A slap is not a sign of polite or sophisticated behavior. More than humiliating the recipient of the slap, it is a reflection on the one who gives it. We have reports of minister and Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader landing three slaps on the face of a new ruling party lawmaker in Tangail the other day. Those who were around at the time have apparently confirmed the sad incident. The target of the minister, the parliamentarian, has sought to reassure us through suggesting that nothing of the kind took place, that the minister was simply angry. And, yes, there are reports that at one point the minister stalked out of the room, ran into some people, said ‘sorry’.
We would like to think that the incident did not take place, for Obaidul Quader has always had the reputation of being a decent man. He reads a lot. He talks about books and indeed has a whole big library of his own at home. He has been a journalist, which is a principal reason why he writes and speaks well. For many of us who have observed him since his days as a student leader, he has been an individual easy to approach and converse with. But if these news reports turn out to have been true, nothing can be more intense than the shock, which will assail us.
Physical assaults in politics, by its practitioners as also by others, have quite often been a sad reality in our part of the word. Shakespeare has Casca, exasperated when Julius Caesar refuses to accept the petitions of the conspirators who have already decided to murder him, signaling the moment of the attack. ‘Speak, hands, for me!’ says Casca. In a few minutes, Caesar is a mass of bloodied flesh on the floor of the Roman Senate. The hand, you see, has been a potent weapon of assault throughout history. The hand shoots, pulls the lever on the gallows and throttles people its owner does not particularly approve of.
Quite some years ago, a western journalist spread the canard that at a point during the Emergency in India, Sanjay Gandhi slapped his mother Indira Gandhi quite a few times at a social gathering. Anyone who remembers the late Indian prime minister knows that she would never take such humiliation from anyone. That journalist was wrong. He was never able to convince people of the veracity of his story. Or, was his report deliberately aimed at undermining Indira Gandhi? We will never know.
But, yes, we do know that in the days immediately following the partition of India in 1947, much chaos prevailed in places like the Punjab and Bengal, two provinces of the old country, which clearly suffered the most. The Punjab was sundered in two and so was Bengal. On one of the occasions when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru happened to be around to see refugees streaming in from Pakistan, an angry young man slapped the prime minister in sheer frustration. He could not locate his family in the melee. Nehru took it in his stride. His was a magnanimous soul. He could relate to the emotions of the young man.
It is said that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who never had much respect for people --- and among these people were his colleagues in his party and government --- was a miserable man in the final phase of his life in prison. General Ziaul Huq, you can safely assume, was not one to treat his benefactor with respect. In prison, within the confines of a condemned cell, therefore, Bhutto was the recipient of horrendous ill treatment from Zia’s flunkeys, all clad in the uniforms of the police and soldiers. Quite a few incidents were there when these small individuals landed slaps across the fallen leader’s face. For Bhutto, indeed for anyone, it was the ultimate in insult.
There is then the sad tale of how Muammar Gaddafi fell into the hands of his enemies as he tried to save himself a few years ago. The young Libyans who discovered him in a drainpipe demonstrated not the slightest sign of respect for him. He was slapped around, stepped on, pulled by the hair before getting a bullet in his chest. What happened to Gaddafi in his final moments was an act bestial in the extreme. You might then suppose that much a similar fate befell Iraq’s fallen strongman Saddam Hussein. Prior to his murder through a sham trial, he was a captive in the hands of American soldiers and their local collaborators in Baghdad. It will not be wrong to infer that Saddam was humiliated physically by his captors.
Similar stories abound, in other places and in other times. A slap is not a nice thing. For those who receive it and for those who give it, it turns quickly into a dark memory. If minister Obaidul Quader did indeed raise his hand and strike the lawmaker, the embarrassment will be ours, in a collective way. We do not expect public figures to undermine our selfesteem. They are people we should be looking up to, now and always.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is the Associate Editor of Asian Age