THE Dhaka Forum, which we have been informed is a new group of retired professionals and senior citizens, has got it all wrong. Contrary to what it thinks, the last general election was not a farce. This government is not illegitimate. The re-elected government is not hanging on to power. You do not dismiss an election as a farce because a political party chooses to boycott it. A government does not lack legitimacy when it decides to uphold the constitution. And farce is when democracy is stifled and yet elections and referendums are contrived in order for a cabal of individuals to perpetuate itself in power. Nothing of the kind happened in January this year.
A former governor of the Bangladesh Bank has informed us that this government, despite its electoral return to power, is not accountable to the people. And would it have been accountable if it had succumbed to pressure? There are or could be a whole number of reasons for people to disapprove of some of the acts of the government before the election, but to suggest that it is unaccountable, that it approximates regimes resting on the basis of coercion, is rather wide of the mark.
A former ambassador has tried to persuade us into believing that the new Jatiya Sangsad lacks legitimacy because it was elected through an absence of voters. Let us go into a very moral question -- and morality is what some people have been talking of for weeks now -- about the election, indeed about politics. In a democracy, you do not have any fixed number of people who must vote before an election can acquire credibility. And democracy does not say -- and neither does the constitution -- that elections cannot be held because a political party has threatened to stay out of it. So what do you do when in a perfectly democratic system a government has finished a term in office and wishes to go before the electorate again? Pluralism has little room for petulance. The law does not have to cringe in the face of agitation by men and women who have never been serious about parliament.
Despite what the Dhaka Forum suggests, Bangladesh is not at a crossroads. It would have been had elections not taken place, had murder and mayhem on the streets forced the ruling coalition into submission. And here is one other point that calls for a rebuttal: the former diplomat presenting the keynote paper at the deliberations thought the election was a deviation from the spirit of the War of Liberation. And what was that spirit? Simply that constitutional continuity will be maintained in the true spirit of democracy. The spirit of 1971, we will remind everyone yet once again, was undermined when military dictatorship put the knife into the noble ideals of socialism and secularism in the constitution, when the enemies of Bangladesh were told they could pursue politics in a country they had tried to force into abortion forty two years ago. Why did no one from the Dhaka Forum make any reference to such past misdeeds?
Democracy, it was put across at the discussion, had been put at risk through the manner in which the election was held. That is a bit rich coming from people who said nothing back in 1975 when a constitutional government was overthrown violently, when some individuals eager to 'save' democracy felt little or no qualm about linking up with Khondokar Moshtaque and his Democratic League. These men, and others like them, said not a word when the assassinations of 1975 were given legal sanction through the indemnity ordinance and the assassin majors and colonels stayed beyond the reach of the law for twenty one years. We lived in shame all those years. And these men looked the other way.
It is sometimes quite enlightening to have wisdom come our way from men who have served as advisers to some caretaker regime or other. But here's a truth: when the Awami League-led alliance assumed office in early 2009, the discovery was made that thousands of school textbooks had failed to go into the hands of children across the country -- because those responsible for the preparation of the textbooks had not done their job. It was left to Nurul Islam Nahid to do what his predecessor should have done. The lesson, an ancient one: do not pelt others with stones when you inhabit a glass house. Move on, to that other participant at the dialogue who did not think twice before insinuating that the present government, because it 'lacks' legitimacy, must depend on foreign powers for survival. It is an old argument, first fashioned in pre-1971 Pakistan and then put to good use by the proponents of 'Bangladeshi nationalism.' It is an irritant, but you can ignore it for the puerile sentiment it happens to be.
The saddest part of societal reality in Bangladesh today is the decline of a class of intellectuals in the country. The people, they will tell you, are more important than the constitution. Of course they are. Change or amend the constitution, they say, and things will be fine. Ah, but why must the constitution, because it has been flouted and changed and amended so many times in these four decades plus, keep going through the same humiliation for years on end? Why must the albatross of a caretaker system be made to hang around our necks only because we need 'inclusive' elections?
But, then again, some people will go on quibbling. Let them. The caravan must move on.
The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.