Thursday, June 25, 2015

Hypocracy of Communal Left of India: Bangladesh Assessment

The Daily Observer, Dhaka, June 23, 2015


An out of touch Indian journalist

--- Syed Badrul Ahsan

The first time I heard of Kuldip Nayar was in the early 1970s. His slim work, Distant Neighbours: A Tale of the Subcontinent, had just been published in India. It was the theme of the book, Nayar’s interviews of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on their meeting soon after Pakistan’s military defeat in Bangladesh and the Bengali leader’s release from solitary confinement in Mianwali to house arrest near Islamabad, which aroused my interest in the Indian journalist. I was not to get hold of the work until nearly a decade later, though, when Zakia Badrudduja, the young woman I was in love with and whom I was happily destined to marry, located the book for me at College Street in Calcutta. And, yes, Calcutta was her hometown.

Since that time, my respect for Kuldip Nayar has been abiding. I have read his articles and truly enjoyed going through his memoirs. There have been the many occasions when he and I have met as participants at various seminars in Delhi, Lahore, Islamabad and Kathmandu. Not long ago, he was present at a memorial meeting on the hugely respected Nikhil Chakravartty in New Delhi. I was proud to be there, for I was in the good company of Medha Patkar, Dr. Kamal Hossain and S. Nihal Singh.

I have always found Kuldip Nayar to be a dispassionate observer of politics in South Asia. It is a quality not many in the profession, be it in Dhaka, Delhi and Islamabad are able to bring into their assessment of conditions in the subcontinent. It was, therefore, with disbelief that I went through Nayar’s write-up, “A shot in the arm for Hasina”,  in the issue of The Statesman of 11 June 2015.

My surprise comes related to the viciousness which appears to underline the entire write-up, given especially the fact that Kuldip Nayar’s reputation as a journalist of integrity has always impressed people in South Asia. In the Statesman article, though, Nayar obviously fails the test of integrity. Observe what he has to say about Bangladesh’s prime minister and right at the beginning too. Sheikh Hasina, he informs his readers, needed the presence of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Dhaka to “shore up (her) sagging image.” That is quite a bolt out of the blue. You tend to ask where exactly Nayar has found the Bangladesh leader’s image sagging. Could he have been listening too intently to the right-wing opposition led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party of former premier Khaleda Zia arrayed against her, indeed against secular forces in the country? Nayar comes forth with no evidence to demonstrate that Sheikh Hasina’s image is on a nosedive. Besides, by suggesting that the Bangladesh leader needs an Indian leader’s support to enhance her image in her country, Kuldip Nayar is calling into question the patriotism and integrity of a political leader who has, in office, been engaged in rolling back the many manifest wrongs that in the past were committed by regimes benefiting from the collapse of secular forces in 1975. Nayar has lost sight of the fact that Sheikh Hasina heads a government which holds office under proper constitutional provisions. His article gives you the bad impression Bangladesh’s government is in office on the strength of extra-constitutional action.

Kuldip Nayar notes that Sheikh Hasina has no right to “flout the Constitution and accepted norms.” Of course she hasn’t. But the problem --- for Nayar --- is that he cites no instance of any violation of the Constitution by Bangladesh’s prime minister. If he has been listening to certain quarters in Dhaka who have never been comfortable with the maintenance of constitutional government through the general election of January 2014, he is doing grievous wrong to his sense of journalistic propriety and to his readers. Let the record be set straight. In the months prior to the January 2014 election, the BNP-led opposition engaged in a long series of violence, layered by repeated general strikes and blockades, to force the government elected in December 2008 to resign and hand over power to an unconstitutional caretaker administration.

It is a matter of satisfaction for Bangladesh’s people that the Awami League-led government refused to genuflect before such unreasonable agitation and went ahead with holding a fresh election in January last year. That was a constitutional act. Yes, the fact that a hundred and fifty three lawmakers were elected without contest did not make us happy. But what do you do if no rivals step up to give such ‘elected unopposed’ politicians a fight? How is a government supposed to act when in the midst of voting, for reasons that are really no reasons, a political party instructs its candidates to take themselves out of the voting? Had the January 2014 election been deferred, democratic politics would come into question and --- who knows? --- yet once again a third force, unelected and therefore unrepresentative, would be foisted on the country. Why didn’t Kuldip Nayar consider these realities before putting his pen to paper?

You are quite at sea when you have Kuldip Nayar wondering “why and for how long” Sheikh Hasina’s government can be supported by India. Really? Now, that is not unacceptable, for it shows Nayar speaking from on high. The tone is condescending. Besides, he suddenly appears to have lost touch with the dynamics of Bangladesh politics. Whatever makes him think that Bangladesh’s government is in power today because of Indian support? By making such insinuations, Nayar clearly insults the people of Bangladesh and only reinforces the thought that elements like him are people who create the bad image of India being Big Brother in the region. He should have done his homework properly before flailing away at Bangladesh’s democratically elected government. He thinks the ballot boxes at the recent elections to the city corporations in Dhaka and Chittagong were stuffed by ruling party supporters. Yes, they were, in a fairly small number of cases, ninety seven in all. That was a wrong act, indeed a criminal act. But, again, Nayar should have pointed out the hundreds upon hundreds of other polling booths where voting went on undisturbed. It is obvious he did not do his arithmetic very well. And those who gave him the wrong figures did not serve him well.

Kuldip Nayar has always been of the opinion that Indira Gandhi was an authoritarian leader, principally because of her imposition of Emergency in 1975. And now he has attempted to tar Sheikh Hasina with the same ‘authoritarian’ brush, something which certainly does not become him. He is disturbed that Narendra Modi made what he calls a mistimed visit to Dhaka. You are curious: does Nayar believe that Modi’s visit should have taken place after Sheikh Hasina had abdicated her democratic responsibilities and those who have been agitating against constitutional government had been allowed to take charge of Bangladesh?

Nayar speaks of the “cavalier manner in which (Hasina) has suppressed dissent.” He cites no instance to substantiate his statement. Does he not read all that is being written in Bangladesh’s newspapers? Does he not see the commentaries regularly castigating the government and especially Sheikh Hasina written by Bangladeshi newspaper editors for whom he remains a hero? None of his friends --- and they all wrote commentary after commentary in the pre-January 2014 period asking for the election to be shifted, without considering the bad constitutional ramifications such postponement would lead to --- has had his voice stifled.  Has he never watched a talk show on the nearly thirty privately-owned Bangladeshi television channels, where panelists regularly excoriate the government over its policies?

Nayar disseminates a patent untruth when he accuses the Bangladesh leader of “herself extinguishing the flame of democracy.” He has conveniently skirted around the fact that in the twenty one years before she led the Awami League back to power in June 1996, it was a restoration of democracy and everything it symbolized that Sheikh Hasina and her party struggled for. For Kuldip Nayar, there seem to be some inconvenient truths he would rather look away from. He does not tell his readers that General Ziaur Rahman, General Hussein Muhammad Ershad and Khaleda Zia went out on a limb to destroy Bangladesh’s history through upholding the notorious Indemnity Act preventing a trial of the killers of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Many of those killers were sent abroad as diplomats. Some others formed political parties and contested elections engineered by unelected regimes. The elected government of Khaleda Zia, in office from 1991 to 1996 and then from 2001 to 2006, maintained the ugly tradition of a denial of history instituted by the military regimes.

All of that despicable manifestation of power was done away with under Sheikh Hasina. Her government repealed the Indemnity Act and brought the killers to trial. The collaborators of the Pakistan occupation army, rehabilitated by Zia, Ershad and Khaleda, have had their comeuppance, to the relief of Bangladesh’s people, under Sheikh Hasina. Is all that an extinguishing of democracy? Is upholding anti-history a sign of democratic behaviour?

Kuldip Nayar makes no mention of the street violence generated by Khaleda Zia’s BNP in tandem with the notorious Jamaat-e-Islami. He has no time to reflect on the more than 150 innocent citizens pushed to their deaths in petrol-bombing by opposition activists. He deliberately ignores the fact that under this government a number of elections and by-elections have been held, acts which have clearly reinforced the nation’s faith in democratic politics.

It was a badly written article. It ignores reality. It lacked in moral integrity. Worse, it has made a serious dent in Kuldip Nayar’s standing as a journalist. When a journalist of repute slips in judgement, you who have been his admirer feel the pain. You begin to think of tragic flaws, those which ruin otherwise perfectly good men.

Syed Badrul Ahsan is Associate Editor, The Daily Observer. E-mail: #

Statesman Calcutta June 11, 2015

A shot in the arm for Hasina

Kuldip Nayar
Posted at: Jun 11 2015 5:48AM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Dhaka was mistimed. It looked as if he had gone to shore up the sagging image of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. He has only heightened anti-India feelings because New Delhi is not seen as neutral.

I do not know why and for how long we have to support the authoritarian rule by Prime Minister Hasina in Bangladesh. True, she is the daughter of Sheikh Mujib-ur Rehman, who liberated East Pakistan from distant and oppressive West Pakistan. But that does not give her the right to flout the Constitution and accepted norms.

Take for example, the recent municipal polls at Dhaka and Chittagong. Ballot papers in favour of candidates of the ruling Awami League were shoved into the ballot boxes to the horror of voters and others. Sheikh Mujib must be turning in his grave. He had restored the people’s right to express themselves against the military junta ruling from Rawalpindi.

No doubt, Modi’s visit has given a shot in the arm to secular forces against the burgeoning influence of fundamentalists, led by the Jammiat-e-Islam. But Hasina would still have had her way. In fact, the cavalier manner in which she has suppressed dissent arouses doubts about her credentials. Did she ever have conviction about a free state and the democratic way of governance?

The most glaring example is the manner in which she has humiliated Bangladesh’s first foreign minister Kamal Hasan. He is a colleague of her father Sheikh Mujib and is a legend in his lifetime for adhering to values. The boycott of elections by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was an unthinking act. True, Hasina made it obvious that she would go to any extent to win at the polls. Yet, if the BNP had participated a few of its candidates would have been returned and would have opposed Hasina’s point of view before the people.

Undoubtedly, general elections decide the fate of rulers. But the municipal vote is important to assess whether the party which won has fulfilled through governance the promises it had made during the national poll campaign.

India is lucky that the path on which the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, put the country - democratic and secular - is being followed diligently. His daughter Indira Gandhi derailed democracy and not only gagged the press but suspended fundamental rights. But people did not take things lying down. They ventilated their pent-up anger when elections were announced and It is unimaginable that even the mighty Indira Gandhi could be defeated.

It is another matter that when she returned to power in 1980 she went out of the way to punish even those bureaucrats who carried out their duties. It is a pity that she took revenge against all those whom she suspected were anywhere near the Janata government.

The Congress Party in India, the author of the emergency, has learnt its lesson. The party has regretted its misdoings. I wish the party had apologised to the nation. There is a lot of difference between a regret and an apology.

Unfortunately Bangladesh, a product of the people’s right to a say in governance, has lost the vigour of expression which the nation once had. This is a sad development by itself. But it becomes all the more poignant when the person changing it is from the family which liberated the people from the clutches of West Pakistan.

No one else is to blame except Hasina. She is herself extinguishing the flame of democracy. That it should be done by the daughter of Sheikh Mujib is not only disappointing but also disconcerting. That she can shackle the nation still further is a harrowing thought. But it can happen since she has effaced the lines between right and wrong, moral and immoral.

In this atmosphere of Hasina representing a dictatorial figure, Modi’s visit was all the more unfortunate. He should have said somewhere while in Bangladesh that the country was a product of revolution and it should continue to radiate the same kind of thoughts. But he preferred to placate her even though the people of Bangladesh were disappointed because they expected India to give some sign that it is not happy with the way Hasina is functioning.

True, Modi was able to implement a long-standing agreement on the exchange of enclaves. But this understanding had the support of all parties when the matter was discussed in parliament. Of course, the credit for implementing the accord goes to him. But he should have used the opportunity to thank all the political parties in supporting the accord with a useful and endearing neighbour. For him to take the credit of demolishing the “Berlin Wall” is churlish.

I wish he had refrained from criticising Pakistan. Not that the criticism is uncalled for but on foreign soil when he was talking about amity in South Asia, he should have avoided singling out Islamabad. He should realise, as his predecessors have, that the countries in South Asia someday must have a common market and lend a helping hand to each other in business, trade and development.

The people of Bangladesh were expecting some agreement on the Teesta waters. But foreign minister Sushma Swaraj’s statement was unhelpful because even before undertaking the journey to Dhaka she said that Teesta was not on the agenda during the current visit by Modi. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s visit along with Prime Minister Modi was an important development. It should indicate to Dhaka that New Delhi is serious about settling the problems on Teesta. That it did not happen during Modi’s visit should not be taken to mean that India was adamant in having its own way. In fact, Mamata’s visit should convince Dhaka that while a settlement may take some time the process has started.

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