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     Volume 7 Issue 50 | December 26, 2008 |

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A Roman Column

A Dismal Prospect

Neeman Sobhan

I am back in Dhaka and I am not talking about the fog. I am glad to have escaped the wet, cold Roman winter for the milder weather here, so I don't mind the misty, sunless prospect. It's the grey and foggy pre-election perspective which bothers me.

As a nation, can we see beyond our nose?

Remember the saying 'Every nation gets the leader it deserves'? And remember an election slogan in a country which to the chant of 'YES WE CAN' just got rid of their leader who recently dodged a size 10 shoe? Well, this must mean it is true that a nation CAN not only manage to get the leader it deserves, it can struggle to get rid of one it believes it does NOT deserve.

But those are fairy tales for lands beyond seven oceans and thirteen rivers in terms of political maturity and national self-respect. Yes, the business of choosing a leader and a government is ultimately a question of how much self-respect a nation has, and what it believes it deserves.

Surely, no self-respecting Bangladeshi deserves to be in a position where it is forced to elect the dregs of humanity, the renegades of society, or quite simply, a bunch of liars and thieves? Yet here we are in the winter of our discontent, befuddled with our vision fogged up, and left between the Devil and the Dirty grey sea.

Remember the phrase 'Maachey-bhatey Bangali'? We, whose staple is fish and rice? Well, what would a true- blue Bangali do when out shopping in a fish market and faced with stalls upon stalls of rotting fish? I strongly suspect our shopper's lunch or dinner menu would not have fish in it.

But now the Bangali nation has just been inducted into the great fish market of Election. And we know very well that the 'Rui-Katlas 'on the stall have been belly-up for a long time. And yet we stroll around the market place, ignoring the stink and going through the motions of shopping! Are we mad? Are we actually considering going home to a few years of eating rotten fish curry with our rice? I don't know about you, but I'd sooner starve!

An election is a time for us to choose our public servants not our rulers! We are supposed to be the employers, those with the upper hand. We select the retinue of staff who will manage the running of the national household for us. If I dismissed a domestic worker because he was stealing or had showed too much arrogance or was inefficient, I would never re-employ him. If I felt my housekeeper was suffering from delusions of grandeur, of being the begum sahib, I'd not let the person into my home.

But I don't think I want any longer to use domestic metaphors. I have contracted an allergy to the feminine principle in public office. I don't want to see another chiffon or silk-bordered head-of-the-state. I don't want to see an Asif Zardari in the hot seat either. And Allah forbid, I don't want to have some hirsute chin and a 'kisti' cap staring at me every day from newspapers and televisions screens either.

Yes, the prospect before us is dire and dismal, indeed.

But how did we come to this dead end street? Who was in the driver's seat, who was navigating, who had the map? Why didn't someone stop and ask directions, turn back, make a sharp u-turn? Ah! The pointlessness of the past! Faced with the foggy future, the predicament of the present seems to be a situation we allowed to happen to ourselves.

I am talking about us, the educated, self- respecting civil society who never raise our voices loud enough to make our needs and desires heard, and who never lift our hands to dig a path out of the morass.

Remember the saying 'Beggars can't be choosers'? I don't want to have this applied to us even as a metaphor. At a literal level, I normally swallow the fact that we Bangladeshis come from a 'poor' country but I would never allow anyone to think of us as a nation of beggars. After all, poverty is not a matter of choice, but begging is. But now, faced with the one opportunity to actively choose a hopeful future, we have again landed ourselves into a scenario where we are about to prove not how poor we are economically but that politically, we are a pitiable collection of mendicants who have no choice in creating our destiny but must accept whatever is dropped into our alms bowl.

So while disgrace if not disaster clouds the nation's circus, bring in the clowns. Let us listen to their cacophony and prattle, the jokes and lies, the sales pitch and the auctioneer's voice. Let us watch the old wine being dribbled back into new bottles. Perhaps we deserve no better.

But is this true? Did we really have no choice at all, no vision, no plans, no demands, no leaders, no heroes? Did we not have at least one hero who made us feel good and clean and rich and proud? Did we not have a chance to have someone who could have been the leader we deserved?

I speak for myself, but I know one person, who I would have voted and campaigned for had he entered the fray on behalf of all of us self-respecting, hard working citizens who believe they deserve a true leader. But this man of vision and honour, with the common touch and an international reputation, was too good for us. But just for a moment, close your eyes and imagine having a visionary, a Nobel Laureate and a hero for a national leader.

Oh! Yes, we could have!

Not today, since we have already agreed to put ourselves back into the clutches of those we rejected. But one day, when we have the courage to gather and wield size 10 shoes and have the conviction, passion and vision to believe in a respectable destiny for ourselves, we too, can deserve heroes for leaders. Yes, we can. Can't we?


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