Syed Neaz Ahmad our London-based Anchor describes an evening that he found amusing.
The invitation card described the occasion as a reception, iftar and dinner in honour of Sheikh Hasina [Unlink]
MP, the Honourable Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. The venue was the luxurious Park Plaza Hotel near Westminster Bridge. The Bangladeshi prime minister is visiting London to attend the opening ceremony of the London Olympics and to cheer the five-member Bangladeshi contingent at London 2012. Although the likelihood of their winning a medal is minimal, it’s the spirit that counts.
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina is in good company with Queen Sofia of Spain and the US First Lady Michelle Obama. At the ‘public reception’ held last Saturday, an over the top table banner declared that it was hosted by Juktorashtor Probashi. Under elaborate security, mismanagement and unnecessary noise, the function finally began around 7:30 PM. The poor guests – who had paid £80 per head for the Awami League invitation – were asked to be seated by 5:30 PM. It was a disappointing show for a party which is credited with the liberation of the country and for providing stable leadership. But that needs to be dealt with at a different time.
Important guests in the entourage included the Foreign Minister Dr Dipu Moni, Awami League Secretary General Syed Ashraf, Sheikh Hasina’s son Shojib Wajed and a probashi MP from Balaganj Bishwanath Shafiq Choudhury. A small number of British MPs provided the visual relief.
Quite in sync with political parties’ functions back home, time, sense & sensibilities were given a back seat at the event. Long before the PM had arrived, lesser dignitaries trickled into the hall to the uproar of Joy Bangla. Awami League activists, present in large numbers, had a field day enjoying themselves and blocking the view. Even to repeated requests, announcements and threats, spirited activists refused to be seated. Then there were others who clandestinely removed table numbers to launch themselves in vantage positions.
The function began with a recitation from the Holy Qur’an and then followed the speeches. Around 20 speakers competed with each other to say the most in least possible time. The master of ceremonies had a difficult task on his hand. At last, came the speech everybody had waited for.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who had earlier requested the excited activists to go back to their seats and calm down, was cheered again and again as she began her speech. She said it was her pleasure to meet the UK probashis (non resident Bangladeshis) and be able to speak to them and break her fast with them.
Affairs of the state and the present state of affairs back home were the main focus but London, she said, has a special significance and impact on her political life. She expressed her gratitude to Londoners, the British MPs, and the indomitable spirit of British Bangladeshis who have often come to help in times of trouble. She mentioned that after the assassination of her father she came to London from Germany and launched her eventful political career. During the “army-backed caretaker government’s” rule, she suffered and found London a hospitable place and the UK probashis provided the shoulder she needed.
The prime minister shared with the tired ears and dazed eyes, who had waited for over a couple of hours for her arrival and by then had already waited some 19 hours for the iftar. Ramadan in London summer is not easy to endure! She also assured the audience that her government was doing everything for the benefit of the people. But of course, a prime minister’s speech cannot be complete without a mention or two about the opposition. She claimed ‘we’ go through the pains while ‘they’ reap the benefits. “We plant the trees, they eat the fruit. ‘We’ plan, complete and run the projects, while ‘they’ perform the turnkey ceremonies.” Obviously, the ‘we’ stands for the Awami League and ‘they’ for the opposition BNP!
Finally, the topic arose which everyone was most looking forward to, while the prime minister was probably dreading it – the proposed bridge over river Padma. Some earlier speakers had done the groundwork. Some had ‘accused’ the World Bank of corruption. Others saw it as a colonial institution that drew sadistic pleasure by causing financial miseries on Bangladeshi people. As we all know, the Washington-based World Bank had cancelled financing of $1.2 billion for the construction of the Padma bridge, which would improve the country’s transport network, due to lack of the government’s cooperation in “probing “high-level” corruption in the project.” But after ‘I’ll huff & I’ll puff and I will blow your house down’, Dhaka has asked the World Bank to review its decision to cancel the $1.2 billion loan for a major road and rail bridge, saying that a senior minister had resigned over the graft allegations.
Before starting the iftar, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who had already praised the probashis for their historical support to Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujib and Awami League during the 1970s, said she hoped that the curry & kebab entrepreneurs would be able to prove once again that blood is thicker than water and help her build the bridge. She said she was aware of the problems experienced by the probashis returning home, facing hassle at Dhaka & Sylhet airports. Much to the delight of the audience, she said there are plans in the air to launch a probashi bank, which would offer better facilities to foreign investors and start a direct London-Sylhet flight. Her government, Sheikh Hasina said, was tackling the energy crisis. Soon it was iftar time and the guests concentrated on matters of energy & calories of different nature.
Promises, promises - music to our ears. But haven’t we heard these tunes before? Syed Neaz Ahmad is a London-based writer, critic and TV chat-show anchor.