After reading Sumit Ganguly’s article — Bangladesh’s Accommodation of Extremism Spells Danger for Region (YaleGlobal Online) — I could not believe that I was reading an analysis from someone who holds the Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations at Indiana University, Bloomington, and is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Philadelphia. I feel sorry to state that it is a terrible piece.
It’s a disingenuous attempt by Ganguly to analyze Bangladesh. As an Indian-American of Bengali heritage his piece is full of dada babu (condescending, big brotherly) attitude, which many Bangladeshis would find very offensive. He describes Bangladesh as the “mostly poverty-stricken nation”, while hiding the fact that in his native India there are more beggars than found in Bangladesh. Hundreds of millions of Indians don’t have the necessary sanitary and health care facilities. On some of the Human Development Indices, India’s record is simply abysmal and much worse than those of Bangladesh.
Religion is important to most South Asians. The subject matter would have benefited from an objective analysis and not something that is shallow and highly opinionated from an individual whose piece was unnecessarily too long and short on facts, analysis, structure and reflection.
Ganguly’s piece is also marred with many half- and full lies. He also insults the homegrown entrepreneurs that have been the real drivers for the economic miracles inside Bangladesh by foolishly lauding “massive infusions of foreign assistance as well as the dramatic growth of non-governmental organizations” for the economic progress. Where would Bangladesh be today if she had gotten a tenth of foreign assistance that India had received?
Ganguly says that Bangladesh’s “record in guaranteeing the rights of religious, ethnic and other minorities is abysmal.” Really? Let’s look at the facts and not unsubstantiated allegations, which Ganguly lobs so frequently. If he was serious to dig the truth he would have known that the status of Hindu minorities in Bangladesh is much better than those enjoyed by the Muslim minorities – politically, socially and economically – inside India. To her credit, the government of Sheikh Hasina has placed a Hindu as the chief justice bypassing some more qualified judges.
Like any other government in the region, Sheikh Hasina’s government has its share of problems and challenges though, and has been accused by the opposition of being authoritarian. But no one should doubt its record on protecting the rights of minorities. Contrary to Ganguly’s assertion, many have blamed Hasina government of appeasing Hindus at the cost of more qualified Muslims. Rakhine and other Buddhists from Myanmar have fared better inside Bangladesh than Rohingya Muslims.
Although Muslims comprise nearly 14 percent of Indian population, their share in government jobs is less than 2 percent. On the other hand, the share of jobs held by Hindus in Bangladesh government jobs is several times their percentage (9%) inside the country (and so is the case with Buddhists), which once again belies Ganguly’s faulty claims to portray Bangladesh negatively.
The government of Sheikh Hasina has put many of the leaders of the Islamic parties not only behind the bar but also executed them audaciously in trials that have been widely criticized by the US and many western governments. And yet, Ganguly sounds alarming and alleges that Hasina government is in ‘denial about religious extremism’.
It is true that a Hindu blogger (Roy), known for his bigotry and hostility against Islam, was allegedly killed by Muslim fanatic(s). There is, however, no proof that the terrorist outfit ISIS, which, by the way, has killed more Muslims than non-Muslims, was ever involved in such a targeted assassination of Roy and other bloggers (mostly from Muslim background), and a university professor inside Bangladesh. The ISIS claims on such matters has no basis, and are seen more as a propaganda tool towards recruitment than anything else. Hasina government’s repeated claims that such killings were perpetrated by some extremists who found the views of those anti-Islamic zealots highly offensive may be quite right.
Ganguly should know that freedom of expression has limits everywhere. One has the right to stretch his/her fist but when it hits the face of someone, it is no longer treated as a right but as a violation of the right of the one being hit. Thus, Prime Minister Hasina was right when she condemned the excesses practiced by the anti-Muslim zealots that abused the freedom of expression to poison the community. She rightly said that “they have no right to write or speak against any religion. … When you are living in a society, you have to honor the social values, you have to honor others’ feelings.” It would be foolish to regard such statements as pandering to the religious extremists. They are actually delivered to inject some common sense to secular fundamentalists and anti-Muslim zealots who seem to be lacking such and have chosen to be oblivious of the limits of freedom.
Ganguly’s piece is full of unsubstantiated claims and gives a very bad name to the very institutions where he works. His accusations that Hasina government finds ‘tacit toleration of religious extremism, whether local or international, are manageable and useful’ or that it is co-opting ‘fundamentalists to further marginalize the already weakened BNP and its allies’ and that it is harnessing ‘religious bigots to pursue political ends’ are so ludicrous that I wish he had done his homework right before writing the article. An inquiry with the religious minded politicians and supporters inside Bangladesh would have shown that no administration has been so hostile to the religious ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘bigots’ since the birth of Bangladesh as the Hasina administration has been. The execution of powerful leaders like Nizami cements the case for her government.
Far from Ganguly’s ridiculous claims that Hasina regime is ‘flirting with Islamists’, it has proved to be the worst enemy of the ‘Islamists.’ In all fairness, his fear of the spread of the virus of extremism should have been directed to India and the Modi regime. After all, Modi’s BJP is a Hindutvadi fascist organization that is a member of the Sangh Parivar with a record of inciting violence against not only Muslims but all minorities inside India. It rules the center and many of the state assemblies. It has banned trading in and slaughter of cow in many of the states. Muslims have been killed on just mere suspicion of storing beef in their refrigerators. Muslim cattle traders have been lynched to death. Since the demolition of the historic Babri Mosque, scores of mosques and churches have been demolished and vandalized by Hindutvadi fascists that are aligned with the Sangh parivar.
With the recent BJP’s win in states like Assam, it is clear which direction India is heading. Prime Minister Modi remarked, “The polls have made it clear that the BJP’s ideology is being accepted, appreciated and supported by more and more people in the country. It is great for democracy.”
Ganguly ought to have known that in spite of many flaws with Bangladesh’s democracy, her people have never put a religiously inclined party to lead the country. Surely, the same cannot be said of his mother India where Hindutvadi fascists are ruling the so-called secular country and are winning big! Shockingly, they are even believed to win in 2019 also! Thus, rather than wasting his readers’ time, Ganguly could have done all of us a favor by focusing on India’s growing accommodation of Hindutvadi fascism which would spill danger for the region.
In recent years, Bangladesh has seen her share of political violence, execution of some top ‘Islamist’ leaders, and killings of anti-Muslim bigots and zealots who had offended Islam, but it would be paralysis of one’s wits to conclude that Bangladesh is accommodating religious extremism.
In summary, Ganguly’s analysis of Bangladesh is a faulty one, and only unmasks his deplorable bias and offers nothing of substance. Pseudo pundits like him does a disservice to the reputation of institutes that they are attached with.