Masterly Politics: one step back to move two steps forward
At the fag end of Awami League's tenure in July 2001, the bazaar was warmed up to the news that the government has allotted for security reasons the Ganobhaban to Sheikh Hasina and gifted a Dhanmandi residence to Sheikh Rehana, the only surviving descendents of slain-in-office president Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
For those who cannot remember simple details after one week: On the grisly night of 15 August 1975, Bangabandhu's wife Begum Fazilatunnesa, their three sons (Sheikh Russel was 10 years old), two just-married daughters-in-law and seventeen others (mostly relatives) were most brutally murdered in cold blood by self-declared killers including now hanged Lt Col (retd) Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan, Maj (retd) Bazlul Huda, Maj (retd) AKM Mohiuddin (lancer), Mohiuddin Ahmed (artillery), and Syed Farooq Rahman.
No one expected the orders to survive the first week of any non-Awami government; not even the two daughters. But it was a ploy of the highest form of political mastery, not heralded as such or as much, but to be applied years later as an ousting tactic.
This was at a time when Khaleda Zia, wife of slain-in-office president Ziaur Rahman, had been living for 20 years in her allotted house on eight bighas of land at Shahid Moinul Road in Dhaka Cantonment, leased out to her in 1981 for one Taka, while having 'bought' an abandoned house on one and half acres of land in Gulshan for Tk 101 after Zia's assassination. The sensitive location of Khaleda's residence became controversial when she continued to lead her political party from a military town.
Prophecy to perfection, Khaleda Zia's BNP-led government scrapped the houses allotted to the Sheikh daughters 21 days after assuming office in October 2001, little realising that she herself was enjoying two allotted houses, giving credence to the practice that a house allotted under one government can be thrown out of the window by another.
After Awami League regained office in the 2008 December elections, Khaleda's house allotment was cancelled. Khaleda went to court, lost, and left her bastion of two decades.
Explained Law Minister Shafique Ahmed: The government cancelled the allotment of Khaleda Zia's cantonment house since the allocation was illegal and unethical. He said the house was used for political and business purposes, which go against cantonment rules.
Yet another politics of mastery was initiated recently at the unsigned Teesta-Transit treaty during the first visit of an Indian Prime Minister in 12 years. Strange that, considering they live so near. A buoyant Manmohon Singh came to sign the Teesta River water sharing 50:50 deals during a 30-hour sojourn, but left with a dry bucket without the Transit agreement. But why? It is perhaps not what meets the eye.
Imagine that the Teesta and the Transit documents were signed last week. Those politicians who live off hyping up anti-Indian sentiments would have said that the Awami League government has given away Teesta water and given Transit, and got nothing in return. Since when do you need to speak sense to make political inroads?
Enter Mamata Banerjee, by arrangement. Seldom has an absentee been so influential in talks between two nations, or so much debated by people of both the countries. Barely 24 hours before Mr. Singh's aeroplane touched down at HSJI airport, Mamata first got off the flight and later threatened to pull out her ministers from the centre, saying she is not in agreement with the Teesta deal; surprising that, because she was consulted by Delhi at every step while drawing up the agreement on Teesta water sharing, an internationally recognised obligation of upstream countries. The might of India declared to Dhaka's dismay that without Paschimbanga in agreement the Teesta deal could not be signed.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Hasina's opponents were cotch-lying their hands. Let her just sign Transit and let Singhjee leave without putting pen to the Teesta paper, they said while trading smirks. We can label her as having sold Bangladesh to India, they planned. In their wildest analysis of the situation they did not consider that the Sheikh's beti may dare not to sign the Transit. She did just that. In one stroke of brilliant statesmanship Hasina said 'no' to Transit because India had said 'no' to Teesta.
The two governments have enacted a drama. Now those very critics are demanding that Teesta be signed. Transit is gradually being accepted as the need of the times for regional cooperation.
This 'exhibition' of disagreement among the two governments highlights (1) the difficulty in getting river water from India and conversely transit from Bangladesh, (2) that Pashimbanga and Bangladesh are maintaining their distance, and (3) that bilateral relations today are based on a modern barter system.
Based on the above, the deals will be signed, they say, in three months. There will be more winners then than today's losers.