Vol. 5 Num 1104 Mon. July 09, 2007  

The politics of reform

Reform is now a buzzword, and the refrain seems to have reached a crescendo now with everyone clamouring for it willy-nilly. According to critics, the enthusiasts are, however, simply trying to evade the fate of their incarcerated colleagues and forestall a smear campaign against them. They also see in it a wind-fall opportunity that usually accompanies any political reshuffle. Moreover, sensing the establishment's approval, if not the pressure for reforms, the reformists are vying with each other to steal the limelight. An invisible Pied Piper with his mesmerising tune is taking them to an indefinite destination, and the folks are in a mad rush to ride the band-wagon. For the buoyant lot of reformists -- reform is their ultimate mantra.

The reformists in the two major political parties are already up in arms against their party chiefs -- a phenomenon seldom witnessed before in our country -- and that too in unison, transcending the party line. The reformists of the contending political parties appear to be working hand in hand for neutralising their top leaders. The reform proposals advanced by the reformist leaders of both Awami League and BNP are strikingly similar -- as if they are being over-seen by some invisible apex body. The main thrust of these proposals is against the party chiefs, who are scathingly condemned for their past political roles.

The reform proposals are designed in such a way that the party chiefs can be removed from their posts and, if required, also from politics itself. Yet the authors of the reform proposals, and their supporters themselves, sustained both the leaders in their top party posts through their willing allegiance, cooperation and sycophancy, and formed an integral part of the system, fair or foul, presided over by their now abandoned chiefs.

Isn't their present role -- that of rebels without a cause -- reflective of their moral turpitude? Do they at all have moral authority to demand reforms in the party after participating in all of its follies and failures through their acquiescence, if not abetment. The morally upright people prefer to sink with their captain! It is cowardice to abandon him when he and his ship are in distress.

So, if only the ouster of the chiefs of the two parties is the quintessence of the reform agenda it will, alas, be only a travesty of reforms.

As is generally understood, reform is changes intended to bring about improvement of what is being reformed. It is, indeed, a riddle as to how the removal of the top leaders from the scene will bring that about. Reform is an evolutionary process which spontaneously takes place in a society or corporate body, in their own interest, and is best served through an autonomy of action without outside interference. Likewise, reforms in political parties are undertaken for their very survival, but in a congenial political ambience, because it involves a great deal of inter-action and political alacrity. At the present time, when politics itself is banned, there is no scope for undertaking political reforms.

Moreover, the reform proposals of the two major political parties, if at all implemented, will be fatally divisive for the parties concerned, which are likely to be ultimately split under divided leadership. That does not bode well for the country's political future. Political parties worth the name do not grow overnight. The organisers of the party, for good governance by the fittest and the honest, must have understood how daunting the task is. There are over 100 political parties in the country, but none match the stature of either the AL or the BNP. The AL took more than half a century to come to its present form, and it was a roller- coaster ride all the way. In spite of its smooth origin, the BNP's march to its popularity has not been smooth. These exceptional political outfits ought to he considered as the country's assets.

Discerning observers of the situation obtaining in the country's politics tend to agree that the principal political parties will be inevitably ditched without the leaders who led them through many crises. In the case of the AL, no single reformist leader will be able to hold it together. The role and intents also of the BNP have been put to question widely at the grass-root level. As a result, in both the cases, the alternative chiefs of the parties will be difficult to put in place. And the idea of collective leadership? It's still a fantasy in our political culture. Our people are more fond of symbolism with regard to the question of leadership.

Once the political parties are bereft of the leaders they are used to, they will go adrift and will ultimately disintegrate. Then the proliferation of smaller parties will breed unrest, instability, and confrontation, all of which we want to put an end to. The country's political space will be taken over by political chameleons, charlatans, and hustlers, pushing the country further back. We may then prosper propitiously, if inequitably, but the country might descend into a never-never land of democracy for a long time to come.

The power game is extremely tricky, deceptive, and dangerous, all at once. Its heady brew can drive the power- seekers mad. We have seen enough of this game during the extra-constitutional regimes, both in the Pakistan and Bangladesh periods. They come in the guise of magnanimity and patriotism and for rendering service. Once their base is consolidated they bare their fangs. Will the politicians -- reformists or otherwise -- be pawns in their game? Can't they, for a while, close ranks in this hour of crisis?

Brig ( retd) Hafiz is former DG of BIISS.