Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Bangla Daze- Humpty Dumpty had a great fall...

Bangla Daze- Humpty Dumpty had a great fall...
By: A.H. Jaffor Ullah
August 31 2007

If you've grown up in the West, you must have learned and recited this nursery rhyme in your childhood at least once. I grew up in Dhaka in the fifties; therefore, I had no scope of rote memorizing this great English nursery rhyme in my formative years. However, when I came to America I read the works of Lewis Carroll among which were ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and “Through the Looking-Glass.” A little school girl, Alice, took a trip to wonderland through which she encounters some fascinating and odd characters. The tale is fraught with satirical allusions to the writer’s friend and foe, which is what the experts say. The narratives had captivated generations of school children in Great Britain so much so that British school children were required to memorize some of the lines from this masterpiece. Alice in wonderland’s companion book is “Through the Looking Glass.” Humpty Dumpty’s tale was included in this book.

The poem goes like this:
“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

The poem was supposed to be a riddle. Humpty Dumpty was supposed to be an egg. However, other scholars would not go for such simplistic explanation. Many observer's of British society think that Humpty Dumpty symbolizes an awkward person. These days many writers use the metaphor of Humpty Dumpty to mean an awkward society, city, or whatever they could thing about being an awkward or clumsy object, city, nation, society, etc. In this vein I think our motherland today could be considered the Humpty Dumpty of the modern-day world.

Bangladesh is indeed a clumsy nation. Forget about the past; let us dwell on recent events to prove convincingly that all is not well in this dazed and confused nation. Since January 2007 all the things that are happening in this luckless nation point out to the fact that the sick nation has become the Humpty Dumpty of the world. The nation’s democracy had a big fall and now all the King’s men (read military, police, RAB, etc) cannot put the nation back again. What a shame! The onerous duty was given to an ex-banker who quite did not realize in January 2007 what a perilous and tortuous journey awaited him.

Bangladesh’s controversial President, Iajuddin, who claims forcefully without much data to back it up that he was a great soil scientist of the world. Not among the world’s academia, but surely in Bangladesh that is what is being told. This partisan man single-handedly took the nation to the slippery road strewn with brambles of uncertainties. He relished being the most partisan president the tiny nation of 150 million had ever witnessed. By thumbing his nose to the constitution in late October 2006 he took the power by appointing him as the chief advisor of the caretaker government on top of the position of presidency that he already occupied. Thus, in a short order he became the most powerful man ever to stride in Bangladesh albeit hubristically.

Iajuddin’s misadventure a la Humpty Dumpty has put Bangladesh into a collision course with other powerful force - the military. Iajuddin’s whimsical decisions regarding hiring and rehiring of advisors had created one hell of a confusion among Bangladesh’s people. His decision to man the streets with army made me think that he was acting another Lewis Carroll character in the book Alice in Wonderland - the Queen of Hearts. He was adamant to host a one-sided election on January 22, 2007 to witness his party BNP, win the election in an empty field where no other political party worth its salt would compete. But that hardly ruffled feathers in him. When the U.N. representative fired the warning shot by saying that Bangladesh Military’s contract to serve in Peacekeeping Mission will be in jeopardy, the sleepy leaders of the cantonment who had utmost confidence on Khaleda Zia (and BNP) woke up from their habitual slumber. On January 11, 2007 the chief of army surrounded by other generals, navy admiral and air force commodore, etc., marched straight to the presidential palace to bring the first caretaker government headed by disgraced president, Iajuddin, down. The rest is what they say history.

The meddling military of Kurmitola cantonment located north of Dhaka thought they could change things around to keep the proverbial Humpty Dumpty from its great fall. They chose an ex-Banker, Fakhruddin Ahmed, who mostly stayed outside of Bangladesh during his adult work life being employed at the World Bank in Washington D.C. To show that this new and resurrected interim government means business, the first thing they did was demolish the roadside shantytown occupying the government land. Tens and thousands of poor residents of Dhaka who mainly do menial jobs to eke out a living were displaced. But who cares for the indigent in Bangladesh anyway excepting Dr. Yunus who made a dazzling career out of poverty alleviation.

The interim government also said they will clamp on rampant corruption, which is endemic in Bangladesh society. For a while we all thought that the new military-backed interim government would clean-up the proverbial Augean Stable by arresting corrupt politicians. They did this and received a glowing encomium from the public and western nations. However, the Fakhruddin Administration was moving very stodgily and lethargically to reform the Election Commission. Mind you, this was the main reason they came to power and the constitution demands that the interim government should not wet their fingers into making policy. Soon Bangladeshis realized that the present government had other ideas. One has to go no further than watch what General Moeen Ahmed was doing as the new government started offering their fatwas on reformation of the political parties.

From various reporting in daily newspapers it was apparent by April 2007 that the government had other plans to get rid of national political leaders of the stature Hasina and Khaleda. Some trumped up charges were formed against Hasina when she was making comments about the extra-constitutional nature of the present-day government. Hasina wanted the interim government to announce the future election date. Her myriad of statements to foreign press pissed the administration off and in retaliation they just made her life miserable. The government took a strong measure to bar her from returning to Bangladesh in late April and early May 2007. However, the world opinion was growing in Hasina’s favor and the government swallowed its pride and allowed Hasina come to face a rousing reception. That even irked the government who jailed her later on some fabricated case. For some strange reason not understood by many, the other iron lady, Khaleda, was unscathed. The government said they are going to be tough on political criminals and corrupt persons but they did not touch many other known corrupt politicians, ex-bureaucrats. To the utter dismay of many a political analyst a clean character certificate was given to Jamaati-i-Islam leaders who were the part and parcel of the corrupt administration that ruled Bangladesh from 2001 through 2006.

Bangladesh had been facing many hardships, lately. However, the one affecting everyone was inflationary pressure on agro-commodities. And there is no sign in sight that tells the hapless masses that end to food price increase is ending soon. Couple this problem with that of massive lay-offs that resulted from the closure of semi-government mills and factories. Think-tank organizations in Bangladesh such as CPD are telling the government not to succumb to WB, IMF pressure and close these non-profitable factories without developing an alternative plan to employ the laid off workers; however, the government is turning a deaf air to their proposals. The government is pretending like everything is hunky-dory in the country and like the proverbial ostrich it is burying its head into the sand and pretending no unforeseen danger is looming in the horizon.

The contemptuous and nonchalance attitude of the government has earned a bad reputation for the military-backed government. Many people in academia are now distraught over the government’s misguided policy to clean the polity and these folks started questioning the honesty and veracity of the members of this administration. Slowly, it is dawning in the minds of many citizens that army is running this government from behind. A case in point is the appointment of active army officers in civil administration. This normally happens during Martial Law; therefore, academicians and intellectuals are questioning the motif behind delaying the election and they are becoming a vocal critic of this military-backed government.

In the last 8 months since Fakhruddin Administration took control of the government people first were upbeat because they saw the much hyped arrest of the few godfathers of crime syndicate. But soon they become weary when they saw the government was trying to re-engineer the politics. When the government failed to float the King’s party, they then turn their energy to finish off two political leaders. While executing their plan, mistakes were made by the government and the advisers are openly admitting that but they are hell-bent on charting the course that was dictated by the military.

The much vaunted reformation process to straighten political parties came to a screeching halt and was practically dead on arrival and no one now talks about it. The Fakhruddin Administration is now running their programs by error-and-trial method at the risk of further damaging the fragile economy. Under this dire backdrop, a minor incident that pitted Dhaka University students against the foot soldiers, which engendered a massive protest demonstration allover the nation. This obviously shook the foundation of this quasi military rule. Gen. Moeen returned to Dhaka by plane to fire a warning shot to politicians. However, the most pathetic and deplorable development was the arrests of five or six teachers from two universities. The way these senior professors were arrested in midnight hours reminded the citizens of Bangladesh that a despotic and ruthless regime is running the country under the garb of a civilian government. Both Gen. Moeen Ahmed and members of the oligarchy that rule the nation had developed a cold, inimical voice to lambaste anyone who they think is against them.

In summary, the proverbial Humpty Dumpty of South Asia is in very bad shape these days after falling from grace on late October 2006. All the king’s men (read military) are trying tirelessly to put the maimed nation back together again but their effort is not bringing any meaningful results. What is in store for the suffering masses? No one is sure but the masses are surely braving a rough weather. It is to be hoped that a good sense will prevail and the military leaders who are behind the Fakhruddin government will work diligently to shorten the time to create the level playing field so that a fair and clean election could be held earlier than everyone thought. Fakhruddin Administration had done too many mistakes already; therefore, it should give up its vengeance against two main political leaders by allowing law to move its course. If his administration do not wise up and falls into its own trap, then South Asia’s Humpty Dumpty will remain ever so infirm. There should not be any room for political recidivism either. The government should only act on one mandate for which they came to power. Please do deliver a fair and free election as early as possible or else their legacy of failure will haunt them for the rest of their life.

Dr. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans, USA
E Mail : jhankar@bellsouth.net

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