It is sad that even after two decades of democracy, our leaders think that politics is about using hard force to win. I will not disagree that hard force is probably the best sort of power one can have, but at the end of the day, any good strategist should know when and how to use it. The main problem is that our history is replete with so many successful uses of hard force that we find it impossible to exercise restraint.
For 400 years, our country has been used as a breeding ground for labour, lesser beings who are expected to do the dirty work of proper humans. The Pakistanis tried to continue in the footsteps of the British. The only problem in their design was that the world around them had changed. Slavery became unfashionable, and they had to promise us the status of “equals”, at least on paper.
We all know what happened with that grand design. We paid a steep price and we continue to pay it to this day – we became a bottomless basket. It has been 40 years since Mr. Kissinger labelled us, and we still continue to prove him right. Of course, we have made progress but it is risky progress, one that could get sucked into the basket with no bottom anytime. Our task is to build a solid foundation for the basket.
The main reason for the lack of foundation is that many of us haven’t yet learnt to treat our fellow countrymen as human beings. Given that, we do not hesitate against using hard force to control them. Our strategists still believe that they can rule by using hard force and divine right – and they can, for the most part. Unfortunately for them, the forces around the world have made it much more difficult to use this age-tested method.
The challenge for Bangladeshi politicians has been about taking the middle path – the path between deadly competition and stupid tolerance. We must thank both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition for making it easier for our politicians to follow this path. They created the opposite poles that are so elemental to democracy. For more than two decades, they have nurtured our nascent democracy.
They have both served selflessly, and they have acted as a bastion for what is good in the country. Most importantly, they stamped out the culture of nonsensical killings that our previous dictators thought were necessary to seize and hold on to power. They have done more for this democracy than anyone ever will.
Of course we must not forget the strategists who grouped around these leaders, making politics ever more exciting and interesting – without actually killing each other (for the most part). They moved the country forward, and continue to do so to this day. Most of them, I am sure, are patriots – perhaps a bit selfish, but you need to be that to achieve things. We understand, it’s a power game.
The point is that we are a more democratic nation than we ever have been. I cannot speculate on the type of government that existed more than 500 years ago – but we have better governance today than we did in known history. Our rules of society are as egalitarian as they ever have been, and we have built a strong sense of national identity – something that we sorely lacked for most of our history.
As I write this, we are about to take several steps backward from this pinnacle. People who take the backward step usually think that they are going forward. Indeed, what has been done by the government and the opposition has likely been done with the best of intentions. But it is affecting us, all of us. More importantly, as we progress on this war path, we quickly race towards the bottom of the basket – which as you know does not exist.
The premise that a democratic government should not have a period of autocratic rule in between is correct. That is how a true democracy must function, our leaders know this much better than anyone else. Madam Prime Minister, you are right that the caretaker system should be abolished and that there is no logical reason to trust the caretaker government more than we trust you. Given that we have to abolish the caretaker government at some point, there is absolutely no reason why it should not be done now. It will no doubt solidify the foundations of this country.
However, Madam Prime Minister, perhaps we are too young for it. Perhaps we do not trust each other enough. We have come a long way in a very short time, but are we ready to truly trust other Bangladeshis – beings who have been bred to work at the whims of others?
Madam Prime Minister, not everyone in the country shares your vision unfortunately. Some of us are in fact brought up in a way that we do not trust anyone – not even you. Our honored opposition leader is therefore correct in her stance to challenge this position. Even if we trust you, we do not trust your men – candidates who you will put up to contest in the 300 seats. We actually doubt that you trust them fully yourself.
At the end of the day, politics is about winning, and a political party should aim to win even at the expense of higher principles. That is what political parties are created for, and that is what they will likely remain. Only once you become the government are you given the responsibility of thinking about the greater good of Bangladesh. Unfortunately for you, you are wearing both hats – you lead both the government and the Awami League.
Madam Prime Minister your many hats are a source of concern for us. We trust you a lot, but not enough. When all is said and done, we do not know which hat will rule supreme: Bangladesh or AL.
The point of this article is to offer a solution. A solution that will not be suggested by your underlings because they fear for their status with you too much – after all, loyalty is the strongest currency in politics.
Madam Prime Minister, take the backseat. Do not personally compete in these elections, stay in power and ensure that these elections are run in the fairest manner possible. Stay at the helm of the AL and create a party that will outlast you. Put up your best candidates, and hope that you get to pick the next prime minister.
You should declare this unequivocally, and you should ask the leader of the opposition to join you in your pledge – perhaps even make your pledge conditionally. We would like the two of you to hold on to the nuclear buttons.
We need to know that you are acting in the interest of the nation, and not solely in the interest of the AL. This is the strongest signal that you could send to us.
Your minions may advise you otherwise, because of course they do not want a fair playing ground – don’t listen to them.You have a chance to end this bottomless business once and for all.
From a bigger perspective too, this is the right step for the nation. We want a healthy democracy and we cannot have that if two people are fighting for the same seat over and over again. It does not leave room for others to develop leadership capabilities. Plus for you personally, Madam Prime Minister, you have everything to win and nothing much to lose.
You have created the orchestra – both of you actually. Now watch it play.