Language: Of Onion and Onions, Of Touchy and Touching

Abdul Mannan

1st November, 2020 03:54:05 printer

Language: Of Onion and Onions, Of Touchy and Touching

In recent times, there hasn’t been much good news either in Bangladesh or anywhere else in the world. The only rosy picture is that the IMF in its bi-annual World Economic Outlook-2020 report projected that amidst the devastating Covid-19 pandemic that has overwhelmed the world and brought everyone to their knees, Bangladesh’s economy is expected to grow at the rate of 3.8 per cent in 2020 and its GDP for the first time will overtake India. Globally only twenty-three countries are expected to show a positive economic growth in 2020 and Bangladesh is the third amongst them and the fastest growing in Asia. The credit for this likely achievement must be given to our farmers, the expatriate workers and the readymade garments exporters, and on top of all Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her foresight, proactive and able leadership. In the international arena the only good news worth mentioning is the vaccine developed in the laboratories of Oxford University is ready for administration. To begin with it will be administered in an anonymous hospital in England. If the efforts of the scientists are successful it will be one of the major breakthroughs in medical science in recent history.

Unfortunately for Bangladesh except our economic performance most of the news generated by different people or groups frustrates the common people irrespective of political affiliation or belief. The current spate of negative news began with the killing of the retired Major Sinha in Teknaf allegedly by police officer Pradip and his colleague Liaqat. On the heel of this came the news of a gang rape incident in Noakhali’s Begumganj of a housewife to be followed by the death of Rayhan Ahmed in police custody in Sylhet. To complicate things, the police officer Akbar accused for the killing of Rayhan was allowed to flee while he was under suspension and in police custody. In between there were a number of cases of rape, sexual harassment, drug peddling, murder etc. While all these crimes are waiting to be resolved, came the case of physical assault of a navy officer and his wife by the son of law maker Haji Selim on 25 October in Dhaka near Kalabagan.

Haji Selim’s son Erfan Selim is a Dhaka South City Corporations’ councillor and the son-in-law of another law maker from Noakhali. Haji Selim on his own is known for his dominance in old Dhaka from where he has been elected and according to media reports, he managed to create a reign of intimidation and terror in his own constituency. There are allegations against him of land grabbing, rent seeking, forcibly occupying others’ property, kidnapping, illegally encroaching the Buriganga river and public properties and indulging in other unlawful activities. Haji Selim is not known to have any political commitment and may be branded as a conman and a man of all seasons. At least one national daily termed him as a gangster.

Haji Selim started his political career as a BNP nominated councillor and in 1996 he sought nomination from BNP to contest in the national election; but after failing to get one without much hesitation approached Awami League and got the nomination and won the election. In 2014 Awami League refused him nomination but he contested the national election as a rebel candidate and won. In 2018, Selim was elected to Parliament from Dhaka-7 constituency as a candidate of the Awami League. Haji Selim never had a clean image in politics, and at any given time he has dozens of criminal and civil cases against him pending trial and judgment. Before Selim leaves the seen enters his son Erfan Selim and from all available reports it seems that he is bent upon beating his father’s record when it comes to unlawful activities in old Dhaka. He is seen as an heir of his father in old Dhaka.

Bangladesh’s politics has gone through a major paradigm shift since the killing of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. After seizing of state power following the assassinations on 15th August 1975, General Zia, the founder of the BNP, declared that he will make politics difficult for politicians. He declared ‘money is no problem’ and that was the beginning of the end of ethical and humane values practised by the politicians of yester years.  Instead of sacrifice and commitment to ideology, the new generation of politicians in post-Mujib era made money and muscle their source of power and dominance. Political gangsters or Sultans began to emerge, and today politics of the country has been taken over to a great extent by people like Haji Selim, the Sultan of politics in old Dhaka or his son the emerging Sultan, Erfan Selim.  The present-day political culture will not produce another Bangabandhu or anyone like the slain four national leaders who were brutally murdered inside the Dhaka central jail on 3rd November 1975. The system now produces people like Haji Selim and his son or people like Samrat or Shahed.

Now coming back to Erfan Selim, the budding Sultan of dirty politics, it can be safely concluded that the number of such political Sultans keeps on multiplying in a geometric proportion taking advantage of their proximity to state power. This happened all over the subcontinent. According to published reports, out of 542 members of the Indian Lok Sabha, 185 or 34 per cent had declared criminal records against them, which include serious ones like murder, kidnapping, crimes against women, communal disharmony, etc. In a landmark directive the Indian Supreme Court ruled in last February that political parties should publish details of criminal proceedings against their candidates on websites and social media accounts before polls.

In Bangladesh, politics over the years has slipped out of the hands of genuine politicians and became the choice of civil-military bureaucrats and businessmen, and people with murky past like Haji Selim. The grassroots level dedicated workers remain marginalised practically in all political parties. Any politicians with dedication and commitment will never become a person like Haji Selim or his son Erfan Selim. Sheikh Hasina, the Awami League President has been trying desperately to clean up the party and getting rid of these political Sultans but it seems she is fighting a lone battle as these Sultans are patronised by bigger and more powerful Sultans in the party in most cases. The only relief is that the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has taken an uncompromising step to clean her party of all politicians with murky past.

It is a difficult job and she will need the help of her other party colleagues with clean image, dedicated to the cause of the party and committed to the ideology of her father. Bangabandhu during his three-and-a-half-year term as the head of the government in independent Bangladesh in his all public speeches categorically focused on one single issue, corruption. He expelled 43 of this party workers which included 23 parliament members accused of corruption and misuse of power. His daughter has already carved her name in history for transforming Bangladesh from the ruins of misrule by the military and pseudo military rulers of the post-1975 governments to an emerging regional economic power. She has given the country an identity, and now it is time to clean up her party of all political Sultans and open the door of politics in the country for some good, honest and humble people. Let Haji Selim or Erfan Selim be the last political gangsters to enter Bangladesh Awami League. Bangabandhu’s daughter has nothing to lose. The history she has created in terms of reign and rule and contribution towards the development of Bangladesh will be remembered by the people of ages to come. Now it is time to create space for good people to enter national politics.

The writer is an analyst and a commentator.