Return of the Opinion Makers

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Return of the Opinion Makers

by Zahur Ahmed for Alal O Dulal

Another year marks more doldrums, further loss of lives, sensational news cycles, the return of the opinion makers and powerful foreigners. Who would argue that at present things are normal in Bangladesh? But are they bleak as portrayed by the domestic and International media? Media and op-ed writers haven’t got it right. They are biased and habitually partisan. Life goes on despite hindrance. Yes, there is apprehension, but this country has seen worse. Remember the curfews and the Dhaka University raids during the 80s?

While non-stop blockade and general strikes get no response from the public, meaning that they are going about their business (shopping, eating out, jobs, essential visits); buses and CNGs are running, inter-state transport is behind  schedule but not heavily disrupted, major happening places in Dhaka and Chittagong are normal, and strikes are called upon by party circulars. There are no 80s style processions or miking. In fact, one hardly notices opposition activities in the main streets of Dhaka and Chittagong. Reporting and publicising anxiety holds the key – for both parties.

AL has blamed BNP for all the trouble caused to the general public but as this continues, with potential to interrupt crucial educational events, SSC exams having been postponed a few times, and HSC exams could face interruption as well, then BNP starts to see the gains – perhaps unstable national life and the interruption of business would force the army to engage with the begums?

AL is overconfident. While BNP grass roots are continuing to use localised violence, AL appears to have an advantage in the absence of public sympathy for BNP and some pseudo-sushils continue to harp for them. Even so, a thought that AL could be toppled is the hope keeps BNP supporters going.

And that campaign is much about creating a situation, at least as far as possible, for the army to intervene. Yet AL, knowing this, shows no sign to buckle down. Why?

Do they think they have enough support – of the public, from the establishment? If answers are yes then that explains why they can (and will) go on ruthlessly to cull the opposition.

Still, BNP supporters and the sushils hope for another 1/11 – this time with a decisive blow. It is natural for BNP to consider this as their only way out, but what’s in it for the army?

Why would they go through the trouble of removing the Prime Minister? You may be surprised to know it, but still, even after the mis-governance at least a third of the population supports AL (and the 40/40/20 remains intact). Why would the army risk antagonising them? Just to give back power to another group of politicians, more like the ones they would have toppled? Can they stay there for long would be a question they are bound to ask themselves – there is no legislative framework nor a constituency for that, thank goodness. The coup still doesn’t look like a possibility, and AL could win this round. The returns from violence, after all, are diminishing in nature – life continues.

Hone Your OP-EDs

Seriously, what’s new that have we heard? Mahfuz Anam (his third Editorial appeared this week on the same theme that dialogue is the solution) – along with many others, which includes some international reports, organisations harp on dialogue and fresh election as solution.

But how is that possible? Here are two families fighting for survival, only one can stay. This is not about the country or democracy.

Notable exceptions among the commentators are David Bergman (and Faruk Wasif). David has tried to categorise the attacks. and analyse the situation as balancedly and as factually as possible. However, I disagree with his (and others) suggestion that a fresh election would solve it.

A fresh election, some even suggesting two fresh elections under a caretaker administration, is the way out of this impasse. However, any free election would inevitably return one of the parties, although the next ‘free election’ is likely to return a BNP government. Then the point is, can either of these parties stop their hatred, brutalities towards each other? Can their supporters forgive misdeeds and torture they copped while they were in opposition?

If the past is any guide of the future, the answer is no. If you have seen any intergenerational land –related family feuds in Bangladesh, you would easily get this point.

There can hardly be any solution when the mistrust, the animosity and acrimonies are so deeply rooted, between them from the birth. Their bickering started as the founder of the nation was killed and the other party’s founder established an alternative popular party. Though these two opposing forces had joined to dislodge another dictator, neither wishes the existence of the other.

Still, the present regime has taken intolerance to a new level. The opposition, no doubt, in due course would like to return the favour. Privileged, educated upper middle class and intellectuals who were vociferous against past regimes for their fundamentalisms and wholesale corruption are now calling for a ceasefire and dialogue. But if the parties are not forgiving, if there are revenge and acrimony running all the way up to the surviving bloodlines, what chance is there for reconciliation?

Another common line being used by the commentators is to blame the both parties evenly, as if to show their neutral stance.  But who could distribute the sins or glory of these two parties? What would that achieve ? More   arguments – and no solution.

What’s happened since 90s is disengagement and disenchantment towards the politics in general. There has not been a set of 5 years in the last three decades (may even be in the entire history of the country) which are violence/agitation – free. As politics continue to stifle life out of normal living, the public, the business people and even the army want to stay out of it. In the end, all – businessmen, students, families, poor, rich, elite, uncouth – have to work around this system of dysfunction. There are ‘extra to be paid’ where ever you go, the authorities cannot provide you the safety you and your loved ones need, just as the public health system cannot cater adequately.

Yet, we have and somehow we will continue to grow – economically and socially, if not politically. When a business conglomerate is working its way around re-zoning massive agricultural lands to commercial lands, when a middle class family attempts to move upwardly to be ‘upper middle class/elite’ family, when a deprived girl toils 60-70 hours in a RMG factory just so that she can avoid being a ‘maid/slave’, when an orphan (or a descendent of a devoutly pious Muslim family in Chittagong) attends madrasah, when an unemployed village-youth pawns life savings to go to the Saudi-Arabia they hope, in spite of the glum, that their lives would be better in future.

It may sound peculiar or incoherent but talking to people on the ground makes me rethink, what is the point of idealising on papers (notwithstanding the fact that we are anyway not allowed to freely do so)? What I ‘purport’ to know, what I ‘think’ would be good for them, in reality may not be – but most importantly they themselves are figuring it out. They may not be well read, but they are clued in. They are smart. They are survivor, and much more courageous then someone such myself who hides behind a keyboard!

And yet, we have shusils, pseudo-opportunistic ‘intellectuals’ lecturing them, making opinions, all the while assuming that they are superior then them. Of course, it is accepted that the sushils/elites have earned (?) it – by just being “the elite”. It is a civilisation where the peasants have been bowing to landlords for centuries/generations, where marrying off one’s daughters to well-off still remains the norm. So unless they, ‘the poor-sordid-boons’, change their attitude – to stop trying to join the league of elite – which I dare say they won’t, they can’t (you see it is instinctive, wanting to be an ‘elite’), this talking (writing) down will continue.

Naturally, then, the discussions, the joy, the remorse, the accusations, the counter-accusations become very ‘intellectual’ – confined only to a closed-knit circle – and ineffective.

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