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    Volume 10 |Issue 48 | December 23, 2011 |


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Season of Silence

Syed Maqsud Jamil

Silence is golden. That is an-age old saying. Since this is a virtue, the national parliament of Bangladesh is beholden to a blissful period – a season of silence marked by a parliamentary torpor of submissive compliance. Many look on it as a matter of convenience for the faithful. It took just four minutes for the vivisection of Dhaka city into two zones and splitting the city corporation into two separate corporations. The Speaker of the parliament had an important state function to attend. The lone dissenter, an independent member who is playing a de facto role of the opposition in the parliament, was also away. It later came out that the handful of unhappy alliance party members who were reported to have been keen to oppose the bill were also away taking part in another function. The legions of members of the Treasury bench conducted themselves dutifully keeping their thoughts to themselves.

The party in power is not to be blamed for it. In fact, both the major parties think alike in this matter of keeping the legions in the line, for rebellion is like apostasy in the political culture of Bangladesh. The leader is the light and the patron saint is the holy gospel. So to break rank is like running into the wrath of inquisition and to perish on the stake. It has therefore been the tradition of Bangladesh parliament to adopt bills brought by the treasury bench in the most dutiful manner aided by the perennial absence of the opposition. The only exception was the brief spring in national politics when the government in power and the party in opposition in a rare display of camaraderie adopted the parliamentary system of government. From then on Bangladesh politics carries on as a docu-drama of combustible summer of confrontation and blistering acrimony.

An effectual parliament remains a distant dream. Photo: Star File

The caretaker government is again the eye of the storm in Bangladesh. The present government is much differential about the circumspect verdict of the judiciary about scrapping the caretaker system for conducting national polls. However, in a discreet judgment, the highest branch of judiciary stated that the system might be kept for the next two polls for the “safety of the state and its people.” It listened to the opinion of the other side and advised in favour of gradualism. The irony of Bangladesh politics is such that the party that successfully waged a popular movement for the adoption of the caretaker system proceeded in indecent haste to adopt the bill of scrapping it, ignoring the discretionary part of the verdict. The two leftist ideologues from the grand alliance and the independent member were the dissenting voices.

Even the party in opposition, which is holding rallies in support of the caretaker government, did not feel the legislative necessity of returning to the parliament to speak where their voice matters most. Interestingly, the track record of the party in opposition, which is demanding the restoration of the caretaker system, is also not above reproach as it adopted the caretaker system in a short-lived rubber stamp parliament with great haste.

The haste and the arrogance that mark the parliamentary procedure of passage of an important bill is a matter for study. Seneca (5 BC-65 AD) a Roman philosopher, playwright, tutor and adviser to Nero observed, 'It is a good thing to know the season for speech and of the season for silence.’ Following his path, it can be said that an unquestioning code of silence of 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil' has a firm hold over Bangladesh politics. Recently the secretary general of the party in power in a rare case of candor said that indeed party nominations were sold for money. This is common knowledge that most people know and don't talk about.

Somebody else also did talk about it in the past without sensing the calamity that would befall his hapless father. He is the scion of an illustrious founding member of the party in opposition. The young man is a keen aspirant for the office of the Mayor of Dhaka city and he in an unguarded manner shared the information that his father's party had asked for a large sum to the tune of a few crores in return for the nomination. His father was in the thick of trouble. His allegiance of so many years could not expiate the crime of his son and he was expelled from the party.

Another senior founding member of the party in opposition and once deputy leader of the house fondly wanted to retire as the president of the country although there was not much in it in terms of clout to offer him. He was elected the president of the country after the 2001 election. He could not relish his elevation for long. A malicious rumour struck him down and he was hounded out of office. It circulated that there were raucous demands for his removal reminiscent of the committee of public safety that Robespierre ruled. The exact details of his transgressions did not come out in open, nor did the professor or anybody else speak on it.

The legislative proceedings are indeed interesting subjects. The haste and arrogance are not Bangladesh's own. Most recently, Mayawati Devi, the chief minister of the provincial state of Uttar Pradesh of India, who is much known or criticised for her regal ways got a bill adopted in the state legislature for the division of the provincial state of Uttar Pradesh into four states. The four states include much talked about Purbanchal and Bundelkhand, the drought affected areas for which Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party castigated the central government for its inaction. The other two states of the four are Paschimanchal and Oudh. The similarity with Bangladesh is that it took Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party only 11 MINUTES to pass the bill.

Another side of Seneca's observation also eulogises the season for speech. In legislative parlance legislators resort to filibustering to talk down a bill placed in the legislature. The legislators take unusually long time to submit their observations on the bill placed. American congress in its long history of legislative acumen has interesting examples of filibustering. Strom Thurmond the dour conservative senator of Democratic Party from South Carolina has the record for it. He has the enviable record of talking for 24 hours and 18 minutes against Civil Rights Act of 1957.

Since the fall of the autocratic regime in December 1990, Bangladesh has seen around two decades of parliamentary democracy. It has however not fulfilled the hopes of an effectual parliament and of a political system transparent in its operation, differential of differences and tolerant of divergence of views within the mainstream. The result is a continuing legacy of confrontation and a stern code of enforcing unerring conformity and a secretive culture. Understandably legislative promise and participatory deliberation have little opportunity of contributing to the two important institutions of the country. Bangladesh continues to languish in season of silence.



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