Politics or performance art?

 Published in: The Daily Star on September 1, 2014
Politics or performance art?

WHILE Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India posted 11 sweet tweets in ‘Japanese’, just with the hope of strengthening the ties between the second and the third largest economies of Asia, right before he began his visit to Japan last Saturday, a Youtube video caught your columnist’s attention:

“History is written by the victors…

Surely a war is going on and some of us will die. We will destroy all…(who oppose us)”

These lines are taken from an extremely well edited Youtube video that has been circulating in the net. A young man, clad in jeans and also suit, more spirited than his dad, who is a current lawmaker, lands with a chopper in his village, escorted by the police is delivering his speech to their constituency in English often translating the bits and pieces into Bangla. The young man in his three edited speeches spends a good 2-3 minutes in English, and then explains to his audience in Bangla that the nation does not serve the British anymore and is no more colonized. He is hyper-animated, theatrical and often sings to his audience in the same video. His sales pitch has his audience fooled…

ii) “One of the oldest and largest companies in the private sector engaged in manufacturing and export of textiles, pharmaceuticals, ceramics and jute yarn” , employing over “40000 people including 2000+professionals indirectly”, which “exported goods over US Dollar 1.5 Billion” over the last ten years, has just requested authorities to club together its loan of Tk 5,245 crore as of June 30 2014 and reschedule for repayment up to 2026, to give a moratorium for 2.5 years and to charge interest at 10%. The quotation marks in the first complex sentence in this paragraph are taken from the copy of a private company’s letter to the Central Bank last week. A company that has been so successful is apparently facing cash crunch and in “on the verge of closing down” as a result of the “politically motivated credit restrictions on the group from 2001 to 2008”. Central Bank is nodding in agreement especially as the group has repaid over 800 crores over the last three years. Similarly, Anti-Corruption Commission is recently having trouble getting necessary information from the banks on defaulters including a group which has misappropriated over Taka 1300 crore from 12 banks. Banks are unwilling to disclose information on clients as they fear the impact on the already defaulting business houses. Tela mathaye tel dewa: This is the case of oiling the already oiled ones. While aspiring small entrepreneurs scramble for a few hundred thousand or so, the banks milk the greedy…

iii) A minister on Saturday has just claimed that the incidents of the assassination of Shaikh Nurul Islam Faruqi and Moghbazar’s triple murder are “nothing serious”, as they are “separate incidents” and are “not as serious” as they are being reported in the media. The best part is yet to come: the minister has also asked citizens not to be “worried” about it.

At a gathering on Saturday, many people had gathered at the Press Club to protest against forced disappearance. Their list of grievances could stretch to eternity. Amongst them, a few spoke including Shammi Akhter who lost her husband Khaled Hasan Sohel on the 13th of November 2013, 70-year old Ruhul Amin from Panchgar who comes to Dhaka every month still looking for his son, Imam Hasan Badal who went missing in March 2012 and even a brother of a missing Chatra League leader from Pallabi who claims that filing cases don’t help and that he has been repeatedly told by the authorities to dish out cash if he ever wants his case to be solved.

In a country where in between January 01 and July 30 2014, as per Ain-o-Shalish Kendro statistics, 88 deaths have been caused by cross fire and 11 by physical torture, 76 people have been picked up with 23 bodies being recovered later, where in 436 separate political incidents, 5652 people have been injured and 119 have died, the people of this country have nothing to be “worried” about. Is he serious?

Jean Baudrillard, the French philosopher and cultural analyst claimed that the Gulf War hadn’t taken place and that what we witnessed was only a series of hyper real images on our TV screens. His reasoning was simple: Saddam was no enemy as he was a former US ally in the Middle East. In every sense of the word, Baudrillard was right. Till this minute, we all are also experiencing “the death of the real” in our media laden lives, where we connect more to sales pitches, self-promotion, sitcoms, virtual reality, and video characters like Lara Croft better than our own friends and family. The real is dead and is in tatters while the hyper real map is still quite intact.

And that is why the young man in a village in Bangladesh has his audience fooled; that is exactly why a top defaulter can pitch a new strategy and that is exactly why the minister is able to endorse a delusional reality. All truly point towards one fact: we are all living in an era where third-order simulacra has become the real and where the reflection, portrayal, projection or the image has lost any connection to real things…

An inflammatory video installation by a Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar’s A Logo for America, had been flashing up at New York’s Times Square from 11.57pm until midnight throughout August. For three minutes, on 45 different screens around the intersection of the Square, a projection of the continental map of the United States is captioned: “THIS IS NOT AMERICA.” Then within seconds the American flag appears in flashing lights, accompanied by a shocking caption: “THIS IS NOT AMERICA’S FLAG.” Amidst the blazing advertisements that sit right on the Square, this piece of art negates commerce and war and is in search of the real. This brings us to the ultimate question: Now, what is real in Bangladesh?

Starting from 56.6% in 1992, the poverty headcount ratio at the national poverty line came down to 31.5% in 2010; 84% of the rural population have access to improved water sources; School enrolments had gone up to 114% compared to the rest of South Asia in 2011 and Life expectancy at birth has increased to 70%; poverty gap ratio is expected to reach 8% by 2015. What else is real? 1971.

An obituary on Abdul Alim, who died at the age of 83 on Saturday, did not make us cry. A top Peace Committee leader in Joypurhat, thrice a lawmaker, guilty of 9 charges of genocide, murders, looting, arson and deportation who was jailed till death does not deserve tears simply because the spirit of 1971 still burns within each one of us in pride. Since that is the truth, then let only the real prevail in this land of ours.

The writer is Managing Director, Mohammadi Group.