DHAKA-There have been three hartals in five days in Dhaka, so as a Nepali I am prepared.
It is the hartal season, and when that happens you know the two dowager begums of Bangladeshi democracy are at each other's throats again. The difference this time is that Khaleda Zia is the premier, and it is Sheikh Hasina's turn to bring the country to a standstill in an effort to unseat her rival. Earlier, Begum Zia had done the same when she was in the opposition.
Our political cultures are the same. They have hartals, we have bandas. The relationship between Zia's BNP and Hasina's Awami League resembles the ties between Nepali Congress and the UML in the good old days, even though in Kathmandu, political mudslinging has now been replaced by gunfire and bombs.
Given that they had a headstart over us, the Bengalis have developed hartals into a fine art form. Compared to our bandas, their strikes here are civilised. For instance, a Bangladeshi hartal is enforced only between dawn and dusk. How convenient. Why didn't we think of that before? This means milk trucks and bread delivery vans do their rounds in the morning unhindered, shopping malls do roaring business in the evening.
During hartals, Dhaka's one million rickshaw-pullers like their Thamel counterparts, earn enough to pay back their loans. Hartals have now become an important component of the political economy of Bangladesh with its wealth redistribution potential.
The other thing Nepalis share with our Bangladeshi cousins is our penchant for the most convoluted conspiracy theory to explain the simplest political phenomenon. Even professors mutter something big is afoot because the opposition parties are agitating at a time when so many foreigners are here. The fact that there is a global Microcredit Summit going on in Garmeenland that has attracted foreign dignitaries is too obvious an explanation to convince them. It reminds us of Chandrasekhar's private visits to Kathmandu last month billed as a harbinger of political change in Nepal.
There is tyrant lurking in the heart of every South Asian that leaps out the moment it spots a weaker target. Perhaps that explains the impatient and intolerant politics all our leaders. From Sheikh Hasina to General Musharraf, and from President Chandrika to our very own Comrade Prachanda-all are convinced there is only one way to govern and only they know what it is.
Like Nepalis, Bangladeshis take their independence very seriously and the mantra here too is the ISI-identity, sovereignty and independence.
Spring is the time when memories of a long struggle come flooding back. It is springtime for people in Dhaka and Kathmandu as a budding democracy tries to blossom anew.