Saturday, June 22, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Crisis of polity

As a people and polity, what are our shared values?

Update : 03 Nov 2023, 02:15 PM

We could argue that we have had a relatively free nation-state for over five decades composed largely, though not exclusively, of Bengali Muslims. It is our second attempt at statehood, given that the earlier attempt as Pakistan was largely created by people of historic Bengal: Muslims, low-caste Hindus, Dalits, and untouchables. 

Have we Bangladeshis been a sufficiently cohesive and collective political entity, or polity, to create and flourish in a state? This question arises every time we fail to deliver on our national promises.

What made us so distinct as an organized community that we deserve a state? Tamils or Kurds do not have a state, yet they exist as a nation spread out in multiple countries. After statehood what should we do with it, and how should we govern? Until we address these questions critically, without fear, favour, emotional bias, or partisan belief, we will remain on this desperate road to nowhere.

It is upsetting to witness that none of these fundamental concerns have been addressed from the position of statecraft over the last fifty years. None of our great past leaders could show the magnanimity and statesmanship to unite us upon progressive and pragmatic values and deliver them with us.

British children are taught of five core values as citizens: Democracy, rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect, and tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs. Freedom, equality, and fraternity was the motto of the French Revolution and founding values of its republic. The American founding fathers outlined their values as “-- life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” in their constitution.

As a people and polity, what are our values? From children to adults, across the political aisles, nobody is able to answer in one voice, or even a few harmonics. This is our challenge for now, to sculpt a unique polity which would distinguish us from our neighbouring states, but at the same time, integrate us.

What we have seen in the past are principles written into our constitution that have been interpreted from a partisan perspective in order to idolize and glorify individuals more than the ideals themselves. Consequently, we have our segregated temples headed by separate priests; separate national days for celebrations, and above all, separating ideas and values to dwell on and pursue.

As a result, our dead have become more visible than the living, our past more vivid than our present, our losses and pain celebrated more than our hopes and gains, and our differences have become more relevant than our unity and collectivity.

Our collective, and not so collective, memories and traumas are tools for partisanship, manipulation, and vengefulness. We are unable to do ourselves the service to move forward towards a just, harmonious, and prosperous future. Not only are we competitors but mortal enemies of each other, born to erase the other from history and future contribution.

We can think of ourselves as a country of smaller ethno-political groups: A left one, a secular one, a liberal one, a rightist one, and a religious one. Every quarter has a claim on the country, but not of its entirety. Partisan claims of ownership over public sentiments compromise our sense of belonging towards each other and this country, a sense that will not allow us to become a functional polity. 

Looking at the calendar of liberation, there is ample evidence for this. We might view March 26 and December 16 as jubilant historical moments for different segments and overlook April 17 as “Republic Day” when this country supposedly started to officially belong to “we, the people.”

I have previously analyzed how our first republic failed so miserably. I now invite you to see how “we, the people,” can build our second republic. The workmanship should begin with sounding and listening, finding common values that are inspiring and agreeable to all quarters irrespective of experience and approach. Our official proclamation of independence is a historic charter to build upon. Equality, human dignity, and social justice could be our core fundamental values.

From our youth to our elders, they would know by their hearts and minds, that we, as a nation, exist on the foundation for these three ideas. Our statehood, its legal framework, and action plans would have to be thoroughly consistent with these values, or otherwise be considered void ab initio.

We cannot allow the deterioration of these virtues. On the contrary, we must always be nurturing them as we move forward over generations and centuries. It is only when “we, the people,” grow to become a polity, that we can come out of the ongoing string of division, diversion, and partisanship when it comes to our “national interest.”

We must refuse to embody Nietzsche’s Last Man -- wary, risk-averse, and only motivated to protect our comforts and privileges. We are in great need of a national revival, so that in those fleeting moments “we, the people,” can meet, greet, talk, debate, and differ in national political discourse.


Asaduzzaman Fuaad, Barrister-at-law is Joint Member Secretary, AB Party. [email protected].

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