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Why are we still continuing with a 'viceregal' political system? - Rounaq Jahan

Eroding democratic values and Constitution - Dr. M Zahir

Democracy: An unfinished agenda - Dr Kamal Hossain

A case for proportional representation - Rashed Khan Menon

Is majority rule same as democratic rule? - Kazi Anwarul Masud

Responsibilities of majority rule - Muhammad Zamir

The issue is democratic culture - Emajuddin Ahamed

Leaders and politicians - Mohammad Badrul Ahsan

Black money in electioneering - Inam Ahmed

Party nomination on sale - Rezaul Karim

The tale of limping parliament - Reaz Ahmed

Politicians hindering progress - AH Jaffor Ullah

Whither parliamentary standing committees - Shakhawat Liton

Politicians must take blame for failures - Syed Ashfaqul Haque


Antagonism takes precedence over understanding Shakhawat Liton

Thirteen years of democratic experience: Strengths and weaknesses Reaz Ahmad

Distorted political culture Shameem Mahmud

Party constitutions: Rarely followed Rezaul Karim



Politicians hindering progress

A H Jaffor Ullah

"UNDER democracy, one party always devotes its chief efforts to trying to prove that the other is unfit to rule - and both commonly succeed and are right." H. L. Mencken in "Minority Report"

Henry Louis Mencken, the American editor and critic wrote essays of vitriolic social criticism in 1920s and 30s often directed toward the complacent middle class. One of his famous quotes, which I cited above, can be attributed to Bangladesh where the professional politicians are complacent. Never mind the awful condition in which the nation's middle class is living from day-to-day. From afar, I look at the way Bangladesh's politicians managing the day-to-day affair of my motherland, and I cringe in fear. Our fledgling democracy is a far cry from egalitarianism, which millions of Bangladeshis desperately needs in their everyday life. On top of it, we have inept politicians manning the nation. Therefore, there is no end to our collective hopelessness vis-à-vis Bangladesh.

Thirty-one years ago, the nation just came out after nine month of a bloody struggle in which millions suffered and many men and women lost their lives. A new beginning ensued then. In London, our supreme leader, Sheikh Mujib, declared triumphantly that the newly formed nation of Bangla Desh (Yes, it is not a typo; the name of Bangladesh used to be spelled that way in early 1972!) would be modeled after Switzerland. I was a graduate student in Ohio, USA, at the time. "Switzerland of the East," many of us cried. While Sheikh Mujib had a vision but no sooner had he arrive in Dhaka, the dream of transforming the newly formed nation into a secular democracy modeled after the Swiss nation vanished into the thin air. Sometime I simply wonder what happened to the founding father's ephemeral dream? Does anybody care?

Bangladesh came apart from Jinnah's Pakistan because we Bangalees felt that we have been treated like a second-class citizen by Punjabi-dominated oligarchs of Pakistan. In addition, we cherished to form a nation of our own immersed in secularism. The new constitution of 1972 had the charter of secularism in bold print. But guess what? In just three years further down the road, a vile conspiracy hatched in Kurmitola Cantonment and it took its toll.

The founding father of the nation was gunned down along with his family members who were present in the house on the wee hours of the night. That was not all. To wipe out the vestiges of leadership who helped the nation to come out of the clutch of Pakistani regime, the plotters of the coup did their coup de grace in Dhaka's central jail in November 1975. With that, the nation lost some very dedicated leaders. Some military leaders, anti-liberation elements , and religious traders immediately filled the void. Welcome to autocracy. And autocracy it was. The two military leaders ruled the country with iron fist for about 14 long years. Many of us would have preferred to have a socialist-style one mega-party rule evolved into something better to military rule. Nonetheless, misfortune had struck my motherland on August 15, 1975 and from there, it was a long downhill journey for Bangladesh.

The leadership emasculated our secular constitution of 1972. Leaders like Ziaur Rahman thought Bangladesh needed a new identity a non-secular identity to be exact. To embolden the new image, Ziaur Rahman invited the religion-based parties , which The Daily Star now calls "bigots," to join in the muddy waters of politics. And they did with enthusiasm and exuberance. Politics in Bangladesh was never the same again. For a good reason Sheikh Mujib banned the religious political parties to join in the affray, which we lovingly call Bangladeshi politics. The Jamaat and other fringe political parties had a hidden agenda that was overlooked.

The military despot, Gen. Ershad, was a profligate of high standing. He is still facing charges of moral and financial impropriety. Our elusive dream of making Bangladesh a secular democracy a la Switzerland remained a pipe dream for many liberal citizens.

In the aftermath of Berlin Wall demolition in November 1989 and dismantling of the East European bloc, the whirlwind of democracy finally came to Bangladesh. The enthusiastic masses of Bangladesh removed the despot from power and the nation finally took the corrective action ushering in democracy for one more time. Yes, truly Bangladesh has been experimenting with democracy since 1991. Our path to democracy was strewn with many obstacles. True, the nation is yet to produce solid leaders for which the country's 130 million citizens can really be proud of. Unfortunately, the 'politics of inheritance' had dominated the political landscape of the nation.

In 1999, I wrote an essay titled "In search of leadership" and published it in The Daily Star when the Awami League was celebrating the 50th birth anniversary of the party. In that article, I lamented by saying that the nation had produced two political leaders who lacked vision and experience to serve as the chief steward of this impoverished nation. With a deep sadness, this scribe asserts here that Bangladesh had failed thus far to come up with any pragmatic leader. Both the past two prime ministers have shown enough streaks of authoritarianism.

Our people should get a grip on reality. Our present-day politicians who have crass mentality will not have the compunction to serve the public right. The qualities that make a person good leader is very much lacking. The smart and brightest the Bangladesh society produces opt for challenging career in science, technology and medical field due to a global demand in that kind of profession. Thus, mostly the flunkies try their luck in public domain. They first become mastan of some sort and then rise through the rank-and-file to become a political leader. If they have enough clout in the party, then they may become ministers.

The children of the MPs likewise become party workers and then turn into a seasoned politician. In a way, this qualifies as "politics of inheritance." This is not a hypothetical scenario that I am creating here for the sake of writing an essay. This is the reality in Bangladesh. Is there any way to break this vicious cycle? If Bangladesh wants to embark on a journey to improve the lot of her people, then new approaches are necessary to improve the leadership quality of our politicians. Only educated people who studied the dynamics of history and who are eager to learn how societies all over the world had evolved should become public figures. Do our politicians know enough about the French Revolution, American Revolution, Bolshevik Revolution, etc., which provided the foundation for the edifice of modern societies all over the world? Education is the purveyor of mental growth.

In summary, after reviewing the sinuous history of Bangladesh since 1971 I see that the nation's main obstruction to chart a path of prosperity lies in the leadership quality or the lack of it. For generations, politicians have ruled the country by applying force. Is there any way out of this predicament? A healthy debate should start in earnest in myriad public forums throughout Bangladesh.

The more we talk about the effeteness of our politicians, the better it would be for the fledgling democracy of Bangladesh. Let me close this article by a phrase made by fourth or fifth century B.C. Athenian playwright, Aristophanes, considered by many to be the most satirical writer of the yesteryear. Of politicians he wrote, "You have all the characteristics of a popular politician: a horrible voice, bad breeding and a vulgar manner."
The author, a columnist and researcher, writes from New Orleans, USA

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