Joy out on campaign

Sajeeb Ahmed Wazed Joy has acknowledged mistakes by the Awami League-led government but says it has largely fulfilled its responsibilities.

Published : 3 August 2013, 04:50 PM
Updated : 4 August 2013, 07:08 PM

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s son at a public interaction on Saturday reminded voters they “need to vote Awami League to power to maintain the uninterrupted flow of development”.

He interacted with hundreds of university students in a dialogue titled ‘Let’s Talk’ at a Gulshan hall room.

From politics to personal life, much came up for discussion as the eager students quizzed the IT specialist who has belatedly become politically hyperactive.

“No civil society can tolerate murders like Biswajit or the maiming of Limon,” said Joy in response to a student’s query on human rights. “We have not tolerated these brutalities. The killers of Biswajit have been brought to justice, regardless which party they supported or which family they hailed from.”

Joy said it was not possible to ‘get everything right’ in a country of 150 million people. “But the government has done its job by and large by maintaining law and order and bringing law-breakers to the dock.”

He reminded the students of the flagrant human rights violations in times of the BNP government, of brazen political murders and patronage to violent radicals.

“We need to see where we were and where we are now, and whether we have moved ahead and whether the situation has improved or not,” he said.

“Please recall the number of murders perpetrated by the Chhatra Dal (BNP’s student front) ten years ago and how many of them were brought to justice,” Joy said, but stressing that “Bangladesh cannot become a US in five years”.

The Prime Minister’s son answered the students’ inquiries about politics, economics, killings and trial of criminals and his personal life.

Two journalists followed the dialogue.

“We have been trying to solve the power crisis for the last five years and we are halfway towards our goal of digital Bangladesh. We will solve the remaining problems if the Awami League comes to power.”

“We have taken measures that the past governments could not. Villagers are receiving allowances. The extent of our social security net has exceeded beyond what used to during past governments. The poor are receiving allowance, rice and other grains.”

“We have 150 million people living in this country. You can’t expect everything to be perfect. It is the government’s job to bring offenders to justice. Will you blame the government that judges crimes?” countered Joy.

“What you need to do is see whether there has been any improvement. There has been tremendous improvement in the area of human rights. Yes, there have been mistakes made, but the government had fulfilled its responsibilities.

“Only the Awami League did its duties. The government will make errors but what is important is to know if we have progressed or not.”

After the moderator finished his introduction Joy said, “It has not been long since I was a student. I finished my Master’s only five years ago.”

Joy completed his second Master’s on Public Administration from Harvard University five years ago. He studied Computer Science in US and India.

The moderator had asked how Joy liked to identify himself, as an IT expert or an heir to a political family.

Joy said, “I have never searched for those identities. I consider myself lucky, because my skills allow me to serve my country. Not a lot of people can do that. I don’t think about my identity or what my future will be.”

Joy kept stressing he was an IT specialist and not a ‘career politician’, perhaps to signal he was not yet ready for the plunge.

From politics to personal, which is where he appeared more flustered.

“My career is in IT, not in politics. I am here to serve my people.”

Asked what his vision of Bangladesh was, Joy replied promptly, “Bangladesh will be a middle-income country within 2021. If we can increase GDP to 8, 9, 10 percent Bangladesh can become a developed country. And it is not impossible. This is possible in your lifetime. But we will have to work for it.”
Dressed is a grey shirt and black trousers, Joy descended from the stage with a smile and stood to walk between the row of students.
The anchor asked Joy to select the questions he wanted to answer but instead he let him pick them.
Someone asked if the Prime Minister’s son loved riding motorcycles.
“I do like to ride motorcycles. I have been driving bikes since I was 18 and living in Bangalore to study honours.
“I did not have a lot of money then. I used to drive an old bike. I used to take part in professional bike races in America. I even broke my hand once,” said Joy as he folded up his sleeve to show the old wound.
Students asked how he came to know his wife Kristine and Joy said she was best friends with his flatmate and that was how they knew each other.
“I am married for ten years and can’t remember affairs before that,” was how he sought to allay speculations about his personal life.
“I never had many girl friends,” Joy said, fumbling mildly.
He was asked, “Who do you see as your idol, your mother or father?” Joy said, “I am more attracted to science. I have my father’s scientific outlook. But I am closer and friendlier with my mother. Father spent a lot of time working in the office. Most of my time was spent in the company of my mother.”
A student asked what food Joy liked the most and he replied food did not interest him much.
Asked about his favourite author, he said he liked to read fictions by Ken Follett. “President Barack Obama is one of my favourite writers. His books are well written, witty and informative. They are packed with experiences, political facts and his thoughts on social issues.”
The students were then asked to put forward questions of impersonal nature and the first question that arrived was about whether the people of Bangladesh were in a health risk for being exposed to formalin for long.
Joy said, “There has been no research to study the long-term effect of formalin on the body. We are still conducting drives against illegal formalin.
“There is a culture of impunity in the country. The prime reason is the biggest injustices have never been tried … The 1971 genocide, 1975 coup. We, the Awami League government, are trying to put all of them to justice.”
One of the audience members asked Joy what his dream about IT was.
“The information technology revolution we are trying to create cannot be completed in just five years. We started our journey from the scratch.
“We were faced with two problems when we started, power and connectivity. We are trying to resolve these issues as we go.
“There is no electricity problem. Connectivity is also there but bandwidth is still low. It is not possible to digitalise Bangladesh in just five years. We need more time but we have come very far.”
Joy took a question about his abrupt arrival in the political scenario and the comment he had made on the upcoming polls.
A student asked if democracy would continue if he came to politics without practising democracy and how he did information that the Awami League would return to power
“I consider myself lucky. I never had the desire to get power. I have no post in the party and none in the government as well. I have no plans to just jump into political power. I have not joined active politics yet. I am here to assist the party.”
“There are a lot of ways to work for the country, you don’t necessarily need a post in the government. I am working from that angle. The future, however, depends on the voters. If I ever contest an election I must come through votes.
“Every country of the world has poll prior to their elections. We also have survey. That predicts the winner and might have an error margin of 2 to 4 percent.”
A student interrupted Joy with another question before he could finish to ask if there was democracy in the Awami League and commented there was no election to elect the party president.
Awami League President Sheikh Hasina’s son disagreed.
“There have been elections for every post in the Awami League, Chhatra League. The last Chhatra League election was held with ballot papers.
“There is a different reason surrounding my mother. No one has contested her post since 1985. There would have been elections if someone wanted to be nominated. I too will have to face votes if I want to stand in the future.”
A student asked him what measures will be taken to combat the Dhaka City’s crippling traffic problem.
Joy told him to look at all these flyovers, plans and constructions which were all started by this government. No other government was able to work this fast.
“We have a plan to save the city from traffic gridlock. But there are two obstructions. The increase of privately owned vehicles and the absence of implementation of traffic discipline. We need traffic police. We are bringing in public transportation systems. We do not have large buses. The metro system is in its final stages.”
“But you will need Awami League to be in government. This is not going to happen any other way.”
Another student said one needed to be aggressive in order to be in politics before asking how can one expect transparent politics when serial killers like Jahid Siddique Tarek are the ones who hold big posts in Juba League?
Answered Joy: “It is not necessary that someone in politics has to have the right lineage or should know how to get aggressive. My advantage is that I am the grandson of the nation’s founder. But he had to start from scratch. You also have that option.
“Juba League, Chhatra League aren’t entirely bad, it’s just that there are some who give them their bad names.”
Joy asked the youth representatives about the challenges the country was facing now.
Most of them pinned the cause to political disunity while many stressed the need to develop ties with the opposition.
Joy said, “When the Awami League was in opposition we invited the then Prime Minister to my sister’s wedding. I received her when she arrived, and we dined together. We too were invited to her son’s wedding.”
“But everything changed after 2004 when we came under attack. The Awami League leaders and activists lost their lives and my mother narrowly escaped. The plan was hatched in Hawa Bhaban. This is what Mufti Hannan said.”
“You can’t make change sitting with terrorists. Only you can bring on that change with your votes.”