This blog might seem like an anomaly, as it may contain some level of political bias. However, man is a political animal, so keeping that in mind, I hope I would be pardoned. Rhetoric aside, my aim is not political at all. This is not a defense piece in favor of any particular political party or ideology in any part of the world. Instead, it is an investigation into what contributes to the sociopolitical stability of a country and binds its institutions together against numerous odds, helping it maintain a stable power landscape.
Most of the time, when I used to engage in political discussions, I would receive alarmist feedback in return. It’s not surprising to see people getting frustrated and pessimistic over a long-standing establishment, especially if the establishment has been inefficient in addressing people’s concerns. As time progresses, the popularity of an establishment is bound to wane, particularly in a democratic setting where people are conditioned to expect change. Additionally, there is anti-establishment propaganda, which does not necessarily have to be a lie but rather a twisted, filtered narrative fed to the people for political gains. Both the establishment and anti-establishment forces propagate propaganda according to their vision and ideals. However, generally speaking, anti-establishment hyperbole catches people’s attention the most, as it caters to the powerless, who constitute the majority of the population. Another reason is that such narratives are sensational, dramatic, intellectually striking, adrenaline-inducing, and morally vindicating. In a divisive society, this trend is most pronounced, as seen in the United States of America.
In China, on the other hand, there is effectively no anti-establishment propaganda present due to government censorship, which suppresses any potential divisiveness. In fact, divisive tendencies are seen as a vice, and whatever the Chinese Communist Party decides is expected to be obeyed. This is why I mentioned a democratic setting as a fundamental prerequisite for such a sociopolitical dynamic to materialize. A country might lack democracy, but it might have a democratic setting. For example, in most third world countries, a democratic setting can be found as a consequence of colonial influence, but on the contrary, few unbiased elections can be found.
On the other hand, the only people who subscribe to pro-establishment propaganda are usually ideologically aligned activists, party loyalists, or associated beneficiaries. This is rarely a spontaneous phenomenon but rather arises out of an existential need. A practical example of the influence of both types of propaganda can be found in literature and the entertainment industry. Anti-establishment rhetoric sells the most, while nuances sell little. You have to have a villain in your story and a hero as well. The hero will conquer the villain and bring eternal justice and peace. However, in real life, revolutions occur repeatedly, and myths remain as myths. Only the elites get to switch positions of power.
On the other hand, if you write a nuanced narrative, neither antagonizing nor idolizing any particular figure, party, or ideology, it will be comparatively harder to reach the masses. The balance will always lean towards the sensational storyteller and not the nuanced observer. Unlike anti-establishment rhetoric, which easily attracts people, the establishment contrives its own ways to bring people back under its influence. This is achieved through patriotism, identity politics, religion, cultural conservatism, etc., which are naturally integrated into the human mind. Thus, ideologies make their entrance into political landscapes, playing a vital role in determining the power equilibrium among stakeholders.
The anti-establishment bloc always has leverage in this game due to people’s proclivity towards its cause. Additionally, they can solely focus on creating anti-establishment propaganda and invest more time into crafting it. On the other hand, the establishment bloc has less time to invest in such trivial matters since they have bigger responsibilities, namely the governance of the whole country, on their shoulders. If the establishment is efficient enough in governing the country, their propaganda does not yield the expected outcome. In contrast, the inefficiency of a government inadvertently benefits the anti-establishment campaign, strengthening propaganda with little effort from their part. The efficiency of a government relieves it from the necessity of creating a strong propaganda network since actions speak louder than words. When this happens, the burden to create anti-establishment agitation becomes heavier on the anti-establishment bloc. Even the slightest anomalies have to be capitalized and sensationalized to level up their game against the efficient rule of the establishment.
Ordinary people do not tend to think about political nuances in this way. Each party presents itself as genuine to their cause, making it justifiably hard for a regular person to decipher the real intentions behind propagandist activism. As I stated earlier, propaganda does not necessarily have to be lies but rather carefully crafted filtered narratives to woo people into a cause. So when specific bits of propaganda strike a chord with an ordinary person, they will definitely embrace it, especially if they lack political consciousness. The political battleground should be seen as a sport. The parties are players, and the people are the tools, while the goal is to ascend towards state power. In this battle, while anti-establishment forces enjoy leverage on the propaganda front, the establishment, on the other hand, has leverage in a far stronger factor, which is the state apparatus. Now, this might sound like an over-generalized word, but it is vital to understanding the course of power dynamics in a society.
At this point, I feel obliged to describe what can be construed as a “system”. A system, as we have been taught in our signals and systems course, is a process that takes inputs and produces an output. This is a purely engineering definition of physical systems. However, in this context, we will be using “systems” interchangeably with “services.” Since we are discussing state mechanisms, we will primarily focus on state services, but we will also touch upon some private realms to gain a more holistic picture.
We must understand that a state does not exist in isolation; it must also prioritize its private sectors. After all, in a free-market economy, it is the private sector that is responsible for generating wealth and resources. The state relies on the revenues collected from this generated wealth, which are obtained through taxes or other mechanisms. Additionally, the private sector ensures mass employment, so ignoring it would mean disregarding a significant and influential political factor
So, Let's start with employment.
Employment is one of the key factors for political stability. Unemployment has a deep psychological impact on a population, especially the young. It generates despair, frustration, uncertainty, and increases the tendency to take risks. It is also deeply responsible for recruiting militias, which consequently escalates domestic violence, political flare-ups, and organized crime.
To provide a small-scale local example, Brahmanbaria, a district in Bangladesh, serves as a good illustration. The people of this district are mostly seasonal farmers. They plant crops during specific seasons, harvest them at the end, and sell them for a living. However, for the rest of the year, they lay idle due to the floodplains being submerged underwater, which they usually use as farmlands in the summers. The water level rises so high that when the rivers are full, it drowns the road connections, isolating the whole region from the mainland. This works as a major deterrent for big industries to set up their firms in this region. Consequently, people have to rely mostly on agriculture and farming and have literally nothing to do when the water overflows from the rivers.
During these idle times, young men in Brahmanbaria spend most of their time at local tea stalls engaging in politics, playing cards, gambling on petty games, and gossiping about trivial family affairs, etc. They are full of youthful energy but have nowhere to spend it. Indolence combined with youthful energy is a recipe for disaster, which gets channeled into violence. Brahmanbaria is the living proof of this. The frequency of violent infighting between Brahmanbaria’s village clans is unparalleled in this country. The same can be seen in Char areas (alluvial lands), which suffer from a big scarcity of work, contributing to loaded uncertainties for its residents. Char areas, especially in off seasons (flood seasons), become extremely violent. A similar trend can be observed in border areas, flood-prone regions, steep mountain areas, and deep dense jungles. The lack of work is bound to translate into political instability. The Sundarbans have pirates, the mountains have Arakan Bahini and Shantibahini, char areas have scattered militias, flood-prone regions are filled with land grabbers and dacoits.
Spiteful spears of Brahmanbaria
Villages on the banks of the Titas in Brahmanbaria district, about 83km from Dhaka, look as placid as the river. Most…
A state’s pledge is to ensure work for all its constituents. However, theoretically, it cannot enforce this, as it is ultimately an individual’s liberty to choose whether to work or not and to select their preferred line of work. The government cannot infringe upon this personal right. What it can do, however, is create an environment where work opportunities are available. It must ensure that workplaces are free from gender, racial, and religious discrimination and that work is accessible to all who wish to pursue it and possess the necessary qualifications. To equip its people with the required skills, the state must provide adequate education and training facilities.
To achieve these goals, the government must design a system. It invests time, money, and logistics, drafts or amends laws, and takes measures to promote employment opportunities while also considering other interests of the state. The objective is to maximize employment within the boundaries defined by the state. In communist countries such as North Korea or Cuba, the demarcation line is designed to ensure maximum state ownership. All enterprises in these countries are state-owned, with capital controlled and shared by the state bureaucracy. However, the fixed nature of the state bureaucracy limits its creative potential. Decisions made by the government are translated into the market through a restrictive, linear approach that hampers market growth and expansion, consequently curtailing economic growth. This is a shortcoming that free-market economies do not have. They foster an open market where anyone can participate and profit, encouraging innovative ideas and versatile enterprises, thereby accelerating market scope and diversification. Enterprises engage the state’s constituents, thereby passively serving the state’s initial goal of providing employment opportunities while ensuring a versatile economy.
To understand the importance of versatility, we need not look further than Venezuela. The country heavily relies on oil, which accounts for 80% of its GDP. Although Venezuela used to have minor agricultural and manufacturing exports, poor economic policies and over-reliance on oil caused these sectors to suffer. When struck by US sanctions, they could no longer sell oil elsewhere, leading to hyperinflation and a total collapse of their poorly managed economy. Similar circumstances can be observed in Iran as well. While Iran does not solely rely on oil, its economy had the potential to rival that of its neighboring Middle Eastern countries. However, Iranian oil also faced US sanctions. When an entire economy is based on one pillar, the collapse of that pillar affects the entire economy. Therefore, diversification is crucial for a secure economic future. Middle Eastern countries that heavily rely on oil, such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar, are gradually realizing the importance of market diversification and reducing their dependence on oil. They are liberalizing their systems, attracting investors to build economic zones and infrastructures, and adapting to ensure a prosperous future regardless of geopolitical conditions. These countries are transforming their conservative cultures by boosting tourism, opening bars, nightclubs, holiday resorts, investing in cinemas, promoting sports, establishing Westernized universities, increasing female participation in the economy, creating self-sustaining digital ecosystems, and more. Although the shift is still underway and will take time to solidify, it is necessary for their long-term stability.
On the other hand, consider countries like the United States of America. The entrepreneurial craze has resulted in a bloom of technologies and services. They have created resources out of thin air, which they sold to the whole world. To ensure their creative supply chain, they have brought in the world’s finest minds as immigrants by selling them the American dream. A collective effort invested by these intelligent individuals has gifted America with an invaluable set of knowledge, skills, and novel innovations. America’s precious resources that it had engineered have put it up as an uncontested hegemon for decades. This would not have been possible in a communist country that approaches linearly through state-controlled entrepreneurial decisions, like North Korea or Cuba. I am not invoking countries like China, Vietnam, Laos, Peru, etc. because despite being run by a communist party their markets have some degree of free-market characteristics. China, when it was at the peak of its cultural revolution (communist revolution) under Mao Zedong, suffered from such a problem. But after Den Xiaoping opened up its market, and embraced the free-market economy, the Chinese market exploded and is still expanding to this day. Chinese Communist party even had to admit that the cultural revolution was a mistake and should have been directed differently. Same with Vietnam. After the communist takeover by the North Vietnamese army, the country was not going anywhere, but shortly after the ruling regime opened up its market (not to the extent of china but still ), the country is going on a fast track economic development. Both China and Vietnam had violent phases when their economy was poor, especially during the period of their communist revolution. We can see the same with the soviet union too. Shortly After receiving a massive economic shock from the cold war and also the war in Afghanistan, the USSR model was proving to be unsustainable. The USSR command economy was proving to be extremely inefficient to match with other emerging global markets, like that of America and Japan. America and Japan were pacing at a burgeoning pace, whereas the Soviet economy stagnated so bad that they had to rely on only oil export at that moment. Such a tense moment can be realized through soviet premier Alexei Kosygin’s anxious exchange with the head of oil and gas production of the soviet union at that time.
things are bad with bread. Give me 3 million tons [of oil] over the plan
After Mikhail Gorbachev assumed power, he started to transform the soviet union’s command economy into a market economy. The soviet union had to be gradually dissolved in order to materialize these administrative and economic reforms. Thus, the Russian federation along with other post-soviet countries like Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine was born. A whole country dissolved because the command economy failed to meet the global market reality. This alone should be enough to demonstrate the huge political repercussions that economic systems can entail.
But laissez-faire or absolutely free markets are not desirable either since they tend to centralize entrepreneurial versatility by creating monopolistic corporate power and intricate legal mazes. There is also a fear of cross-border capitalist aggression and corporate imperialism. This is something the Chinese State has managed to balance effectively. It has hindered foreign monopolies from operating within its borders and instead fostered similar copycat infrastructures that incentivize its own pool of entrepreneurs. Consequently, this approach has led to the creation of thousands of job openings and the advantage of keeping tech revenues within Chinese borders. Allowing Facebook, Google, Twitter, YouTube, etc., to operate in China instead of platforms like Weibo, Baidu, WeChat, Sina Weibo, Youku, etc., would result in offshored revenues with no tangible employment opportunities for Chinese mainland citizens. Furthermore, it would impose a political toll on the Chinese state, as American companies tend to operate independently according to their own set of rules rather than those of the states in which they operate. The Chinese system has proven successful, whereas countries that did not (or could not) emulate the Chinese approach have suffered in these aspects.
In Bangladesh, for example, the government effectively has no control over social media and other Silicon Valley tech giants. These companies generate billions of dollars through their advertising schemes in the country. While it can be argued that the Silicon Valley giants have boosted the local SME scheme, the outflow of billions of dollars is far from an ideal situation, despite our limited influence. Unlike China, we lack the technical expertise to build our own infrastructure, so we must accept certain trade-offs. However, these trade-offs have not only economic but also political implications. As a country, we have not yet reached the technological maturity of first-world countries. Fake news is rampant on online platforms, and its impact extends beyond harmless propaganda. Rumors and political propaganda disseminated through these platforms have amplified communalism among the people, generated political tensions, increased sexism, racism, domestic violence, and led to political conflicts, among other issues. The communal violence witnessed over the last 6–7 years can be directly attributed to the misuse of social media platforms. The government struggles to control this situation because Facebook prioritizes user privacy, while its algorithm continues to fuel the spread of sensational fake news posts. The government attempted to introduce the Digital Security Act to curb online criminal activities, although the success of this act remains debatable. Many claim that the act was introduced to silence journalists, a notion I disagree with. If an omnipotent government truly wanted to silence journalists, it wouldn’t need a law to do so. Furthermore, the massive market growth of news and print media, evident in the recent issuance of licenses by the government, contradicts the idea of an adverse journalistic atmosphere. During this government’s tenure, there has been a significant increase in the number of dailies and news channels, far surpassing previous regimes’ figures. Previously, the count wasn’t even a fraction of what it is today. The DSA act was formulated to catch miscreants in the virtual world. Although journalist unions want us to believe that all journalists are innocent, in practical life, we can observe that many of them are not as blameless as they claim to be. An investigative report produced by Mazhar Milon of Maasranga TV exposed such journalistic malpractice. Additionally, if you were to ask politicians, businessmen, and public service officials directly, you would see that such journalistic malpractices are, in fact, quite endemic
Although not much studies have been done exploring the success of DSA in achieving its goals, but at least the government offered a system against the populist sentiment to hold such people culpable. Previously there had been no such systems for digital platforms, hence adding this does not give out a sinister vibe if anyone gives a more nuanced thought into it.
The country saw many large protests thanks to social media activism. Shahbagh Protests, Quota Reform movement, Road safety protests, Anti-Rape protests, etc. to name a few that have emerged out of social media activism. But this could have been made possible due to a democratic setting of the country where the government allows freedom of speech to some extent to preserve its democratic outlook. Many would disagree with this notion but it can be easily cross-checked through some hours of browsing online. Opposing forces are quite vocal on online platforms, blasting the government for every action they take, every move they make. They can also be seen to hold rallies, protests on Paltan, Shahbagh, and other key places with regular media coverage. Talk shows invite dissident voices regularly and in fact more than supporting voices, since dissidence has a bigger sense of valor, yielding more PR value for the concerned media. But it would be an out-and-out lie to claim that the country has turned into free-speech heaven. Some levels of intimidation do occur on local levels since we are yet to outgrow the culture of muscle power at provincial levels, but on national policymaking levels, such practices are barely observed.
Although the westernized notion of free speech doesn't exist here, just like western secularism, which also doesn't exist in its actual shape and form despite the constitution having secularism as one of its core pillars. There are some parts of our country’s history which the ruling party has demarcated and sanctified, granting them immunity from criticism. For example, Bangladesh’s liberation war, the concept of the Father of the nation, Bangladesh’s national anthem, and Bengali nationalism. Once a journalist named David Bergman called in question about the actual toll of the liberation war of Bangladesh. He was brought under contempt of court for distorting the liberation war’s history and was also castigated for whitewashing war crimes and war criminals of that period. Now, this can be construed as an attack on the free press, but from a greater political point of view, it is not. You cannot get away with doing revisionism on the holocaust narrative in first-world countries as well, especially European ones which still carry the taint of the holocaust. You cant even get away with doing such revisionist practices in the United States without having to face dire consequences. You can’t be a James Watson, a Flannery O’ Connor, or an H.P Lovecraft making frequent racist tropes, without being canceled by your peers. People like Alex jones whose fake news campaign ends up causing the Sandy Hook massacre eventually get charged too. So even in the land of the free, journalism is not completely immune. It's all about striking a balance at the end of the day so that minimal damage follows. Would you allow fake news and rumors to run rampant and threaten national security for the sake of free journalism or would you put a leash into it to avert grave social explosions? Also, weakening the nationalistic fervor of a country has sinister repercussions too. It prompts divisiveness even more and creates a recipe for a civil war based on identity politics. In the absence of a nationalistic glue, identity politics grabs a hold. It is unavoidable unless the country has an extreme libertarian, selfish, Reagnite, Thatcherite, Ayn Rand culture integrated into it. A third-world country, due to the absence of such a subculture, needs a strong unifying identity to propel itself forward than have a faulty foundation that carries the potential to drop it into a deep identity crisis and then to endless chaos. This is especially true for countries with strong familial relationships and clan cultures. This is true for Bangabandhu’s Bangladesh, Mao’s china, Ataturk’s turkey, Lenin’s Russia, Mahathir’s Malaysia, Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew. None of these founding fathers are absolutely flawless, but the identical base must not be separated for the sake of the country’s identical cohesion. If not someone can easily sow the seeds of divisiveness and change the political landscape of the whole nation.
The rise of the middle class…
The political climate in Bangladesh had never been stable after its emergence as an independent and sovereign nation. The country used to be mired with political violence, political assassinations, military coup, countrywide Hartals, strikes, arsons, and vandalism. It is only fairly recently that the country is enjoying a greater degree of political stability unlike any other time before. One key reason behind this is that the government had drastically reduced poverty. Millions were lifted above extreme poverty and a near elimination was projected to be by end of 2021, which unfortunately got impeded due to the Covid crisis. The ruling party worked with a goal in mind, which is to reduce extreme poverty at any cost. The reason is simple. People who have nothing on their plate are easy political recruits. They are easy to agitate and cheap to maintain. Political oppositions usually exploit the desperation of these borderline poor young people to exert their muscle power for political gains. The government, after assuming power, barely needs them since they have far better tools at their disposal in order to exert their muscle, especially the administrative services and the armed forces which are under their command. The difference between the current regime with its predecessors is that it has greatly developed and incentivized the civil and military services, politicized them, and has brought them under a certain amount of discipline. It has made public services stronger than ever before, thus providing its muscle with more substance. It has increased the salary of public officials to a staggering 100% and in some cases even more. It has increased other associated facilities like housing, medicare, educational, advanced training and deputation opportunities, bundles of allowances, and what not. Military officials have also been bestowed with enormous facilities. All these have a political aspect to them. It has been done to keep the sensitive government bodies under control. In the previous administration, the government had comparatively little control over the administrative bodies. These places were highly inefficient, unimaginably corrupted, and had very little accountability. These places also had a deeply divisive political atmosphere. There were pro-government groups, anti-government groups among the civil and military servants. For example, in 1996, a group of public officials created “Jonotar Moncho” to oppose the incumbent government that they felt to be illegal and morally bankrupt. The government understood that they had lost their grip on the public service officials and after pressures being mounted upon them from both the general public and public service cadre, the BNP government was forced to resign at that time. The ruling party took lessons from that and hence revamped the whole public service so that agitations cannot breed within the system and no similar “Jonotar Moncho” can form. The ruling party indeed has succeeded in this project. They have successfully tamed a beast that is now under full control of the government. But the bigger beast that they had tamed is the military service. Bangladesh had a history of coups and counter-coups. The first coup started with the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman after which a lot of subsequent coups followed. There were more than 10 coups within the 50 years of the country. Some were successful while some ended up in waste. Whenever a tense political power crisis brewed in the country, armies used to take an attempt to grab state power. The recent coup attempts were in 2009 and in 2011. The current regime took power in 2009. Although many would say that the 2009 BDR mutiny was not a direct coup attempt but an outburst of legitimate grievance of BDR soldiers. It’s apparently true since this is what actually happened but the political aim behind it was to create a tensed atmosphere where the army would be forced to intervene due to the failure of the government to protect military lives, where aggrieved BDR soldiers were to be used as pawns. Once the military would get to intervene it would have shifted the state power towards them since the civil government would appear to be weak and ineffective in handling state affairs, thus nullifying the government. But the government steered through this crisis pretty intelligently. It managed the whole thing politically instead of invoking the military. This event was a wake-up call for the government that it can be ousted at any time through a potential military crisis. The next such signal came through 2011’s coup attempt, which is not much discussed in pop culture because the attempt was neutralized before any damage could have been done. Due to a lack of sensational display, it went beneath the radar. But these subsequent coup attempts, along with all the experiences from the past shaped the ruling party Awami league’s military approach. Through countless incentives, deputations, business opportunities the government tamed the military pool. Also, it heavily politicized the army, picking mostly party loyalists for sensitive posts and blocking potential troublemakers from availing those posts. This also comes from a lesson gathered from the assassination of Sheikh Mujib. A lot of Pakistani loyalists remained in the country and retained their positions in the military after the country achieved its independence. Therefore the military was politically divided with both pro-Bangladesh and anti-Bangladesh forces possessing substantial influence. The chief of staff General Shafiullah once expressed his regret that had the detective chiefs of DGFI (known as DFI back then), NSI, and military intelligence cooperated with him and provided him with substantial intelligence reports the assassination could have been prevented. These agencies blocked valuable intels from reaching the chief of staff in order to smoothen the road of Mujib’s assassination. Their complicity in this assassination came as no surprise. Back then, the chief of these intelligence agencies were the leftovers of the military faction who were loyal to Pakistan and played a questionable role in the liberation war in 1971 led by Sheikh Mujib. Although the country once liberated cannot be reverted back, but nonetheless, if the Sheikh Mujib factor could be eliminated from the political scene, it would have been easier to revert back to the old Pakistani ideals which were greatly damaged due to the liberation war. Such ideological commitment, therefore, prompted these detective chiefs to ensure the success of these operations which is why they colluded with the assassins by blocking their agencies' intel from reaching the ears of senior officials like the chief of staff and other key politicians. Taking lessons from such pasts, the ruling party, therefore, politicized all the sensitive military positions so that such crises do not reappear. It was in fact about to reappear through the 2011 coup attempt. The chief belligerent of this operation major Syed Muhammad Ziaul Haque was inspired by Hizbut Tahrir and had envisioned establishing an Islamic state by overthrowing prime minister Sheikh Hasina. But as soon as major Ziaul Haque tried to convince the upper officials to join his coup project, his plan quickly got foiled because the senior officials did not agree to comply. If the military at that period had been in a disorderly shape like its predecessors, the coup attempt might have taken off. But with a military kept in line, materializing such a conspiracy is bound to be extremely difficult.
With the two big state apparatus under full political command, the ruling party faces very little threat to their state power. It had addressed all the mistakes that its predecessors have done and thus got to further tighten its grip on state power. The grip is so strong that the party has been ruling for 13 years straight without even stumbling a bit. They have already outlined a vision 2041, implying that the next 20 years of state power will be on their hands as well. Such confidence can only emerge from the fact that they have mastered in bringing the Civil and Military administration under a certain political discipline. But taming the population is even more challenging. The country hosts around 200 million people with a population density of over a thousand and with a per capita GDP of around 2500 dollars as of today. The per capita GDP was around 400 dollars 13 years back when the current regime took over state power. Although many experts criticize GDP as a growth indicator, it is an undeniable fact that the country’s wealth has increased drastically and its economy is booming. Its total GDP rose from 79 million to 310 million with a 6.4% annual growth within these 13 years. The state budget used to be around 40–50 thousand crores previously which have now scaled up to more than half a million crores as of today. Extreme poverty had been widely reduced, giving rise to a large landscape of the middle class.
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As stated earlier, a poor economy coupled with unemployment is a recipe for a political disaster, since a poor man has very little to lose. Whereas, a middle-class man has a lot of things to think about. He can lose his job, his livelihood, his home, his career, his savings, his family security, his social reputation, and a lot of other things. Very few middle-class households would be willing to risk all that, since most of them would prefer financial and social security to carry on with their lives. They would prefer to stay busy with their career and families than spend countless lazy hours on the local tea stalls gossiping and discussing politics with others. Revolutions foment through such lazy hours. Marx could never build up a following had he been busy doing a round hour job. Engels bailed him out, paid for all his expenses including his family’s so that Marx could focus on creating his line of thought. It's not like Engels was a career-focused guy either. He inherited all his wealth from his industrialist father. A similar case can be observed for Che Guevara too. He was a regular medical student with a focus on building a good medical career. But in the final cycle of his academic year, when he went on a motorbike trip throughout the whole of Latin America with his friend meeting lots of poor oppressed Latinas and other revolutionaries, is only when he became thoroughly indoctrinated with revolutionary zeal. The point is, you need to have time at your disposal, engage with people, exchange ideas, rhetorics in order to bring about a revolution. You need people who would spare their time too. Let's look over a local case. Recently the government had spiked the price of diesel to a staggering 27%. Social media erupted over such a hasty decision and was unanimously condemned. But the condemnation stuck to the virtual world. It did not get out of the social media cocoon. No one came down on the streets except for one or two political parties with a handful of protesters which won't even exceed 20–30 people in a country of around 200 million. Had it been 20 to 30 years back, the situation could have been different. Back at those times, the oppositions could easily gather thousands of people on Sohrawardi Uddyan or in the corners of Paltan. They could easily gather thousands of people within hours since the supply of such protestors was abundant. In 2004, for example, there was a huge protest led by the Awami League and its allies protesting the diesel and kerosene price hike. 50 were injured, hundreds were picked up by police. Now that the awami league is in power and had done the same thing, not a fraction of such protest can be seen in the streets, let alone protestors getting injured or picked up by the Police.
50 hurt during General Strike in Bangladesh
A dawn-to-dusk hartal passed off yesterday across the country amid sporadic clashes between the police and opposition…
When organizing such political protests, organizers used to hand out some 200 to 500 taka per attendee back at those times. In some cases, they were provided with foods and beverages (a craved food item in this country ) instead of hard cash. These days finding such destitute people who would join massive political rallies for such a meager amount of money or a packet of biriani is quite challenging. People do not want to risk getting caught or injured for such a poor reward. Even a poor rickshaw puller earns around a thousand taka each day. Political consciousness has also dwindled down among the masses, reducing the charm of attending political rallies. Most people now view such processions as a gathering of a bunch of jobless goons. Therefore, such a shortage of freelance destitute political pawns has made the work of the opposition parties even harder.
What’s more interesting is that the funds required to organize such big political processions are largely paid by businessmen with political affiliations. But imagine if you wanted to gather around thousands of people in the streets of Shahbagh, whereas previously some couple of lacs would do, it can now cost more than millions of takas. Businessmen don't want to scale up their donations so high and hamper their business which makes arranging the funds for such showdowns even more challenging. They would rather donate to the ruling party-led processions and stay under their favorable eyes. In fact, the government had wooed the business leaders into their cause. Although the ruling party had communism as its constitutional tenet, it has drifted far away from it. The markets have been completely liberalized by the government granting giant subsidies, loans, tax havens to incentivize investments and production. A fully focused free-market production-based economic policy had helped the government to pursue its financial targets. In order to ensure the growth of the private sector, the government’s primary focus had been on revamping the electrical infrastructure. When the government took power in 2009, it had inherited a power sector with a generational capacity of 3500MW. The capacity had since been escalated to a staggering 26,000MW as of today. The turning point was the decision of incentivizing quick rental power plants. The government enacted a controversial law, “Quick Enhancement of Electricity and Energy Supply (Special Provision) Act 2010” to fast track the energy sector in order to bring about a solution to the extant crisis. The law allowed energy investors to do unsolicited negotiations with the government in order to set up their power plants. The government planned to subsidize them even if they remained idle, paying them for their capacitive charge. Also, no tendering process would need to be followed and the whole business would not be allowed to be brought into court.
“All acts done or purported to have been done, actions taken or orders made under this law shall not be called in question in any court” — a part of the provision of the bill
This law was heavily opposed by every other political party, including civil society. Transparency international demanded an immediate withdraw of the bill. Local and international bodies viewed this as a tool for corruption and condemned it unanimously. But the idea behind it was to facilitate an already famished sector at the fastest pace possible. The only way to do that was to remove all barriers towards investments.
And the idea worked.
Today the country has a capacity of 26MW power with daily load peaking at 12–15MW each day. The uninterrupted power supply is being supplied to industries, corporations, and households. Places, where there are still interruptions, are due to faulty transmission infrastructure or some failure at the distribution end. But we have excess stock of electric energy today, which was unimaginable previously for such a small economy. And all this has only been possible due to the enactment of the “Quick Enhancement of Electricity and Energy Supply (Special Provision) Act 2010”. Through such incentives, many local and international players flocked inside the country to invest in the power sector because it appeared to be a relaxed and conducive business deal. And after that, a cumulative effect ensued. With energy sufficiency and free-market policies comes the industrial boom. Within these thirteen years, an insane industrial boom occurred. Without ensuring adequate electricity, it would have otherwise been impossible. We wouldn't even be able to enter the digital era had we not earned energy sufficiency. The country has now over 88 economic zones and a lot more are on the way. The country which used to have only one chief export, namely the garments industry, now managed to produce another promising competitor, which is the light engineering sector. This particular sector is heavily energy-intensive. We have also entered the car manufacturing era and smartphone manufacturing era. Previously Samsung once thought of investing in the country, but the electrical and political infrastructure was not in favor of their business which is why they had to shift their R&D project to Vietnam. We also had Ford’s attention but due to a lack of electrical infrastructure, they never showed any further interest. There was also a time when we had to reject a Fiber Optic cable network through our country, lagging us ages behind from the modern world. Had that to happen, our country would have been digitalized a decade ago. This was the sad reality of Bangladesh previously at the core of which was poor electrical infrastructure. Those who opposed the quick rental bill at that time never had this political vision in mind which the ruling party had. At the end of the day, the ruling party had been proved to be correct with its timely policy, and not its staunch critics who accused it of corruption. It's not to say there had been no corruption and it’s not an attempt at whitewashing corruption either. But a political party needs to work with long-term visions and not shallow ones. It has to determine whether it should show zero tolerance and continue having a fragile electrical infrastructure, or risk some level of corruption to achieve energy sufficiency. Such a crucial decision against a populist idealistic bubble requires some degree of strategical which civil bodies rarely possess but experienced politicians do.
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With energy secured, the road to economic empowerment became a lot smoother. The threat to power from economic factors has been largely reduced. Another factor that could be a threat to the ruling party’s power base is the universities. Students had been at the forefront of many national movements, starting from the language movement, liberation war to the movement against the military dictatorship and a lot of others. The military regime of Hussain Muhammad Ershad could have been toppled largely thanks to student activists occupying the streets with political slogans. Ershad banned student politics from all universities, thus fueling the fire even more. This is an agitation that Mr. Kazi Firoz Rashid, presidium member of the Jatiya Party, believed to have contributed to General Ershad’s fall. According to Mr. Rashid, he advised General Ershad not to put a ban on student politics, but he did it anyway. And the result was catastrophic for Mr. Ershad. The universities were historically at the forefront of political thought and political leader production. Launching an assault over such a rooted tradition with a hasty executive order is highly impractical. And that it was. General Ershad soon lost all control over the students, who were coming out in droves in the streets under the banner of different political parties. This is a reason why, despite numerous criticisms, no political parties after that ever took an attempt at banning student politics from university campuses despite student politics polluting the academic environment. Student politics is at the root of many problems in university campuses but banning this practice would mean losing control. And an uncontrolled campus can be turned into a recipe for political disaster, which opposition parties can successfully exploit. For example, if the ruling party proceeds to ban all sorts of student politics on university campuses, it might contain major political groups inside the campuses but it cannot make the ban effective for Islamist politics from creeping in, since it can be easily camouflaged within a spate of religious activism. And it’s not only Bangladesh who feels a sense of threat from universities. For example, the United States of America shaped its universities in such a way so that no such disaster can brew. A growing political consciousness coupled with postmodernism created a deeply political atmosphere inside American campuses in the early 60s. There were fewer pressures on the students as well since Nixon hadn't yet come forward with his ambitious student loan policies and Sallie Mae hadn’t yet been established. Among the universities, UC Berkeley used to be at the forefront of political activisms which culminated in the 1960s Berkeley protests. This was largely thanks to the rising impact of postmodernism, counterculture, and the hippie movement as a response to the World war, Vietnam war, and other warring foreign policies of the United States.
To subdue the threat coming out of university campuses the American government tried everything at its disposal to address these situations. They threatened to stop educational subsidies, cutting research grants and halting student loans to anyone engaging in campus rioting. Following the severity of politicization of American campuses in the 60s and 70s many local levels, state level, federal level bills were passed and appropriated just to be able to address the heightening political unrest in American campuses. After Nixon’s enactment of student loan policies and the through the establishment of Sallie Mae, campus unrest dwindled down a lot. Students required student loans, financial aids. research grants to pursue higher education. The subsequent legal system made it tougher for anyone with a trace of such activities to face immense hurdles in accessing such facilities. Also, the burgeoning student loans made sure that the students stick to academic affairs than engage in political activities since the latter would cost them more and more if their academic calendar is jeopardized. For example, the state of Tennesse enacted a law which includes,
Any part-time or full-time student who is convicted of any criminal offense growing out of any student riot, protest, or disturbance shall forfeit any further right to any student loan or financial assistance supported by state funds
The government thus, disincentivized such political movements coming out of universities with a good deal of success. To quote the president of Yale University Kingman Brewster, the new mood on campuses resembled an “eerie tranquility”. Another commentator is heard saying, “After six years of mounting campus turmoil, students seem suddenly to have reverted to a quiet, private style of life”. A Gallup poll soon afterward found that college students slowly started to reject all kinds of radical politics.
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All this had been possible only because America has a very strong state apparatus with an even stronger legal system and does not have much of a historical context. In Bangladesh, it is not possible because the state is not as strong as it purports to be. The state also cannot impose financial leashes because the economy of the country isn't even a tenth of that of the United States. The state, therefore, is bound to provide financial assistance in higher education, which the students take for granted. In private universities, however, a different picture is observed. Student politics are non-existent in private universities because there are financial backlashes that might follow. The costs of studying in these universities are too high and hampering the academic activities only bleed the individual student’s pockets even more. If banning student politics in public campuses indeed had been possible, then General Ershad would have been able to do it, but he miserably failed. This is why local context is very important to be considered before fantasizing about the American system. To contrive an effective system locally, local contexts must be present in the system’s discourse.
After public services, military, and administrative bodies have been thoroughly appropriated, the next check comes through the election commission and the judiciary. Although the judiciary is purported to be independent, it is still a highly political place. Despite the judiciary being declared independent, most of the judge recruitments still are sanctioned through law ministry, since it lacks an independent secretariat. Supreme court judges are selected by the president who is a stakeholder in the ruling party. Therefore, the system contains some degree of political signature. The recent debacle against chief justice Surendra Kumar Sinha for example. His appointment to chief justice was a political decision and so was his eventual resignation. There are other supreme court judges who also have been brought under corruption charges relieving them of their duty. Their association with the opposition political parties and their verdicts which didn't fall in line with the governments expectation are widely rumored to have contributed to their downfall. But this is not the first time the judiciary has been politicized. The previous administrations had an even stronger grasp on the judiciary. The previous BNP government even amended the constitution to change the age limit of the chief justice so that Justice K.M Hasan can legally take over the responsibility of the chief of the caretaker government. The underlying strategy for such a decision was that, since he was loyal to the party, he would assist them in getting re-elected. But a coup by General Moin U Ahmed, thwarted this plan and pushed him out of the scene. There came many other judges before who had a direct affiliation with BNP and Jamaat e Islam. For example, Justice Mozammel Haque, after retirement, was nominated by BNP to contest in the National elections. Then there was Justice Rouf, Justice Syed Modasser who later went to become Jamaat e Islam's political advisors after going to retirement. The politicization of the judiciary has become integral in our political culture. No ruling party ever spared their grip on the judiciary because otherwise, their political will becomes very tough to prevail.
Election commissions have never been independent in this country as well. Voting in this country had always been an showdown of muscle power with the election commission having very little control over the nominees. In 1996’s election the election commission allegedly created fake voter lists to make sure the BNP nominee wins some specific seats like that in Magura and some other constituencies. After news of this broke out, the opposing parties including Jamaat e Islam rioted in the streets, came under one banner with demands to establish a caretaker government for ensuring a free and fair election. When political escalation rose up even higher, the BNP government was forced to amend the constitution and resign from power. Caretaker governments rarely come at an advantage of the ruling party. Hence whenever a caretaker governments comes into power a transfer in power follows. To eliminate this possibility BNP tried to put their preferred candidate, Justice Sayem, in the power of caretaker government through amending the constitution. But General Moin U Uddin Ahmed’s coup foiled that. After the caretaker government of General Moin U Ahmed relinquished their power, threw national elections through which Awami League got elected, they became busy erasing the threat of the caretaker government decree which eventually would have once again shifted the state power once their term ends. Hence they used the judiciary to rule the caretaker government system illegal and then erased the caretaker government amendment from the constitution. The biggest blunder of BNP was boycotting the parliament. Because despite losing the national election, they had a sizable representation in the parliament through whom they could take an attempt to block the bill against the caretaker government, but their absence in parliament gave the bill an uncontested majority. Now, with the caretaker government out of sight, the elections got institutionalized to be under the ruling party’s supervision. Although the government says it plays no influence over the whole election process since all the responsibility falls over the election commission due to it being free, but then again the election commission is as free as the judiciary is. Like the judiciary, the election commission is also elected by the ruling party. There was supposed to be a law for the selection of election commissioner but no government till now had taken an attempt in formulating one. If legislation is made, then parties cannot select people out of their whim. If the law is made to favor the ruling party, they can never make a comeback when they go out of power. If the law is made to make the election commission completely independent, then the threat of power becomes even more pronounced. Hence the line is always kept blurred so that the ruling party can act as they please. The current election commissioner for example. He was alleged to be a member of “Janatar Moncho” by the BNP establishment, but he outright denied such claims. He was also made OSD (Officer on Special Duty) as a punishment when the BNP government assumed power in 2001. And now with the Awami League government back in power, he was rewarded with the responsibility of assuming the position of the chief of the election commission. Hence, despite how much the ruling party justifies, it would be very hard to convince anyone that the election commissioner is politically unbiased and neutral.
The last threat that remains for the government comes from foreign powers. The difference between the current administration and the previous ones is that the current administration has a more inclusive foreign policy approach than its predecessors who had a blinkered approach towards their foreign policy. When Sheikh Mujib formed the government in 1972, the country was inclined towards the India-Soviet Union block. Soon after the country was liberated, the severe divisiveness and mismanagement forced Sheikh Mujib to think of an alternate plan. He took inspiration from communist countries and tried to form a one-party state under the name Bakshal (Bangladesh Krishok Sromik Awami league). Zafrullah Chowdhury, a war veteran and trustee of Gonoshastho Kendra who is now a politician on the opposition front, once recounted an incident to the media where Sheikh Mujib invited him to join bakshal. According to his testimony, Sheikh Mujib drew inspiration from communist countries to create bakshal in order to bring the whole country under a political discipline. The post-1971 era was rife with political divisions among the military, Awami league leaders, Jashod, NAP, Rakkhibahini, etc. The increased political escalations were making the country extremely challenging to govern. Sheikh Mujib is said to have famously quoted that he inherited a “mine of thieves” referring to the corrupt politicians who were busy looting public funds and foreign donations. He expressed his concerns to Zafrullah Chowdhury and asked him to join Bakshal, but Mr. Zafruallah declined. Despite being an ardent communist himself, he told Sheikh Mujib that it would be an unwise decision for Mr. Mujib to pursue that path. He feared that Sheikh Mujib, being an ever-evolving politician, would not realize communism at its purest form and that it's better left to be exercised by theory totting communists who spend day and night memorizing Lenin, Marx, Engels, Mao, Castro, Guevara, etc. Mr. Mujib assured him that he had done his math and came to conclude that this was the only way to solve the existing political crisis, but Zafrullah remained unconvinced. Right after that day, Zafrullah Chowdhury flew to London to pursue his medical studies and soon as he dropped at the airport, he got the news that Sheikh Mujib has been assassinated by a rogue military faction. Although local military personnel was responsible for his death, it is widely alleged that there were international backers behind this assassination, namely the American-ISI establishment in order to eliminate the soviet-communist influence from South Asia's backyard. Indian detectives had that intel and tried to warn Sheikh Mujib and his wife, but both of them ignored the alarm believing that his own countrymen can never even think of doing such a thing. Given the track record of the CIA and ISI, it comes as no surprise for them to exploit the domestic in order to carry out their agenda. After killing Sheikh Mujib the country reverted back to it’s Pakistani ideals. Bengali nationalism was tried to be erased from the constitution since Pakistanis used to conflate Bengali with Hindu identity. Bangladesh Betar was renamed to Radio Pakistan and the country started to rapidly Islamize. Khandaker Mushtaq, the incumbent prime minister used to idolize Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan's founder, in all manner possible including his attires. Before the birth of Bangladesh, he even tried to oppose Bangladesh’s liberation and thought of building a federation state with Pakistan like today’s Russian federation. He was even set out to take this proposal to the united nations but after his plan got exposed, Sheikh Mujib barred him from going to the UN. It was Sheikh Mujibs’ worst decision to keep him as his political colleague despite him doing such subversive actions. When asked, why he kept him close despite not being a trustworthy guy, he famously said, “Keep your enemies closer so that they have troubles committing much mischief”. After he got the opportunity to assume premiership due to Sheikh Mujib’s assassination, he instantly grabbed it, and started to manifest his Jinnah vision and turn the country into another Pakistan proxy. Since then the country started to fall into the Islamist rabbit hole. The subsequent military governments amended the constitution to make it more Islamic. They erased “Secularism” from the constitution which was one of the constitutional pillars of our newborn nation. They added “Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim” as a preamble to the constitution, which was a big blow to the secularist nature of the constitution that the intellectuals formed. They also repealed the constitutional law which banned religion-based political parties, thus clearing the way for Jamaat e Islam, a Pakistan-based Islamist political party that openly opposed liberation war and was accused of war crimes to conduct their political activities in Bangladesh. The country started to become institutionally communal. The governments engineered such a system that would push the country towards a Pakistani system of thought, weakening the Bengali identity. Anything that had a Bengali signature was considered to be remnants of Hindu culture and therefore, were disincentivized or vehemently opposed. For example, Rabindranath’s creations were a popular target, and so was the national anthem which they deemed to have animist Hindu influence. Bengali traditions like Pahela Baisakh, Jatrabala, Musicals, Lalon Mela, local seasonal festivals, etc. were constantly being pushed under the rug for being in conflict with the state-sanctioned identity. “Joy Bangla” slogan was banned for having similarities with “jay hind” and was subsequently replaced with “Bangladesh Zindabad” in accordance with “Pakistan Zindabad”. Instead of incentivizing Bengali traditions and cultures, the country started to bulk import Saudi Wahabism through madrasas and through labor exchange programs with the middle east. The educational vacuum of the rural areas was quickly replaced by madrasa facilitated systems, slowly changing the whole cultural demography. The government at those periods, for their allegiance to the pan Islamist philosophy, largely ignored the cultural shift that was happening across the whole country, and in some cases, they even abetted them since this ideological shift would benefit their vote banks. Such changes culminated when the Afghan war happened. Many Bangladeshi people went to Afghanistan to fight against infidel Soviets alongside the mujahideen to liberate Afghanistan. After the war, many of the trained jihadi militants came back to Bangladesh and started campaigning locally for an Islamic state. Many Islamist NGOs propped up recruiting thousand into their cause. Many of these hardline Islamists even ended up representing in the parliament, through forming alliances with the major parties. It's only when militant activities were rampaging the whole country, that the governments started to pay attention to the elephant in the room. But they were largely unsuccessful since they never had a counterbalancing strategy against the system that had been carefully brewed by the Islamists. One of the afghan returnee militants, Mufti Hannan, formed Huji (Harkat-Ul-Jihad) with the sponsorship of IIF (International Islamic Front). They were responsible for carrying out the largest grenade attack in 2004, against the opposition party at that time which was Awami League. According to the confessions of Mufti Hannan, the threat to Islamism was the primary motive for militants to plot and carry out this attack. Although it had political patronage, the militants were primarily stimulated with Islamist propaganda. Then there was the rise of Bangla Bhai, Shaykh Abdur Rahman, and the emergence of Jamatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh. Initially, they received heavy state patronage but after their militant activities spiraled out of control, the government started to take brute force action. To contain islamist militancy and also to contain political terrorism, the BNP government at that time, introduced a new police division under the name Rapid Action Battalion. Through RAB the culture of crossfire which is just a euphemism for extrajudicial killings got established. One such notorious operation by RAB was operation cleanheart which was its earliest operation in history. But operations like these were alleged to have been used by the people in power to stifle political oppositions and eradicate their influence than actually combating militant leaders and terrorists. In fact this very extrajudicial killing of the govt at that time was the selling point of Awami League in its next elections. It pledged to people that it would stop the culture of extrajudicial killing once it assumes power. But such promise never saw the light of the day. The party, soon after assuming power, kept the system as it was. Although the party reduced extrajudicial killings, they never dismantled the culture completely for its own expediency. Hence militant threat was never curbed out but instead got even more amplified. Huji had been responsible for collaborating in another bone-chilling attack that had shaken up the whole nation. In 2005, JMB was responsible for carrying out a series of grenade attacks throughout all the districts (63 out of 64) of Bangladesh in order to shake the political establishments with Huji as its collaborator. Numerous attempts had been made to assassinate Sheikh Hasina, organized mostly by fundamentalist forces who feared a secular reemergence through her party. Many literary activists, cultural activists like Humayun Azad, Shamsur Rahman were attacked. Pahela Baishakh ceremony at Ramna Batamul was bombed which caused a number of deaths. The liberation war history was gradually being distorted and slowly being erased against which a blogger pushback emerged. Many bloggers were hacked to death by Islamists due to looming allegations of blasphemy on them. Another incident to note was the 10-truck arms haul case. Bangladesh was being used as a transit for arms smuggling into the border states like Assam and Tripura to aid the separatism movement there. More interestingly, the state minister of home affairs, Lutfuzzaman Babar, along with the detective chiefs was found out to be directly involved in this matter. After BNP lost power, they got convicted and tried with life imprisonment. The country soon earned an image of becoming a terrorist hub throughout the whole world. Coupled with this, the heightening political and economic crisis and rampant state corruption got the country labeled as a failing state. A leaked envoy from the US state department stated that the country was being run by a kleptocratic government with the leadership being injurious to US interests. Very few foreign investments were coming in and the country was gradually losing grip on foreign diplomacy too. All of these contributed to the caretaker government crisis. It is largely rumored that the coup had international patronage and that General Moeen did not take such a bold attempt out of his own accord. The international brokers are rumored to have wanted Professor Yunus, a novel laureate from Bangladesh to get on board but he declined the offer unless offered the position for 10 years straight. Fakhruddin Ahmed was later brought in instead of him. The interim government was welcomed by the Awami league but strongly opposed by BNP. But, soon after the caretaker government launched legal assaults against all dominant parties using Anti Corruption Commission, it lost all domestic political support. Meanwhile, Awami league held frequent meetings with a number of foreign diplomats and tried to ensure that international support sways on their side. General Moeen U Ahmed wanted to sit for an even longer period of time but eventually, he was forced to call elections and concede the state power to a domestic political party. Due to a surge in popularity of the Awami League at that time because of the institutional failure of the BNP government, and also because of the party's diplomatic advantage along with conducive settlements with the interim government, Awami League swept into state power after the interim government disintegrated. The political settlements between Awami League and the interim government of General Moeen U Ahmed can be found in Pranab Mukherjee’s book where he expressed his concerns about General and his team’s safe exist, urging the ruling party to ensure a safe passage out for this group. And it in fact happened. The general along with his associates like Fakhruddin Ahmed got a safe passage out without the government trying to meddle into it. As a party Awami league matured a lot. In its previous tenures, it did not have a wisely crafted foreign diplomacy. Sheikh Hasina herself admits that she did not play by the rules of foreign players with regards to international diplomacy, and hence lost international support when she contested in 2001 national elections. It is even rumored that the station chief of Indian intelligence, who was at a local function with other diplomats and civil servants was heavily elated when he heard Awami league had lost in the national elections in 2001. The NSA adviser of the Indian Government Brajesh Mishra set up his connections to the BNP establishment through station chief Tony Mathur. Although the Vajpayee government fell out of favor with Sheikh Hasina for favoring her opposition, the other political elites in India were still in favor of Sheikh Hasina, especially from West Bengal and Congress. Even some senior BJP leaders did not take it lightly. Tathagata Roy, for example, publicly castigated Mishra for causing such a huge political blunder. The concerns were not at all exaggerated, which would be later proven by the heightened militant activities and security breaches through the Indian borders. Nevertheless, the BJP never completely cut its ties with the BNP establishment. When BJP took over state power once again in 2014 defeating Congress, BNP leaders threw parties and distributed sweets across their Paltan office as a celebration. They considered it as a major win for themselves since they might have a shot at getting diplomatic leverage over the Awami League government who had historically been close with congress. But despite Awami League’s bitter past with the BJP government, they slowly appropriated the BJP government into their cause, by proving themselves to be better security, strategic, and business partner than all of its predecessors.
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The big game that Awami League played here is shaping its policy to “Friendship to all, Malice to None.” It purported itself as the least belligerent party which would be able to provide better regional stability while also ensuring a stable business partnership. Other major political parties had a belligerent approach in their foreign policy vision. Jamaat e Islam for example was aligned with the ISI-Arab establishment, which was antagonistic towards Indians and the secular forces. BNP, due to its alliance with Jamaat e Islam had to lean towards their policy. They also used to have American support in their favor as a remnant from the ISI establishment, but after a surge of militancy, that support too started to wane. Awami league grabbed this opportunity and made anti-militancy at the core of their campaign. It showed itself as the only secularist party capable of combating militancy. BNP could not integrate secularism in its system due to its major stakeholder being jamaat e Islam, an Islamist party. Thus, the party could not but capitulate to Awami League on diplomatic grounds. Since assuming state power, Awami League has employed its foreign diplomats very sensitively. Gawher Rizvee, Dipu Moni, A K Abdul Momen, Shahriar Alam all have a fairly clean and commendable record compared to other ministers and advisors. But its not like it was all rainbow and sunshine for the foreign department. For example, when the war criminal trials were fomenting, the ISI-Arab bloc which included America severely pressured the government to withdraw these trials. But the government did not budge considering local political scenario. Support for the trials was skyhigh and it was Awami League’s one of the most popular election manifesto to bring war criminals under trial. Also it was vital towards earning them an ideological point over the others. Things went so bad that turkey called back its ambassador. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, HRW all stood staunchly against the trials. Pakistan and Bangladesh went to a diplomatic row as well, since the Pakistani establishment vigorously defended the accused and branded them as martyrs for Islam. But the party quickly recouped its diplomatic presence in the international arena. From calling back its ambassador, Turkey has now entered into making arms deals with Bangladesh which usually do not happen unless strong diplomatic relations are present. Arab states also have warmed up their relations, through broadening business ties and intensifying labor exchange programs. The success of Awami League’s diplomatic efforts can be realized through observing the foreign powers’ reactions to the Bangladeshi election. Despite wide allegations of voter fraud, no foreign powers ever cared to pay any attention to these allegations. Although things are now starting to change due to US-China power struggle, nevertheless the party has tried its best to balance out its strategical position. Balancing strategy is advantageous for another reason. It frees a country from monopolistic influence from other foreign powers. This provides it with earning a bargaining power. Pakistan, North Korea, Mayanmar for example, has a full reliance on china, and hence they can't afford to have much bargaining power over their patron. India, Australia has a full reliance on USA, hence they can't say much here either. The AUKUS deal, for example, was coerced by US and Australia had to oblige. Australia's diplomatic relations with European countries bled heavily due to this deal. Same with the Huawei debacle over privacy concerns. Following US influence, Australia kicked out Huawei, strained its relation with China and continued prolonging the feud. In the end, it was Australian economy that bled out, and Americans did not come forward to pay the damage. Same unilateral monopolies can be found throughout other foreign powers, for example, Russia-Syria, Iran-lebanon, Iran-Iraq, Afghanistan-Pakistan, Israel-USA, Russia-Belarus, Turkey-Russia, etc. Many would claim that such a monopolistic dichotomy exists in the case of India-Bangladesh too. But it does not. Bangladesh has more trade deficit with China than it has with India. JICA is one of the leading partners in the developments of Bangladesh along with WB and ADB. And if we talk about political clout, then it falls flat too. While it is true that the Awami league government gets to enjoy more support from India, but that's because India has a stake in it. It is the only party that is friendly towards India, and the only party that could provide a better security in the region. All of the other political parties fuel their politics with anti-Indian xenophobic rhetorics in order to earn populist support, which is of course seen as a political threat inside the Indian establishment. Although rhetorics, but the fear of manifestations lies there. And it’s not the opposing powers that use xenophobic antagonisms. Every party chooses a villain in their story. Since India borders 98% of our country, therefore, we get to interact with India more than any other regional neighbor. Almost all of the rivers in Bangladesh come through the Indian borders except for shangu and matamuhuri which come through mayanmar. There had been long time water disputes, border disputes, maritime disputes, enclave disputes, smuggling disputes and many other disputes between the two countries. Such unresolved conflicts were a legitimate cause for fueling Bangladeshi grievances. There is also a post-partition and pro-pakistani influence in the country (since the country was previously east Pakistan) which helps the opposition to politically capitalize on these sentiments. But the biggest irony is, the parties who championed themselves as the hero against Indian oppression were the least successful in mediating deals with India. The enclave disputes have been solved by pro-india party Awami league. The maritime dispute has been solved by Awami league too. When BNP was in power, the BGB and BSF were frequently locked in violent clashes, border breaches and illegal migrations were rampant, all of which pushed the Indian government to order shoot on sight and also to fence the borders. The fence did not exist before, but due to non-cooperation and volatile border situation, it had to be instated. Another interesting thing is that the water treaties were also mediated by Pro-Indian party, and the not the oppositions. Teesta water treaty, which has been a long-time bone of contention between the two countries is being tried to solved through the financial and technical assistance of China, India’s arch-enemy, by setting up an 80 billion dollar comprehensive management and restoration project on teesta’s banks inside the Bangladeshi border. For a Pro-Indian party to invite India’s arch-enemy in its border territory obviously raises eyebrows. But that's strategical planning. The other governments experimented with belligerence, non-cooperation but could achieve nothing. As a party with experience, the current government cooperated, showed friendliness in order to come to mutual resolutions, and only when the approaches weren’t being reciprocated from the other side, is when they decide to invite third parties while simultaneously not appearing belligerent to avoid diplomatic tensions.
So in a sense, the opposite is true. India needs Awami League for greater regional security and regional cooperation. Now with most other regional countries like Nepal, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Pakistan out of its orbit, it needs a reliable local partner like Bangladesh more than ever before. Through this foreign policy mechanism, Awami League had effectively thwarted away threats from foreign powers from all over. There is of course one Achilles heel in Bangladesh’s foreign policy that has the potential to wreak havoc in Bangladesh’s political atmosphere. And that is the Rohingya crisis. Refugee crisis has changed the course of political discourse in the European world, giving birth to massive right-wing xenophobic populism in places where these would have been previously unimaginable. For example, the rise of the AFD party in Germany. To think that the refugee crisis won't affect Bangladesh on such a grander scale would be a naive thing to think. But for a small power like Bangladesh, no matter how good the diplomatic efforts are, it is quite impossible to solve this crisis unless the superpowers come forward in good faith. If they continue fuelling the crisis, which they do since they all have a major stake in it, then repatriation efforts would obviously fall flat. Only a geopolitical miracle can solve this crisis which for a small economy country like Bangladesh is pretty tough to engineer.
To quote stuart hall,
The problem of ideology, therefore, concerns the ways in which ideas of different kinds grip the minds of masses, and thereby become a `material force’. In this, more politicized, perspective, the theory of ideology helps us to analyse how a particular set of ideas comes to dominate the social thinking of a historical bloc, in Gramsci’s sense; and, thus, helps to unite such a bloc from the inside, and maintain its dominance and leadership over society as a whole. It has especially to do with the concepts and the languages of practical thought which stabilize a particular form of power and domination; or which reconcile and accommodate the mass of the people to their subordinate place in the social formation. It has also to do with the processes by which new forms of consciousness, new conceptions of the world, arise, which move the masses of the people into historical action against the prevailing system.
Ideology has always riddled philosophers since it has been coined by De Tracy, a french philosopher who was associated with the French Revolution. De Tracy wrote a book called Eléments d’idéologie, in which, he explores ideas that shape people’s minds and reality. De Tracy tried to formulate ideology as a “Science of Ideas” but it soon got detached from a “scientific methodology” to the ideas themselves. Most of the credit goes to Napoleon Bonaparte who viewed ideology as a sinister term and branding anyone ideologues whom he thought to be a threat to his power, especially to De Tracy's liberal, republican followers. Since then it has been used synonymously with just “ideas” in political science. Marx and Engels took on De Tracy’s work and tried to formulate what constitutes ideology to explain the system around them. The book “ The German Ideology” is a result of such inquiry.
Morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness no longer retain the semblance of independence; they have no history and no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with their real existence, their thinking and the products of their collective thinking.- Marx & Engels
But their work was inconclusive. Some Marxists Scholars interpreted that economic and materialistic conditions fueled capitalist class structures. But other Marxists like Althusser differed in such Marxist interpretations. Althusser’s book “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” is a counter interpretation to such Marxist narratives. He contended that material conditions are not enough to explain why masses act against their self-interest and successful revolutions are not born. He opined that there are two categories of power that hold a capitalist system firm to its ground. One is fear and another is ideology. Fear is a euphemism for repressive state apparatuses, for example, police, military, courtrooms militias, etc. Ideological state apparatuses are institutions that shape minds and lures subjects to conform within a system. Universities, Churches, Seminars, Convocations Rallies etc. to name some. The power of ideology was comprehended by Gramsci too. He wrote on hegemony, taking ideologies one step further. Gramsci contended that political parties come up with an ideology; a set of ideals to attract people. Once someone gets enticed and harmonized with it, then he submits his loyalty to the party either consciously or subconsciously. Then the party gets to make decisions on behalf of him which they know would be met with little opposition due to their follower’s loyalty. Thus they get to create a hegemony based on a set of ideologies. Gramsci understood that hegemonical loyalty is key to keeping the system going and suppressing rebellions. Loyalty works better to control than fear because fear can sometimes cause eruption whereas loyalty would ensure order. Gramsci, Althusser, and other Marxists propounded their theories to explain what keeps a capitalist system functioning, not exactly for a particular political party. For example, in the US there are two chief political parties, the republicans and the democrats. Powers exchange hands once in 5 years but the systems remain the same. Althusser and Gramsci tried to theorize what keeps the system, the capitalist system stable against a potential worker revolution. But their theory can be extended to any political party and their grip on power too. Loyalty and institutional conditioning can keep one party in power while suppressing the others. It does not necessarily have to wander into the dichotomy of capitalism and communism. Since the American system has large checks and balances, therefore, parties cannot build absolute hegemony. But in China, Russia, for example, absolute hegemony is possible and it did in fact, happen. Chinese hegemony is unparalleled unless we count North Korea. The same hegemonical approach was observed in Singapore, in Vietnam, in Rwanda and many would say Bangladesh would satisfy such criteria as well. But i would contend that Bangladesh although had been able to build up a hegemony but its hegemony was powered by Repressive State Apparatuses rather than Ideological State Apparatuses, following Althusser’s theory. The party’s ideological foothold has decayed tremendously whereas global Islamism is slowly replacing it as its alternative. The party focused so much on infrastructures that it forgot to take care of the Ideological formation of the nation. It wanted to force its ideology on people but that only backfired. What it should have done instead is that it should have made its core ideology more appealing which it failed to do miserably. The country fell in war before because of an identical conflict that might reappear again someday soon due to increasing ideological and cultural polarisations. This reminds me of Samuel P Huntington’s book, “The clash of civilizations”. Although many prominent activists and thinkers dismiss the book as deeply problematic and racist, we know most of what he said is true. Huntington predicted that future clashes would be based on cultural identity rather than any other tangible one. Many say such theories simplify conflicts and promulgate racism against certain cultures. But it does not. In India for example, the country has fallen under deep conflict surrounding Hindutva and the Islamic identity. In Bangladesh, communal tensions had risen up as well since people are getting conscious regarding their religious identity. In Myanmar, a similar case can be observed with Rohingya Muslims, ethnic Burmese, and mainland citizens. In Afghanistan, the Taliban was in conflict with the westernized government of Ashraf Ghani. Iraq faces tensions between Sunnis and Shias, Lebanon faces problems within Shias, Sunnis, and Christians. Yemen faces tensions between the Saudi-backed Sunni government vs the Iran-backed Shia(Houthi) rebels. Syria had conflicts between Sunnis and Alawites. Rwanda faced genocide due to a conflict between Hutus and Tutsis. Ethiopia is at a war now between Abiy Ahmed-led Amharas and Tigray Rebels. South Africa is getting increasingly hostile towards South Asians. Racial tensions are getting more and more pronounced in America. Therefore, to ignore such instances is to live under a rock. But for many academics and social activists, admitting such factors is not politically correct and therefore can be detrimental to their career. The conventional wisdom is cultures and races cannot be vilified since they might propagate racism. Conflicts happen not for cultural or racial differences but for systemic discrimination. What they usually miss is that ideological differences have a cryptic power that can translate into material reality. Being aware of such potential is better than twisting it, since it can help in finding solutions. Slavoj Zizek for example once contested Mehdi from Al Jazeera on this.
Social activists contend that ideas do not pose problems but material conditions. Such a materialistic view might be true in some cases but the power of ideologies should not be underestimated. Ideas and beliefs can move mountains. Every people act on their beliefs. Even Marx and Engels, who were peak materialists, could not imagine people out of the realm of ideology. If someone is corrupt and greedy, that springs from a self-centric, Ayn Rand style viewpoint, the core of which is “a focus on the self”. If someone is patriotic, philanthropic then that springs from a collectivist viewpoint. Many give up their lives out of nationalistic fervor, fighting imperialism. Many on the other hand propagate imperialism out of nationalistic fervor. Similarly, we can find communist zealots, right-wing zealots, cult maniacs, tribal supremacists, etc. And let's not forget religious zealotry. Without religious zealotry, the Taliban resurgence cannot be explained. The Taliban fighters only lived on bread and water against heavily-armed US and Nato forces and also the Afghan army. But in the end, they ended up victorious over the rest, and all of it is thanks to the sheer force of their ideology which indoctrinated their minds. Ideologies also have the power to blind people from common sense since context can shape minds without even them being aware. To quote Barbara J. fields…
Ideas about color, like ideas about anything else, derive their importance, indeed their very definition, from their context. They can no more be the unmediated reflex of psychic impressions than can any other ideas. It is ideological context that tells people which details to notice, which to ignore, which to take for granted in translating the world around them into ideas about the world.
Different cultures shape people’s reality differently which is the very essence of clash of civilizations. Although I highly doubt Barbara J. Fields would agree with Samuel P. Huntington, nonetheless, her proposition that reality is shaped according to contexts coincides with Huntington’s assumption that different ideologies can create different conception of reality which may end up in collision once tensions starts to brew.
Politics is largely dependent on ideologies. Ideologies calibrate people within a cause, empowering those who are the vendors. Those who can effectively sell ideologies can climb up the ladder of power much efficiently than those whose ideologies are weak. Ideologies captivate people, shape their minds and drive them towards taking action. While it is true that ideologies aren’t going to grow crops on your farm and neither it is going to light up the bulb in your room, but sometimes a mere slip in effective policymaking can get shrouded out by ideological blows. For example, Afghanistan had a more or less functioning government despite how much corrupted it was. It was more experienced in modern state governance than the Taliban ever had. But for the lack of a cohesive ideology, their hegemony was soon overhauled by the Taliban's strong ideology. After the Taliban’s ascendancy, the country has been suffering extremely on economic and infrastructural grounds but there are no contesting ideologies that can drive people out on the streets against them. Actually, there are far better ideologies out in the world that can contest the Taliban’s ideology but to galvanize these into people’s minds you need an equally powerful political party to promulgate and dissipate these ideas. Extreme ideologies can plant vigor into people which can make them act selflessly. Nationalism, religion are the biggest examples. Wars that had been waged in the name of nationalist or religious ideology sustained more deaths than wars that had little ideological drive. Taliban’s ideology falls under such extreme. According to senior Taliban officials, many of their workers spent day and night on only bread and water but never showed disloyalty. No matter what happens, even if people starve, ideologies will drive them forward. Turkey, for example, is now in a deep economic crisis after Erdogan’s poor economic policies. Inflations are at an all-time high, banks are failing and so is its regional stability. But the only thing that's keeping him in power, is his populistic nationalist and religious rhetoric. Although his days are numbered because, unlike Afghanistan, turkey has some level of ideological competitors. The chief competitor being the secular Ataturkian philosophy which is still quite powerful than Erdogan's neo-Islamist policies. Afghanistan sadly had none. Taliban’s philosophy is so strong that no other local ideologies can ever dream of challenging its hegemony. The Ghani government was void at its core. He was seen by the local people as a western puppet holding power to serve western interests. Despite their efforts and everything, they were always considered as a placeholder for foreigners. Their political blunders and human right violations along with the US and Nato forces only exacerbated their local image and fueled xenophobia. A government cannot be bulletproof, it is bound to have some mistakes. And mistakes it did, a lot of it. The governments were massively corrupted, many public officials and military servicemen were unpaid for months due to rampant corruption of senior officials and politicians, gross human rights violations were being perpetrated in the name of combating the Taliban, and no local political context was built up leaving a big ideological vacuum. The leaders were in fact, imported from the Afghan diaspora who dwelled outside most of their lives. For a diaspora living abroad for most of their lives, connecting with locals can be very challenging. Also, most of the developments were Kabul centric whereas other parts of the country were greatly overlooked and in many cases ravaged in the name of combating the Taliban. Many innocent people lost their lives, which the Nato and US forces justified as collateral damages. But all this brutality and destruction pushed people towards siding up with the Taliban. The Taliban capitalized on their grievances and showed them a way out. They filled up their moral void, gave them purpose, and filled them with ideological fervor. The Ghani government was working with long-term goals and strategies but such things do not directly talk to people. Regular afghanis wouldn't comprehend or be fascinated with Ashraf Ghani's Ted talks but rather would have been enchanted by a leader with charismatic rhetorics and moral hyperboles. Taliban provided exactly that, easily comprehensible religious rhetorics and voluntary services. For example, Taliban ran a justice system of their own in parallel to the Afghan Justice system. It was hugely famous for conveying swift justice, whereas the Afghan government’s justice processes were largely lengthy. One reason was that the Afghan government modeled the justice system according to the lengthy foreign justice system similar to that of the French with some elements of shariah law. Modern justice processes are by default supposed to be lengthy since there are multiple steps to be completed for a fair justice. As it is said, justice hurried is justice buried. But people want instant justice, especially people of third world countries where people have a hard time understanding nuances. Another reason was that the courts were highly corrupted. Without bribes, very few cases saw the light of the day. Many came out of the courts with unjust verdicts even after offering bribes. The Taliban showed people that man-made law is bound to fail and that Islam offers salvage. Taliban’s first advantage was that in a place mired with regressive ideals, people are generally weak towards religion and do not question the authority of it. Adding to that, the failure of the hybrid justice system only reaffirmed to the afghans the need for a theocratic justice system, thus surging the popularity of Taliban.
For a establishment, slips would be made here and there, and these slips, no matter how minor or major, are amplified by opposing powers. Opposing powers sell people a dream of a utopian land that is being stunted due to the mismanagement of the immoral ruling power. The success of such opposing power depends on two things. Firstly, the ruling power has to fail in holding the systems from collapsing, and secondly, the ideology of the opposition has to be easily digestible, full of slogans and rhetorics, morally validating, comprehensible to everyone, and also should seem utopian. Ideological strengths depend on the strength of its narratives. A perfect utopian government can be toppled through a strong ideology. All it needs to do is find some loopholes in the system and magnify it to the extreme so that people get panicked. People eat up sensational stories easily, which easily explains the popularity of cinemas, fiction, artworks, etc. In a mature democracy with a functioning system along with a good enough educational base, extreme ideologies like that of the Taliban, would have faced a tough time getting ground. Because then people would understand and care about nuances, can be able to comprehend complexities which as a result can make them rely less on rhetorics. Therefore, most extreme ideologies can be seen to proliferate in underdeveloped or developing countries. Developing countries are the worst hurt since developmental works come up with a lot of holes that can be easily manipulated and ideologically exploited. Bangladesh, Maldives, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Philippines, Cambodia, Mexico, etc. for example. Extreme ideologies are populistic and rhetorical in nature but lack nuances. Be it hardline communist ideologies or Islamist ideologies, despite both of them playing on people’s frustrations, they do not offer practical solutions for a 21st-century state. This is why such endeavors always fail. There is effectively no communist state in existence today apart from North Korea, which again, is a pariah state. A highly ambitious Islamic state was formed in Syria but it too failed within a couple of years. Such models might work in very small-scale isolated domains, for example, what Al Shabab does in much of Somalia or what the Taliban did in many discreet parts of rural Afghanistan before coming into power. But when they rise to state power, all of their policies start to fail much like what’s happening in Afghanistan right now.
Symbols are important too. They cement ideologies into a culture. This is why statues are built, roads are named after people and movements, national holidays are observed, national emblems are declared, etc. This is also why statues are targeted, emblems are overturned, roads and bridges are renamed once the power gets to change hands. Such crude political stunts happen especially in those countries where the fundamental identical issues are not dealt with, for example, what would define a country or a nation who are residing in it. Which historical narrative would work as the anchor. Without such an anchor a country can fall into chaos. Everyone will want to establish their narrative creating a massive fuss, which would only fuel divisiveness and push towards further conflicts. This happens especially in countries with multi-ethnicity and multi-religious demography. For example, the ethnic divide in Ethiopia, which is fueling the Ethiopian crisis. The Rwandan genocide was a fight between the two major ethnic groups Hutu and Tutsi over power. Similar things can be seen in most parts of Africa and in many parts of the middle east. Afghanistan is a land mired by ethnic conflicts which made it impossible for anyone including the world’s two biggest superpowers (Soviet and the USA) to fix. As for religious tensions, look no further than Lebanon. The country was in a civil war due to a power crisis between the Shia population, Sunni population, and Christian population. After a power-sharing treaty was proposed, the civil war stopped, but the tensions didn't. Whenever a crisis appeared, so did old wounds. The recent economic crisis in Lebanon had escalated identity conflicts even further down and it wouldn't come as a surprise if another civil war brews. In Syria, Iraq, Yemen similar cases can be observed. All it requires is an issue and it can trigger large-scale sectarian or ethnic violence all over a country. To solidify the narrative of one ethnic group over the other, one religious group over the other, symbols are used. When ISIS took over in Syria, it destroyed every statue and remnants of Syria’s historical past including those in the museums to purify their land. Same with Afghanistan. When the Taliban previously took over they destroyed statues, shrines, temples, and artifacts in order to establish a religiously homogenized country. One such famous sensation was the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha. Whenever the Taliban threat loomed around the corner, museum curators and others used to channel the precious artifacts through the black markets which diplomats used to collect in order to preserve. The go-to place for these diplomats to collect these ancient gems were the local wet markets and vegetable traders. The traders used to collect these from curators, conceal them within their vegetables and sell them to diplomats for a very good price. Another way to collect them was through Pakistan, which used to be the smuggling corridor for these ancient artifacts.
How One Looted Artifact Tells the Story of Modern Afghanistan
Many of the country's finest antiquities were stolen under cover of war, ending up in elite museums all over the globe…
In Australia recently a Gandhi statue got vandalized, in Balochistan Jinnah statues got vandalized, in Bangladesh Sheikh Mujib's mural got vandalized. Churchills statue was defaced in London. Queen victoria’s and Queen Elizabeth’s statue was defaced in Canada. Saddam Hussain’s statue was pulled down after his fall. All of these had been done out of ideological fervor. But it’s not just underdeveloped or developing countries where attacks on symbols happen. In the US for example, at the peak of the BLM movement, many statues of American founding fathers and other such luminaries were vandalized. Christopher Columbus was turned into a villain by campaigners who further demanded to change America's historical narrative. The reason given behind all these vandalisms was these historical people were directly or indirectly associated with racism and slavery and hence their emblems must not exist. In fact, this is the core of leftist political discourse in western countries. It follows a guilt-based model which views the western establishment as inherently guilty for every problem like racism, sexism, colonialism, slavery, homophobia, xenophobia, islamophobia, capitalist dystopia, etc. The root lies in the western establishment as they tend to believe and hence contend that such symbolic presence of western historical individuals needs to be erased and villainized in order to create a more inclusive and tolerant society. It's not just the BLM activists only, even people from the opposite aisle are equally guilty of defacing and destroying symbolic sculptures like that of George Floyd, Modeste Testas, and others. All of these remind me of one quote from the character Joker in the movie Batman: the dark night where he burns up his looted cash stack and says “It’s not about the money, but about sending a message”. Statue destruction has similar goals. It's about attacking the hegemony of an ideology and sending a message. A statue or a symbol does not have much of a physical value, but it can act as an ideological benchmark, consolidating a country's national and historical identity. Every country thus creates its own anchor point. Pakistan anchors Jinnah at the root of their existence, and hence Jinnah’s statues and symbols are engraved within the Pakistani culture. India does the same with Gandhi and Nehru. Turkey does it with Ataturk, Malaysia does it with Mahathir, Singapore does it with Lee Kuan Yew, China does it with Mao, Cuba with Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, Russia does it with Lenin, etc. It's not about the people either, but about the thought and the identity surrounding them, about the systems they preached, based on which their whole country’s existence relies. Had they not been an anchor the country’s ideological vacuum would have been filled up with other anchors. For example, many communist parties of Bangladesh like CPB idolize Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Some idolize Lenin, some idolize Mao despite these figures having not originating from their local land. In the absence of local idols, people import idols from foreign nations. Again to reiterate, through the term “idol” I am trying to imply the whole body of thought, not the person in its physical sense. When conflicts between ideological factions arise, symbols are attacked first in order to champion one ideology’s hegemonical supremacy over the other.
Shia zealots try to cancel a statue of Baghdad's founder
T HEY WERE inspired by activists in America and Britain who toppled statues of Confederate soldiers and 18th-century…
Speaking from my local context, we always had two such idols upon whom our existences were shaped throughout the times. One is Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and another one is Ziaur Rahman. When BNP assumes power they erase everything related to Sheikh Mujib, from renaming roads and infrastructures to editing books and tele-contents. After Mujib’s assassination, every attempt was taken to erase his influence from public minds. History was rewritten to suit the politics of the BNP-Jamaat establishment. When Awami League came back in power they too treaded down a similar line, removing every symbol of Ziaur Rahman, weakening his influence from every sector possible. Many of the symbols were reverted back, erasing Ziaur Rahman’s trace from them. For example, the airport was renamed Hazrat Shahjalal international airport from Zia international airport. Many other infrastructures faced a similar fate. The latest attack of Ziaur Rahman’s symbol is the campaign to remove his grave. It is an open secret that Ziaur Rahman’s dead body is not in the grave that we currently know of. The site selection for this grave had a political goal. When president Ziaur Rahman was killed, his body is widely rumored to have been desecrated and thrown down in the Karnafuli river, while his accomplices’ dead bodies were buried in some hills in Rangunia. Upon the acting president’s order, these graves were exhumed and one particular body was flown back to Dhaka calling it the late president’s dead body. The coffin was never opened and the dead body was never revealed to the public, and neither was it revealed to his family members. The dead body was buried in the vicinity of the national parliament to make a permanent symbolic presence in Bangladeshi politics, which was aimed at consolidating BNP’s ideological presence. Now that power has been shifted to Awami League, BNP’s ideological presence inside the parliament's vicinity has become a major irritant for them. Not just Ziaur Rahman’s grave but there are multiple other graves inside the national parliament who were famous for their pro-Pakistan and anti-Bangladesh viewpoint. Due to making alliances with such power for political leverage, BNP willingly or unwillingly integrated their symbolic presence inside the Bangladeshi political landscape alongside Ziaur Rahman. How much of it was BNP’s original plan and how much of it was the manipulation of Pakistani loyalist forces like Jamaat e Islam can be up to debate. But the goal was clear: to slowly revert the damage of the liberation war and re-establish the Pakistani way of thought through a symbolic push. This is why Awami league leaders, mostly freedom fighters, get so hyped up when talking about these. The first attempt Awami League took to diminish the symbols was that it reverted back Zia Uddyan’s (where the late president’s mausoleum lies) name to its original, Chandrima Uddyan. But they couldn’t yet touch Ziaur Rahman’s grave since they consider it as the final symbolic assault which might require immense effort and can also create nationwide political unrest.
And it's not just curriculums, pictures, murals, or mere statues which possess emblematic potential but infrastructures can as well. Padma bridge is a good example of this. Padma Bridge was the most ambitious manifesto of the Sheikh Hasina government. Building up this bridge has got to be the most dramatic construction project in Bangladesh's history. The project was initially supposed to be funded by the World Bank. But soon after the tendering process was passed with SNC-Lavalin getting the project’s contract, World Bank brought allegations of graft and halted all the funding. They demanded a unilateral investigation to probe the whole fiasco, while the Bangladeshi Government wanted the inclusion of their representatives. Upon pressures from the World Bank, the Bangladeshi government arrested the secretary of Bridges divisions, Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan without any prior investigation. It removed minister Syed Abul Hossain from his ministerial post without any prior probe too. Bangladesh administrative service association, which was then led by Abu Alam Shahid Khan released a public statement opposing such a hasty apprehension of secretary Mosharrof Hossain citing the apprehension unlawful. World Bank eventually released a statement saying they have substantial evidence to charge Bangladeshi officials and hence lodged a case in a Canadian court against the Bangladeshi government and SNC-Lavalin on allegation of graft, stopping the project funding completely. Bangladesh tried to assuage World Bank through diplomatic channels and a lot of efforts were made but no solution was reached. In any other part of the world, such a crisis would have dissuaded a government from further pursuing such a messy project, since the burden would have been better laid off in order to keep the international donor bodies happy and also to focus on different attainable projects. But Sheikh Hasina was adamant about implementing it. She rebelled against the world bank and decided to fund the project completely through the country’s own funds. It was such an ambitious project that many opposed this decision, from oppositions to civil bodies, citing that it is unnecessary and govt should focus more on containing grafts than wasting public resources. Many even said that the project would never get to see the day of light and even if it did, it would be filled with multitudes of defects which would make it unusable. The point is people never thought such an ambitious project could ever be pursued due to rampant corruption in the public sector and among politicians. But she carried on with her decision anyway. Later in the year 2015, the Canadian court issued its verdict. It found no proof of allegations against Bangladeshi officials and neither did it find any credible corruption evidence on the part of SNC-Lavalin. Mashiur Rahman, the prime minister’s economic advisor accused rival contractors who didn't get the contract of conspiring against the project. The finance minister at that time, ABM Abdul Muhith on the other hand accused World Bank chief Robert Zoellick of incompetency and dishonesty which led to this crisis. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina accused Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus of lobbying against this project due to their existing political rivalry. Although all of these are mere allegations, nonetheless, the whole corruption drama was indeed proven to be a mere hype (“hearsay” as the Canadian court retort) than anything. If Sheikh Hasina had not taken the bold decision to go on with the project regardless of all the obstacles, it would have taken an even longer period for the project to get materialized. Overcoming all the uncertainties, the bridge has finally taken shape and is now waiting to be inaugurated at the start of 2022. There is a reason behind such adamancy on the prime minister’s part. Padma Bridge acts as her emblematic success. The bridge’s success is intertwined with her identity which cements her achievements even further. Padma Bridge has transformed the whole economy of the southern regions. This bridge marks a political victory, has a story associated with it, something which her loyalists can use as a political point for years to come. Every inch of this bridge evinces her political supremacy and solidifies her political victory both inside the country and outside of it. Only an experienced politician has the capability of taking such a risk for implementing his/her broader vision. This cannot be comprehended by idealists or activists whose vision is narrow, confined within their realms, easily coerced by foreign influence and also, far detached from ground reality.
Sheikh Hasina pulled out such unwavering moves in other places too, mostly in the power sector. For example, the quick rental issue, the Rampal issue, the nuclear power plant issue. There had been big opposition against the Metro rail from experts and activists. Regular processions were being held at DU advocating to change its route plan. Also, the recent case of fuel price hike was largely met with opposition but had to be done due to a timely necessity. All these should be seen with a broader economic and strategic vision rather than a shallow one. The country needs to develop, for which it needs electricity. It also needs a good public transport system all of which require the implementation of courageous megaprojects. Megaprojects would obviously cause some level of public suffering but this is a cost people have to endure for a time being, because in a place with such a dense population few alternatives remain. Flyovers, Bridges, BRT, Subways, Metro rail, Expressways, Elevated expressways, etc. need to be built to meet future demands if the country is to develop. And this can’t be done without some degree of public inconvenience. Unfortunately, whereas such endeavors should be appreciated and should be pushed to be made more fast and efficient, many groups politicize it saying these are scheme for corruption and promulgate it to the outside world as such. For example a transportation expert from BUET, professor Shamsul Haque believes that the Bangladeshi government undertakes such transportation projects due to corporate lobbying. This is also the view of many Civil Societies like Shushanoer Jonno Nagorik and others. It is not to say that there is no corruption. The country was never corruption-free. But to say that such projects are done to just fill up pockets of corporates and politicians is far from reality. If I learned anything from observing my seniors in the government offices, the purposes behind big projects are always noble, which are aimed at solving problems for the constituencies, having bundles and bundles of feasibility tests done by industrial experts before going into implementation. The corruptions that happen midway are basically through over-estimations or taking commissions from contractors. The politicians pitch such ideas to please its constituency, parliamentary body channels it to relevant ministries who evaluate its merit, then independent industrial experts throw in designs, assess their feasibility, after which relevant govt agencies are assigned to implement it. So to say throw in such naive allegations disregards reality completely. Blaming the government is easy but understanding the nuances is where the real challenge lies. Apart from transportation, the Industries need to be energized, and so needs corporations and residential houses. A country with almost no free land, insufficient solar irradiance, weak wind speed, few to no suitable places for river dams, can barely produce even a fraction of the power demand with renewables. But it is constantly criticized for not treading down the renewable line like Germany or the USA. The US has around 320 million people with a size of around 9.8 million square kilometers, whereas Bangladesh has around 200 million people with a place of 147,570 square kilometers. Despite such immense disparity, America is the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, while Bangladesh ranks 48th. To have similar expectations from both of them on the grounds of greenhouse emission would be quite bizarre. But despite that, the Bangladeshi government gets bulldozed by representatives of the developed world to obey their orders. For example, Al gore once grilled Sheikh Hasina on the world economic forum about the Rampal issue and asked it to be halted. He never cared to think about the economic and political repercussions of doing so. He never cared to think that our poverty is directly related to our poor industrial infrastructure, which would require large-scale domestic electric supply to be energized. Without an industrial boom, our economy will keep faltering. He also never cared to visit the Rampal site as Sheikh Hasina asked her to. Neither did he offer Sheikh Hasina an economically and strategically viable alternative to Rampal which would match its production capacity (around 1.2 GW) with minimal land and capital requirement. Most of the anti-Rampal activism is alarmist propaganda played by some of the international bodies whose job it is to raise alarm on every issue without even giving a second thought about local contexts. For example, the dominant propaganda against Rampal is that it is being established inside Sundarban which is absolutely false. It is being made miles away from Sundarbans demarcation area, and nearly 70–90 miles from the forest’s sanctuary. Most of the land that had been appropriated for this plant used to be shrimp farms previously. These farms on other hand pollute the ecosystem even more with toxic fertilizers being dumped into them regularly in order to maximize production. No forestland has been cleared, as many activists would like others to believe. But such nuances are of no interest to Al gore. He just needs to raise alarms and project his westernized vision on people who are less fortunate. This is the level of detachment that activists have with ground reality and they expect their idealistic visions to be adopted by people of less fortunate lands with equally less fortunate economies. One alternative, however, could be nuclear-fueled power plants, which we are already in the process of making. But the capital for this is so gigantically high that getting investors becomes even more challenging. Al gore or other influential activists would never lobby to bring such projects inside Bangladesh. In fact, if anything, he would oppose it, considering his long legacy of anti-nuclear stance in order to tackle climate change.
This is why sometimes leaders have to take Machiavellian decisions overriding populist ones. Populist sentiments might come with enormous political and economic costs. But few would have the acumen to realize them, if not politicians. You can take decisions and make academics and activists happy, but that might create a bigger plight for your countrymen in the longer run. Activists and academics won't necessarily assess them since their domain of their expertise is limited. To state one example, Bangladesh has a long feud with Digital Security Act. A notable academic, Professor Dr. Ali Riaz assessed all the cases and categorized the people charged within this law. He found that journalists are the main target of this particular law, hence concluding that DSA has been implemented to silence journalists. But his inference is based on national dailies which he takes biblically and also fueled by his anti-establishment bias. The problem with this is that national dailies often overlook nuances in order to provide sensational content for their readers to engage. They indeed showed nearly correct statistics of such persecutions but did not care to do further investigations which might be behind such apprehensions, leaving the inference part upon the reader. Professor Riaz construed it as an attack on the free press, but this thought never occurred to him that, some deeper nuances can lie underneath. For example, many journalists are associated with small-scale to large-scale criminal activities. Many of them blackmail people for money and public contracts, many are guilty of extortion, many are accused of drug trading and smuggling, many are accused of character assassinating, land grabbing and other such mischiefs. Some journalists are even used by a particular group to carry out their agenda, smear the reputation of their opponents for financial or political gains. With the proliferation of social media, spreading manipulated news has become a lot easier. One such manipulative news update on the digital platforms can instantly crush someone's long-earned reputation, harm businesses, spread communal riots, halt projects, and do other unrecoverable damages. DSA offers a mechanism to bring under accountability before they can be able to cause irreparable damage. Such legal mechanisms did not exist before which, after the proliferation of social media, became a timely necessity. But Mr. Riaz overlooks such motives and generalizes it all to fit his narrative. This reminds me of a popular saying, “ There are lies, damned lies, and then there are statistics”. An academic’s interest lies no further than producing exciting literature. Same with activists too whose main fuel is sensational storytelling. For example, reporters without borders brought allegations against DSA too, citing that journalists are being silenced. The case study they put forward in support of their argument were two people who were incarcerated due to DSA, one of whom died in jail. But neither of them were journalists, both were online activists, both having their own personal businesses. One was a freelance cartoonist and the other was a crocodile farmer. Not only that, the case was lodged by a private citizen who filed the case against them both for smearing his reputation online. It was not the government who had charged them. But reporters without borders never cared to look into the issue. All they needed to do is pick up a sensational story, never minding to verify its authenticity and then hastily coming to an equally sensational conclusion. Both activists and academics like Ali Riaz adopt an anchor point where they presume that everyone is being oppressed. Their research takes on from that point. But there are all sides to a story for which a deeper dive is required. Another notable example is amnesty and human rights watch. They take their data from social media and other reactionary activists and bring it forward to the whole world who take these biblically. Amnesty, for example, brought allegations of “forced disappearance” by the ruling party of Bangladesh. While some handful of cases might have happened, but to the scale that they show it certainly does not happen. Many of the enforced disappearances have later turned out to be voluntary. Many such people fled to India or other parts of the country to evade their lenders. Many fled from their areas where they have criminal charges looming on their head, only to reappear years and years later hoping those charges would fade away. Many are disappeared by relatives or business rivals due to financial feuds family feuds, or property-related feuds. One very sensational case was the disappearance of Ilias Ali. When he disappeared it was widely advocated that the government disappeared him. But a senior party member, Mirza Abbas, from his own party once leaked to the media that Ilias Ali was disappeared by his own political rival from his very own party. Local Sylhetis of his constituency also know it to be an open secret. But due to political expediency, they charge the government with this as a political point to attack the ruling party. For a ruling power, it is quite inconvenient to forcefully disappear someone, since they have all the state apparatus, from military to police and detectives to capitulate anyone they consider as a threat. Most of the forcefully disappeared people do not match the political might of the ruling power as to be purported as a threat. The big threat that actually comes is from the central leadership of their opponents which every party tried to neutralize through their own methods. BNP and its alliance for example carried out the August 21 grenade attack in order to eliminate the leadership of their opponent. Many of the highly influential local leaders were eliminated too, but they were done mostly by Islamists that BNP condoned and harbored. Islamists tried to assassinate Sheikh Hasina multiple times, especially Huji. The BNP establishment, instead of creating a distance with them, sheltered them in order to enjoy a leaderless opposition. Much of these vengeful schemes are inspired by the ISI strategies of Pakistan. ISI uses the Islamists as a vehicle to carry out movements or attacks for political gains. For example the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. She was killed for representing a political party as a woman which is considered sacrilegious by Islamist standards. Pakistani military wanted her out as well, and it is widely rumored that general Parvez Musharraf made the way for her to be assassinated, relaxing her state given security when the assassin came. August grenade attack happened similarly. Huji, an Islamist group plotted the attack, Bangladeshi detective agencies abetted it upon getting a green signal from party seniors.
It was Hawa Bhaban plot
It was a long, dark plot. A chilling conspiracy was getting final touches in an eerie August of 2004, a month that…
Previously Sheikh Mujib and his whole family were assassinated for the same reason, which is to create a leaderless situation and to weaken a particular political power. Sheikh Mujib's assassins were all rewarded later, with the BNP establishment granting them indemnity, employing them in top diplomatic posts, and bringing them in the national parliament. But it is not only the BNP establishment who understood the benefits of a leaderless opposition. The caretaker government of 1/11 incarcerated both party leaders upon corruption charges. When Sheikh Hasina was handed over state power, the high court acquitted her but kept the charges against Khaleda Zia, the ex-prime minister. She was later convicted and sent to 5 years in jail. The government suspended her sentence on humanitarian grounds. But here lies an interesting political factor too. Her sentence is suspended, not pardoned, which means it can again revive upon the government’s will, which would incarcerate her for even more years. Tarique Rahman faced the same fate too. He was convicted for seven years and is now remaining in exile. Awami league thus enjoyed the benefits of a leaderless political opposition as well. In a mature democracy, leaders shouldn't have mattered but policies and ideologies should have. For example, in Israel, people are conditioned towards policies, not leaders. Hence, despite many of its leaders being incarcerated, it barely affects the partys’ political activities. But to expect such mature behavior in the developing world or the underdeveloped world still remains a fantasy.
It’s not like that the ruling party has won its ideological battle and could shape its systems to the finest. The systems they inherited were bad enough, and the way things are moving does not generate much hope either. Corruption is still endemic, public services are still lackluster, legal systems are still thoroughly polluted and so are the law enforcing agencies. Extortions, Human rights violations, political mischief, project lag, service lag, poor health, poor educational infrastructure are still a grim reality. But things are developing slowly thanks to political stability which this country lacked for long. But for a party that has been straight 13 years in power, people are justified in having higher expectations. The delays in developments frustrate people and fume further distaste towards the establishment. If the system bleeds, the ideology holding that system bleeds too. If you let it bleed for long, people will justifiably lean towards the other available ideologies. Unfortunately, the party pushed its focus so heavily on infrastructure and material grounds that it forgot to shape people’s minds. The party’s ideology which focuses on Bengali Nationalism and Secularism at its core, now mostly exists among a handful of people. Failure to meet up people’s demands is one of the many factors that had been degrading down the appeal of Bengali culture and heritage. The country embraced globalism but did not concentrate on creating a perfect cultural barrier to protect the Bengali identity. People now identify secularism and Bengali identity with the ruling party Awami League, hence the failure of the government and its bodies translate into the failure of secularism and Bengali identity. Since this is the only party that claims to preserve liberation war values which are in a sense true, hence people are even losing their connection to liberation war, because the party could not make the essence of liberation war ubiquitous. The recent fiasco over flying the Pakistani flag inside Bangladeshi soil by Bengalis themselves reflects this growing tension even more. Of course, there has to be a political consensus on the issue of identity and ideology but it has never been reached. BNP for its alliance with Jamaat e Islam had embraced semi-Islamist narratives whereas jamaat e Islam is fully Islamist. Other political parties which have a substantial following like Gono-Odhikar Porishod also capitalize on Islamist rhetorics. One parallel secular force did in fact pop up, under the leadership of Dr. Kamal Hossain and under the name Juktofront. They even gained some parliamentary seats allying with BNP. But their infighting broke them apart and pushed them out of the scene. I am not including communist parties in this discussion since they never managed to gather a sizable following to even be able to block a road. Most of such parties are usually a one-man show, for example, Mujaihidul Selim’s CPB and Jonayed Saki’s Bhashani Moncho. The other communist parties like Jashod and Workers party have integrated with the ruling party, hence they don’t count either. To sum things up, The ideological fight today is between Awami league’s secular Bengali identity vs Islamist ideologies of jamaat e Islam and Hefazot e Islam. BNP as a party acts as a carrier of Islamist ideology since the party has no fundamental ideology of its own, also since it helps to expand their voter and power base. Since Awami League is the only major party that promotes secularism, hence minorities of Bangladesh historically had been a fixed voter base of this party. Minorities had in fact been synonymous with the existence of the Awami League. Hence the failure of the Awami league government creates more plight among Bangladeshi minorities since the majority starts vilifying the minorities in return. If secularism was adopted by other political parties, such communal tendencies could not have gained momentum since it could have been separated from Awami League’s identity and integrated into everyone’s life. The same is true for Bengali identity, Our liberation war values, and everything. No other parties ever came in good faith to recognize these ideological issues, hence making way for Pakistani and Arab Islamism to creep in. Thanks to social media, such tendencies are getting even more amplified. People would definitely be attracted to strong immunized ideologies with a moral appeal. Due to the populace not being mature enough they easily fall prey to rhetorical and superficial ideologies. The ruling party had indeed created massive infrastructural and material development but it forgot to look into the cultural aspect of the country. Many among the ruling party themselves are devoid of the ideology that their party hold, frequently spouting communal narratives and even sponsoring them from time to time to increase their foothold. There are tons of such party activists who regularly finance waaz mahfils and attend them as chief guests whereas such functions promulgate values that are completely antithetical to the party’s core ideology. But nonetheless, they do it because they themselves do politics for power, and not for ideology. And this is how Awami League’s ideology is decaying day by day.
To state an example, the student wing of the ruling party, Bangladesh Chatro League become increasingly notorious on university campuses. They have lost all of their former glory and turned into a repressive apparatus for the state. Due to the party remaining in state power for so long, they have become more and more ruthless. Chatro league was once associated with tons of national movements and student protests. It was also a center for intellectual exercise and promulgating the Bengali identity alongside Chatro union which too was a very popular student organization at that time. But all of those faded away and today the whole institution had turned into a party of beneficiaries than a party of ideologues. The power that the government had consigned them made them ruthless in turn. The government had one goal, to keep the universities in control through these political units. And therefore, they bestowed them with a sinister muscle with which they end up terrorizing general students and teachers. When you give confer power to someone who barely has any political consciousness, then he treats this as a tool to exert dominance and flex his muscle. In lord of the rings, for example, the ring of power corrupts anyone who comes across it. Similarly, when someone who was a nerd all their life, all of a sudden gets absolute power, it becomes tough for him to appreciate it and act responsibly. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Given the impunity that he receives, it becomes even tougher for him to control his muscular desires and flex his power over others. Power exercise is a natural urge, and without proper grooming, it is bound to be abused. Unfortunately, there are no grooms, unlike in lord of the rings where there were multiple.
Most, if not all the student political activists are politically unconscious who engage in politics either out of pressure or for enjoying short-term campus benefits. The ruling party also made way for them to reap profits out of the system. Most of the student leaders are engaged in extortion, monopoly control on hall room allocations, tender control, dining control, 3rd-grade recruitment control, etc. They also enjoy preferential treatments when applying for public service. Also, there lie options to influence teachers to get unfair advantages in their classrooms. Students are first ragged, tortured, and then lured into these advantages by seniors when they enter universities, thus perpetuating the political culture. These mechanisms or ‘Systems’, assist to unleash the inner beast of the young students and convert them into the muscle of the political parties. Most of their misbehaviors are given impunity. When they beat up their fellow students or harass their teachers, most of such cases are shoved below the rugs. One such senior on my campus was Mr. Zaman Ibrahim who used to harass girls openly without any fear. He used to threaten our alumni that he will lynch them whenever they put their foot on campus. Once he touted guns out in the open to terrorize a student. But no actions were taken against him because he had political backups. The girls whom he used to tease never got justice for what they received. My roommate (Pial ’15) was beaten up once for criticizing the student leaders (Tamim ECE’15) who stole money from the dining funds. I too was harassed by the same political faction (led by Faisal IEM ’15) for boarding up that my provost (Professor Bazlar sir) assigned to me. And what disturbed me, even more, was to see my friend (Shubhro ’15) among the harassers. And he had just joined politics some few days ago. Another friend of mine (Rafi EEE’15) along with another student from URP (Rafid UPR ’15) were heavily beaten up by a political senior and a political batchmate from their own hall (Nibir BME’14, Ritu ECE ‘14) regarding the exact same issue. They were beaten up for boarding a room that the hall provost allotted for him without the political goon’s permission. My teacher professor Dr. Selim Hossain, with whom I co-authored my first conference paper got harassed to death over an election feud between two factions of chatroleague (Sezan panel vs Rudronil panel) where one party wanted him to favor them over the other. I saw many seniors, batchmates and juniors downplay his death just because they were engaged with active politics. One of my senior brothers (Arafat CSE’13) along with many others, was once beaten up mercilessly with blunt tools in the guest room of Bangabandhu hall upon allegations that he might be associated with a different political ideology. Another senior of mine who just lived next to my room (Mubin CSE’14) was also beaten up by the same goons in front of my room. He was arguing with them for breaching his room and throwing his belongings out of his room to make room for political juniors. What was more harrowing that the lead of that incident was given by a political batchmate of mine (Faisal ’15) and a junior from my department (Abir ‘16). I tried to help break the fight, but my arms broke doing that. Thankfully Mubin bhai’s political friends came down hearing the scuffle and drove them away. The junior I mentioned before was also a convict in the famous incident of beating up a referee in the hall tournament. Alleging partiality, the referee, who was a pretty old man, was beaten up mercilessly by political goons from my hall. He had to be taken to ICU and very few believed that he would survive. But thankfully he did, but that unrest caused the campus to be closed indefinitely. These are just some parts of the story which the ruling party’s student faction caused on the general students, general people, and the teachers in my campus that I personally experienced. Others have bigger and far traumatic stories to tell. And this is just one university. There are numerous other public universities where the pictures are even bleaker.
It's not like actions like these are centrally endorsed. In fact, there are Some good men among the living. For example, Zia Bhai from batch ’13 once saved my friend Jayed Amin despite when local people were hunting him down for some personal issues. I too was once offered refuge by Anup Bhai, batch 14 when I was facing militant threats through Facebook. But these are very scant incidents that get shrouded out by the larger scenario where terrorism reigns. And these are more pronounced, get more visibility and therefore put bigger impact on everyone’s minds. And as i said, when people grows distate towards an individual or organization they end up growing distate for everything they embody, including their ideals. Such terrorisms drove people to be more sympathetic towards opposing powers making them side with their cause. The student parties claim that they have to exist to combat fundamentalist forces. But their actions had instead eased the work of fundamentalist forces. Just like how the Taliban received growing silent support who were being oppressed by Ghani govt and western military, in a similar manner, the terrorist actions of Chatroleague inadvertently grew the support base for fundamentalist forces. Since the Chatroleague politicians do politics for benefits and not for ideology, hence the ideology could never seep inside the university boundaries rather faded away before even entering the system. The government wanted to control universities through these loyal student factions, and they achieved their goal. But they had to sacrifice ideological hegemony doing that, which they had knowingly or unknowingly overlooked. The systems have been built with negligible accountability in order to grant maximum muscle, and as a result, it had been breeding beasts after beasts for years. What the system could never achieve is that it could never produce quality politicians. Politicians were bred, but those were at the times of the liberation war and some decades after that. The country at that time was submerged in peak ideological fervors with universities being their proliferation zone and Chatro league, Chatro Union being their purveyor. The political signups were voluntary and ideological. Such a picture does not exist any longer. Politics have been handed over to opportunists than actual ideologues. It's not Awami league that devised this system, but BNP and Jamat-e-Islam are equally to blame for perpetuating the exact same culture with their student faction Chatro Dol and Islami Chatro Shibir, when they were in power.
But ideologies should be prioritized and opportunism should be discouraged. If opportunism is incentivized instead, then the moral legitimacy of a political party evaporates. For example, in Local UP elections, the candidates always ran independently without having to run under the symbol of any particular political party. Therefore, there was room for many candidates of the same party to fight parallelly for an electoral position in local UP elections. But in the recent election, a change has been incorporated into the election process where the candidates would have to require party nominations and run for elections under their corresponding party symbol. The parties were asked to nominate one candidate out of all their applicants and put him up for elections. The motive was to select the finest apple from the base in order to preserve the party image before letting them run in the elections. What it has done instead is that it created a big room for corruption. Many nominees were selected by the party officials, not because of their political vision or ideology but due to the sheer force of their wealth and muscle. Such practice alienated a lot of loyal and potential candidates. Many grassroots supporters alleged that senior officials were vouching for and nominating candidates in exchange for a large sum of bribes. Such messages swept across the whole country with frequent protests erupting here and there. Many rejected candidates rebelled against party decisions and stood for the elections by themselves. And ironically, a huge amount of rebel candidates have won in their respective constituencies defeating the party-nominated ones, proving that many of the allegations brought up by aggrieved rebels were in fact true. The party did fail to select candidates with popular acceptance among their constituencies because it failed to cater to politicians and brought in traders instead. Awami league went as far as to banning them from their party for going against party decision, thus pushing away its support base even further. The lesson from such systemic discrimination had shattered the political mindset of many dedicated and lifelong supporters. Many started to feel that the party which was supposed to have ideals at its core, do not talk to them anymore. The ethical foundation that the ruling party had eroded since they came in power, and the erosion purports to be big since the party has been in power for 13 years long, the longest time any single party held power in Bangladesh. There had been tons of allegations of corruption, suppression, violence, and injustice. Adding to that when the party started to discriminate among its own supporter base, it started losing legitimacy among its own loyalists too. All of these happened because money and muscle were prioritized, and politicians were not. Those with large sums of money could buy off their ticket to the ruling party whereas ideological adherents were ignored. These seasonal leaders are not carriers of ideology but their main target is to expand their business empire and make money. The recently sacked Mayor of Gazipur, Mr. Zahangir Alam, is one of such instances. He was sacked for denigrating the values of liberation war and also for insulting the father of the nation. But such ideals are core to his party’s existence, which he should have internalized once he had signed up for the party. There was no reason to nominate Mr. Zahangir while ignoring other experienced senior politicians of Gazipur. But since Mr. Zahangir had a pile of cash he got his ticket in, whereas others couldn't. Another mayor, Mr. Abbas Ali of Katakhali was sacked just some days later for the same reason. He went against party ideals. Despite being part of a secular party, Mr. Abbas was touting fundamentalists rhetoric to his followers, saying that setting up murals of the father of the nation is anti-Islamic hence should not be allowed in his municipality. Such a remark goes completely against the fundamental secular principles of Awami league. There are more such activists in Awami league who could not yet internalize Aawmi Secularism or its other nationalistic ideals. But such people who are completely oblivious to party ideology get in the party bandwagon with the sheer force of money. There are tons of such politicians who are oblivious to ideals but are open to business. They treat it as a business endeavor rather than a place to manifest visions. Incorporating such questionable practices weakens a party’s ideological hegemony among the people while on the other hand provides an advantage to the opposing powers who have a better moral cohesion and also a greater ideological commitment. The party has lost a big range of public support due to failing the fight on the ideological front. It has, for example, completely lost on the ideological battle online where it has very few scopes to exercise its muscle. The only things that are keeping them alive are the state apparatuses. The party has entrenched its influence on these particular systems which has still kept them in the positions of power, but it lost the popularity among its constituency which it once had.
Awami League its own worst enemy at Union Parishad polls
Ruling party set to face more rebel candidates in third phase on November 26 The Awami League proved to be its own…
Neither Amnesty nor Human rights watch or any other international elite body would come to any help when a political crisis brews. In the end, a country depends on its populace. They live in it, live through its weals and ordeals. They get to select the political discourse, rebel if things don't fall in line. The ruling party has kept the systems functioning no matter how faulty. If the systems collapse or get back to their previous ineffective phase, people will oust them out as well. This is why oppositions daydream about toppling the government every night and day but see no fruit to it, while the ruling power teases them constantly saying that they lost the support of the populace. By support, they mean muscle power that carries the potential to corner the government into meeting up with their demands. Such muscle power was displayed by Hefazot e Islam in 2013 and in 2021, under Allama Shafi, Mamunul, and Babunagari. BNP could not even show a fraction of such power. Even the spontaneous movements, for example, the quota reform movement, road safety movement, Shahbagh movement all had a substantial muscle, whereas major political oppositions failed to show any such muscle power within recent years. This is partly due to the failure and negligence of the deputy leadership of the BNP establishment in the absence of their party chief. And also due to the ruling party keeping the systems effectively functioning. As soon as the systems start to crumble down, structures start to disintegrate, people will come down on the streets in droves. There would be no backup since the party does not have ideological hegemony anymore, hence negligible loyalty among the masses. Unless that is to happen, people will be disgruntled but privately, which wouldn't be much of a threat to the party’s power. They are better off seeing people disgruntled in their private spheres, ranting on social media, than coming down and blocking the streets. Social media rants will eventually vanish, but street protests can spiral out of control, forcing them to capitulate. They know it better since they had been long on the opposition and used the exact same tactic to rise into power. And they don't want their own tactic to be used against them. This is why they focus a lot on material infrastructure and keeping the system intact, rather than giving even a fraction of that attention towards developing the cultural landscape and cementing ideologies. This is a short-term solution, in the long run when all the people will realign themselves with the opposing ideologies, the party would have to count their days.
To sum things up, Politics in developing and underdeveloped countries have to be managed strategically and based on local context. To emulate a first-world system into a third world is no less than a fantasy. The failure to recognize local context is largely responsible for the political failure and systemic catastrophes in most of these countries. Only local experienced leadership can be capable of navigating through this since they can directly engage with the people, know their psyche and their maturity. This is an advantage that foreign bodies do not hold, no matter how much theoretically they are educated about an issue. Even if foreign powers are comparatively successful in thoroughly managing a country, at the end of the day, they will always be looked as looters, oppressors, and colonizers regardless of their intent. It didn’t work in India, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Algeria, Afghanistan, and it won’t work in Somalia, Mali, or the other African countries which are still under Western political influence. Political and infrastructural systems can be imported from outside, just like we do for physical commodities. But, the drive for this must emerge spontaneously and not be imposed upon, with a wide degree of local engagement. Whatever the system is, at the end of the day, and it has to work. If it fails to do that, it will eventually be replaced. We should always keep in mind that there are no cookie-cutter solutions, only context-based solutions. What may be true for one part of the world may fail miserably in another part of the world. The focus, therefore, should be always concentrated on the fitness of the systems and also on cementing ideologies. Just material developments cannot ensure hegemony, but ideologies must be given priorities too. Both of these factors should be constantly monitored to see if they are functioning properly or bleeding. In the absence of neatly functioning systems, muscle power grows up and anarchy ensues. Both the ruling powers and the oppositions should focus on systems. Ruling powers have a stake in protecting the systems whereas oppositions have a stake in seeing it bleed. Even if power exchanges hands, at the end of the day, a functional system is what all the powers should aim for instead of getting locked up in endless polarisations and infighting. But at first, some fundamental ideologies should be set upon which the state’s identity would stand upon. Thus ideological conflicts would get minimized and focus can be directed on state systems. While I agree that absolute ideological adherence cannot work for the better and that everything needs to adapt considering ground reality. But nonetheless, there must be a balance to it all. If ideology is compromised, identity gets compromised too which is a recipe for polarisations and disaster. Hence even if slight modifications need to be introduced into the ideological narrative it must be done cautiously so as to not lose moral validation from the constituency. Once moral validation is lost, a state is left with repressive state power to maintain a society. This is short term solution and can never last long. It also opens up a pathway to a dystopian, bleak society and sooner or later is destined to end up in conflicts, because you cant accumulate exponential grievances for long.