No country can exist without having people. Otherwise, it becomes just a barren land. So, people come first in any country with well-defined geographic territory. They may adhere to any culture with differing languages and religions. But they all are equal deserving equal treatment. Everyone loves his /her country with respective cultural attachment. By this standard, they all are patriots. Hence, no one’s patriotism can be in question. Too much heterogeneity in a society causes tensions, conflicts and even violence. In this regard, Bangladesh is blessed with near-perfect cultural homogeneity. This is undoubtedly an invaluable asset for Bangladesh. Have we been able to capitalise on it socially and economically?
Politics is the best way to serve people. This ought to be a very noble pursuit in life requiring honesty, transparency, selflessness, diligence and dedication. In a democratic society, politicians derive power from people as they elect them for governance with accountability. Political leaders must show people dreams and must know how to implement them. They must create a level playing field for others to participate with no fear or apprehension. At the same time, incumbent upon electorates is to be aware of their constitutional rights and responsibilities to be able to exercise votes to elect the right people. To add, constitution is for the people. It can be amended, as necessary, to serve people’s interests the best to advance on the path of peace and prosperity. Politics in a democratic society must depict mutual respect, trust, confidence and compromises. Do we observe all these in the current political environment in Bangladesh?
Transparency and accountability in governance mitigate corruption. Corruption retards economic development and enhances social ills. Excess greed for money makes people corrupt. Dishonest people in political power upon election may tend to access to corrupt practices to build fortunes for short-term outlook. This is a negative-sum game. Who are the losers in this game? Can many of our current politicians in good conscience be proud of their honesty, evenhandedness, transparency and accountability?
Constructive dialogue with clean hearts between/among significant political parties is a dire necessity for holding impartial election(s) and smooth transition of power. There is no alternative in a democratic process. Any successful resolution requires some flexibility and good intention from negotiating parties to reach a common ground. Parties cannot engage in any dialogue from their rigid positions. This is not leadership. Some trustworthy intermediation may also help bridge the gap. Can people see them forthcoming in the near future in Bangladesh?
To say the least, caretaker government came as a temporary solution as a result of political savagery. The same goes on today. This alone does not justify its perpetual existence. Only infants need caretaker(s). Is our political culture still in infancy? Have our politicians not grown up even in 40 years? Is it not a shame for them? Is constitution the holy Quran? Can it not be amended again to accommodate an agreed upon middle course? In fact, the constitution was decimated several times in the past through several ill-intentioned amendments. To correct one ill, more ills are being created and recreated. How long will they go on at the whims of power-grabbers?
People usually talk about financial corruption and remain silent on moral corruption. Both are damaging. The latter may be more damaging. Anyway, corruption in any form or shape is harmful to the country. Stern legal action against a few high-profile ones with exemplary punishment, if proven guilty could go a long way to deter corruption. Bangladesh is making discernible progress on economic and social fronts. But much more could be accomplished keeping corruption in check.
People become the omnipotent only on the day of national election as every candidate begs for their votes. Afterward, they become hostages of the victors in many instances. Sordidly, people are stuck in a political duopoly. No escape from it is in sight as no viable and credible alternative is in the offing. Many politicians in both parties are up for personal monetary enrichment in lieu of public service enrichment. The major political parties are similar in political and economic ideologies, policies and competitiveness in corruption. The party in power becomes desperate to cling to power and the opposition becomes frantic to regain power from day one invoking intolerant and violent movement deeply hurting economic and business activities subjecting people to untold miseries. While in opposition, neither major political party plays a constructive role. In short, they are two sides of the same coin. People have to choose between two evils in each election cycle. This is very sad. Things could get far better, if politicians would consider themselves as public servants, not masters. Politics is like a flower that emits sweet fragrance and contains poison. Do our politicians emit sweet fragrance or become poisonous? Do they have self-examination for earning people’s distrust and disrespect? In general, politicians are viewed as bad guys these days. Whom should they blame?
Rightly, Bangladesh embraces secularism. Religiosity is very personal. Secularism does not mean a void of religions. It gives everybody freedom to practice his/her own religion. Islam means peace. It has all the inner strengths to preserve itself. It does not need any external organised force or agency to protect and preserve itself. The so-called religious leaders need to enlighten themselves. Their personal conduct must match the real teaching of Islam. Islam has no role for intolerance, disrespect and violence. At the same time, Islam is not apolitical. The use of Islam in politics is not new. It dates back over 800 years. It began with Bakhtiyar Khilji(1203) in this subcontinent. In many cases, the practices have been ill-intentioned and abusive vitiating the political environment. Can’t we get out of this vicious circle?
Many questions have been raised in this brief peace. They are not new. They are in the public domain. What are the solutions? Well-informed readers can figure them out. People, patriotism and politics have a triangular relationship with people at the apex. They feed into each other. The feedback loop can be positive or negative depending on the attitude and conduct of the politicians in Bangladesh. Let it be transformed into a virtuous one, not a vicious one that strangulates people.
Matiur Rahman is the MBA Director and JP Morgan Chase Endowed Professor of finance at McNeese State University, USA.