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Mainstream, VOL L, No 51, December 8, 2012

The Bangladesh Scene

Wednesday 12 December 2012, by Kuldip Nayar

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina only articulated her people’s sentiments when she rejected the invitation by Pakistan to attend the summit of the Developing Eight. Even a short visit to Dhaka, which I undertook a few days ago, showed the depth of Bangladesh’s alienation. Even after three decades when they freed themselves from West Pakistan, they recall the excesses committed by Islamabad and particularly remember the atrocities by the retreating Pakistan Army. During its last few days the latter picked up professors, doctors, lawyers and even artists and killed them to deny the new nation a pool of professionals.

Had Islamabad regretted over what its armed forces did during the Bangladesh liberation war, the anger would have mitigated by this time. But Pakistan has been adamant. People there believe that Bangladeshis had broken their country. In the words of a Pakistani lawyer, who admitted woefully before me, “We now feel the pangs which you did when India was divided to create Pakistan.”

I was a witness to those days. Pakistan blamed India. It refuses to face the fact. The Pakistanis have not realised till today that they had humiliated nearly every Bangladeshi who had come to believe that she/he had to liberate herself/himself from Pakistan. India did help but the fighting was primarily by the Mukti Bahini, which was a band of nationalist Bangladeshis, ordinary people including the intelligentsia, many of whom handled a weapon for the first time in their life. It was a fight for liberation.

Pakistan still does not realise how the pride of being a Bangladeshi has made them surmount their difficulties (some still doubt them) to main-tain the growth rate of 6.5 per cent annually for the last 15 years. They have become self-suffi-cient in food and the countryside, 70 per cent of Bangladesh, looks well-off. A country which even an optimist had almost written off is today one of the biggest markets in garment and leather goods. However, the working conditions are bad.

Had New Delhi delivered all it promised to do, Bangladesh would have been galloping by this time. India appears to have woken up now but it had made Bangladesh lose its momentum. People in Bangladesh say that India can do more and they have a feeling as if at some stage the helping hand might be withdrawn.

BANGLADESH’S real problem is politics. After the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country never settled down.

First, it was the Army coup and, then a democratic polity riven by rivalry between the two main political parties, the Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party, rather between their chiefs, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, respectively. Had the two reached a consensus—one of the big ifs—Bangladesh would have been more secure, more orderly and more confident about its future.

What keeps the two apart is not so much the power as their viewpoints. Hasina supports the pro-liberation movement which her father, Mujib, led successfully. Khaleda has sympathies with those who succeeded Mujib through a coup. Her husband, Zia-ur Rahman, headed the government which came in the wake of Mujib’s assassination. Khaleda is known for her anti-India and pro-Pakistan stance, a stigma which she tries to wash off. Her recent visit to this country at the Indian Government’s invitation was a step in the same direction. Her statement at Delhi should help her. She said that if she returned to power she would see to it that the anti-India forces, which took shelter in Bangladesh during her rule, would not be allowed to operate from her country’s soil. She did not realise that by saying so she was admitting the guilt.

The main worry that affects Bangladesh is the revival of fundamentalism and terrorism which seemed on its last legs because of Hasina’s determined and persistent onslaughts. Khaleda looks the other side when fundamentalists and their partners attack the police and common people. Even the intelligentsia is silent when it sees the rise of radical Islam in the country and calls it moderate. It is playing with fire. A warning has been given by Salam Azad, an author out on bail after he wrote a book, Moderate Muslim Country, years ago. He said: “Without democratic institutions, people could not survive here (Bangladesh), especially minorities, secular and democracy-loving people.”

The next general elections in Bangladesh, scheduled to be held in early 2014, are crucial because the pluralistic forces will be pitted against the communal forces. In a way, it would help the pro-liberation elements fighting against the anti-liberation elements. It is necessary for all democratic forces to assemble on the same platform. But it is a pity that Hasina, who should be at the head of such people, is spoiling the scenario by bringing in her personal dislikes of people on the one hand and preference for her family members on the other. She would win hands down if she were to shed off her preferences and prejudices.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com

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