|Volume 6 Issue 01| January 2012|
Life Beyond Forty: Challenges for the nation in coming times
ZIAUDDIN CHOUDHURY emphasises on the core values that will take us forward as a nation.
At the 40th birthday party of a colleague here many years ago, I was struck with amusement when I saw a banner at the door of his house -- “say goodbye to your youth”. The banner was put up by his wife as a humorous gesture. This was a grim reminder to me, however, as I was in my late thirties then. I did not realise until then that very soon I would have to say goodbye to my youth. In no time like my friend I will have to traverse that territory. Sadly, our youth soon gives way to middle age, and then to old age, and then to a point of no return.
We would like perhaps to say “goodbye to youth” to our country that turned 40 last year. However, this is not human life; this is a nation, a country that hopefully will last for generations. The decades are grist in a mill of time that must continue to run for years to come. The generations that come and go are players in different parts of national history, each having a perspective for a portion of that history.
For those of us, who had seen the birth of the country, the 40 years seem to have passed too quickly. As we look back into those 40 years, we remember with both sadness and joy our struggles in the fledgling years, and valiant attempts of our people to remove the label of poverty and permanent dependency on foreign doles for survival. Our sadness is because of the price our people paid both in human lives and property for gaining independence, and going through periods of impoverishment from crises time to time, both natural and manmade. Our sadness is because we witnessed cruel and violent changes of government and periods of autocratic rule. Our joy is because our people weathered these changes in national fortune bravely, and turned around the country to progress. We took joy as we increased our national income manifolds, expanded our exports beyond belief, and made international headlines with our innovative ways to fight poverty and raise literacy in these last 40 years. As we step into the next decade, we wonder can we sustain this, and move the country further ahead. What do we need to keep the momentum going?
The resilience of our people to come back after each adversity, natural or manmade, and still progress has been astounding. Bangladesh is a known entity now, and its populace recognised internationally as hard working people. And all this has happened, we must confess, despite highly inept and self serving political leaderships that our people had to withstand for decades. It is almost a miracle that an entrepreneurial surge rose from this political miasma and gave birth to a manufacturing industry that helped to expand our national wealth. It is equally a marvel that our economy did not come a screeching halt despite political hooliganism, and acts of anarchy that were often let loose on people when brute force replaced dialogue in politics. It is a great tribute to our working people that they never stopped despite threats to life and property. In fact, we owe all our success in last 40 years to our hard working people, and their undefeatable spirit.
There are many challenges to sustain this growth and make the country viable for the next generations. Our chief challenges to turning the country into an economically viable nation are still poverty, illiteracy, and natural disasters and climate changes. One third of our people are still below poverty line; half our people are still not literate, and our coast line is constantly in danger of shrinking. With accelerated programmes targeted to tackle these challenges, and financial support we could turn the country viable, and even vibrant. But for this to happen, we have to have an important premise. This premise is based on political stability, freedom from venality and corruption, freedom from violence, and ensurance of rule of law. Absent this premise we can only dream of making any progress either economically or socially.
“Experience has shown, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny; ” thus observed Thomas Jefferson. More than 200 years later we find ample truth of this statement with our experience with government of different parties and individual dictators in our own past. From time to the democratic ideals of free speech, individual liberty, and freedom of association have been dealt with impunity. We hoped that the anti-democratic forces would cease and desist when autocratic regimes ended. To our dismay, however, we discovered that in each successive government street fights replaced parliamentary debates, political opposition was met with vengeance and violence, and compromises for national interest have been supplanted by confrontation.
The deleterious effects of a steady deterioration of the values have turned our political future into a political nightmare. The immediate threats to the political stability are the current conditions that smack of some intransigence on the government side matched by equal stubbornness on the forces opposing the government, which will jeopardise the next elections. Recent position of the government on caretaker government to hold next elections, bifurcation of Dhaka city purely on partisan votes, and appointment of political workers as administrators of zilla parishads have only added to this perception of partisan politics ruling over national interests. Any unilateral decision on the formation of the next election commission will only add fuel to the fire.
The next challenge comes from burgeoning corruption that appears to have a permanent grip on the society. Some say that corruption and hypocrisy are inevitable products of democracy. But cynical as this statement is, it is also true that societies that progress ensure safeguards so that corruption does not eat away the vitals of a nation. In our case, however, the exponential growth in corruption at all levels also made our safeguards too inept or inadequate, because corruption is abetted by a willing political system. As we go into the next decade our next biggest challenge is facing and combating this monster. We must also remember Nietzsche's warning, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” We have the wherewithal to fight corruption, but not the will. The fight will be fruitless and it will hamper our progress if our political leadership across party line does not adopt this will.
Another threat to the country's continued stability and further growth emanates from our gross disregard for rule of law and patronage of the elements that flout law of the land. Violence in political arena, campuses and impunity for law for the people who live under the umbrella of power seem to gain upper hand every day.
A fundamental condition of democracy is unfettered application of rule of law for all citizens. As an eminent British lawmaker once observed, the rule of law should be upheld by all political parties. They should neither advise others to break the law, nor encourage others to do so even when they strongly disagree with the legislation put forward by the government of the day. Unfortunately events in the past decades that happened and are still occurring in the streets as well as personal lives of people do not give us assurance that our ordinary citizens have the protection they deserve by right.
The most important hypothesis of a democratic form of government is to have respect for the will of the people, and adhere to their needs. Political parties contest for running the government as people's representatives keeping in mind that it is people who vote them to power and vote them out of power when they fail. Parties vie for people's votes by their actions that benefit people, and not by intimidation or by manipulating constituencies by extra-democratic means. This is particularly true when a party is in power. Our people are not dumb; they can distinguish between acts that benefit the nation and those that benefit partisan interests. If people power is what democracy is all about, the sooner our political parties realise this the better it is for the country.
There are many challenges for our nation as we cross into the fifth decade of our national life. We can turn into a middle income country if we can ensure the growth of our economy and society with right leadership. But there are some important steps to take to make this happen. The first step in this direction is to change the culture of politics based on personality cult and partisan interests. Our leaders need to put nation first, and party later and resolve the impasses that threaten our political stability. We need dialogues and not street fights to resolve differences. Our leaders need to have a conviction that corruption is a poison that needs to be removed at all costs, and that it should start from the top. Our leaders need to believe in rule of law, respect for law, and upholding of law to protect the rights of all our citizens. It is fitting here to remind all of us these golden words enshrined in the US Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be selfevident,
I hope we can adhere to these words.
Ziauddin Choudhury works for an international organisation in USA.
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