Monday, January 19, 2009

Urdu back in Bangladesh's political scene

Urdu, the language that Bangladeshis fought as an imposition during the Pakistan era, has staged a comeback in the country's political discourse.

Urdu posters and pamphlets were distributed for the first time since independence in 1971 by contending parties in last month's ninth general elections to woo the non-Bengali voters.

The Daily Star newspaper, in a report from Nilphamari, said that candidates for the posts of chairman and vice-chairman in Saidpur upazila (sub-district) are using Urdu in their campaign.

Urdu-speaking voters comprise half the voters in the upazila.

"Walking along the streets of Saidpur town, one would frequently hear loudspeaker announcements in Urdu.

"It is also being used for slogans in processions and in public speeches by the candidates who know well that Urdu speaking people, commonly known as Biharis, would play a decisive role in Saidpur upazila parishad election," the report said.

Urdu's use is more extensive in this month's upazila elections where the electorates are small and the Urdu speaking people could be the deciders in many constituencies.

What has changed the near-total Bengali language complexion of the estimated 140 million electorate is the inclusion of a small minority, no more than 140,000 voters, whose mother tongue is Urdu.

They are the erstwhile "stranded Pakistanis" or "Biharis" - since a bulk of them arrived from the Indian province of Bihar at the time of the Partition in 1947.

After over three decades of wanting to be repatriated to Pakistan, from which Bangladesh separated in 1971, they have accepted Bangladeshi citizenship.

Living in 160 camps across the country supervised by the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC), they were registered as voters last year.

However, no one from the Urdu speaking community is in the electoral race from the upazila.

There was no Urdu-speaking candidate among the 1,550 candidates in the country's parliamentary poll last month either.

Indo-Asian News Service


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