Politics Not for the People
The stage is set for aggressive politics, warns SYED ASHFAQUL HAQUE.
April 21 of this year was like any other day of the sultry summer in Dhaka. Badar Ali Beg was however too tired from his overnight driving to feel the hot and humid environment. He pulled up his bus on a Khilgaon roadside late in the morning, locked it and soon fell into a deep slumber. He was desperate to make up for the lost sleep before hitting the road again for a 335km drive back to Khulna that night.
But little did he know about the opposition parties' plan to turn the hartal the next day into what they called a 'spontaneous' one. At least 10 buses were set afire including Badar's. And that sleep turned out to be his last in his 48 years of life. He died inside the burning bus in the afternoon.
Shell-shocked, the four members of Badar's family were left to think all of a sudden about what they would eat the next day. “Nothing happens to them (hartal enforcers). Only we get killed,” the wailing widow could only say.
Photo: Rashed Shumon
The government promptly sued top opposition leaders along with a few hundred anonymous people for the pre-hartal violence. The opposition parties did not sit idle either. They agitated harder, called another hartal for the next day, pressing for withdrawal of what they called politically-motivated cases. Be it true or false, a 'politically-motivated' case invariably gets dropped and convicts are acquitted when the opposition party comes to power.
Badar was brutally murdered, a crime for which, looking at past records it would probably be safe to say, no one would be punished. There are countless incidents in which Badars have become victims of our confrontational politics. But such is the power of politics that their murders are shown as insignificant or pushed to the background. Who cares about ordinary people? None, not even the media.
Stories like these actually give us the real status of our politics and the politicians. But who is the politics for? Ideally, politics is for the people. In a democratic system, the only mandate a politician can have is to work for the people. They are supposed to focus only on people's welfare. Sadly though, that is not the case for our politics. The blunt truth is that our political system became corrupt long ago and is now going from bad to worse. Today's politics is just for politicians. Here people are meant to be exploited for the welfare of politicians.
If we look hard at our political culture, we can see politics turn confrontational centring only on one issue, state power. The only goal of our two major parties -- the Awami League and BNP -- is to grab state power or stay in the power. The ruling party does not want to lose the reins and the other does not like to be in the opposition. State power gives politicians the license to plunder the state coffer. They know for sure once in power they will get away with doing anything they want. The culture of impunity is there to protect them. Politicians stay beyond the hands of the law.
The party in power prefers not to leave anything to chance in the next elections. Manipulate the electoral system, politicise the administration and do whatever needs to be done for retaining the rule. That is precisely the motto of any ruling party.
Knowing fully well about the intention, the party in opposition would also give no respite to the government. As the opposition has no faith in parliament, it takes to the street for all sorts of anti-government agitation including hartal, estimated loss for which is no less than Tk 2,500cr a day. But politicians do not have to worry about that. Thanks to our culture, politicians are the takers and people the givers.
Thus, they face off, only to capture state power, turning their backs on parliament -- which is constitutionally recognised as the House of the Nation -- as well as on the people. And there criminalisation of politics comes into confrontational play.
In a modern democracy, the basic function of parliament is to symbolise the will of the people. People seek to realise their aspirations, urges and expectations through this supreme political institution.
In our democracy, people's role ends right after the voting day. They could vote nine times to elect their representatives in the parliament since independence in 1971. But their representatives could only offer nine heartbreaks in return.
Lack of political will of the successive governments, growing confrontational culture and military interventions only contributed to the pollution of parliamentary politics. The quality of parliament experienced a marked fall as money and muscle power weighed in politics.
Ruling parties never tried to strengthen the parliament. Rather, they left no stone unturned to consolidate their position either by making the parliament dysfunctional or turning it into a rubber stamp institution. The executive branch still controls the parliament's legislative powers.
The parliamentary democracy started afresh in 1991 with high hopes. But the winner-takes-all attitude of ruling parties and the mindless Sangsad-boycott of oppositions soon nipped the hope in the bud. Ruling party lawmakers find it useful to spend hours in parliament, praising the 'supreme leader' of the party and blasting their rivals. Discussion on important public interest issues and crucial government policies are always off the agenda.
An election is coming up in less than two years' time and the two major parties are still at loggerheads over the nature of interim government that will facilitate free and fair polls. The AL says 'no to caretaker government' while the BNP insists 'no polls without caretaker system'. The opposition has already enforced half a dozen hartals for reviving the system, which was scrapped by the Supreme Court recently. And the AL pays no heed to it.
The stage for aggressive politics is all but set. People can brace themselves for the worst this time around.
In 21 years from 1991, our democracy saw no change in the frustrating state of politics. From the people's perspective, a qualitative change in politics as well as in politicians is long overdue. The politicians only can initiate the change. But do they feel the need for a change? That is a billion dollar question in Bangladesh politics.
Syed Ashfaqul Haque is Chief News Editor, The Daily Star.