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Disaster, destabilization and lower remittance pose triple challenges
Shahid Islam
 
Bangladesh faces a three-pronged challenge from internal political instability, recurring natural disasters, and the prospect of another major war in the Mideast that could choke off nearly 90 per cent of the total foreign remittances flowing into millions of expat households. And, following the Eid celebration, politics will ramp up to louder cacophonies as the BNP’s slated election time government blueprint will have come out of the closet to pit the government against anything the BNP-led 20 party alliance ask for.
Full Story
Shahid Islam
 
Bangladesh faces a three-pronged challenge from internal political instability, recurring natural disasters, and the prospect of another major war in the Mideast that could choke off nearly 90 per cent of the total foreign remittances flowing into millions of expat households. And, following the Eid celebration, politics will ramp up to louder cacophonies as the BNP’s slated election time government blueprint will have come out of the closet to pit the government against anything the BNP-led 20 party alliance ask for.
Add to it the impact of the haor flooding since late April, and the cost of the latest floods and landslides in the Chittagong Hill Tract (CHT) region. Worst still, another humongous blow to the economy will stem from more flooding with the onset of the real monsoon.
 
Human crisis
It’s a burgeoning human crisis getting worse amidst lack of supply, rising prices and inadequate public assistance to the disaster victims. As of now, the CHT disaster had cost over 160 lives, damaged over two thousands households, and wreaked havoc on major infrastructure and communication routes. Rangamati, Chittagong and Bandarban districts are the worst affected, where electricity has been partially restored, but power disruptions still nullify all attempts to supply fresh water. Reports claim, broken roads are preventing food and other supplies from reaching the affected people desperately crying for help to rehabilitate.
The miseries are compounded by the fresh flooding occurring in many new areas of the country; the cumulative costs having exceeded US$2 billion based on the previously conducted damage assessment in the aftermath of similar flooding and landslides.
 
The looming war
More ominously, a staggering $13.5 billion worth of remittance from the Mideast is at stake due to the prospect of a major war inching closer to reality by the day. This comes at a time when the flow of remittance had already declined by nearly 18 per cent, year on year.
Now, major escalations in Syria, and the lingering diplomatic spat   between the Saudi-led GCC countries and Egypt against another GCC member, Qatar, is injecting fresh impetus to the Syrian conflict, raising the prospect of a larger war more imminent than any time before. The consequence of this impending war for many Asian and African countries, dependent on expatriate remittance inflows, could be devastating. Bangladesh has reasons to be more wary than many others.
For the impending war will spread beyond the region due to external linkages pitched by Turkey, Russia and Iran; that are also backing Qatar in the ‘blockade war’ imposed by its neighbours on this world’s richest country, measured by per capita income.
Meanwhile, the geopolitical jockeying is taking its toll in the war-ravaged Syria where the US had shot down a Syrian fighter jet on Sunday and Iran, for the first time, lobbed few missiles 500 km across Iraq (with Baghdad’s permission) to hit ISIS targets in eastern Syria. The US maintains that it had shot down the Syrian jet following an attack on US backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting to remove the Moscow-Tehran-backed Assad regime.
Both Saudi Arabia and Turkey too are opposed to the Assad regime, but their respective national interests are anchored in Saudi Arabia’s opposing anything Iran does, and Turkey facing the reality of an unstable Syria by being overtaken by the influx of nearly 1.8 million refugees fleeing the Syrian war on one hand, and the attempt of Kurdish guerillas to carve out an independent homeland comprising Kurdish dominated lands in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey, on the other.
The exacerbated civil war between the Kurdish PKK and the Turkish government is another major flashpoint, prompting Turkey to get sucked into the fray and hit Kurdish fighters hunkered inside Syrian soil and launching sporadic attacks across borders into the Turkish mainland.
 
Iranian mission
The US is a major stakeholder in the Syrian imbroglio, proven by its entrenched position with ground troops in the Syrian territory, without permission from the Syrian regime. The US President Donald Trump also took credit for, and emphasized the need to punish Qatar, by openly backing the Saudi led blockade against the Qataris. Reports say the Qataris are punished for paying $700 m to a pro-Iranian militia group in Iraq that had held hostage a group of Qataris, including members of Qatar’s royal family, and Qatar being more sympathetic to Tehran than Riyadh.
This prompted Iran—more so for the first time being the victim of ISIS attacks on June 7 on its parliament in Tehran and the mausoleum of the Islamic revolution’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, 18 km away—to hurl missiles into eastern Syria on ISIS strongholds. According to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the missiles “targeted the headquarters and the meeting places and suicide car assembly lines of ISIS terrorists in Syria’s Deir al-Zour Province.”
Tehran also seeks to establish a corridor via Shia-predominant Iraq with Syria and Lebanon where Iran-backed Hezbollah guerillas are most active. By establishing this safe land corridor, Iran can reach the Israeli borders in Syria and Lebanon; a prospect Israel and the US are determined to thwart.
 
US-Russia rivalry
Russia, on the other hand, is least willing to lose its veritable strategic ally that the Syrian regime is, and, is backing the Assad regime against the orchestrated US-Saudi led onslaughts. Latest episodes are reminiscent of the vintage Cold War escalations of the 1950-90, and, the prospect of a major war looms larger due to Moscow’s declaration following the downing of the Syrian jet by the US forces that Russia henceforth “withdraws from cooperating with US forces in Syria and, will shoot down any planes from the U.S.-led coalition crossing west of the Euphrates River.”
This tough posture from Moscow jolted the USA, which did vow to retaliate any such Russian actions, but insisted in a statement that: 
“The coalition’s mission is to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria…… The coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, the Russians, or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend coalition or partner forces from any threat.”
The Syrian imbroglio has other regional dynamics too. Given that the conflict did not end in the six years since it started in 2011, there is little surprise that it had drawn large numbers of foreigners to join proxy battles launched by the main protagonists—USA, Russia and Iran—all of whom have entrenched ground forces and special operatives inside Syria.
Bottom line is:  Russia and Iran are busy in shielding the Assad regime while the USA and its allies are hell bent on toppling it. More than 20,000 radical Sunnis have joined the Islamic State (IS) in the process while Shiites fighters from Lebanon and many other countries have added to the ranks and files of the Iran-backed militias, including the Hezbollah. A major war will hence involve Israel on the US-Saudi side and the change the landscape of the Mideast politics once again.
 
Impact on Bangladesh
The Mideast is the cradle of overseas remittance flowing into millions of Bangladeshi households; US$13.5 billion in the 11 months until May of FY 2015-16. Leading the pack is Saudi Arabia; which alone contributed $2.69 billion, followed by the UAE’s $2.45 billion. According to the Bangladesh Bank, in FY 2014-15, remittance inflow from Saudi Arabia stood at $3.34 billion while the UAE trailed behind with $2.82 billion. The other six remittance flowing destinations for Bangladesh in the region are: Bahrain ($447.91 m), Kuwait ($929.35 m), Oman ($814.50 m), Qatar ($380.45 m), Libya ($11.82 m) and Iran ($0.16m).
Make no mistake that a major war will impact all such inflows to devastate Bangladesh’s already fragile economy that has been hit hard by recent flooding and landslides. Isn’t it time to move toward greater national unity and facilitate an inclusive election sooner?

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Army chief should know that India is unprepared for a two-front war

Saikat Datta
Scroll.In
 
Last Saturday, Chief of Army Staff Bipin Rawat declared in an interview to the news agency ANI that India was now prepared for a “two-and-a-half front war”. By this, he meant that India was capable of fighting a war with China and Pakistan simultaneously, while also taking on internal security duties in Kashmir.
Full Story
Saikat Datta
Scroll.In
 
Last Saturday, Chief of Army Staff Bipin Rawat declared in an interview to the news agency ANI that India was now prepared for a “two-and-a-half front war”. By this, he meant that India was capable of fighting a war with China and Pakistan simultaneously, while also taking on internal security duties in Kashmir.
There was just one problem with his assertion: the facts on the ground do not support Rawat. Even his counterpart in the Indian Air Force is not so sure. Just a little over a year ago, Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal BS Dhanoa, who was the vice chief at that time, said that the IAF fleet could not handle a two-front conflict. At a press conference, he had said: “Our numbers are not adequate to fully execute an air campaign in a two-front scenario”.
 
An obsolete Army
Modern conflict has made it clear that air power, and not land forces, generally shape the outcome of battles. If the IAF chief is clear that he does not have the fighter squadrons to fight on two fronts simultaneously, why did Rawat make such an assertion? This question is even more important given that even the Army, which Rawat commands, is far from fit to fight on a single front, let alone two or two-and-a-half fronts at the same time.
In March 2012, Chief of Army Staff General VK Singh wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to apprise him of the Army’s woeful preparedness in the event of a war. Singh wrote that the Army’s tanks were outdated and running out of ammunition, air defence was obsolete, and the infantry was short of critical weapons.
In February, newspapers reported that India had decided to make “urgent purchases” to make up critical deficiencies in its defence preparedness. Reports suggested that the Modi government had cleared purchases worth Rs 20,000 crore to help the Indian military “undertake at least 10 days of ‘intense fighting’ without worrying about ammunition, spares and other reserves”. However, much of the equipment listed for this urgent purchase – tank ammunition, artillery guns, assault rifles –was the same as those Singh listed in his 2012 letter to the prime minister. Clearly, in the four years since that letter, the pace of upgrading and modernising the Indian Army’s weapons has been far from desirable.
Also, if the military needed urgent purchases to just fight an “intense war for 10 days” in February is there any truth in Rawat’s assertion made four months later? As per established practice, the Indian military should hold enough reserves to fight for 40 days. With emergency purchases being made to undertake just 10 days of “intense fighting” what was the reality?
 
Reality is harsher than assertion
The fact is that while India’s military equipment is ageing rapidly, replacements are just not keeping pace. The majority of its infantry soldiers still use the outdated Indian Small Arms System, or INSAS, rifle, considered to be unreliable because of frequent jamming and an outdated design. There were reports last year that the government had cleared the purchase of 185,000 modern assault rifles, but no tenders have been issued so far.
Similarly, the Army’s artillery wing has not been modernised since the Bofors gun was inducted in the 1980s. In 1999, after the Kargil War, the Army drew up ambitious plans to induct nearly 3,500 new artillery guns of various capacities and capabilities in the next “15 to 20 years” under the Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan. The first two light artillery guns landed in India only this month. Reality, clearly, is much harsher than an assertion.
All this means that structurally, the Army is in no better position than where it was during the Kargil war when India had to make emergency purchases of artillery shells from Israel. After the war, a committee was set up to recommend major restructuring by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. But most of the key restructuring recommendations, like appointing a Chief of Defence Staff, joint theatre commands, an integrated Ministry of Defence, are yet to be implemented.
The Air Force is in no better shape. It is authorised to have 42 combat squadrons as per the 11th plan, and is officially down to 33.  Some senior Air Force officers say that the actual squadron strength may be less than that. This is so because the bulk of the Air Force fleet at present comprises the ageing MiG-21 aircraft, which are nearly 230 in number, and are slated to be eased out in the next 10 years. These aircraft continue to be deployed despite having crossed their maximum years of service due to India’s inability to replace them.
 
A depleted force
In 2015, India decided to cancel a contract for 126 French Rafale aircraft, and instead decided to buy just 36. With the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft failing to find favour with the Indian Air Force, it continues to stare at a massive shortfall of aircraft.
As far as India’s naval defences are concerned, the Indian Navy, which is authorised over 190 sea-going vessels, is also struggling to maintain force levels. Its ambitious Project 75 submarine programme ­–under which six Scorpene-class submarines are being built by Mazagon Dock Limited in Mumbai – is almost five years behind schedule, and the submarines are nowhere near completion. In sharp contrast, the Chinese navy has already established a major presence in the neighbourhood, and is reported to have fielded nearly 12 naval vessels in the Indian Ocean according to Indian intelligence estimates.
India’s Special Forces are in no better shape. As the nature of warfare changes, the Special Forces are playing a leading role in all conflicts. Several recommendations, including by the Naresh Chandra Task Force set up by the previous Manmohan Singh-led government, have been made in the past to set up a joint Special Forces Command. But it has been stymied due to lack of consensus among the three services.  All this is affecting India’s ability to operate in modern conflicts.
Rawat may believe that the Indian military is ready, but the facts on ground are a stark reminder that reality is very different from populist claims.

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BNP leader’s motorcade attacked by ruling party cadres

Abdur Rahman Khan
 
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir’s motorcade come under attack in Rangunia , Chittagong on June 18 while he was on his way to Rangamati to visit the victims of recent landslides in the hill districts.
The seven-member delegation started from Chittagong in the morning for  Kaptai from where they were to board a vessel for Rangamati town.
Full Story
Abdur Rahman Khan
 
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir’s motorcade come under attack in Rangunia , Chittagong on June 18 while he was on his way to Rangamati to visit the victims of recent landslides in the hill districts.
The seven-member delegation started from Chittagong in the morning for  Kaptai from where they were to board a vessel for Rangamati town.
The attack on BNP leader is not surprising. There  have been many attacks  on BNP’s  iftar parties during  this  Ramadan  in many places and political observers  took  it  as usual tactics of  the ruling  Awami League to remind the BNP leaders and workers that the forthcoming election campaign will not be smooth.
BNP has accused the ruling party of unleashing a reign of terror against the opposition in Bangladesh keeping the next election in view.
BNP leader Amir Khosru Chowdhury. Who accompanied  Mirza Fakhrul,  said they were injured by shattered windshields. “We suspect supporters of Awami League leader Hasan Mahmud were behind the attack.”
Dr Hasan Mahmud, the local MP and the ruling party’s publicity secretary, however, refuted the allegation and said that the car carrying the BNP leader had hit two persons in Ichhakhali and the angry people attacked the motorcade. However, there was no corroboration of this explanation.
In an immediate reaction, Awami league General Secretary Obaidul Kader condemned the attack on Mirza Fakhrul and assured  punishment for  the miscreants.
BNP Chairperson Begum Khaleda  Zia in a statement last Sunday termed the attack on Mirza fakhrul  as an alarming  sign. She said:
“It is nothing but the outcome of the ruling party’s unhealthy politics and vengeance.”
“I don’t have enough words to condemn the heinous, cowardly and
shocking attack on BNP secretary general and other leaders,” she said in a tweet message soon after the attack. The BNP leader said that it was an attack on democracy, politics, human rights and tolerance.
Meanwhile , twenty-six activists of ruling Awami League and its front organisations have been sued over attack on BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and other BNP leaders in Chittagong. Enamul Haq, a former general secretary of Chittagong District Bar Association, filed the case with Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court.
In the case, plaintiff Enamul, also a member of local Jatiyatabadi Ainjibi Samiti, mentioned the names of the accused who are local activists of AL and its front organisations Jubo League and Bangladesh Chhatra League.
Earlier BNP blamed Awami League local lawmaker Hasan Mahmud for carrying out attack on the party’s Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir in Rangamati.
“We believe that Awami League local lawmaker Hasan Mahmud with his armed men attacked Fakhrul,” BNP Senior Joint Secretary General Rizvi Ahmed alleged. He was addressing a human chain formed by Dhaka South unit of BNP in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka on Tuesday.
The motorcade of Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir came under attack in Ichhakhali Bazar area when the BNP leader was going to visit the landslide victims in Rangamati on Sunday. At least seven BNP leaders, including the party secretary general, were hurt and their five vehicles vandalised.

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The battle for VAT and an adamant finance minister

Faruque Ahmed
 
The sudden postponement of New Vat Act, scheduled to be effective from July 1 has come as no surprise because of the controversy chasing the move over the past four years. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asked Finance Minister AMA Muhith to stop its implementation and find out why the controversy over the VAT act still remained unresolved. She wanted to know whether there was any negligence from the officials’ side that led to the failure in negotiations to address the core issues with the business community who remained opposed to it for genuine reasons.
Full Story
Faruque Ahmed
 
The sudden postponement of New Vat Act, scheduled to be effective from July 1 has come as no surprise because of the controversy chasing the move over the past four years. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asked Finance Minister AMA Muhith to stop its implementation and find out why the controversy over the VAT act still remained unresolved. She wanted to know whether there was any negligence from the officials’ side that led to the failure in negotiations to address the core issues with the business community who remained opposed to it for genuine reasons.
Meanwhile, senior ruling party lawmakers demanded permission from the Speaker on Tuesday in Parliament to vote against the budget bills to bring pressure on finance minister to pay heed to MPs suggestions.  Since ruling party MPs can’t cross-floor, ministers ignore their recommendations using party discipline to silence them.
 
Prime Minister’s intervention
Clearly, the Finance Minister was unmoved until now to implement the VAT law outmanoeuvring every opposition from businesses and other stakeholders. His only aim is to collect as much revenue for the government to run a corrupt and expensive regime as possible where expectations of the people and their genuine demands have no place. In his word such opposition is nothing but ‘nuisance.’
People were opposed to the new VAT Act because of its flat rate. In the first place, economists and business bodies had called for 12 percent VAT in keeping with the standard of the developing economies while the finance minister remained adamant to make it 15 percent. The businesses opposed 15 percent flat rates saying big and small business can’t be treated equally in terms of affordability. Flexibility and the practice of package VAT for small business needs to be maintained without unilaterally imposing flat rates.
In the meantime the directive to postpone the new Vat Act came at a meeting in parliament office on Monday. Prime Minister Sheilh Hasina presided over it attended by senior NBR officials.
The prime minister made it clear that she did not want the new law at 15 percent flat rate as it would create extra pressure on the people at a time when the government is heading for national election in just one and half years.
She asked the officials concerned to further review the implementation plan of the VAT Act and Supplementary Act 2012 which is being misused now to allow cheaper import at the cost of local manufacturing.
The Prime Minister was particularly unhappy and wanted to know whether the negotiations that continued for the last four years with the country’s business community on the new VAT law had failed for negligence and outmanoeuvring.
 
PM subdued Muhith
The government has seemingly postponed the immediate implementation of the new VAT law because of the possible negative impacts on people’s life and the ruling party’s standing ahead of the next parliament polls. The decision was made basically on political compulsion –regardless of the fact that it may destabilize this year’s revenue target. The Prime Minister has asked the finance Minister to find out newer avenues for revenue sources to overcome the loss.
It is clear that finance minister AMA Muthth was firm for strictly implementing the 15 percent VAT, perhaps taking it as a personal crusade against the business community. The Prime Minister’s directive has only made him silent.
Until now Muhith was unmoved. He was against withdrawing excise duty on bank accounts. A lawyer on Monday filed a law suit before the Supreme Court calling for the SC rule to cancel all excise duties on bank accounts in 72 hours. Muhith said excise duty will have no impact on school banking. It appears that he was playing with the people’s patience and treating them as stupid.
Meanwhile, 15 percent VAT on construction materials now requires concerned businessmen to pay Tk 7,500 as VAT for per ton of rod as against Tk 900 as of now. In another case 15 percent VAT on tractor has raised total tax on this vital instrument of development at 24 percent as against 5 percent now.
Under the Supplementary Duty, tax on semi knocked down (CKD) vehicles has been raised to 150 percent from 60 percent. It makes locally assembled automobiles costlier to encourage people to buy new vehicles as imported from abroad. Local business circles alleged that the finance minister has succumbed to pressure from the import lobbies. It seems everything that comes before him is being taxed.
 
Voting against budget proposal
In a rare instance, Finance Minister AMA Muhith came under heavy criticism of senior ruling party lawmakers in the parliament on Tuesday for his rigid stance against withdrawing 15 percent Vat and excise duty on bank accounts. They also lambasted him for failing to curb corruption and looting of banks.
A senior AL lawmaker in his anguish called upon the Speaker to amend the constitution so that MPs can vote against the passage of a budget in parliament.
He said: “It is the only way to bring some sense. We don’t have any role in the budget making. We are bound to vote in its favour because of constitutional compulsion. If this trend continues, we will not be able to establish democracy in the real sense”, he added.

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The secular forces must reinvent themselves

M. Serajul Islam
 
There is something about Bangladesh that the secular forces forget when they talk of Islam in the country; that 87% of its 165 million are Muslims. They also forget that it is an important member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and is the 3rd largest among the 57 members of the OIC in terms of population. That it is a country where the Muslims respect their religion but at the same time have liberal views about social, economic and political issues to the extent that they have largely shunned the fundamentalist Islamic forces.
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M. Serajul Islam
 
There is something about Bangladesh that the secular forces forget when they talk of Islam in the country; that 87% of its 165 million are Muslims. They also forget that it is an important member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and is the 3rd largest among the 57 members of the OIC in terms of population. That it is a country where the Muslims respect their religion but at the same time have liberal views about social, economic and political issues to the extent that they have largely shunned the fundamentalist Islamic forces.
Is secularism anti-Islam?
Recently I was browsing the YouTube to find out new videos on politics in Bangladesh as I am these days in the United States and have no access to Bangladesh TV. I was viewing a Bangladesh Talk Show where a leader of the secular movement in Bangladesh was discussing issues related to Islam in the country. And I was again reminded of the fact that the secular forces perhaps do not accept the Islamic background of the country let alone respect it. The secular leader was showing the viewers a pictorial book and was praising it in a sarcastic manner. That attracted my attention. The secular leader “praised” the book for its wonderful production. He displayed the cover and flipped a few pages to underline the point. Soon it was clear that the praises were sham. He explained that the book had been compiled to teach children the Bangla alphabets with “ulterior” motives. He thought that the use of words in the book such as “azu” (ablution), namaj (prayer), roja (fasting) was intended to influence young minds about Islam!
He was very upset that the book used these words in place of those traditionally used in such books for children like azagar or python for the first alphabet, aam or mango for the second and then so on and so forth. He made no effort to hide that his dislike for the words in the book was because they were from Islam; that in a school in secular Bangladesh, there cannot be any reference to Islam! If he had made the argument for the 13% of non-Muslim children in the class, he perhaps would have a point, a weird one though. He did not do that because he believed that the worst thing that could happen to children in a school in Bangladesh was to hear about Islam!
 
Secularists fomenting extremism
Even if he were speaking from concern for the non-Muslim children, he would still have made a bad case. If non-Muslim children were given some awareness of the religion of the majority, it would be for their good and good of the community. The secular forces, either willfully or inadvertently, give the distinct impression that they have an issue with Islam. That was evident when he said that if children learnt such words of Islam, their minds would be diverted towards so-called Islamic terrorism! That was a mindless and senseless statement that raised serious questions about his intelligence.
The secular forces by the manner they insensitively humiliate Islam are doing little for their cause but enough for the Islamic fundamentalist forces that are using their insensitiveness towards Islam to tell the people that Islam is in danger. That the people are listening to has been borne by the fact that the ruling party is now distancing itself from them and indulging the Hefazat to convince the people that it had nothing to do with their anti-Islam activities with the next election in view.
The secular forces have never been a popular movement with grassroots support because theirs have been an elitist movement at best. They came into serious reckoning because the ruling Party used them for the pro-war crimes and anti-Jamaat movements that had brought them to power in 2009 and again in the controversial 2014 elections.  The political times have taken a U-turn. The anti-Jamaat and the pro-war crimes trials are histories and in the new political times, it is Islam that has moved to the centre of politics. Thus the major parties are eagerly courting them.
 
Changing political tenet
The secular forces have been caught on the wrong foot because they have failed to see that politics has changed in the country with the hanging of the Jamaat leaders. Instead, they are further indulging in their insensitive approaches towards Islam. In that mindset, they also went against the hand that fed them, the ruling party. They criticized the Prime Minister and the ruling party over its indulgence to Hefazat that angered the former so much that she had to tell them bluntly that it was her backing that had made them “heroes from zeroes” and that if her Party’s support was withdrawn from them, they would not find any place to hide from people’s wrath.
The Prime Minister’s efforts to put some sense into the secular forces appear to have fallen on deaf ears. It was not only this secular leader who unnecessarily thought it prudent to object to school children being told about adu, roja and namaz to learn their alphabets like they were some pariah words; another secular leader thought it prudent to state that the mosques would meet the same fate if the Hefazat brought down the statues. In fact, wherever they are appearing in public, they are undermining Islam without rhyme or reason in the name of attacking the Islamic fundamentalists.
Perhaps, the ruling party needs to do something more to put some sense into the secular forces. The secular forces perhaps still cannot believe that the ruling party would withdraw its support from them having indulged them so much in the past and had remained silent when the youth leaders of the Shahabag Gonojagoron Movement they guided had put on their blogs some unbelievable anti-Islam, anti-Koran and anti-Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) postings that paled even the worst Islamophobes and Islam haters in the West.
 
Secularists to reinvent themselves
The conflicts between the ruling party and the secular forces and the apparent rise of the Islamic fundamentalists nevertheless cannot be good news for the country. It could put into serious jeopardy the liberal nature of the country that was one of Bangladesh’s great inheritances to become a Muslim-majority state with a functioning liberal democracy. It could also jeopardize the vision of the Father of the Nation to build a country based on Bengali nationalism and a society that would be non-communal where all the religions would flourish freely and fairly.
The secular forces, notwithstanding their current predicament, have an important role to play with the major parties, the AL and the BNP, both indulging the religious parties to save Bangladesh’s liberal democratic character. They must nevertheless reinvent themselves keeping in mind that the war crimes trials are now not important anymore and the move for banning Jamaat is in a lull and of course that the ruling party has distanced itself from them.
To regain their lost position in the country’s politics, the secular forces must accept that they operate in a overwhelmingly Muslim country where moderate Islam has made a major headway. A significant number of the people feel proud of their religion underlined by the unbelievable number of women/girls taking to the hijab and the younger generation going to the mosques on their own volition. The favour of Islam among the people, in particular, the younger generation, has largely been contributed by the politics of conflict of the two major parties and the mistake of the secular forces to go after Islam while pursuing the Islamic fundamentalists.
 
Shading secularist fundamentalism
If they take these steps, keeping in mind that they operate in a predominantly Muslim state and show respect for the Islamic sentiments of the people, they would be pleasantly surprised to find how many people support them. They would find that the majority of the Muslims while not fully with their politics would like to support them because they too oppose the Islamic fundamentalists. However, they would never come out in the open behind them because of their insensitivity towards Islam expressed all the time by their leaders in public like the one objecting Islamic words in books for school children or the other stating that mosques would be under threat if statues were brought down.
Above all, the secular forces to make any major headway must bear in mind that the sanctity of the Koran and Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) must not be matters that they could take lightly and make comments upon them the way the Shahabag bloggers had done and they had condoned. If they have reservations about these core issues for the Muslims, they should have the common sense to keep these reservations to themselves and not discuss them disparagingly in public in the name of whatever freedom they believe in.
The secular forces must, therefore, reinvent themselves by convincing the people that they have no issue with Islam. They also need to explain to the people the type of society they envision for Bangladesh and give up pretending that they have an intellectual flair about them that perhaps they lack and even assuming that they have, the people could not care less about it.
 
The writer is a former career Ambassador

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Eid Greetings

The Holiday wishes all its readers, patrons and well-wishers a happy Eid Mubarak.

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The Holiday wishes all its readers, patrons and well-wishers a happy Eid Mubarak.

On account of the Eid vacation, the next issue  of  the  Holiday  will be published  on July 7.

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‘Don’t treat cricket as a test for Indian Muslims’ patriotism’

Sruthisagar Yamunan
Scroll.In
 
When India and Pakistan clash in cricket, the battle hardly remains within the boundaries of a cricket ground. Hyper-nationalists on both sides try to convert a mere game into some sort of a do-or-die situation. A loss is projected as a great setback to the whole nation and players of the losing side are treated as villains for denting the pride of the country.
Full Story
Sruthisagar Yamunan
Scroll.In
 
When India and Pakistan clash in cricket, the battle hardly remains within the boundaries of a cricket ground. Hyper-nationalists on both sides try to convert a mere game into some sort of a do-or-die situation. A loss is projected as a great setback to the whole nation and players of the losing side are treated as villains for denting the pride of the country.
The Sunday clash between the two nations in the International Cricket Council’s champion’s trophy final, which Pakistan won comprehensively, was no different, with even a section of the media joining the chorus of trying to project the match as a litmus test for patriotism. The Republic TV’s anchor Arnab Goswami declared on his primetime show that he would be “watching” people who support the Pakistan cricket team in India. Everyone, he asserted, should “declare” their support for India or else move to Pakistan.
This “warning” was primarily targeted at separatists in Kashmir. Such theatrics are, of course, not restricted to India. Last year, Pakistan sent to jail a 22-year-old fan of Indian captain Virat Kohli after the media reported on how he waved the Indian flag during a cricket match.
While it is one thing for ratings-driven television anchors to whip up a frenzy using nationalism as a tool, the matter turns serious when the state machinery adopts a similar language and goes after people who do not conform to the dictates of such hyper nationalists. On Tuesday, the Madhya Pradesh police arrested 15 Muslim men under charges of sedition for allegedly shouting “pro-Pakistan” and “anti-India” slogans after the cricket match. They hailed from Burhapur, the home district of the State Bharatiya Janata Party chief Nandkumar Singh Chauhan.
Such state actions go against the spirit of a number of judicial orders that have defined the scope of the term sedition. As early as in 1962, the Supreme Court in Kedarnath vs State of Bihar categorically said that mere speeches or slogans cannot come under such a grave offence, which is considered just short of treason. There had to be concrete proof that an action led to some sort of disturbance to peace and the authority of the government. In the current case, the police had swiftly acted on a mere complaint from a fellow villager, raising suspicion on the political motives behind the move.
Unfortunately, support to India in cricket and other sports has become a test for the patriotism of Indian Muslims, who are constantly coerced to prove their loyalty to the country. At the back of this thought process is the ideology that looks at India as a Hindu country and everything Indian as Hindu. Thus, anyone outside the Hindu ambit is seen with suspicion and is asked to leave the country at the slightest of provocations. While such rhetoric might suit fringe elements, to use the state machinery to aide such a thought process would cause more damage to the nation than innocuous sloganeering of cricket fans.

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