Bangladesh is a promise-land. It is full of economic, political and social paradoxes. Promises spring from potential demographic dividend with high percentage of population in the active age-group ranging from 16 years to 54 years of age, hardworking and innovative farmers, increasing female- participation in job markets, vibrant RMG export sector, ascending expatriates’ remittances, risk-taking entrepreneurial growth, advances in adoption of modern technologies, on-going financial deepening, etc. Some of the above are natural outcomes and outcomes of the foundations laid by government policies as facilitators since independence.
Bangladesh made significant progress on economic and social fronts despite narrow resource-base, poor governance, natural calamities, political instability, mounting financial and moral corruptions, failing institutions, a lack of accountability, and the highest population density per square kilometre in the world. This is paradoxical, indeed. In the absence of political instability, failing institutions, corruption, poor governance, and a lack of accountability, Bangladesh could be an economic miracle.
Given the demographic trends in economically advanced countries, overpopulation in Bangladesh need no longer be viewed as a liability. Indeed, it will become a great asset by transformation into human capital through creative education and training to meet evolving skills needs in the rest of the world. Farmers are the real heroes who help attain self-sufficiency in foods and save billions of foreign currencies. Absent self-sufficiency in foods, the foreign exchange reserve would deplete fast. The temporary emigrants who live and work hard in modern slavery abroad are also real heroes. Their remittances coupled with earnings from RMG exports keep the wheels of the economic engine moving forward. Emergence of modern entrepreneurs adds to this momentum. To be noted, every Taka earned by farmers and every Taka in exchange of a foreign currency sent by an expatriate stay in Bangladesh. They contribute much more to the national economy through multiplier effects. The same cannot be said for RMG exports. In fact, the largest source of the profit for this sector is the depressed wage and unsafe work conditions. No wonder, this sector is in turmoil today.
In return, what do they expect and what do they see today in Bangladesh like the rest of the 160 million people? They expect Sonar Bangla, the dream shown to them by the Father of the Nation. Naturally, they expect a truly democratic and corruption-free Bangladesh with good governance and accountability.
Democracy has become an empty political rhetoric. Many of the current politicians in Bangladesh do neither believe in democracy nor practice democracy in their respective political party. They use democracy as a ploy to subjugate the common people who, in fact, are the ultimate owners of the country. Financial corruption is rampant everywhere. More perniciously, moral corruption has infected the academia, the judiciary and the so called intellectuals at large. Moral corruption is worse than prostitution. Some of them are very vocal against financial corruption. Indeed, this is undoubtedly good. Hopefully, this is not a strategy to camouflage own moral deficits. All institutions are politicized. Politics is polluted and hijacked by the greedy and the unscrupulous.
The two major political parties are two sides of the same coin. They are at the roots of these problems. A family is the nucleus of a country. Those who cannot run families successfully cannot govern a country successfully. This is a fundamental truth. For a happy family, all members need due space. Family unity thrives on compromises, not on personal whims. They all are true for a peaceful country. If someone is pushed to the wall, a severe reaction is inevitable. Social cohesion also hinges on accommodative space.
Do we see them in Bangladesh today in the current political environment? Not so. Election is just one element of democracy that has to be peaceful, fair and credible .Only a truly independent and empowered Election Commission can ensure such election. Caretaker Government is an insult to all politicians. Maybe, it was a doctrine of necessity for a while. But it cannot continue forever. People elect leaders to serve them, not to exploit them. What we see is exploitation of the common people in the name of democracy. The Constitution provides all the guiding principles for a greater good for all. Its true democratic spirit has been decimated through subsequent amendments. It has now become a great source of confusions with a heavy concentration of power in the hands of the Prime Minister relegating the Position of the President purely ceremonial. The Guardian of the country is virtually powerless. In my view, the Constitution in its current form needs a thorough review by constitutional experts. If necessary, it may even be re-crafted in light of the uniqueness of the country. Investment of time is a crying need. Any haste will not serve the purpose.
Failure to reach a compromise by the two major political parties through constructive dialogue in good faith and trust with mutual respect is making the nation bleed. The country is in flame. In their barbaric power struggle innocent lives are being lost. It has become a daily affair during violent cycles of gheraoes and hartals. Both leaders at the top lost their dearest ones in assassinations, staged by a few misguided and unruly military personnel. Their hearts were deeply tormented and still tormented. The whole nation deeply lament their unnatural deaths. Why can’t they place them in the heart-breaking positions of those who lost their dearest ones in the very recent barbaric political game? How many more innocent and precious lives have to be taken away on the streets to overcome madness for power? Blame and counter-blame cannot give those lost lives back. Islam is for peace, not for unjust violence. Islam is not for outsourcing violence and intolerance to kill innocent people. Unnatural deaths on the streets are now common with no accountability. People may have to pray for natural deaths if the violence does not end. There is no display of human conscience at all. Is it what dreamt of by 3 million people who died for independence? Their souls are crying that people with one blind eye cannot see and with one deaf ear cannot hear on purpose.
The economy with potential to emerge as a tiger in Asia is being damaged, businesses are being paralysed, and the day-to-day living of the poor is being hurt. How much more can the silent majority tolerate? There is a limit to everything. People being pushed to the edges of tolerance will come out of fear and may unwillingly welcome any other alternative for temporary relief. If so happens, the stumbling democracy will be the first casualty. As a result, both major political parties will suffer. They learned nothing from the recent past.
May Allah give them wisdom to be on the right track. Time is running out. One-sided election will bring no fruitful and sustainable results. It will further push the country toward darkness. May Allah save 160 million people from political vulturism and vulgarism.
Matiur Rahman is the MBA Director and JP Morgan Chase Endowed Professor of finance at McNeese State University, USA.