What’s So “Interesting” In Bangladesh Today?

Sheikh Hasina

Interestingly, “interesting” is an English expression, which may hide one’s actual opinion about something one considers “interesting”. What I read in Bangladesh media in the last one month is very “interesting” to me. Stories that I read are absurd, bizarre, entertaining, frightful, and sickening. I learnt from media reports and articles that there’s  nothing immoral, or impossible in Bangladesh today. Seemingly, everyone there believes what Cliff Richard sang, “Nothing is impossible”!

Let’s start with some “interesting” media reports on money laundering from Bangladesh. The Jugantor ( May 3, 2017) reports, during the last one year alone, Bangladeshis laundered around $6 billion out of their country. Another report (Daily Star, May 4, 2017) suggests, in ten years (2005-2014) there was a flight of capital from Bangladesh to the tune of $75 billion. Annually, more than 30 per cent of Bangladesh’s GDP go out of the country. Someone has sarcastically commented in social media that now plundered money is the second most important export item – after readymade garments – from Bangladesh! I also read, Bangladesh now is the third largest source of foreign remittance for India. Thousands of Indian executives work in Bangladesh – most of them illegally – and remit billions of dollars to India. It’s “interesting”, neither the government nor the intelligentsia in Bangladesh seem worried about it, at all!

Another report is equally “interesting”. Obaidul Quader, a powerful minister – who got away with beating up people, rickshaw pullers, petty government officials, and even a ruling party MP, in public – who’s also the Secretary General of the Awami League, came up with a bombshell. His bizarre, and not-so-funny advice to his corrupt party men hardly raised eyebrows in the administration or media. While some media reports were a bit bold and critical, most of them avoided giving wide publicity to what the minister had actually said in the most extra-ordinary manner. I find his statement “interesting”. It’s sort of soft, not that harsh for the corrupt elements in the Awami League. He advised corrupt party men to spend some of their ill-gotten money for the benefit of the people, otherwise, he warned: “If the party is not in power, you will have to run away from the country”. “Power and money does not stay for long, so don’t misuse it,” he added. Surprisingly, the minister failed to realise the implications of what he said about the corrupt elements in the ruling party. On the one hand, he admitted his party men were corrupt, and on the other, he advised them to spend some of their ill-gotten money for public welfare, so that they could stay in the country even if the Awami League isn’t in power.

The Daily Star (April 3, 2017) reports, Obaidul Quader recently defended the Prime Minister. My take is in doing so, he inadvertently turns the PM into someone – despite being at the helm of the statecraft – somewhat unaware of some very important political decisions in the country. The minister said the PM was not aware of the recent court action against the elected mayors (from BNP) in Sylhet and Rajshahi, barring them from going to work as mayors as they were wanted for arson and violent crimes.

I found the Daily Star’s (April 11, 2017) recent headline in Roman Hindi, “Kuchh to mila” after the Prime Minister’s return from India not entertaining, but very “interesting”! Although she returned empty-handed, I can’t resist the temptation to cite the first few lines of the report: “ ‘Didi pani nehi diya, lekin bijli to diya…Kuchh to mila.’ (Sister did not give us water, but gave electricity… at least we’ve got something). Pointing to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made the comment in Hindi yesterday on the last day of her four-day India visit, which has failed to resolve the Teesta water-sharing issue, reports our New Delhi correspondent.” I think the editor could have avoided the English translation of what the PM had said in Hindi, because most Bangladeshis understand Hindi as they regularly watch Indian Hindi TV serials (mostly vulgar stories about extra-marital affairs in urban India). The editor might have provided the translation for the foreigners, who read his daily and don’t understand any Hindi!

What’s not entertaining here is that first of all, the PM is not expected to address a provincial chief minister in India, even if she is a Bengali and from the Bengali-majority Indian state of Paschim Banga, as her “Didi”. Second, why any Prime Minister / President of any country should ask any favour from a provincial leader of another country, is simply beyond me. It’s like President Donald Trump asking the Governor of Ontario in neighbouring Canada for more electricity for New York city (which Canada sells to the United States)! Third, what’s this “lekin bijli to diya … Kuchh to mila” business? I believe, the PM knows India doesn’t provide electricity to Bangladesh free of cost, as charity!

It’s not Mamata Banerjee’s fault that Bangladesh doesn’t get its due share of Teesta waters. India simply bluffed, lied to, and duped Bangladesh into believing that a Teesta Accord was in the offing. India is doing so at least since 2011 when Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister. So much so, that my good old friend, smart and erudite Gowher Rizvi (Bangladesh Prime Minister’s foreign affairs adviser) was sure that the Teesta Deal would be signed by December 2011! He assured me this in his office, days before Manmohan Singh’s trip to Bangladesh. Interestingly, New Delhi officially doesn’t tell Dhaka about a barrage India has built across the Teesta in the upstream in Sikkim. So, Mamata Banerjee’s so-called opposition to give Bangladesh its due share of Teesta waters is a fairy tale Manmohan Singh manufactured for his gullible listeners in Bangladesh. Now, Narendra Modi is telling the same old story to his Bangladeshi counterpart. Meanwhile, no “Hilsa-Diplomacy” (after “Hilsa-treats” to Pranab Mukherjee and Mamata Banejee by Bangladesh Government) has worked to the advantage of Bangladesh! The water level in the Teesta during the dry months hasn’t gone up, for Bangladesh. Although India is the only country in the world having bad to very bad relations with all its immediate neighbours, yet some Bangladeshi leaders and intellectuals are delusional about India, as if it’s not a hegemonic power!

The media reveals Hefazat-e-Islam, which Awami League once despised as obscurantist enemy of human rights and secularism, has emerged not only as an ally of the Government, but has also become an influential powerbroker. It demands a) the removal of a harmless sculpture of a Greek goddess – a universal symbol of justice – from the premises of the Supreme Court; and b) the official recognition of Qaumi Madrasa’s terminal degree as equivalent to master’s degree from universities. Not only some ruling party leaders but some Bangladeshi intellectuals have also started glorifying the Qaumi Madrasa system (which is the mother of the Taliban and al Qaeda). The rising Hefazat factor is behind Chief Justice (CJ) Surendra Kumar Sinha’s nemesis. Recently, he asserted in public: “There is no rule of law in Bangladesh” (bdnews24.com, May 1, 2017), which was of no avail. Thanks to the growing influence of the “defenders of Islam”, even the PM has started disliking the sculpture.

Last but not least, we get another “interesting” piece of information about the state of shrinking freedom of expression in Bangladesh in the latest Country Report by Amnesty International. As reported by the Daily Star (Bangladesh) on May 2, 2017, “Dissenting voices trapped in Bangladesh: Amnesty”, it appears that: “Bangladesh government has failed to protect dissenting voices and upheld freedom of expression through a ‘slew of repressive tactics and new laws’, according to a report of Amnesty International. The international rights body today published the report styled ‘Caught between fear and repression: Attacks on freedom of expression in Bangladesh’ ”.

Isn’t Bangladesh going through an “interesting” phase of history?

The writer teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University. He is the author of several books, including his latest, Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan (Sage, 2014). Email: [email protected]



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