From pandemic to Padma bridge: Will the anti-Hasina brigade ever learn?
The anti-Sheikh Hasina brigade has been paid back fair and square but they seem determined never to learn their lessons.
A decade ago, they had gone gaga over the World Bank’s many reservations about the Padma River bridge project. When Prime Minister Hasina lost patience and told the World Bank to pack up after its wilful dalliance, her detractors described her decision to develop Bangladesh’s biggest infrastructure with its own resources as sheer madness. Next month, when the 6.15 km bridge will formally open to traffic, it will be a slap in the face for the anti-Hasina brigade.
They already had a slap in the face landed over their “Doomsday” projections of millions of deaths from COVID-19 when the Nikkei Recovery Index rated Bangladesh’s management of the pandemic as the best case in South Asia. The Nikkei ratings resembled the Canadian court verdict ruling out the fictitious corruption allegations in the Padma Bridge project that were used in the smear campaign to torpedo World Bank financing.
This brigade must already be feeling the pinch over IMF projections that Bangladesh is not only overtaking big neighbour India in per capita income, but it is widening the gap by a few hundred dollars. For a country whose per capita income was half of India in 2013, this steering ahead of India in per capita income is so reassuring, especially when the Hasina critics are raking up the possibility of a repeat of a Sri Lanka-type crash in Bangladesh.
A single piece of statistics is enough to shoot down these wild speculations which merely aim to trigger public anger and chaos to pave the way for regime change.
Sri Lanka’s total forex reserves have slumped below $2 billion in April and now heading below $1 billion. Bangladesh’s inward foreign remittance in April 2022 alone topped $2.09 billion.
The pro-Islamist brigade—a rich mix of like-minded and self-appointed patriots—posing as civil society members never even shied away even when Hasina scripted a complete reversal from all the apocalyptic predictions, beginning with Henry Kissinger’s snide “bottomless basket” jab.
Almost identical to the BNP’s ceaseless rants against the government, members of that brigade, too, have been found echoing similar views under the garb of “independent journalism”, like the offshore Netra News. Now that the country has earned laurels for its overall management to get over the pandemic while the much awaited Padma bridge is set to become operational, it is time to dissect these ceaseless attacks, anchored on “hearsay”, against the government.
The nexus between controversial British journalist David Bergman and the National Endowment for Democracy of the US to create Euromaidan-type media hype for regime change shines the light on the real motive behind the “critique Hasina” cottage industry. Bergman’s “I am just the fool” comment after the courtroom gaffe during the war crimes trial and his slanderous attempts to undermine the trials of 1971 war crimes had given Bangladeshis a clear idea about Kamal Hossain’s overrated son-in-law.
Back in 2013-14, rejected by mainstream outlets, even his reports, were met with heavy criticisms from almost every progressive quarters —journalists, intelligentsia, and anti-war crime campaigners while many members of the victims’ families called him a “sidekick for war criminals and a hypocrite” as those discarded their statements.
Now put into perspective two classic cases of systematic smears, echoed by the opposition parties, spread by those “independent journalists” centring the botched WB allegation against Padma bridge and sloppy projection of COVID performance under the Hasina government. In the wake of the pandemic, the coverage of Netra News laid bare a predictable pattern—millions will die, a veritable collapse of the health system is on the cards and so on. They missed out on the country’s herculean effort to fight the virus and proceeded to create further panic over vaccine availability when India stopped supplies after being hit by a huge wave of infections. From gyration over health management failures, they went on to focus on an “absence of prudent diplomacy”.
Now almost two years down the line let’s take a look at how the country really fared to avert losses from the pandemic in comparison with other countries.
With Hasina leading from the front, UNICEF has listed Bangladesh, Peru, Vietnam and the Philippines as “COVID-19 Vaccine Success Stories” in their recent report, noting that Bangladesh’s vaccination rate has risen sharply with 67 percent of the population receiving two doses.
Bangladesh has advanced eight notches to the fifth position out of 121 countries across the globe on Nikkei’s COVID-19 Recovery Index. With a score of 80 on the index, Bangladesh ranked only below Qatar, the UAE, Cambodia and Rwanda in the latest edition of the index published recently.
Citing others, Bergman had predicted the death of millions when Bangladesh was first hit by COVID-19 — he was proved wrong when Bangladesh managed to control the pandemic until it ran out of vaccine supplies from India, which suffered a deadly wave. But even with a slice of bad luck, that necessitated a tough lockdown, Bangladesh would in the end manage to come out of this calamity with much less loss than Netra News’s patrons in the West. Bergman and Khalil have made a fool of themselves by publishing horribly off-the-mark predictions and biased support for fundamentalists.
Now take a look at how the same brigade went at full length in their pursuit of lending credence to the WB’s decision to pull out funding from the country’s largest infrastructure undertaking – the Padma Multipurpose Bridge—over faulty pieces of evidence later brushed aside by a Canadian court. Completely coincided with the WB’s announcement for withdrawal, the same brigade, emboldened by some self-boosted anti-graft campaigners, fumed and fretted over an all-out attack on Hasina at a time when the country was also on course for righting the history with the war crimes trial, a longstanding wound requiring healing for 41 years.
Brought to the fore by the World Bank back in 2011, those fabricated rants continued to cast aspersions on the premier. Until the revelation of a Canadian court verdict that threw out wiretap evidence key to the case, saying the wiretap applications were based on gossip and rumour, some of such so-called eminent citizens, let alone the key rank and file holders of anti-graft organisations including the likes of Transparency International’s Bangladesh chapter hurled a raft of slanders against the then communication minister Syed Abul Hossain and even went far to have called into question the intent of the Bangladesh prime minister in real bad taste.
Let’s use an infamous quote from the foreign-funded graft watchdog Transparency International’s Bangladesh chief that solely aims to bolster the WB’s false narrative, without offering a shred of any evidence.
Urging the World Bank to reconsider its decision, Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International, Bangladesh, said it might be too little and too late. “This should have happened several months ago when the WB brought corruption allegation.” Shockingly, even after the government announced to build the bridge with Bangladesh’s own funds, TIB, in a statement said, “The government’s initiative to secure funds for the Padma bridge from alternative sources may be perceived as a way to divert the attention from the allegations of corruption, but even if it succeeds, it would not help the credibility crisis that the government faces.”
This serves as a chilling reminder of how that brigade happened to conveniently refrain from paying any heed to the words of the prime minister, the same leader who has been credited with the current rise of the country as a rising tiger in Asia according to the accounts of a number of western media and top global organisations including the likes of UN.
And at the root of this one-sided systematic doom and gloom campaign lies the attempted promotion of the pro-Islamist agenda, to provide a force multiplier to the opposition foot soldiers firebombing public buses, burning alive people and shouting victory after the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.