The Politics of Rumour

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Published on February 6, 2023
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Dr Rashid Aksari:

Rumour has it that Bengalis believe in rumour. If a Bengali is told that his ears have been taken away by a kite, he will start running after the flying kite without checking whether his ears are in place. Finally, he goes all shy as he sees that it is a downright rumour. There is not a scintilla of truth in it. The organs on the sides of his head that he hears remain intact. He becomes frustrated and angry with the rumour-monger at being made a fool of like this. This folk theory of ‘Bengali ears and the kite’ is a popular rumour theory which can be applied to the current politics of Bangladesh, especially the politics of BNP and its numerous allies.

The politics of rumour they did so far after Awami League’s assumption of power in 2009 to mobilize public opinion against Awami League government has disastrously backfired on themselves. BNP high ups including their Secretary General--Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir assumed the role of the rumour mongers and some people, mostly belonging to their own camps, are the victims of rumour contagion who for fear of losing their ears took up the wild kite chase that proved largely abortive, because the kite never appeared. And the whole episode ends in fun.

There is no denying the fact that BNP is a major political party in Bangladesh which was in power for two terms and deposed in the third. After the debacle in the 9th parliamentary elections held on December 29, 2008, the party has been in a catch-22 situation. They have taken their struggle onto the streets to drum up support for an interim government. Though there is a knee jerk reaction on the part of the BNP men themselves, it proves a foolish delusion. They can neither go back home without desired results, nor can they make the ongoing movement successful by means of popular support or with recourse to a 2014 type of resistance. Having failed to exploit the fair ways of the anti-government movement, they hit upon a plan to spread rumour to provoke public outrage. They have established a ‘Rumour Cell’ to create and disseminate rumours against the ruling government. The cell is run by a clique of cyber terrorists many of whom are the most wanted fugitives from justice sought by Bangladesh police.
The delay in the construction work of the Padma Bridge fueled rumours that the toll plaza would not work, traffic congestion would be permanent on connecting roads and the capital would come to a standstill. And all these could be avoided by human sacrifice to the bridge. The rumour quickly swept the country and the potential child-lifters were found beaten to death on suspicion of lifting children for sacrifice. What does it mean? When the long-awaited bridge was about to come into view putting an end to all spiteful discouragements and despair and blithely ignoring the nasty naysayers, they fueled rumours to shoot the last bolt.

The detractors spread another rumour that Bangladesh would suffer the fate of Sri Lanka. The July 2022 crisis in Sri Lanka led to the overthrow of the government. The diminishing returns from the highly expensive implementation of over-ambitious mega projects, unprecedented hikes in the prices of essentials, galloping inflation, terminal decline in agricultural growth, lack of forex reserve and conditions of abject energy poverty have led to the fall of Sri Lankan nation. Many people thought that Bangladesh might suffer the same fate especially when the government asked for $ 4.5 billion loan from IMF to combat the economic crisis. But Sheikh Hasina’s government having learnt it to Sri Lankan cost, is rightly addressing the issues that Sri Lanka was hardest hit by.

The BNP men fueled another rumour that all the banks of the country were going bankrupt and they conducted a campaign and asked people to withdraw all money from their bank accounts and there was a mad rush to withdraw money which created a huge liquidity crisis. It has been a pretty long time since the rumour spread. But did anybody hear that any of our banks—public and private-- had gone bankrupt or did anybody come back from any banks failing to withdraw money formally?

There are rumours about the declining foreign exchange reserve of Bangladesh. BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul himself spread rumours that Bangladesh is going to be declared bankrupt because of continued decline in the forex reserve. But statistics show that Bangladesh has far more forex reserves than the UK at this moment in time. The UK has 1.5 months’ worth of forex reserve for imports while Bangladesh has 6. Experts are of the opinion that a country’s forex reserve worth 3 months’ imports is a sure sign of economic soundness.

The most dangerous rumour is the rumour that Darwinism stands against Islam and it should be excluded from the biology textbook at our schools. By Darwinism they mean that humans are descended from the monkeys which is antithetical to the concept of Islamic creationism. These claims are absolutely preposterous. The English naturalist Charles Darwin in the whole gamut of his theory of evolution did not mention that humans are descended from monkeys. His theory of evolutionary mechanism is driven mainly by natural selection brought about by three principles—variation, heredity and struggle for existence. It is pointless to think whether or not what Darwin hypothesized is true. There is nothing like absolute truth in the pursuit of knowledge. Darwin’s theory, quite naturally, was put to question by many of the latter evolutionary biologists. They have thrown new light on it. But they have not abandoned Darwin’s painstakingly conducted research on evolution and the legacy of his books—The Origin Of Species and The Descent of Man which have revolutionized the study of biology.

The detractors of Darwinism and the self-styled guardians of Islam are putting wrong construction on Darwin’s real theory. The angry reactionaries have deliberately twisted it in order to gain an advantage for themselves from the situation. In July 2019, Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam Bangladesh Secretary General Noor Hossain Qasimi urged the government to remove Darwinism from school textbooks. The likes of him are harping on the same thing. If the use of religion makes inroads into the study of science on grounds of curbing ‘profanity’, it is not good for science nor for religion. To design the curriculum and syllabus for the study of science at our schools, colleges and universities is not the province of the religious preachers. It is the responsibility of the panel of experts who will do it expertly and dispassionately for the sake of the study of the subject, not for the sake of anything else. If we indulge others with things which are not their territory, they will eventually ask for the moon. The government should immediately move to quash the rumours, bring the rumour-mongers to justice, and let everyone mind their own business.

Writer: Academic and translator

Courtesy: Daily Sun