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Democracy on prom night

  • Published at 06:42 pm January 6th, 2014
Democracy on prom night

Political commentary about Bangladesh is full of pitfalls at present. Most, if not all, of what is said is ridden with problems. There are two in particular that are worse than the others, abhorrent offences, perhaps owing to their unbridled overuse and constant misuse.

The first is the term “democracy.” There is either an epidemic of deliberately misunderstanding this word, leading to a chronic labelling of everything political under the sun with it, or there is a conspiracy amongst those within touching distance of a microphone, a pen or a keyboard to repeat it until the rest of the country is programmed to chant it.

One does not go looking for chickens and eggs in the depths of the Mariana Trench. Similarly, there can never be anything said or done for the sake of democracy where it does not exist. Discovering this does not require a Tolkienesque quest, accepting it does not require a Biblical self-actualisation.

This malapropism is made worse by it being proleptic. A country that is a mere 42 years old, barely an infant in terms of the age of nations, cannot be expected to behave like a fully formed adult, let alone a wise elder. It needs to learn how to stand, walk, make fire and talk before it learns about democracy.

Bangladesh should be given credit for learning how to make fire before standing and walking properly, a remarkable achievement that is presently serving it very well. That, however, should by no means raise expectations unduly. Rather than beating the democracy drum hoarse, akin to sending a virgin to a leper colony during the Roman Republic, the country should be applauded for surviving and thriving, according to economic indicators at least, despite there never being any democracy. There is, then, no need for it.

The second abominable transgression, in a strange twist of fate, lends this solution to the first one a helping hand. The phrase “game of thrones” has been used more times than the sum-total of its usage on internet forums dedicated to George RR Martin’s fantasy epic.

Part of the repetition may be attributed to the catchy title of the glossy show HBO adapted his novels for, but that does not justify it. In paradoxically using this phrase and democracy simultaneously, the citizenry has been overlooking the obvious truth.

The phrase has its origins in the 15th century Wars of the Roses fought for the throne of England, an inspiration for Martin’s fiction. The death of Henry V in 1422 left the English throne unstable since his chosen heir, Henry VI, was an infant. This coincided with a weakening of England’s political standing in Europe due to the Hundred Years’ War. Supporters of the two rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet, the Houses of Lancaster and York, took this opportunity to vie for the throne in a series of dynastic wars.

The first open fighting took place in 1455, and escalated in 1459. The Lancastrians dominated the early exchanges, forcing the Yorkists to flee the country. The latter was a relatively newer house with a royal claim, and was able to launch a successful counter-offensive to be established as the ruling dynasty in 1461. The House of York’s luck turned when the kingmaker, the Earl of Warwick, switched allegiances and restored the Lancastrian line with Henry VI’s second reign in 1470.

The Earl’s death in 1471 came at a time of political and military upheavals that saw the end of the direct Lancastrian line of succession. The subsequent peace came in the shape of the Yorkist line being reaffirmed and strengthened, only to be disrupted by the death of the king.

His brother’s usurped rise to power as Richard III was the beginning of the end. The final victory of the Wars went to a distant relative of the Lancastrians. Henry Tudor defeated Richard III, the last of the Plantagenets famously besmirched for good by William Shakespeare, in 1485. He ascended to the throne as Henry VII, and married a House of York princess to put a final nail in that line’s coffin.

Through it all, the meek plebeians paid increased taxes, were drafted into the military and did as they were told by whoever their master was. The Tudors, of course, were the last golden dynasty. Their fall eventually led to the creation of the weakened constitutional monarchy and paved the way for democratic governance. Even the rise of the Lancastrians to absolute power had an expiration date.