Getting the fruits of Independence

Mostafa Kamal Majumder
The nation celebrates 40 years independence today, the 41st Independence Day, with renewed pledge to safeguard the independence and sovereignty of the country, achieve economic prosperity and establish the democratic and fundamental rights of the people. The celebration of Independence Day reminds all of us of the ideals and values that the 16 crore people of Bangladesh nurture in their minds. The ideals for which lakhs of people laid down their lives in the glorious War of Independence. Democracy, tolerance, economic emancipation and a society based on justice were the foremost among those. While the nation made brilliant strides on the economic and social fronts during the last nearly two decades, political development has been marred by intolerance and failure of the front-line political parties to mutually accommodate each other and develop healthy democratic culture. The failure of the ruling class to have a broad consensus on the fundamentals of democratic governance, despite there being a consensus Constitution of 1991, has shocked the nation. The people who reposed their trust in their elected representatives definitely did not deserve this. The economic front has unfortunately rather gone so wild that unprecedented price hike of essentials has made the life of people of the fixed income bracket miserable. The sky-rocketing prices of fuel oil and gold in international markets plus cereal crop failure in some countries has threatened food security in many countries including Bangladesh. Such sad state of things would to some extent dampen the celebration of the Independence Day. Yet the nation looks forward to forging ahead taking lessons from mistakes. The people who have successfully faced the challenges of globalisation and have shown their potentials to develop economically at a rapid pace cannot fail. But one also has to address the malaise that has affected the system. The problem emanates basically from intolerance – as one foreign newspaper has termed, the major parties cannot tolerate the existence of each other. Some newspapers have even termed them as ‘blood enemies.’ From this intolerance has developed the problem of non-acceptance of elections that do not promise victory or even non-acceptance of defeat in elections. In the absence of such a broad consensus on the rules of the game, politics itself has started degenerating. Tested honest political activists who devoted their lives working for their parties are being refused nominations for elections as moneyed people promise fat donations and seek tickets. With the influence of money also come the pressure of syndicates that make money through unholy means. One may argue that politics and political parties in our part of the world had always been like this. In olden days bourgeoisie politics had been the domain of people coming from the aristocratic class who did not look forward to making fortunes by ascending to high political offices. The situation changed since the abolition of the landed aristocracy in the 1950s. The Bangladesh society is an egalitarian, as against the feudal societies of Pakistan and (most states of) India. However under all situations politics always has an economic basis. In erstwhile East Pakistan and now in Bangladesh political parties have functioned with active support of businesses. But in the past businesses were not in a position to dictate terms to political leaders who tried to prove true to the ideologies they professed. The situation seems to have changed now. And this explains the demand raised from certain quarters for nomination of honest and dedicated candidates for election. There is, however, a need for a more in-depth analysis of the problems that afflict our political parties and through them the political system as a whole. If the political parties are essential institutions of democracy, they should be sound on not only ideological and ethical moorings but also in their economic bases. The Marxists who are ruling the West Bengal State of India collect handsome amounts of money as subscriptions from their beneficiary party members. In Bangladesh the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Communist Party of Bangladesh collect regular subscriptions from their members and are relatively better-organised and disciplined, and not dependent on financial support from business houses. However, their support bases are not as strong as those of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Bangladesh Awami League. Democracy these days is no longer government of the people, by the people and for the people, as many people would still love to call it quoting from the famous Gettysburg address of former US President Abraham Lincoln. Democracy is a government by people’s representatives chosen through periodic elections. These representatives again are not the direct choices of the constituents they represent. They are from among the candidates set by the major political parties. So the choice of voters is in a way restricted by nominations given by the major parties, because they have to choose from among the candidates whom they consider better than others. Those who organise and operate political parties form the elite who rule in turn based on mandate of the electorate. The political elite divided on ideological lines in all established democracies again not only tolerate each other but also accept both victory and defeat in elections in good grace. They do not fail to congratulate the winning parties after elections and concede defeat, and also pledge to cooperate with the ruling party or coalition of parties in running the affairs of the state. This, however, is not to say that there are no political foes or enmities in developed democracies. The last US presidential election showed how sharply and bitterly leaders of the two parties challenge and criticise each other. (Courtesy: The New Nation)


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