Friday, June 28, 2002

The aborted 'Presidential coup'?- B.Chowdhury's ouster

1. When intrigues backfire- Ploys and Counter ploys?

The signs were pretty ominous There had been far too many reference points since the Bangladesh Nationalist Party's (BNP) assumption of office some eight months back to indicate that we as a nation, are
in for a very rough ride.

The massive approval for the BNP that won them a landslide victory in the 1st October 2001 polls, with an unprecedented three forth majority in Parliament was not going to make things any easier for them to rule. It all started with the foiled and largely unreported military coup attempt of 3rd of October 2001 to oust Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, and elect the then Speaker of Parliament Abdul Hamid as President and thereafter declare the polls null and void - if taken in perspective the Awami League (AL) with the blessing and backing of whoever it is that sees eye to eye with them, seemed all set to get back to the game they are best at. Seize state power through intrigue and conspiracies.

The first couple of months saw the BNP pinned into a very tight corner when all it could do was remain reactive to issues that were gurgled up to keep them busy and distracted. The overblown stories of minority oppressions, Talibanization, the Far East Economic Review cover story, and importantly the endemic lawlessness that gripped our society, which BNP seemed helpless to contain or combat, saw its public image thoroughly bruised, the pre-poll promises to citizens of Bangladesh about safety and security an elusive mirage.

The law and order agenda was one of the primary reasons for the BNP to be swept to power, for during the 5 years of its rule, the AL had made 'mastaanism' an acceptable national institution, their key functionaries drunk with power, making a heyday with very open public display of their arrogant misdeeds.

The people thought that the BNP would bail them out as it was indicated in post election pledges that it had some kind of an Aladdin's lamp to rid society off the scourge. Ironically, the Aladdin that BNP delivered appeared in the form of a Home Minister, whose performance and conduct thus far has been nothing short of buffoonery reenacted to a high art form!

However, the more recent and unabated murder mayhems stories when killers disappear without a trace and as some press reports indicate end up in 'safe houses' in Kolkata, West Bengal, suggest that do what it may, the BNP is badly compromised by enemies from within and without. To make matters worse many BNP activists especially its Chattra Dal cadres were implicated and some arrested for these murders.

On the one hand the intrigues of the Opposition and on the other BNP's failure to curtail it own rank and file's over enthusiasm with new found 'power' the questionable hobnobbing of its upper echelon with several large corporate house that were largely patrons of BNP's pre-poll subscription drive, petty business opportunists, lobbyist, drug and gold mafia interest et al -, were on the verge of derailing the party's initial

To make matters worse, the BNP had in effect failed to neutralize the remnants of rabid AL sympathizers and supporters in its reluctance to inherit the stigma of a partisan bias in running of its administration.

The now forced retired Army Chief Major General Haroon ur Rashid was the key component in the spoke to the BNP's rather wobbly wheel for it was this man that for the very first time in Bangladesh's history publicly politicized the Army.

By compelling his men to take off their uniform shirt and instead sport tee-shirts emblazoned with the image of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman one remembers that he marched to a political meeting in downtown Dhaka in 2001, with the Army band in his retinue playing 'joi Bangla Banglar joi', where he made a 'clarion ca' to fight anybody that was perceived as the 'national enemy' in the AL scheme of things, not necessarily the citizens of Bangladesh.

Why this controversial character (who superceded several senior Army officers to the coveted post through his known 'closeness' to the AL chiefs sister) was retained as the Chief of the Army in the BNP regime for so long defies logic, but for all practical purpose BNP aware of sensitivities probably gave him the benefit of a doubt at the outset. It therefore seems only but plausible to suggest that he was kept under strict surveillance and his every move closely monitored.

The AL in the meantime as a counter ploy floated an Indian RAW engineered media story of his receiving a huge bribe from the BNP before the polls that ensured his 'betrayal'. The truth of course lay elsewhere. The BNP had only proved its political astuteness and maturity by giving him a leeway post election to see what other conspiracies where on the hatchery. It was a smart move that paid rich dividends, as the dramatic events of this month would prove.

2. A media savvy President and BNP's cultural inadequacies:

If anything can be said about Dr.B.Chowdhury the ex- President it can only be said in 'glowing terms' this regardless of party affiliation or bias.

At once a brilliant physician, a national award winning Television presenter, political strategist, thinker and writer, a suave gentlemen, eloquent, witty and humorous, prolific personality and the laurel of being the closest confidante of the BNP founder Ziaur Rahman, placed him naturally in a cut above the rest in the pack. His forced ouster last week therefore sent chills down the spines of both BNP and AL supporters.

The reason given for his ouster in the press and media accounts reveals a revolt among BNP's young lawmakers (retitled 'young Turks' ) who saw a 'grave betrayal' and 'conspiracy' against the party and nation by the otherwise loved and respected President. These allegations were indeed seconded by more senior and responsible members the General Secretary Mr.Mannan Bhuiyan going as far as to suggest that he had committed an 'unpardonable crime'. However for political analysts a failure to mention Ziaur Rahman as the one who declared the Independence of Bangladesh and also a failure to visit his gravesite on the 30th of May instant, seemed actions hinged on oversight or perhaps impropriety, reasons that are far too trivial for this inordinate 'punishment' if we may. There was definitely more to it, more than meet the eye.

The question is - what where they?

Post election - Dr.Chowdhury lobbied hard for the post of President. As a long time campaigner for the BNP he cited exhaustion, a need to rest and repair and given his advanced age it was a reasonable proposition and one BNP acceded to, despite grudging disapprovals from many within the party rank and files, especially those with a sense of primordial history. On face of it, BNP had not much of a choice in its selection for the post of Chief Executives office anyone to match the skills, charisma, integrity and acumen of Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, the AL appointee. Given its cultural inadequacies BNP had to elect somebody who could fit into the rather elusive term 'acceptability' of the people, BNP as well as also the AL?

Dr.B.Chowdhury's role in the pre-polls BNP tele-serial 'Shabash (bravo) Bangladesh'; was the only effective and lone counter media campaign against the AL. BNP as a rule of providence has a dire shortage of 'cultural luminaries' that are directly or indirectly needed to garner support in media or press offensives.

The media mafia in Bangladesh on the other hand, as I have long argued has been and will be in the firm grips of pro Awami League and pro India elements and that has more to do than what is termed 'acceptable' in the Bengalee middle class and neo rich a miniscule but powerful minority in the country's otherwise predominant lower middle class demography.

As Noman Erfan writes in Jai Jai Din [] of the 25th JUNE and I quote:

"This is a strange anathema that afflict the educated and cultured Bengalee middle class in that they desire and crave for Awami Leagues acceptance. It is a psychological trap, a mirage - and a trap that Dr.B.Chowdhury landed into 'the trap of 'acceptability' "

It was only to appease the Awami League and ensure their acceptability that he desisted from naming Ziaur Rahman as the one who proclaimed the independence of Bangladesh. To ascertain that he receives 'acceptability' B.Chowdhury he started a one-man campaign that did not have the blessings or approval of the BNP hierarchy, specially the Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. Some activities even sent very incoherent and conflicting signals, bordering on the treacherous.

There are reports that he had visited attended functions that compromised BNP's position when sharing the same podium with him was none other than Sheikh Hasina the AL Chief and leader of the Opposition. This apart from the private functions he attended and he attended a whole lot of them, when the sponsors or the host were AL leaders or its functionaries. Greatly irking the BNP were reports that he visited the residence of Colonel Faruk Khan an AL functionary ostensibly to enjoy an evening of gazal again a typical Bengalee middle class haute couture exercise.

It would have been one thing if he sat back and said 'wah wah' to the singers, but Dr. B.Chowdhury took a step forward in his effort to 'act neutrally'. He promenaded the select audience by rendering a few gazals himself!

Whether or not it is proper for a President to render 'gazals'in a private function in the house of an Opposition stalwart is debatable - but what about the cost to the public ; other than the ';image of the President'?

Every time the President steps out to a venue from his official residence, half a million Taka or more, is ripped from the tax payers pocket in mobilizing no less that 7 agencies of the Government for his protection; less the traffic jams that causes delays and harassments to the public during VIP movements in Dhaka.

Presidents Chowdhur's 'cultural acceptability' exercises saw his daily itinerary crammed with needless 'social functions' some as bizarre as his intended visit to Chatkhil in Noakhali to attend the circumcision ceremony of his grandson in a Government helicopter on 21st June 2002 the day he was forced to resign! Austerity thy name is the BNP President?

3. Skeleton's in cup board' ; Where is the dead body?

As the lone high profile survivor of the 30th May 1980 assassination of President Ziaur Rahman Dr.B.Chowdhury had been the object of deep suspicion within the BNP hierarchy for long. The accounts of his escape from the Chittagong have been inconsistent and unacceptable ; as much as the fact that those military officers found guilty and executed subsequently were merely the ones that carried out the assassination. The conspiracy behind the assassination never came up for close public scrutiny and hence in the hushed circle of politicians, the villain in General Ershad was never revealed thanks again to ALs nodding approval to this hated dictator..

The history of Bangladesh will remain incomplete till all assassinations of our national leaders are made public and it seems only natural that manipulations are made to compromise important political functionaries in discharging their responsibilities based on insider knowledge into the conspiracies. The AL for instance whipped up the Ziaur Rahman murder case while in power, and while not a single hearing came up in court, political analysts believe this was an AL ploy to keep Dr.B.Chowdhury in check ; a psychological blackmail tactics as such.

Event since the Prime Minster Khaleda Zia left for the US for her knee operation a distance had already occurred in her close official and family relationship with the President. Other than hurtful off the cuff comments about the Prime Ministers knee condition ; Dr.Chowdhury had suggested that the only way to save Khaleda Zia is by amputating her leg -the more questionable role of sitting in a closed door ninety minute long meeting with General Haroon ur Rashid at the office of the Military Secretary to The President General Mansoor's after all guest had departed following the Eid-e-Miladun-nabi function at Banga Bhavan on 21st May 2002, indicate that Dr.B. Chowdhury did not exercise discretion in his conduct.

Specifically, with Haroon ur Rashid it was not as if he was not aware of things brewing in earnest within the Government following the publication of the Army Chief's name in the White Paper and his audacious use of the Army press wing (ISPR) in countering his position ; when it is the duty of the Ministry of Defense to do so Dr.Chowdhury seemed to have burnt his boat. There are also allegations that he did not support General Haroon's removal and the nail to his coffin was thus sealed.

There were other allegations about the General that B.Chowdhury should have known. During the long absence of the Prime Minister between 3rd May 2002 and 4th of June 2002, General Haroon paid three unscheduled and unwarranted visit to the Prime Minster's Office in a show of arrogance and authority and met 'like minded' officials within the PMO to emphasize that he is in control and in power.

Following the ouster of General Haroon ur Rashid, on the 16th of June 2002 several developments in quick succession confirmed the existence of deep-rooted conspiracy to unseat the BNP Governments by means most foul. Dr.B.Chowdhury's distance from the Prime Minister, his insistence of an ex-officio power baser, his hobnobbing with the AL cartel and the controversial business association of his son Mahi B. Chowdhury a BNP lawmaker with Asaduzzaman Noor MP of the AL probably caused his ultimate doom.

Mahi B. Chowdhury's sudden prop up in the media circles specially his receiving an hourly slot in the Bangladesh Televisions (BTV) effective 1st of July 2002 and his recent public announcement that he did not 'misuse' his power and position for the slot, but rather 'used' them to air programs created by his company Independent Republic, plus his open association with Noor, a known media mafia baron was not taken lightly within BNP 'young Turks' as also the hierarchy. That his father-in-law is the owner of the country's largest jewelry firm set him aside for greater suspicion when hints were made to some BNP leaders links with gold smuggling in the BNP Parliamentary Party meetings.

More importantly, Sheikh Hasina's three long parleys with retired pro-AL Generals following Haroon uz Zaman's ouster and an unnecessary comment of 'no dead body in Zia's gravesite; reveal that:

1) a conspiracy was brewing and to protect the beleaguered President from exposure she schemed,

2) to divert speculations to the effect that the President did not visit the gravesite after assumption of office as he knew that there is no dead body there and did not want to scandalize the Presidency.

All said and done the stage seems now set to see how the media mafia will act up in defense of B.Chowdhury's damaged image. They were not found wanting and in his defense the pro AL media has jumped in with full steam.

His pronouncements that 'BNP will have to pay an exacting price in six months' for ousting him, reveals only the hidden agenda of a conspiracy that the media was a party to and one that went awry. The media and AL had expected the BNP to act foolishly ' what they were not prepared for in their subtle machinations is a realization that BNP may be foolish but not exactly STUPID!

The ex President is therefore left with no choice but to keep us entertained. His almost daily discourses since his ouster with any and sundry members of the Press to defend his position shows that he has a few skeletons to hide up his cupboard and the inconsistencies of his comments that is a hallmark of his personality was never more pronounced than now.

On the one hand he mentioned that he had nothing to do with politics anymore; yet the next day as an after thought, he goes public by saying that he is prepared to advise any political party? He badly needs a support base and knows that while AL may give it to him for exigency only to protect themselves - Dr.B.Chowdhury should also know too well that the AL is a master at betrayal and it will not think twice before disowning him.

Also there is no need to 'rub-in' to the general public his philanthrophical deed of serving the poor free or 'treating BNP members who are today opposed to him' as these are well-documented facts of his life yet one that most doctors indulge in. A philanthrophical or noble gesture does not come hand in hand with any condition of life long allegiance or loyalty, especially on matters of national interest is a fact that should not elude Dr.Chowdhury.

4. What was likely to happen : The aborted 'Presidential coup' :

The buzz in Dhaka has been extremely strong that the BNP is going for a Presidential form of Government. For weeks this has been debated in various political circles and the AL wary that with a three forth majority in Parliament the BNP could well go for such a change made efforts to play up to the rumors and devise counter strategies. The appointment of Tareq Rahman the PM's son two days after the Presidents ouster, as the Additional General Secretary in the BNP further fueled such speculations. It was even suggested that the Prime Minister would step in as President while Tareq Rahman would become Prime Minister and democracy reduced to a rubber stamp Parliament. In reality, BNP strategist to shake up the AL leadership deliberately planted this Presidential form of Government rumor! After all efforts at bringing the obnoxious Sheikh Hasina to Parliament failed and her relentless intrigues both at home and abroad continued - this seemed one of the many efforts that paid handsomely.

However the matter to ruminate is what was the AL up to, and why did the name of Dr.B.Chowdhury head their list of priority for their move?

With the Presidential form of Government rumor at its peek, AL strategist together with a long ousted senior AL leader, a top lawyer together with a handful of Dhaka University teachers and two Editors of Dhaka newspaper who operate in tandem to publish a vernacular and English language Daily edition quickly mooted the idea for the formation of a National Government in connivance with the AL that would in effect neutralize the election process and allow for a short term Government of three years of so, with leading professionals, bureaucrats, and members from the so-called civil society at the helms of affair .

At the time of writing this piece, the effort is ongoing and one has only to wait and brace back for articles in Dhaka newspaper to advance the idea for such a government. It was rumored that a section of the Army has been mobilized to oust the BNP Government by blaming it for its failure to curb the law and order situation - reminiscent of Justice Satter ouster by General Ershad. To head the incumbent Government as was part of the conspiracy and is now obvious was no one else but dear the beloved Dr.Badrudozza Chowdhury!

Bangladesh has had it share of Military coups and Civil Service coups; yet what was aborted last week was a Presidential coup, a coup that could have only happened with the backing of the Army at the cost of many lives.

We were that close - and as I close this piece, Bangladesh looks like all set to be a South Asian flash point. If Sheikh Hasina's insidious insistence on a Civil War is allowed to play its own course a benevolent 'democratic dictator' is not to far away on the Bangladesh political horizon - a dictatorship that will have the support and blessing of Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League.

Rejected by the people, with no chance for another stint at power this seems the only available option open to AL and its vicious power hungry avatars.

First Published June 27th 2002

Friday, June 14, 2002

'Moderate Islam' and the 'real' Bangladesh minority

Bangladesh, with the Awami League (AL) in power, earned the 'unprecedented' laurel of 'moderate Islam' during Bill Clinton?s visit in 2000. What our people have conveniently forgotten was that the former US President could not visit the Martyrs? Memorial in Savar as there were, according to the government of the day, alleged 'threats from Osama bin Laden's supporters'..

The facts on the ground were however different. The AL contributed to this great public relations disaster by slickly crafting a booklet called 'The Fangs of Fanaticism' through sycophants in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and passing its copies on to the media team accompanying Bill Clinton and his retinue along with the diplomatic corps in Dhaka. This was nothing less than a scare campaign. Nowhere else in the world, may I add, has any government done anything as perfidiously suicidal to its own nation's image.

The entire purpose of the booklet was to insinuate that the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its ally, the Jamaat-e-Islam, had links with the Talibans and that the 'process of Talibanization' was already ongoing! In other words the AL government wanted to tell the Americans: 'We are your best choice.'

This was in effect an effort to loop in an international audience to our local politics, when much of the world was least interested in our plight. The massive show of disapproval for all that the AL was scheming in its overt ?love? for Hindu fanatics of India, and to appease the Americans with a ? moderate Islam? label, resulted in the party?s massive defeat in October.

None of the ruses worked. Everything backfired. The AL's credibility sunk to a super low, and it eventually fell from power and grace. Betrayed of course were the ordinary people of Bangladesh, who till this day live with an unfortunate stigma not of their own making. The more rabid section of the anti-Muslim Western press sunk their fangs into Bangladeshs image. Even The Far Eastern Economic Review, known for its sobriety and restraint, printed the infamous collection of lies, allegations and speculations in the story 'Beware of Bangladesh'.

Now we must tackle a very simple question: What is moderate Islam?

The answer to that is there is no such thing, because accepting that terminology would also mean accepting the notion of 'immoderate Islam' or 'terrorist Islam'. It would have been fair if the Americans had looked at 'moderate Hinduism' or 'moderate Zionism', but since that is not the case the arguments and logic for 'moderate Islam' are no longer relevant.

What the Americans don't know in their ignorance is that Islam is Islam, and the various connotations of Islam serve a purpose which has got more to do with US domestic and foreign policy and their multifarious dimensions rather than understanding its 'new enemy' Islam, again an overblown hate agenda of its Free Masonic media.

What is little known is that unlike Christianity, which exhorts its followers to offer the ?other cheek? when one is slapped, Islam goes steps further. It expects its followers to be literally 'shoved', and only when pinned to the wall does it permit reprisal in self-defence. Readers should note that the word 'permit' does not mean 'allowed', and there are set conditions for reprisals and means of protest in Islam, which is what the 'jihadis' on the other hand will not talk about!

However, what is of great shame to many Bangladesh citizens is why the BNP or the Jamaat or the AL should be lapping up these American connotations. The answer to that is simple. No Bangladeshi Muslim is prepared to see himself on the thin line that divides the post September 11 world. Beggars simply cannot be choosers.

It is a divide that is made more painful as the prevalent status quo requires appeasing the Americans as a necessary mean of survival. Euphemistically termed a 'developing country', which actually means a ' poor country', Bangladesh has surely no other choice but to join the 'international chorus brigade'. We are not Iran that we can proudly tell the US, 'We are neither with you nor with terror.' All the self-righteous governments in the 31 years of Bangladesh's history have done everything conceivable for this so called 'image', but have failed in keeping the citizens from going hungry.

Post-election violence has been merciless for the Hindu community in Bangladesh and it has all got to do with their alleged support for the AL that has given rise to attacks by 'pro-fundamentalist' elements. The first groups of Hindus that took shelter in the AL central office turned out to be AL workers with valid police cases against them ' they have merely used the AL premises to save themselves from real or imagined reprisals. When engaged in crimes Hindus are Awami Leaguers' when they are on the receiving end, they quickly don the mantles of minority members.

But that is only part of the story. My independent investigation with the help of friends in the Hindu community revealed that everybody admitted that reprisal killings and attacks were taking place, yet none could give me specific examples of such attacks within their immediate family or circle of friends!

What is important for all to note is that the biggest safety factor for the Hindu community in Bangladesh is the country's conscious citizens and media. Had it not been for the tolerant and peaceable nature of the Bangladeshi citizens, things would not have been blown further out of proportion. The AL-friendly media churned out reports to make mountains out of molehills, and it seemed that for every Hindu that was killed or repressed the papers mentioned hundreds! Unsubstantiated reports made more news than real cases of killing and repression, as did news of a 'pogrom', which even the West Bengal government denied.

Bangladeshi Muslims also experienced the flip side of 'communal hatred' in the campaign of the HRCBM. Anybody watching their video in the Net will not have failed to notice the rather tendentious interviews of the victims ? at one stage the interviewer nudged a village lady to utter the English word ?rape? repeatedly. There was also the coverage, fulminating in fury, of a pond from which 'fishes were looted by Islamic fundamentalists'. How bizarre!

Of interest to readers will be the efforts of Muslims on the Net to create a relief fund for the Bangladeshi minority. Nearly US$ 30,000 was raised, and it went directly to the welfare of the Hindu community in Bangladesh. It is sad but true that we see no such relief efforts for the succour of Bangladeshi Muslim refugees from Gujarat who are pouring into Bangladesh in droves. No Muslim or Hindus have undertaken any such efforts on the Net. Why is anybody's guess.

Adding salt to wound was the buffoonery of the BNP Home Minister. When he alleged that these were 'planned conspiracies', he left one wondering why he could not thwart the attacks on the minorities if he had prior knowledge of such so-called conspiracies. The conclusion on the so-called 'minority' issue is simple.

The Bangladeshi Hindus know for a fact that they are much better off than their cousins across the border, both in economic, political or religious terms. If the Langolband Hindu Fair, where devotees in hundreds of thousands flocked from all over the subcontinent, and which surprisingly did not make the mainstream press, or the zero retaliation on the community after the Gujarat carnage are any indicators, the Hindus are safe as long as they don't toe the lines of fanatics masquerading as AL workers and don't subscribe to the views of the communalist HRCBM who seem to have more of an AL/BJP/RSS political and communal agenda than a Bangladeshi one.

Which brings me to the final question. Are their Al-Qaeda or Talibans in Bangladesh?

The answer to that, if only half in jest, is a thumping 'YES' in that if both the words are to be checked etymologically, Al-Qaeda or 'the base' is the compulsory study of Arabic alphabets in the country's madrassahs by millions of its 'pupils', i.e. the 'Talibans', which means student or seeker in Arabic.
This brings us to the issue of whether or not the process of Talbanization has started in earnest in Bangladesh.

Those who wish to brand Bangladesh as a 'cocoon of terror' fail to realise that terrorism is the order of the day in Bangladesh and this has nothing to do with 'Islamic fanaticism' in particular, but rather the almost paranoiac agenda of the major political parties, the AL and he BNP in particular, to capture and hang on to state power by lunging at each others, throat at any given opportunity.

The terrorists, no matter which party they belong to, have the backing of the Indian communal and drug mafia elements that seek to destabilise Bangladesh, threaten the pluralistic aspects of its society and condemn it to remain poor. Notwithstanding the presence of fanatic 'kut mullah' interests who are dogged in their dreams and aspirations for an Islamised Bangladesh, all that these perverted elements seek is the division of Bangladesh, taking on the old colonial legacy of 'divide and conquer'.

Those arguing the daylight out of the 'Talibanization' of Bangladesh haven't the foggiest notion about the country?s pluralistic society, and neither do they have any idea of insurrection, guerrilla warfare or revolution.

The Talibans could only ride out of the rough-hewn villages in Afghanistan to capture State power because they had the solid backing of Pakistan, and to a large degree the US media that was fed up with the failures of the American backed 'jihad' that saw warlords at the helm of affairs. They also had the support of their Islamic neighbours.

The conditions in Bangladesh are quite unfavourable for a Taliban-like uprising because the essence of guerrilla warfare is to ensure both internal and external supply and support bases. With a 'fundamentalist Hindu' India and Buddhist Myanmar on both flanks, the Muslims of Bangladesh, while being demographically a 'majority community' in Bangladesh, are actually a minority who will get no external assistance and no over-the-border bases.

The 'geographical minority' of the subcontinent, the Muslims of Bangladesh, are thankfully not so naive, neither do they believe that the Jamaat-e-Islam are the 'sole agents' for Allah or Islam, as the AL is no sole agent for the 'War of Liberation', and as the BNP is no 'sole agent' for Bangladeshi Nationalism.