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ELECTION 2018 & POST-EID SPECTACLES
Haggling beneath the surface yields nothing fruitful

Shahid Islam

Beyond the pale of the ordinary folks, haggling of an inordinate vintage has been on to bring the country’s ‘extra-parliament’ main opposition party, the BNP, into an accommodative electoral fold, according to reliable sources. This months-long beneath the surface haggling yielded no substantive result, making the top brass of the ruling party perturbed by the outcome; due mainly to what one of the sources said “the BNP being adamant and unyielding on two major counts.”

Full Story

Shahid Islam

Beyond the pale of the ordinary folks, haggling of an inordinate vintage has been on to bring the country’s ‘extra-parliament’ main opposition party, the BNP, into an accommodative electoral fold, according to reliable sources. This months-long beneath the surface haggling yielded no substantive result, making the top brass of the ruling party perturbed by the outcome; due mainly to what one of the sources said “the BNP being adamant and unyielding on two major counts.”

The very first demand of the BNP was that the party leader Khaleda Zia must be released from prison and make it unfettered and unconditional for her to contest the polling. The second tier of the BNP demand was to reverse to some sort of caretaker mode during the electoral interregnum, and hold the election with the constitutionally apolitical military’s umpire-ship, in order to make it fair and inclusive.

Options of the incumbent
The Holiday had learnt that, during the haggling, the option A broached by the ruling party has been to hold the election with a faction of the BNP—minus Khaleda Zia and her son Tarek Rahman, and those who chose to stick to the BNP mainstream—joining the poll.  That option has seen no light of reality, and, seems unlikely to meet its goal before an election schedule is pronounced by the EC sooner, pursuant to the electoral rules and guidelines.
The option B has been to strike a deal with the BNP as it is, Khaleda and Tarek joining the polls or not, as the law may or may not allow their participation while their convictions by the court are in execution.  The inducement to have the BNP partake into such a setup was contingent upon two dividends.
The first dividend was to offer the BNP and its allies 120 seats in total, so that the party (BNP) could return to the next parliament; preserve its registration as a political party by not boycotting two consecutive elections; and, offer the much needed legitimacy to the incumbent regime by enabling it to claim to have had an inclusive, participatory election.

Sword of Damocles
The above-cited option(s) A and B has been tried in secret by the regime and its interlocutors for good old six months; more forcefully since Khaleda Zia’s imprisonment early this year, said a source seeking anonymity. With the approach of the penultimate months of the election year, and the post-Eid crucibles to wrap a deal sooner, or hold another election without the BNP during the constitutionally-stipulated deadline, the necessity to strike a deal that has visible public acceptance and credibility has dawned upon the incumbent regime like a Sword of Damocles.
For public digest, Sword of Damocles is an opt allusion to the imminent and ever-present peril faced by those in power; like that of Damocles who was an servile courtier in the court of Dionysius II of Syracuse, a 4th-century BC tyrant of Sicily.
Unseen instability
Amidst this reality, those who think the BNP and its electoral allies can compel the government to craft and offer a caretaker/national government model—like that of the one Pakistan had devised—are wrong on two counts. First: existing Bangladesh constitution has no such model inscribed, and, amending the constitution needs very sincere, patriotic intent of the regime, which is very much amiss.  Secondly: an interim, transitional auto-mode during the interregnum that comes naturally after every five years’ interval has been tried with mixed success and much controversy since the early 1990s.
The best option for now is to arrive at a consensus first; to hold the election under the commandeering of the EC that has constitutional mandate to call for support from any quarter to execute its mission; with the help of the military, which too it’s (EC) empowered to summon under existing laws and guidelines.
As the BNP and its allies do not believe that the EC can fulfill its constitutional obligations with trust and tenacity, the BNP now, and the AL in the past, had hammered for something neutral to do that job.  That very paradigm had given birth to unseen instability first, and, emotional, explosive outburst in the streets later.

Balance of power
The governments by nature tend to be blinded by the texture and taste of power. In the end, the balance of power will decide whether the upcoming election will be held under the so called national/caretaker government, or under the incumbent one as the amended constitution prescribes, or, no election at all during the stipulated deadline for reasons that are yet to emerge due to the fear that the government had instilled in the minds of the people by indiscriminately kidnapping, killing, bashing and bulldozing its dissenters since coming to power in 2009.
During this time, the administration and the law enforcers have been recalibrated intoa partisan mode; the military remains apparently apolitical, as expected; the civic society has been induced with a fear psychosis following ‘high dose of persecutions’ meted out to many of their renown members. These ‘pockets of power’ having been neutralized, the government thinks it can sail through another electoral jaunt without much hassle. But, can it?
History shows, lack of democracy, human rights and justice stood at the root of anarchy sweeping nation-states throughout the ages. Latest examples are Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and many others. Earlier examples are turbulent revolutions that had swept France, the USA, and many other nations; including a religious revolution sweeping Iran in 1979.Only genuine leaders can stop or stir such turbulences.
One of the main differences between a genuine leader and a demagogue is that the former looks at the broader picture, grasps its content and the contours, and makes a decision to preserve or puncture the status quo as per the desire of the masses. A demagogue, on the other hand, only thinks of his or her personal and coterie interest and makes a decision to be heavy handed to preserve an otherwise untenable status quo.
The days ahead will decide whether our nation has produced true leaders; or, dreadful, despised demagogues. Any deterioration of the country’s existing social, political, economic and cultural fortifications due to an electoral ‘dog-fight’ between the ruling and opposition parties will expose their true nature to the mass, and, the indomitable thrust of the mass will decide what the tomorrow’s Bangladesh will look like. Eid Mobarak.


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LESSONS HARDLY LEARNT
Chaos returns on city streets

Faruque Ahmed

The number of death from road accidents is still no less even after a terrible student movement to ensure safe road and stop dying of people under the wheel of the running buses. The ‘cow and goat’ theory still dominates the motorway in cities and throughout the country.
Thirteen people died in road accidents in a single day on Tuesday followed by seven deaths on Wednesday. People are dying in the hands of untrained and delinquent drivers.

Full Story

Faruque Ahmed

The number of death from road accidents is still no less even after a terrible student movement to ensure safe road and stop dying of people under the wheel of the running buses. The ‘cow and goat’ theory still dominates the motorway in cities and throughout the country.
Thirteen people died in road accidents in a single day on Tuesday followed by seven deaths on Wednesday. People are dying in the hands of untrained and delinquent drivers.

Traffic situation in the capital and all over the country shows no significant improvement despite the weeklong students protest to bring change to the transportation system. In yet another accident at Rangpur two days back a 10th grade school student was crashed under the wheel of a running bus as the boy was going to school on his bike and hit from the back.
Such death on highway accident is a daily matter despite the terrible protest movement after the killing of two college students by a bus on roadside on the airport road on July 29 that unleashed the emotion of students.  
Students took to the streets to bring change in the city traffic and crack on the corrupt moribund public administration; which is sheltering unruly syndicates controlling the city and nationwide transport system to run old vehicles without valid papers. They bribe police and local administration and use political clouts. Most owners are ministers, MPs and powerful people seriously misusing the system.  
Bus owners association president is a minister of the government and transport workers federation executive president is yet another powerful minister. Such overlapping is destroying the government discipline. But it shows the nexus between the power lobby and lawlessness on the road; which is why disciplining the transport system is almost impossible.
Despite angry protest for safe road the government this time also sided with the unruly transport lobbies and used armed party cadres and police power to beat students to vacate the street who had set example of dedicated service to show they can by checking vehicles and disciplining traffic on the roads.
Owners however stopped plying buses in the city and al over to force the government to clear the students from the road because their presence was hurting their interest. The did it in a most shameless way. Even it is arresting students now after the end of the movement and holding many in the jail for taking part in the protest to clearly suggest lawbreakers on the road are welcome in our system while people calling for enforcing the law have been tortured and punished.
The cow and goat theory; that mostly dominates our read transport was initially advanced by our shipping minister Mr Shahjahan Khan. He used his influence on the Road Transport Authority (BRTA) several years back to give driving license to people who can hardly read and write.
He justified it saying if a person can recognize a cows and a goat on roadside, he can be given the driving license. Hundreds of bus and truck helpers and cleaners got the license on that occasion and it appears the relaxation of the rule till continues. Needless to say they are killing people indiscriminately on the motorways.
A whole generation of drivers not properly literate and trained and lacking a sense of responsibility to save human lives now role the roads and highways. They lack the sense that they hold the key to life and death of passengers and wayside people and they must work with care.  
The students movement has no doubt made law breaking difficult for sometime for motor owner and drives as the agitation has left a lasting impact on people’s mind. Dhaka Road Transport Owners’ Association (DRTOA) earlier this month at a meeting had decided to cancel the membership of bus companies renting their vehicles to drivers on daily contractual basis.
They have rightly agreed that it causes competition among drivers to overtake one another to take passengers in the next stop to make their daily earning maximum. So long they had however followed the system making people’s life vulnerable to death. 
The association leaders immediately announced cancellation of membership of five bus companies and their route permit operating 400 buses in the city road for violating the decision. They also took the checking of driving licenses, registration certificates and such other papers of vehicles jointly with workers representatives at big city bus terminals and other spots before allowing them to operate.
In the first day out of 300 vehicles checked at Mohakhali Bus Terminals, DROTA leaders claimed to have found only 40 buses without valid papers. But they made the shocking disclosure that almost 70 per cent of the drivers hold either light or medium vehicle license to mean that they are not eligible for driving buses.
It is not clear whether such checking will continues and whether or not big motor companies and transport workers would allow it to continue if it hurt their interest for long. People however believe such checking should not prove to be eyewash for a short time.
Meanwhile the traffic situation in the city remained almost the same despite the announcement of the Traffic Week now extended over more days. Fewer number of transport is playing for lacking valid papers. People are overcrowding at bus stoppages without enough buses. But chaotic driving has returned. Only few days aback a bus crashed a boy at Gulistan as he was crossing the road.
Traffic police claimed they have filed more than 83,000 cases against errant drivers and vehicles and also fined them over Tk 4.5 crore in the city in 10 days. Needless to say it shows how lawlessness dominates the system. More than 400 rover scouts were deployed to make people aware of traffic rules.
What is highly intriguing is that Jabal-e-Noor transport companies facing disciplinary action for running old buses without route permits and for killing the two students. But it has immediately changed the tactics of playing in the city roads by changing color of many buses and running in the name of another friendly company to deceive the people. RAB has reportedly detained six buses early last week for deception. Some others are also using the tricks.    
The concerned government authorities’ remark that mismanagement in city transport is a matter of years that cannot be removed overnight can’t be accepted because they did not try to overcome situation and rather were complicit to the lawlessness.
Many buses returned in city streets again without valid documents while drivers were found without valid license. Buses are picking up and dropping passengers on roads randomly. Bikers topped the list of traffic rule violators.


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Can the Election Commission regain public confidence?

Shakhawat Hossain

Elections were considered to be festivals in Bangladesh, but now are perceived as source of fear.
As many have expressed their apprehensions regarding fair national elections in December this year following the massive irregularities in the latest five city corporation polls, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) KM Nurul Huda has recently admitted the fact that the election commission cannot guarantee a major election to be free from irregularities.
Although he is constitutionally oath-bound to carry out their constitutional responsibilities freely and fairly, the CEC has surprised that nation by saying that he can not guarantee that the coming election will be free from any irregularities.

Full Story

Shakhawat Hossain

Elections were considered to be festivals in Bangladesh, but now are perceived as source of fear.
As many have expressed their apprehensions regarding fair national elections in December this year following the massive irregularities in the latest five city corporation polls, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) KM Nurul Huda has recently admitted the fact that the election commission cannot guarantee a major election to be free from irregularities.
Although he is constitutionally oath-bound to carry out their constitutional responsibilities freely and fairly, the CEC has surprised that nation by saying that he can not guarantee that the coming election will be free from any irregularities.

However, he assured that the election commission would take due measures if any irregularities cropp up in the process.
In other words, the head of the election commission is not interested in preventing the crime. He will act only after the crime is committed. And his assurance certainly has not allayed the apprehensions of the people to any extent at all. During recent City Corpopration polls, the people were not just disappointed at the commission’s performance, they were angry too. Referring to the widespread irregularities and rigging in the recent elections to the three city corporations, journalists had asked the CEC if this would be repeated in the coming national elections. He virtually admitted that there would be irregularities in the election. It would be a gross understatement to term what happened in the city corporation polls as mere ‘irregularities’.
He said he took more measures in Barishal as more irregularities had occurred there. What were these measures? He suspended voting in 10 to 12 polling centres. That is the measure of his actions.
But what was the Barishal experience? Even before noon, supporters of the ruling party candidate took over the polling centres and stamped all the ballot papers. Polling agents of the opposition candidate were evicted from the centres. Five mayoral candidates boycotted the election from the afternoon. The people were taken aback by such a farce of an election. First and foremost, the commission must ensure a level playing field for all parties and candidates. They failed to do so before and during the election.
The CEC has spoken about irregularities during the election. But can the rampant stamping of ballot papers and evicting the opposition candidate’s polling agents from the centres merely be termed as ‘irregularities’? He has so long been maintaining that the elections would be hundred per cent free, fair and peaceful. And yet the five cities was a blatant rehearsal of widespread irregularities, rigging and forceful takeover of the polling centres. Now he says that the irregularities cannot be entirely controlled. If so, why have an election commission at all? Wherever the candidates have the muscle power, they can simply take over the centres and declare themselves the victors.
Whatever credibility the election commission had gained by conducting more or less fair elections in Cumilla and Rangpur, has all been eroded in the farcical elections of the five cities..
And evidently, the ruling Awami League and the Election Commission not only missed out an opportunity to win the confidence of people and the opposition political camps but also proved that it even does not have the political will to hold free elections due at the fag end of this year..
Against such backdrop, election and political analysts now doubt its capacity for making the next polls free and fair. They are also raising question if the EC had held the dialogue really with a desire for making the polls free and fair.
Under the circumstances, the opposition political camps, as well as democratically oriented sections of society, are left with no option but to mobilise public opinions to dissolve the politically illegitimate parliament, reconstitute the Election Commission and initiate a process of negotiation with all concerned over the composition and jurisdiction of a party-neutral government to supervise the next general elections.
Though it is not clear to many what to make of the CEC’s comments that the election commission cannot guarantee irregularity-free national elections, the statement is not only imprudent, it is an irresponsible and uncalled for comment, particularly from a person whose constitutional duty it is to give the nation a free, fair and untarnished election, and one that would allow the voters to choose their candidates without hindrance or let.
However, what is equally ominous is that the CEC’s statement is giving the impression that he is preparing us for what is to come in the next parliamentary elections; and he is also admitting, in advance, his powerlessness to do anything about it.
In spite of our repeated calls, the EC has repeatedly failed so far to live up to the expectation of all the stakeholders, as demonstrated in the last three mayoral polls. And much as the CEC refuses to acknowledge that the three elections, and the Khulna election preceding those, were marred by irregularities, the evidences on the ground, the pictures and reports, belie his individual perception of the quality of the elections. Inaction in the face of gross violation of electoral codes, and the pretexts for that has not added to the EC’s credibility at all.
It is also mention worthy here that the CEC in a projection meeting in Barisal had also said that those who would not participate in the local council elections would fall 5 years behind. What does it mean? Is it part of his duty to caution the candidates?

EC makes no move to make next polls free, fair
People from all walks of life had supported the roadmap which the EC drew up after the commission led by Nurul Huda took over. The commission held dialogues with the representatives of political parties, media and civil society. It raised a hope. After the city corporation elections in Cumilla and Rangpur, people’s expectations rose further. However, it is now difficult to have confidence in the EC after the massive irregularities and vote rigging in five city corporation elections.
Shortly after the reconstitution of the commission in early 2017, the election organising authorities published a roadmap towards holding the next polls with a pledge that it would leave no stone unturned in order to ensure that every voter can cast their votes fearlessly and the votes are counted.
In order to implement its roadmap, it also held dialogue with election stakeholders last year and sorted out the dialogue recommendations into three categories - political, constitutional and election commission affairs - for smooth implementation of them. The commission published a booklet containing the recommendations as well.
But, the election commission has taken no visible initiatives over the past one year to make the next crucial general elections free and fair apart from carrying out day-to-day work.
Besides, election experts said such remarks would erase people’s confidence in the election commission. Many of them also said the CEC’s remarks just exposed the commission’s helplessness and the reality on ground.
In the dialogue, stakeholders spoke both in favour of and against deployment of armed forces during the general elections, use of electronic voting machine and introduction of ‘no-vote’, but the commission took initiative to address those recommendations by just saying, “those are political affairs and should be dealt with by the political leadership”.
(Shakhawat Hossain is Dhaka-based freelance Journalist and Political Commentator)


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Bangladesh ‘wants sustainable return for Rohingya’

Special Correspondent

Myanmar has discussed matters related to the work plan of the independent commission of enquiry on Rakhine State.
Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi received Ambassador Rosario Manalo, Chairperson of the Commission and its members—Mya Thein, Ambassador Kenzo Oshima and Prof Dr Aung Tun Thet at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nay Pyi Taw on Wednesday.

During the meeting, they also discussed the terms of reference of the commission and the formation of a dedicated secretariat to assist its works, according to Myanmar’s State Counsellor’s office.
Union Minister for the Office of the State Counsellor Kyaw Tint Swe, Union Minister for the Office of the Union Government Thaung Tun, Union Minister for International Cooperation Kyaw Tin and officials from the Myanmar Ministry of Foreign Affairs were present.

Full Story

Special Correspondent

Myanmar has discussed matters related to the work plan of the independent commission of enquiry on Rakhine State.
Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi received Ambassador Rosario Manalo, Chairperson of the Commission and its members—Mya Thein, Ambassador Kenzo Oshima and Prof Dr Aung Tun Thet at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nay Pyi Taw on Wednesday.

During the meeting, they also discussed the terms of reference of the commission and the formation of a dedicated secretariat to assist its works, according to Myanmar’s State Counsellor’s office.
Union Minister for the Office of the State Counsellor Kyaw Tint Swe, Union Minister for the Office of the Union Government Thaung Tun, Union Minister for International Cooperation Kyaw Tin and officials from the Myanmar Ministry of Foreign Affairs were present.

The government of Myanmar had announced the establishment of the independent commission of enquiry on July 30 as part of the Myanmar government’s initiative to address reconciliation, peace, stability and development in Rakhine State.
The Commission is composed of four members — two international and two national ones.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh state minister for foreign affairs, Shahriar Alam, said Rohingya population must be convinced of ‘willful return’ to Myanmar.
In a recent interview with the Al-Jazera Television he talked about the Rohingya repatriation and whether resettlement within the country will take on a more permanent character.
Today, more than 700,000 people from the persecuted, mostly Muslim minority are settled in Ukhiya and Teknaf, the two sub-districts - or upazilas - of Cox’s Bazar, a tourist beach town in Bangladesh.
Along with 300,000 others who had previously fled Rakhine, the Rohingya refugees number over a million. They live in dire conditions in overcrowded camps, rife with sanitary problems and at risk of perilous landslides during heavy rains.
In November 2017, Bangladesh, a small country with a population of 160 million, signed a repatriation deal with Myanmar to return the recent influx of refugees, who were not consulted about the agreement.
Yet to date not one Rohingya has been allowed back into Rakhine, while refugees and rights groups express concern about the deal, which does not guarantee safety upon return or basic rights such as full citizenship.
Shahriar said, “we want a sustainable return. That means willful return, law and order, having facilities they lacked before, and safety and security. That is the exact reason why the foreign minister went to the Maugdaw and Buthidaung townships in Rakhine state. We want to convince ourselves and assess the situation before we send back one Rohingya. If they go back in numbers and something bad happens to them, it’ll be extremely difficult then to convince these people that they should go back. We understand that no one wants to leave their homeland, but at the same time we understand why some of them refuse to go back unless those demands are met - and that is legitimate.”
Al Jazeera: On the international stage, Russia and China have vetoed resolutions in favour of ending political persecution of the Rohingya population. Is there any kind of pressure being applied to them to vote otherwise?
Alam: We have done our best for them to understand the ground realities, even though if there was a voting tomorrow they would still hold the same position. The UN Security Council did a fantastic job by bringing in all of the 15 members. All of them spoke to the media, shared their views and appreciated the efforts made by [Bangladeshi] Prime Minister Sheikha Hasina’s government.
At the same time, they understood the suffering of the Rohingya people and the challenges they face. The only difference between the 13 countries and China and Russia is that the latter think we need to have a staggered approach, a gradual approach.
Aggravating the Myanmar government might backfire because it is a complex country, and is trying to come out of a decades-old military rule into a democratic system of government. Considering these complexities, we understand where they are coming from. Obviously we would love to see an all-agreed upon proposal from the Security Council where no one would object to, but unfortunately that is yet to happen.
Al Jazeera: There’s been a lot of criticisms from human rights organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch over the Bangladeshi government’s plan to resettle 100,000 Rohingya in the uninhabited island of Bhashan Char. The government is spending $280m from its own coffers. Do you think the reason why there hasn’t been other funding coming from donor countries or organisations is due to the fact that it is a cyclone-prone area? What will this new settlement look like?
Alam: It’s not a detention centre. We haven’t reached out to the developmental partners for help and support [because] we want to build it first. Whoever, be it Amnesty or other human rights oganisations, are welcome to come and visit the place upon its completion.
Bangladesh is climatically vulnerable. The worst natural disaster in the history of mankind happened in Bangladesh in 1970, where in one evening one million died. The most important part on Bhasan Char is the embankment, which will protect the area from the sea. That is where most of the money is going.
We are building concrete U-shaped clusters which will house 800 people. It’s a multi-purpose centre that has a cyclone-resistant shelter, a school, a freshwater pond where they will be allowed to fish, and given cattle to herd. At the same time they will be able to grow vegetables. So it is a much better place than the camps they reside in now, where they basically do nothing but collect meals from agencies. In Bhasan Char, they will be busy with livelihood activities. But that is only for 10 percent of the entire Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar.
I would advise those criticising to wait until we open it. We will hopefully be able to invite our friends there in October, before moving the Rohingya people.
Al Jazeera: What are the guarantees that this will not turn out to be a permanent settlement?
Alam: We are sometimes caught in this dilemma. There are suggestions of why we don’t improve what is already there in Kutupalong. And when we do, we get asked by people whether this will become more permanent. But no, it is not. It’s perfectly all right for us to build something where they can stay here for a year, or two or three more. That’s the way we see it. There is a plan that we can use these structures once the Rohingya are gone for the Bangladeshi people as well.


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Supportive voices for Shahidul from India

NJ Thakuria in Guwahari

Soon after the arrest of well-known Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam in Dhaka, massive reactions started pouring from India as he was popular in its neighbouring country as well. With four decades of his career as a creative photo maker,  Shahidul’s photographs were regularly published in various international media outlets including those of India.
Over 250 photographers, artists, journalists and activists including Raghu Rai, Ram Rahman, Vivan Sundaram, Parthiv Shah, Pushpamala N, Devika Daulet Singh, Pablo Bartholomew, Prashant Panjiar, Dinesh Khanna, Sunil Gupta, Jitish Kalat, Krishen Khanna, Ravi Aggarwal, Gauri Gill etc came out with a media statement demanding  his immediate release.

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NJ Thakuria in Guwahari

Soon after the arrest of well-known Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam in Dhaka, massive reactions started pouring from India as he was popular in its neighbouring country as well. With four decades of his career as a creative photo maker,  Shahidul’s photographs were regularly published in various international media outlets including those of India.
Over 250 photographers, artists, journalists and activists including Raghu Rai, Ram Rahman, Vivan Sundaram, Parthiv Shah, Pushpamala N, Devika Daulet Singh, Pablo Bartholomew, Prashant Panjiar, Dinesh Khanna, Sunil Gupta, Jitish Kalat, Krishen Khanna, Ravi Aggarwal, Gauri Gill etc came out with a media statement demanding  his immediate release.

Legendary photographer Raghu Rai, who a Padmashri awardee from Indian Union government in New Delhi, wrote a personal letter to Bangla Premier Sheikh Hasina urging for Shahidul’s  unconditional release.  Recipient of Friends of Liberation War Honour from Hasina herself in 2012 for his creative contributions to Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, Rai termed Shahidul as an honest patriot.  “We are deeply hurt by the news of Shahidul being detained and tortured. All he has done is to use his photographic skill and voice to capture the truth of ongoing reality in a most committed and compassionate way,” stated Rai adding that Bangladesh is a country of poets, writers, artists, musicians etc and its political leaders should respect Shahidul treating him in a dignified manner.  Another group of over 400 Indian artists and filmmakers issued a media statement urging Shahidul’s earliest release. It categorically denied the allegation against Shahidul that he committed any crime by ‘highlighting the utterly reasonable and peaceful protests by schoolchildren and young people in Dhaka against the lethal malpractices in the transport sector.’
“Shahidul Alam did what any citizen with a conscience would have done.  And we stand resolutely by him. He has used his voice and his lens as an instrument that intervenes with precision and compassion in a situation that requires urgent attention,” said the statement.  It also observed with worries that when Shahidul was produced for custody he showed signs of physical harassment that could amount to torture. Right now Shahidul Alam’s physical safety is of the paramount importance and we believe that this can be guaranteed only by his immediate release from detention, added the statement.  Signed by Aban Raza, Abhay Sardesai, Abhijan Gupta, Abhishek Hazra, Aditi De, Ajay Sinha, Aman Bahl, Amar Kanwar, Anant Joshi, Anita Dube, Anshuman Dasgupta, Anup Mathew Thomas, Arpana Caur, Arundhati Ghosh, Bharat Chowdhary, Bhavna Kakar, Chinar Shah, Dayanita Singh, Gayatri Sinha, Geeta Kapur, Jatin Das, Leena Chethan, MK Raina, Manas Bhattacharya, Nandakumar Raman, Ribhu Borphukon, Sandeep Biswas, Sunil Kothari, Tapati Guha-Thakurta, Yashodhara Dalmia etc the statement concluded Shahidul exercised his right as a citizen and hence no charges must be bought under the draconian law.  A group of Nepali journalists, while terming Shahidul as a one-man institution seeking to simultaneously inform the Bangladesh population and bind the people of south Asia through the exchange of photographs, news and other information, appealed to the Hasina government for his earliest release.


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What India wants to achieve in Kashmir?

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

Eminent Indian writer and journalist Mr. Kuldip Nayar commenting on the issue of Kashmir wrote, “The Kashmiris’ protest, more or less peaceful, is Islamic in tone and tenor. But it seems as if it is a way of expression, not the content. The content is that the Kashmiris want a country of their own.”

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Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

Eminent Indian writer and journalist Mr. Kuldip Nayar commenting on the issue of Kashmir wrote, “The Kashmiris’ protest, more or less peaceful, is Islamic in tone and tenor. But it seems as if it is a way of expression, not the content. The content is that the Kashmiris want a country of their own.”

He further wrote, “……therefore, there should be no doubt about the real desire of Kashmiris. I could see angry faces when I said in my speech that the Muslims in India would have a hard time if the demand for an independent Kashmir was ever acceded. The Hindus would argue that if after 70 years of being part of Indian, the Kashmiri Muslims wanted independence, what is the guarantee about the loyalty of 16 crore [160 million] Muslims in India?
“The argument that Indian could not jeopardize its secular system by making Kashmir a separate country, which would be 98 percent Muslims, was not even entertained at the conference [held in 2015]. Your Muslims are your problems; was more or less the counter argument.”
Following the sudden attack at a police station in Punjab during July 2015, India’s spy agency – Research and Analysis Wing [RAW] forecast a possible re-emergence of Khalistan movement in Punjab, where Sikhs had had earlier fought in demand of Khalistan [Holy Land] – a country of the Sikhs. More than 98 percent of the population in Punjab are Sikhs [90 million as of 2015], while Hindu population was just one million with ten million Muslims.
Indian home minister Rajnath Singh - following the attack on the police station in Guardaspur, Punjab said, “Hindu terrorism coined by its previous UPA [United Progressive Alliance] government had weakened the fight against scourge by diverting the direction of probe into the incidents of terrorism.”
As soon as the home minister from Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] conceded his statement in the parliament [Lok Sabha], members of Indian National Congress [INC] stormed the well and it was a scene of protests and disruptions in the House. This prompted Rajnath Singh to attack the Indian National Congress party saying, “Terrorism is the biggest challenge facing the country [India]. Neither parliament not the country should appear divided on this … on the one hand, out jawans [soldiers] making the supreme sacrifice while fighting against terror; on the other we have this noise and disruption. How can the country accept this?”
As the protest intensified, he hit back, “In this House in 2013, the then home minister [P Chidambaram] had coined the new terminology – Hindu Terrorism – in order to change the direction of probe. It weakened our fight. As a consequence, Hafuz Sayeed [founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba] of Pakistan had congratulated the then home minister. Our government will never allow such a shameful situation again.”
On such chaotic situation amongst the political parties in India, Kul dip Nayar wrote, “Parties have reduced politics to the religion. People should assert themselves through liberal organizations or leaders and ensure that the poison of religion and caste dies not spread. If the nation fails, Kashmir and many other parts of India may flounder in the muddy waters of religion. The country is on trial.”
BJP came into power through a landslide victory in 2014, mainly by banking on the image of Narendra Modi [the former Chief Minister of Gujrat anaccused of having hands behind anti-Muslim massacre]. Mr. Modi though left an impression to the Indian voters that his party had chosen the path of secularism instead of upholding radical Hindu doctrine – Hindutva. But only within months of this landslide victory, BJP and its partner RSS had begun the ‘holy mission’ of forcefully getting Muslims and Christians into Hindu religion under the banner of ‘Ghar Waps’ [returning home] policy.The Indian Home Minister and some of his extremist or radical Hindu political associates enforced ban on cow slaughter as beef is forbidden meat to the Hindus. When in Bangladesh, a country of Muslim majority, there had never been anty word (not to speak of a toughen action like ban) on forcing, slaughter and sale of pigs meat [pork] – don’t it very strange for India, which boasts of being a secular nation of imposing ban on cow slaughter and beef, though it is one of the meet items consumed by Muslims, Christians and Jews?
Rajnathg Singh’s radical Hinduist mindset and his mock-secular mask was clearly proved when he wasn’t satisfied by banning beef in his own country [India] but openly pronounced of doing everything possible compelling people in Bangladesh in ‘giving up beef from their dish’. Such actions definitely does not fit on the shoes of secularism that India has been proclaiming to be not only upholding, but championing.
Secularism is the only remedy for a vast country like India to remain where it stands with pride with a huge size of land. Otherwise, any sort of ultra-Hindutva or what Indian National Congress claims – ‘Hindu Terrorism’ would only give fuel to Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), Khalistan movement and similar movements in the north-eastern state in India even if continue labeling all such activieis as separatist movement, insurgency or even criminal act.
It is a fact that majority of the people in India, including the Hindus may not like seeing any ban on beef. At the same time, leaders and supporters of BJP-RSS duo can argue – if Christian missionaries can continue getting Hindus converted into Christianity [even Muslims and Buddhists are also being converted on a regular basis) – if Muslim missionaries can continue their religious conversion activities – where is the problem if even RSS is doing that? They also can ask – what is the reason behind alarming decline in Hindu population in Pakistan and Bangladesh since past seven plus decades? Isn’t it because Hindus are being regularly persecuted by the Muslim majorities in both the South Asian nations? To be honest with my pen – I must not turn-down any of such arguments. Actually I cannot. Hindus in particular are in extreme vulnerable situation in Pakistan and Bangladesh, which have been forcing them to illegally migrate to India at least to find safety of lives. Attacks on Hindu temples; grabbing of Hindu properties and numerous forms of hostilities on the Hindus are regular phenomenon and in most of such heinous crimes – Muslim leaders in Pakistan and Bangladesh either remain mum or turn blind eyes. Hindu prosecution is Pakistan may have reasons because that is basically an anti Hindu Islamic Republic with majority of the population having radical mindset. But, why such things should be allowed to happen in Bangladesh – which truly is a secular nation?
But of course, none of these unfortunate realities give any ground to India in shifting from being secularist to a Hindu state. Radical Hinduism or Hindu Terrorism can be rather suicidal act for a huge country like India.


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