THE DECLINE OF POLITICS
OR POLITICS AS USUAL?
SYED BADRUL AHSAN
Perhaps it is time to think of the alternatives we have, or could have, in politics. Given the cavalier manner in which the whole gory incident in Sirajganj and the plain and blatant murder in Natore have been dealt with by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Awami League, it is time to ask if the country has not gone back to politics as usual. Of course it has. What did we expect anyway? That question might come from you and it could come from any one of the millions of Bengalis who have desperately been hoping for a change in the way the political classes have so far conducted themselves. You would have thought that the bitter experience politicians went through in the period of the last caretaker administration would have made them think twice before reverting to the old, time-tested and obviously dangerous practices which have held the country back from making any headway for itself, at home or abroad.
Take this question of the Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal (JCD) rally that left people dead and injured on the railway tracks at Sayedabad in Sirajganj. It was tragedy unmitigated and unalloyed. It ought not to have been that way. Those who organised the rally, and that despite the fact that the ruling Awami League was unwilling to give up the venue the JCD had earlier asked for, should have had the political sense to understand that a public rally close to the railway tracks could easily spill over into a situation where the lives of people would be put at risk. It is a thought that did not occur to the organisers of the rally. Or even if it did, it was far outweighed by narrow political considerations. And then, to our collective horror, one mistake led to another. Begum Khaleda Zia, in a bizarre demonstration of politics turned on its head, went ahead with addressing the rally at the very spot where only minutes earlier a Dhaka-bound train from Dinajpur had left no fewer than five individuals dead and scores injured. The spectacle of the burning train (it was set alight by her angry followers) and the sight of corpses on the tracks ought to have been an opportunity for the former prime minister to rise to the occasion by dispensing with politics for a day and instead focusing on having her followers douse the flames and tending to the dead and the dying. She did nothing of the kind. She went on haranguing her partisan audience for three quarters of an hour. You expect better than that from a former prime minister.
Move now to the cheerful brutality with which the followers of the Awami League clubbed the BNP politician Sanaullah Noor Babu to death in Boraigram of Natore. You would have thought medievalism was dead. You would have imagined that such brutality could only happen in places where tribalism remains a dominant theme in the lives of men. You speak of the horrors visited upon people in Rwanda in 1994, of the terrible maladies men, women and children have been subjected to in Sierra Leone and Liberia and the Congo. The unashamed manner in which Babu was done to death in Boraigram has put us all to shame, indeed brought us level with the shame and scandals committed abroad and which we, ironically, condemn as a matter of routine. Babu’s death should have been a moment for Sheikh Hasina to inform the nation that she is ready to be leader of the nation rather than of a party. She could have supervised a swift nabbing of the criminals who murdered the BNP man and ensured that they were placed before the law for justice to be done, to be seen to be done. She did not do that, which is a good reason why the Awami League lawmaker from the Boraigram-Gurudaspur constituency now has the nerve to tell the country that nothing and no one can touch the criminal elements in his party. He has warned the police not to raid the homes of those accused of the murder. In an outrageous gesture of defiance of the republic, he has asked his followers to tie up the policemen who come looking for the accused. And the state does not, will not take him to task for his appalling behaviour.
So there we are, politics back to being in its customary form. The opposition, for all its suggestions made at rallies, seminars, news briefings and meetings of the various House committees, refuses to be part of the proceedings in the Jatiyo Sangsad. The ruling party, unable to sense the danger inherent in ignoring the unbridled interference of its followers in civil administration, seeks to punish the victims and looks indulgently at the criminals who are bringing its reputation low. Think here of Pabna, of the sorry manner in which the deputy commissioner, the upazila nirbahi officer and the superintendent of police were removed – because they had the courage to stand up to the manifest wrongdoing of the local ruling party lawmaker and his fans. If ever there is a need for a lesson in how politicians can alienate people and lose a huge chunk of votes, Pabna remains a luminous instance.
Politics gets into a rut when it gets its priorities wrong. A clear priority ought to have been an undertaking of measures toward promoting local government as a way of strengthening the nation’s democratic structure. You cannot expect a pluralistic system of governance to be at work unless a well-defined pattern of devolution is in place. That devolution is what you do not see in Bangladesh today. Listen to the chairmen and vice chairmen of the upazilas. They have threatened action at the end of November if their duties and responsibilities are not clearly and constitutionally defined by then. They have a point. The government does not see it. Or it conveniently looks the other way. That does not help. If anything, it only clouds the prospects of a fair social order taking shape in Bangladesh; it only drills holes in the principle of people being the underpinning of governance. With members of Parliament playing an advisory role in the upazilas and the upazila nirbahi officers presiding over the implementation of social uplift programmes, little is left for the elected upazila authorities to do. The upazila chairmen and vice chairmen would have us know that they meet on a quotidian basis, have tea, talk about the banalities of life and then go back home. That is not local government. If the upazilas are being battered into impotence, it is a grave signal of the chaos that lies ahead.
Which takes us back to that question of alternatives. Could there be a chance, an embryonic thought, of a new political party taking shape? The old must give place to the new. But where is the new?
(R) thedailystar.net 2010