First News
Volume:7, Number:50
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Words, Trippingly on the Tongue

Lawmakers of the ruling Awami League demanded in Parliament last week that Finance Minister A.M.A. Muhith speak less, meaning that he ought to focus on his work more. The immediate cause behind this admonition was of course the fury that the new budget had generated all over the country. Muhith, the good soul that he is, has always been known for his garrulity. The briskness with which he dismisses opinions he does not agree with has in recent years become a weapon with which his critics berate him. Again, there are others who have always felt that his swatting down of his detractors is the perfect thing that has always needed to be done.

One is not quite sure if Muhith will take the lawmakers’ advice. There is every chance that the finance minister will hit back in a royal display of disapproval of the lawmakers’ comments. And if he does, he will do so with vigor. We simply have to wait and see what happens. Meanwhile, the lawmakers have just given us all, through proffering advice to the finance minister, a most wonderful idea. And that is to survey the field and point to all the other instances of public figures unable to restrain themselves when coming forth with their opinions on the issues.

In these past few years, Food Minister Quamrul Islam has been rather vocal in defense of his policies, especially around the scandal of the poor quality of wheat brought into the country on his watch. Many have been the voices demanding that he resign or be asked to go. Neither has happened and he must now deal with the many questions that have been swirling around the price and stocks of rice in the country. Where the minister was once a loud defender of policies unrelated to his department, he has of late been seen to observe silence. That is as it should be. Or is that a lull before the usual storm?

And then there is Hasan Mahmud, once a minister and now publication czar of the ruling Awami League. He has hardly ever missed an opportunity to pounce on Begum Khaleda Zia, damning her ceaselessly over her doings in the past. Now it is a new issue that appears to have energized him. The recent assault on the BNP’s Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, which occurred in Mahmud’s constituency, has been blamed by the BNP on Mahmud and his men in the Awami League.

The former minister has come up with an interesting, though unconvincing, conclusion in response. Alamgir came under attack, says Hasan Mahmud, when the vehicles carrying him and his fellow party leaders to Rangamati ploughed into some people and thereby aroused the fury of people in the area. And then he went a step further --- that it was all a result of infighting within the BNP. How did he reach that conclusion? Of course, he will not respond to that question.

It is Obaidul Quader who perhaps is the most visible minister, both in newspapers and on television. He too talks, generally on the condition of roads and bridges that are certainly his preserve. But there are too all those times when Quader, like so many of his colleagues in the cabinet, prefers to speak on subjects beyond the periphery of his ministry. It is something he shares, to a certain extent, with such other ministers as Shahjahan Khan. The minister for shipping, in this case Khan, has been heard in recent years dwelling on the rights of workers engaged in the many apparels factories in the country. He has also made himself heard over matters like the defense of owners and operators of the transport industry, a topic which certainly is not to be pushed under the rug.

Reticence has not always been a feature of life for public personalities in our part of the world or in the open, wide world. Clearly the most identifiable instance here is that of Donald Trump, who never ceases to talk about issues, none of which he appears to be in command of. Trump has not grown beyond boyhood, which is why he keeps tweeting as well as seizing any opportunity to undermine someone on the basis of what may be considered as downright scurrilous behavior devoid of logic and truth. For an American president, such poverty of sophistication is rare. Who knows? It is something that may contribute to the unmaking of Trump’s presidency.

There is too the ugly spectacle of the depths to which the presidency in the Philippines has sunk. Rodrigo Duterte speaks the language of men who have always caused havoc to civilized society and gets away with it. He sanctions extra-judicial killings and takes pride in it. It is something that will cause Manila incalculable damage in the short run.

Ah, but why are we complaining? Spontaneity has often been the instrument driving the urge for speech. Politicians are demonstrating this character trait all the time.

Syed Badrul Ahsan is the Associate Editor of Asian Age

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