There are many in our land, living either at home or abroad, who possess the unflinching dedication to the values of our Liberation War, albeit a bulk of them have no affiliation with the AL party or acquaintances with the party bosses. Many of them recorded or voiced their fair share of criticisms over the years, pointing to the lapses of the AL government. For these people, mostly academics - litterateurs, journalists, freedom fighters (who joined the war out of conviction), and cultural personalities and activists - no treasuries of the world is rich enough to buy their consciences. Because of the polarised political landscape of Bangladesh, where the divide, unfortunately, has become the blood–ridden history of the country's creation, these people had no option but to become the natural allies of AL.
I introduced the above in view of the recent madness of some sycophants of the ruling party following the candid confessions of The Daily Star editor Mahfuz Anam in a TV interview that his “biggest mistake” in journalism was to run corruption stories against Sheikh Hasina during the 2007-8 military-controlled caretaker regime without independently verifying the news. In fact, as I remember, all the newspapers of the country were running such stories at that time. TDS editor has come to focus only because he admitted it as his “biggest mistake”. In my view, it was the magnanimity of Mahfuz Anam that he has admitted his 'mistake' and the ruling party activists should have taken ground from it to make their points that the corruption cases filed against their leader were withdrawn not because the party is in power, but rather, the allegations were baseless. Make no mistake, Mahfuz Anam did not admit that he fabricated those stories, TDS published them (as other newspapers did), as they came from the Task Force Intelligence Cell (TFIC), without substantiating them.
Instead of doing that, as I am writing this piece, news headlines are pronouncing that 12 more lawsuits, making a total of 16 cases till last night, ranging from defamation to sedition charges, were filed in Dhaka and eight other districts on February 14, against TDS editor and publisher Mahfuz Anam for publishing reports based on information supplied by the TFIC during the caretaker government regime in 2007. These, I attribute as the madness of the sycophants. I am doubtful how many of these people really read The Daily Star, especially during the days of emergency. Moreover, one should know that actual views of a newspaper are reflected in its editorials, not so much in the news it publishes. Did these people file any lawsuit against TFIC who supplied this news, and in many cases compelled the newspapers to publish the confessional statements given by the politicians in the TFIC cell over the last seven years, when their own party is at the helm of the state? Did the politicians who were 'tortured' to make the confessional statements go to court to bring the perpetrators of the torture to book?
It will always remain a debatable issue whether the declaration of emergency on January 11, 2007 was a necessity. However, given the fact that the country was heading from the rubble of the BNP-Jamaat rule towards the ruins of the Iajuddin-led caretaker government (CTG), any form of deviation from this path was a welcome respite. The massive popularity that the Fakharuddin-led CTG enjoyed at the initial months of its tenure was a testament to the justification for 1/11. If this action was instigated by TDS, which obviously it was not, then the paper should be commended for the actions. It should have been more so, since the current PM vociferously declared that “this CTG is the result of our movement” and in that likelihood Mahfuz Anam did, indeed, contribute to her 'movement'. Moreover, the swearing-in ceremony of the CTG led by Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed was attended by none other than Sheikh Hasina herself with a big entourage of her party stalwarts. She also mentioned once that, “if we go to power, we will legalise all the actions of the CTG”.
Over the next two years, the action and inactions of the government of Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed would give rise to speculations about the presence of seemingly multiple governments within the government. The appointment of Dr. Fakharudddin Ahmed as the chief adviser was as laudable as the occurrence of 1/11 itself. However, many actions of the government, especially of the so-called joint forces, led to the embarrassment of such a respected person.
While the arrest of many politicians, who were widely known for their unbridled corruption, was welcomed by the people, the lodging of legal suits and summary convictions, cast a dent on the integrity of the whole process. It was not difficult to hypothesise the existence of political motives behind those arrests, cases, and convictions. Many of the arrestees had to endure severe atrocities at the hands of the joint forces. But in those days, it was only possible for the TDS editor to stand up against these actions and warn the generals about the consequences of their impending political adventure.
In the days of the military-led CTG under emergency rule, no individual, editor or even politician would dare to stand up to admonish the CTG, something that Mahfuz Anam did. TDS gave me the absolute liberty to write an article entitled A roadmap to wilderness? (May 28, 2008) where I concluded that “if the CA fails to take the route of conciliation rather than confrontation, the roadmap to election could be transformed into a roadmap to wilderness”. No journalist or editor would even dare to contemplate writing or publishing such an article in his paper in those days.
In July 2008, I had the distinct honour of acting as the lone speaker in a largely attended congregation arranged in honour of Sheikh Hasina in Toronto. As soon as I stood up to speak, she commented, “I read all your write-ups in The Daily Star while in jail”. I asked immediately, “The Daily Star is not allowed inside the jail. How did you read it?” She responded, “I smuggled it inside the jail”. In her speech, she alluded to a paragraph from a piece of mine in TDS where I wrote, “Sheikh Hasina is not a "madam" to her party faithful; they can easily feel allegiance to her emotions. Frequent public outbursts of her Bengali emotions, and her modest lifestyle place her in the cluster of commoners. Beggars or barons alike have easy access to her. She may not be the most prudent leader the party could have, but she is a sister, a mother, and a daughter to millions of her party workers and well-wishers”.
It is really the time, Madam Prime Minister, the sister - as I referred to in my article that you alluded to - of my generation to use your good offices to stop this madness of the sycophants once and for all. Please do not let the sycophants further alienate one of your illustrious natural allies, a freedom fighter, editor of the most influential English language daily that has established itself as the mouthpiece of our Liberation War, the greatest campaigner in favour of the ongoing war crimes trials (Please recall his commentary that ended with “Thank you, Sheikh Hasina”), in both national and international arena, a relentless guard against the distortion of our blood-ridden history and a vivid believer in the greatness of Bangabandhu - the greatest Bangali ever born on our soil.
The writer is the Convener of the Canadian Committee for Human Rights and Democracy in Bangladesh.