Bangladesh: POOR OR WRONG FOUNDATION CANNOT SUSTAIN GROWTH

Sustainable Development Outlook 2019: Gathering storms and silver linings | Department of Economic and Social Affairs

 

 

  • F R Chowdhury

One should not expect much from a poor start or wrong foundation. For a nation to succeed it must have a solid constitution followed by sound legislation, educated and competent workforce, documented procedures, record-keeping, and periodical evaluation. A constitution that states equality above sex, religion, and colour but again reserves seats for women is definitely self-contradictory. It speaks of equal rights and opportunities for all citizens but supports the preferential quota system. How can such a constitution keep the nation unified and lead it to progress and prosperity? The foundation is wrong.

Sheikh Mujib returned the 10th of January, 1972. He seemed quite confused about his position. It was in his absence that we fought the liberation war and achieved our independence by keeping him as our president. He did not like it much. He wanted to do everything the way he wanted. So he became the prime minister. He did not like that either. This time because he has to walk behind the president. That is not possible. Nobody could be higher than him. So he had to change it all. – Create BAKSAL and be executive president.

Unfortunately, Sheikh Mujib did not have sufficient knowledge of a political skill or diplomatic etiquette. Ever since he returned Bangladesh he never thanked the people for continuing with the war in his absence and eventually not only gaining independence but also his release from Pakistan. He failed to understand that any such action would have taken his image even higher. Instead, he was very afraid of being overshadowed by those who continued his foot-steps. Not to speak of congratulating Major Zia for his timely radio broadcast, his party-men started a campaign against Zia and tried to establish that Sheikh Mujib made the declaration before his arrest. Even a law was made making it punishable offence to refer to anyone else for declaration of independence. Till today neither I nor anyone else has been punished under that law. If that law is to be enforced, more than 50% of the total population would be in jail.

In the way Mujib’s family and the party viewed the liberation war, they had to slowly but positively remove all others from the scene. The number one target was our greatest hero Tajuddin. He was even removed from the cabinet. General Osmany was asked to look after ports and shipping matters. Major Zia was superseded by Major Shafiullah. These changes were planned very carefully so that history can be perhaps re-written the way they want – to glorify the party and perhaps that one man who was missing from the liberation war. A lot of manipulations were done to consolidate the power base and very little attention was paid to attend other important matters. As a result, the newborn state of Bangladesh suffered unprecedented famine. The public voice was silenced by Rakshi Bahini. Finally, Sheikh Mujib declared it a one-party-state. The party is BAKSAL. The head of the party, government, and state are Sheikh Mujib. They achieved what they planned.

The way the power base was re-structured; there was no room for democratic changes because all glory belongs to him and his family. Look at Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea and the matter will be clear. I feel sorry for Saddam Hussein and Col. Qaddafi who also followed the BAKSAL formula and faced the same consequences. Their countries have been derailed from the path of progress and prosperity. The killing of Sheikh Mujib and his family (except two daughters) is sad and tragic but it happened because all systematic procedure for changes was already closed. The people welcomed the change and gave a sigh of relief. The first attempt should have been the last attempt but those hungry for power have other ideas. That is why we have to face the same music time and again.

We come back to what we started with – wrong or poor foundation. Sheikh Mujib declared himself as president of the republic in the parliament. We all know that in the parliamentary type of government, the parliament elects a non-executive president as a guardian figure. But Sheikh Mujib was both – head of the government and of the state. He was never elected directly by the people as president of the republic. According to the general principle of democracy, it was wrong and not acceptable. His government was “oboidha”/ illegal. It was certainly not in conformity with the democratic principle or with the constitution. That was the first totally “oboidha” government in Bangladesh and the rebellious majors brought an end to that illegal government. They got the nation back from the illegal government to its original path of the democratic process again. Certainly, it was an act of revolution. They did not kill individuals but killed the illegal government and saved the nation. It all happened because the foundation was wrong.

As far as I know BAL was dissolved when BAKSAL was created. I hear nothing about BAKSAL ever since the death of Sheikh Mujib. I do not know how and when the present BAL came into existence. I cannot recollect having heard about any meeting or conference of the BAKSAL having decided to get back into its original BAL. The former BAKSAL cannot become BAL just like that. I have never heard of any party conference or resolution. To me, this transformation also looks “oboidha”.

The present government can be best identified as “loot pater sarkar”. They have their own cadres as contractors. They do not use steel rods. They are very patriotic; they use bamboos produced in Bangladesh. The foundations are wrong. They are finished and painted colourfully but collapse sometime even before first use. “Rana Plaza” was an example. Most of the bridges and culverts in remote villages have already collapsed exposing their bamboo foundation. Where are those contractors? You may have to visit Canada or Malaysia to find them.

The politicians in cooperation with corrupt bank officials have taken huge loans against projects that never existed from private banks and never returned the loan. The banks now have a liquidity problems. They even joined hands with foreign criminals to get money out of the central bank. Most of the money went to casinos in Manila and Colombo. Till today the government has not brought a successful prosecution against any of the defaulters. – What does this silence indicate?

The number of people talking about “chetona” in various talk shows is gradually reducing. This is because more and more of them are making money, transferring it abroad, and then finally disappearing with all their “chetonas”. The latest trip to Canada by Mr Hanif of BAL has given rise to many new questions. However, the general mode of operation is similar. Make money right and left. Transfer it to Canada or Malaysia. Buy a home there. One fine morning that man with BAKSAL “chetona” is gone. This is the way the basket is being emptied. There are people in Bangladesh who leave the country in chartered planes or hired air ambulance. There are people who go for medical treatment to any corner of the world. When they are all gone, there will be nothing left in the country. They would take all the juice and leave behind only the skeleton.

After the fall of General Ershad in 1990, Sheikh Hasina was almost certain to win the election. However, against all the predictions, BNP won the election and Begum Zia became the prime minister. Bangladesh got trapped between two vindictive ladies. If one is PM then the other is the leader of the opposition. They hate each other and the people are the sufferers. At each change of government, the in-coming government wants to undo everything done by the previous government. There were attempts to sell off jet fighters and a frigate purchased by one government by the next government. The person on LPR was brought back to service and promoted to make him a service chief. The two ladies never recognised each other’s government. They never accepted any idea or concept initiated by the other government. The country suffered badly. However, the nation learned one thing very well that free and fair election is only possible through a temporary care-taker government. There was at least one consolation – at the end of the term, the people could exercise their democratic voting right and change the government. Events around the world show that it could perhaps be a common solution in many other countries and Bangladesh would remain in history. But greed for power changed all that.

It was during the emergency period of Gen. Moin that Sheikh Hasina made a secret deal with the army. The deal was to allow the army to go without being questioned for interference in the democratic process provided Sheikh Hasina is made the winner of the next election. Once elected by more than 2/3 majority Sheik Hasina made no mistake of changing the system of a caretaker government for election. She made sure nobody can defeat her in any election. I hope the readers have understood all the details that have not been written here. All the successive elections have been a mockery of democracy – election without voters – putting “oboidha” government in power.

Now let us have a look at some of the achievements of the “oboidha” government.

Though BAKSAL failed, the dream to make it a one-party state was still there. It was more precisely to glorify a person and a family. The job was partially done when Sheik Mujib abruptly killed in 1975. This time the strategy was different – kill democracy in the name of democracy. How can we trust a care-taker government more than the democratically elected government? It is not there in the democratic system and is not practised anywhere. We must have proper democracy by removing the provision of an undemocratic system of a caretaker government. In reality, by so doing we said goodbye to democracy because once in power nobody can dislodge BAL. Truly, thereafter BAL never ever lost an election.

They (BAL government) started the recruitment of their loyal people in civil service and police. The result is today’s civil service including police from top to bottom all think alike – what will happen if BAL is not in power? In a parliamentary democratic system, the political government comes and go but the loyalty of armed forces and civil services always remain high above for the state (through the head of the state). The state is supposed to be run for and in the name of the president. That is gone.

After being elected as president, the president has to abandon his past political credentials and become the ultimate saviour of the state and its constitution. President represents the state. He employs the military and civil service. He issues passports to the nationals and also credentials for all ambassadors. The government and all employees of the state work on behalf of the head of the state to run the state. In Bangladesh, it is not the portrait of the president but that of the prime minister is displayed in all major offices. In London, I happened to ask one of our High Commissioners as to why the PM’s portrait is being displayed instead of that of the president. I continued to ask him as to who issued his credentials and whom does he represent. On a cold winter day when I found the High Commissioner sweating, I realised and changed the topic of discussion.

I do not know of any country with parliamentary democracy where they display a portrait of the prime minister instead of the president. This wrong concept and foundation has been laid by the “oboidha” BAL government. Even if the president does not do any executive function we never say the president has no power. We say we have a parliamentary system and the prime minister does everything on behalf of the president. The president only oversees and ensures that everything is done in the right order. We cannot have proper democracy so long a prime minister does not understand that s/he is elected by the people and appointed by the president. The PM is answerable to the people through the parliament and to the state by formally reporting to the president from time to time. This is the essence of parliamentary democracy. BAL achieved the number one priority by removing the provision of an election under the caretaker government and ensuring a perpetual power base for the party. They are even trying to introduce a system of parliamentary democracy with no president.

The second priority was to declare BAL free of corruption and terrorise all political opponents with torture, death, disappearances, and false cases. Immediately after coming to power, the BAL government withdrew all corruption cases against BAL leaders on the ground that they were politically motivated. They advised all law enforcement agencies including “Dudak” to find more cases against BNP leaders. Since then a campaign of torture, killing, disappearances, and imaginary cases are on to scare the opposition. Nobody knows how BNP leader Ilyas Ali was murdered or at least made traceless. The killing of journalists Sagar-Runi in their own flat is something certainly not acceptable. In any civilised country, the prime minister would have resigned by admitting failure to maintain security, law, and order. Our good neighbour always comes promptly to the rescue of the government. They even met Ershad and made him agree to participate in the election to give it legitimacy. The co-operation of the security forces of the two countries marked its peak when BNP leader Salahuddin resurfaced in Gauhati after disappearing in Dhaka. The daily star editor had hundreds of cases against him in different corners of the country just because his paper published something that the BAL government did not like. All cases were also withdrawn as soon as a compromise deal was agreed. So many young people disappeared simply because of their political identity was different. In some cases, a few of such disappeared persons returned only to say that they knew nothing about the period of disappearance. The process of suppressing opposition through police made the police unaccountable and untouchable. The administration does not know how to deal with DIG Mizan. The government also does not know what to do with so many killings through cross-fire which the police learned from them.

The prime minister wanted the chief justice to agree in advance about the verdict for a case against the government. The chief justice refused to discuss with him. The result is not only the dismissal of the chief justice but his running away from the country in fear of life. This happened at a time when in Pakistan, the prime minister lost his job and had to quit because of a verdict by the Chief Justice.

There is no denial about hatred against the armed forces, especially against the officers. To take revenge for the 15-August killing was always in their mind. However, they took the time to plan and organise. It was during the BDR celebrations that most of the officers were in headquarter when the BDR jawans revolted. Instead of condemning the coup, some of the journalists, with the tacit support of the government, were trying to interview coup leaders to gain public support. Not only that – the PM nominated and sent some political leaders to negotiate a settlement. Finally, the PM herself sat down with coup leaders for discussion. The time-gap was enough for BDR jawans to kill 57 brilliant officers of our army. Perhaps the government was waiting for the jawans in three military forces to revolt and kill the officers. It did not materialise. A total of 74 lives including those of 57 officers were lost in the incident. We lost more officers than what we lost during the war of liberation in 1971.

Readers know it very well that in every country in the world; any such rebellion or revolt by people in arms is crushed immediately with full force without any question. There is no question of any negotiation with them. Our prime minister led the drama of negotiation and high officials including the chief of the army were watching the same. When everything was over, some 800 BDR men were prosecuted. 153 have been already hanged. 50 more died while in custody. Another 74 were given jail sentences of different duration. Nothing happened to those who planned and assisted in this massacre. They are very much there and are still trying in all different ways to harm and demoralise our defence forces.

Civil and military administrations are different as their role and functions are. Only one sector is common – health and hygiene. That is why in emergency situations especially during any epidemic doctors and nurses from the military render their services to the civil administration. Otherwise, they remain busy in their own domain. Military dictators and martial law regimes often put military officers in civil administration. The purpose is to keep their hold everywhere. I am not aware of any democratically elected government doing the same. However, the BAL government has made it routine matter for Bangladesh and thereby destroyed the fabric of both civil and military services.

Look at Israel. A tiny little country surrounded by hostile Arab nations survives and thrives through military superiority. Israeli armed forces are very professional soldiers – busy with their training and exercise. They have no time for other things. In Bangladesh, they operate three different universities – one by each service. The former army chief, during the entire tenure of his service, was busy studying for Ph.D. At least 10% of senior officers are engaged in civil administration. What do we expect from this military? In the words of General Sarwardi the armed forces have simply become contractors. UN missions get us money and glory but when it starts making the service more materialistic, it is no good. They are no more the professional force to defend every inch of the motherland. The standard of discipline can be assessed from the interview of Gen. Suhrawardi which in Pakistan days was not possible. They now showpiece force for ceremonial purposes.

At this stage, I remember the words used by our former finance minister – bogus and rubbish. Close down those three universities which serve no purpose. It is not the job of defence forces to run universities. Get our armed forces out of all civil jobs which do not contribute anything to their professionalism. Once they are out of all bogus and rubbish, get them to their job – make world-class armed forces for Bangladesh. Turkey and Pakistan draw so much attention in world affairs only because they have strong armed forces.

Those in the BAL government think the navy and merchant navy are the same; civil aviation and air force are the same; they live in the era of Clive who came to India in 1757 on the trading ships and engaged in military activities. The world has changed. Specialisation matters. Our armed forces should have no time for these things because military technology is changing by hours. There is no job in civil administration for which essential qualification is the rank of commodore or air-commodore. We must find the capable and competent person no matter what his/ her background is – navy, merchant navy, law, economics, or accounts. Immediately after the liberation of Bangladesh Mr. Kibria was the chairman and under his leadership, the port was made operational again. I still feel proud to have served the port at that critical time under the leadership of Mr. Kibria.

If we take a newspaper in the morning, we evidently come across news of how many more people died in road accidents. Then we get to know how many young women have been gang-raped. Perhaps third in the list the number of people killed under “cross-fire” (extrajudicial killing). If there is some space still left then we get to hear about drug and “yaba” situations. There is no news to cheer about. The names of leaders of BAL and its affiliated bodies appear in the list of those apprehended by police. This is the routine news. Occasionally we also get to hear about the operation of casinos and massage parlours operated by party thugs. These are normally allowed to be forgotten with the passage of time and the criminals are often allowed back on the business.

I give one example of corruption. It was during the period of Late Mr. Suranjeet Sen Gupta also popularly known as “railwayer kalo birhal”. The biggest recruitment of the railway was to take place. Lot of money was raised from candidates. The minister asked his staff to bring all the money to his house. The driver dashed the car inside the BDR gate by shouting money, money. The minister was making frantic telephone calls about their delay. It was all on record. Nothing happened except that the minister became “uzirey khamakha”.

The BAL government has utilised the law enforcement agencies to suppress the opposition. Now they have learned how to do it. Police and RAB now do contract killing. The murder of seven persons in Naryanganj is a good example. Because the RAB officer is closely related to a top BAL leader we do not hear much about it. However, “give so much otherwise cross-fire” has become a common weapon for police and RAB to make money.

Creating and maintaining students’ wings of the political parties have destroyed education in the country. Other than Bangladesh, there is not even a single country in the world where they do it.  As a result, Bangladeshis have to send their children abroad for education. The poor nation cannot afford it. We have to get back our education system free of thugs. We must get rid of students’ unions being affiliated with political parties.

There has been a lot of corruption in respect of the list of actual freedom fighters. We know about so many fake freedom fighters eventually losing their jobs. It should come to an end. We do not expect genuine freedom fighters to live beyond 2025 or so. Let us draw a dead-line after which all benefits for freedom fighters should stop. There is no sense in giving state support (to one who may be a criminal) just because one’s grandfather was a freedom fighter. However, the freedom fighters must remain in history and glorify the nation.

The obsession with the PM of getting some prize has not diminished as yet.  This is the sole reason why we are still hosting more than one million refugees from Myanmar. This is a big failure for our foreign policy. The whole matter must be reviewed afresh and new strategy developed.

Finally, I shall write a few words about a recent incident of killing by police in Coxe’s Bazar. The chief of the army and that of the police made joint inspection and statement. This surprised me. Their status is not the same. In the warrant of precedence, the chief of the army is high above that of IGP. The army chief should have told the IGP to go and look after his business. However, the most shocking news was that – a high commissioner called on the IGP after his Coxe’s Bazar visit. The foreign office remained silent about it.

Go on writing and narrating – there is no end of their misdeeds. It may soon reach a point of no return. The nation cannot remain silent. It is time that freedom-loving people of Bangladesh prepare themselves for another “mukti-judha”. We have to achieve genuine freedom where we can speak our minds openly. Let us bring back financial discipline. Let us create defence services, judiciary, civil-service including police free of political influence. Stop using students for politics and bring back the glory to our education system. Let there be not a single extrajudicial killing. Let the police become the most trusted friend of common people. We have to start afresh on a solid and ethical foundation. Let us become a democratic nation before people forget what an election is supposed to be. Time is short. We have to do it now.

London, 23-August-2020.                                                              <fazlu.chowdhury@btinternet.com>

 

 

 

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