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     Volume 7 Issue 22 | May 30, 2008 |

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Polarisation or Dreams Nibbled Away

Syed Badrul Ahsan

On a February day in 1976, the journalist Khondokar Abdul Hamid stunned an audience at Bangla Academy when he raised the spectre of 'Bangladeshi nationalism' in a country that had waged a war of national liberation armed with the battle cry of Bengali nationalism. Even as Hamid spoke, dictatorship ran riot all over the place. And as with any dictatorship, there was little scope for dissent. No one in that audience protested, but everyone seemed to be made suddenly aware of the terrible darkness that had set in. Or, if you will, polarisation had just reared its sinister head. A nation so long united in its aspirations and in the attainment of its goals now faced the imminent danger of coming apart at the seams, politically.

In the years since then, the polarisation has grown, with successive rulers going all the way to ensure that Bangladesh moved away from its secular moorings and into an arena which did not appear much removed from the bad legacy its people had thought they had cast aside in the 1971 war. General Zia saw little that was wrong, morally as well as politically, in prising secularism and socialism out of a constitution enacted and adopted by the elected representatives of the people in December 1972. Nationalism, of course, had already been rendered vulnerable. In his times, General Ershad took polarisation a good many steps ahead through his imposition of a state religion on the country. Within the first fifteen years of freedom, therefore, divisive politics came to be a defining feature of the state. And it naturally undermined the collective notion of freedom. Polarisation then extended outward, to cast its lengthening shadows on academia, journalism and even the civil administration. Students fought pitched battles in defence of the legacies, or so they thought, of political figures already fallen prey to mortality. The sanctity of Ekushey February remained for years on end prey to the whims of predatory politics, with adherents of polarising nationalistic streams cheerfully climbing the pillars of the Central Shaheed Minar. Their objective? To pin the images of their leaders on the peaks in a show of defiant, confrontational politics. At the threshold of the memorial, people sang songs in tribute to the martyrs of 1952.

The politics of polarisation has served as a huge boon for those who, had the law and the lessons of history worked in Bangladesh, would have remained notorious and sad memories because of what they did to this country in 1971. But that is not what happened. Golam Azam came back home and, despite Jahanara Imam and the Nirmul Committee, reasserted his right to citizenship. Hamidul Haq Chowdhury trekked all the way back to a Bangladesh he had opposed bitterly, to take charge once more of his newspaper. And thanks to the widow of the nation's first military ruler, elements of the likes of Motiur Rahman Nizami and Ali Ahsan Mojahed, familiar symbols of support for Pakistan's occupation forces in the annus mirabilis of the Bengalis, became new and ironic symbols of politics as they moved around in vehicles displaying the Bangladesh flag.

Political polarisation has left the country grievously wounded. It has sapped what should have been the strength necessary for the consolidation of freedom. It has left freedom fighters in a state of disbelief at how freedom has turned out and mutated into. Internecine warfare between the defenders of varying ideologies has left little chance of a national philosophy taking shape. And even as you wonder about all the goals of freedom that have been trampled underfoot, you are with alacrity shocked into realisation of a certain degree of tribalism having come over the political landscape, one that carries in its core the seeds of nascent cannibalism.

Polarisation has marred the spirit of music. It has nibbled away at the dreams that rose once from the ashes of a blood-drenched twilight struggle. That old, stirring battle cry of Joi Bangla must now compete with the ghosts of a shadowy past raucously gathered under the banner of 'Bangladesh Zindabad'.


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