Vol. 5 Num 825 Thu. September 21, 2006  

Story of two good guys

When Saber Hossain Choudhuryand Asaduzzaman Noor were getting beaten lying down the other day, that was symbolically a picture of today's Bangladesh -- the good guys taking it lying down. Some people have called it the end of civility, some people have called it the future, some people have called it just another day in Bangladeshi politics. Whatever it is, everyone agrees that this is another slap at the meritorious and educated people who wants to join politics to change it for the better.

Even the die-hard BNP supporter will have a tough time saying negative things about Asaduzzaman Noor and Saber Hossain Choudhury, who have been instrumental in bringing positive changes inside the Awami League. These article is a tribute to these two people who stand out in today's Bangladeshi politics that everyone likes to hate.

When I was a 16 year old news junkie in the late eighties, amid favourites like Jai Jai Din and Bichinta, an art magazine started to come out under the editorship of the late Shamsur Rahman. It was called Muldhara. Muldhara immediately got everyone's attention for its content and high quality. Who would be foolish enough to have a business of publishing art magazine in those days when it was not profitable at all?

That was when when I got introduced to the name Saber Hossain Choudhury -- the publisher of Muldhara. Saber is from a rich family. He could have just been another business man doing garments factory one after the other, but he opted for something different that contributed directly in making a difference in Bangladesh.

In a few years, he joined politics. SOAS-educated politician in Bangladesh? That's a first. But he soon proved his mettle. During the mid-nineties, Saber and Bangladeshi cricket became synonymous. Everyone who is involved with Bangladeshi cricket knows how Saber won over the international cricket world with his very impressive attitude. As BCCB chairman, he was instrumental in Bangladesh's getting official test status so quickly. The rest, like they say, is history. Cricket has become now a national passion for which Saber can take a lot of credit.

Fast forward 10 years. I have been invited to a special screening of BBC debate on Bangladesh in London. The debate was happening in Dhaka with participation both from London and Dhaka. Saber Hossain is representing the opposition while the government is repreented by Najmul Huda.

For someone who was expecting another shouting match or an episode of "Trityo Matra," I was pleasantly surprised. Saber simply blew us away with his performance. I heard him talk about accountability, the need for listening to the younger generation, the current stalemate, etc with rapt attention.

He was smooth, superbly articulate, poised and more importantly absolutely statesman-like -- he was someone you want Bangladesh to be represented by in the international arena. Everyone in the audience, including the VIPs, nodded their heads in appreciation when Saber was speaking. I wondered in amazement how come we saw only Abdul "April 30 deadline" Jalil representing AL in the media when there was such a charismatic leader like Saber in the party.

Few weeks ago, surprisingly enough I ran into Saber in a conference for human rights in Bangladesh. I introduced myself. He shook my hand and said: "I read your pieces in Daily Star in Dhaka. Keep up the good work." Although I didn't show it, but my imaginary jaw dropped. It was not because he remembered this no-name author like me, but it was more because by that he broke every single negative stereotypes I had about Bangladeshi politicians. And as if that was not enough, the very next day I saw an email from him waiting in my inbox giving me his contact details. Needless to say, by then he had won me over by his intelligence, humility, charisma, and technical prowess. We never spoke or emailed after that, but I knew there exist politicians in Bangladesh who was more interested in talking policies and bringing in civility in our political culture.

If charisma was a barometer for popularity, Noor, on the other hand, had it amply even before joining politics. He was a superstar in his own right. People passionately demonstrated when his character Baker Bhai was killed off in a popular Humayun Ahmed drama "Kothao Keu Nei." He was then successfully co-running a well established advertising firm. We laughed and cried with his performances in many, many unforgettable TV dramas.

I used to be a regular in his drama performances in Mohila Shomiti auditorium. His Nagorik drama group was and still is one of the best performance groups in Bangladesh Group Theatre movement.

Among all of these positive contributions, the one that I revere the most is his leadership in setting up the Liberation War Museum -- the museum recognizing the role of our liberation war heroes. Believe it or not, this museum was started without any government help and completely by individual contributions and through private initiatives of a few trustees like Noor. This museum still stands as the only place where war mementos are kept and heroes are honoured.

So why did he join politics? I asked him that question when I had met him over dinner at a common friend's house in April. He said to make real change in the things that he really believed in he had to join politics. Otherwise, he had no right to complain again. He mentioned that to bring real change in Bangladeshi politics, we needed leadership that's not necessarily young but one which is modern in their outlook.

He then offered me to go to his constituency in Nilphamari with him to find about real people. "Come to Nilphamari with me tomorrow and see for yourself," he challenged. He visited his constituency Nilphamari at least once in two weeks, if not every week. He then blurted out his appointments for the following day in his constituency which included three hours of listening to people's issues, visiting an old school-teacher's family who passed away, going to a few local invitations and weddings, and addressing a meeting. Thanks to my mother's worry, I could not go with him to see his constituency the next day. I still regret that.

But what is more regrettable in today's Bangladesh is the lack of outrage among the educated class at the targeted and inhuman beating of Saber and Noor. A few months ago, noted journalist Muhammad Jahangir told me that today's Bangladesh is seeing a greater unity of bad guys, irrespective of parties, businesses, professions, or affiliation.

On the contrary, the good guys are fighting between themselves and getting beaten by the bad guys day in, day out. Saber and Noor are the last hope for Bangladeshi politics. They both represent politics of a different kind, the kind that has the pragmatic and modern approach -- the kind we deserve in today's world. They need all the support we can give to change the politics as we know it in today's Bangladesh.

While Saber lies in hospital wondering whether he can save his eye and Noor nurses his injury wondering he was better off not joining politics, let us ask ourselves, the educated middle class, if we are mature enough to identify the good guys in Bangladeshi politics today and help them fight the battle for a better Bangladesh and better politics.

Asif Saleh is an expatriate Bangladeshi living in London.
Asaduzzaman Noor (L),Saber Hossain Choudhury (R)