Tahmima Anam on the Bangladesh Elections

Since we have been on the topic of corrupt South Asian leaders who go on to have a second chapter in their political careers, it seems worth pointing out that Sheikh Hasina, leader of Bangladesh’s Awami League Party, has been elected back into office in that country.

Naheem Mohaiemen has his enthusiastic take here, and his account of voting (for the first time) at The Daily Star.

But since I recently reviewed Tahmima Anam’s A Golden Age, here is her response, published in The Guardian’s Comment is Free:

The BNP were at the helm of power in the last electoral cycle. During this time, Khaleda Zia promoted cronies to high positions of power, corrupted the courts with political appointments, and oversaw the theft of government funds on an unprecedented level. In 2007, the party orchestrated a coordinated effort to rig the elections, leading to the army’s intervention and two years of military-backed rule.

In this election, the BNP allied themselves with the Jamaat-e-Islami and conducted a campaign of fear-mongering, with slogans decrying the corruption of religious values and predicting a threat to Islam through foreign influence. By contrast, the Awami League ran a campaign that was purposefully secular and progressive. Though no stranger to allegations of corruption, the Awami League cleansed its party of much of the old guard. In the end, it campaigned on a platform of change, promising jobs and economic regeneration. The result was not only victory for the Awami League, but a near annihilation of the Jamaat-e-Islami. (link)

I’m certainly pleased whenever parties (in any country) advocating Sharia are soundly defeated like this. But I wonder why the silence on Sheikh Hasina’s own poor performance in her earlier term in office? Anam’s optimism and enthusiasm seems to be the consensus amongst progressive Bangladeshis from what I can tell; there is simply great relief that the rising tide of Islamism seems to have been reversed.

But I’m curious if there are other perspectives. One articulate dissent I’ve come across so far comes from a commenter on Anam’s article at The Guardian, who identifies himself (or herself) as SMohamed:

As a British Muslim of Bangladeshi decent it has been disheartening to often hear the land of my forefather denigrated as corrupt and ‘dirt poor’. In my opinion the ‘ladies’ in question are the main reason for the corruption through the incompetence and downright disregard they have for the peopple of Bangladesh. Dynastic politics do not work. The ladies in question lead only in name with far better players pulling the strings. I would be proud if Bangladesh actually had a lady in power who was not associated to previous leaders. She may actually have a mind of her own and bring about the change that is so desperately needed in a country on the verge of natural annihilation. (link)

Is Bangladesh now going to be in a better position on the global stage, or will it be stuck where it has been for years? Is there evidence that Sheikh Hasina might be a more effective, less corrupt leader of her country this time around?

59 thoughts on “Tahmima Anam on the Bangladesh Elections

  1. Is Bangladesh now going to be in a better position on the global stage, or will it be stuck where it has been for years? Is there evidence that Sheikh Hasina might be a more effective, less corrupt leader of her country this time around?

    1) bangladesh REALLY SUCKS on human development indices. REALLY, REALLY. so doing better than stagnation isn’t hard.

    2) she’ll be corrupt.

    3) but isn’t just from top down, the whole society is stuck in a vicious circle of low trust and expected corruption.

    4) if sweden had a political dynasty it wouldn’t be a big issue. the crooks at the top of bangladeshi society are just outgrowths of a culture where familialism is normal and civil society is weak.

    5) from what i know hindus vote for the left (AL, workers party) parties like blacks vote for the democrats here in the states. so it is good for hindus, but they’ll be taken for granted.

  2. I agree with you Razib. From what I understand after talking to Bangladeshis in their native country they don’t vote based on who they think will be the best leader for themselves or for who will take them out of poverty. They vote as though these two women are their only options and are a part of a dynasty. As a person who comes from a Bangladeshi family and never having lived there, I have seen the poverty stricken people and the daily problems they face. I can’t believe the way that people keep voting for these horrible women who just don’t care about the people of their country. Rather they care about their own ‘status’ to the same very people. The saddest thing is that the youth are supporting this ridiculous process and following the footsteps of their previous generation. Is there not a solution?

  3. I agree with large parts of what razib said. I would also strongly recommend reading Class, Clientalism, and Communalism in Bangladesh by Mushtaq khan from SOAS. He’s kind enough to make a lot of his writings available online here so look to the right on that page and there’s a lot relevant to understanding Bangladesh (among other states/societies).

    One important thing you left out of the post is that the military caretaker government has been engaged ina ruthless campaign to uproot whatever signs of corruption they see in the political system – I’m unclear on whether this was entirely sincere or whether it was colored by politics enough to undermine the goal. I would also be skeptical of the goal itself (see aforementioned Mushtaq Khan) based on structural factors in poor countries that lead to high levels of illegal rent seeking (as opposed to the u.s. or the e.u. where political rent seeking is legalized and is therefore generally not called corruption – though you see it anyway in the conduct of blagojevic, bush, etc.) There’s very little evidence, from what I have been taught, that reducing “corruption” precedes growth rather than follows from it.

    On Islamism – the best way to reduce islamism in Bangladesh is probably to reduce Hindutva and Islamism / anti-Indian sentiment in India and Pakistan respectively, and more broadly the global idiocy that countries like the U.S. and Israel and “leaders” like Ahmedinejad pursue. Bangladesh is a small player in South Asia compared to those two and the actions in those countries (like Babri Masjid) have spilled over frequently. That’s not to say there’s nothing domestic that’s important for promoting an acceptance of pluralism in Bangladesh and a softer rather than harder influence of Islam in the country, but it’s hard for a small country economically dependent in many ways on outside countries to achieve enough autonomy to actually engage in those measures.

  4. from my understanding, the caretaker government (ctg) jailed leaders of both parties and rooted out a lot of corruption. i haven’t heard stories of lower middle class or poorer people being affected but i have heard about some rich ass people having to flee because they were finally taken to task about their illegal dealings. if i’m not mistaken, small-town thugs were also chased away. finally!! i don’t follow bd politics (since its so frustrating) but from what i have heard, i haven’t seen why the ctg was such a terrible thing. bangladesh needs a butt-kicking, and hopefully the ctg did something good in it’s anti-corruption campaign. hopefully the threat of incarceration make sheikh hasina think twice about her politics and vision for the country (if she even has one).

    older voters in bangladesh cling to their parties because they have seen them through inception. it’ll be hard to shake them of their allegiance. i just hope the newer generations can see past this dynastic bullshit. the main problem with the youth (stretched from ages 15-35) that have few job prospects after getting their bachelors/masters and get recruited into serving political parties/thugs (or Allah-forbid, jihadi causes??) rather than becoming productive members of society.

  5. I’d like to know why is the murder of a few hundred Muslims in Gujarat gets so much attention while the real genocide of Hindus in Bangladesh ( millions slaughtered by Pakistani army ) and the continued violence against Hindus whose numbers have drastically been reduced since independence barely gets any mention.

    It’s so frustrating that I actually have begun to believe that the abysmal poverty and the incesssant cyclones that plague Bangladesh are the result of bad karma of its people.

  6. Arnab, one person who has addressed the genocidal violence committed by the Pakistani army in 1971 is in fact Tahmima Anam, in her novel (see my review of the book).

    Dr. A and Ensure, thanks for pointing out that the caretaker government has been addressing the corruption problem. I had mostly heard very bad things about mass arrests in connection with the caretaker/military rule.

    Perhaps there is, after all, some reason to expect better things in Bangladesh.

  7. thans, dr. a. i’m teaching a class on state formation in south asia. i may assign some of mushtaq khan’s writings (after i read them more carefully).

  8. On Islamism – the best way to reduce islamism in Bangladesh is probably to reduce Hindutva and Islamism / anti-Indian sentiment in India and Pakistan respectively, and more broadly the global idiocy that countries like the U.S. and Israel and “leaders” like Ahmedinejad pursue.

    surely there is some truth to this. but i’m also pretty sure islamism is prevalent in part as a response to the vacuum of civil society. i have family in the tableegh, and they don’t really care about the USA, israel, india, etc. (my uncle who is high up in the tableegh is moderately pro-US, doesn’t care much about israel, and admits that anti-muslim riots in india is good for his moderately movement). they know that as long as familialism and poverty are the norm many will be attracted to their message as the only alternative which embeds them in something ‘bigger.’ so i wouldn’t say focusing on geopolitics is the ‘best way’ to reduce islamism. malaysians are far more aware of geopolitics because they’re not as backward as the typical bengali muslim, but they’re focused on middle class achievement.

  9. I just got back from Dhaka, after following the campaigns closely there. I visit Bangladesh every year, and I am impressed this year with the level of open discourse I found on numerous private TV channels. I think it is easy for outsiders –especially ABDs or DBDS — to always try to reduce nations to poverty statistics, religious conflicts, or other facile categories. Bangladesh is incredibly complex, and utterly resilient. I am there often enough to be constantly stunned by its ability to bounce back–and to do so with a good level of cheer.

    As someone with solid roots there and as someone who genuinely straddles both the US and Bangladesh, I found the elections to be a refreshing return to democracy. More than anything, elections are so festive there, I loved it. There was not only rally that I attended that did not turn into a party–and I was constantly impressed with the level of female participation.

    For me, I was impressed with the level of discourse about the social problems the country faces, and I thought that both Hasina and Khaleda as well as Ershad and Jamaat addressed the incredible positives.

    I think Bangladesh has the potential to be be a global presence in a few years–but hopefully not in the obnoxious Indian style.

    The world wide recession rather than politics is what will hurt Bangladesh’s consistently strong 7-8% growth. Much of its GNP comes from migrant workers overseas, and with the Middle East growth coming to a standstill, there are hard times to come. The best thing about Bangladesh is its strong identification with first its language and its unique culture and then secondarily with religion–which makes secularism a natural product. I have found Jamaat’s role to be overinflated in western presses–it has never won more than a few seat in parliament, and it was openly disparaged in both Bangla and English-language papers.

    I am biased because I absolutely love being in Dhaka city and in Bangladesh in general, but I think it has some of the nicest people, and it is well on its way (for a very young nation) to playing a much stronger role in the region. Unlike India, it doesn’t have an overinflated sense of self and unlike Pakistian, it is not mired in the politics of self destruction.

    In terms of corruption, I don’t think Hasina will be any better than Khaleda. I am very disturbed by the strong Indian market presence in Bangladesh, making it hard if not impossible for local merchants to compete, and under AL, the situation will be worse. I tried when in Dhaka to buy products made in Bangladesh, but it was almost impossible this year to enter any store and not find it flooded by India-made products. I talked with many merchants from those in regular small stores to those in the malls in the Banani/Gulsha area, and they consistently complained about not being able to compete with Indian imports. What Bangladesh needs desperately is a government that will help local small businesses succeed. More and more of my friends and family are returning to Bangladesh from UK, US, and Australia, but find themselves with no support in the business sector.

    Well, I could go on and on, but ABD Bangladeshis–go visit your homeland once in a while. Don’t stay just in Dhaka or your neighborhood and set out and check out the whole country. Go with an open mind, and a willingness to LISTEN (I come across so many ABDs who like to lecture Bangladeshis that it is really annoying) to people; eat what it offered, go to as many neighborhoods and cities as you can, and just be willing to get to know people. It’s a great place to visit.

  10. In recent years, I have come across more Bangladeshis (not ABDs) who have more affinity towards Pakistan than towards India. I consider it strange considering so many Bangladeshis lost their life in the gory war of Independence against Pakistan; and also considering its similarity with bengal in India. Is it just due to rise of Islam in Bangladesh ? Can anyone shed some light ?

  11. I totally agree with Arnab. Someone finally came out and said it without worrying about sounding politically incorrect! I belong to one of those countless Bangladeshi hindu families who had to leave the country in ’90s due to the aftermath [ofcourse, it was another attack against Bangladeshi hindus] of Babri Mosque riot in India. Somehow, these events never get any media attention.

    Today, some of my close relatives still live in Bangladesh, and I seem to have grown this strange ‘whatever……I don’t care…I do not feel that I ever belonged to that country and it is just better that way….’ attitude when we speak of Bangladesh. I wish I had a different thought toward a land which I could have claimed as my root/motherland. Surprisingly though, all the Bangladeshi hindu immigrants I speak to has this same sort of attitude toward B’desh – except for the ones who pretty much grew up in Dhaka.

    Now, getting back to the topic- I don’t think much will change for this generation irrespective of election results. I don’t know how anything can change at a place where corruption is a way of life– and it really has nothing to do with politics.

  12. Is Bangladesh now going to be in a better position on the global stage, or will it be stuck where it has been for years?

    Adding to problems of poverty,corruption and traumatic birth, Bangladesh is going to be the first victim of western overconsumption/prosperity (and now India & China’s rapid development) i.e. global warming But I guess it will need/get the help of UN

  13. Dr. A and Ensure, thanks for pointing out that the caretaker government has been addressing the corruption problem. I had mostly heard very bad things about mass arrests in connection with the caretaker/military rule.

    Amardeep, “addressing the corruption problem” may in fact be the problem itself ;)

    I’d like to know why is the murder of a few hundred Muslims in Gujarat gets so much attention while the real genocide of Hindus in Bangladesh ( millions slaughtered by Pakistani army ) and the continued violence against Hindus whose numbers have drastically been reduced since independence barely gets any mention. It’s so frustrating that I actually have begun to believe that the abysmal poverty and the incesssant cyclones that plague Bangladesh are the result of bad karma of its people.

    Arnab, it’s a few thousand not a few hundred, and it was state/party/civil society orgs sponsored murder and there has been no real accountability- but more to the point this speaks exactly to my other point – that the India-dominated conversation about all things South Asians is exactly the problem. It’s interesting that you raise this as a counterpoint, and I’ll try not to speculate on your motives though the inaccuracies and focus on Pakistan are cause for some questions in my mind–

    let me just say that Hindutva advocates often raise this issue but it’s a red herring – Ahmadis in Pakistan, Muslims in Gujarat, and Hindus in Bangladesh after Babri masjid probably had a lot more in common with each other than with their coreligionists insofar as they are victims of majoritarian violence fueled by communalism, etc. Hindus are not under attack- people are under attack. They are all horrible situations and ordinary people’s sympathies go out to each and every one, I think – this is exactly why these events shouldn’t be manipulated as political footballs. And yet people seem intent on drawing Muslim solidarity or Hindu solidarity across borders when its human solidarity and social justice that’s needed. Because I’m nont sikh i can’t care what congress did in the 80s? Because I”m not Muslim or Christian, I can’t care about what Hindutva is doing? Because I’m not Bangladeshi, I can’t care about what happens to Bangladeshi Hindus?

    Once you do that, you see that the dynamic of communalism can ONLY take off if something else is in play as well. It hasn’t happened in the ways that mythical histories sugget – it’s happened through real evfents, social structures, colonial legacies, and competition among ruling elites, among many other things.

  14. Dr A it’s impossible debating you. Yes it’s a few hundred not a few thousand. Hard to quibble about death tolls but a thousand some deaths at the max would qualify more as ‘ few hundreds ‘ than as ‘ few thousands ‘. Your hollowness and extreme bias shows because you bring up Babri Masjid each time to explain anti-Hindu violence in the subcontinent. The funny thing is that Babri Masjid was a derelict structure which was seldom prayed in by Muslims and when it was brought down there were no accompanying Muslim deaths. On the other hand the Gujarat massacre was followed by the brazen killing of dozens of Hindus riding a train. Similarly the 1984 anti-Sikh riots were followed by at least three years of mini 9/11s in Punjab and in Delhi wherein Hindus were specifically targeted for murder and were almost cleansed out of Punjab. But moderate Hindus don’t ever ‘ explain ‘ those massacres in terms as you do the Hindu massacres of much greater magnitude. It’s not a red herring it’s anger and frustration of Hindus who despite being the much greater victims in the subcontinent are painted as the aggressors by self-flagellating Hindus, moderate Muslims and of course Human Rights groups of all types.

  15. 7 · sigh! said

    thans, dr. a. i’m teaching a class on state formation in south asia. i may assign some of mushtaq khan’s writings (after i read them more carefully).

    Sure thing, boss – it’s helpful! I also recommend wallerstein for context (or at least someone who deals with state-formation as part of a global picture), but no one ever listens to me :) I haven’t read any of the macrosociologists / long duree people who work specifically on South Asia, but one of them or someone in that vein is probably useful.

  16. re: why don’t bangladeshis care about the genocide? i too found this strange until recently. my family would freely socialize with pakistanis in the 1980s here in the states, and i didn’t think much of it. as it happened, my mother was shot in the 1971 war (though with no serious debilitating injuries). i only found out about the huge numbers of people killed later. i think the issue is that bangladeshi muslims, even secular ones, don’t much identify with hindus in a concrete sense (obviously they do identify with bengaliness insofar as they venerate tagore, etc.). and the genocide disproportionately impacted hindus so that many muslim families wouldn’t have any victims that they knew (especially the well off ones who generate cultural narratives). the only people in my family killed turned out to have cultural & communication industry associations, which one of my cousins explains was no coincidence.

    bangladeshi nationhood is a new thing, and even a pan-ethnic awareness is only concrete to an intellgensia. go into the country, and villagers will talk about people from across the river as foreigners. and even among those with education and money, as in my family, familialism is so strong and a lack of public spiritedness so pervasive that it isn’t so surprising that they don’t take the abstract leap of identifying with bangladeshi hindus in a “but for the grace of god go i” sense. i don’t get the sense that many in my family socialize with hindus, or if they do, it is of note.

    p.s., my family generally supports the awami league, and last i heard once of my uncles was trying to get on the AL list in dhaka, so they aren’t raving islamic nationalists by any stretch.

  17. I am very disturbed by the strong Indian market presence in Bangladesh, making it hard if not impossible for local merchants to compete, and under AL, the situation will be worse. I tried when in Dhaka to buy products made in Bangladesh, but it was almost impossible this year to enter any store and not find it flooded by India-made products. I talked with many merchants from those in regular small stores to those in the malls in the Banani/Gulsha area, and they consistently complained about not being able to compete with Indian imports. What Bangladesh needs desperately is a government that will help local small businesses succeed. More and more of my friends and family are returning to Bangladesh from UK, US, and Australia, but find themselves with no support in the business sector.

    people wouldn’t by indian products if they didn’t find them to their advantage, would they? some countries can succeed with shielding infant industries, but i don’t think bangladesh can because of its relative low position on human capital. it’s best bet is hitching onto globalization an allowing itself to rise with the tide.

  18. 18 · razib said

    some countries can succeed with shielding infant industries, but i don’t think bangladesh can because of its relative low position on human capital. it’s best bet is hitching onto globalization an allowing itself to rise with the tide.

    How would this increase productivity in the industries that can compete globally, or shield the economy from the ebbing of the tide given that it won’t be developing any high tech industries this way? Or are their complementary pieces to the puzzle that you would suggest?

  19. are their complementary pieces to the puzzle that you would suggest?

    women need to work. because of wal-mart and textiles my relatives complain how far into the country they have to drive to obtain “work women.” multi-national companies can make use of low skilled workers in some circumstances. for the question of “high tech,” i think that’s a joke in a country where around 10% of the nation has a level of literacy where they can understand what’s written in a typical newspaper (bangladeshis can correct me, but that’s a quote from a cousin who is an economist after i asked him about the human development data i saw from the UN). and yes, globalization sucks with its synchronized world wide recessions, but the corrections are embedded within a positive sloping trendline. granted, protectionism isn’t going to make banglaeshis more miserable, human development indices already suck.

    p.s. frankly, i trust multi-national companies to treat low skilled workers with little power better than bangladeshi companies.

  20. What explains that anti-India bias other than religion?? Mexico does not block multi billion US $ investment coming from US, just because it is coming from US. Then why were TATAs forced to withdraw US $3 billion investment in Bangladesh?? US $3 billion is a HUGE industrial investment that can go a long way in increasing industrial base.

    malaysians are far more aware of geopolitics because they’re not as backward as the typical bengali muslim, but they’re focused on middle class achievement.

    Because they wont throw out a $3 billion investment from Sony or Hitachi even though it comes from Japan ??

  21. What explains that anti-India bias other than religion?? Mexico does not block multi billion US $ investment coming from US, just because it is coming from US. Then why were TATAs forced to withdraw US $3 billion investment in Bangladesh?? US $3 billion is a HUGE industrial investment that can go a long way in increasing industrial base.

    i think the analogy with mexico is illustrative. as a point of fact many latin america nations have had major issues with american companies investing in their nations, and mexico was paranoid for real reasons that the usa wanted to annex it in the 19th century (president polk wanted the northern 1/3 of current mexico + yucutan as well as what we got, and was double-crossed by the american negotiator). but mexico doesn’t worry about that now, it’s national identity and coherency aren’t under threat from the US (perhaps the contrary with the settlement of the american southwest by mexican nationals).

    bangladesh is a new construct, and 3 generations ago all “bangladeshis” would have thought of themselves as indian. the existence of bangladesh is to some extent a historical coincidence, and india nearly surrounds bangladesh. while there are about 1/3 as many mexicans as USA americans, there are only 1/10 (ok, somewhat more) as many bangladeshis as indians. i don’t think the paranoia is really founded, why would india want 120 million more muslims without much human capital to add and no greater strategic depth? but that’s one reason the paranoia exists besides religious differences.

    (canadians until recently had serious worries abut the USA, most americans are not aware that we invaded canada in the early 19th century, but canadians are)

  22. Razib, Latin America has bore the brunt of US foreign policy misadventures from time to time so their skepticism (which is now waning and Columbia is one of the big destinations for US investment dollars) is understandable, but Bangladesh is a nation that got created with the support of India, and unlike Mexico and US, Bangladesh and India have never fought for territory. (There is no Bangladeshi Alamo :-) ) I do agree with your point about new nation hood for Bangladesh. But I also believe that lack of civic institutions is being filled with religious institutions and politicians are as usual eager to stoke religious identity for political gains, while neglecting development. Religion is a bane for poor countries (India included)

  23. Speaking to the issue of how older Bangladeshis can still identify (and socialize with) (West) Pakistanis in the US – the stumbling block for many Indians is the continuous repetition of the idea that “the creation of Bangladesh showed that the two-nation theory is false”. Actually, it showed something more subtle – for example, Bangladesh showed no desire to more closely federate with India, and remained an independent state. The 1971 crisis more highlighted problems with economic and political federalism in the South Asian context than anything else. These still bedevil India in different forms. While language was important to the Bangladeshi identity, the real differences with West Pakistan arose over economic issues, legislative-weight vs demographic-weight, and consequent power and fiscal imbalances. Had there been satisfactory resolution of these other issues, for example, by making Sheikh Mujib Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1970, or if a system of alternating East-West Prime Ministers had evolved, it is not impossible to conceive that East Pakistan would have continued to exist. Also, even during 1947-71, some sections of native East Pakistani elite did identify sufficiently with ‘Pakistan’ that they either stayed behind in what became Pakistan or even (in some isolated cases) immigrated there after Bangladesh came into being.

    On this issue, many Indians are unaware that Pakistan has drawn Muslim migrants from virtually all the Indian states – not just those across the current border. I have met Assamese Muslims, for example, who immigrated to (West) Pakistan. Muslims from each of the 4 Southern States also migrated to Pakistan. This has received little attention in India, and I was myself largely unaware. Many elite Indians often subscribe to, and articulate an ‘Idea of India’ which requires ruthless suppression of all subnationalisms in South Asia – but what Pakistan (and Bangladesh) illustrate is that subnationalisms are also strong, some aspects of which simply can’t be suppressed. More than being seen merely as states created on a religious basis, these states represent regional subnationalisms with a distinctive cultural and linguistic flavor, and of course they have sadly shown a majoritarian chauvinism which both reflects and is reflected in Indian developments as well.

  24. Similarly the 1984 anti-Sikh riots were followed by at least three years of mini 9/11s in Punjab and in Delhi wherein Hindus were specifically targeted for murder and were almost cleansed out of Punjab.

    This would ignore the cultural, religious, and linguistic warfare carried out by Punjabi Hindu leaders against Sikhs for decades. And the economic and political warfare carried out by the central gov’t. for decades.

  25. Probably, Islamism is the root cause behind (1) BD becoming a basket case, and (2) Genocide of Bangladeshi Hindus?

    -And if AL stands for being ‘secular’, I hope they stop mistrusting the big brother, and start leveraging their proximity to such a huge Indian market? Bangladeshi businesses can sell almost any thing they make, to the ravenous Indian consumers. Instead, they export terrorism, and serve as the Hub for ISI and sundry Jihadi groups.

    -Over 1 million Bangla refugees (both Hindus and Muslims) work as illegal labor in India.In a sense, their remittances would probably be sustanining several thousands in the BD country side.This migrant labor issue needs to be brought to a rational conclusion.

    Democracy, free markets, a modern secular polity – BD can have it all, and become a small, rich country – if they want to.If Hasina or Khaleda can’t do it, hopefully the next generation will.Insha Allah.

  26. Oldtime SMer,

    Interesting point regarding Muslim migrants from various parts of India to (West) Pakistan.I am from Hyderabad, and know some families where one large part has emigrated to Pakistan, and the other part remained in India.To my knowledge, it is mostly the rich and elite Muslims from South India who migrated. The poor stayed back in India, unless they accompanied their rich masters to the new country. While speaking to my friend’s grandfather a few years back, I realised that in 1947, many families maintained properties in both countries, and expected free movement between the two countries after a few years. They did not count on all the wars and animosity.Many rich families have been torn asunder as a result.And interestingly, the US and UK have served as meeting places for some of these families to have a reunion, and catch up after 20-25 years.

  27. But I also believe that lack of civic institutions is being filled with religious institutions and politicians are as usual eager to stoke religious identity for political gains, while neglecting development. Religion is a bane for poor countries (India included)

    agreed. the main counter-force to religious institutions isn’t bengali nationalism, it is the NGO sector + the market. bangladesh is 99% bengali, so a nationalism aimed against some minority or through inter-ethnic competition isn’t so viable now. it OTOH 90% muslim, so the 10% hindus can serve as a focus for this sort of group mobilization.

  28. 15 · Arnab said

    Similarly the 1984 anti-Sikh riots were followed by at least three years of mini 9/11s in Punjab and in Delhi wherein Hindus were specifically targeted for murder and were almost cleansed out of Punjab. But moderate Hindus don’t ever ‘ explain ‘ those massacres in terms as you do the Hindu massacres of much greater magnitude.

    Hindus were NOT almost cleansed out of Punjab-get your facts straight. Sikhs were by far the largest number of ppl killed in the state in that time. Hindus were targeted by ?militants ?congress so they would look to Indira Gandhi and her cronies for protection. Those were not Anti Sikh Riots, Arnab, you fucking jackass-they were thoroughly orchestrated murders just as the Muslims killed in Gujarat and the Hindus killed in the train. Dr A is on the money-PEOPLE are being killed not Sikhs Hindus Muslims. Those are just labels.

  29. 27 · Kumar_N said

    To my knowledge, it is mostly the rich and elite Muslims from South India who migrated

    Of course, but middle class Muslims also migrated. And BTW, the reason I particularly mentioned Assamese Muslims is that Assam is East of almost all of Bangladesh (for those not immediately familiar with South Asian geography). Thus, for them to migrate to (West) Pakistan is really saying something for the pull of the idea. They were thus migrating over a distance larger than the East Pakistan-West Pakistan distance divide. Ditto for the southern states.

  30. Yes, Dr. A., Islamic fundamentalism is all the fault of hindutva. The hindutvavaadis even travelled backwards in time to cause the genocidal violence in Bangladesh, and the cleansing of Pakistan before that. You really lose credibility with this sort of nonsense. The presence of Islamic fundamentalism has little to do with hindutva, although many

    would love to believe so.

    In 1971, there were few, if any, Indians who desired a reassimilation of Bangladesh with India. So, the issue of “subnationalism” and federalism in this context is moot. It is also very interesting (see eg.9) to see the amount of reflexive anti Indian sentiment that exists. I think (as zee suggests) that this is as much about religion as anything else. Also, it is suggestive that, in the last decade, Bangladesh has become another center for the recruitment and training ground for jihadis, and several terrorist attacks on India have been executed from there.

    I am glad that Sheikh Hasina has won the elections, she is the best of the choices available, and far less inclined to encourage and support the sort of fundamentalism that Ms. Zia did as Prime Minister. I also hope she will be more sensible about Bangladeshi economic development.

  31. Similarly the 1984 anti-Sikh riots were followed by at least three years of mini 9/11s in Punjab and in Delhi wherein Hindus were specifically targeted for murder and were almost cleansed out of Punjab

    Numbers? There was of course some blowback after the anti-Sikh pogrom in Delhi which IMO was worse than any mass killings in India since the 50s. No area in Delhi was safe for Sikhs and the Government planned, orchestrated and carried out the attacks. One could argue that the Government abettance and complicity was even worse than in Gujarat in 2002. Its incredible that Manmohan Singh who is from Delhi, continued to be a part of the Congress Party even after the riots.

  32. Hindus…..were almost cleansed out of Punjab

    Absolute bull. Hindus still comprise almost 40% of the Punjab population.

  33. Arnab’s witlessness represents the kind of bullshit that is peddled by extremists of all stripes. He honestly believes all of that crap.

  34. 33 · Pagal_Aadmi_for_debauchery said

    Its incredible that Manmohan Singh who is from Delhi, continued to be a part of the Congress Party even after the riots.

    This has been an abiding mystery to me. I am glad that he apologized to the nation for it – for what it was worth, but his dithering over Tytler even after the Nanavati inquiry report was tabled in parliament was pathetic. Tytler, Bhagat and Sajjan Kumar have been fingered many times over, but I can hardly get over Rajiv Gandhi’s statement condoning these riots by analogizing it to the earth rumbling when a big tree falls.

    India needs a more responsible and active media to hold these political leaders to account. To this day, the Hindu pussyfoots around in caste and communal riots and massacres by often not even talking about which castes were rioting, or performed which acts of violence.

  35. Tytler, Bhagat and Sajjan Kumar have been fingered many times over, but I can hardly get over Rajiv Gandhi’s statement condoning these riots by analogizing it to the earth rumbling when a big tree falls.

    I urge you and everyone else to read “When A Tree Shook Delhi” by the journalist Manoj Mitta and the lawyer H.S. Phoolka. It really is a definitive and heart breaking account of the events in Delhi in 1984 and the cover up in the subsequent years. I realise this is off topic but since Arnab decided to take it that way it seemed a good place to represent this account.

    In Outlook magazine Sonia Gandhi was asked about which books she had read this year. My only wish is to hand her a copy of this work and prick her conscience a little.

  36. I’m glad Amardeep put up thsi post. Discussion of South Asia is so india-centric (even on this post, some of the comments are about how B-desh events affect India, or just about India itself).

    Kumar N/Old-timer:

    Pakistani nationalism is not sub-national (what an oddly Indian perspective). It is an alternative nationalism for South Asian Muslims. Bangladesh is ‘sub-national’, in your terms, but better terminology would be that both India and Pakistan are imperial states, inheritors of British India and the re-imagined Mughal idea, respectively. Bangladesh, Kashmiriyat, and other nationalist movements push against this centralizing imperialism. The South Asian pendulum traditionally swings between Imperial and National (or ‘regional’) rule, with imperial Delhi/Islamabad being particularly strong right now.

    Occasionaly, Amitabh — an SM commentor — bewails the increasing dominance of the Urdu language in punjab, and also how it is pushing out even kashmiri in Indian-occupied Kashmir, just as he bemoans the dominance of English among educated Indians. He’s got the righ diagnosis — both are centralizing, homogenizing trends. I don’t think they are bad trends, but your mileage may vary.

  37. but better terminology would be that both India and Pakistan are imperial states, inheritors of British India and the re-imagined Mughal idea, respectively.

    I think you forgot that India regularly conducts elections and changes governments with active participation from people of different regions. And the reason why folks like Karunanidhi (and his daughter) argue for India rather than an independent Tamil state can add some clarity.

    Maybe Pakistan treated the different sub nationalities in an imperial fashion (with Mohajirs/Punjabis treating Bengalis like dirt), but it is not the case with the Indian government. Though there were some UP/Bihari hotheads in the initial phase who wanted to homogenise, the government’s treatment of linguistic minorities and states so far has been fair.

  38. Ponniyin — No, The idea of a pan south-asian government that encompasses many nations is imperial, and more specifically, India is the inheritor of the British Imperial government in South Asia. The fact that it holds elections, is democratic, etc, does not make India a linguistic nation-state.

    Imperial is not a pejorative. Imperial governments in South Asia, from Ashoka to Akbar (to Laloo!?) have been very productive. They have also been homogenizing and centralizing, and over time, they diminish national cultures. To reach elite levels in the Indian Civil service, Military, or politics (usually) you must learn to speak English. In Pakistan you must learn to speak Urdu. But in B-desh, you can use your native mother-tongue. It’s the only nation-state in South Asia.

    You could use the term “pan-national” instead of imperial, but that word won’t capture the fact that India is not a confederacy of nations, like the EU, but has its own imperial language.

  39. 36 · Bobby said

    Arnab’s witlessness represents the kind of bullshit that is peddled by extremists of all stripes. He honestly believes all of that crap.

    Believes that there is an obvious slow-moving ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Bangladesh? That’s a fact, so I guess as Jason Jones would say “the facts are biased”. Maybe you should stop hitting your head with a hammer and sickle.

  40. 41 · Ikram said

    Ponniyin — No, The idea of a pan south-asian government that encompasses many nations is imperial, and more specifically, India is the inheritor of the British Imperial government in South Asia. The fact that it holds elections, is democratic, etc, does not make India a linguistic nation-state.

    You use the terms nation and imperial so flexibly that they signify almost nothing. Sub-national movements aren’t unimperial, and if anything worse. The Karunanidhi led family enterprise, now called the state of Tamil Nadu, is an example. The present day India is not an inheritor of British Imperial government of the Indian subcontinent, it is an inheritor of the world’s oldest diverse nation, now a nation-state. Read Ambedkar’s Pakistan or the Partition of India. And India hasn’t tried to be a linguistic nation state, although I wish we had been shepherded into adopting a national language, any one, so that the full force of a billion people speaking the language gave one Indian language greater heft the world-over.

  41. Jyotsana — Thank’s for the Ambedkar link. Great book. How can you not love a guy with lively writing like this:

    The only difference between the Congress and the Hindu Maha Sabha is that the latter is crude in its utterances and brutal in its actions while the Congress is politic and polite. Apart from this difference of fact, there is no other difference between the Congress and the Hindu Maha Sabha.

    and later .. Partition as a remedy against Hindu Raj is worse than useless.

    Ouch. I don’t agree at all, but it’s so entertaining!

    But what does Ambedkar’s book have to do with India as the inheritor of British India? India uses the same main laguage (English), rules from the same capital (New Delhi), and operates through the same institutions (IPS, ICS, army, parliament, parties, etc).

    Sub-national movements aren’t unimperial, and if anything worse.

    There’s nothing bad about “imperial”. It’s not Indira Gandhi in a Darth Vader outfit. But you can use other terminology, if you like — maybe “federative”. But “sub-national” is wrong. India has many linguistic nations, they are national in themselves.

    Before I got hijacked by Indo-centrists (“Talk about me! Please, more about me! That point about you? — it reminds me of Me!”), my point was the Bangladesh is special, it is a true linguistic nation-state, which means it is far less culturally centralizing than Pakistan or India. That’s not neccesarily a good or bad thing. The middling developmental sucesses of B-desh shows that homogeneity is not a sufficient for a successful state (though Somalia could have also told you that).

  42. Believes that there is an obvious slow-moving ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Bangladesh? That’s a fact, so I guess as Jason Jones would say “the facts are biased”. Maybe you should stop hitting your head with a hammer and sickle.

    It’s actually colbert to GWB orignally – “facts have a well-known liberal bias.” which is true – try reading lajja- strangely there was massive violence against hindus in Bangladesh just after the razing of the babri masjid- it’s coincidences like these that leave me so confused in the face of such compelling arguments from hindtuvaites as “you don’t care about genocide because you’re a communist.”

    ;)

  43. 44 · Ikram said

    Before I got hijacked by Indo-centrists (“Talk about me! Please, more about me! That point about you? — it reminds me of Me!”)

    hahahahaha. two points for awesome :)

  44. No, The idea of a pan south-asian government that encompasses many nations is imperial, and more specifically, India is the inheritor of the British Imperial government in South Asia. The fact that it holds elections, is democratic, etc, does not make India a linguistic nation-state. Imperial governments in South Asia, from Ashoka to Akbar (to Laloo!?) have been very productive. They have also been homogenizing and centralizing, and over time, they diminish national cultures. To reach elite levels in the Indian Civil service, Military, or politics (usually) you must learn to speak English. In Pakistan you must learn to speak Urdu. But in B-desh, you can use your native mother-tongue. It’s the only nation-state in South Asia.

    I think you have a narrow idea of India. Definitely India is not a single language state and thank God that it does not have a national language.

    Well, Indian Civil service is not the most powerful of all the organs in the state and last time I checked you can write the exams in any of the languages in the eighth schedule. You can reach the highest political position in the government without having a fluency of either Hindi / English.

    Imperialism is defined by forcing others to adopt your language / rule of law etc. I don’t know much about Ashoka. But definitely Akbar and British qualify as imperialists, they used Persian and Enlgish respectively as court languages which is understood by probably less than 0.01% of the people they ruled over.

    That is not the case with the current Indian government. People have the right to run the administration in their own languages and change laws according to their will.

  45. 39 · Ikram said

    Pakistani nationalism is not sub-national (what an oddly Indian perspective). It is an alternative nationalism for South Asian Muslims. Bangladesh is ‘sub-national’, in your terms

    Ikram, I don’t think we have any substantive disagreement really. I also fully grant your point about the Indo-centric tendency of all discussions on this blog. However, to explore the point you raise, let me offer the following. Even if back in 1940, say, Pakistan represented an ‘alternative nationalism for South Asian Muslims’, surely over the years, you will concede that its regional aspect has become more salient. Also, Urdu now being understood and spoken in some form all over Pakistan (even if not in some highly Persianized form, or with a more pronounced Punjabi accent [except when Pakhtoon!, or Sindhi or Baluchi]), the linguistic situation approaches that of Bangladesh (where again, there are people who speak languages other than Bangla as their mother tongue). So if Bangladesh is legitimately a ‘sub-nation’ by your definition, Pakistan could also arguably be one in the same sense.

    However, the semantic confusion arises over the use of ‘India’ is more serious – whether the nation-state of today or the civilisational entity is meant, or the entirety of the region the British called ‘India’ (which mostly coincides with what we call South Asia today) is meant, is sometimes not altogether obvious from the context. A discussion which used ‘India’ in a sense other than ‘the nation-state of today’ will therefore appear Indocentric when you read the nation-state meaning into it.

  46. “Discussion of South Asia is so india-centric (even on this post, some of the comments are about how B-desh events affect India, or just about India itself).”

    if i’m not mistaken, it was dr. anonymous in #3 who first mentioned india in relation to this post, and he specifically linked india to affecting bangladesh (hindutva influencing islamism), not the other way round. so indo-centrism works both ways on this blog (what is seen as “pro-india indo-centrism” and what is seen as “not-so-pro-india indo-centrism or “anti-india indo-centrism”) so it’s not entirely fair to blame people for being indo-centric when india is inserted into the conversation in a manner which suggests that it is negatively affecting events in other countries. naturally, some people will feel compelled to respond. (and vice versa, if india had first been mentioned by the pro-india indo-centrists, others may would probably have felt compelled to respond to that).

  47. Jyotsana — Thank’s for the Ambedkar link. Great book. How can you not love a guy with lively writing like this: The only difference between the Congress and the Hindu Maha Sabha is that the latter is crude in its utterances and brutal in its actions while the Congress is politic and polite. Apart from this difference of fact, there is no other difference between the Congress and the Hindu Maha Sabha. and later .. Partition as a remedy against Hindu Raj is worse than useless. Ouch. I don’t agree at all, but it’s so entertaining!

    Thanks for walking into the trap Ikram! I have in debate utterly destroyed several human rights/progressive/oppressed/religion-caste blowhards through my this one publication. It also helps that I have spent weeks scouring through the archives, and have read the likes of Dhananjay Keer.

    So let’s get started with this entertaining guy Ambedkar,

    Must there be Pakistan because a good part of the Muslim population of India happens to be concentrated in certain defined areas which can be easily severed from the rest of India? Muslim population is admittedly concentrated in certain well defined areas, and it may be that these areas are severable. But what of that? In considering this question one must never lose sight of the fundamental fact that nature has made India one single geographical unit. Indians are of course quarrelling and no one can prophesy when they will stop quarrelling. But granting the fact, what does it establish? Only that Indians are a quarrelsome people. It does not destroy the fact that India is a single geographical unit. Her unity is as ancient as Nature. Within this geographic unit and covering the whole of it there has been a cultural unity from time immemorial. This cultural unity has defied political and racial divisions.
    Even a superficial observer cannot fail to notice that a spirit of aggression underlies the Hindu attitude towards the Muslim and the Muslim attitude towards the Hindu. The Hindu’s spirit of aggression is a new phase which he has just begun to cultivate. The Muslim’s spirit of aggression is his native endowment, and is ancient as compared with that of the Hindu. It is not that the Hindu, if given time, will not pick up and overtake the Muslim. But as matters stand to-day, the Muslim in this exhibition of the spirit of aggression leaves the Hindu far behind.
    The Hindu-Muslim problem has two aspects to it. In its first aspect, the problem that presents itself is the problem of two separate communities facing each other and seeking adjustment of their respective right and privileges. In its other aspect, the problem is the problem of the reflex influences which this separation and conflict produces upon each of them. In the course of the foregoing discussion we have looked at the project of Pakistan in relation to the first of the aspects of the Hindu-Muslim problem. We have not examined the project of Pakistan in relation to the second aspect of that problem. Yet, such an examination is necessary because that aspect of the Hindu-Muslim problem is not unimportant. It is a very superficial if not an incomplete view to stop with the problem of the adjustment of their claims. It cannot be overlooked that their lot is cast together: as such they have to participate in a course of common activity whether they like it or not. And if in this common activity they face each other as two combatants do, then their actions and reactions are worth study, for they affect both and produce a state of affairs from which, if it is a diseased state, the question of escape must be faced. A study of the situation shows that the actions and reactions have produced a malaise which exhibits itself in three ways: (l) Social Stagnation, (2) Communal Aggression, and (3) National Frustration of Political Destiny. This malaise is a grave one. Will Pakistan he a remedy for the malaise? Or will it aggravate the malaise? The following chapters are devoted to the consideration of these questions.

    There’s more, Ikram. That’s why the “Ambedkarites” clam up when this paper comes up for discussion!

    As for Indo-centrism, you have got to grin and bear it or smile and pretend it can be ignored. It is the Indian sub-continent, geographically, whatever politically correct terms you may use. The different state entities in this region rise and fall with India. None of the rest can prosper if India does not. And if the Indian state vanishes they can at best live as vassals or even worse like the Tibetans or as an uprooted elite with no tradition, like the Pakistani elite that have taken to naming themselves X bin Y. India can get along very well even if the region is turned into a snake pit. After years of Zia-ul-Haq initiated terrorism in Punjab, and then Kashmir Valley, and now all of India, the country continues to hum along. Partition in some ways has worked well for India leaving the Pakistani elite to wallow in a swamp of its own making.

    As a second refuge Mr. Gandhi started by protesting that the Muslim League did not represent the Muslims, and that Pakistan was only a fancy of Mr. Jinnah. It is difficult to understand how Mr. Gandhi could be so blind as not to see how Mr. Jinnah’s influence over the Muslim masses has been growing day by day, and how he has engaged himself in mobilizing all his forces for battle. Never before was Mr. Jinnah a man for the masses. He distrusted them. To exclude them from political power he was always for a high franchise. Mr. Jinnah was never known to be a very devout, pious, or a professing Muslim. Besides kissing the Holy Koran as and when he was sworn in as an M.L.A., he does not appear to have bothered much about its contents or its special tenets. It is doubtful if he frequented any mosque either out of curiosity or religious fervour. Mr. Jinnah was never found in the midst of Muslim mass congregations, religious or political. Today one finds a complete change in Mr. Jinnah. He has become a man of the masses. He is no longer above them. He is among them. Now they have raised him above themselves and call him their Qaid-e-Azam. He has not only become a believer in Islam, but is prepared to die for Islam. Today, he knows more of Islam than mere Kalama. Today, he goes to the mosque to hear Khutba and takes delight in joining the Id congregational prayers. Dongri and Null Bazaar once knew Mr. Jinnah by name. Today they know him by his presence. No Muslim meeting in Bombay begins or ends without Allah-ho-Akbar and Long Live Qaid-e-Azam. In this Mr. Jinnah has merely followed King Henry IV of France—the unhappy father-in-law of the English King Charles I. Henry IV was a Huguenot by faith. But he did not hesitate to attend mass in a Catholic Church in Paris. He believed that to change his Huguenot faith and go to mass was an easy price to pay for the powerful support of Paris. As Paris became worth a mass to Henry IV, so have Dongri and Null Bazaar become worth a mass to Mr. Jinnah, and for similar reason. It is strategy; it is mobilization. But even if it is viewed as the sinking of Mr. Jinnah from reason to superstition, he is sinking with his ideology, which by his very sinking is spreading into all the different strata of Muslim society and is becoming part and parcel of its mental make-up. This is as clear as anything could be. The only basis for Mr. Gandhi’s extraordinary view is the existence of what are called Nationalist Musalmans. It is difficult to see any real difference between the communal Muslims who form the Muslim League and the Nationalist Muslims. It is extremely doubtful whether the Nationalist Musalmans have any real community of sentiment, aim, and policy with the Congress which marks them off from the Muslim League. Indeed many Congressmen are alleged to hold the view that there is no different [=difference] between the two, and that the Nationalist Muslim[s] inside the Congress are only an outpost of the communal Muslims. This view does not seem to be quite devoid of truth…

    And what the heck is this Indian Civil Service? There is the Indian Administrative Service, and a host of other union service cadres, of the Police, Foreign Service, Revenue, Customs, Railways etc., In the IAS and IPS one is required to be fluent in English, Hindi, and the language(s) of your home scadre state, as one gets attached on commission to a state different from your state of origin. And yes if you are a Tamizh from Maharashtra you may be commissioned not in Maharashtra or TN but in West Bengal! There is a v.v.v.v. tough two stage exam and selection process (Kush Tandon has written about it before) before you join the training program. Again there is nothing imperial or British about it. Although not on the scale of the Chinese civil services, India too has a long tradition of elite bureaucracy. And who knows the Chinese may have learned to structure their bureaucracy from India centuries ago. Mandarin = Mantrin, or ministerial, in Sanskrit.

  48. Tytler, Bhagat and Sajjan Kumar have been fingered many times over, but I can hardly get over Rajiv Gandhi’s statement condoning these riots by analogizing it to the earth rumbling when a big tree falls.

    Yes, Rajiv Gandhi could have easily stopped the pogrom, instead he chose to justify the attacks in the most sickening fashion imaginable. A true low life. Whats amazing is that instead of Rajiv Gandhi getting shunned in elections for his callous disregard of human life and implicit condoning of the anti-Sikh pogrom, the Sikh blood lusting Indian populace elected him with a Reagan in 84 like mandate.

  49. And what the heck is this Indian Civil Service?

    It is the name that was used by the Brits. Ikram is using it to reinforce the India that we have now is the same as British imperialist India. BTW, IAS officers take orders from local politicians. and typically they learn the local language of the state where they serve in order to advance in their careers. It is funny to hear some of them speak in Tamil in the news channels. But I appreciate their efforts.

    Ambedkar is awesome and I have read his piece on Pakistan / Partition of India and admire his foresight. I believe this was written in the early 40s and when the decisions were made on partition, I think his advise was followed (by asking the non-Muslim representatives of Bengal and Punjab to vote for partition of the provinces). If only there was a peaceful population transfer as in the case of Turkey/Greece I guess things would not have turned this bitter.