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     Volume 5 Issue 110 | September 1, 2006 |

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A Letter to Khaleda

Ahmede Hussain

Madame Prime Minister,
It is necessary, it seems, to remind you of the good old days of your first tenure as Prime Minister; the necessity does not arise because those were good old days really, but more because I still carry some memories of those five years; those five years, anyone should admit, have a small place to claim in the history of Bangladesh as the first government elected by an election conducted by a caretaker government was running the country. You did a funny little thing at that time; all on a sudden your office declared that you were going to give audience to people. Funny it was because I had the misfortune of seeing you on the state-controlled television, watching fellow citizens of different cast's and creeds, telling everyone “I will look into the matter; please do not worry”. You looked very lost; I, barely a teenager, felt sorry for you on that. Good sense prevailed and your government later decided to drop the idea. People collectively heaved a sigh of relief, including those on the waiting list; the idea was preposterous: a modern queen giving an impatient hearing to the downtrodden, to those who otherwise may not have got a chance to see Khaleda Zia in person.

So the sum of memories I have just talked about includes a full five-minute newsreel of yours, sitting in a giant of a chair, almost hiding your person, looking worried and disturbed by your visitors, who, however poor and uncertain their lives were, knew that it was not their problems which really mattered, rather they themselves, their problems included, were publicised, televised and made public. I do not know anyone who was benefited from these hearings. Perhaps the people whom you had lent a patient ear at that time did not really expect you to solve their problems, their plights, their miseries: you are a politician after all; as a politician you are meant to do the most atrocious things only to get away with it. Do you know, Madame PM, that in the streets of Dhaka, people say that there is, in fact, hardly any difference between your party and the Awami League, be it in economic policy or in political ideology? People in this country live in abject poverty, but that does not mean that you can afford to take them for a ride.

You did it once, at the tail end of your regime. A farcical election was held, I only know two citizens who went to polling centres on that sad day of February 21: One was you, the other was an elderly aunt of mine who thought she would not live long enough to vote in the next elections. That night BTV showed you vote in what looked like a crowded voting centre somewhere in the country; my aunt went to find her vote already cast, the poor woman did not know that in these elections no-one actually casts a ballot, these are meant to be the by-products of a queen's expensive intractability. In the next elections (the one that does not allow ghost-votes) you lost to your archenemy the Awami League.

Hasina must have thought she had won votes for the things she had promised, how would she know that it was no one but your visionless stubborn leadership that had helped her woo weary citizens. Hasina's five-year was equally anarchic, if not worse than the misrule and corruption that your near five-year had become. It looks as though you both are in locked a quirky competition where the athlete who touches the line last wins. You two have taken us citizens for fools; but Madame PM, what if the fools fool you this time round? Is it not obvious for people -- even for my old aunt who is still alive and will vote in the next year -- to see the rabbit's ear, much before you have pulled that magician's cloak over its head?

I should have used a strong metaphor for someone like Ershad, vile and immoral a person that he is. But, pardon, Madame PM, he is hardly a phenomenon in Bangladeshi politics; he does not deserve to be called a shark or, worse still, a jackal. You need his support badly, that is understandable; after all that I, not a kid any more, have witnessed in the last few years. I, like others, do not find it surprising that Economist, a leading newsmagazine, has described your son Tareque, as a businessman. What are you going to do with that Madame PM? If you allow me I can guess: Everyone has a right to run a business; when you say it, you see one of those smirks that usually hover on people's faces when they listen to someone defending a horrid public secret. They know what you are afraid of, you know what they are laughing on; I never knew that life would be so cruel to you.

A drowning man, we are told, grabs at a straw; you should take it as a mere saying, I daresay, in real life we do not come across any drowning man who has tried to do that in the waters and has come out alive. Madame PM, Ershad is a straw in the stagnant pond of Bangladeshi politics; he thinks he can save himself by being clutched at by you. Usually people who do not have anything to hold on to in a swelling wave drown, straws can never save them. And I thought you knew that before.
You should have learnt to swim.

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