said...

Bangladesh are wise enough to understand that they have no better option. They know that pakistan are soon to be dissolved and get reabsorbed.

Anonymous said...

Secularism exist in India, because majority Hindu community wants it and practices it to full spirit. But secularism in India will be sustained only if Muslims of India embrace it with more enthusiasm. Pseudo-Secularist like author of this blog and other leftist minded elites with Khangress inclination do major damage to fabric of this country by not carrying message of secularism to corners of India where it is least practiced and not even understood.

Now pussy footing author of this blog will not even dare to publish this comment, lest he should risk missing his share of Khangress's 100 cr social media budget. What a irony and we proud ourselves as a largest democracy.

Anonymous said...

Shukla - yaar, what is this.....
Ang iyong komento ay nai-save na at makikita matapos na pumayag ang may-ari ng blog.

Have you changed your language also with change in your profession

SAM said...

Indian Defence Acquisition programs continue with cancelations & delays. The men & women in uniform don't get what they want...yet expected to do their jobs with sticks & stones technologies! The MoD continues in futile to stem the rot due to malpractices by vendors and their nonchalant agents!! Where will this end-up? One wonders why the LCA, which was conceptualized as a replacement for MiG21, doesn't get inducted in large quantities by IAF? Doesn't it more than meet broad parameters for a 1st phase induction? Why does the IAF keep adding new specs all the time? Is there a conspiracy to ensure its' failure? Now a new engine, will mean mods to the fuselage, change in aerodynamics, redesign, recertification/qualification...and the story goes on!! Wouldn't the LCA with a good AESA, Avionics & EW and Missiles - be good enough for most adversaries? Why do the IAF NOW want an LCA that is a MiG21, MiG27, Jaguar AND Mirage2000 - ALL "rolled-into-one" multirole aircraft? Why do we need an FGFA...couldn't we come up with something better? Why are we funding a cash-starved Russian nation for FGFA, WITHOUT any competition...with our tax money! Why is the DRDO lacking teeth when it comes to convincing users and MoD? Is the system against "indigenous"? Is the RM "REALLY" interested in this "word" or is it just rhetoric...which bows to higher interests on a case-by-case basis!? Who are the higher interests? Do we have a national body that thinks 20yrs into the future, about Attack-Helicopters, Medium-Lift-Helicopters, Combat-Aircraft, UAV...or do we keep buying from foreigners...because HAL, BEL and DRDO wont give kickbacks?! Cant the tardy progress and lack of speed of PSU's and DRDO improve with clearly defined objectives and penalties/rewards in place? Have the MoD and Users learned to use this inherent and embedded poor-quality of indigenous a strong justifier (read...excuse) to buy from outside? I think the people of this country deserve an answer!? India was a democracy...atleast last time I checked!

Aviator said...