Vol. 4 Num 308 Sat. April 10, 2004  

Can we really hope for a better future?

Alot of enthusiasm and optimism about the future of Bangladesh was expressed in an article by me published in the DS ('We have a bright future lying ahead!', January 15). In that article, I expressed my personal opinion about how our future looked bright because of the democratic system of government that we have. The arguments I had for the optimism was that with a representative government in place, there was a good chance that the elected government would address people's genuine concerns. It was my belief that the elected representatives were bound to listen to people's ordeals and take necessary steps to eliminate the causes of their sufferings. Unless they worked for the people while in power, the same people who elected them to office would throw them out of power through their votes.

I had the opportunity to discuss my assessment with some of the non-resident Bangladeshis living here. Most of them are now citizens of this so-called land of freedom, but they still have a genuine passion for the country where they were born and where they spent a good part of their lives. They in general did not share my optimism about Bangladesh. They pointed out many problems with our political system mainly the intolerance and immaturity of the current political leadership.

The frustration aired by the people I talked to did make me to ponder whether my assessment was truly correct. I began to wonder whether I was like those Wall Street Analysts giving a rosy outlook of companies like Enron at a time when the company was in fact on the verge of collapse because of the fraudulent acts of its top executives. Still, I continued to believe that the country was on the right track for a better future.

Now that the people are made hostage once again to the vicious cycle of irrational political exuberance, I am forced to become less optimistic in my assessment of the future of our country. I know that my assessment does not matter much. After all, I am not the Wall Street Analyst drawing a six-figure salary and people are not betting their retirement savings on my assessment! No one is going to start thinking of migrating to a foreign country based on my assessment about the future of Bangladesh. (In fact, people are already migrating in large numbers to Canada, which has its door opened to skilled immigrants but has no job prospects. UK has recently introduced a skilled immigration programme; we are surely going to observe a fresh exodus of skilled people to UK. Many are now going to Australia on student visa in the hope of becoming a Permanent Resident quickly.) Still I thought I should put forward my rationale for becoming less enthusiastic about the future of my country.

It is the preposterous acts of the two political parties that make me to become less optimistic about the future. I thought the leaders of the two political parties would learn from the past, but it seems like I was wrong. It appears that our political leaders simply are not matured enough to realise that the only means to come to power (or to retain it by being elected for a second consecutive term) is to read people's minds. People take note of every action and misstep of the political parties and they voice their opinion when it comes to go to the ballot. The fact that neither BNP nor AL was elected for a second consecutive term (the one-party election of 1995 is not considered here for obvious reasons) testifies to the conscious decision making of the common people. Unfortunately, the leaders of the two major political parties do not seem to get the obvious facts.

We are observing the same old paradigm of giving false election pledges only to be forgotten once voted to power. Most of the election pledges of the current government are yet to be fulfilled. Before election, the government party solemnly pledged that once they are voted to power, they would remove the disgrace to the nation of being branded the most corrupt nation in the world. To date, corruption goes unabated and we are still the number one corrupt country in the world.

An important election pledge (of the present government as well as the past AL government) was the separation of judiciary from executive. Unfortunately, the law ministry has adopted a dilly-dallying strategy in this regard. The late Barrister Syed Ishtiaq Ahmed, who put the pivotal efforts during his short term in the caretaker government in drafting the legislation, had told in an interview with the DS that the separation of judiciary could be done in no time given the elected government was sincere about it. It seems like the government is not yet ready to let go its control over the magistracy.

Instead of fulfilling its election pledges, government is busy oppressing the opposition parties following the same old tactics the past AL government used when it was in power. Being afraid of the emergence of a third force that might pose a threat to its power, the government is doing whatever it can to dissuade any voice of dissent, not sparing even its own founder secretary general or some of its own lawmakers.

The current opposition party is no different in its inertia to make real its promises. Instead of playing a constructive role as opposition in the parliament, AL holds the common people hostage by enforcing hartals one after another. The leader of the opposition, when she was running the government, had publicly announced that her party would never call hartal in future when they would be in opposition. I have been told that the BNP government is airing the public announcement of the AL leader in BTV before every hartal (which makes me to ponder, when is BTV going to get autonomy and regain its past glory and appeal to the common people? After all, it was a major election pledge of both the parties). People do not need to be reminded of the promise by airing the announcement; they take notes of every promise that is made only to be broken. The common people do not have such short memory, as the leaders of the two parties would like to believe.

I had always thought however that we should advertise to the whole world how progressive we are in terms of women empowerment that has resulted in the two top political positions going to women (having a woman PM and a woman Leader of the Opposition is indeed unique in the world). I take it a great pride to inform my American friends about this great fact (of course I do not belittle the glory by disclosing the fact of legacy. It is a different question altogether whether they could have risen to the top of the leadership on their own.

No matter how degrading the current political situation has become, I still see a little ray of hope however when I think of the time when the two women leaders would retire from politics. After all, they are preparing the ground for their successors to take over. One is already in politics playing an important role. I guess the son of the other leader would enter politics anytime now. I heard that the two sons of the two leaders are in good terms with each other. Hopefully, in the absence of any personal grudge against one another, the two sons would bring with them a more restraining and tolerant political behaviour. That would indeed be a great relief to the common people who have had enough of the politics of the two leaders that is devoid of any wisdom or a vision!

There has recently been some reason to become optimistic (albeit a cautious optimism given the past experiences) about the future political leadership of the country. If a true leadership with a vision and patriotism emerges from the 'Bikolpo Dhara' as is propagated by Dr B Chowdury, Dr. Kamal Hossain and others, that would surely be a great respite for the ordinary people. Dr. Kamal Hossain tried it with his 'Gono Forum' but did not succeed. One can only hope that the latest attempt will survive the oppression of the ruling power and the infiltration by the corrupt political elements and will open the door for constructive politics aimed at presenting a bright future for the country.

K M Zubair Sadeque is at Duquesne University Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.