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|Volume 10 |Issue 33 | August 26, 2011 ||
Uproar in the House
Mohammad Ali Sattar
When the Sangsad (parliament) heats up without being violent it is undeniably a healthy sign for our fragile democracy. Even if we have moved quite a way since1971, our democracy has not been privileged to be treated with care, most of the time it fell in erroneous pairs of hands.
Last week it was a fascinating session in the house without the opposition though. The government lawmakers were seen yelling at the finance and the communications ministers. It was a collective uproar against the ever smiling person. Amidst all woes and worries he prefers to wear his trade mark smile! Not all too bad. Awami bigwigs, Suranjit Sengupta and Tofail Ahmed, Moha Jote partners Hasanul Haque Inu and Rashed Khan Menon were all charged up and demanded of the ministers to step aside if they could not do justice to their portfolios.
The whole nation can now see the state of affairs in the communications sector. We have seen the pitiable highway conditions. We have all known how the engineers work in the Roads and Highways department and what the syndicated contractors are up to when it comes to the construction and maintenance of roads.
Coming back to democratic practice, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has been out of the parliament for a long time now. Although it may have its reasons to stay away, its absence is not doing any good to politics and democracy. Apart from all grievances and woes that they might have regarding the 'undemocratic' treatment by the government lawmakers in the house and repressive measures outside, the party should have toiled hard to attend the house and face up to any situation. By dong this, the party could have earned credibility and confidence of the voters. It rather chose to remain in the streets, albeit not in a violent mood.
The outburst of the government party law-makers in the House and outside over the non-performing ministers should be an indicator for the Prime Minister and other ministers. Seldom have we seen such reactions in the party line. Some would like to believe that all this was mere eye-wash. To them, if these outcries were of any substance or if the under achieving ministers really cared, they would have, by now, showed signs of deep compunction or would have tendered their resignation with grace. If they are enjoying the blessings of the PM, very little is likely to happen to them.
However, the sign of dissent within the party has a positive side to it. In democracy one has the right to criticise and differ. That's what the spirit of democracy is all about. But here the cause for dissent and grumbling is something that should irk the PM. It is the number of her inexperienced cabinet minister's who are under attack (less by the opposition and more by her own party members) for causing one blunder upon another.
The PM should be aware that if the performance and utterances of her ministers and a few MPs continue unchained things will get murkier and the vision of good governance will remain a daydream.
While it is a healthy practice on part of our politicians to be forbearing and appreciative of self- criticism, it is unhealthy for any democratic government or state to allow 'irregular conducts' of the sitting ministers or other party high-ups. A democracy hardly allows any room for 'questionable' characters to continue in power for a long time.
The outburst of the government lawmakers and its alliance partners in the parliament should offer the government and the ruling party an opportunity to further the democratic practice within its rank and file. The Prime Minister could take lead from here and embark on reforming the party on a more democratic line. If the Prime Minister is guarding the controversial ministers, she should be prepared to take criticism as well. That will be a rare democratic gesture.
In fact, a saner section of the society would like to see something positive emerge from the crisis. One, the 'irregularities' and 'callous attitude' of the ministries should go and two, the party should be open to self criticism on every occasion. This will go along way in enriching the performance of the ministers and help stabilise democracy.
But we have the other side of the coin. If the reactions of the party lawmakers and senior leaders against the ministers were out of sheer envy, and if the PM has not taken it in the right mind this might end up on a different plane.
The consequences will be unfavourable for anybody. The flare-up by the party and alliance lawmakers will land in the bad book of the PM and further exacerbate the internecine squabble. And the ministers in question will be encouraged to go about their businesses with no fear of accountability. It will be a double jeopardy for the party and the government.
Here the Prime Minister has a task in hand. It is not that she is not aware of things going on around her. If not the nitty-gritties, she must be well-read about the crises itself. Instead of soft-pedaling over serious things she should think hard to put a brake on the 'irresponsible acts' of her colleagues in the cabinet.
She has points to prove. If she could rein in the ministers and force them to perform that would do wonders. Or if she could replace some of the faces and bring in more promising ones that would be even better. It is time for her to act.
The writer is Assistant Editor, The Daily Star.
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