by Mac Haque
"It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government." Thomas Paine
Closer to Bangladesh’s 42nd Independence Day we are faced with one of the worst crisis in our nation’s history and to merely call it ‘political’ would be suicidal for far more is at stake here. We are talking about our existence, the hopes of the common man and like history has faithfully recorded, we have always been brutally conned. What merits introspection is the myopic manner in which our deeply polarized politicians, together with their goons, whether they are armed cadres or wasted grey-haired intellectuals, underworld Mafia dons, vested black money and business interest are going about handling issues?
The agenda of our politicians has always been to thrive on chaos. Chaos in turn has paid rich dividends in the past and has made them nihilistic, whereby all that is violent, murderous, corrupt, and morally degrading have been installed as legitimate ‘franchises’. The sentence; ‘there is no last word in politics’ has been so criminally injected into our national psyche, that we have been bludgeoned to accept all political doublespeak’s without even a whimper. We have been led to believe that our leaders have a ’right’ to turn night into day with their blatant lies and subterfuge. We have been witness to death, destruction, loss of opportunities and our life and living compromised at every step in the equation. As if the only crime we have committed, or some curse of God, we have blessed with a birth in Bangladesh.
Our political culture revolves round the unending hyperbole of whether the Awami League is all good, or BNP is all bad or vice versa. It has been 42 years of this facetious ‘Punch and Jody’ exercise, at only looking at black and white answers, of putting a square peg into a round hole. All the while, public debates on the issue have been in extremely poor taste. Much expected sophistication in political life, much desired role models has been replaced with entrenched parochialism of matbors – urban ‘village politicians’. The ‘grey area’ and fact that both the position and opposition are equally bad and are surviving on date elapsed resuscitators are things that are not permitted for any discourse in the public domain. And why is that so?
It is the whims and sheer arrogance of the two women who have ruled our destiny is the crux of our innate dilemma and continues to bedevil us. That is common knowledge and surely no one out there will have any difficulty agreeing with me. Yet, given even half a chance, there is none who will stake his/her neck out on pains of being brutalised to say, ‘enough is enough, let us overthrow the entire political system, lock, stock and barrel!’
The silence of citizens is understandable for murder merchants have maneuvered and positioned themselves today with an aura of menacing respectability. Death is simply not the extinguishing of life. Death is numbing and deafening of our senses even as we live. Death is the beginning of life’s wheel being slowed down on terms that are dictated by the powers unknown to us, and ones who have uncannily decided to ‘act God’. Thus to expect each and every Bengali to be a ‘brave revolutionary’ is sheer stupidity!
The Shahbag generational revolt that commenced on 5th February 2013 continues to confuse a lot of people and given the tsunami like outpouring of support at home from masses in general, and from the Bengali Diaspora for protesters besieging Projonmmo Square, the status quo reactions was not exactly ‘knee jerk’, but one of a sense of bewilderment.
Initially it was all fright with the prospect of the politicos’ multi billion taka businesses of 42 years going out of hand, and there was much too much on their fossilized minds and that of their lackeys. What was not bargained for was that a young, inspired, informed and intelligent group of citizens would decide to act upon a matter of grave national importance with deep rooted conviction, and then be catapulted within hours to national limelight. This had many pointing fingers, albeit at all the wrong directions.
With 24/7 media coverage, the making of defacto new and fresh leaders of the 2013 resistance is a phenomenon this nation has never seen. That the young have chosen to hold their ground well outside the existing social, political or dynastical ambit or orbit had many politicians shocked and compromised into positions of fragile vulnerability, for good reasons.
More than the much trumpeted ‘third force’ whose return in shape of khaki fatigues was always feared; here we are witness to the advent of an apolitical ‘fourth force’ in Shahbag, a force that was neither predicted, nor was in anybody’s worst nightmare! The synchronized suddenness of it all stunned the nation and seven weeks later, nothing as far as commitment and resilience of the protestors have changed substantially to tilt the ante.
However the idea that the revolt commenced as a reaction to the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) awarding a life imprisonment verdict to a much hated war criminal is a lie that needs to be demolished. More than ‘influencing’ or unfairly pressuring the ICT for capital punishment as seems to be the general perception, young citizens in Shahbag went into action ‘smelling a rat’, in other words a massive sell-out.
Meanwhile, none has questioned that the nemesis of 1971 Jamaat E Islami (JeI) were the ones who violently threatened and ‘influenced the ICT’ calling a hartal to protect Qader Mollah whose verdict was on 5th February, as much as on 28th February the day of the Sayedee verdict, which consequently left over a hundred people dead.
Unknown is fact that Jamaat who have touted a zero-centric Wahabi/Deobandi brand of Islam for 42 years had built a financial empire whose outreach is not just limited to hiring expensive UK and US lawyers to defend war criminals of 1971. They also own, operate and manage financial institutions from Banks, Businesses, Print and TV media outlets; even scams such as multi-level marketing. In its lust for power, Jamaat’s means to an end are anything but ‘Islamic’. They are only an extension of the existing political status quo and a great deal of money is at play here.
Getting back to the point; a sell-out by the Awami League Government of the day to Jamaat was on the protestor’s mind, and thwarting it was its topmost agenda. After all, the AL rode to power in 2008 on ‘swing vote’ support of young citizens between ages 18 to 30, with a promise that war crimes trials will be concluded within its tenure. Despite all those tall promises, all those rhetoric’s about Razakars and Mukti Juddher Chetona the ingrained corruption, the moral degeneration within the Awami League’s meant it was never ever free from suspicion.
As and when the War Crimes Trial eventually got going, AL’s ‘scrupulous’ records were severely tainted by many of its leaders speaking in public from different pages of different law books at different periods of time. Add to that comments attributed to Law Minister Syed Ashraful Islam and later leaked to the press that the trials will be ‘symbolic’ led to more fuel being added to an already simmering fire.
Treason unleashed all in the name of ‘patriotism’ since the early nineties when ‘democracy’ returned to our cursed land was never as transparent to us, as now. In 42 years a sense of anguish about the wheeling dealings of our political master has engulfed many generations across the spectrum and not everybody was going to be fooled for too long.
Shahbag in a roundabout way posed the first ever challenge to the status quo and an option that we hadn’t looked into. Shahbag demanded punishment for the ‘first sin’ of the nation and our slimy politicians were in no mood to be fooled either! What didn’t take them long to decipher was, left unchecked, unhindered, unrestrained and un-politicized, Shahbag is the beginning of a ‘positive cancer’ that will eat away at the vitals of the power hungry scoundrels of 42 years. They got to work immediately and the first step was to Awami-ize it completely.
But to say that it is only AL piggy-backing or is a beneficiary of Shahbag is abominable. Indeed all major political parties from BNP to Jamaat e Islami to Jaityo Party have been doing the same. Never ever before had all the political parties ever been under more serious scrutiny of the citizens scanners as now. Not to forget much as these political vermin’s have kept the nation divided and disunited; it is no surprise that when it comes to loot, plunder and murder, there is and always has been a tacit, yet revolting unity and one that MUST be guaranteed for their selfish survival. The mechanisms to dismantle Shahbag had to be thus activated fast.
First stop was to give the movement a providential name. Projonmmo meaning ‘generational’ it is called, with just about a tinge of patronization for all along in 42 years the young were termed with a condescending polapaans or ‘naughty good for nothing kids’ tags. Projonmmo guaranteed respectability – a sense of belonging of the politicos, that as much as these are ‘kids’, they are into something significant and we are ‘right behind them’ even if it is begrudgingly ! The buzz word caught on. The now generation all the smarter lapped it with gusto. They had after all managed to infiltrate, hoodwink and join the system, to hopefully and eventually beat the system someday?
The Liberation War battle cry Joy Bangla and the slogan Razakarer Fashi Chai chanted by protestors was music to the ears of the AL. After all this was exactly what they (the AL) had carried forward for dozens of years. Yet it did not resonate approvingly down the general citizenry who detested partisan politicking on such a profound issue of national significance - that is not until 5th February 2013. That the people of Bangladesh have reclaimed these two usurped slogans is something that the Awami League has not been able to fathom and that is part of a larger problem; the problem of perception.
The mentality of all our political parties is driven around the premise, that simply because they ‘democratically’ substitute power every five years at tax payer’s expense, they somehow have the answers to all our problems. Little do they realise or are open to public frustrations and on scrutiny they would like to blame their enemies, never themselves. It is like somebody with a bad breath. They are usually the last to know, and so were our politicians caught with a deadly odor they thought they could live with lifelong and continue to cheat the people at large.
There has however been criticism of Shahbag being an ‘AL drama’. It is neither true nor untrue, and unless one uses the faculty of common sense the issue is likely to remain unclear in the short run. Question: How does an apolitical entity of thousands of people capture a major square in Dhaka without the help of the Government? Answer: come up with an agenda that the Government isn’t averse to, but make it a peoples program so that both opposing camps are kept guessing.
Shahbag isn’t the Tahrir Square of Cairo, where the Americans sponsored a ‘people’s movement’, to oust an American lap dog who wouldn’t budge from power and continued to hold on ruthlessly. The promise was for ‘democracy’, but what Egypt got in return was the Islamic Brotherhood, the party that assassinated President Anwar Sadat, solidly ensconced in power.
Neither is Shahbag a Libya, where after having over satiated American greed for blood money, the ‘madman’ but otherwise secular Moammar Gaddafi was ousted in an American backed and financed ‘peoples uprising’ that saw him captured, sodomized and then brutally murdered by ‘rebels’. His last desperate message to the world that Al-Qaeda elements were behind the uprising fell into deaf ears. The people who replaced him were of course Islamist extremist and what did the Americans get in return? Its Ambassador in Benghazi killed in its own Consulate in an Al-Qaeda attack on 11th September 2011.
Shahbag therefore stands as a testimony of how a people can unite without Government support, without largesse and 24/7 coverage of the world media like CNN or Al Jazeera, for in essence the conscious people of Bangladesh are acutely aware as how politicos, the global military and the monetary get together and destroy all hopes of a peoples resistance, that’s doesn’t comply with de rigor standards of acceptability of the status quo. That America for long has created the enemy and then went ahead and exterminated the enemy at great cost to the people, is a fact not unknown to the Shahbag warriors.
Yet it is a shame as how virulently the Shahbag movement is being jeopardized. Simply because a class of people hitherto unseen had joined the movement the politicos panic buttons were inconspicuously activated but certainly for no love of the people – but to jettison it from within. And who was NOT in Shahbag? Young, old, children, poor, rich, the urban yuppies, farmers, peasants, freedom fighters of 1971 – who would never ever make it to a ‘political’ rally under any circumstances, yet here they were, standing arm to arm in a boisterous defense of the motherland. Clearly in everybody’s mind yet unspoken was; the enemy is just not the ones that came about in 1971. The new face of ‘enemies’ of the last 42 years IS the ultimate target.
Shahbag has already paid a small price for its own inexperience. Before long they were drawn into the line of fire of our prevalent nasty politics. Yet it is a matter of great pride as how the young leadership who were born long after 1971 have decided to take on the enemy both within and without. Engagements by the likes of Maruf Rasul in LIVE TV talks shows have been exemplary demonstrations as how different, pristinely clear and coherent is the thought process of the now generation. That decent language is not yet ‘out of fashion’ and can still be used to make ones point in a dignified manner as opposed to irritable acerbic and high pitched slanders that seems to be the forte of our political masters was amply clear and should be used as reference points.
True, there have been incendiary criticisms of Shahbag, true there have been insinuations of them being ‘atheist’, true that they also have been accused of ‘sell-outs’, but it is also true that had it not been for Shahbag, HOPE the last of intangible commodity that we have to contend with, would simply not have come in 2013. It is now left for us to see how far the movement will fare in the days ahead. Clearly we have no other option than to trust the instincts of the young, our present and future, who in turn will no doubt demand the ouster of the total political system of 42 years.
What happens then is a conjecture that will have to wait. All I can say in Shahbag the wait for 42 years has been well worth it. There is no such thing as endless miseries. The days of our miseries will surely end.
Dhaka 26th March 2013