Tuesday, October 9, 2007

An Unseen Thread of All Political Connections

[A letter to Weekly Holiday's Editor reflects on the hidden family bonded political connections in Bangladesh. It was published at Holiday on July 27, 2007]

Gregorian connection helps

Dear Editor:
Bangladesh is a relatively new country, only 36 years old. The educated middle-class of Bangladesh since the partition of India was very small. It used to be so small that everyone knew everyone. Through inter-marriage, kinship and common privilege, the highly homogeneous and well educated Bengali Muslims of Bangladesh preserved their own ethnic, social, religious, cultural and class integrity in a well insulated society that used to be free from the kind of diversity of ideas and beliefs to which Bangladesh has been exposed to and had lived through recently, more so in the aftermath of the vast exodus of its population to the Western world in quest of a better life and opportunities.

Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed is a very close family friend. He went to St. Gregory's High School in Dhaka with my father. It is the St. Gregory's High school in Old Dhaka that educated Bangladesh's first generation of post-independence elites. Some of its distinguished Alumni are: Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed; Dr. A.Q. M. Badruddoza Chowdhury; Dr. Kamal Hussain; Rehman Sobhan; K.M. Hasan; Dr. Osman Farooque; Iqbal Bahar Choudhury; Chowdhury Tanbir Ahmed Siddiky; Dr. Abdul Moin khan and many others who gave leadership to Bangladesh.

Dr. Fakhruddin married the daughter of an East Pakistan Civil Service office Giasuddin Chowdhury from Sylhet. Giasuddin Chowdhury made all of his sons Civil Servants of Pakistan (CSPs). They Are: Faruk Chowdhury (former Foreign Secretary, advisor AL) Enam Ahmed Chowdhury (former Chairman, Privatization Board, advisor BNP), Masum Ahmed Chowdhury (Ambassador and former Chairman, Oriental Bank) and Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury (heretofore Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to U.N. who has been made the CTG Advisor).

Dr. Fakhruddin belongs to the 'golden days' of the United Pakistan that rewarded a section of the elites of East Bengal with coveted Civil Service positions and opportunities to pursue higher education overseas. For Dr. Osman Farooque (same batch and a close friend of Dr. Fakhruddin) this was Cornell; for Dr. Fakhruddin it was Williams and Princeton. They did not come to the United States as ordinary citizens of East Pakistan trying to escape the repressive West Pakistani regime, but they were stoic members of the elites of East Pakistan who calculated what Pakistan had to offer them. Since Pakistan was as much foreign to them as any other, they opted for better opportunities in a real foreign country like the United States where they made good use of their exile.

Both Dr. Fakhruddin and Dr. Osman Farooque followed identical career paths. They married beautiful Bangladeshi ladies of high pedigree, both have 2 houses each in suburban Washington DC and both worked for the World Bank until it was time for them to reconnect with their Old Gregorian boys network. They were introduced to the BNP chairperson by a school friend at the apex of the BNP political network. The childhood friend ensured the Bangladesh Bank governorship for one and a BNP ticket to run from Kishorganj for the other. This highly powerful Gregorian friend of Fakruddin and Osman Farooque proved so formidable that the sitting BNP MP from Kishorganj had to be sacrificed at Dr. Farooque's alter. It was a Gregorian gang of 5 friends that also included a former BNP Jute Minister, all of whom planned to be in the cabinet holding 5 portfolios at the same time.

Although Bangladesh is a country of 130 million, the country itself actually belongs to only 5000 people. The rest are to be governed by what the Romans used to call "with bread and circus". It is therefore not surprising to see the same actors back to power with a different hat. Both Enam Ahmed Chowdhury and Faruk Chowdhury are vying for BNP and Awami League nominations respectively. Whichever party comes to power, it really does not matter. The siblings of Giasuddin Chowdhury who once campaigned for Sylhet to be part of Assam, will always have his family representation in the apex of Bangladesh. As for the sons of Dr. Osman Gani, they are not doing too bad either. One was Bill Clinton's Ambassador to Fiji, the only Bangladeshi American ever to represent the US as its Ambassador overseas; and Dr. Osman Farooque did rather well as Khaleda Zia's Education Minister. Bangladesh rewards those who reward themselves.

Chowdhury Irad Ahmed Siddiky, JD, LLM, Ph.D
Washington DC, USA.

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