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Bangladesh: a central player in the New Indo-China

The rumour mill on social media networks, email chatter and Dhaka elite gossip is rife with the notion that there will be no election or no meaningful election in the winter of 2013……. the harbinger of a military re-entry into Bangladeshi politics….. Part Two of 2007 and that failed experiment of a ‘technocrat-led’ (or civilian-stooge-puppets depending on your point of view) regime backed by the bayonets of a military.

The rationale is that the armed forces are frustrated with the dysfunctional politics of a  democratic elite which cannot practice the first rule of democracy….. learn how to lose (an election) gracefully…..

Behind this forces are the Western embassies, just as they were in 2006 to 2008. Cast our minds back to that embarrassment of a British Ambassador (shamefully of Sylheti origin which makes his behaviour doubly odious as he acted as an unpaid PR spokesperson for a regime which locked up the two political leaders side by side, ironically next to the closed Parliament building).

Not one of Blair’s better moments of choosing Ambassadors from their countries of origin.

Of course, he was only showing his over-enthusiasm in a wider ‘diplomat’ project of World Bank and Euro-US institutions intent that Bangladesh ‘reach economic take-off’, naturally within the ideology of globalisation and neo-liberalism…..

And they were not alone.

Civil Society (a misnomer if there ever was one) or its Bengali equivalent of ‘Shushil Samaj’ is now an insult in many quarters because of their obvious collaboration with Western Aid Agencies and Embassies in providing Bengali intellectual cover for what amounts to a Takeover – twice done… First by external powers and then by internal elites, indifferent to the wretched poverty in the slums or the countryside, signing vapid tunes of being part of the Next 11 (thanks to that lovable, uncorrupt Goldman Sachs..)

Memories are short in elite Dhaka. So, power cuts in the heat and monsoon, tied to soaring food prices, general inflation, traffic snarl ups and bureaucratic logjams, topped by the family politics of a directionless political class… all lead to a shrug of the shoulders to rumours that there will be no democratic handover to another regime.

Why?

a) the current regime does away with the ‘caretaker’ system of a neutral government during elections to prevent accusations of electoral rigging..

who provided this advice, masquerading as a friend but as in Bengali politics since the days of Mir Zafar actually providing banana skins to slip up an unsuspecting political family?

The next election will be boycotted (as in February 2006) or ridiculed and challenged, leading to weeks of street unrest, with the inevitable call for the military to come in and ‘restore order’. There are various versions of this role-play…

b) the hamfisted approach with a leader of an NGO – revenge for his role in early 2007 and an aborted entry into politics. Lots of people have commented about that person and it’s old news. The point is that when Indian corporate and diplomatic bigwigs say: they are disappointed with the Awami League and ‘distressed’ about this episode and ‘witchhunt’, you know the writing is on the wall

c) the breathless entry of Hilary Clinton, US Secretary of State, in a game over the re-entry into Myanmar amid rumours (in the Indian press) about interest in the US 7th Fleet setting up a base in Bangladesh to project power across this new Indo-China region…..

Minor details such as the World Bank refusing a loan for a bridge are just decoration pieces in a jigsaw puzzle whose outline is easy to see…. the embassies and global financial institutions have decided that if they can do away with democracy in Europe (Italy and Greece), with their long time dictator allies in the Middle East, then they can ignore the desire of Bengalis and Bangladeshis to remain within a democratic system.

The stakes have gotten higher. On the global stage, the fate of Two Ladies wasn’t deemed worth supporting from 2006 onwards and only reluctantly accepted in 2008 because of street pressure….. that scenario is now set to return again..

The corporations salivating over the untapped riches in this wider region where serious money is set to be made in energy, engineering, telecom, banking, rail, road and agriculture…… where Bangladesh is blocking the way to the almost cut-off North East of India towards China and now the new frontier of Myanmar,….. … …. they want a political system that keeps the people off their back while they reap the benefits… in the nineties the fad was democracy (friendly to globalisation)… that era post-Lehman has gone….. now they are just as happy with the bayonet as well as the ballot box….

The point is what works, not what is right or moral.

The same feelings that ran through the veins and the expat bars in the foreign clubs of Dhaka about removing the 1975-81 hangover of politics based on two assassinations …. that has meaning to the people… it is an incidental detail pasted on a one page executive summary.. somethings which ‘holds up’ the bonanza….

Of course, they tried General Moeen…… remember him? No? His advice to eat potatoes……his present of horses by Delhi… his non-existent vision of a prosperous state (worsened by inadequate no bodies in a Vichy style cabinet)….?

Well, as I said, memories are short…

The elite and perhaps much of the middle class (let alone the ignored slums) have seen the politicians expend most of their political capital…

Like Western banks, the balance sheet has a big hole in it…. Credibility….

In a country with the incredible problems that Bangladesh has (for one, it needs a new Garments industry worth of jobs every 18 months to provide a living and hope for the youth entering the job market)…. legitimacy does not come with the ballot box, a lengthy speech in front of Pay-and-you-cheer bussed in crowd……. it comes with keeping the lights on, providing new lines for new connections, keeping food prices within reach of the slums and the apartment living middle classes and by providing the very basic in education, health and hygiene…

The people have set the bar very low… they ask for very little… but since 1971, no regime has delivered……

That is the backdrop to the coming instability in this state with regional ramifications….

What do you want to do about it?

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