Divided We Stand
MOHAMMAD ALI SATTAR
A fleeting moment of amity. Photo: courtesy
Political dialogues are supposed to identify and level out existing forms of inequality and prejudices in national spheres. The objective of engaging in a dialogue must be thoroughly transparent. For this the 'concept of objectivity' among the participants in the dialogue must be clear.
Unless this initial lesson is learnt the discussants would not be able to exchange ideas and claims, or establish the standing of the institution that they represent. They will hardly be able to fight the distorting elements that help breed forms of injustice.
The above observation was only to help clear the way to justify my claims that only 'dialogues' can help solve our national problems. Dialogue ending in good notes will naturally be followed with implementation of decisions reached at the meet.
We have hardly grown the 'concept of dialogue' not to speak of the 'concept of objectivity.'
There's no moment in our political history that is worth recalling in which a memorable dialogue took place between the major political parties. A quick look at history says it all. The post liberation period saw the emergence of one man rule and there was virtually no opposition to raise voice against the lapses of the then government of Awami League and later Baksal. In fact all sorts of voices were rather windswept.
The period between 1975 and 1982 also did not see major meetings of the opposite sides, the principle reason being the absence of a strong opposition and an ideal party or individual with set objectives. Although there was collective interest in the newly resurgent political scenario in Bangladesh during this period, the parties were unsettled and undecided. Individual approaches and intense lobbying were the key actions. In fact politics as a whole was in a formative stage at that time. There were no issues that could be discussed in a broad spectrum. The whole country was reeling under the pain of coups and counter coups, killings and unrest in the army with serious impact on the people at large. Hence dialogue was a distant concept.
During this period with Ziaur Rahman at the helm, parties of all shades were allowed to regroup and get on with their acts. Starting from the left and the extreme right to the unsettled Awami League all got the opportunity to make the scenario a multi party landscape. However, there was no sign of unified or ideological alliance. Heavens of mistrust prevailed.
The damaging trend of confrontation took a deeper turn. Instead of trying to unite under a common banner of national interest, individuals and parties drifted away. The crises that followed the 1975 killing of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman should have actually brought the divided nation under one unified force. That did not happen. The divide became sharper and went on to become worse.
Confrontational politics was soon wedded to corruption politics. Then on, confrontation and corruption went hand in hand until it grew into institutions and beliefs. People were preached confrontation and inflicted by corruption.
The gradual drift was such that our leaders of the mid eighties (Khaleda and Hasina) embarked on politics right in the centre of confusion and confrontation. They both landed on hard rock. The ground was prepared in a way that they had to forgo the path of unity and peace and dialogue. The principles of mutual understanding and reciprocity were conveniently discarded by the party faithful (stalwarts of both parties) long before their arrival.
The ingrained mistrust and hatred borne by the Awami League towards BNP was there all the time, for AL always believed that Ziaur Rahman had a hand in the killing of Bangabandhu. There was no hope of a dialogue or no sign of willingness for a peaceful coexistence.
Reciprocating the AL attitude of doubt and envy, the BNP had to find its way. The revered ladies could never be good rivals; they were most of the time ruled by heart than reason.
In 1986, when AL abandoned BNP in their movement against Ershad and participated in the national polls called by Ershad, the divide was more apparent then ever.
Nevertheless politics do make strange bedfellows. In the late 90s the two parties joined hands to topple Ershad. It was simply a marriage of convenience. It was perhaps a single agenda movement. Sharp differences were noted between the two. There were frequent policy shifts in the AL. Mistrust and suspicion between the two rose and took a serious a turn. The great divide was perhaps in the making.
The confrontation mode of our politics gradually became the order of the day. Corruption, rise of terrorism and misgovernance crept in our lives. Over the time the two leaders drifted away from each other taking along with them the party loyal and hapless supporters.
The situation took a severe turn when BNP won the 1991 parliamentary polls. Awami League was just not ready to accept the outcome. Politics of violence had taken a new turn for the worse. For the next twenty years, various conspiracy theories were making the rounds. People grew impatient and were soon after at each others throat. Many precious lives were lost without any rhyme or reason.
So hardened were the minds of the political leaders that they lost sight of people's agony. The economy and social slide were conveniently overlooked for decades much to the chagrin of the civilised minds.
Despite the odds, we have managed remarkable achievements in many important areas, such as women's empowerment, micro credit financing, family planning, NGO-based developments, self sufficiency in food production, and the UN Peace keeping missions.
Today we stand in the threshold of a severely dented society. We stand divided. Wherever you put your steps the ghost of partisanship will hound you. Today all considerations are made on the party credentials. The corridors of powers that be are basking under the splendour of division. Standing at one end of the hemisphere they look at the other side with loathe and abhorrence.
The revered KC Gandhi once lamented before the partition of the sub-continent, "Divide me, but don't divide India"! Oh, how he felt the pain of division or the fear of being left alone!
Alas ! Our leaders don't find love and peace in unity! How they stand for divided! Aren't we inviting a misfortune that would be too dear for us to handle?
The writer is Assistant Editor, The Daily Star.