Friday, June 28, 2013

The Cultural Dimensions to Shahbag – Part 4

by Mac Haque

“The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.” Che Guevara

If there is a cultural malaise that has afflicted the Bengali race historically it is ‘hujoog’ or whims, and quite freakishly this sets the tone for whatever we do whenever something excites us, or makes us passionate. Before we know it we jump headlong or copy, just about anything that anybody else around is doing. Call it parochial behavior, or call it replication – we love to be in the middle of a ‘scene’ that everybody else around us is acting out whether rightly or wrongly is not considered important, until the chips are woefully down. 

To many this seems like the egregious ‘go-getting Bengali spirit’, yet when we assess the damages, such behaviors do to us as a people, as a nation, the net losses outweighs the gains that we may have thought was well within our ready reach. And so it was in the case of the Shahbag movement. 

Between February and March of 2013, everyone without exception turned into ‘born again freedom fighters’ and those that chose not to identify with the aspirations of Shahbag, became neo-Razakars or ‘traitors/collaborators’. Like bee to honey, people of all shades of opinion and social stature thronged to Shahbag, the new Mecca of patriotism, hope, freedom, independence – of the good times on the horizon, aspirations blah blah blah. 

However, by 5th of April when Hefazot staked a claim to the confusion by adding in the much vexed ‘atheist’ masala, undeniably there was an avalanche of support for them as well. Everybody became ‘born again Muslims’ – almost overnight, with emphasis of how ‘important’ Islam is for our national survival, and debates on how ‘insensitive’ we have always been to the Qoumi Madrasa system or the plight of Huzurs in general! 

Yet in another stark seesaw of fortunes, by 6th of May, when Hefazot was on the receiving end of the Government stick and its vested money agenda direly exposed – the shift of sides veered between the ‘pro-liberation diehards’ thumbs up approval to the tough crackdowns or the ‘jihadist wannabes’ cornered to a dazed, shocked and confused state of inaction. 

In between the general mass, the aam jonota or ‘mango people’, were least pushed, for neither patriotism nor religion could ever guarantee them a square meal a day at the least. This is a reality check we haven’t even half considered. The national limbo had started in right earnest. Our identity crisis was taxed and brutalized beyond its known and well-charted orbit.

Whatever may have been the gains of Shahbag, quickly turned very sour as and when the real overt and covert political actions maneuvering commenced and as a result directly affected the thrust of the movement. Weeks of non-stop sloganeering festivities (read party time) was evidently coming to an end, and the movement by default had acquired some trappings of 1971 that by consensus did not go down well with the general citizenry. They exposed deadly fault lines. 

The first one was the time warp mentality that evidently demonstrated the Shahbag leadership alienation from the people and the throbbing pulse of the ‘now generation’. On the flip side, for those in the mid-forties generation these were reminiscent of times post 16th December 1971. 

There was an abundance of laptops and android devices beaming in tributes to the movement, but a real shortage of critiques/criticism or any real voice of affirmative dissent or wisdom in sight. Shahbag made no efforts in fomenting a democratic debate culture from within, and the leadership remained hostages to ‘statements’ which on examination, never always projected the mandate of the people, but was plain authoritarian (read dictatorial) in many respect.

Much the same, as the Shahbag leadership jockeyed for its own space in the national limelight, elements within the movement set out on demolition derby’s which chose blatant personal attacks on just about anybody they felt weren’t kosher enough for the rigors of the Gonojagoron Moncho. 

Tirades were launched through Blogs, Facebook and Twitter on individuals, with language bordering on profane and ridiculous. A chaos of unimaginable magnitude was triggered, and Shahbag became just about anybody’s overheated imaginations call. These may have looked like expressions of free speech, but tragically, it also belied the extremely perverse and narrow-minded nature of many within the closest circles of the Shahbag leadership. Sure enough, it soon boomeranged and whittled down to attacks against many in the leadership itself, and the downward spiral to Shahbag which was taking a mean beating anyway, soon became pronounced with bells of division sounding loud. The enemy was therefore quick to capitalize on the same.

The Rana Plaza tragedy in Savar on 24th April was a blessing in disguise for Shahbag as there was a conspicuous yet distinct split within the leadership and Blogs and Facebook slanders in name were percolating with rapidity. Everything from corruption, to character assassination was at its peak. That apart, Shahbag was beginning to be the victim of its own success. Savar in fact put a stop to it. 

If Blogs or Bloggers at all ‘led’ the movement, as time wore on, subsequent writings in Blogs, press interviews or even TV talks shows did not make the leadership look any prettier. Ego and arrogance in combi appeared to be the undertone of Shahbag in the public perception. 

On the other hand, observance of special days bears a huge significance in the cultural and political space of Bangladesh. Therefore, when the Language Martyrs Day was observed on 21st February 2013, one had hoped that Shahbag would also pay tribute to the martyrs of the BDR Mutiny of 2009. 

Yet 25th February passed by Shahbag without even a mention – and the silence either from the crowd assembled or its leadership was deafening. To imagine that the martyrdom of 57 patriotic men in uniform could be deliberately ignored sent disturbing signals to the Cantonments that Shahbag was a suspect movement and therefore untrustworthy. Thus, any possibilities of the armed forces offering its support or understanding to Shahbag was scuttled. 

Shahbag continued to shift away from its initial priorities, that of a national movement to a highly politicized AL backed shenanigan. Clearly, anything that embarrasses the Government of the day was ignored and this in turn created more dissensions not only among citizens, but also within the rank and files of Shahbag.

From the revolutionaries that they were, to their official or unofficial calls to ‘boycott’ or declare ‘unwanted’ from Shahbag individuals whose only crime may have been criticism or critique of the movement- sent across fear signals that was quite unnecessary. The movement was beginning to show signs of a new trait in its conduct in public; bellicosity. 

From a peaceful movement it went on to create newer enemies, when it could have done well to consolidate on its gains and reach out to those that have as a matter of political principal opposed anything to do with the Awami League, or its version of Liberation War 1971. 

Greatly affected too was the worldview of Shahbag. Pakistan that was the enemy in 1971 remained as much in 2013 as the post-war propaganda had insinuated and there was nothing new to be learnt. The Shahbag warriors for instance were completely unaware of the civil society movements within Pakistan especially amongst its youth and intelligentsia whose demands for their own Army’s trial for genocide, or an unconditional apology be offered to Bangladesh for events of 1971. 

Thus, when support to Shahbag came from Pakistan, legacy issues opened up like a can of worms. Shahbag displayed no sagacity towards the old enemy, yet were perfectly comfortable with India and never ever in the course of the movement did anyone hear one anti-Indian slogan. There were also no questions raised as to India’s merciless killing of innocent Bangladeshi civilians in the border areas, nor was its role post 1971 to swamp our culture or its meddling in many a domestic matter ever came up for scrutiny or criticisms. 

Indian hegemony or talks of it surprisingly made one a ‘razakar’, and this in turn led Shahbag to be typically identified as one among many Indian external intelligence service RAW sponsored ‘movement’ that Bangladesh had witnessed in 42 years.  

It was also noticeable how much Shahbag steered clear out of being vocally anti-US or for that matter anti-West. Craftily hinged into the movement was an understanding that as long as the nemesis of 1971 i.e. real or imagined razakars, collaborators, traitors and Pakistan or ‘Pakistani minded’ were the target of attacks, things would be alright. 

As unipolar as the world maybe in 2013, that it was global bipolarity in 1971 which was the ultimate catalyst for the birth of Bangladesh had not quite rubbed into the psyche of Shahbag. Making things worse was the parochialism up on display, and as days wore on Shahbag was beginning to take on the aura of the mean village headman’s mentality. 

As much as I have being arguing about the pros and cons of Shahbag in the previous three series of this essay, a reality check nonetheless gleans in the following:

Whether it is Shahbag Gonojagoron Mancha or Hefazot, let us be clear that while both movements have been diametrically opposed or pitted as a reaction to the other, the overemphasizing reality is they started out as defiance to the established order of the day.

Bad governance, bad politics, corruption, nepotism and importantly a betrayal of trust of the people by political oligarchs propped by stooges and in recent times conmen - has been the perpetual bones of contentions in Bangladesh.

In between the justice delivery system has been compromised and up for scrutiny, and the grossly interfering omnipotent politicians, a fallback to the myopic mindset of the sixties in millennium context has blunted every possibility of the will of the people to prevail. Shahbag despite all its shortfalls, failures and immaturity, did have successes that were significant.  

Firstly, the people’s war cry ‘Joy Bangla’ or ‘victory to Bengal’ in 1971 that was usurped by the Awami League post independence for political expediency has once again been reclaimed by the people of Bangladesh. The AL’s feeble attempts to reintroduce ‘Joy Bangabandhu’ at Shahbag was challenged as other than a handful, the vast majority refused to scream back the glory of the founding father in unison!

Likewise ‘Mukti Juddher Chetona’ or the ‘spirit of Liberation War’ thus far the ‘prime property’ of the AL, its sycophants and culture vultures was also reclaimed by the people. In fact, Shahbag showed the way and had it not been for the upsurge of 5th February 2013, it is very unlikely that we would have seen many of the convictions in recent times from the War Crimes Tribunal. 

Contrary to what has been insinuated for long, Shahbag in no way pressurized the ICT. Indeed, in a roundabout way it strengthened and empowered it to the extent that politicians or vested interests could neither interfere, pressurize or decide upon the fate of the war criminals of 1971. 

The bogey of ‘razakar’ that AL had propagated in 42 years were blown to smithereens. It became all the obvious that it was the politicians that has kept the issue alive to thrive on chaos. Shahbag exposed for the first time that collaborators from 1971 within the AL and society had taken centre stage in 2013, with money and political influences of unbelievable proportions. It pointed out and laid bare the reality that the existing political order has to go. The death knell for deeply partisan politics had been sounded.

What then is the future of Gonojagoron Moncho Shahbag? It is hard to say if this will be limited to a movement against war criminals. Assuming the possibilities that all of them will face capital punishment– while some may be even set free - recent public contact drive by the leadership of Shahbag makes it’s obviously ripe for it to form a political party.    

That said, Shahbag as a movement of the youth, for the youth and by the youth of Bangladesh, who had in no way been participants or witness to the Liberation War of 1971 is in itself a potent force that history will not in any way pass itself by. Like a phoenix, Shahbag is destined to rise again for it is not in any token a ‘spent force’.

However for those that have unnecessarily belittled Shahbag, let this be known, that Shahbag represents changed times and underlines the establishments growing distance with the youth force of Bangladesh. Our political establishment has been loath to the power of the youth. Shahbag in a final estimation is the last ray of hope of changes that is bound to happen, sooner than later.

When push comes to shove as it surely will be, the shape, character and mandate of Shahbag will no longer be ‘peaceful’ or pacifist. Since a war has been declared on the nation by evil forces and vested interest in 2013, when Shahbag reawakens it will be armed to the teeth.

The change it will usher in will see the demise of most of our opportunistic political forces, and lead to a Bangladesh for which millions laid down their lives.


New Age Xtra - Friday 28th June 2013

Friday, June 14, 2013

The cultural dimensions to Shahbag – Part 3

Maqsoodul Haque

“When nothing goes right, you have to face forward and take it on head first.” Kyo Shirodaira

Culturally the onset of winter until the last chilly days of the season has always been ideal times for protest in Bangladesh. The dates that immediately activate many a patriotic feelings among Bengalis such as 21st February 1952, 25th March and 16th December 1971 are just a few to remember, and for the Shahbag protestors the month of February was therefore a blessing in disguise. The timing of the Qader Mollah verdict i.e. 5th February 2013 was significant in that it provided the perfect stimuli for millions to besiege Shahbag – and helped in many ways for the weather was ‘just right’!

Initial skepticisms about the fate of Shahbag were marked and many doubted that it would not last beyond a few days. The large crowd participation was thought to be because of the omnipresent February, a month that ushered in the great Bengali language renaissance in 1952. The month sees millions visiting the suburb of Dhaka for the Ekushey Book Fair, the Shaheed Minar and Shahbag transforms itself into the hub of ‘cultural Bangladesh’ and the many showcases it has to offer. 

Shahbag has always excited passions of secular, liberal and progressive Bengalis because the Dhaka University, the Academy of Fine Arts and many a historical edifice  sits in its midst. There are hundreds of artist and artwork, sculptors and make shift stages where musicians perform, and overall there is always an air of calm yet ebullient festivity present, all year round. 

Not to overlook, it has always been considered a safe and sanitized sanctuary for ‘arty types’ of all kind, and generally Shahbag protest of the past have never been taken seriously  as ‘activism’ stayed limited to within few hundred yards of the venue.  

Despite its dubious reputation, Shahbag has also been the focal point of most student led political movements, and the very area where thousands were killed from the 50s until the new millennium. Whenever the nation needed blood, the first to shed it was Shahbag or its immediate vicinity. Shahbag has ironically represented both gory and glory. 

However, much as topography or cultural fair weather has contributed to Shahbag, the success or failure of any mass movement in Bangladesh has always depended on two crucial aspects. Firstly effective communication/s and secondly a responsible leader or a leadership that is transparent, accountable and importantly has the charisma, unbridled talent and capacity to take major decisions which interprets itself as voice of the movement. 

Bangladesh’s political culture has become so very predictable, that it does not take long for anybody to figure out the eventual outcome of any movement. General anathema or outright disgust for politics of the like we have been witness to, in no way encourages anyone to be hopeful or even positive.

However, globalization and the ills it represents may not be the coolest number among the idealist young in Bangladesh, yet global ideals, for change, for non-violent resistance/revolution have never been rejected either. Shahbag in 2013 other than War Crimes Trial, acquired an aura that had global implications of the marginalized – the 99 percent. 

It had all exponential ingredients of the anti-capitalist Occupy Movements of North America, Europe or elsewhere in the West, at its foci, and a very rare opportunity presented itself to be replicated in Bangladesh. 

For instance, no one can quite remember one singular movement in Bangladesh that was launched spontaneously and resulted in people not only taking to the street – but staunchly occupying and squatting overnight at a particular place, and specifically without women dispersing within ‘decent hours’ or feeling ashamed or insecure to be in the company of known and unknown male numbers. 

Clearly, a ‘midnight curfew’ of the sort that the 60s or 70s generation grew up with, was in no way going to deter women from staying out from the comforts of their homes or dormitories, when the issue was the Liberation War and the Trial of War Criminals of 1971. 

This in itself represented changed times that sent cultural shockwaves down the spines of Bangladesh society. It was a confirmation that despite the misuse of the bizarre coinages such as ‘moderate Muslim’ or ‘conservative Bengali’, the Bengali middle class has moved miles away from what these heady constructs which in essence was no more, than tools for exploitation by the status quo had meant for decades.  

The permissiveness of the millennium young, the open display of affection among sexes and liberated values, where men and women sat together, held hands and marched side-by-side and chanted slogans was in no way a  ‘fashion statement’, but a shift in social  dynamics that could simply not be gauged. 

The Opposition BNP prematurely questioning the phenomenon as  ‘degenerated morality of youth in Shahbag’  is indicative of its cultural myopia and inadequacies – or for that matter Hefazat demanding a ban on ‘free mixing of sexes’ in the subsequent days was only an extension of the initial culture shock. 

In both cases, the last vestige of conservatives had been bruised, and more affronts and counterattacks were thus imminent. Ironically, what was not bargained for is the reaction of so-called liberal and AL backed secular behemoths, who have for long been considered the ‘think-tanks’ or ‘voice of conscience’ of the anti-War Criminal Movement. 

In April 2013, none less than the famed Hasnat Abul Hye’s, fictional short story in a ‘progressive’ vernacular daily, stoked a flame that surprised many. It is yet unknown what prompted the writer to humiliate the Shahbag slogan leader Lucky Akhter in his story, but the innuendoes and insinuations hinted at, were not only shocking, the mentality of the much respected writer was exposed as ‘gross’ vulgar and patriarchal’. 

The daily under pressure from women rights group pulled out the story from its online version and offered an apology, yet the damage was done, and mistrust of the establishment and its various front were brutalized in subsequent protest.

The time had arrived to confirm that the young of Bangladesh were in no way different to those – anywhere in the world. This was to be the affirmation of a penultimate political statement and one our political or cultural elite on both side of the fence, were most unprepared to cope with mentally. This was a solid and glaring indicator that a quiet revolution as far as sexuality was concerned has already happened, without the status quo or the political establishment even realizing it. 

The alienation of our political leaders and disgusting ‘moral policing’ on the pulse of the young, the throbs of the youth heartbeat had never been more glaring and acute, then now. No longer was ‘women’s right’ going to be a charade played up on select days of the year, nor was it going to be a patronization of the many NGOs ‘road map’ that wishes to chart and determine the fate and future of women in Bangladesh. 

Women were in 2013 leading the bull charge of the movement in Shahbag and overnight the likes of the slogan leader Lucky Akhter became the most photographed face of the movement. After Hefazat attacked Shahbag on 5th April, images of menacing stick wielding women in procession with males, was a clear signal of the radicalization of the Bangladesh women in general. 

However, communication became the biggest adversary of Shahbag in this era of connectivity. Within two weeks of the movement going viral and its outreach, overflowing to nooks and corners of Bangladesh as well as globally, trouble was brewing. 

From the historical three minutes of silence in remembrance of the martyrs of 1971 or the flag hoisting and patriotic song programs at schools and other educational institutions as requested by Shahbag that was lapped up with great fervor, the days following the death of the Blogger Rajib Haider would bring the movement at loggerheads in massive communication failures after the other.

By Language Martyrs Day, the 21st of February, Shahbag in the general perception was being viewed as an ‘Awami League drama’ and all positive attributes of the movement had been wasted. The shameless and open infiltration and later penetration of the AL ‘culture vultures’ the Sammilito Sansgkritik Jote (Combined Cultural Front, SSJ) and several self proclaimed ‘cultural activists’ who are AL Members of the Parliament – did not in any way contribute to increase the profile of Shahbag activists. 

‘Culture’ as defined by SSJ has always bordered on the parochial and fascist as well as the organization well known reputation as ‘assets’ of a regional intelligence service have always made them suspect in the public eye. The usurpation by SSJ therefore made it only obvious for the Shahbag leadership to abide by its diktats, and this in turn created further downslides in the movements credibility and provided enough ammo for the Jamaat e Islami (JeI ) to increase and further consolidate its attacks. 

Shahbag by the time was hit either by intent or default, of acquiring the language of the ruling AL and whether they be in the political rhetoric’s of the leadership or the impertinent and arrogant (read rude) statements by many of the Bloggers, started leaving a rather sour taste in everybody’s mouth and they were not without reasons. 

It was obvious that it was no longer the Bloggers, but the SSJ supremo’s who were obviously in charge and command, and given the heat of the moment, the Shahbag leadership were reduced to measly fronts that mouthed the highly politicized messages of SSJ and its beneficiary the AL. The ‘boro bhai’ (elder brother) cult of freedom fighters within SSJ, had a field day projecting itself as ‘covert leaders’ of a movement, which they did nothing to activate in the first place.

In the meantime, all that the anti-AL left leaning student organizations could do was watch in disbelief, for while being in full support they had maintained a discreet and stoic distance from Shahbag as they did not want to pollute its neutral pro-people characteristic.  Yet here was AL’s ‘culture vultures’ that had not only seized a perfectly pro-peoples movement, but had scuttled it from within and were now scavenging it to its bare bones. 

Shahbag was both paralyzed to resist these onslaughts and were naïve to even think that the people, the mass, who were the catalyst to the mass movement will either accept, appreciate or even ‘understand’ the SSJ’s inroads.  The decline of Shahbag had commenced in earnest.

Other than demanding punishment of War Criminals and a ban on the communal and extremist politics of Jamaate-E-Islami (JeI) – Shahbag at the prodding of SSJ enlarged upon their demands, which included banning many organizations and institutions supported by JeI. Clearly newer battle lines were drawn and ones Shahbag had neither the capacity, nor the resources to confront. When big money interest such as the Islami Bank went on the receiving ends of Shahbag’s onslaught, the reprisal was deadly. 

Very little was known up until that point, as to the financial clout and influence of the bank, and/or its penetration into political, social or cultural life of Bangladesh. Confusing also was the spectacle of an advertisement moguls dilly-dallying and interfering in Shahbag, when essentially the gentleman is well known as the advertising and marketing agent for the Islami Bank! 

Shahbag had by the time become the victim of institutionalized hypocrisy of SSJ and the blatantly unpatriotic interest they serve. When it comes to easy money, that many a ‘patriot’ had sold out their soul to the devil years ago, was an uneasy but fatal wakeup call for Shahbag. 

By March 2013, when hit hard by JeI’s ‘atheist’ propaganda and numbers of protestors dwindled in Shahbag from hundred to only dozens, SSJ had firmly overtaken the movement and activism was limited to mass demonstrations in places such as Mirpur, Uttara or Ashulia. 

When Shahbag activists proposed sit-in at Chittagong was openly resisted by Hefazot with a bomb attack a day before the rally, the Governments cancellation of the program and police later stopping and turning away the entire Shahbag leadership from Comilla dealt a decisive blow to the movement. 

The chances of Shahbag Gonojagoron Movement going national was thwarted and tragically never took off.

Cultural components as dictated from Shahbag however did not in any indicate progress or the buoyancy that has evolved in Bangladesh since the late 90s. Projections of the Shahbag ‘mul moncho’ (centre stage) limited to only days and night of slogan mongering with a single hand held crude megaphone (a relics of the 50s) began to bore and tire participants and activist alike. 

Antics of some organizers and so-called Bloggers with some having no record of ever writing a single Blog entry meant, a sense of exclusivist elitism had demonstrably permeated Shahbag.  

When over forty rocks bands volunteered to join Shahbag to make a stand and in turn bring back the crowd, the proposal was brutally shot down. Clearly the parochial SSJ leadership wanted no demonstrable influence of progressive youth power that rock music and its millions of fan base in Bangladesh represents. 

SSJ’s vulnerability was exposed as that in effect would have created an avenue for enlarging the movement that was diametrically opposed to the fossilized and crude mentality of the SSJ and make it difficult to contain apolitical anti-establishment thought processes; that is the hallmark of rock music in Bangladesh. 

With or without the help of other cultural components, the death knell for Shahbag was not pounded upon by the enemy, but by so-called patriots and big headed former ‘freedom fighters’ of the SSJ. The adage ‘patriotism is the last vestige of scoundrels’ was never, ever so apparent.

to be continued…………… 

Friday, June 07, 2013

Of rut, rot and media meddlers

by Maqsoodul Haque   

"The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike, than those who think differently."  Friedrich Nietzsche  

A CLASSIC day of our life in recent times is a firm indicator of the rut that has set in to our living. As we switch on the television ritualistically early in the morning, all we get to see is the repeat of high-voltage talk shows of the previous evening.   

The hosts/hostesses or participants not only speak to each other in very high pitch, but also scream when discussing some political issue of the day or other. To put down an ‘opponent’ not with contents but with polemics and illogical partisan views carry marks for the panel. They could well be termed verbal wrestling matches.  As far as the tone, tune and thrust of these talk shows, the unrestrained yet antiquated excitement equates the voices of football or cricket commentators of yore: yet here we are using the same focused energy in discussing issues like murder, corruption, death, tragedies and whatever else we have.  

Sobriety in our psyche has now taken a permanent holiday as we go marching into the ‘civilised world’, digital or analogue is a separate issue here.  What are the content and composition of these talk shows and how much do they really add up to our practice of free speech, and are these really democratic? 

Look at the panel discussants and the hosts/hostesses and we have some ready answers. They are specifically filled with politicians and journalist, or an occasional ‘expert’.   Very rarely will one come across average level-headed citizens who are offered the opportunity to speak their mind.  

It is also not uncommon to see the same stale faces of participants on multiple channels all around the week. As if this nation is devoid of any talent, talk shows are therefore nothing more than the domain of the derelict select or elect few — not by the people but by the media meddlers and the various vested stakeholders they represent.   

And why is that so?  

Simply because our media while masquerading as the fourth estate is an inherent part of the vicious and exploitative status quo they say they resist. 

Thus, they have decided uncompromisingly that this fraud on the people and at the expense of the people must continue on ‘known’ and identifiable turfs.   There can be no uncertain or unfamiliar faces on offer, when matters are debated on live TV; so, it has all got to be within theamar loke, tomar loke (my men, your men), scratch each other’s back parameter of judgement. 

Therefore, very predictably, it has got to be only grey-haired intellectuals and journalists who seem to have the brain/brawn and oratory skills and the necessary credentials to rescue us from our plight.   

On the other hand, journalists who have spent the better part of a day writing for or against the same politicians, end up face to face in the evening for sipping cups of tea, and in the end game leave us all the more hapless and dejected. 

What happens among these elements before the cameras starts whirring, or during commercial breaks is best not discussed in public, but there is no denying that these staged games have started to lose all its appeal.   Among talk-show host and guests, it is the cult the ‘all knowing’ that has laid siege to our imagination, but where they fail bitterly is to deliver the goods, for quite simply they have arrived at the scene not as any saviours of the nation but as unsolicited ‘advice givers’ — read entertainers.   

Sadly there are no takers, so all we get is a classic dose of Bengali ‘time pass’. What we call ‘talk shows’ today is no more than engaged debates that our forefathers would indulge in the past. Those were ‘adda’ or gossip sessions, and the ever-argumentative Bengali race perhaps leads the world in, you guessed right, ‘gossiping’!   

Devoid of anything worthwhile or of intrinsic value, thanks to our ever sliding sense of aesthetics proportions, politics for now is the only entertainment that is beamed directly to our living or bedrooms, yet how these bruising battles, blatant lies, slanders, character assassination and unadulterated bad behaviours, coupled with extremely poor taste, are shaping the psyche of the nation is not being talked about, at least not on talk shows.  

Take for example; the ‘very serious issue’ being discussed at the moment concerns one Mr Tarique Rahman. Everybody’s attention seems to be riveted on how ‘honest’ or ‘corrupt’ this individual is/was. There are also endless write-ups and debates raging in newspapers. 

What got the ball rolling is the shock when the government decided to ask the Interpol to bring him back to Bangladesh to face graft charges, which is the ‘on-surface’ issue.   

Yet, as the screaming pitches nauseously, the ‘underlying issue’ apparently works out to his writing a ‘muchleka’ or an undertaking bond never to indulge in ‘politics’ for an unspecified period. This undertaking, which is not even worth the paper it was signed on, was extracted out of him subsequent to his release from military bash up — towards the fag end of the ‘caretaker’ government’s tenure.   

So, all we know about this gentleman is: he has been recovering in London for nearly five years and maintaining a rather low profile, for clearly his health doesn’t seem to permit him much movement.   The above is all that can be assessed as far as the treatment meted to him by the then government at a period in our history when all politicians were bearing the brunt of military boots, and were on the run, abandoning the same people that had voted them to power.   

The ruling Awami League government, since it was swept to power in 2009, has done well in cleansing the word ‘corrupt’ that was ‘tarnished’ on their names by the military. Effectively it ‘varnished’ in ‘honesty’, through court actions, yet did nothing to those of its ‘enemy’, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, who we may note were equally, if not more, corrupt.   

Therefore, it is left to be seen as and when the BNP is elected back to power how ‘magnanimous’ they will be to their enemy — the Awami League. For now, we can take a comfortable front seat and relax as the tamasha unfolds in front of our eyes!   

However, what has not been questioned by any quarter is the recent statement made by a BNP leader where he chastised the government for its inquest on Tarique saying ‘he is the future prime minister of Bangladesh’. Really? Are the people of Bangladesh idiots?   

Is Tarique even remotely an elected leader of his party? What guarantees do we have that he will serve the people of Bangladesh simply because he is a leader by default? In the years that he has been in the corridors of power, what has been Tariq Rahman’s one ‘all defining commendable role’ that makes him such a sure-shot prime ministerial candidate?   

How long shall we sit back and accept that dynastic ties and family lineage are the only prerequisite to become a ‘leader’ of the people? It again boils down to our political-business mafia combine’s long history of propelling siblings of the tested and failed back to power.   

Their modus operandi is simple. All they do is hire sycophants whose only job is to heap a million praise on their subject in public, hold ridiculous birthday party of the ‘leader’, observe the ‘august’ date he was released from prison through doa mehfils (prayer sessions), as well as erect larger than life cardboard cut-outs or flashy posters of the likes of Tariq Rahman holding a very delicate finger to his princely chin to demonstrate his supposed appeal and possibilities as a ‘leader’.  

It is again the media who in turn are active collaborators that wants a return of leadership by default or reestablishment of a parochial dynasty to usurp the fate of the nation. The bankruptcy of conscience of all political parties and their media manipulators has never been more evident than now. Yet, it seems despite all our democratic pretensions, it is the media that has waylaid the aspirations of the people and will perhaps do so in the days to come.  

If we return to the Hefajat episodes of recent days, although the mullahs beat a hasty retreat after the government crackdown on May 6, the organisation is still being venomously supported by many an intellectual in talk shows to effectively give the impression that it is still a ‘potent force’.   When it’s general secretary Junaid Babunagri was released from prison hospital suffering the effects of ‘torture’ by the police as claimed by both Hefajat and the BNP, or ‘ill health’ as defined by the government, it is entirely left to us the citizens, as to which version we may believe or disbelieve.   

But to think that stalwarts of the BNP had to rush to hospital just as the seriously ailing man was being released and then threatening the nation of ‘consequences’ if he dies, only goes to show how little these politicians care or understand about the sensitivity of the people, even their own allies.It is not the living that counts for our politicians or even us anymore, but corpses - and we will go to any barbaric extent to ‘grab’ one, as long as it is not our own corpse that is on offer.

It was the same BNP that talked about ‘genocide’ and even held a ‘Gayebane namaaz e janaza’ (funeral prayer in absence of dead bodies) attended by most of its senior leaders for the ‘2,500 Hefazat activists’ who were apparently ‘killed’ by security forces at Shapla Chottor. Motijheel on 6th May and most print media buttressed those claims for it suited their immediate agenda. 
The New Age report of June 3 demolishes the claim of the government of eleven death, and states that the actual numbers may be between twenty four to thirty and while it may yet be speculative it certainly takes the wind out of the Hefajat/BNP’s propaganda sails, which caused many a local and international human rights group to nail down the Awami League government.   That said, we are not merely talking about numbers of dead bodies any more. 

Any death by use of deadly force is abominable. The question for the hour has three specific parts:   Firstly, how and wherefrom did the Hefajat/BNP come up with these ridiculous figures, which they claimed would be made available to the public once they are voted back to ‘power’? Why can’t we have the details now?   

Secondly, how come this issue of the number of dead bodies in Motijheel has ever so conveniently disappeared from public debates and TV talk shows?   Thirdly, has anyone noticed how the word ‘Islam’ has also vanished after the Hefajat prefix? How is it that none, not even the most virulent of Hefajat supporters and its apologist intellectuals on TV talk shows, has come forward to correct this or demand that it better be uttered ‘the way it was or ….else’?   

And isn’t it also time for some of us to make a case about our very precious ‘religious sentiments’ being hurt by an organisation that claimed it was the ‘saviour’ of our religion and the faith of majority Muslims, yet has today dropped the name of Islam altogether? Isn’t the government equally to blame for allowing a bunch of conceited mullahs that appeared out of quomi madrassahs to ‘misuse Islam’ and its good name?   

The truth is that, closer to election time, we are being fed a barrage of garbage that our ruling-class politicians are not even half serious about. Their only seriousness is grabbing power one way or the other, and it makes sense to use the media to make perfect dunces out of all of us. 

Therefore, we are left with no options but to gulp all the baits that come our way, while our politicians make merry at our stupidity.  

The home minister has for now been exonerated from his demonic and possibly inebriated suggestion that BNP workers shook Rana Plaza hard enough for it to collapse. He is back in the limelight with a bang, for banning political processions and rallies. 

It looks for now that a ‘democratic rally may be permitted’, but has to be guaranteed as ‘violence free’.   

Now, who on earth can come up with such a guarantee when time and again we have seen that it is politicians and their low-life moronic thugs who provoke and perpetrate violent incidents that then leads on to hartals — and the roulette of deceit continues?   

There is no end to the dramas we have witnessed and will continue to witness; for, the fact is we are an entertainment starved nations, where comedians masquerading as politicians continue to dish out what we want, and do so in extremely poor taste. 

Yet when it comes to fooling the people, they are a class in themselves and should be awarded with the biggest medal available anywhere.  

Signing off, does anyone recall Savar and our media-driven salivating and frothing at the mouth hysteria when over a thousand corpses were pulled out of the rubbles?   Hello! Where is Savar today? Have we even spared a thought for the thousands that survived? How many media organisations have done any follow-up as to how the families are faring today? Do they still get to eat a decent meal now that the breadwinner is dead?   

New Age Op-Ed Friday 7th June 2013