Notwithstanding the incontrovertible axiomatic exactitude that the intelligentsia — that include statesmen, writers, academics et al — are an indispensable segment of a polity who play their vital catalytic role in socio-political dynamics — but without exception fascist elements, as a matter of course, loathe and leave no stone unturned to annihilate them. Fortunately in our case, the liberal-progressive section overwhelmingly dominated in honing the people’s democratic and political consciousness, which process enhanced and energised the body politic’s aspiration to assert the right to self-determination.
Looking back, the oldest political party of this territory was the Muslim League which was born in Dhaka in 1905 and played its due role (as the Congress did in India) in the Great Divide or Partition which saw the creation of two countries — India and Pakistan in August 1947. After less than two years, in protest against the atrocious anti-Bengali policy of the central government of Pakistan, in 1949 on June 23 the Awami League came into being under the wise and very able guidance of its founding father Moulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, who led all progressive political activism from the Language Movement till the 1969 Movement in support of the students that hastened the release of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from Agartala Conspiracy Case. The rest as they is history.
Back in the late sixties, economist Professor Dr. Abu Mahmud, who was known as a Marxist, was attacked by the pro-Pakistani NSF hoodlums on the Dhaka University campus. The latest victim of fascist attack is one of the top-ranking student leaders of 1969 movement that overthrew the throne of Pakistani military junta dictator Field Marshal Ayub Khan. A scholar and columnist, Professor Dr. Mahbubullah, founder of Development Economics Department of Dhaka University, was assaulted on the Supreme Court premises by unidentified assailants on 13 September last. The 68-year-old economist came under attack near the Supreme Court Bar Association auditorium. Following the attack, Mahbubullah, who now teaches at a private university, went to a programme attended by Khaleda Zia at the nearby Institution of Engineers.
“As I came out of the auditorium, four to five men surrounded me. They punched me heavily, hit me on the upper part of eyes and knocked me down. They fled the scene once our people reached there. I am a teacher. To the best of my knowledge, I have no enemy.” From there, one of his relatives told The Daily Star over the phone that Mahbubullah was shifted to the Coronary Care Unit to determine whether he had suffered any heart attack following the attack. Before Mahbubullah’s speech at the pro-BNP Association of Engineers’ programme, Khaleda Zia said, “We want to see the government taking proper steps to arrest those who attacked Professor Mahbubullah. Otherwise, we will assume that the attack was carried out on instructions of Sheikh Hasina,” reported the Daily Star.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) standing committee member Moudud Ahmed claimed that Mahbubullah was the first to declare the independence of Bangladesh in 1969. Addressing the unveiling of his book, titled Bangladesh: Emergency and the Aftermath (2007-2008)’, Moudud said, “Mahbubullah first declared the independence of Bangladesh in 1969. The then military government grilled him for that. I was his lawyer at that time.” [Vide UNB Sep 13, 2014. http: //en.prothom-alo .com/bangladesh/news/53553 /Mahbubullah-first-declared-independence]. Mahbubullah who was present when Moudud made the remark at the programme said he demanded the independence and consequently he was arrested by the then military rulers in 1970.
A teacher by vocation, Mahbubullah is not in active politics. As is his wont, in his talk show comments he has always been affable and exceptionally gracious. While an activist of the EPSU, a progressive student front, he was targeted for attack in 1968 by the Fascist pro-Ayub-Monem National Students Federation’s (NSF) armed goons. During such a physical assault on him on the Dhaka University campus eminent academics like Prof. Dr. Abu Mahmud and Prof. Dr. Nazmul Karim rushed out of their classrooms to protect him from being physically injured.
However, such threats could not daunt his indomitable spirit. At a public meeting of the EPSU at Paltan Maidan on 22 February 1970 Mahbubullah declared the resolve to establish independent democratic republic of East Bengal and a leaflet elucidating the goal was distributed, for which offence the military rulers of Pakistan served arrest warrant against him along with Kazi Zafar Ahmed, Rashed Khan Menon and Mostafa Jamal Haidar. Mahbubullah was released only after the independence of the country.
A leftist scholar and progressive thinker, soft-spoken and genial Mahbubullah is known for his logical, constructive and cogently argued analyses of political economy and allied issues laced with empirical evidence and research. Such an ideologue, alas, had to be attacked.
This is by no means an isolated incident launched on a person who does not support the ruling Awami League; according to the human rights organisation Odhikar’s recent report, 764 people became victims of extrajudicial killings between 2009 and 2013. According to the report, 1,223 journalists were tortured, assaulted, threatened, prosecuted or fell victim of repression in the five years. [newagebd. net/3516/five-years-of-al-rule-764- extrajudicial-killing-111-disappearances-odhikar/]
If the fundamentals of humanism are to affirm life and to elicit the possibilities of life, then there is lamentable absence and denial in this act of heartlessness from which blame the power that be cannot escape.
Barrister Harun ur Rashid
On 13th September three Lok Sabha seats and 32 state Assembly seats were held and the results were published on 16th September. Out of three Lok Sabha seats, BJP got one. BJP gets jolt in Rajasthan, Gujarat and UP, while it secured one seat in West Bengal for the first time. SP won 8 seats in UP while BJP won 3, Congress won 3 seats out of 4 in Rajasthan and 3 in Gujarat. All the seats in UP, Gujarat and Rajasthan were earlier held by BJP in April-May election.
Reacting to by poll results, BJP said that the results in some places were not according to its expectations. Political observers say the reverses are a wake-up call as the BJP prepares for polls in Haryana, and Maharashtra next month to oust the Congress in the two states."
At a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government was preparing to celebrate 100 days in office in New Delhi, the result of by-elections in four important states’ local elections came as a bit of shock.
It has tempered the mood of the Hindu right-wing party, which not long ago registered an impressive win in the national parliamentary elections that the Grand Old Party Congress Party could not even become an opposition party in the parliament securing only 44 seats.
The most shocking outcome for the BJP came from the state of Bihar where it lost six of the ten seats it contested. In Bihar, the BJP conceded defeat to the “secular alliance” of the Janata Dal (United, or JD(U)), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Indian National Congress (INC).
These parties in Bihar were almost decimated in India’s national parliamentary elections this May by the BJP, which won 31 out of the 40 parliamentary seats being contested in Bihar. In terms of proportionality, Modi’s party would have won eight out of ten seats in Bihar’s by-elections if it did as well as it did in the parliamentary elections.
Modi looses by polls
The BJP lost by-elections in other parts of India too. In the southern state of Karnataka, which the BJP won in May 2014, the BJP lost two out of the three seats it contested in the by-elections.
In Madhya Pradesh, a central state, the BJP lost one seat of the three it contested, winning the other two. Madhya Pradesh is considered a bastion of the Indian right and the BJP did not lose a single by-election in that state for more than a decade until now.
Congress also drew even in Punjab with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), a party that rules Punjab in alliance with the BJP. Both SAD and Congress won one each of the two seats contested in Punjab.
Political analysts note that these losses, including the surprising loss in Madhya Pradesh, are a signal to the BJP that it cannot take its May victory for granted.
The message is loud and clear – the BJP cannot depend solely on “Modi magic” to sail through the polls to victory. Three months of BJP rule at the center have tempered the expectations of the people, many of whom expected quick results from Modi on issues like rising prices and the performance of the economy.
The results of the elections suggest that rather than the BJP losing votes, the non-BJP parties have combined their vote banks to great effect. In other words, political forces opposed to the Hindu right have aligned with each other.
In the 2014 general elections, all the non-BJP parties lost badly in Bihar when they fought the elections separately. This prompted the non-BJP parties to come together in order to stop the BJP. The BJP’s victory was especially threatening to regional, caste-based parties.
Strategic secular alliance needed
The result of the by-elections is clear: the political possibility of victory exists for non-BJP parties if they remain allied. When Bihar goes to the polls next year for state elections, the alliance of the JD(U), RJD, and Congress Party, if intact, will be a tough challenge for the BJP, which is now interested in coming to power in Bihar.
Most importantly, the beleaguered opposition, particularly the Congress, received a big morale boost from the outcome of the by-elections. The party won the Bhagalpur seat in Bihar, an urban constituency, for the first time since 1989. It made small but significant inroads in Madhya Pradesh and improved its performance in Karnataka and Punjab. Not long ago, the Congress Party lost badly in all these places.
The win in regional elections will boost the morale of the party cadres who are in deep shock after the humiliating rout in May.
However, a larger message for national politics comes from the results in Bihar. If the success of the “secular alliance” is replicated in the state in the next year’s elections, then there is a fairly high chance that a similar strategy of non-BJP parties allying will be attempted in New Delhi too.
Past attempts at alliances between parties have shown that many alliances fail due to the issue of leadership. Additionally, other than stopping the BJP, the alliance does not have any vision, especially on development issues. This is particularly important in Bihar, which has been reeling from poverty and economic backwardness for decades. An anti-BJP platform will not last long without a long term political program.
The “secular alliance” also has inherent limitations. The leadership of the alliance in Bihar is still undecided. Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav, leaders of the JD(U) and the RJD respectively, each have large political ambitions. It would be difficult for either of them to concede the leadership of the alliance.
Five state polls in Nov. next
The alliance of anti-BJP parties is a significant challenge to the BJP and brings into doubt the appeal of the prime minister, who was the architect of the BJP’s victory in the May 2014 general elections.
The polls to the Assemblies in the National Capital Territory of Delhi and the States of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Mizoram will be held between November 11 and December 4, the Election Commission announced on Friday. Counting of votes will be taken up on December 8.
The model code of conduct has already come into effect. Over 11.60 crore voters are eligible to exercise their franchise.
The polls to the 90-member House in naxal-prone Chhattisgarh will be held in two phases on November 11 and 19. Madhya Pradesh (total membership 230) will go to the polls on November 25, Rajasthan (200) on December 1, and Delhi (70) and Mizoram (40) on December 4.
Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath told journalists here that as per the Supreme Court direction, a ‘None of the Above’ button (the option of rejecting all candidates) would be provided in electronic voting machines in the polls.
The BJP has huge stakes in four of the five States in Assembly elections. The party sees it not only as a ‘mini-general election’ but hopes to make the most of the outcome. Of the five States, it fancies its chances in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
BJP leaders concede that it would be a tough fight in Delhi due to intense factionalism within the State unit coupled with the charisma of Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit who would be seeking a third term.
A senior BJP leader said that entry of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), led by Arvind Kejriwal, has made it tougher for the party as the AAP may cut into its vote by garnering anti-incumbency votes. The elections would in a way test the popularity of BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, particularly in Delhi, where the party is faced with several odds.
Congress still dominates Rajya Sabha
The Rajya Sabha remains one of the few political domains where the Indian National Congress, India’s grand old party, is still clinging on to a not-insignificant amount of political influence. While the Rajya Sabha is less powerful than the larger Lok Sabha, the fact that the BJP lacks a majority in that house does render reform a more complex task that simply pushing bill after bill through a compliant legislature.
The Congress, now in opposition, is gleefully using its influence in the Rajya Sabha to make life for the BJP more difficult. In fact, it has taken to opposition legislation that originated during its time in power. It is blocking the passage of an insurance bill in the Rajya Sabha, mainly to spite the BJP. The bill in question would allow foreign companies greater access to India’s insurance markets by raising the foreign investment cap for these companies.
The BJP only has a majority in the Lok Sabha, the lower house in India’s bicameral legislature. Winning the Rajya Sabha, the upper house, is still a remote prospect for the BJP.
While this doesn’t explain the entirety of why it has not been seen as much dynamism from the BJP government as some may have hoped, it is a reminder that the party does not have the kind of monolithic political dominance in India that many assumed it would have after its historic win in the national elections.
As a Telegraph report on Congress’ obstructionism in the Rajya Sabha notes, when the Congress and the BJP swapped places as government and opposition, they also switched talking points on contentious issues. As Sanjay notes on The Pulse, it does bode ill for the health of Indian democracy that the Lok Sabha will likely operate without a formal opposition leader. However, as the Rajya Sabha demonstrates, the Congress Party is still an effective dissenter on some level. Even with its massive electoral victory earlier this year, the BJP is finding that governing India is far more challenging a task than winning a national election.
The writer is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.
A M K Chowdhury
When the public’s right to know is threatened, and when the rights of free speech and free press are at risk, all of the other liberties we hold dear are endangered.
— Christopher John Dodd, former Representative and Senator, US
AMIDST widespread criticism and outcry over the Broadcasting Policy, the cabinet on Aug 4 approved it, prohibiting television and radio from broadcasting any news that may ‘‘taint the image of the country’s law enforcement personnel and the armed forces or spread communal violence’’.
The grotesque abduction and cold-blooded murder in the country’s crime history of as many as 11 persons by the three RAB elite force officers and their subordinate personnel horrified the nation. The newspapes and private TV channels (except the Government-owned television channel BTV and the government Radio organisation Bangladesh Betar) reported about the gruesome murders for Taka 6 crore; and these reporting helped to arrest the ex-RAB Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Tarek Sayeed Mohammad, Major (retired) Arif and RAB officer M M Rana. Afterwards 5 more RAB memnbers Habildar Mohammad Emdadul Haque, Radio Operator Md Arif Hossain, Lance Naik Hira Mia, and Sepoy Md Belal Hossain and guard Abu Tayeb were nabbed on 28 August.
It is absolutely wrong to stop reporting about serious and violent crimes committed by some personnel of the RAB (for example, 7 plus 4 murders in Narayanganj by 3 RAB officers and their accomplices also serving in the RAB), Police and other disciplined forces.
At present there are 41 permitted TV channels, of which 26 are on air. Also, 12 of the 28 FM radio stations, awaiting approval, are broadcasting. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said in parliament that they had formulated the national broadcasting policy for the welfare of the government, people and broadcast outlets. The mass media would play a ‘‘more responsible role and help in the country’s quick development’’. In line with the broadcasting policy the formulation of an independent broadcasting commission is underway.
Earlier the PM warned the journalists “not to cross the line”. “We are okay with criticism but don’t try to cut off the branch of the tree you’re sitting on. You, too, will fall. I think a hint is enough for the intelligent,” she said, as reported in the weekly Holidadated August 29, 2014.
The policy would “throttle the media”
Professor Emeritus Sirajul Islam Choudhury said the media had been growing amid different kinds of control from owners, advertisers and so on. If any new sort of control is imposed, it will not reflect the hopes and aspirations of the people. He was critical of the deep division in the journalist community like other professionals and called upon the union leaders, editors and all journalists to get united for fighting against it. (Vide The Independent, dated August 31, 2014)
A gazette notification was also issued four days later. Mahfuz Anam, general secretary of the Editors’ Council and editor and publisher of The Daily Star said the new broadcast policy would throttle the media, destroy democracy and ultimately damage Bangladesh’s growth. He said, “If any conflict between a free media and the government, the latter wins in the short run, while the former wins in the end. The government wins initially because it has all the funds and coercive machinery of the state at its disposal, for cajoling, bribing, intimidating, threatening and imprisoning people for forcing its way. Freedom and free media win in the end because people rally behind them”.
The Association of TV Channel Owners (ATCO) general secretary, Shaikh Siraj, said he had submitted eight opinions. “Of these, seven have been dropped from the draft policy. The policy has many things which could severely create obstacles to ensuring freedom of media”. (ibid, dated August 31, 2014)
Barrister Amirul Islam said the government should investigate those who were involved in preparing the draft of the policy as it would embarrass the government. (ibid, dated August 31, 2014)
President of Editors’ Council Golam Sarwar said, “We demanded an independent commission with highly qualified individuals having sound knowledge about media and let them formulate a policy with the stakeholders”. (The Financial Express, dated August 31, 2014).
Journalists’ disunity will be suicidal
Bangladeshi journalists must not forget that their disunity will destroy the media freedom and their existence. People will not read pro-Awami League news.
Four years ago on July 23, 2010 I wrote an article entitled “Journalists should unite to protect people’s rights published in the Holiday. In this article I wrote activities of some journalists have lowered their dignity. Some journalists are interested in partisan journalism to satisfy particular political parties. They do not follow the press ethics. I requested them to become united in the interest of fundamental rights guaranteed in democratic countries. I wrote another article headlined “Newsmen must unite to protect people’s rights published in the Holiday on March 23, 2012. The article said there are two groups of BFUJ which is detrimental to the profession. Journalism is a noble profession. The journalist community must remain united in the interest of the nation to defend and protect people’s fundamental rights.
Dhaka University (DU) Vice Chancellor (VC) Prof. Dr. Arefin Siddique suggested formation of an independent broadcasting commission comprising professionals, academics, businessmen and representatives of other professions and sections of society to formulate and implement an acceptable broadcasting policy. (The Financial Express, dated August 31, 2014).
CG system and amicus curiae
It may be mentioned here that the Constitution Amendment Committee comprising 15 members without any member from the Opposition with Sajeda Chowdhury as its Chairman and Surunjit Sengupta as Co-Chairman was formed in March, 2011 to amend the Caretaker Government (CG) system. The committee held several meetings with leading intellectuals, political and media persons at the expense of tax payer’s money to amend the constitution, but with no effect though most of the discussants were in favour of the CG system.
Of the nine amicus curiae only advocate M.I.Faruki spoke against CG system. The Supreme Court on May 10, 2011 repealed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that introduced the CG system but said next two general elections could be held under the CG for the sake of safety of the state and its people. Disregarding the second part of the verdict the AL-led government abolished the CG system by amending the Constitution.
Editors should formulate a code of conduct
Golam Sarwar, editor of the daily Samakal and president of the Editors’ Council, on August 31, 2014 approved the proposal and announced that the formulation of the code of conduct to be discussed in the next meeting of the editors’’ council. Sarwar, who chaired discussion titled `Challenges before mass media’, organised by the council, said that in the face of organised opposition from journalists, the broadcasting policy has came to a halt already. ‘`We, editors, should formulate a code of conduct for both print and electronic media and thus ensure our accountability. As journalists, we have some responsibilities,’’ he said, adding, ‘‘So many rules and laws already exist for monitoring mass media that there is no further need of anything new.’’
Indeed, senior newsmen are capable and competent enough to formulate media’s code of conduct.
Unless journalist community becomes united and launch a tougher movement there is no chance to have an acceptable broadcasting policy to ensure fundamental rights guaranteed in democratic countries, they should realise it.