RECENTLY we came across three examples of political rhetoric going haywire. They were, to quote our hardworking, often smiling and affable finance minister, simply “rubbish.” It is as if our people are so foolish and dumb that anything can be said without the least bit of substance to back it up. And interestingly the three examples come from completely different sources.
First, of course, is the claim by the BNP chief, a two-time former prime minister, that her husband, late Gen. Ziaur Rahman, founder of BNP and a former president, was in fact the first president of Bangladesh.
This “new discovery” was first announced by her son from London, where he has been based for the last seven or eight years. This new history was then promptly copied by the mother. What really boggles the mind is what possible benefit the BNP thinks it will reap from such a lie? All these years we have been familiar with BNP's claim that Gen. Zia, then a major, declared independence, in Bangabandhu's name. This does not preclude the Awami League's version of the independence declaration. But the fact is that there was a declaration by Zia and millions, including this writer, heard it over the radio. There may be some contestation as to the importance and effect of that declaration. But nobody can challenge the fact of it.
However, the latest claim that Ziaur Rahman was the first president of Bangladesh sounds not only ludicrous but is also like the product of an imbecile who neither has any knowledge of history nor an iota of respect for it. Political parties are known to be always searching for new messages to propagate in order to attract new supporters, but seldom do we get examples as false and devoid of substance as this one.
Several things become clear from this absurd claim. First, that Tarique Rahman, who tries to direct his mother's party from London, is living in a “fool's paradise” and that over the years has lost touch with his country of birth. We have been fed with stories that while in exile Tarique used his time well by doing some serious studies (which he needed, as his early education left much to be desired). If his latest claim is anything to go by, and if we are to believe that he has been reading books, then the only conclusion we can come to is that he has been reading books which he must have written himself.
A bigger puzzle is how could Khaleda Zia, who has established herself as an astute politician and an effective leader over the last three decades, swallow such “rubbish” and repeat it before the nation? It is a case of intellectual bankruptcy, deep seated frustration and desperation that made her go public with such a claim, something that can be benignly termed as childish but more accurately as foolhardy. Whatever confidence she still retained among her well wishers has definitely suffered a serious blow.
Though not comparable in terms of history, nevertheless a good example of political “rubbish” that we have to suffer is a recent statement by the PM, to the effect that all the violence that occurred during the just concluded upazila elections was perpetrated by the BNP and in no case were Awami League workers involved.
Well, as journalists we can only say we either live in two different planets or that our PM is so isolated from reality that she believes all the “rubbish” that her intelligence agencies feed her with. There could be another explanation which, if true, would be extremely dangerous for both her government and for Bangladesh: it is that our PM has decided to deny every negative news about her party and its workers. Otherwise how can she make a statement like the one she did when all evidence points to the contrary? We cannot have such opposing views about the same events if we are both well informed. With hardly any exception every newspaper, TV channel and other media extensively reported on election related violence and in most of them responsibility for the violence, vote rigging and assault on opponents was laid at the door of Awami League activists.
With all the evidence of AL complicity in the upazila poll violence, the fact that the prime minister could take such a stand boggles the mind.
Our final instance of political rhetoric going absurd refers to what the acting chief election commissioner, Abdul Mobarak, said about Khaleda Zia and BNP's participation in the upazila elections. In his words: “BNP chairperson is rubbing her nose in the dirt by participating in upazila parishad polls. According to her we are worth nothing, we are zero. But the fact is that her party is participating in the elections under this zero. She is groveling.” Would he rather that BNP did not participate in the upazila elections? Would that have been better for Bangladesh and its democracy?
Never before have we had a CEC or any member of the EC making such politically charged comments against the leader of a political party. It is not for the first time that an Election Commission in Bangladesh has come under attack from a political party, especially one that belongs to the opposition. Neither is it for the first time that the EC was asked to resign because of what the opposition considered to be its partisan role. In all past instances, the EC held its cool and did its duty in silence. We have been shocked by the acting CEC's comments, which were not only inappropriate but blatantly partisan.
One of the biggest weaknesses of our electoral system is the lack of independence and neutral image of the EC. Such comments, as made by the acting CEC, do not help but only drag the EC further into political controversy. We think Mr. Mobarak's statement has hurt the EC and that he should withdraw these comments and restrain himself from making such remarks in future.
The untimely leave of absence of CEC Kazi Raquibuddin Ahmad, from March 3 till date, has baffled us all. Why he chose to absent himself during the upazila elections, and that also without giving any specific reason, has to be most harshly judged.
The five-phase upazila election that started quite peacefully saw a gradual rise in violence and vote rigging and ended with the most blatant and shameless demonstration of false voting, ballot paper stuffing and capturing of polling booths, making it among the most violent upazila election ever held, with, intriguingly, the acting CEC expressing his satisfaction all along.
Given the nature of our last parliamentary election, with 153 uncontested MPs and with very poor voter turnout, people expected that the upazila election would provide a reasonable chance for an expression of the “public will.” That was not allowed to happen.
How long will the practice of making reckless comments by our leaders and people in responsible positions continue? When will our leaders learn that people of Bangladesh are no longer the fools that they take us to be? The faster our leaders start showing the people a little more respect, the quicker will the quality of our politics improve.
The writer is Editor and Publisher, The Daily Star.