Let us not delude ourselves any more into thinking that all is right with the country. It will not do to suppose that matters will be sorted out through natural, universally accepted means. We do not have to entertain, naively and ignorantly, the thought that democracy will in the end take us to our cherished goal of prosperity and happiness. There are times when the best way of upholding democracy comes through a robust action against those who abuse it, when freedom of expression is just as important as the defence of the principles on which a country has emerged into freedom.
When democracy comes under threat from those whose avowed purpose is to take Bangladesh back into an age diametrically at a vast remove from modernity and therefore enlightenment, it becomes the responsibility of all to rush into a defence of democracy. And that happens only when some people, taking advantage of pluralism, do everything to drill holes in the structure of democratic order. Since democratic expression has no scope for anarchy, for the incitement of hatred between and among citizens, it becomes the supreme responsibility of the government to ensure that the state and everything it is constituted of does not pass into the hands of the forces of organized disorder.
Today, it is the state of Bangladesh and the values it symbolises that must be secured, that must stay out of the hands of those who have in these past many weeks employed bigotry and anti-politics to push the country into increasingly newer cauldrons of agitation. Our worries are not centered on those who push for an implementation of their thirteen points. They are concentrated on the very opposite philosophy, that of ensuring for ourselves and for our children a system of politics and government that will rest on strong foundations of secular nationhood. It is a system that carefully and resolutely reassures all Bengalis — Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists — and all indigenous people across Bangladesh that their religious sentiments will not be trifled with, that an assault on one faith is an assault on every faith.
Values matter, as indeed they must, if this bruised country of ours is to triumph over the elements which clamour to be let in through the gates. Those gates must remain shut if our daughters are to keep going to school, if our women are to continue to empower themselves as part of our development goals. The well-thought-out policy on women must not be tampered with; liberalism must not genuflect before men in whose hands neither politics nor religion comes in good light. Our values speak of our belief in a loving God. They abhor those who misinterpret the death of hundreds of people in a building collapse as payment for the wages of sin.
The country, for all our sense of idealism, is in bad health. And it will go on falling and might actually hit rock bottom if democracy becomes too weak to stabilise the lives of citizens in the face of all this invitation to chaos. Democracy loses a substantial part of its ethos when a former prime minister demands, with little of logic and nothing of common sense, that the elected government in office restore the caretaker system of administration within forty eight hours. In a democracy, you do not turn your back on parliament; you do not try to provoke your armed forces into stepping on to the scene; you do not create all those conditions that might or could set the trial of Bangladesh’s war criminals at naught. If democracy is pushed into a corner — as it was in December 1974, as it was in January 2007 — it becomes the moral responsibility of the government to undertake any and all measures, in line with the constitution, that will restore the security of the state. A threat to the state has grave implication. When the life of the citizen is at stake, when the education of his children becomes captive at the hands of frenzied mobs, when the economy haemorrhages, it is time for action on the part of a government that swept into office on the strength of an astounding majority at the polling booth four winters ago.
The state is not a joke. Politics is not a comedy. Citizens’ lives are not a farce. Parties which lose power at the ballot box ought not to do things that will make the country lose out everywhere, in every sense of the meaning. Which is why those who have destroyed shops, burnt vehicles, have taken it upon themselves to label people they do not like as atheists, have beaten up policemen, have indeed sought to render society and state unstable must not be indulged by those who have governed in the past.
Values matter. Because so many hundreds have died in Savar, because of the endless flow of tears in their children and spouses and parents and siblings, we do not sing and dance; we have suspended laughter; we have stayed away from hedonism of all kinds. The heart is in grief, the soul is weighed down with sadness of the deepest hue. Why has morality gone missing, among the Hefajatis and the ‘Bangladeshi nationalists’? And what must the state now do? Remember 1974. Remember 2007.
The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.
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