When men in authority choose to be rude
A ruling party lawmaker went about admonishing a senior official of the Chittagong Port Authority in public the other day. It was absolutely outrageous behaviour. He asked the official to shut up and not interrupt him. As if to remind the hapless man of the power he wielded, he told him darkly: "I am a Member of the Parliament." By the way, you do not use "the" when you refer to the legislature in this particular sense. But that is another matter altogether.
What does concern us as citizens is the degree to which individuals in responsible positions can go to assert their superiority over the rest of us. We have been told that this same lawmaker once berated a senior police officer on a flight for not greeting him. Someone ought to inform him now that respect is to be earned. It does not come to you when you go around pulling rank with others and taking perverse satisfaction from ordering respectable men to shut up.
Ah, but why are we complaining? In these past many years, rudeness has somehow come to be associated with the behavioural patterns of a number of men and women in public life. A former finance minister of this country will be recalled by many for the way in which he once denigrated the Danes (and they were complaining about corruption in Bangladesh) by calling them milk producers, whose advice did not need to be heeded. He is also on record with once making a comment about the children of beggar women in one of his moods of paroxysm.
There is then the case of another former finance minister who rebuked an academic, to everyone's acute embarrassment, at a seminar. To the academic's argument that some facts the minister had been putting across were not quite correct, the minister loudly reminded him that he was finance minister and had little need of learning from the academic.
Of course, rudeness in public places is not confined to our political and social clime alone. If you remember the abrasive Dick Cheney in the United States, you will recall the foul-mouthed comment he once made about a senator who happened not to agree with the policies of the Bush administration. There are other men like Cheney around the world.
We will come back to Bangladesh, where the inimitable A.S.M. Abdur Rab once publicly derided parliament as a pigsty. That was a gross insult to politics and Rab should not have made that remark. The irony, though, is that in a subsequent period of Bangladesh's national history he ended up being a lawmaker himself, and even saw himself elevated to the exalted position of leader of the opposition (in the absence of the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party).
Being rude is a clear sign of the uncouth nature of some men and women who should have known and done better. In late 1964, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, busy campaigning to get himself re-elected Pakistan's president in the face of the opposition put up by Fatima Jinnah, was piqued by what his former fellow soldier Azam Khan had been saying about him. Ayub hit back, by telling Pakistanis that General Azam Khan possessed a head stuffed with hay. He used the word bhoosa.
Closer to our times, a BNP lawmaker, given the privilege of speaking on the budget in the Jatiyo Sangsad, went into a tirade against Sheikh Hasina, so much so that it became a personal, insulting attack on the Awami League chief. Shockingly for us, the speaker (and those were BNP-Jamaat times) made no effort to stop him.
And then there were the moments in the 1990s when some Awami League lawmakers hurled patently outrageous remarks at Begum Khaleda Zia. That was in bad taste. In equally bad taste was the Begum's reply. Khamosh, she shot back. And that was it. Don't you consider it rather queer when you see the relatively easy way in which parliamentary proceedings dwindle into unseemly bouts of innuendo and insinuation? And not just in the Jatiyo Sangsad.
There are whole areas of public activity where men you thought were people of sobriety, integrity and absolute probity end up disappointing us all through their body language, through their vocabulary, through their belief in their own infallibility.
An accomplished Bengali diplomat who played a significant role in drumming up support for the Bangladesh cause abroad in 1971 lost his job at the country's UN mission in the early 1990s because a ruling BNP lawmaker could not stomach the sight of a photograph of Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina at his New York office. Begum Zia was fine, but why have Sheikh Hasina there? So, off with his head!
And there's the trouble. Powerful men and women often do not remember that they have heads too, that their heads can also roll someday, in that figurative manner of speaking.