Count ‘em! Not one, not two but five of them met with the media barons of Bangladesh and they had a goal that was nothing short of inventing the truth! A marvelous ability if it was possible and real. You know who I am talking about, don’t you? These are the five ministers and cabinet members that met with the media folks to tell what reality was, and how and what the media should portray of that manufactured reality.
There was Amir Hussain Amu, gulp, the industries minister, who said “They are not aware that trade and commerce and export – everything is running normal and yet people don’t know it.” The ‘they’ that this guy is talking about, are people of Bangladesh.
Unfortunately for the minister, ‘they’ are critically aware of the fact that every time they step out of the door, there is a good chance that they will burn to death; they will never make it to their destination; they will never be able to get the milk they wanted. It is the pervasive fear that stalls life, not the manufactured reality.
Dear honorable minister, let us look at some facts. I know, I know, facts are inconvenient things but there they are staring you in the face:
- The Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry estimates that total losses to the economy is BDT 365 billion. That is close to 3% of the GDP of the country that has been lost since Jan. 5, 2015
- The garment sector alone published a loss figure of nearly BDT 6 billion, which I think is a low estimate
- Forty people on average are burned every day in Bangladesh
- Thirty-five people are known to be dead since the spate of violence started
- Nearly 400 vehicles have been burned, damaged, or vandalised throughout the country
- A truck laden with exportable garments now charges about four times as much for a regular run from the Dhaka to Chittagong. Even that is probably not commensurate with the risks
These are the inconvenient and hard facts, but hey, the Ministers decreed them as normal. Life with arson, death, and vandalism is normal. Oh boy, what joy!
Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed says, “The situation in Bangladesh is normal apart from some acts of sabotage and terrorism.” Now, I must tell you I am shocked and saddened by the truthiness (yes, I owe this one to Colbert) of both Tofail and Information Minister Hasanul Huq Inu. I know them from my middle school days. They were our shining knights in the dark days of Pakistan.
Inu inspired many of us towards leftist politics by example. He left a cozy upper-class upbringing (his father was the GM of Karnaphuli Paper Mills) and was being mercilessly pursued by the police and intelligence branches. What was so appealing about him then was the fact that he always told the truth, no matter how inconvenient that might have been. That was one of the reasons for him staying on the sidelines after the liberation.
Tofail Ahmed, on the other hand, was part of ‘Char Khalifa’ (Four Caliphs) student leaders. He was railing about the truthiness of the Pakistani rules in those heady days just before Bangladesh was born. He was royalty in our eyes. Now, the guy has gone all the way, and done a full Monem Khan.
Sorry, I think I am dating myself. Monem Khan was the Governor of East Pakistan and when there were non-stop hartals and strikes, he managed to drive a procession of cars and rickshaws on Jinnah Avenue (present-day Bangabhandu Avenue) and raced to the Press Club to declare how things are ‘normal.’ That Tofail Ahmed is doing a full Monem Khan in the context of my fatherland is just breathtaking. Okay, so much for hypocrisies.
A signature element of any failed state is its inability to provide security and freedom of movement to its populace. Pakistan is a failed state mainly because it cannot guarantee that if you send your kids to school, they will come back home in one piece. I am not suggesting that Bangladesh is fast becoming a failed state. Far from it.
The problem though is that the path to a failed state starts with deliberate monkeying with facts. This allows out-of-touch politicians to stay out of touch, and continue walking down the garden path to the quicksand that is a failed state. On top of all that, in these days of the internet, mobile video, and Facebook, it is totally futile to try to conceal happenings on the ground.
By engaging in these shenanigans, the government simply loses its credibility. This happened during the Padma Bridge graft scandal (which they continue to deny, even though some of the cohorts are languishing in Canadian jails), and again during the collapse of Rana Plaza. They kept insisting that the labour conditions were great, and eventually the country lost its GSP preferences which has real life consequences.
I, like a lot of other people, despise the continuous disruption of life, property, and liberty solely for Khaleda Zia’s desire to fulfill the seven-point demand which is all about her and her and her again! But the way to tackle the disruption is not to hide your heads in the sand and tell a bunch of untruths to yourself and to the people. That is a sure way to lose grip on the country’s well-being.
Yes, there is a media war to be fought, but not by inventing so-called truths, but by framing the truth in the context of why and what. I am sure BNP stalwarts would rather not bring out the seven points in daylight, and just talk about illegal elections of the past. How about letting everyone know that 35 people were burned to death because Khaleda Zia wants various cases against her and her son dropped, and that she wants to return to kleptocratic power?
The mayhem needs to be confronted with an iron fist, and that requires developing a grassroots opposition to violence and towards strong human intelligence. It is important to identify the arsonists and the destroyers of property. This will also require revamping the laws which mete out better and more severe punishment for crimes against property. But none of this will happen if the powers that be just keep telling themselves that everything is ‘normal.’
Pulling a Monem Khan ultimately led to the destruction of Pakistan (a good thing in my opinion), but pulling a Tofail Ahmed (a revamped 2015 Monem Khan, if you will), can only destroy the vibrant growth and march towards a middle-income country that Bangladesh has embarked on.
STOP! There is no milk and honey in the Buriganga! Stop making up facts and deal with reality as it is, and not as you wish it to be.
Kayes Ahmed is a businessman running multi-national operations from Colorado, USA.