Arundhati, Alam and the Awami League

Afsan Chowdhury | Published: 00:00, Mar 13,2019 | Updated: 00:14, Mar 13,2019


THE Arundhati Roy episode shows the confusion that is in the state order and disorder management system. The permission to Arundhuti Roy at an event organised by Chobi Mela which is led by Shahidul Alam was withdrawn at the last moment. As many howled in protest and petitions were signed, Drik/Alam shifted the venue to Midas Centre. They also postponed it initially but in the last hours, permission was restored and Roy spoke to a wildly interested audience. Her speech was on her literature and South Asian politics in general. Very harmless stuff. One wonders what the police were so nervous about. So names scare people now?

Arundhati and Alam
CHOBI Mela has become a great event, showcasing global paths and achievements in photography. It is held under the guidance and supervision of Shahidul Alam who has almost singlehandedly raised the photography sector to professionalism and social acceptance in Bangladesh. Although he has been an activist for years, he was on the not-so-harmful variety list for long till he landed in the middle of the social protest movement against the government in 2018.
Alam’s internment for Facebook broadcasts and interview given to the Al-Jazeera TV, which the government now denies, under ICT Act Section 57 raised a global hue and cry and demand for his bail. The government had resisted this call for months but as international voices grew louder, keeping him in jail without even charging became more embarrassing and he was finally granted bail. One of those who raised voices for Shahidul Alam’s freedom was Arundhati Roy, who wrote a scathing article on the issue as well. So, perhaps, the one the government was trying to silence was Alam rather than Roy.
Roy’s speech was harmless as she focused on literature and arts rather than politics which she also mentioned only in context and passing. She stated that South Asia was a victim of zealotry and radicalism that have produced a general environment of violence. It was not intended for any specific national audience, whether Indian or Bangladeshi. It was quite ‘safe’. If so, why was the government so worried leading to so much attention on the issue?

Bangladesh ruling class not dominantly political
MOST analysis of the current regime is political party-based. That is, it is the Awami League which is in power and its anti-democratic and so on and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party leads this chorus. However, the class analysis of the AL regime and the BNP opposition is missing in this discourse. What is not mentioned is the representative character of the ruling regime, which is more multiple and the nature of an alliance.
None of the members of the ruling class have been negatively affected by the present regime; so, the reason for its unpopularity within any class cluster is remote. Its stay in power could only be threatened if there is a crack in the alliance.
Political participation or people/voter/the public’s right to consensual governance is not a major political issue any more. The public is not seriously connected to state governance machinery through any means. Previously, the politicians would play that role as the bridge between the ruling construct and the people.
With the decline of the political state and the rise of the administrative variety, the public’s connection to politics has also declined. So it is only natural that people would have less interest in any process such as voting which is an inclusion tool of the governance system. This is when the system itself has become exclusive.

BNP and ‘civil society’ opposition
THE major political opposition is the BNP but it is no different in class policy from the Awami League as far as functioning is concerned. So, why would members of the ruling cluster switch horses just to please a few elderly barely running steeds beats logic. The BNP is not just anti-Awami League but the BNP leadership is anti-AL leadership and vice versa. It is a very personal and emotional hostility; so, the chances of reconciliation is almost nil.
The position of the present prime minister is so strong that it has even created a dependence on her by other members for the their health and survival. Thus it is risky to make her unhappy. That is why support for Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League is almost guaranteed.
In that space comes the ‘civil society’ group which largely centres around the privileged elite members of society. They are professional, well-off, not dependent on favours by the ruling class structures for livelihood. They are outside this ‘give and take’ space and cannot be trashed for anti-1971 actions except through distant genealogies and guilt by political association. A section of the left is close to them too, but the political space does not belong to them either.
They are neither members of the ruling class nor outside upper class privileges space. In that space, it is ‘critical activism’ that they do. They can and will not go beyond it. The reaction to what they say or might say by the ruling class members as the Arundhati episode shows reflects the sense of confidence or its lack by the regime’s political part rather than the ruling class as a whole which does not seem much bothered at the moment.

Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist and researcher.

Want stories like this in your inbox?

Sign up to exclusive daily email