Saturday, April 13, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Entering the era of anti-politics

Update : 21 Apr 2013, 07:40 PM

Days before things really kicked off at a busy intersection in the capital city, I was sipping tea with some senior journalists at the Sylhet Press Club. I asked my favourite naive question - trying to figure out when people would finally say: “enough is enough.”

The journalists I was speaking were most polite as they gently explained that “the passions of 1990” were never going to return, that people had given up on seeing meaningful change, that hope had gone AWOL. The fire had gone out of the young. Apparently, even Zafar Iqbal had thought they were just too besotted with updating Facebook to actually care about anything meaningful.

Bolt out of the blue

The next day, early afternoon, I watched with astonishment as students from the nearby Shahjalal University of Science & Technology marched through the menacing streets, emptied by the day’s hartal. Half of them were female, many holding hands, perhaps in solidarity, perhaps to suppress fear.

The riot police watched with mouths open, some were shaking their heads, others were smiling, I would have loved to know what they were thinking at the time.

The students demanded an end to hartals and other agitation, and shouted “Jamaat! Go back to Pakistan!” This was meant to be Sylhet, supposedly a stronghold for Islamists.

A couple of days later, Shahbag erupted. Thousands of students, in an “Occupy”-style protest in front of the Shaheed Minar, joined the students of Sylhet, in making their voices heard.

These new protesters remained at the Shahbag intersection for weeks in defiance. The genie has escaped the bottle and is clearly reluctant and unwilling to return to oblivion.

Fear is the key

Some, in the out-of-touch, well-to-do politicised classes in Dhaka, are always just one Islamist march away from hoisting up the white flag.

The show of strength before the verdict on Kader Mollah sent shivers down the spines of politicos.

When tens and even hundreds of thousands of citizens swept onto the streets all over the nation as a popular counterforce, the so-called secular politicos steadied themselves. 

But not for long. 

With a rebranded Islamist movement burning, looting and maiming, the political tribes have surrendered any shred of moral authority they might have possessed.

Who then, speaks for the subalterns, the “subordinates”?

2013 will ultimately be remembered for the anti-politics movements taking centre stage. The Islamist movement is not aiming to be victorious in the next election, even if there were one. There are many ways to capture power. Voting is only one of them.

The opposing movement, led by technology, also does not have electoral aspirations. It needs no political programme, no cadres, and no candidates. Its role is that of a catalyst.

The two are a symbolic representations of the raging argument that is traumatising the country.

Why was Bangladesh created? What should its aspirations be? Which direction does it take?

We have to wonder where the subalterns are? The forgotten ones, talked about but not spoken to, ordered around but never consulted, wheeled in for a democratic charade and then dumped outside once the discourse on power actually begins.

For those who want genuine national liberation, by reclaiming the sovereignty that leads to shared prosperity - I say, this cannot be an elite-moulded, “ivory tower” project. 

The dialogue, deliberations and debate have to include the tens of millions in the slums, or “basties,” past and present garments workers, migrants (abroad now and returnees) and the majority who are still involved in agrarian processes.

A few years ago, I saw the New Agricultural Movement or Noya Krishi Andolon in action - hundreds of thousands of farmers, who, on a daily basis, defy donor agencies, chemical companies and government. For those either ramping up or fearing Hefazat, they must realise that peasants are more interested in their own work, the seeds they plant and decent prices for their products.

They must realise that the millions of female industrial operators from the slums, who have worked in the past or are still toiling away, and their female cousins back in the villages are not weak, “fatalistic”, or timid. That the army of migrants returning from the Middle East have seen how those “petro-sheikhdoms” are run and have suffered at the hands of those barbarous regimes. The majority of these returnees are not eager to recreate those societies here.

How many times do the poor have to reject theocratic parties in elections before we show them some respect?

Meanwhile, dynastic politicians dig themselves deeper into a hole, unaware that if sidelined this time, they might just never return. 

The subalterns must be sincerely invited to build this country. The question, naturally, is agency. Eyes need to be cast beyond porous borders for ideas, strategy and depth. While new spaces are opening up for the subalterns, they will have to wait their turn. 

The immediate consequence of anti-politics is likely to be a Western-backed top-down manoeuvre.


Farid Bakht is a political analyst  



Popular Links