Monday, February 26, 2007

Behind the scene of a new trend in politics Sirajul Alam Khan

Sirajul Alam Khan, alias Dada, the mystery man of Bangladesh's politics, is back on the scene with a mission uncannily similar to unfolding events


Sirajul Alam Khan returned to the country in the beginning of January. He told his close associates that the election scheduled for January 22 would not be held. After that emergency was declared on January 11 and the election was cancelled.

Previously when Sirajul Alam Khan would come to the country, he would be seen in the lobby of Hotel Sheraton. He'd spend hours there, engrossed in adda (community hangout) with is friends, followers, associates -- all and sundry. But his hang-out has changed this time. He now hangs out in the evenings at Oxford International School on Road 27, Dhanmondi. He comes there around seven in the evening and stays until around 10 at night or even later. The school belongs to the wife of a former JSD activist.

It's a motley crowd that comes to meet Sirajul Alam Khan -- politicians, NGO leaders, labour leaders, former civil and military bureaucrats, writers, intellectuals, big names of the civil society, former comrades and more. However, he is totally avoiding the media. He refuses to give interviews or come into direct contract with the media, says a close associate and former JSD leader.

Sirajul Alam Khan is known to his followers as 'Dada'. This Mystery Man of politics, the so-called theoretician, has always acts behind the scenes. He is a silent player and has been away from open and active politics for quite some time now.

In 1996-97 Sirajul Alam Khan joined the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh as a Professor of Political Science. So for the last 10 years he's been a resident of the US. During this decade he's visited the country off and on, sometimes in secret and sometimes openly.

Dada's close associates say this time he is on a vital political mission. He's being doing the ground work on this over the past couple of years. In fact, it is said that it is Sirajul Alam Khan who was behind the first meeting of the 'honest and able candidate movement' initiated by CPD, Prothom Alo and Daily Star. He was reportedly behind the Bengal studies Conference organised by Stamford University. And he is also said to be have behind the Unity for Political reforms of ASM Abdur Rab and Mizanur Rahman Shelley. In fact, his close associates claim that he has been encouraging Prof. Yunus from the very outset of the honest candidates movement.

Dada also has a nod for the steps being taken by Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed's government against crime and corruption. He has long been cherishing a dream of a '21st century Bangladesh' through radical changes in the country's politics, government and Constitution. He has even written a book on the matter. A documentary, based on this book, has been made and is available on VCD and DVDs at the Ekushey book fair. It depicts the history of Bengal and Bengalis, of the actual indigenous people of the land, of how they were driven away, how the boundaries of Bengal were changed, how post-independent Bengalis are building a modern lifestyle, are progressing in science, technology and more. The film also contains statements of Dr. Yunus. The film was made in 2006.

There are many who imagine that Dr. Yunus' present plans are the brainchild of Sirajul Alam Khan. Dr. Yunus has announced that he will be floating a political party -- Nagorik Shakti (Citizens' Force). Dada has full support for the party.

Dada's liaison is not limited to Dr. Yunus alone. He held a meeting with senior leaders of JSD (Rab) till 1:00 on the night of February 16 and held a secret meeting with Rab himself on the next day, February 17. He reportedly plans on a revival of JSD. It would not be surprising if Hasanul Huq Inu joins in the process too.

Many personalities now seen in various forums, seminars, roundtables, TV talk shows and in the columns of newspapers, have been in close contact with Dada for the last two or three years. Labour organisations, student organisations and other professional bodies are also being mobilised at Dada's behest, reports say.

Sources from the evening adda (community hangout) at Oxford International School say that Sirajul Alam Khan is of the opinion that if things go according to plan, a political platform will emerge in the future. This will include Yunus' party and JSD, as well as honest but deprived leaders of Awami League and BNP in name of Awami League and BNP respectively. Other allies will join the platform too, but all on the basis of consensus. And Yunus will remain at the top. Why Yunus? It is because, analysts say, Dada is aware that outside of the two major political parties, no other party has the strength to create a third force. For this a well-known popular personality is needed, someone who everyone respects. And that is Nobel Laureate Prof. Yunus.
If the outside forces who are backing Yunus simply put him on the pedestal of power, then Bangladesh is likely to be compared with Afghanistan and Yunus will be seen as a Karzai. In that case, Sirajul Alam Khan will probably not be in favour of Yunus. All these matters have been mulled over at Dada's meetings.

Sirajul Alam Khan has drawn up a 14-point programme for a 'new trend of politics'. These 14 points have been publicised since last year through ASM Abdur Rab's Unity for Political Reforms. He has given support to Yunus' seven points too along with these 14 and has published an election manifesto. Actually, almost all of Yunus' seven points are in Sirajul Alam Khan's 14. This manifesto is for no one particular party; it was published in January for all political parties, professional groups, civil society, the political reforms movement, the human rights movement, the labour force and NGOs.

In the manifesto he states, 'It was in 1972 that political unrest and apathy as well as lack of confidence in leadership emerged... Two major parties have been ruling the country in turns for quite some time. The whole country was held hostage when these two parties, with their respective alliances, took up confrontational stands.' He question, 'Will these two parties or alliances change in any way after the election?'

In his manifesto, Sirajul Alam Khan writes of Dr. Yunus, 'Prof. Yunus' winning of the Nobel Price for Peace and his talk of 'new leadership' and 'new political structure' indicates a new trend quite opposition from prevalent politics. His call for 'able and honest candidates' for the election may well be the slogan for a movement.' Sirajul Alam Khan also says, 'I believe Dr. Muhammad Yunus' seven-point peace deal and my 14-point proposal will help unite those who look for a new trend in politics.'

The manifestoThe manifesto is written in light of the political model drawn up by Sirajul Alam Khan. He speaks of a two-House parliament in which, alongside the area-wise representation, there will be representation based in labour, employment and profession. There will be a federal government system. An autonomous local government will be established at an upazila level. All these are components a rule appropriate for an independent country, according to the manifesto.

The manifesto also mentions recognition for the minority ethnic groups. He speaks of a National Economic Council, a judicial council, a constitutional court, a National Security Council, a metropolitan government, a mega seaport and a sub-regional economic forum. Sirajul Alam Khan has also spoken in support of Dr. Yunus' micro-credit banking system and social business. The manifesto hold detailed organogram of the government, parliament and National Economic Council.

In the coming election, Sirajul Alam Khan hopes, all the parties and alliances will include his reforms programme in their manifestos.

Various quarters are quite eager to have Dada's programmes implemented. Some of Dada's close associates even claim to see similitude between his programmes and of the present government.

After winning the Nobel Prize, Dr. Yunus has been quite vocal about Chittagong Port. He has been quite clear in his assertion that the port can be handed over to the private sector of foreign quarters. In his 14 points, Sirajul Alam Khan speaks of constructing a mega seaport at Chittagong. Many feel that Yunus will deliver this.

There are, of course, many who are eyeing Sirajul Alam Khan's activities with suspicion. They feel that his mission is closely entwined with the interests of multinational companies as well as with the powers that be who aim at establishing their hold politically, economically and militarily in the region. They apprehend that Dada's vision of a new trend in politics will lead to the handover of the country's mineral resources, seaport, transit and other resources to outside powers, at the cost of national interests. #

This article was republished from PROBE magazine published from Dhaka, Bangladesh