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Current Affairs

The Patriot

Shakhawat Liton

More than a hundred years ago English poet and playwright Robert Browning in his poem "The Patriot" focuses on the rise and fall of a political leader, depicting how the political leader turns into a traitor from a patriot within a short span of just one year.

In the poem, Browning describes how just a year ago, as a great leader the protagonist performed heroic deeds for the nation. So, when he returned to the city, people welcomed him warmly. They decorated his path with roses and myrtles. People adored him so much that if the leader is demanded the sun, they would have brought it down from the sky for him.

But after a year, the political situation for the leader was completely different. He has been branded a traitor. People have gone to the Shambles' Gate and are standing at the very foot of the scaffold to see him die. He is being taken there to be hanged. His forehead is bleeding because whoever has a mind throws stones at him. He undergoes physical as well as mental torture.

Robert Browning is undoubtedly a fortunate man, for he did not have to hear Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently when she said "He has guts; he has patriotism…that's why he could resign." ”

Hasina's patriot is none other than Syed Abul Hossain, her cabinet's former communications minister. He never was a great leader. He performed no great deeds for the nation. Therefore, people never felt the need to decorate his paths with roses and myrtles. Abul however is a fortunate man in comparison with the political leader in Browning's poem. He did not face humiliation or torture like Browning's patriot because Hasina, the all powerful prime minister in Bangladesh, considers him a great patriot. His and others' alleged misdeeds prompted the World Bank to cancel loan agreement to fund Padma bridge due "conspiracy of corruption". But he has become a "patriot" after his resignation as a minister. He is being portrayed as a "patriot" by the premier and her party colleagues because of the country's perverted politics where many villains are considered heroes.

Syed Abul Hossain
Abul Maal Abdul Muhit, Photos: Star File

More than three and a half years ago, "patriot" Abul, solemnly swore that he would faithfully discharge the duties of the office of the minister according to law; that he would bear true faith and allegiance to Bangladesh; that he would preserve, protect and defend the Constitution; and that he would do right to all manner of people according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.

But Abul completely failed to honour the oath he took under the constitution. He allegedly breached the faith, and his ill-will damaged the country's image. But he has yet to be dubbed as "traitor".

Hasina's remarks on Abul's resignation however slet drawn flak from the main opposition BNP as it termed the former communications minister a “corrupt and shameless person.” The comment, however, prompted mixed reactions from the ruling Awami League and its allies.

BNP leader Dr Khandakaer Mosharraf Hossain said: “If anyone can become a patriot by indulging in corruption, then the definition of patriotism will have to be changed. The prime minister should have called him [Abul] 'shameless'”.

Interestingly, the premier has been batting for such a man who in her previous regime in 1997 was forced to resign as the state minister for LGRD following passport scandal. Even this "patriot" was dubbed by USA ambassador James F Moriarty as "less than honest" in business dealing.

According to Mahmudur Rahman Manna, convenor of a newly formed civil society platform Nagorik Oikko, if Abul had guts, as claimed by Hasina, he would have resigned when allegations of corruption were made against him.

"When Tanjim Ahmed Sohel Taj resigned as state minister for home and later as a lawmaker, the premier did not brand him as patriot or said he had guts. If anyone in the present government showed guts, it was Sohel Taj," noted Manna, an ex-organising secretary of Awami League.

Despite Abul's removal from the helm of the communications ministry last December and his recent resignation from the cabinet, the World Bank, is yet to be satisfied with the government action. Now the WB, according to media reports, wants the removal of an influential adviser to the prime minister who is enjoying the status of a minister.

The Abul drama however exposed the Awami League-led government's failure to take a tough stance against corruption in line with its electoral pledges. In the run up to the ninth parliamentary election in December 2008, the AL in its electoral manifesto promised to take effective actions against corruption.

"Multi-pronged measures to fight corruption will be put into place. Powerful people will have to submit wealth statement annually. Strict measures will be taken to eliminate bribe, extortion, rent seeking and corruption. Strong measures will be taken against those having unearned and black money, against loan defaulters, tender manipulators, and users of muscle power in every stage of state and society," says the election manifesto.

It also promised that wealth statement and source of income of the Prime Minister, members of cabinet, Parliament members and of their family members will be made public every year. The party also pledged to strengthen the Anti-Corruption Commission to fight grafts.

But all the poll pledges have remained in the book. The government in the last three-and-a-half years demonstrated lack of sincerity to implement those promises. The situation could have been different had the government performed in line with its electoral pledges. The government could have averted the Padma bridge crisis had it taken a tough stance against corruption. Non-implementation of the electoral pledges gave birth to the Padma fiasco and Railway gate scandal.

"Patriot" Abul is "innocent", according to Hasina. Then what will be his fate after the resignation? He resigned as the minister of information and communication technology on July 23. But till July 29, his resignation has not reached the president and the cabinet division is yet to issue any notification to this effect. Therefore, the official websites of the cabinet division and the ICT ministry is still showing Abul as the ICT minister. Will "patriot" Abul have a comeback as a minister with or without portfolio?

The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2012