As I See It Column
14 January 2012
M. Serajul Islam
An Ambassador at a reception had suggested that I should write in one of my columns what the country expects of the two mainstream political parties for the good of the country. I told him I would but then had to delay for I had other topics to write on. It is good I delayed for meanwhile the ruling party has completed its third year in office. The BNP is also beginning to play its rightful role as an opposition, albeit outside the parliament.
In my discussion with this Ambassador, I had told him that Bangladesh is poised to develop faster and better than its neighbours in South Asia because it does not suffer from internal divisions and problems of the other countries in the region. I had told him that Bangladesh is a homogenous country and the divisions that are there are not as formidable obstacles to nation building as they are in other nations in South Asia.
I had told him we have no regional divide. The religious divide is there but we have historically the best inter-religious relationship among the countries of our region. Our society is egalitarian that also blunts the rich-poor divide although in recent times, the gap is extending. I told the Ambassador that it is the politics of conflict between the two mainstream parties that is not allowing the country from becoming one of the most successful countries in the region by benefitting from the natural advantages it has in nation building. I have scribed in the succeeding paragraphs a response to the Ambassador.
The Prime Minister in her speech to mark the occasion of her government’s completion of 3 years in office has given those who support her enough reasons to take heart for our future. She has said that the election promises her party had made are on course and the country has never been in a better shape that it is today. The opposition has dismissed all her claims. The problem of Bangladesh lies in these two statements. In any country that has a two party system and practices democracy, the parties often criticize each other. This is natural. However, the way it happens in Bangladesh is different from other countries because in between the opposing views of the ruling party and the opposition that extends to all issues crucial for the country, there is just nothing on which they agree. The utter lack of bipartisanship on national issues is the single most important hindrance that is keeping Bangladesh from reaching its full potentials.
The lack of bipartisanship has basis in issues that is also unique to Bangladesh. It comes from the differing views of history of our independence that the two parties take. Every nation takes serious note of its history to draw from it inspiration to give the country a sense of direction. In our case, our mainstream parties look at history to play a zero-sum game to divide the nation. The AL’s view of history is a simplistic one. It believes that its leader Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had dreamt of Bangladesh soon after Pakistan was created in 1947. He led the war of liberation with his party and hence all credit for the independence of Bangladesh must go to his vision and leadership and the Awami League. The AL dismisses with contempt the claim of anyone to take anything away from Bangabandhu. It does not believe that any other party other than AL had any role in our independence.
The BNP that did not exist in 1971 takes a different view. It is not willing to give either Bangabandhu the sole credit for the liberation of Bangladesh or willing to accept that the AL as the only party to be credited for our independence. It believes that its leader Ziaur Rahman had announced the independence of Bangladesh that started the liberation. It also emphasizes that he led the fight against the Pakistani military in the theatre of war and hence he must also be given a share of glory for the independence of Bangladesh. It is not willing to accept that the AL’s role as the only party that should get the credit for our liberation. It believes that those who fought with arms against the enemy and won has a better claim to credit for our independence.
The claim and counter claim for our liberation has divided the nation that had stood as a monolithic whole in 1971 that was the main inspiration of our liberation. Today on all issues with which our future is linked, the BNP looks at one direction, the AL in the opposite way. This difference that originates basically from the AL’s claim of all glory and BNP’s refusal to accept it has been extended by the AL to its ridiculous limit. The AL today accuses the BNP with its formidable support among the people as anti-Bangladeshi elements because of its alliance with Jamat forgetting that for 5 years when BNP was in power it shared the same platform with Jamat led then by Ghulam Azam to force the Government to accept its demands, including the introduction of the caretaker government system!
How a nation that had a handful of anti-Bangladesh elements in 1971 can have so many millions of anti-Bangladesh elements today defies common sense and logic. Sadly, such an attitude of the ruling party has divided the nation into two conflicting camps that today stands as a formidable obstacle to our future. Of course both the AL and the BNP are wrong in their interpretation of history. The only sane way to get out of it, and out of it we must to realize our full potentials, is to leave the discussion on history to the Universities and research institutions and to let politics move ahead.
These negatives have led to a mindset in the two mainstream political parties this is absolutely undesirable for democracy that was the main reason why the people of Bangladesh rose in 1971. The mindset is to cling to power at any cost; a mindset that is the anti-theses of democracy. It was this mindset that had led to the AL’s demand for a system of elections to be conducted by a non-party neutral government or the caretaker government system. Although AL’s movement was successful and the CG system was made a part of the constitution by amendment and also helped achieve fair and free elections, the loser never accepted the verdict, a mindset in which the AL’s negative manifestation was more pronounced than that of the BNP.
The CG system, despite the loser’s unwillingness to accept defeat, nevertheless helped Bangladesh achieve 3 free and fair elections and peaceful change of government. When the CG system was introduced, it was given a time limit which expired with the last general elections. The Court recommended that the CG system should be kept for 2 more general elections that the ruling party overlooked and has, using its parliamentary majority, introduced a system of interim government that would allow it to hold the next general elections. The BNP has refused to accept the interim system and is currently building up public opinion democratically against it. The deadlock has the potentials to destroy the country. The two mainstream parties have a duty towards the nation to resolve this danger.
Geopolitics places Bangladesh in a position that makes it supremely significant to India. India on its parts holds the key to Bangladesh’s survival as a country. Unfortunately, on India too, the two mainstream parties hold opposing views that has allowed India to acquire all its interests from Bangladesh without giving us our legitimate needs and rights. The two parties must come together on the issue of India for Bangladesh’s survival and its future.
A minimum faith and commitment in democracy should allow the two mainstream parties to come together on the main issues pushing Bangladesh towards marginalization, namely political partisanship, distorted versions of history, partisan system of national elections and lack of a national policy on India based on our interests. If the two mainstream parties work for these four goals with sincerity, Bangladesh’s future would be assured and sustained; if not, Bangladesh would always be in danger of becoming a failed state. It is politics not economics that is standing in the way of Bangladesh’s better future.
The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan.