Context Bangladesh: Democratic Or Nationalist? – OpEd


Recently there have been two strong but equally sensible views regarding the use of the terms ‘democratic’ and ‘nationalist’ in naming a Bangladesh-related non-profit intellectual forum. Both views made valid and vital arguments. On the one hand, the term ‘democratic’ was argued to have become an overused, charmless and hackneyed, sometimes even a misleading cliché. Everybody, including the fascists, despots and dictators, claims to be ‘democratic’.

In Bangladesh, all parties, from the dictatorial Awami League to its hybrid and opportunist allies such as B. Chowdhury’s (whom Sheikh Hasina once insulted by calling him ‘Bodu Kaka’) Bikalpa Dhara to H. M. Ershad’s Jatiyo Party to once Mujib-bashing Hasanul Hoque Inu’s JSD to Rashed Khan Menon’s Worker’s Party to Dilip Barua’s Shammyobadi Dal, all claim to be ‘democratic’, no matter how drearily fake and false and frivolous that claim for sure is. To the chronic liars and political perverts throughout history, democracy and dictatorship are one and the same, interchangeable, far from being mutually exclusive. To them, the two ideologies are like the two sides of the same coin, ‘head’ or ‘tail’, depending on the suitable political opportunism that may by chance present itself on the way. 

It is the terror and tyranny unleashed under ‘dictatorship’ that the tyrants actually mean while it is ‘democracy’ that they maliciously manipulate to cover up and justify their tyrannical goals and ends. Hitler also talked about ‘democracy’ as he was at first democratically elected, though with the support of other smaller parties. Kim’s closed and isolated North Korea also is called DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea).

Similarly, People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, and Laos People’s Democratic Republic, all these are authoritarian regimes under the name-only ‘democratic’ garb. What a trivialization of the term ‘democratic’! Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte were initially ‘democratic’ or ‘republican’ as they were rising through the ladder, only to turn autocratic and imperial amassing immense power in their hands. 

According to the most famous dissident personality of Bangladesh, Mahmudur Rahman, “In fact, most of the fascists begin their despotic rule through some sort of democratic process. Sheikh Hasina also is a 21st century tinpot dictator.” Calling someone or something ‘democratic’ in words or on paper, therefore, means nothing unless that is backed and demonstrated by deeds and action. However, an argument has been made that despite having been grossly abused or misused and thereby sounding like a dull and dolorous cliché, the term ‘democratic’ is still considered to be a politically correct and, so, an acceptable term, safe to use in all circumstances. Fine. 

On the other hand, the term ‘nationalist’ remains new, fresh and evergreen. However, as the argument goes, it should be avoided because, in the context of Bangladesh, it smells and smacks of the BNP, the largest and most popular party, although, unfortunately, it is being currently completely crushed and held hostage at gun point by the despotic and the so-called ‘democratic’ Hasina regime.

But the point has also been made: (1) that the term ‘nationalist’ has not been ‘bought’ over by the BNP to secure its sole agency or ownership; (2) that others, regardless of their political affiliation, should feel free to use the word; (3) that it already implies and includes democratic ideas and ideals; (4) that Bangladesh is now divided between the pro-Indian and the patriotic nationalist Bangladeshis; and (5) that in the context of the increasing Indian aggression and domination of Bangladesh in all fields–political, cultural and economic–patriotic Bangladeshis should insistently define themselves as ‘nationalist’ and identify themselves with nationalist causes and criteria. In such a situation, Bangladesh needs to persistently describe itself through its patriotic and nationalist agenda that may or may not have anything to do with the BNP, which, as has been mentioned above, is of course the largest and most popular political party of Bangladesh. 

Supporting the view, Mahmudur Rahman, who was also a former minister and advisor to the BNP-led government, says that only because the BNP has the term ‘nationalist’ as the middle portion of its full name, it does not give them the proprietorship of the concept. On the contrary, the people of Bangladesh who are fighting against Indian hegemony are all true nationalists. According to him, who was also a widely-known journalist now living in exile, “As a country, Bangladesh has lost its sovereignty. As a people, we have lost our unique cultural identity, our rich Islamic heritage and, most importantly, our freedom. Nationalist and Islamic parties have lost their organizational strength, unity and political voice. The Bangladeshi Army has lost its courage, professionalism, self-respect and popular support” (The Political History of Muslim Bengal: An unfinished battle of faith, 2019, p. 302). 

Rahman argues that “Bangladesh is now being ruled by minorities, religious and political. It has gone back to pre-1947 days when majority Bengali Muslim peasants and working class were ruled and exploited by British colonial administration and minority Hindu Zaminders (large land owners), who served as lackeys and local cohorts of the British. The so-called British-aided Bengali Renaissance of 19th century (a Hindu renaissance for all practical purposes) not only created a myth of Hindu intellectual superiority in Bengal relegating Bengali Muslims to second class citizens, but it also facilitated the establishment of Hindu Zamindar aristocracy. Unfortunately, the very concept of Awami or secular version of Bengali nationalism has its roots in the 19th century extremely communal Hindu renaissance. Knowingly or unknowingly, the followers of Bengali nationalism in Bangladesh accept Hindu domination by default.”   

It is about the same time that the former Chief Justice of Bangladesh, S K Sinha, wrote: “The black chapter is that India is behaving as ‘big brother’ with us instead of being an ‘elder brother.’ It has diverted waters from all river flowing into Bangladesh causing serious environmental and ecological imbalance in our country particularly in Northern Bangladesh. The balance of trade and commerce is also lopsidedly in favor of India and these have caused much anxiety among most of the people. It has been purposely and intentionally supporting a government which has no respect for democracy, rule of law and human rights. Corruption is rampant, forced disappearances of citizens by security forces are a regular feature, and violation and discrimination based on gender, religion, affiliations are persistent. The government is run largely with the support of the security services. Terrorism is increasing daily and the more the government will depend on the security forces as a tool to remain in power, the more terrorism and fanaticism will rise. 

“People cannot be ruled with the help of security forces consistently violating the civil rights of the citizens. No autocratic government can rule the country for an indefinite period. Unless democracy and the rule of law are established, the sentiments of the people will keep rising against the tyrannical government and it will go against India as well, because India is seen to be propping up an autocratic government for its own interests […] All that was possible only due to the […] support of a neighboring regional superpower and the judiciary’s role. Everybody assumed that there would be fresh elections within two years. But all assessments proved false due to the unconditional support of the neighboring powerful country, India.” (See the PDF copy of his book, A Broken Dream: Rule of Law, Human Rights and Democracy, 2018, P. 516-517).

Furthermore, no nation has ever advanced without a sense of nationalism. A nation progresses by virtue of its full and complete status in terms of its flag, anthem, borders and territorial integrity, all of which it comes to possess along with its freedom, independence and sovereignty, all combined together to create a total whole. Starting with the 16th century Renaissance in Europe, all nation states prospered with a vision of nationalism by which they defined themselves and articulated their goals and policies. In fact, nationalism was an article of faith in English and Italian Renaissance that helped them emerge as powerful nations. In modern times, Scotland, Catalonia (Spain), and Quebec (in Canada) wish to go independent in their culturally and linguistically identified nationalist terms. The whole Soviet Union collapsed on the basis of rising regional nationalisms, among the other factors such as the Moscow-based political dogma and political stagnation that the doctrinaire communism caused. 

Hence today’s Ukraine, the Baltics (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia), Moldova, Macedonia, Georgia, Belarus, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and the largely Muslim central Asian countries with their nationalist identities. It is the same story how Tito’s Yugoslavia fell apart in the Balkans in the name of nationalist causes–Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Slovenia and Macedonia. That is also the story behind South Sudan and East Timor, both of which became independent not too long ago. 

Like liberal and illiberal democracies, nationalism also has its own variety–narrow and militaristic nationalism (for example, Hitler’s white supremacist right-wing Aryan anti-Semite nationalism and Modi’s fanatical and fundamentalist Hindutva nationalism, as opposed to the civilized and sophisticated Indian nationalism). There can also be a broad, general and liberal (not necessarily loose) nationalism that accommodates internationalism, examples being Malaysia, Turkey, Iran, Russia, China and so on. I’m talking about this kind of nationalism and hence I’m a nationalist. Most of the Western and Asian countries belong to this category, which in some cases includes elements of transnationalism too.

With growing pluralisms and diversities in modern society due to the centuries of war, imperialism, orientalism, migration, exile, expatriation, and diaspora, there is a modern evolution of multiple identities — racial, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and national. All this has been a result of colonial expansionist hegemony and ultimately the postcolonial transnationalism and internationalism, accompanied by a real or an implicit/perceived abrogation and/or disintegration of national boundaries. 

As a consequence, the particularities of race and nationality have melted down into fluid and flexible entities, there being self-expressions in multiple languages. The political and geographical occupations and colonial infiltrations and influences gave rise to a meeting of cultures across the transnational and overseas borders. This meeting began from the early modern age, that is, Renaissance voyages and discoveries through the medieval Muslim Spain and later the Ottoman Empire to the 18th century Western interest in the East (China) to the 19th century Western colonialism and expansionism into Asia/India and Africa to the 20th century civil wars and the two World Wars.

If some people use the term ‘nationalism’ in a narrow, militant, puritanical and fundamentalist way as Modi does and Hitler did, it is their “wrong-headed” business. Just because you can use a nuclear bomb for destruction and annihilation, it is not that you cannot make one as a deterrent (as Pakistan, India, Israel and the Permanent 5 have done). Nuclear bomb that may be used for destruction also does not mean an embargo on clean and renewable, ‘green’ nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, as opposed to fossil-based pollution-causing non-renewable sources of energy–oil, gas and coal.

Coming back to the point, the process of the current Indian Goa-ization, Sikkim-ization and Hyderabad-ization of Bangladesh with the country’s regime laughably, liberally and lamentably yielding to Indian demands at the expense of its (Bangladesh’s) own interests is in full swing. Dozens and scores of contracts, agreements and MOUs—all are mainly intended to serve the interest of India. The puppet regime in Dhaka wants to remain in power by being a lackey to Delhi working at the pleasure of the latter and establishing, according to its unimpressive foreign minister Abdul Momen, a demeaning husband-wife relationship with India playing the virile and dominant masculine ‘husband’ and Bangladesh a meek, mew-mew and submissive ‘wife.’ 

The BJP & RSS-led Indian political leadership, indoctrinated by the puritanical and fanatical majoritarian militant Hindutva cult and culture, is working to expand their religious, economic, cultural and territorial hegemony in the name of what is their Akhand (Unbroken/United/Greater) Bharat dogma. On the other hand, the Hasina regime in the Muslim majority Bangladesh is gleefully gobbling and gloating at that Indian dogmatic Oogie Boogie (“a villainous bag of bugs in the Kingdom Hearts series”), promoting Hindutva-loaded Hinduism (similar to Zionism-informed Judaism) and demoting and suppressing Islam (which is what secularism means to the awful Awami regime and its anti-Muslim coolie intellectuals). 

In the role of an obedient and obsolete Samaritan ‘wife,’ the Hasina regime, with no scruple of conscience, lets its own people down by being killed indiscriminately by the Indian BSF at the border with no challenge thrown at the killers by the BGB. Similarly, there is no challenge from the regime at the Indian leaders threatening to take Bangladesh part by part, district by district. The power-addict Hasina regime, at the mercy of the Hindu religion based majoritarian Narendra Modi, lets its men raise the slogan of Joy Hind and Joy Bangla (to suggest Bangladesh’s oneness and sameness with Hindustan and the bordering Hindustani state of West Bengal). The power-hungry regime lets its women, including Hasina herself, wear Indian flag designed sarees and its men such as her deputy Obaidul Quader read Ramayana only to please the master-cum-husband in Delhi. 

The tottering (to India) but tyrannical (at home), the Hasina regime lets millions of Indians work illegally in Bangladesh and send billions of dollars back home in India leaving millions of its own people poor and unemployed. To secure its own terms in power with the help of India, the Dhaka regime is not hesitant to let the local Muslim majority be reduced to political, cultural and economic ‘minority’ while the minority being scaled up to ‘majority,’ with an amazingly staggering number of Hindus placed in key administrative and decision-making positions all across Bangladesh. It is as if the minority (Hindu) quota is endless and the majority (Muslim) quota is ever shrinking, to the disastrously detrimental deterioration of equality, fairness and social justice that are essential to build a stable and harmonious society with healthy and positive cohesive and communal ties within its own members.     

There is no denying, therefore, that the freedom, independence and sovereignty of Bangladesh are in dire peril under the present regime when only the patriotic nationals, politically-oriented patriotic nationalists and nationalism-oriented causes and ideals can save Bangladesh and take it back from the fiefdom status imposed on it by the crooked Indian cliques and clutches. It may here be mentioned that two recently published books, Bangladesh: Political and Literary Reflections on a Divided Country and Bangladesh Divided: Political and Literary Reflections on a Police and Prison State (both published by New York-based Peter Lang) deal with the subject of Bangladesh’s nationalism from several perspectives, including the coercive Indian control, aggression and regimentation of Bangladesh on all possible fronts. The first of these volumes contains: Chapter 11: Bangladeshi Nationalism: A Cause and Concept Right and Just; Chapter 12: Secularism in Bangladesh: Questions of Politico-Cultural and Religious Conflict; and Chapter 14: When Bangladesh Is Divided Over Its National Anthem “Amar Sonar Bangla” (A Tagore Song): A Politico-Literary Perspective. The second one contains Chapter 10: Unwanted Indian Interference in the Politics, Economy, and Culture of Bangladesh, among other relevant materials.

*Q M Jalal Khan is on the General Studies faculty at an institution of higher education in North America. 

Dr. Q.M. Jalal Khan

Dr. Q.M. Jalal Khan is an author, coauthor and lead editor of about 10 books on the Awami misrule and Indian hegemony in Bangladesh for the last 14 years.