An open-shut case or a ploy to weaken Bangladesh at its core

At the very core of Bangladesh is the Liberation War of 1971, where all independence-seeking forces took up arms under the able leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Awami League to battle the Pakistani oppressors. However, there was a sect – an anti-liberation force – the Razakars and Jamaat, Al-Badr and Al-Shams, which sided with the military junta against their own people. After the assassination of Bangabandhu, the anti-liberation sect began to rise again infiltrating into various ranks with the blessings of the undemocratic leadership that followed. And many members of the extreme left wing, whose role during the Liberation War was shady to say the least, remained shady.

As a result, two clear sects are becoming evident over time everywhere – the bureaucracy, civil society, media and even social relations. Awami League, which stands to represent the pro-liberation forces, versus the anti-liberation forces namely the now-defunct Jamaat.

Even the recent apparent open-and-shut case involving two business institutions, after close inspection of the media’s roles and the social media, became evidence of the lucid rift between these two sides.

On May 26, Dainik Prothom Alo and The Daily Star published reports citing a case filed on May 19 by Exim Bank Director retired Lieutenant Colonel Serajul Islam. The case cited that Sikder Group Managing Director Ron Haque Sikder had asked for a Tk 500 crore loan from the bank.

The reports said that on May 7, Ron Haque Sikder and his brother Dipu Haque Sikder had picked up Exim Bank MD Mohammed Haider Ali Mia and Additional MD Mohammad Feroz Hossain from their Gulshan head office to visit assets in Purbachal which they had offered as collateral for the loan.

According to the reports, the bank officials cited the value of the asset as lower than what the group's MD claimed and after that they were forced inside an apartment, where they were tortured and shot at, threatened with death, and finally let go after they signed on a blank page.

Following the initial publication, a media trial started with numerous reports being published desiccating the characters of the two brothers who now lead the Sikder Group, a prestigious Bangladeshi business conglomerate which also owns the National Bank Limited.

The media trial was so torrid in its pace to defame the two that it could not even provide proper focus to a statement by NBL, sent on May 27 by senior lawyer Abdul Baset Majumder, where the case was dubbed an attempt to defame the two.

Baset Majumder stated clearly that no such loan application was made and that even on May 13, six days after the alleged incident, directors of Exim Bank had taken a five-crore taka loan from NBL to maintain their business operations. They had earlier taken out several such loans from NBL, including one in the name of the chairman’s daughter.

The timeline of the incidents is also very interesting. On May 7, we have the alleged shooting. Six days later, Exim Bank directors took out a Tk 5-crore loan. Another six days later, they filed a case with Gulshan police citing the alleged May 7 incident.

Such a big case was filed but there was no hubbub over it until May 26, a day after Ron Haque Sikder and his brother Dipu Haque Sikder flew off to Thailand for medical treatment after filling all due papers and following all necessary procedures.

The Daily Star and Dainik Prothom Alo ran another front page story each on May 29, claiming that the duo had absconded, even after the statement from NBL.

They are so busy in their media trial that the apparent top journalism houses of the country do not even have time to question the lack of evidence in the case itself -- no application papers of the Tk 500 crore loan or no CCTV footage of the two brothers picking up the Exim Bank MD and additional MD from the Gulshan branch?

If the whole conflict is about a non-existent loan, then why are two leading businessmen in the country being accused of something they did not do?

For that we would have to focus on the background of the players in the fracas. Let us start with the so-called victims, who are instigating news outlets to run stories against the Sikder family to defame them.

They have long history of allegiance to the anti-liberation forces and played role against Awami League. Some of them have recently infiltrated into Awami League for their own benefit.

On the other hand, you have the Sikder family, a proven ally to the pro-liberation spirit and Awami League. Zainul Haque Sikder funded student politicians and movements before the war and was a freedom fighter himself.

A staunch supporter of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Sikder was the first person to risk organising a Kulkhwani for Bangabandhu after his brutal killing with most of his family members on August 15, 1975.

Most of the Awami League veterans, including Mohammed Nasim, Amir Hossain Amu, Tofael Ahmed, Obaidul Quader remember Zainul Haque Sikder fondly as a silent pillar working to strengthen Awami League during the tumultuous times that followed. The ‘Uncle’ backed the leaders from his position tirelessly.

Incidentally, the institutions of the Sikder Group had never, for even a day, lowered the portrait of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from its altar on their walls. Such was their love for the pro-liberation force.

Even after the August 21 grenade attack on the then opposition chief Sheikh Hasina, Zainul Haque Sikder orchestrated a speedy retaliation in the form of an attack on the convoy of then Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, a warning protesting the gruesome grenade attack.

He provided treatment for Awami League leaders at his medical college when they were turned down elsewhere.
Zainul Haque Sikder also played a pivotal role in the strengthening of Awami League after 1975. He persistently advocated unification of Baksal and Awami League and finally succeeded in 1991.

The Sikder family, with their illustrious heritage led by the self-made Zainul Haque Sikder, are one of the most persistent activists of Bangabandhu’s Sonar Bangla through their contributions to the education sector. Over 100 institutions in Bangladesh were established with the financial contribution of the Sikder family.

Then you have the media Mughals, The Daily Star and Dainik Prothom Alo, which led the defamation sting against this family.
The allegiance of the papers was always questionable. The papers even sided with the military-backed undemocratic caretaker regime, which attempted to remove Sheikh Hasina from her position in Awami League and Khaleda Zia from BNP.

Faruk Wasif, who wrote a testy column against the Sikder family, is known for trying to influence the Shahbagh protesters to take an anti-government stance, despite having the same agenda - the punishment for war criminals.

What seemed like an open-and-shut case of rich businessmen having their way under the covers is a continuing ploy to weaken Awami League and the pro-liberation forces.

And it is not a one-off attack on the Sikder family. Awami League stalwarts like Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya Bir Bikrom, Joynal Abedin Hazari and Shamim Osman were gradually defamed and sided out of the organisation to be replaced by infiltrators. Prime Minister herself has been warning Awami League leaders to be careful about such infiltrators.

The ploy is to corner and isolate staunch Awami League activists in a tirade of lies and weaken the foundation of Bangladesh at its core, a conspiracy which Awami League should at least be by now wary about.