Sunday, March 28, 2010

The New Anthem

South Asia first found its English voice—in literature and in song— in the nineteenth century. It changed and morphed over two hundred years so that it now boasts of as many registers as there are languages and dialects within its geographical frontiers.

The New Anthem anthologises 22 major writers of fiction, who with their original narrative style, have reinterpreted the region's turbulent history at both personal and national levels. The New Anthem confirms that many of the most brilliant storytellers of world literature were born in the Indian subcontinent. Ahmede Hussain weaves the anthology together to make it a testimony to the brilliance of South Asian fiction.

Writers Connect runs an interview of Ahmede Hussain

Live Mint has called it an excellent new anthology, saying:

In a few years, Tranquebar Press has built up an impressive list that includes both the entertaining and the literary. Ahmede Hussain’s excellent new anthology, The New Anthem: The Subcontinent in its Own Words (Westland/Tranquebar), offers good examples of writing that is both literary and entertaining. The roughly two dozen contributions are not just by established names, but also by talented new writers, such as Sumana Roy, Abeer Hoque and Qaisra Shahraz. For me, the revelation was the number of promising Bangladeshi writers. Bangladeshi writing in English gets neglected, and there is evidence in the Dhaka-based Hussain’s anthology that this neglect is unjustified.

Verveonline has said:
Selects for accomplishment over the cutting edge, and succeeds in a solid representation of the wealth of the region’s literary talent.

Bangalore Mirror has said: The New Anthem: The Subcontinent In Its Own Words is an attempt by its writing class to bridge the gap between three nations — India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

It is an effort by its post-partition generation to go beyond artificial boundaries drawn between these countries; to paint a picture of the subcontinent, the way they perceive it, through their writings.

This anthology shows how writers and thinkers may live and work in different countries, but as human beings, and because they share a common history, they can connect in many ways. Although their countries are independent political entities, they have many cultural and linguistic similarities. Excerpts of an email interview with Ahmede Hussain, a journalist from Bangladesh, who has edited the anthology.

Indian magazine Outlook has said:
Altaf Tyrewala’s hand-wringing Mumbai abortionist, Monideepa Sahu’s mother-and-son outing; Khademul Islam’s Chittagong ‘cyclone’; here are examples of subcontinental writers telling stories in a language that came from a colonial power, and remains foreign to large swathes of their countrymen—all without affectation or apology.
This is a major cultural achievement, but it is only meaningful in a specific cultural context.

The Daily Star magazine, Bangladesh has said:

The Indian subcontinent has had its fair share of glory and tragedy. The glory comes through a recapitulation of the circumstances which have historically gone into the making of its composite character. The tragedy has been political, in that the subcontinent was destined to be broken asunder, with lives and futures all going down the slippery road to disaster. And yet, more than six decades after the vivisection of the land, there is today a new cooperative effort among the descendants of the Partition generation to bridge the gap that has so long defined links, or the lack of them, between the three nations forked out of a once undivided India. And you spot that effort to narrow the chasm in the region of literature, into which area has now stepped the young Ahmede Hussain.

In The New Anthem: The Subcontinent In Its Own Words, Hussain brings together the subcontinent, as it were, in the perception(s) of its writing classes. To be sure, authors in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (and quite a good number of them are part of the subcontinental diaspora) have in these past many years focused on their perspectives in literature, bringing into those thoughts a newer dimension into the intellectual workings of new generation minds. Niaz Zaman's efforts, as also those made by Mohiuddin Ahmed of the University Press Limited, to bring South Asian writers together set off a new trend here in Bangladesh. Now, it appears, it is Ahmede Hussain's turn to reinforce that trend, indeed carry it forward. As he looks at it, South Asian fiction is today a reality that has taken on an independence of its own. It is a new genre, having morphed into it from whatever may have been its previous state. That is the image you come across as you swim through the tales presented in this paperback.

The richness is all, both in terms of the writers brought together and in the quality of the tales that come to you one after the other. The twenty-two stories happen to be, as it were, a broad image of the subcontinent as it dominates the minds of the young. The writing is thoughtful and yet the language is fast paced, demonstrating none of the inhibitions that might have circumscribed expression in an earlier generation. You might be able to spot, as you go through Abeer Hoque's The Straight Path, a degree of liberalism which has come into South Asian story-telling. The thoughts flow, and so does language which, you are well aware, springs from traditions sprouting in the West. You do not expect a twenty-seven year-old woman, in your social ambience, to develop a crush on a young man a decade younger. But there it is, in Hoque's narrative. Sensuality and that certain bit of eroticism shake things up at the edge of the water.

The wonders of the flesh apart, there are in this anthology stories that plumb the depths of human psychology. Read Qaisra Shahraz's The Malay Host, where duplicity combines with tourism to throw up a tale of misery. The owner of the home, almost a model one, fawns over his western visitors and yet there is a viciousness about him that is revealed only at the end of the tale. By then, everything has burned down. There are only the ashes that remain. When you reflect on ashes, you are pulled back into thoughts of politics, even if momentarily. Much was reduced to ashes in the brutal summer of 1947. Ironically, much has been rebuilt, in a way, in times that remain quite removed from that horrible parting of the ways. But you cannot really stay away from a remembrance of the old bitterness. Dwell, if you will, on Saadat Hasan Manto. In Tabish Khair's creative imagination, the tragedy of Manto comes alive. Read Night of 16th January 1955. It is Manto the tragedian who speaks. He has observed much, suffered much, in his journey from the expansive world of an integrated India to the narrow confines of Pakistan. And he has paid a price. The soliloquy says it all. It is a bitter soul in full expression of his misery. The final words encompass that misery: 'Don't laugh, saale. Make a peg for me before it is dawn.'

Closer to your surroundings, indeed within your surroundings, it is Carl Bloom who brings forth the dichotomy of experience that is Dhaka in The Alley. On the one hand, it is elitism as exemplified by private universities that the visiting American academic is brought up against; and, on the other, it is the molestation of a poor, scantily clad and famished woman in the falling light of day she becomes an unwilling witness to. The irony is inescapable.

It is a gallery of storytellers you have here. Mahmud Rahman, Kamila Shamsie, Amit Chaudhuri, Padma Viswanathan, Khademul Islam, Mohsin Hamid, Sumana Roy, Sharbari Ahmed, Rachael Khan and so many others make a beeline for your attention. The danger is in the possibility of your falling in love with them all, with the craft they seek to uphold here.

Read on. This is one work you just might not be able to put down.

Bangladesh Striding Forward

When Bangladesh got independence through a bloody war in 1971, it promised to build a country on the basis of equality and economic justice. Freedom from the clutches of the Punjabi-dominated Pakistani ruling class had been the war cry of Bangladesh's independence struggle. Thirty nine years on, there have been significant developments on the economic front: the country's central bank now boasts a healthy reserve; the economy has withstood the world-wide recession; export earnings have skyrocketed; absolute poverty has declined by 30 percent; food security has been ensured; and Bangladesh, once infamously dubbed a bottomless basket, now generates most of its development budget on its own. Still, stories of inequality haunt us. Under the razzmatazz of South Asia's largest shopping mall walk malnourished children, who take birth in the streets to grow up forever famished and stunted; life for them is mere survival, a day-to-day existence. As Bangladesh dreams of becoming a middle-income country soon, The Star tries to explore the true meaning of economic freedom and ways to achieve it.

Jahanara Begum was 13 years old when the marauding 'khansenas' occupied her village in Daudkandi, Comilla. Her father, a farmer who earned his living off a small acre of land, was brutally murdered as he gave shelter to the Muktijoddhas of the area. She went to school for a few years, her education has been limited to the bare basics. "My mother was in distress; I don't have anyone save for a younger sister, so she thought it was not possible for us to make use of the land," Jahanara says.

The family soon sold the land, its only source of income, and concentrated on raising cows. "There were three cows, but one died later," she says. Jahanara doesn't quite recall when that happened ("Somewhere during Ziaur Rahman's rule," she says), but she remembers a relative's advice that changed her life for the better.

Jahanara's maternal uncle is a sprightly man of 60 now, still full of energy. He runs a thriving restaurant in the bazaar that caters to around 300 people everyday. Twenty two years ago, long after the death of the second cow, when Jahanara was finding it difficult, impossible almost, to make ends meet, Yakub Miah came up with a novel idea: Why didn't Jahanara, a mother of two now, take a loan from that bank, which is offering loans to poor women like her?

The idea was quickly accepted, loans taken, new cows bought along with some chicks. And it worked well. Of Jahanara's three daughters, one is now studying at Chittagong University, another is a nurse and the third will take her higher secondary examinations this year.

Jahanara's is not the only success story the Bangladeshi economy has to offer. A silent but quick revolution has taken place on the economic front. "Bangladesh has increased its growth rate from below four percent to five and despite the global recession it has been able to maintain a growth rate which is above five percent," MM Akash, professor of Economics at Dhaka University, says. He thinks that over the last couple of decades, the country has made some significant progress when it comes to social development indicators.

Annisul Haq, president of Bangladesh's largest apex body FBCCI, comes up with a set of successes. "There are a lot of milestones: Garments, microfinance, girl's education," he says. What is common about them is that a significant portion of the growth has come from internal economy.

"Dependency on foreign aid has also been decreased. During the eighties we received foreign aid ranging between 80 and 110 percent of the development budget, which has come down to 50 percent," says MM Akash. The driving force behind this is the inflow of remittance earnings.

"There are two other sources that have contributed to Bangladesh's economic success--a quantum jump in the crop production in the early nineties and the rapid growth of the readymade garments industry," Akash says.

President of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry Anis Ud Dowla thinks agriculture is an area where there is room for improvement. "There must also be a policy on agriculture and food prices. Government must subsidise fertiliser and diesel and all other inputs that are crucial for the agro-based industries. At the same time the government expects a stable food price that will be within the reach of the masses," he says.

He thinks that the government is yet to work out what should be the expected cost of this subsidy and at what price the government expects rice to be sold on the market. "There should also be a calculation, which must formulate the price at which a farmer can make reasonable profit. At the same time the government must also take the private sector onboard to ensure that the farmers are better equipped with technical know-hows of modern farming such as the timely utilisation of fertiliser," he says.

All is however not well. Dowla complaints that there are hundreds of companies that have failed to start operations because of an acute power crisis. "Shortage of electricity and unavailability of gas for industrial use and the lack of a coal policy because of which coal cannot be used as a source of energy," he says.

Haq of the FBCCI also identifies energy crisis as the major obstacle to businesses flourishing. "If it goes on like this we will come across a crisis soon," he says. Dowla, however, is quick to call the current situation dangerous and says, "We are on the brink of a disaster as many businesses have been shut down because of inadequate supply of electricity."

Many think that the root of all evil lies in the lack of political will rather than hiccups in the economy. Freedom fighter and former adviser of the caretaker government Akbar Ali Khan believes political problems are not problems if they are handled by pro-people political leadership.

"The problems that we are facing are more political than economic. When we came into being, politically we were a united nation, but the economic future of the country was in question. At that time people started to call Bangladesh a bottomless basket," he says, "Over the last few decades we have proven them wrong, we have established the fact that this country has a bright economic future. We have doubled our per capita income, we have more than doubled the production of food, we have reduced poverty to 40 percent, we have made a lot of progress." But, Akbar thinks over the last two decades, Bangladesh has also become a divided nation and it is not possible to tell where its politicians are leading it. "And that is the greatest worry for Bangladesh," he says.

Akbar believes that the greatest challenge that lies before a developing economy like Bangladesh is rising inequality. Bangladesh is shining, but beneath the veneer of prosperity the ugly face of poverty is hidden. The National Gini Coefficient that measures the level of inequality has been increasing in Bangladesh and it is the highest in South Asia. "People are drawn into the cities without any proper infrastructural facilities, inequality is going up, which will create serious political problems," Akbar says. Akash echoes Akbar's views and says, "As a result of indiscriminate or non-pragmatic privatisation, liberalisation and deregulation the top five percent of the rich and powerful in our country have been able to enjoy a relatively larger share of the growing real income and wealth of our country."

Akbar Ali Khan thinks that legitimacy is the key issue. "Now ordinary people do not accept the way things are. They think no one in this country deserves to be rich. There is inequality in many countries but in Bangladesh this inequality has no legitimacy; people have no belief in any institution, and they do not have any respect for the authority," he says, "You are not giving them electricity or any of the necessary services, and they are unhappy. It is a combustible condition and we need a political leadership that will deal with this with sagacity."

Presently, the political leadership, which Akbar thinks, is needed turn the wheel fast towards a double-digit growth is hard to find. Anis Ud Dowla says the government needs to come up with a solution to the current energy crisis. "We at the MCCI think the open pit mining will be the most feasible and cost-effective solution," he says, "India does that in West Bengal and Bihar, so there is no reason why we cannot do this. The government has already floated tender for power projects based on coal that is a welcome development. We request the government to implement them as fast as possible. It must also set up LNG terminals so that we can import liquidified natural gas. Meanwhile the government should also expedite the explorations of gas on and offshore."

Along with the energy crisis, the problem of improper utilisation of land also comes to the fore. "We need to use our lands in the right way," Haq says. A land reform commission can be set up and land can be redistributed to the farmer after making big cooperatives.

Social insecurity also dissuades people from making investments, one reason why Bangladesh's internal investment generation is so low. Akbar Ali Khan thinks people must be allowed to walk in the streets first before they are coaxed into making investments. The country's capital market has so far shown bullish trends, the two burses are crowded with first time investors who have seen the market as an outlet of investment.

But diverting the money into more productive channels such as short and medium enterprises (SME) remains a Herculean task. Akash thinks SMEs, especially the agro-based ones, will work miracles. But Akbar is cautiously optimistic; he says, "Setting up businesses in Bangladesh is an extremely complicated affair. You need to address these problems before you pin your hopes on the SMEs. There is a limit to where they can go."

Khalid Mahmood started Kay Kraft, a designer boutique, in 1993 with a meagre capital of Tk 5000. The company now runs 13 showrooms across the city. He complains of impediments that are slowing down the progress of the boutique industry. "To set up a boutique one needs to give bribe to different officials," he says. Alluding to a recent declaration by the Commerce Minister that boutique will be declared an industry, Khalid suggests that a comprehensive study on the sector is carried out first.

Khalid also thinks economic reform is needed to create an investment-friendly atmosphere for the new and existing SMEs. Akbar, who was Chairman of Regulatory Reforms Commission when he resigned five months ago, says that politicians are not interested in reform. " What have they done since I have resigned five months ago? They have not done anything," he says, " Most of the time the executive is not interested in any reform. We have not initiated any reform whatsoever in the last 39 years."

So, how faraway are we from becoming a middle-income country? Dowla thinks very faraway. But Akbar Ali Khan remains an incorrigible optimist. He says, " I won’t say it's not possible, on the contrary I think it is very much feasible because the people of this country are creative and enterprising. The farmers have repeatedly given us bumper food production, the migrant workers in the Middle East have sent foreign currency, and the private sector has shown its promise."

Akash believes instead of micro-credits, small loans can be given to the poor to set up shops and businesses. Jahanara, whose farm now has an annual turnover of around 200,000 takas, agrees. "If I can buy five more cows and three new vans, my profit will treble in six months," her eyes shine with hope as Jahanara talks about her investment plan.

Bleak is the Word

Bangladesh's performance in this year's all South Asian meet has been its best in any international tournament. It could have been a lot better if the government had created more sporting opportunities for youngsters

Ten years ago Shibpur, which is 60 miles off downtown Dhaka, was a sleepy little village, famous for occasionally making it to the newspaper for road accidents in Boroitola. "It is at the bend of the road that cars used to slip," says Kamrul Islam Mridha, who hails from Narsingdi. Cars still go off the track, sometimes they ram into other vehicles, and in worst cases humans are run over by trucks.

Some things, however, have changed. "Boroitola was literarily in everyone's tongue," Kamrul says, "The place was famous for the sweet and sour deshi rose apples." A decade on, that rose apple tree has embraced a slow painful death; it seems old age has made her decrepit and worn out.

Along with the tree, playing fields in Shibpur are also disappearing. "There were numerous playgrounds; we used to play kabadi and football," Kamrul says. Last year, a company has established a composite industry where cotton is yarned into soft textile. The company has bought up huge swathes of land, of which include some playgrounds. "In two or three years time, football will become history in Narsingdi," Kamrul says.

Legendary football player Kazi Salahuddin is equally fearfull of the game's future. "To make sport thrive, you need a sporting culture," says Salahuddin, "And this is completely absent from our life." He says that Bangladesh has not fared well in different sporting events because sport is not in the priority list of our policymakers.

Kamrunnahar Dana, an icon of women's badminton in Bangladesh, thinks there is no opportunity for the budding talents to bloom in the country. "In the eighties, all the schools and colleges participated in different inter-school, inter-college competitions," she says. Tournaments like these are a highly irregular affair now. Only public universities and a few government-run schools and colleges have proper facilities like playgrounds and sport equipment. Most private universities do not have a campus of their own, let alone playing fields.

Bashir Ahmed, who has won the national award in hockey, thinks unless the government create new playgrounds in the cities, new sportspersons will not emerge. He says, "There will be temporary successes like the recently concluded South Asian Games, but in the long run, the country will be stuck with one or two gold medals in indoor sports such as shooting and taekwondo," Bashir says.

In fact, in the SA Games that was held last week, most of the golds that Bangladesh bagged were in indoor events. Salahuddin thinks it just highlights the problem of scarcity of playgrounds and the absence of a good management. "This observation will earn me quite a few enemies, but I must tell you that 90 per cent of the golds that we have won in this tournament are in unpopular indoor events," he says, "In a pre-game press conference, a cycling federation official said that Bangladesh would snatch the gold medal. When he was asked what his team's best timing was, he said that he wasn't aware of any timing. With officials like these, how can you expect sport to flourish in the country?"

MM Akash, professor of Economics at University of Dhaka, blames it on "ever-pervasive consumerism". He says that an apartment culture has been created in the country's towns where children go to school in the morning and come back home in the afternoon only to go to the coaching centres. "At the end of the day, they are tired and unhappy. We are robbing them of their childhood," he says. Dana says that most of the players now come from poor families. "Who would want their sons and daughters to become a badminton player? It does not earn your bread," she says.

Companies like the BJMC, BTMC, Ansar and Bangladesh Biman had quotas for players and they gave them jobs. BJMC and BTMC have stopped recruiting sportspersons, Biman has a cricket and badminton team. "Sportsmen and women are left with no other option but take up a situation in Ansar, which pays only around Tk 4000-5000 a year," Dana says.

A player's job description in the Ansar is a little complicated though; the organisation demands its player-employees to play more than one games of sport. "It makes no sense at all that Ansar wants a player to be good at football, cricket, ushu, karate…almost all the games on earth," Dana says.

Bashir puts more emphasis on the financing sides. He says, "The government must come forward to adequately finance the games in which the country has the prospect of winning medals in the Olympics." Akash thinks that because Bangladesh is a cricket crazy nation, more and more money has been pumped into it and cricket is delivering the goods. "Bangladesh's appalling performance in the track and field events prove that it is under-financed," he says.

As Akash speaks, news comes in: a manufacturing plant is going to be built on another playground in Shibpur, which has produced many good sportsmen. Salahuddin says if things go on like this, apart from football and cricket, Bangladesh does not have any future in any other sports. "There is no professionalism in our sporting world; to make matters worse there is a scarcity of good playgrounds. The future is definitely bleak. I am sorry, but bleak is the word," he says.

Death in Dhaka

The government is making efforts to make the capital's roads safe for the citizens, but it is turning out to be an uphill task as the drivers and pedestrians are flouting traffic rules

Last week, two deaths, one in downtown Dhaka, another in Gazipur, have outraged citizens. In both the incidents two five-year-olds were run over by a speeding microbus. The incidents are eerily familiar: The children were at a busy intersection and were crossing the street when the buses, disregarding the red light, sped fast; the children died on the spot, the bus-driver tried to flee only to be apprehended later by an angry mob.

Dr Charisma Choudhury, Assistant Professor, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), thinks that drivers regularly cross the speed limit and there is no one to bring them to book. "Whenever they see that the street is free they try to pass the traffic lights as early as they can. They don't really care if the light is red, green or yellow."

To make it even worse, driving licenses are up for sale at the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) office in Mirpur. The unscrupulous officials at the BRTA, in connivance with some driving schools, offer two packages for would-be drivers. To drive a private car or a motorcycle, all one needs to do is to give Tk 7000 to a BRTA officer and the license will be delivered within seven working days. No test will be taken; the applicant will need to sign two papers though.

"There is another package for bus and trucks. The cost will be Tk 5000 higher," says a BRTA clerk. He says that in both the packages, no driving test will be taken. "It's for busy people like you," he says.

It is indeed a small wonder that the streets of Dhaka are flooded with under-aged drivers. Those who cannot pay the rather hefty fees (for a license government charges less than 2000 Taka), can get a forged license. "You can also get a forged license if you want; it will cost Tk 3000. But do remember that these licenses are fake, you cannot renew them; your name will not be in our book," the BRTA clerk says.

His boss, Assistant Director of the BRTA Mohsin Ashraf, however, claims that no such thing happen in his organisation. "There is a board magistrate on the driving board, there is also someone from polytechnic and two police inspectors along with two BRTA men. The question of any foul play does not arise," he says.

He claims that licenses for driving heavy vehicles are not even given by the BRTA. "These licenses are obtained either through the brokers or different labour unions," he says. He claims that 'heavy licenses' are given only after an applicant proves that he has driven a light and a medium-sized vehicle for three years each. He, however, admits that the government, because of labour strikes and negotiations with the labour leaders, is sometimes forced to issue 'heavy licenses' to the union leaders. "It's a long process," he says.

Charisma thinks it is difficult to enforce traffic rules when those who were supposed to be enforcing the law are themselves breaking it. "Many violations that have the potential to cause accidents remain fully overlooked until there is a fatality," she says.

To make matters worse, there are about one million vehicles clogging the streets with only 2,265 police personnel to man them. According to a Daily Star report 180 new vehicles are introduced to the city every day and only 730 traffic policemen were hired in the last six years.

Charisma says that footpaths are not pedestrian-friendly, neither are the footbridges. "Going up the stairs is a universal problem, which planners in the neighbouring countries are also facing," she says. She thinks that when dusk falls sometimes the footbridges become unsafe.

A walk into the footbridge at Farmgate reveals that, after nightfall it becomes a haven for prostitutes and drug peddlers. Presence of criminals and other such elements in footbridges and underpasses dissuades the pedestrians from using them, which in turn make jaywalking rampant.

Charisma says stringent laws need to be enforced to make the roads safe. "It is true that severe punishment of a driver after an accident can make other drivers more careful, but penalties for smaller violations can play an even bigger role," she says.

The deaths of two children on the streets of our capital should come as a big wake up call for our policy makers. History, however, suggests otherwise. Our bureaucracy grinds slowly, and, like the streets of Dhaka, it, too, is prone to accidents.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Promises to Keep

The Awami League has swept an electoral landslide only seven months ago, promising to change the country and its politics. In the council that it has held last Friday, it has been business as usual, with the predictable outcome: Sheikh Hasina has been elected as the party President for the sixth time in a row and Syed Ashraful Islam, assistant secretary general in the outgoing committee, has been elected as the new party General Secretary; for both the posts there have been no other candidates. For the 45 posts of the central working committee, the council has delegated power to the new President and General Secretary; a move that has put the AL, the biggest democratic party in the country, under criticism. What can the party, which was the vanguard of the country's independence, do to infuse intra-party democracy and bring in fresh blood in its leadership, both of which have been miserably missing in the country's politics?

Sixty-year-old rickshawpuller Alam Miah, who voted for the Awami League in the last elections and a member of the party, cannot think of anyone but Sheikh Hasina to lead the party which is as old as he is. Last Friday, he eagerly waited in front of the newly christened Bangabandhu International Conference Centre. His wait was over as soon as Hasina was elected unanimously by 5,253 councillors. He left the venue in an hour, reassured that his leader Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's daughter would lead the party. "It will be good for the country," he said.

However Awami League's 20th council has failed to impress Imtiaz Ahmed, professor of International Relations at Dhaka University. "I had greater expectations and I think this particular council could not deliver," he says. What Imtiaz finds particularly unimpressive is the way the council has elected the President and General Secretary. "People this time thought that they would go for serious elections, that there would be votes and at least two or three candidates would fight," he says.

Hasina's election in the council has come as no surprise. Even though she has not been elected through secret ballot, given the popularity that she enjoys in the country, not to mention inside the party, there is little doubt that if transparent ballot boxes were used she would still have bagged all the 5,253 votes.

The newly elected President and General Secretary of Awami League.
The council was supposed to elect a 73-member central working committee (CWC), but instead it delegated the power to choose 45 members of the CWC to the new President and General Secretary. The AL constitution empowers the party President to handpick the remaining members of the CWC. "It was told that democratic principles would be followed (in the council)," Professor Muzaffer Ahmed, eminent economist and member of the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), says. He thinks that this is not the way democracy works. Professor Imtiaz Ahmed also thinks voting was necessary. "The prime minister herself said that transparent ballot boxes would be brought. This is an old way of electing leadership," he says.

Even though some councillors say that the council's chief election commissioner MA Mannan made the proposal, the veteran leader however denies any foul play. He told The Daily Star that no one filed their candidacy for other posts; "We even received a proposal from a councillor to empower the newly elected president and general secretary to choose leaders for the rest of the posts. The councillors unanimously delegated their power to the president and general secretary," he said.

Professor Imtiaz says that giving power to two people is a weakness in democracy. "You cannot give power to someone to dominate all," he says. He hopes that three years from now on things will change, and the party will work for more internal democracy. Syed Ashraful Islam agrees. He says, " It is true that the people of the country want the Awami League to be more democratic. We had a voter list for the council; we had all the preparation for elections. But as there wasn't more than one candidate, elections could not be held. That does not mean that the process in which leaders were elected cannot be called democratic. Efforts will be made in the future so that there are more candidates and party leaders are elected through direct votes of party councillors."

There is a popular expectation that the council will elect a set of leaders that will be different from those who are now holding ministerial posts to prevent meddling of party interests in ministerial responsibilities. "That expectation is also foiled because the party president is the prime minister," Imtiaz says. Now that Sheikh Hasina is vested with the power to choose a new team, it can be hoped that she is going to pick fresh leaders, not those who are performing different ministerial duties. "For democracy to work properly the party and government should be run by two sets of people," Professor Muzaffer Ahmed says. He thinks that the party should work as a watchdog, keeping the government on its toes.

Professor Muzaffer cites the famous example of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Kamaraj Kumarasami who, to invigorate the Indian Congress, proposed that all senior Congress leaders should resign from their ministerial posts and devote all their energy to the party. Elected the Chief Minister of his state three consecutive times, he duly resigned from the post of the chief minister to make room for new leadership.

Sheikh Hasina has steered her party towards a historic victory through her statesmanship. Her speeches in the run up to the general elections had shown vision to a nation that teetered on the brink of social and political chaos. Her urge to create a modern 'digital' Bangladesh earned her a huge fan following among the first time voters. History will be kind on her if she rises up to the occasion and picks a young dynamic leadership as her colleagues in the presidium and the CWC. Those who hold the ministerial posts must not be given organisational duties. Only tested young and honest leaders should be picked to run the party.

Historically the ruling party General Secretary has always been bestowed with the responsibility of running the Local Government, Rural Development and Co-operatives (LGRD) Ministry. In effect the ministry becomes a bastion of ruling party lobbyists who try to take undue advantages of their close proximity with the party in power. It is hardly surprising that on several occasions, the ministry has featured in the list of the TIB as one of the most corrupt ministries. Now that Syed Ashraful Islam, the LGRD minister, has been elected the General Secretary of the Awami League, a certain degree of apprehension is there that there will be a conflict of interest. Ashraful was famous for his bold stance during the state of emergency imposed by the last caretaker government. He will set a good example if he decides to resign from the LGRD minister to put all his energy to strengthen his party at the grassroots. It will be a healthy sign for the country's fledgling democracy, not to mention the fact that for the first time since the restoration of democracy in 1991, a ruling party will get the attention of a secretary general who is not overloaded with ministerial duties.

As the requirement of the Representation of People's Order requires that every registered party hold its council by July 24, the AL's last council was a hurriedly done affair and it has left room for improvement. Now is the time Sheikh Hasina infuses fresh blood in the party and concentrates more on the internal democracy of the party. "A democratic party's strength is in its democracy," Imtiaz says, "take Muslim League, one of the reasons why the party has gone into oblivion is because it did not practice internal democracy in its fold. If democracy is not practised rigorously the party might not be able to return to office in the next general elections."

The onus now lies on Sheikh Hasina and her foresight to decide a team that is going to lead the five-decade old Awami League into the challenges of the new millennium. In its chequered history the party has won the general elections in Bangladesh thrice, twice it was blessed with absolute majority. Bangladesh's history is entwined with the rise of the Awami League, it has led the country towards independence, and it has been at the forefront of all the democratic struggles against different military dictatorships that have plagued the country for half its life. "As a party that led Bangladesh towards independence, our expectations from the Awami League are high," says Professor Imtiaz, "This council has not met those expectations. I hope that it will be better next time."

Syed Ashraful Islam assures that it will be different in the future. He says, "We do not want to go back to confrontational politics. We want to change the country and its political culture and for this we need the support from all political parties. Awami League is a part of the society in which we live. It is not practical to think that the party is immune to the disease that has infested the country. But that day will soon come when the leaders of the party will be elected through ballot." One only hopes that he keeps his promise.

History of Glory

June 23, 1949: East Pakistan Awami Muslim League formed, breaking away from All Pakistan Muslim League. Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani was its first President, its first general secretary was Shamsul Hoq and Treasurer was Nurul Islam Chowdhury. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Khondokar Mostaq Ahmad and AK Rafiqul Hussain were its first three joint secretaries.

1952: Awami Muslim League and its student wing play an instrumental role in the Language Movement that can be termed as the beginning of our independence struggle.

October 21, 1953: In a council meeting it drops the word Muslim from its name.

March 8-12, 1954: Awami League takes the lead in forming the United Front (UF), later known as the Jukta Front with Krishak Sramik Party, Nizam-e-Islam and Ganatantri Dal, forming a 21-point charter, written by Abul Mansur Ahmad, with 'Boat' as the symbol to fight the Muslim League in the East Bengal Legislative Assembly elections. Muslim League (ML) faces a humiliating defeat: of the 237 Muslim seats, the ML secures only 9 seats as against 223 seats by the UF, of which Awami League bags143 seats.

March, 1954: Shere Bangla AK Fazlul Haq of Krishak Sramik Party leads the UF government.

May 29, 1954: Using section 92/A of the provisional constitution of Pakistan, Governor General Pakistan dismisses the Jukta Front government.

March 23, 1956: First constitution of Pakistan formed. Awami league welcomes it.

12 September, 1956 to 11 October, 1957: Awami League cobbles up a coalition with the Republican Party at the centre and runs a government that Awami League leader Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy leads.

February 7-8, 1957: Bhashani calls a conference at Kagmari in protest of Awami League leadership's support to the government's move to join the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) and Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO). It earns Bhashani the title Red Maulana, he forms his own party National Awami Party; Awami League formally splits.

October 7, 1958: Iskander Mirza, the then Governor General, declares martial law; General Ayub Khan is made its chief martial law administrator.

October 27, 1958: Ayub deposes Mirza in a bloodless coup. Political Parties Elected Bodies Disqualified Ordinance promulgated, which practically disbands all political parties. All major political leaders arrested on charges of corruption. Most major leaders of Awami League are arrested.

February 6, 1962: Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is arrested again under the Public Security Act and is released four days later.

Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy
June 1962: Ayub Khan comes up with his own Constitution, modelled on indirect election, through an electoral college, and termed it 'Basic Democracy'. Instead of reviving the Awami League, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy joins hands with Nurul Amin, Khwaza Nazimuddin, Maulvi Farid Ahmed and Hamidul Haq Chowdhury to form National Democratic Front against Ayub Khan's military-backed rule, to restore democracy and force and election.

December 5, 1963: Suhrawardy mysteriously dies in Lebanon. He is found dead in his hotel room.

March, 1964: In a meeting initiated by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, All Pakistan Awami League meets at Dhaka to revive the party. Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan becomes the president and Shamsul Hoq the general secretary. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman becomes the chief of East Pakistan Awami League.

January, 1965: Fatema Jinnah, sister of Pakistan's founder MA Jinnah, is given support by the Combined Opposition Party as the Presidential candidate. She loses to Ayub Khan.

February 5, 1966: Sheikh Mujibur Rahman places the famous Six-points charter at a conference of all political parties in Lahore. Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, the president of All Pakistan Awami League opposes, a break-up of the party becomes imminent.

March 1, 1966: A council meeting of the Awami League is called and it elects Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as the President and Tajuddin Ahmed the general secretary of Awami League.

May 8, 1966: Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was arrested under the Defence of Pakistan Rules. "Those who speak of the six points will be met with the language of weapons," Ayub Khan says. Major Awami League leaders are arrested.

June 7, 1966: A strike is called to protest the arrests; as all the major leaders are in jail, organisational secretary of Awami League Mizanur Rahman and the party's woman leader Amena Begum call the strike.

December, 1967: Pakistan government lodges the so-called Agartala Conspiracy.

January, 1968: Agartala Conspiracy. A list of 35, the so-called conspirators, which Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman tops, is disclosed.

June 19, 1968: A Special Tribunal starts its proceeding. The judges are Justices SA Rahman, Mujibur Rahman Khan and Maksumul Hakim.

January 19, 1969: Asaduzzaman Asad, Dhaka Hall leader of Leftist East Pakistan Students Union, is killed by the police in a major demonstration. Students place their 11-point demands, which spark a mass upsurge against Ayub Khan.

February 15, 1969: Sergeant Zahurul Haq, an accused in the so-called Agartala Conspiracy Case is murdered in Dhaka Cantonment.

February 19, 1969: Maulana Bhashani declares that he is going to take people to storm the cantonment if Sheikh Mujib and other accused are not released.

February 20, 1969: The house of SA Rahman, the chief Judge of the Conspiracy case, is torched; he leaves Dhaka and never came back.

February 22, 1969: Rear Admiral AR Khan, defence minister of Pakistan, declares that the so-called Agartala Conspiracy case has been withdrawn. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is released after about three years in captivity and receives a tumultuous welcome by the people.

February 23, 1969: In a speech at an all-party student mass rally at the Race Course, Tofail Ahmed, a student leader, on behalf of the All Party Students' Action Committee, bestows on Sheikh Mujib the title 'Bangabandhu', the 'friend of Bengal'. It soon becomes a symbol of adoration for Sheikh Mujib who rises to become the supreme leader of his people.

February 26-March 13, 1969: Bangabandhu places Six-points and 11-points at the Round Table Conference at Rawalpindi. The conference reaches a stalemate as the Pakistani junta refuse to accept Bangabandhu's demands.

March 25, 1969: General Yahya Khan, who two years later would launch a bloody assault on the Bengalis on March 25, 1971, seizes power in a bloodless coup.

January 6, 1970: Bangabandhu is re-elected the president of Awami League.

October 17, 1970: Bangabandhu selects 'boat' as the Awami League's election symbol for the general elections; the party starts its elections from a rally at Dhaka's Dholai Khal.

November 12, 1970: A devastating cyclone rips through East Pakistan, killing around 500,000 people. Awami League joins relief effort.

December 1970-January 1971: In the all Pakistan general elections, of the 300 seats, Awami League wins 160, Pakistan People's Party gets 81. The ruling Pakistani establishment refuses to handover power to the Awami League.

January 27, 1971: Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, leader of Pakistan People's Party arrives in Dhaka to form a coalition with the Awami League. The talk collapses.

March 1, 1971: Yahya Khan postpones the National Assembly session.

March 3, 1971: A general strike called by the Awami League cripples the whole of East Pakistan.

Bangabandhu's historic March 7 speech.
March 7, 1971: Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at a mammoth rally at Race Course says, "This struggle is the struggle for freedom, this struggle is the struggle for independence." He calls for civil disobedience against the junta.

March 16-24, 1971: Bangabandhu, Yahya Khan and Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto have talks about handover of power. The talks fail; Yahya and Bhutto leave East Pakistan.

March 25, 1971: General Yahya and his butchers start one of the most gruesome genocides in modern history. The Operation Searchlight alone kills hundreds of Bengalis on the night of March 25. Before his arrest from the historic house of Dhanmandi 32, Bangabandhu is said to have declared Bangladesh's independence at the zero hour of March 26.

March 26-December 16 1971: Awami League successfully leads one of the bravest resistances in human history. On April 17, the Bangladesh government is formed at Mujibnagar with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as the President in absentia, Syed Nazrul Islam as the Acting President and Tajuddin Ahmed as the Prime Minister. Members of Awami League fight hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder with the masses. Three million Bengalis embrace martyrdom.

January 10, 1972: Bangabandhu reaches Dhaka to a tearful welcome, two days later he becomes the Prime Minister of the newly independent country.

March 7, 1973: First general elections in independent Bangladesh held. Awami League wins an electoral landslide; of the 300 seats, it alone wins in 293 constituencies.

October 26, 1974: Tajuddin Ahmed, the man who was the Prime Minister of the government in exile and also led the Liberation War in Bangabandhu's absence, is told to resign.

February 24, 1975: One party-government system is introduced. All the political parties are banned to create Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League. All newspapers are banned; the four newspapers, which are allowed to be published, are government-controlled. Presidential government is formed.

August 15, 1975: On one of the darkest nights of our history, Father of the nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is assassinated along with all but two of the members of his family by a bunch of deranged disgruntled mid-ranking army officers led by Lt Col (sacked) Faruk Rahman.

August 16, 1975: All but five major Awami League leaders take oath in the new cabinet headed by Khondokar Mostaq Ahmed. Those who did not take oath in the cabinet of killers are: Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, Kamruzzaman, Captain Mansur Ali and Dr Kamal Hossain.

November 3, 1975: Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, Kamruzzaman and Captain Mansur Ali, four leaders kept in prison, are murdered.

November 4, 1975-May 16, 1981: Awami League faces the toughest time in its history. For these six years the party has been practically leaderless. Those who have tried to lead the party are: Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury, Abdul Malek Ukil and Zohra Tajuddin, of them the latter's contribution is commendable.

Bangabandhu with his daughter Sheikh Hasina.
May 17, 1981: Sheikh Hasina becomes the Awami League's President, following her return from exile after her father's assassination.

May 18, 1981-May 6, 1986: Sheikh Hasina leads the party under the military dictatorships of Generals Ziaur Rahman and HM Ershad.

May 7, 1986: General elections under Gen HM Ershad. Hasina decides to participate in the elections; Awami League wins 73 seats, becomes the main opposition.

January 1989-December 6, 1990: Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) lead a mass upsurge that ousts the despotic rule of General HM Ershad.

February 27, 1991: General elections. The BNP wins the elections with 169 seats; Awami League gets only 92.

1993: Awami League faces a split; Dr Kamal Hossain leaves to form Gono Forum.

1994-1996: Awami League under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina leads a popular movement against the BNP government to establish the caretaker government system.

February 15, 1996: Awami League wins the elections, getting 146 seats.

1996-2001: Sheikh Hasina's first term in office. Two of its major achievements are striking the water sharing treaty between Bangladesh and India, and the signing of a peace treaty with Jana Sanghiti Samiti.

October 1, 2001: The Awami League loses the elections. It gets only 62 seats, compared to the BNP, which wins in 193 constituencies.

May 7, 2004: Assailants shoat and kill Ahsanullah Master, an Awami League MP, in Tongi

August 21, 2004: Grenades are thrown at a rally organised by the Awami League. Sheikh Hasina survives the assassination attempt. But 23 party members, including the women's affairs secretary Ivy Rahman, die.

January 27, 2005: Awami League leader Shah MS Kibria is murdered in a grenade attack.

November-December, 2006: Awami League launches street agitation against President Iajuddin Ahmed's caretaker government.

July 16, 2007: Sheikh Hasina is arrested on charges of corruption. Many other Awami League leaders also face corruption charges.

June 11, 2008: Hasina is released from prison.

December 29, 2008: Awami League-led Grand Alliance wins the general elections winning 230 seats. Sheikh Hasina starts her second term in office.

Hasina's First Year

The Awami League-led Mahajote, which won an electoral landslide in the last general elections, has finished its one year in office last week. In the run up to the polls the alliance promised to bring a digital Bangladesh, a country free from poverty and economic exploitation, a golden Bengal where only rule of law will prevail. As the Awami League enters the second year of its third term in office, we try to explore some important issues of the day: What are the government's major achievements? What are the setbacks the government has faced in its rule? And, more importantly, what lies ahead for Sheikh Hasina and her young government, upon which the country has bestowed its future?

In the last general elections, throughout electioneering Sheikh Hasina, leader of the Awami League and Mahajote, showed brinkmanship; unlike her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) counterpart, she had shunned mud slinging and character assassination and, on top of it all, the Awami League's (AL) Vision 2021, her manifesto for change went down well among the young voters, who made up 32 per cent of the electorate. Sheikh Hasina promised change, and the voters answered her call by voting overwhelmingly in her favour. When the results came out, it became apparent that Bangladeshis had rewritten history; a silent revolution had taken place on December 29, 2008. While the BNP, the AL's archrival, lost 163 seats, the AL gained 168.

While forming her cabinet, Sheikh Hasina surprised many by choosing fresh young faces for important ministries. For the first time in the country's history, Home and Foreign Ministries went to women ministers. Most of Hasina's young colleagues have had an untainted past. The parliamentary standing committees were formed in the first session of the parliament and some chairmanship of these important bodies went to opposition MPs. "For the first time in the history of Bangladesh in the parliament all the standing committees are functioning with four chairpersons from the opposition. Committees are the most important part of the parliamentary system; the committees work round the clock in Westminster democracy. It is a big achievement," says Waliur Rahman, a political analyst.

Post-poll violence, however, turned out to be difficult to contain; and no sooner had Hasina and her nascent government tamed the spiralling lawlessness, it faced the biggest challenge in its term in office: the BDR mutiny. On February 25, last year, barely two months into Hasina's second term in office, a bunch of disgruntled bloodthirsty jawans of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) mutinied at the forces headquarters in Pilkhana killing 57 army officers who were deputed to the country's border security forces. Faced with the prospect of a civil war breaking out for the murderers were armed to the teeth, the government showed maximum restraint, and two days after it broke out, the mutiny was quelled. The government arrested the masterminds of the massacre within a week and the trial of the killers is going on.

This year farmers have got electricity for irrigation at the right time and the supply of fertiliser has been adequate.
One of the biggest successes of the government is the stimulus economic package that it has rolled out to withstand the ongoing global economic recession. By the beginning of its second year at the helm, all the major indicators are showing an upward turn and Bangladesh has shielded its financial interests well. In the last year, manpower export has also increased. Economist MM Akash thinks some of the government measures have successfully thwarted the threat posed by the ongoing global economic meltdown, but he, however, cautions that there might be a thorny road ahead. "The price of rice is increasing on the market, and the manipulation of the middlemen is increasing by day. Only time can tell how it handles the situation," he says.

On the agriculture front it has all been rosy. Enough supply of power have ensured that the farmers have got electricity for irrigation at the right time, supply of fertiliser this year has been adequate and Sheikh Hasina and her government can be given due credit for the food autarky that the country has achieved. Mujahidul Islam Selim, general secretary of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, thinks the success in food production is due to the government's new agriculture policy, which has seen an increase in giving subsidy and agricultural loan to the farmers. "Beside these initiatives, the government also needs to smash the hands of the middlemen and party-cadres who reap the most benefits of the food production, depriving the farmers of their due share," he says.

Awami League MP Abdur Razzak calls food security the most important issue of our time. "There has been some significant progress in this field and if the government continues the help that it has extended to the farmers, we can expect another bumper food production in the new year," he says.

Hasina's government faced the biggest challenge in its term in office: the BDR mutiny.
Political analyst Dilara Choudhury thinks the biggest success of the government is the formation of a non-communal democratic education policy. "After being given the charge of the education, Minister Nurul Islam Nahid has formed a new Education Policy that aims to ensure education for all," she says. This is the first time that textbooks have been distributed free of charge to all the students at different educational institutions on the first day of their class. Nahid also plans to put more emphasis on vocational training to meet the rising challenges of the new millennium. "If he keeps his promise, we can expect our education system to be on a firm footing within a few years," Dilara says. Selim agrees; he says, "The government can claim some big achievements in the educational sector."

The government has also taken some steps to save the rivers from the encroachers, who, blessed with the impunity of the subsequent governments, have grabbed government land. In the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Sheikh Hasina and her government's leading role in favour of the countries adversely affected by the rising Carbon-dioxide omissions has earned her kudos.

The government has successfully fought the legal battle of punishing the killers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. " It will, once and for all, flag the fact that nobody can get away with murdering somebody meaning that the rule of law is being established through the process of this trial," says Waliur Rahman. War crime trial is also in the offing.

But the government's success is blotched with its failure to pursue its drive against corruption as vigorously and relentlessly as it should be. "It is, again, a must for the establishment of rule," he says.

Sheikh Hasina promised change, and the voters answered her call by voting overwhelmingly in her favour.

Decentralisation of power got a big blow when the MPs were made advisers of different Upazila Parishads (UP). In the absence of complete rules of business, the Parishads are functioning on temporary rules of business, which does not define the role of the body's Vice Chairperson. "The way the UPs are handled is disappointing," Dilara Choudhury says. She thinks that the government has failed to keep the promises that it has made in the run-up to the elections.

Another problem with the temporary provision is that it gives more power to the elected representatives of the people than the bureaucrats. "The recommendations of the Local Government Commission have also not been implemented," she says, "We expected the government to decentralise power. We hope that in the near future the government will change its outlook and strengthen the local institutions."

Some of the government measures have successfully thwarted the threat posed by the ongoing global economic meltdown.
There have also been allegations that the government has failed to rein in on its student wing, some members of which have allegedly been involved in manipulations of government tenders, and, in worst cases, extortion. "Even though its top leadership has remained untainted by corruption, it has not been able to control some of the leaders of its mass organisations," MM Akash says.

Abdur Razzak is disappointed by the government's performance in ensuring energy security. "The government could not generate enough electricity in 2009. I have remained an optimist though; I think the new projects will generate adequate electricity in the next two years' time. I hope they work," he says.

The Awami League government has promised to set up the war crime tribunals.

Besides a couple of hiccups such as these, the government's stride towards its own Vision 2021 has been a promising one. Dilara thinks the government's first term in office has gone rather well. "There are some major achievements," she says, "and as the first year of any government, it has had some achievements it can be proud of." She says that the law and order situation in the country has been good.

Waliur Rahman suggests that the government restart the jail killing trial. "As a witness of the trial I can tell you that it has not been properly done. The government must immediately restart the trial process," he says.

He also thinks that in the next one year the government must also think seriously to create the post of National Defence Adviser. "I think we badly need it to face the challenges of terrorism and other internal and external threats," Waliur says.

Dilara also suggests that the government ensures energy security. "It is a must. Without it there will be no investment," she cautions. Waliur agrees, but he thinks the new projects that the government has taken will work well. "It is just a matter of time that our energy needs will be fulfilled," she says.

In one of her election speeches Sheikh Hasina had famously said, “Boat (the AL's election symbol) has brought you independence, repeat your choice this time too, it will give you economic freedom.” So far her government has made significant progress in achieving that goal. Only time can tell if her government can strengthen these achievements and bring about the Golden Bengal that our founding fathers have dreamt of.

Democracy Needs a Firm Footing

After many tempestuous years, democracy in the new millennium has gained a firm footing in the country. Analysts and politicians expect politics in the next 10 years to be different from what it has been. They think good governance and rule of law is the key to establishing a truly democratic Bangladesh.

Parliament must be the centre of all political activities.
Democracy in the last nine years has gone through many phases. There have been violent confrontations in the streets that led to the declaration of the State of Emergency and the rule of a non-elected caretaker government, which held power for two years. Even though power has been changed twice through elections, misgoverance and politicisation of the bureaucracy by the ruling parties have been rampant in the last 10 years. Bangladesh is still far away from establishing rule of law.

Sheikh Hasina
The biggest strength that democracy in Bangladesh can boast of is perhaps the huge support of the masses that it wields in its favour. In the last four general elections there have been a huge turnout of voters who waited patiently at the polling stations to exercise their right to vote. In all cases, anti-incumbency factor has been crucial for in all these four polls the voters have overwhelmingly voted for the party in opposition in the last parliament.

It also shows the disappointment that the masses have felt in their elected representatives. "In the last 10 years Bangladesh was in the process of democratisation, but we cannot say that the process had produced 100 percent successful return in so far as democracy is concerned," says Dr Syed Anwar Hossain, professor of History at Dhaka University.

Awami League MP Suranjit Sengupta agrees; he thinks the impediments that the country's beleaguered democracy faces now go back to the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. "I think our War of Liberation is an unfinished revolution," he says, "We were supposed to take the path of non-communal democracy, which was laid down in the constitution of 1971."

He thinks Bangabandhu was misdirected, deceived by the defeated forces of the war who eventually killed him along with his family members. "Since then our politics have been divided into two groups--pro and anti-liberation forces," he says, "Before 1975, the nation dreamt of a bright future, a non-communal democratic country free from exploitation, but with the murder of Bangabandhu, the country had moved towards the path of becoming a mini-Pakistan."

It is indeed heartening to see the Awami League government start the process of trying the war criminals along with bringing the perpetrators of all previous political killings to book. Having said that, it must adhere to the principles of rule of low and justice, without which it will be difficult to bring the country back to the track of good governance.

Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader MK Anwar does not see a bright future ahead as he thinks no one in the political establishment has the right mindset to run the political institutions in a democratic fashion. "There is no denying that our democracy is still in infancy," he says, "there are many things that need to be done to make democracy functional and I do not see them coming."

He says that during the first few days of the last caretaker government's regime, he saw some sense of optimism, but later, "within a very short time I was disillusioned." The reason he says, "Either they (the regime) could not identify their real task or they had some hidden agenda."

Khaleda Zia
Anwar thinks political parties should practise internal democracy, which Suranjit says "a must to establish democratic values in all walks of life". He says that the country must reinstate its first constitution: " In the last elections there has been a mass upsurge and a verdict has been given to the Awami League to go back to the constitution of 1972. If we stick to the constitution of 1972 and step into the new decade, people will be reunited, economic emancipation will come. If the killers of Bangabandhu are hanged, it will be a fall of post-1975 politics, and if we do not lose our way, I think, we will be able to march forward because we have enough potential as a nation," Sengupta says.

Imtiaz Ahmed, professor of Dhaka University, however, considers intolerance the biggest enemy of democracy. "Both the political parties believe in 'if you are not with us, you are against us’ kind of ideology, and this harms good governance and rule of law dearly," he says, "and because of this culture of intolerance many a time dubious forces have cropped up to play a determining role."

He thinks true democracy is yet to take root in the country. "Whenever we want a complete functioning democracy, our politicians tell us that Bangladesh has its own version of democracy and we have to make do with it. I think this idea is flawed, democracy is a universal political idea, there can never be a 'different democracy', which is practised only in Bangladesh," he says.

Professor Anwar Hossainalso thinks some of the politicians are not capable of rising up to the challenges of the new millennium. "Some of the politicians are not at all attuned with the tenets of democracy and rule of law," he says, " The common people are democratically oriented; we have democratic rules in our past, in ancient times we had, however small, many democratic republics."

He says that Bangladesh has many expectations that have so far remained unfulfilled in so far as the role of politicians is concerned and in most of the cases the politicians have not been able to deliver. "The democratic norms and values and rules of the game are not properly followed by the politicians," he says.

MK Anwar says emphasis must be put on making the parliament effective. "Parliament has been used for mudslinging and character assassinations, and if it goes on, it will cease to remain an effective institution," Anwar says. He considers establishment of rule of law an integral part of democracy and says, "A democratic society is always guided by rule of law, in our life it has remained absent. The Awami League government has politicised bureaucracy in 1995; we have our fair share of blame too. But this should not have been done…"

Professor Imtiaz says politicisation of bureaucracy has been so widespread that it is lobbying and allegiance to the ruling party only that decides who is going to be the Vice Chancellor of a university or who will be made an Officer with a Special Duty in a particular ministry. Along with getting rid of nepotism and sycophancy, MK Anwar thinks the ruling party must recognise the role of the opposition party and give it its due honour to make parliament functional. "Along with this, the administration must be depoliticised, judiciary needs to work in a free and transparent manner," he says.

Professor Imtiaz says the politicians need to rise up to the occasion to make democracy work. "If we don't do this," he says, "We will remain a 'different democracy', and in such a warped political form of government, dubious forces can always raise their head." So far the Awami League, in its third term in office, has taken some significant steps to fix the anomalies that our politics have been riddled with. It has brought in new faces to the cabinet, and has given the post of chairman of different parliamentary standing committees to the opposition lawmakers. But the power of money and muscle that has made democracy dysfunctional in the pre-2001 politics still remains a significant force. Both the major political parties need to get rid of criminal elements in its fold and make room for young leadership to emerge.

At the beginning of its tenure the Hasina government failed to reign in on some of its young members who indulged themselves in manipulating government tenders and extortion. It needed the Prime Minister's intervention to stop these Chhatra League leaders from their dastardly acts. The biggest challenge that the new government has faced in its one-year tenure is the crisis centring on the mutiny of some members of the Bangladesh Rifles in which 58 army officers were murdered. The trials of the mutineers have already started and are expected to be finished soon.

The biggest test for democracy to work will be to make parliament effective through meaningful participation. This means the practice of boycott must be boycotted. Opposition parties have traditionally indulged in this punitive strategy at the cost of valuable taxpayers’ money and thwarting the support of their loyal voters. The ruling party Chief and Leader of the Opposition have the greatest responsibility of all, by burying their personal bitterness towards each other and bringing in a new era of healthy competition and unity when it comes to issues of national interest. Unless our politicians practise what they preach, democracy has a long way to go before it leaves its infancy.

The new government, which has won an electoral landslide in the last elections, also promises to bring a digital Bangladesh free from corruption and nepotism by the end of the next decade. Whether it sticks to it promises and leads the country to a prosperous future only time can tell.

Not Child's Play

With the advent of the Internet and mobile phones the number of Bangladeshis visiting pornographic websites is increasing. Sometimes children are featured in these lurid videos; teenagers also download these sexually explicit scenes and pass it on to their friends. There have been occasions when girl students killed themselves when footages of their self shot nude videos or scenes of their sexual acts were caught on hidden camera and were published on the net. There is no strong law in the country to protect children from the threat of porn. New laws and a social movement against pornography is now the demand of the time.

Bangladesh woke up to the nightmare of 'homemade deshi porn' in 2001 when Suman, a Bangladeshi-born American, came to the country and videoed his sexual acts with three local women. Unaware of the presence of the camera, the women fell into Suman's love trap and were shot in compromising postures. The CDs which hit the market later on carried a commentary that degraded the women. A general diary was lodged, but by that time Suman and his lone accomplice had fled the country; the CDs started to be sold in the shops; of the three women, one has left the country, the other two still bear the shame of being exposed publicly in such a way.

Suman's is not the only scandal to plague the country's CD scene. Taking the advantage of cameras in mobile phones, intimate details of individuals are videoed, sometimes with the consent of willing female friends, only to be leaked into the market. Last week, Shobuj (name changed), a ninth grader at a reputed English medium school in Uttara, was caught at school with a CD. "We have gone through it and to our utter horror we have found that it contains explicit scenes of some of our male and female students," says the Principal of the school who wants to remain anonymous.

The Principal thinks it is difficult to handle what she calls 'this new nuisance', as modern technology, like a double-edged sword, has both good and bad sides. "We have banned cell phones at school, but parents complain that without the phone it becomes impossible for them to contact their children in times of need," she says.

Manusher Jonno Foundation, a non-government organisation, has conducted an extensive survey in the country on child pornography. Its report says, " Watching naked pictures through mobile phone is found to be a common trend among the children (covered by the survey). According to some children, they enjoy bad songs by mobile phone. Also, children are found to exchange porno pictures through mobile phone." The report, quoting an owner of a cyber café, says that a boy and a girl of a reputed school of Dhaka recorded their own sex act and sent it to others by MMS.

"Pornography is spreading among the children mostly by the friends through chatting; drawing curiosity on sex or by peer pressure that insist them to view porno picture or movie considering it as a part of their smartness and adulthood," the report says, "Sometimes they simply follow their seniors at school or college. It is noticeable from their discussion that considering growing demand porno movies are prepared in large scale inside the country too and the children are aware about these web sites."

The children who indulge themselves in such activities just for the fun of it know little about the ramifications of their actions. Shobuj says that he has got the videos through the blue-tooth of his friends' mobiles and has made a CD of all the videos because he wants to see them together.

Some of these videos hardly remain a private affair. "There are several ways a video tape can be leaked," says Shanto, a dealer in porn, who only uses his first name, "We mostly get the porn from computer repair shops, where people send their PCs to be fixed."

He runs a bustling shop at the heart of the city's Hatirpool area and his clientele include 13-year-old school goers to 70-year-old retired civil servants. He says that his collections are the best in town; while some of the CDs show Bangladeshi men and women having sex, the rest contain scenes where children as young as 14 are either shown nude or are making love to each other. Asked whether he knows that selling porn is illegal, he replies, "There are many things, which are illegal, smoking in a public place is one, why don't you go and arrest the person who is smoking in front of my shop? I am merely doing entertainment business. If people feel happy after watching my CDs what's wrong with it?"

However innocent Shanto wants to make his trade sound, only a few months ago pornography has taken the life of a young woman in Gazipur. The girl fell in love with a young man of her age and they had sex in a hotel room. Little did they know that the hotelier runs a secret racket of pornographers who kept a hidden camera in the room. Soon the video made its way into the Internet and within days it became the talk of the town. The girl committed suicide by hanging herself from the ceiling fan.

Her family has not yet filed a case with the police, as it will expose its members to further humiliation. "After the video was uploaded on the net, my daughter's friends started to avoid her. There were whispers on the streets. One day she came back from her college and locked herself up. If only I knew!" Nasreen Akhter (name changed), the girl's mother, says.

Her suicide and an attempted suicide of another girl have prompted the police to request the ban on 84 websites carrying nude photographs and sexually explicit video clips of Bangladeshi girls. In fact there are certain websites on the Internet, which are solely dedicated to Bangladeshi child porn. Shanto says that some of the CDs that he sells are downloaded from the net. In its report on child porn, Manusher Jonno Foundation says, "Few students shared that they and their friends searched for porno pictures through Internet and visited porno websites. They said that they visited cyber cafés and downloaded pictures through their pen drive and later it installed them in their personal computer to watch secretly at home. Some students said that at present mobile phone is being used commonly to download porno pictures, as it is easy to install."

As the net is not easily accessible for most young adults, some go to the cyber cafés only to download nude photographs and videos from adult sites. Sometimes they go through Facebook or other social networking sites to download revealing photographs of girls. Some of them even upload their own photos on these web pages and anyone can download and use them.

Borhanuddin Lascar, owner of such a café confesses that most of his clients are students. He however refuses to accept that most of them use his facilities to search for porn; "Sometimes they come to google for important assignments that they have to prepare for their studies. It's true that some succumb to the allure of pornography; I cannot do anything about it. I have no way to track down whether my clients are doing research or watching porn on an adult site," Lascar says.

In fact, there is no cyber café in the city that monitors the activities of its clients; neither do they track the activities of their children or underage customers. Exposure to porn at an early age can wreak havoc on a child's psyche. A child can grow up being aggressive, he might grow to degrade women and can see them merely as sexual objects. Psychologists believe that watching porn at an early age can give a child twisted ideas about sexuality, harming his sexual life when he grows up.

Eminent lawyer Barrister Mokhsedul Islam considers child porn a big problem and he finds the police request to ban websites ludicrous as he thinks that whenever and wherever the police find any such website it must immediately block it: "What is the point of asking permission?" Barrister Islam asks.

Many young people go to cyber cafés to see x-rated films, as there is no system of monitoring the activities of clients.

He thinks existing laws are not adequate to deal with pornography, let alone help the children who have fallen victim to porn. In Bangladesh the law that directly deals with porn is 149 years old, and there is no wonder that it does not cover the Internet or Multi-media Messages. Section 292 of the Penal Code defines porn as "obscene book, pamphlet, paper, drawing, painting, representation or figure or any other obscene object whatsoever", and hands down prison sentences up to six months to a person who sells, lets to hire, distributes, exhibits or circulates to "any person under the age of twenty years".

Section 292 does not even mention children, and lawyer Barrister Raghib Rauf Chowdhury finds it poorly made to fight the rising menace of child pornography. The Children Act 1974 does not cover child pornography and the act which does: Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Act 2006: does not specifically mention any offence committed by or against the juveniles. "If you talk about pornography in general there is no law that singularly deals with it. Even the Children Act does not carry severe punishment. The ICT Act carries sever punishment with a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of up to Tk 1 crore. But the law is not clear enough to cover the situation that we are dealing with nowadays," Barrister Chowdhury says.

He says that of late he has come across an incident where a girl is threatened by her ex-lover that he is going to publish all her photographs online as their relationship has broken up. "It has become so rampant that new laws need to be enacted," Barrister Chowdhury says.

According to the 57/1 of ICT Act a person will be considered guilty if he willingly publishes or transmits anything untrue or vulgar on the internet or in any other electronic format or after reading or hearing of which a person becomes inspired to become corrupt or dishonest; or anything that can cause defamation; deterioration of law and order; or can create a situation that may lead to the deterioration of law and order; or can harm the image of a person or state; or hurt the religious sentiments; or can give incite against any individual or organisation.

The law is inadequate to fight child pornography.
Barrister Chowdhury thinks the ICT Act is meant more for the television channels than the pornographers or owners of pornographic sites. Colonel Mizanur Rahman Khan, Additional Director General of the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab), agrees. He says, "If the law were strong, the criminals would have thought twice before starting their dastardly acts. A stringent law that will curb cyber crime with an iron hand is the demand of the time."

Col Khan, a father himself, thinks to give or not to give mobile phone to one's child is one of the toughest challenges that a parent faces nowadays. "When I was a teenager, we used to go to school early in the morning and get back home in the evening after playing in the field. There was no security concern at the time, my parents were sure where we were; they knew that we were safe and sound. But it is not the same now, I always worry when my child goes out of home and because of the cell phone I can communicate with my child," he says.

Yet he thinks, except for the blessings part, mobile phone is also a curse in disguise. "Only a few days ago the Rab has caught some criminals from Farmgate who were uploading porn on mobile phones at 200 taka per cell phones. We act whenever we get a whiff of porn," Col Khan says.

One of the prized feathers in Rab's crown is the arrests of some criminals who, as a gang, were kidnapping and raping young girls and videoed their acts. Acting on a tip off the elite crime-busting unit nabbed all the criminals of the group, which was stationed in Savar. "It is a social crime and whenever we find any crime we act promptly," Col Khan says.

He believes that as it is a social crime, Rab is not enough to handle it. He thinks a social movement is needed to make people aware against child porn. "After we have raised the issue of yaba, the newspapers have taken up the issue and our joint efforts have kept the use of this illegal substance to the bare minimum," he says.

Col Khan also suggests strong vigilance of the law enforcing agencies. On top of it all he puts the outmost emphasis on making children and young adults aware of the tentacles of pornography. "At the end of the day only a social movement can raise awareness against child porn, as law enforcers we can only kill the source, but if the demand is there the many-headed monster of porn can creep up again in a different form," he says.

The Original Sin

It has been more than a mere trial. On August 15, 1975, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, along with 13 members of his family, was brutally murdered by a bunch of disgruntled, degenerate members of the Army. Obstacles were created to bar the trial of the killers, not only that, Zia, Ershad and Khaleda governments gave them protection and diplomatic jobs, creating a society where killers of innocent men, women and children can go scot-free. It has taken the nation 34 long years to bring Bangabandhu's 12 killers to book. Last week's Supreme Court verdict is a giant step towards establishment of a society based on democracy and the rule of law.

Barrister Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh, one of the three survivors of the August mayhem, will never forget the dawn of August 15, 1975. Taposh, who was around four years old at that time, was sleeping in his room with his brother when he heard his father's footsteps in the stairs. Sheikh Fazlul Haq Moni, one of the organisers of the Liberation War was going downstairs to pick up "the day's newspaper or a book", Taposh could not quite recall. As he reached the landing space of the stairs, a bunch of killers led by Risaldar Moslehuddin got hold of him. Moni, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's nephew, was told to walk ahead. "You are under arrest," said the Risaldar.

"Meanwhile, my mother came down," says Taposh, "Before the killers fired at my father, in an attempt to save him, my mother came before the gun and both were shot." She was seven-months pregnant at the time of the killing.

Taposh and his elder brother were eyewitnesses to one of the grisliest and barbaric murders in human history. "After the massacre, Mrs Fatema Selim, one of our aunts, took us to a safe house, telling us that it was not safe to stay in that house any more," Taposh says.

He was completely devastated. "Even though I was a mere toddler at that time I knew what I had lost," Taposh says. He and his brother have been lucky because within a few hours after the murders, the killers came back looking for Moni's two sons that they had orphaned.

Taposh still bears the trauma of the loss. "I won't be able to tell you what I feel. Parents are a person's biggest assets. I miss them in every step of my life's successes and failures, achievements and defeats," he says. Taposh, who has recently survived an assassination attempt, says that he missed his father when he first became a barrister.

The first attack on the night of August 15 was launched on Abdur Rab Serniabat's house. In the 20-minute-long killing spree that ensued, the murderers killed Serniabat, his wife, daughters and three minor members of his family. Serniabat's son Abul Hasnat Abdullah, a survivor in the family who has luckily escaped on that frightful night, told a British journalist, “I later saw my wife, mother and 20-year-old sister badly wounded and bleeding." He says that his two young daughters, uninjured, were sobbing behind a sofa where they had hidden during the massacre. Lying dead on the floor were his 5-year-old son, two sisters aged 10 and 15 and his 11-year old brother, the family ayah (maid), a house-boy and his cousin Shahidul Islam Serniabat.

On the night of August 15, 1975, the killers divided themselves into several groups. The first one, led by Lt Col (then Major) SHBM Nur Chowdhury and Lt Colonel (then Major) Mohiuddin Ahmed, went to the historic house at Dhanmandi road no 32. The second group, assigned to kill Abdur Rab Serniabat and his family members, was led by Major Dalim, and Risaldar Moslehuddin Khan led the third group, which launched an attack on Sheikh Fazlul Haq Moni's house.

Gen. Zia (extreme left), the then second in command of Bangladesh Army at Khondokar Moshtaque's oath-taking ceremony.

When the massacre was going on at Serniabat household, Bangabandhu got a call from the house. "Get the police control room," he told his personal assistant Muhitul Islam. When he could get neither the police station nor the Ganobhaban Exchange, Bangabandhu himself tried to make a call. A hail of bullets poured in and Mujib told Islam to duck under the table. A few minutes later Bangabandhu got up and went out to the veranda. Meanwhile, the butchers had already killed Sheikh Kamal and Sheikh Jamal. By that time Major Mohiuddin took Bangabandhu to the landing of the stairs. Nur appeared in the corner and said something to Mohiuddin, to which the latter moved to one side. "What do you want?" Bangabandhu asked. There was silence. Nur and Major Huda then simultaneously fired volleys of bullets from their Sten guns. Bangabandhu's whole body twisted back and slipped to the landing of the stairs. It was 5.40 in the morning. Mujib's death could not quench the blood-thirst of the murderers, Begum Fazilatunnesa Mujib, Bangabandhu's wife, embraced martyrdom within a few minutes. The killers then went into one room after the other and killed Bangabandhu's two daughters-in-law.

The killers looked for Sheikh Russell, Bangabandhu's 10-year-old son, and found him in a corner. "I want to go to my mother," Russell, merely a toddler, cried. "We are taking you to her," said one of the killers and took him to first floor. There were volleys of gunshots.

Khandakar Moshtaque Ahmed, who declared himself President on August 15 following Bangabandhu's brutal assassination, on 26th September promulgated an ordinance indemnifying the killers. The Ordinance was promulgated, as the Bangladesh Gazette dated that day says, “ to restrict the taking of any legal or other proceedings in respect of certain acts or things in connection with, or in preparation or execution of any plan for, or steps necessitating, the historical change and the Proclamation of Martial Law on the morning of 15th August, 1975.”

The murders have been brutal and barbaric as it is, but to indemnify the killers of pregnant women and children have been something unheard of. With the brutal and barbaric murders of August 15, Bangladesh, as a nation, plunged into an abyss of darkness. Within nine days of the mayhem, the then Army Chief Gen Shafiullah was sent into retirement and was replaced by his second-in-command Gen Ziaur Rahman. Since then, except for the four days of November 3-7, 1975, Zia was at the centre of power. There has been widespread allegation that Gen Zia gave the killers the go-ahead to assassinate Mujib and his family. Lt Col (dismissed) Farooq, in a confessional statement given to the trial court on December 19, 1996 said that Lt Col (retd) Sultan Shahrier Rashid Khan told him prior to the massacre that Zia would support them if Mujib was killed.

"There are multilateral dimensions to the conspiracy," says Syed Anwar Husain, professor of History at University of Dhaka. He says that there is evidence, however a little bit peripheral, to suggest Zia's involvement in the August massacre. "This evidence arises out of his perfunctory reaction upon being informed that Bangabandhu was killed. Zia replied, 'President is killed, so what? The Vice President is there. Uphold the constitution'."

These staccato sentences, Professor Anwar says, when analysed together, lead to disturbing conclusions. "Firstly," he says, "it appeared that he took this very barbaric and dastardly incident very lightly, meaning he had a foreknowledge of the happenings." He also says that Zia said the right thing by urging everyone to uphold the constitution under such abnormal circumstances. "Anybody in a responsible position could have said the same thing; but the core statement, which makes us suspicious is: 'So what?'"

In fact, it was Zia who incorporated the infamous Indemnity Ordinance into the constitution, constitutionally protecting the killers of innocent men, women and children. "Zia was at the forefront of all the beneficiaries of this tragic happening. He was the man who did everything to shield the killers from any legal process and he also managed to provide them with safe passages out of the country," Professor Anwar says.

In fact, Zia's assumption of power was coated with the blood of the martyrs of the August 15 mayhem. The killers have found a benevolent friend in Gen Ziaur Rahman-- he gave them diplomatic jobs, legal protection by incorporating the Indemnity Ordinance into the constitution at his own rubber-stamp, pet parliament.

Even though Bangabandhu's killers are about to walk the gallows in a month, Zia's involvement in the August carnage waits to be unearthed. The murders gave birth to a string of bloody coups and counter-coups. There was a government in Dhaka, but there had been alternative centres of powers at different times in the months of August, September, October and November, 1975.

The culture of coup, conspiracy and murder that was given birth to in 1975, continued. Zia himself survived several coup attempts, all of which he suppressed with an iron hand. During Zia's regime there had been several trials for launching coups, and interestingly in most of the cases those who were on the dock were army officers who fought during the Liberation War; but for the August 15 killers waited only government benefits. On May 30, 1981, Zia himself became a victim of coup; he was assassinated in Chittagong. And those who were put to trial before a martial law court were also freedom fighter officers of the Bangladesh Army. It seemed as though a conspiracy had been hatched to purge the army of Muktijoddha officers.

Bangabandhu's murder has destroyed all the major democratic institutions of the country. Judiciary, in the hands of different military dictators, was used to legitimise the latter's illegal hold on power. Elections became a joke, and one of the worst victims of the August 15 mayhem has been the Armed Forces of the country. For 15 long years the nation was rattled by a culture of killing and impunity that started through the massacres of August 15; and our Army was no exception. Militarisation of governance has done no country any good, and as a result of it both the Army and the country's wobbling democracy suffered.

In 1990, the Armed Forces took the courageous stance of refusing to obey the dictatorial regime of General HM Ershad. During the mass upsurge, at the fag end of Ershad's regime, the army high command refused to fire on the masses that took to the street to bring down Ershad's illegal rule. The mass movement paved the way to restoration of democracy, which we had lost on August 15, 1975 through the brutal murder of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Khaleda Zia, Ziaur Rahman's widow, who assumed power after democracy was restored in 1991, kept her late husband's policy regarding the killers unaltered. In the February 15, 1996 general elections, held when Khaleda was in office, Khandaker Abdur Rashid, one of the self-confessed killers of the Father of the Nation, was elected uncontested. And the subsequent governments that followed the carnage have all had their fair shares in abetting the killings. One of the basic tenants of democracy is the rule of law and as they did not hold trial of the killers of innocent, unarmed men, women and children, the basis on which Zia, Ershad and Khaleda regimes held power was immoral, if not illegal.

Khaleda Zia's sympathy for Mujib's killers can only be explained if clear evidence of Zia's hand in Mujib murder can be found. Not only did Khaleda follow her late husband's policy on the killers, during her second term in office the Mujib murder case was deliberately stalled through the creation of one government-made obstacle after the other. Zia helped the killers flee: Khaleda made their trial difficult.

The trial of the killers, done in a free and transparent manner, finally ended last week, 34 years after the murders. The Awami League government deserves kudos for not tampering with justice, keeping the judicial system free from undue influences. Last week's Supreme Court verdict that upheld the death penalty of Bangabandhu's 12 killers is immensely significant on several counts. It proves that no matter how long it is or how well protected the killers are, there is no law in the country that can save murderers of innocent men and women. To establish a society based on the basic tenants of the rule of law it is a must that killers are punished; and that is exactly what has happened through the Supreme Court verdict. During the era of military dictatorships, there are several instances where judges, at gunpoint, had to legitimise the despotic rules of different military dictators. This verdict has also absolved the highest court of the land of its previous sins.

Last week our Supreme Court has at last given us the opportunity of heaving a collective sigh of relief. The dark era of misrule, abuse of power and impunity that has prevailed over the years has come to an end. We demand a quick execution of the verdict, with which we also wish to move on as a nation towards the establishment of Golden Bengal that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had dreamt of but could not achieve. Our goal should now be to build a happy and prosperous nation. Establishment of a country based on rule of law, democratic values, and social and economic justice is perhaps the biggest tribute we can pay to our Father of the Nation.