Crimes Against Humanity
Politicians in Bangladesh are being tried for corruption and extortion when they should be tried for crimes against humanity. One such crime is rape – and it should be a cinch to prove at the International Criminal Court that our politicians, over the last sixteen years, orchestrated rape and murder by organizing young boys into armed units to intimidate and terrorize local populations into voting their way.
According to the Ministry of Women And Children Affairs, the number of rapes pole-vaulted from 248 in 1985 to 2,224 in 1997, with a sharp leap in 1991 (407), the year after our donor-enforced democratic transition (General Ershad was forced to resign on December 6, 1990).
These are facts. They cannot be controverted. Unfortunately, the present caretaker government, egged on by donors, isn't focusing on violence during the last sixteen years, but, as observed, on corruption and extortion. According to my estimates, around 5,000 people have died during our democratic experiment through political violence, of which probably 800 were student politicians. The number of rapes, as we saw, ran into thousands.
A Defense of the Politicians And the First 3.5 Years
Notwithstanding these stark statistics, a group of people have been actively defending the record of politicians. They claim that every evil under the sun was perpetrated by the military, and that all good came from politicians – and whatever evil took place was due to the army generals who had ruled before them. This reminds one of the satire, Animal Farm – Napoleon, having ousted Snowball, blamed every mishap on the renegade pig, and took every credit for the things that went well!
The most spirited defence of politicians has been put forward by Abdul Momen in his article "Facts vs Fads: Democracy and Economic Performance" (click here He presents a table of economic indicators to prove that the politicians performed better than the military rulers.
Let's go over his analysis. There have been two periods of democratic rule in Bangladesh: 1971-5 and 1991–2006.
About the first period he observes: "the first 3.5 years can be considered a reconstruction period after a massive war". Bangladesh was born after a nine-month civil war that had been devastating – but then, Vietnam, and many other countries, emerged from civil war and got their act together immediately.
About the first 3.5 years, it has been observed by David Reynolds in his book "One World Divisible: A Global History Since 1945" (New York: W.W.Norton and Co., 2000, p. 217), "He [Sheikh Mujib, the first prime minister] failed to disarm the guerrillas or check the rampant corruption, and the country soon degenerated into anarchy". And that's not all.
According to Amartya Sen, who was granted the Bank of Sweden's Nobel Prize in Economics, there has never been a famine in a democracy. Really? In 1974, there was a famine in democratic Bangladesh that was entirely man-made. Floods damaged crops, but merchants sold rice to India – and the "father" of the nation, the aforementioned Sheikh Mujib, did not lift a finger to help the people who had elected him ("Famine", The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition). According to the Brittanica ("Bangladesh", Hugh Russell Tinker, http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-33419/Bangladesh ):
"In 1973 an election gave Mujib a landslide majority, but the euphoria soon turned sour. Prices escalated, and in 1974 a great famine claimed 50,000 lives. Faced with crisis, Mujib became a virtual dictator; corruption and nepotism reached new depths."
Sheikh Mujib instituted a one-party rule, and the 3.5 years of democracy were, in fact, characterised by his personality cult, as Reynolds astutely observes: "The ailing and autocratic Sheikh Mujibur Rahman offered only the ideology of 'Mujibism', a thinly disguised cult of personality" (page 247).
Therefore, it is easy to see why Abdul Momen should dismiss the first 3.5 years of democracy as "reconstruction": the facts are just too embarrassing for any apologist of Bangladeshi democracy.
The Predilection For Private Armies
If Sheikh Mujib had not been assassinated by army officers, one shudders to think what would have ensued.
His sons terrorized the country. When I asked Sakhawat Khan, who was a student at the time, why he used to hang out with Mujib's sons, pat came the reply: "They had a superb collection of guns". Why the prime minister's sons should have a cache of arms boggles the imagination.
Then there was the private army, the Rakshi Bahini. This was, in fact, a fully-fledged army, whose twin purpose was to protect Mujib and his family and harass his opponents. They failed, of course, with regard to the former; but not before harassing and terrorizing the country.
Given all this, it is not surprising that on August 15, 1975, when Mujib and his family were killed, there was jubilation throughout the nation: people distributed sweets, a traditional method of celebration. The killing was an open-and-shut case of tyrranicide. A grateful nation conferred on the killers high positions as state officials in foreign lands, and a blanket immunity under an indemnity ordnance, overturned years later on a mere technicality when Mujib's daughter, Sheikh Hasina, was elected prime minister in 1996.