Bangladesh: What’s Cooking?

By R Chowdhury       23 July 2020

 

“The opposition can be silenced with the threat of cases. The media’s voice can be curbed with the Digital Security Act. But no law, no case and no threat can silence the voices of the common people.”–Sohrab Hassan, Prothom Alo

 

Lot of interesting things are happening in Bangladesh lately. First, India’s Subir Bhaumik, known to be a RAW man, revealed a sensational story about the Bangladesh Army in late June. A few like-minded top brasses were planning to oust the pro-Indian Army Chief in an attempt to ultimately overthrow the regime, if I got it right. When it “leaked,” some of the shaken stalwarts posted Wailing Notes on the Wall vouching for their loyalty for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and India. A week later, Bhaumik and his sidekicks came up with a civilian coup. Some serving and retired top bureaucrats and military officials, civilian elites joined a plot devised by an Adviser in the PM’s Office to form an All-Party Government to be headed by Dr. Mohammad Yunus of Grameen Bank as President and Sheikh Hasina as the Prime Minister. To me, it was the weirdest and the most unworkable combination. The Adviser would ultimately secure the top executive position for himself. Interestingly, Pakistan was drawn in the “conspiracy,” through the Adviser’s family connection with the country.

What is surprising that despite all these startling revelations, the government or its sponsored media maintained complete silence. And, Bhaumik continued his “kite flying” over Bangladesh, as Ambassador Serajul Islam termed it in his recent writings in the New Age in Dhaka. His insinuation was not missed, however. First, to alert his “Apa,” what he fondly calls Hasina, to eliminate anti-Indian elements; and second, to warn that no anti-Indian element can escape their Radar.

Immediately following these interesting stories, came the Sino-India border clash in Ladakh. China’s apparent success in the conflict and its growing advances in South Asia made the geo-political analysts believe that the emerging communist superpower is overtaking the region at India’s expense. They think Indian high-handed hegemony on its neighbors made those countries lean towards the northern giant for economic, military and strategic collaboration. Writers of Bangladesh origin focused on their former country, which embarked on a huge economic and military cooperation with China, much to the frown of its staunch sponsor, India, since 2008. No official reaction was seen from on this development either.

Then came a bombshell! Former General Chowdhury Hasan Sarwardy appeared in an online television on July 14, 2020 to reveal many sensitive secrets of the government. The general was once very powerful, close to Prime Minister Hasina, was responsible for her security details, and most importantly, was a contender for the top army position that went to General Aziz Ahmed, the incumbent. Sarwardy exposed what everybody in the country knew but was afraid to talk for fear of certain retribution, including goom-khoon (abduction-elimination). The general did not beat in the bush. He was candid and spoke quite clearly of the extensive official corruption and ruling party excesses, government’s fascist activities, complete collapse of democracy, freedom and rule of law, wholesale election rigging, a criminal brother of army chief receiving VIP treatment and many more things in his hourlong interview. He said that the election system was so arranged, no government change was possible through elections. It had to be through a popular uprising, he opined. He also thought that General Aziz Ahmed, the present army chief, was so powerful that he called the shots. Most damagingly perhaps, he revealed Indian open interferences in the country’s domestic administration, including the appointment of the army chief and other top military and civil positions. At the end, he hinted that he could face goom-khoon because of this interview.

After a weeklong mixed report about his post-interview status in Dhaka, ISPR, the military’s media outlet, came up with an uncharacteristic character assassination of the dissident general, picking on his personal life. Never seen such display of personal and private dirty laundry by the military information before, not even on General Ershad, who’s amorous life was no secret. The ISPR’s statement sounded like ধান বানাতে শিবের গীত (Talking something totally irrelevant to the subject). Not a word was said about what he revealed in the interview. No challenge or clarification made of the charges he brought. Nothing was mentioned about the administrative control of the Prime Minister or the power of the Chief of the Army, who were major protagonists in the whistleblowing. ISPR operates under the Ministry of Defense of which the PM is in-charge. That generates the suspicion that the authorities had no defenses to what the retired general said.

While the domestic media was on a silence mode, outside and online sources were abuzz with General Sarwardy’s story, drawing their own deductions, right or wrong. Prolific writer Dr. Taj Hashmi posted a few analyses and scenarios. He believes that the government is on a crisis situation to the extent that it is left with little defense. The only “defense” it has is the continuation of its terror mechanism, including ruthless application of its controversial Digital Security Act, even amidst the Corona crisis, and ignoring demands of the right groups for its stoppage. It also points at the regime’s heightened insecurity.

I was somewhat intrigued by another interesting development. Sohrab Hassan of Prothom Alo, wrote “Bangladesh: The Awami League Doesn’t Seem To Have Any Answers” in the Aequitas Review recently. Well, Mr. Sohrab is no General Sarwardy, but I see him no less either, considering Prothom Alo being an Awami League regime toeing paper. He said that the recently arrested Shahed, Ariful, Sabrina, Samrat, Papiya and others were all AL people or did those mischiefs under the ruling party’s patronage.

“The Awami League may be ruling the country with full power, but it has lost its grip on politics,” says Sohrab. “That is no secret anymore.” He thought the government is becoming shaky, because everybody in the administration is “well aware of how the 2018 election was held, how the ministers and members of parliament were elected.”

In concluding, the Joint Editor of the Prothom Alo warns: “The opposition can be silenced with the threat of cases. The media’s voice can be curbed with the Digital Security Act. But no law, no case and no threat can silence the voices of the common people.” (http://aequitasreview.org/bangladesh-the-awami-league-doesnt-seem-to-have-any-answers-by-sohrab-hassan/). I sincerely hope for the safety of the brave poet-journalist.

 

Wow! Is something really cooking in Bangladesh? Let’s hope for the better.

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