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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 14, March 23, 2013 - Special Supplement on Bangladesh

Bangladesh: Battle for a New Future


Monday 25 March 2013, by SC

Developments within the country and in our neighbourhood have moved at a fast pace in recent days. The DMK’s decision to sever its ties with the UPA and walk out of the ruling coalition at the Centre slamming the Government of India’s apparently indifferent attitude on the issue of what has been legitimately perceived by public opinion in Tamil Nadu as ‘genocide’ of Tamil citizens perpetrated by the Sri Lankan armed forces under the direct orders of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and New Delhi’s hesitation to move effective amendments to the considerably watered-down resolution on Sri Lankan atrocities and violations of human rights at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva has placed a question-mark on the stability of the UPA Government. Although Congress spokespersons have asserted that the numbers in the Lok Sabha are in favour of the ruling dispensation, an element of uncertainty has gripped the UPA leadership especially after one of the leading parties supporting the government from outside, the Samajwadi Party, threw tantrums over the public speech of a Congress Minister from UP wherein the latter had reportedly castigated the SP supremo for having taken “commission” to back the alliance and further alleged that the party chief had “terrorist links”.

The situation in South Asia has doubtless deteriorated of late not only because of the grim ethnic scenario in Sri Lanka that casts an inevitable shadow on Indo-Sri Lankan relations but also because of tensions in Maldives where those in power appear to be actively seeking to subvert the democratic process in the island-state to the detriment of Indian interests; besides there has been a visible downturn in India-Pakistan ties. The last development obviously has the potentiality of having the maximum impact in the region. The adoption of a resolution by Pakistan’s parliament (National Assembly) condemning the execution of Afzal Guru in Delhi’s Tihar Jail as per the Supreme Court verdict on the 2001 Parliament House attack prompted the Parliament of India to adopt a similar unanimous resolution unequivocally decrying Pakistan’s wanton interference in our internal affairs with the observations embodied in the Islamabad document. The fact that the Pakistan resolution was passed by the country’s lawmakers shortly after the first fidayeen attack in three years in J&K’s Srinagar further incensed our MPs and heightened tensions resulting in the suspension, howsoever temporary, of major confidence building measures that were undertaken sometime ago for the purpose of improving bilateral relations despite all obstacles.

Against this backdrop the recent events in Bangladesh have been met in the Capital with mixed feelings. The sudden upsurge in Dhaka’s Shahbag Square of the internet-generation of Bangladesh’s contemporary youth brigade did offer some hope and inspiration to all democrats in the region including a handful of perceptive and sensitive Pakistani intellectuals endowed with foresight. These young men and women seem resolved to carry forward the legacy of the 1971 liberation war that culminated in the people of Bangladesh, under the charismatic leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, emancipating the country from the yoke of West Pakistani domination and exploitation and inaugurating a new era through the adoption a year later of a Constitution that upheld the principles of democracy, nationalism, secularism and socialism (which the religious orthodoxy and bigots, represented by the Jamaat-e-Islami and like-minded anti-liberation forces, have sought to undermine since the brutal assassination of Mujib and his family in 1975). The immediate issue which rallied the youth at Shahbag was the verdict of the War Crimes Tribunal that did not include capital punishment for some of the nefarious war criminals who had committed grave crimes against humanity by eliminating leading figures among the progressive, secular, democratic intelligentsia just before the nation’s independence on December 16, 1971. This the youth were not prepared to accept; and this is what triggered their spontanaeous protest at Shahbag. Simultaneously the protestors directed their attack on religion-based politics, one of the genuine threats to the country’s sovereignty, independence and secular-democratic advance. That is precisely when the fundamentalist bigots, spearheaded by the Jamaat, decided to strike.

Apart from branding the Shahbag upsurge as the handiwork of atheist upstarts out to destroy Islam (a canard that had no basis whatsoever), they raised the usual ‘Islam-in-danger’ bogey and went on a rampage engaging in clashes with the police and security forces causing many casualties. And they were backed to the hilt by the principal Opposition party, the BNP and its leader, Khaleda Zia, who has a one-point programme: dislodging from power her bete noire, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina heading the Awami League, by any means, fair or foul. She is thus going to the bizarre length of employing the term ‘genocide’ to describe the killing of rioters at the hands of the police in recent weeks. At the same time she has been conspicuously silent on the collaborators and war criminals facing trial or awaiting execution—it is they who actively helped the Pakistan Army to carry out real genocide of the people at large alongside the cream of the country’s intelligentsia in 1971.

What is more serious is the attack on the minorities in the wake of the ongoing Jamaat offensive. As a noted Bangladeshi political analyst, Syed Badrul Ahsan, the executive editor of Dhaka’s Daily Star, wrote in The Indian Express (March 15),

A terrible fallout of this turmoil has been the systematic attacks on Hindu homes and temples across Bangladesh by activists of the Jamaat and others who have never conceived of Bangladesh as being anything other than a state based, a la Pakistan, on Muslim communal foundations. Thousands of Hindu homes have been ransacked; Hindu families have had their valuables looted by fanatic mobs; and till last count, as many as 42 temples were vandalised or burnt down. The BNP has now embarked on a Goebbelsian mission of propagating the untruth that the Hindus have been the target of the ruling Awami League. It is unwilling to admit the provocation it provided to those (and they were elements in the Jamaat besides being bigots from other organised gangs) who have carried out the mayhem. The sense of insecurity in the Hindu community is, understandably, well pronounced. The same is true of Bangladesh’s Buddhists, who saw their temples and religious scriptures put to the torch in the southeastern town of Ramu last year. There have been reports of Christians being threatened by Muslim bigots in Dhaka.

This narration undoubtedly brings out the pernicious role of the Jamaat as it has spread its tentacles far and wide in the countryside. Its growing economic clout is also a matter of deep anxiety. But what is noteworthy is that all this is not going unchallenged. The Shahbag protest is frontally confronting the Jamaat and likeminded organisations and latest reports indicate that the Shahbag uprising is spreading to the rural areas as well. This highlights the distinct revival of the 1971 spirit among Bangladesh’s youth in particular.

This being the ground reality in today’s Bangladesh, it is time for all progressive, democratic forward-looking forces in our region, and the secular democrats in India in particular, to stand by those, notably the youth, resolutely fighting the nefarious but desperate attempt to Talibanise that state. For it is the conscious public of that country, determined to resist the regressive throw back into medieval darkness, who are once again charting a new path for South Asian advance fortytwo years after the birth of independent Bangladesh unfolded a new perspective of progress in our region breaking old myths and steering clear of past fallacies.

No, we cannot stand on the sidelines as mute spectators. The least that we, on our part, can do is to extend moral solidarity with the architects of that upsurge and facilitate the task of reinforcing the principles on which Bangladesh was founded so as to unveil a new, radiant future for its teeming populace that would, in the process, immensely benefit the peoples of our region as a whole.

March 21 S.C.

Sikandar Abu Jafar, whose Bengali poem “The battle shall go on...” (translated into English by Prof Hiren Mukerjee, MP) was published in Mainstream of April 10, 1971, and is being carried in the cover of this issue, sent the following message of greetings when a copy of the April 10, 1971 issue was presented to him somewhere in Bangladesh the same month.

“It is war now in Bangladesh. War of independence. Fight for the existence of seven-and-a-half crore Bengalis. Fight for the enthronement of freedom, democracy, progress. On behalf of my people, I express heartfelt greetings for the Indian people’s goodwill and support in this fight.

“I have received Mainstream, and let me extend greetings to you all for having translated my poem.

“The fight is on.

“The fight shall go on.

“Till final victory is achieved.

“Salute in struggle.”

Sikandar Abu Jafar

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