Post-mortem of the political contour of Bangladesh and changing the rules of the game

October 3, 2010
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Post-mortem of the political contour

There are a series of incidents occurred in Bangladesh during the last couple of weeks. Among them, the incident in Pabna, the controversial remarks from the Health Advisor to Prime Minister and other few ministers, and bashing the media at Jatiya Sangsad by the ruling alliance are just a few to name. In Pabna, more than 100 ruling party activists on September 17 attacked two examination centers during a recruitment test of class-III government employees. A couple of days later, on 21st September, Prime Minister’s Health Advisor Dr Syed Modasser Ali ridiculed many with his own version of government recruitment policy at the Health Sector while addressing local people at Gopalganj Sadar Hospital. On the same day many ruling alliance MPs came down harsh on the press during a parliament session at the Jatiya Sangsad. A number of lawmakers including two ministers castigated some newspapers for publishing false and motivated reports defaming the Parliament and its members. All were happening in a row and it seems they are losing their nerves.

 These few incidents unquestionably negated the ruling party’s pledge to establish good governance in the country. The crisis of governance once again comes at the forefront while the people responsible for delivering it are getting nonsense day by day. However, that would really be a wonderful thing if the people and the press of Bangladesh continue pressing for good governance issues for the coming months and years forgetting some other divisive issues. It will definitely push the ruling authority to change its direction, which, If not altered, will fade the hope for them of winning the next general election.

 The paradox we are living in Bangladesh is that the countrymen are being left with two relative options in respect to choosing parties to govern them: the bad party-club and the worse party-club. Now, who support the bad one and who prefer the worse? Well, there is no straightforward answer to this. Allegedly, on the one hand, some people like to tag them as progressive, leftists or central-leftists or social democrats, religiously moderate, and argue for distinguishing the state and the religion apart, and their opinion is that the AL-club is no question a bad choice but, to them, they had only been left the worse one to pick. Simultaneously, people, who want religions to have more say in the state apparatus and prefer intermingling relations between state policy and religion, who are rightist or central-rightist or conservatives, say the vice-versa. To them, BNP-club is no wonder a bad one but the other one (AL-club) is, of course, worse. So, we are now being left with the problem to pick the supporters, well-wishers of the both clubs. But supporters of both clubs more or less agree that they are supporting the bad ones in absence of a better alternative. Noteworthily, apart from these differences, both clubs’ policy on economy, trade and commerce see no fundamental differences. Both clubs are willing to exploit the state power to feed their own party-men, relatives, and clients. Both like to manipulate tenders, resort to distortion and encroachment of government properties. Obviously, one resorts to these bad practices more recklessly than the other. But never mind, nobody can distinguish it. Who will try to do it with a risk of being tagged with a partisan seal? Apart from this, there are people who stand nowhere as it is pretty usual that some people always chose to watch and become victims and scapegoats of events and chronologies of history.

 Needless to say, Bangladeshi politics are far more complex than any other countries. Huge population in such a small piece of land turns it next to impossible to govern. The dimensions of problems within the structure are unprecedented. It is quite easy to put a comment on the governability staying far away of the podium, but it is thousand times difficult to run and control the administration and other apparatuses in Bangladesh. The only fact is enough to portray the impossibility of governability of the country and that is the density of population. The country is ranked the top amongst all countries in the world and virtually second to none! (approx. 1000 people live in per Km2 in BD which is almost three times more than the second positioned country – India!). Therefore, the buzz words relating to good governance and political and social stability working better in the other parts of the world is irrelevant in our context. We can only try to invent a new unorthodox mechanism to make the impossible a possible.

 The other factor is quite fundamental. If democracy is a rule of demos where majority will pick and chose some people to rule others, our democracy is absolutely in the right direction no matter what the purists claim or whatsoever. Please go to the BBS statistics. Nearly 40 percent of our people live under the poverty line, which means they are living a life on a dollar per day. It is almost half of the population to whom one single meal is more important than the rest of the world. If you go back to the previous election results, parties won consecutive elections only having mandate of less than 40 percent people (near past exception: 2008 election). To them, freedom of speech, movement, free press, freedom of assembly, religion, equality of opportunity, right to information etc. all are but buzz words. Although these civil rights carry a great weigh given the liberal democratic values and constitutionalism, it can hardly entertain a country where a meal a day is more important to the most of its populace. One can argue that only for such reason, these rogued political parties, who show little respect to these democratic principles, are enjoying such strong footing and leverages in Bangladesh.

 Therefore, the gigantic tasks are to be performed by those aspirants who want Bangladesh to be truly democratic. Those are all very fundamental and one must address them before expecting a true nature of democracy flourishing in Bangladesh. These include: (1) Significantly reduce the birth rate (we need a negative growth rate for more than a couple of decades! However, clerics are not going to bow down so easily), (2) Allow massive economic activities without questioning certain level of corruption or procedural loopholes (We can allow ‘white corruption’, a system of impliedly allowing some specific types of grand corruption which allow corrupt money to be recycled and reinvested in the domestic economy. But of course we need to nearly stop the petty corruption which affects the daily lives of the common people. If we go on to bury both petty and grand corruption at a time, an economy like the Bangladesh one will come to a standstill and will go nowhere in near future. The last CTG tenure almost proved that obvious.), (3) Reform the education system drastically (which is underway), (4) Don’t allow fewer people (military) to rule the most rather stick to the principle that majority rule the others (however, don’t question if the majority party give jobs to their clients, you know the spill over effects) (we are in there now), (5) Engage the purists and elitists in street and grassroots politics so that they understand the needs and necessities of the society (which is mostly food, food, and then security) without being utopian (reminiscing the western life-style they once used to live in) and stop sermon the nation which, in Bangladesh’s perspective, can never (too harsh?) be achieved, (6) Restructure the higher education system at par with the society’s demands, engage them in empirical researches to feed the social needs, (7) Draw a rein on reckless and irresponsible media houses (by activating press council?) to stop blackmailing people and confuse the public opinion. (so that Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Americans, Bhutanese (!), Nepalese (!), Industrialists, Corrupt politicians-bureaucrats-businessmen cannot buy the journalists to write, report or propagate in their favor or espionage for themselves!), (8) Change the mindset of the administration people that they are the servant of the state and the executive not the rulers, also upside down the whole corrupt nature of the Judiciary to transform it into the last resort of the common people (9) Transfer key decision making powers to the local elected representatives (no to UNO, no to DC; yes to Upazilla Parishad Chairman, and yes to Zilla Parishad Chairman, having recognized the fact that these elected people can go too far (Pabna incident), yet it is hundred times better than a ‘king DC’), and last, but not the least, (10) A second chamber in the House to allow those purists and elitists to have an access to power and to learn and understand that how easy it is to bash the politicians from staying safe and untouched and how difficult it is to run a country like Bangladesh! A long exhaustive list indeed, but it doesn’t end here. Question must be asked: how did I prioritize and chose these 10 points when the problems are more acute and pervasive? Here, everyone has to remember that purposive sampling can have its many downsides, but it also can be a good one comparing the other mediocre methods.

 So, all these are possible now? Or, do we need (or prefer) a benevolent dictator to implement those?! (even if we say yes, s/he must emerge from a sturdy political process and, of course, not chosen by any big brothers (foreign) or small brothers (cantonment))

 Floor is open to the purists and elitists…

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3 Responses to Post-mortem of the political contour of Bangladesh and changing the rules of the game

  1. MZaman
    October 6, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Yes, it is embarassing to see some ruling party MPs like Noor Ali, Dr. Iqbal and Lotus Kamal erecting illegal structures on Gulshan Avenue by openly showing their total disrespect for law while being members of the Jatiyo Sangshad. This also reveals Sheikh Hasina’s inability to manage her own party members. Mudassar Ali’s irresponsible remarks to local press while the PM was away is even alarming and in the process it is strengthening the hands of illegitimate opportunist power grabbers through the backdoor .In the past I have never seen an adviser to the PM talking nonsense to the media when he is assigned to the PMO. Who has given Mudassar, an unelected person damage AL’s image?

    Today you hear Sultana Kamal, tomorrow you hear former chief justice Habibur Rahman openly ridiculing politicians and democracy publicly to destroy our nascent democratization process.Such irresponsible remarks by opportunists really hurt me and democracy at large.

    If the PM is impotent to take action against such scums within the party then it becomes the responsibility of the MPs within the house to warn and punish such immoral elements within the Jatiyo Sangshad and outside and take them to task. The majority of the MPs belonging to AL are honest hardworking souls while few of the crooks are causing irreparable damage to AL’s chances of winning the next elections.

  2. Sultan Mohammed Zakaria
    October 6, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Thank you Mr Zaman. You are absolutely right. Let us see if the ruling party (alliance) changes its attitude. Else, people should have plan B or C or a contingency plan to look into their future. Because you cannot simply go back to those Tarique days anymore which would be self-destructive. We have a few more years to watch, think and decide. Let us hope for the best.

  3. AL Bhokto
    October 7, 2010 at 12:39 am

    I am a devout Awami Leaguer. However, honestly speaking, if things continue moving the wrong way it’s going until now, and provided there is a free and fair election at the end of this government’s term, there is NO way Sheikh Hasina will win another term. She is the Prime Minister and the President of AL. It’s her responsibility to steer all wings of her party towards the right path. As the saying goes, in this case, “the bucks stops with her!” There is still time and I hope & pray that she will get the “right” people to help her steer the correct, fruitful path.

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