BOOSTER FOR KHALEDA…
… And a setback for Hasina
A CIVIC election in Bangladesh would scarcely have aroused much interest in the subcontinent were it not for the string of victories for Begum Khaleda Zia&’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party and at a crucial political juncture ~ six months before the general elections. The singular feature of the elections that may yet go to the credit of Prime Minister Hasina has been its remarkably peaceful conduct and not least in the aftermath of the recent Islamist backlash and the worst industrial catastrophe in South Asia since the Bhopal gas leak in 1984. The BNP has trounced the ruling Awami League, most notably in Barisal, Khulna, Rajshahi, and Sylhet and the margin has been convincing in all four cities. While the scale of the election may be rather too limited as a case-study on a possible psephological swing, the outcome does point to a decline in Hasina&’s ratings. Disconcerting too, and from India&’s perspective as well, is the resurgence of the BNP with its pronounced Islamist sympathies and its recorded penchant to footsie with militants across the border, not to mention its angst over Mamata Banerjee&’s refusal to share the limited waters of the Teesta. The civic election conveys a profound message to the Awami League; the violent Islamist upsurge against the Shahbagh upheaval  has not alienated the voter in the four principal cities.  Equally, Begum Hasina, as the head of government, has not been able to galvanise the post-1971 generation&’s message from Shahbagh for electoral dividend. The demand for death penalty for those who had collaborated with Pakistan in the war of repression and brutality is yet to gain acceptance in the electoral stakes. Bangladesh may still be floundering in search of its moorings, having oscillated over the past four decades between purportedly secular dispensations and pro-Islamist regimes, punctuated by military interregnums.
A profoundly crucial factor behind the defeat of the Awami League is the devastation ~ upwards of 1100 killed ~ in the collapse of the highrise Rana Plaza at Savar, near Dhaka. The government had its back to the wall two months ago as the catastrophe exposed at least two facets of the illegality ~ the inherent corruption that marks the real estate boom and perhaps still more crucially, the exploitation of the sweat-shops that export garments to western Europe and America. The civic election result underlines the fact that the Awami government cannot evade responsibility for the disaster. Bangladesh is yet to recover from the national crisis in April. The polls may well have registered a negative vote in favour of the BNP. The timing of the election has been fortuitous for the BNP.

ROBOTIC JAWANS
DRDO&’s curious priorities
UNLIKE the popular, albeit inaccurate, projection of GI Joe as the guy  who demands his candy and cola along with rifle and flak-jacket, the Indian jawan is an uncomplaining fellow. Loyal and hardy, he makes light of adverse working conditions, and when officered well has proved a most capable fighting unit. No wonder Cariappa hailed him as “the salt of the earth”. As importantly, the appeal of the paltan runs strong in regions where it remains a matter of family pride and honour to send one son to Army, so there is no dearth of young men  of rustic stock keen to follow their elders into the uniform. Against that background it appears a trifle incongruous that the Defence Research and Development Organisation should identify the development  of robotic soldiers as a “priority thrust area”. Yes, that is being  “futuristic”, and for select tasks robots are becoming a preferred  option, but their development in a few advanced countries has  essentially been propelled by a shortage of personnel volunteering for  military careers ~ not quite the case in India.
It is not clear if the Army had indicated the need for robots, for what roles and in what numbers. If the demand is limited then surely importing them would be  a more cost-effective option than committing a huge investment of  human and financial resources into their development and production. At a point in time when the defence minister (for his own skewed  reasons) is pleading for reversing the imbalance between indigenous and imported defence equipment surely there are more pressing  “shortages” to be addressed ~ why even ammunition has to be procured  abroad. The robot-focus seems to reinforce the image of the DRDO&’s cock-eyed perspective, its scientists more interested in attaining state-of-the-art status (though often that involves reinventing the wheel) rather than serving the prime purpose of spearheading the effort to keep the military well-equipped. Listing the DRDO&’s celebrated “no shows” would be repetitive, but maybe it is time to revamp the organisation, opt for military-industry specialists rather than scientists as its head. It might be professionally unsatisfying, demeaning perhaps, for the latter to be engaged in mundane pursuits ~ but that is what the job entails. Meeting the military&’s requirements cannot be sacrificed at the altar of scientists’ fantasies.

CAHIER D’CINEMA
Nandan cries out for revamp
KOLKATA’S art-film theatre, Nandan, named by Satyajit Ray and the proud boast of the city since September 1985, now makes a travesty of cultural pretensions and the perceived film appreciation of the citizens. This appears to be symptomatic of the general decline in West Bengal. Sad to reflect that under the present information and cultural affairs department ~ one of the Chief Minister&’s several portfolios ~ Nandan has been reduced to a victim of negligent nonchalance. To the extent that the virtual collapse of infrastructure has rendered screening a disturbing proposition, as a report in this newspaper indicates. It thus comes about that foot-lights and exit lights don’t function for several days  at a stretch, making it difficult for the audience to locate their seats. The absence of exit lights in the balcony creates an inherent danger that could be devastating in the event of an emergency. In a word, the basics of an auditorium are not in place, a lapse that is violative of the Cinema Regulation Act. The  disgraceful reality is at odds with the quality of cinema that Nandan is expected to present. The film-theatre has, under the present dispensation, suffered the fate  of a typical government department. It was a daily halt for the previous Chief Minister; the present turns up only on occasions. Yet this addresses only part of the issue and cannot be blamed for the mess, though personal interest and attention are palpably at a discount.
The responsibility must lie fair and square on the managing committee and the government&’s chief executive, both handpicked by the party in power… much like the stewardship of the Bangla Akademi, next door. Arguably, it is the level of film appreciation of the present set of worthies that is at a discount. And unfortunately, this gets reflected in the impervious response to the decline. The glitzy multiplexes are no substitute for Nandan just as they don’t fill in for Lighthouse, New Empire and Metro. Without a revamp, Nandan ought not to qualify as the venue of the next Kolkata Film Festival in November. The crass inaugural at the indoor stadium shall not camouflage the underbelly of  the city&’s cultural hub.