Vol. 5 Num 994 Sun. March 18, 2007  

No Nonsense
Three Rs, Bangladesh-style

For better or worse, our politicians, in the prevailing prohibitions of political activities, have started spending time in reading, writing and possibly "re-educating" themselves, as if those are the last things they ever conceived of.

The original three "Rs" -- "reading, riting (writing), and rithmatic (arithmetic)" -- are three academic skills, which students must acquire in order to excel in their future responsibilities. Unfortunately, in our educational institutions future politicians skip the three "Rs" and instead adopt one different "R" entirely -- "running."

For years, running for student government, running from studies and the police have been the essence of being a student politician. After graduation, they again run for political office, and then run for local or national offices -- and now, as we've seen, many are running from the law while others stopped running at the end line -- the prison gate.

We may not feel apologetic for today's political climate, which finds some of our politicians reading, writing and socializing with family and relatives, while many of their colleagues are passing agonizing nights with their cell phones switched off, hiding scared from law enforcers.

What is baffling though is that many BNP politicians or their lackeys think that the shots are still being called from their former "castle of corruption" -- Hawa Bhaban.

Consider, for example, former energy adviser Mahmudur Rahman's scornful display of arrogance in filing a defamation suit against this daily for a minor news item in which his name was published along with 41 other alleged corrupt absconders. Perhaps this gentleman should be concerned with his possible culpability in the failing state of the energy sector rather than hedging for money coming from law suits.

Many of the accomplices to corruption don't realize that the days of intimidating and harassing journalists and the media are gone; so also the reign of Falu, Mamun, Huda, Tarique, and Khaleda, and the politics of all the rest. No wonder Charles De Gaulle once said: "I have come to the conclusion that politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians."

Politicians have a hand in thousands of decisions important to their communities and the country. It is therefore imperative that they are knowledgeable, and can read, write, and comprehend what they read. Lack of such attributes in people who ran the country is largely responsible for the predicament the country is coping with today.

Many people argue that the CTG would not have been able to bring the spate of reforms so far consummated, or been able to chase and chain the corrupt, if they had not had the backing of the army. They forget that the true credit goes to the people for their awe-inspiring support and patience.

The CTG is also succeeding in their reform mission because they are not traditional "rent seeking" politicians -- they are educated, enlightened, and capable of linking politics, economics, and the people.

With reference to the politicians, one would like to know: What do they read? Why do they want to write? Is it to entertain, to inform, to explain, to persuade? Ostensibly, these are the most common motivations for writing, at least if they're writing something for someone else to read.

In a February 17 e-mail to former law minister Barrister Moudud Ahmed, I wrote: "If you cannot clean up the party with a truly all-encompassing educated, competent, and qualified person on top, my advice for you would be to quit politics, go back to the bar, fight for the common people for justice, establish good legal precedence, and thus leave a legacy. Use your legal mind to write books on law and good governance. With your experience serving nearly all governments since independence and your understanding of the complexities of laws and regulations, no one is better equipped to write than you." In his reply, Moudud graciously took note of my observations.

The politicians, however, may not forget that writing books or newspaper articles are risky undertakings for a politician -- published words have a way of coming back to haunt them. As Carol Burnett once said, "Words, once they are printed, have a life of their own."

The question, then, is this: Should politicians read for pleasure or for fun? They should certainly read their interests alongside newspapers editorials, political commentaries, and post editorial articles, especially those critical of polices and performances of the government and the oppositions. That is the quickest and most effective way they can keep themselves focused on issues.

Believe it or not, the amount of vital information one can get from reading a single article on a topic of interest may save time and efforts from reading several books on related issues since in many instances the columnist wrote the article based on research and experience.

Make no mistake, reading a book cannot be substituted by reading a newspaper article, but time constraints may deter from such an undertaking. Another effective way one can keep up to date with current issues is by organizing, attending and participating in seminars.

One disappointing trait of most politicians is that they display a blasť attitude towards reading and writing anything seriously. This means they don't develop serious ideas of their own, rendering themselves more susceptible to any shallow scheme their advisers and consultants draw them into.

It's surely true of politicians across national boundaries, but its prevalence among our major parties is a serious concern, as they will soon either be in power or be part of the opposition.

Although, prior to occupying high offices, politicians swear an oath to uphold, defend, and abide by it, they display an impression that they didn't really read the Constitution, let alone think about what it says, how to introduce new bills or amend some old rules.

Politicians should also read and think about various local and national issues, which may include poverty alleviation, infrastructure development, public health, senior citizens welfare, terrorism, reducing patronization of student politics, and so on.

There is one book every politician should look at, "The Central Liberal Truth: How Politics Can Change a Culture and Save It from Itself" by Lawrence E. Harrison. This book attempts to establish that, "Nothing is so important and tenacious as culture (values and institutions) in shaping economic performance, and nothing so decisive as economic performance in determining political and social possibilities and structure."

Now get this: What would have been an absurdity a few days ago has turned into a reality now; the son of the former Prime Minister, who was failed by his mother in every respect, has started reading books out of boredom in his prison cell. Very soon he may start reading books for knowledge, and someday may walk out as a reformed and redefined human being -- hopefully no longer to be castigated as ill-educated.

Dr. Abdullah A Dewan is Professor of Economics at Eastern Michigan University.