TOO much of govern-ment is enervating. Too little of governance is a sign of a malaise overtaking a land. What we have generally had in Bangladesh, and especially have at this point of time, is an overwhelming presence of government in citizens' lives, with results that are only too predictable. And governance, which remains the fundamental goal of any democracy, has remained trapped in circumstances that only seem to get progressively more complicated as time goes by.
Add to all this issue of government and governance that certain dash of misplaced humour and that dollop of ill-devised ideas which quite tend to make light of our politics. The prime minister has informed us that the Bangladesh Nationalist Party has been kept going through an injection of formalin. That has provoked the acting secretary general of the BNP into suggesting that the politics of the ruling Awami League is now based on formalin. What do you make of all this? When for years citizens have been clamouring for action against traders busily applying formalin on fish, meat, vegetables and fruits and thereby pushing citizens into ever-widening health-related dangers, we now have formalin turning into a matter to be bandied about in careless fashion by those whose job is to take the country forward.
And those ill-devised ideas? They come from a nearly fifty year-old young man in exile. Having operated a parallel government in the era of his mother, the elder child of Khaleda Zia has now sought to inform the nation of how bad a ruler Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was and how wonderful a statesman was his father, verily our first military dictator Ziaur Rahman. At home, Tareque Rahman's mother loftily tells us that the government will rot from within and collapse on its own. For her part, Sheikh Hasina, ignoring the principles of diplomatic etiquette, enlightens a phalanx of media people with the firmness with which she dismissed pleas from John Kerry and Ban Ki-moon in the matter of the on-going war crimes trials. In politics, the standard rule for a politician is never to reveal the contents of private conversations in the public domain.
Nothing seems to be going right for the country, honestly speaking. Legalities in the case of the murder of General M.A. Manzur remain stalled. Twenty two judges have come and gone, even as the country has waited for justice to be served. Justice, though, becomes a question mark when the principal accused here is the very man who was our second military dictator and who today serves as the special envoy of the prime minister. General H.M. Ershad is now properly critical of the two major political parties and terribly sad at the way people have been dying in recent times. How do you explain the fact that a special envoy of the prime minister has no qualms about coming down hard on the very person who has given him this job? How, for that matter, do you explain the role of Ershad's Jatiyo Party in parliament and in government? How does a politician, any politician, oppose a government of which he is a part? Or how does that politician sit on the opposition benches and yet bear in mind all the time that he is also in the government?
These are portentous times. When seven men are abducted in broad daylight and then their corpses are spotted afloat in the water, you tend to wonder if this people's republic is indeed turning into a republic of fear. Nothing happens about the incident, until the prime minister issues directives toward action. Why must that be the convention? Or the rule? If it has to be the head of government sanctioning action in all areas of government at all times, why is the council of ministers there at all? Fingers are pointed at certain individuals over the Narayanganj crime, and other crimes. Nothing happens. The denizens of the dark remain untouched. Worse, they begin to be seen on television, putting up a masterly show of sophistry to argue their innocence. That is not the point. The point is simply this, that the law must take its own course. The law, of course, stays put. Because the judiciary steps into areas of public interest, in the absence of similar initiatives from the government, a whole lot of people are livid in anger. Why must that be?
What has happened in Narayanganj is a shame, a slap across all our faces. Does the ruling party have to go on defending men whose reputations have come under fresh question? One of the Rab officers arrested over the seven-murder case being a close relative of a minister, it should have been for the minister to resign in the interest of an efficient inquiry into the tragedy. He has not resigned. The prime minister, in that case, should have asked him to quit or should have dismissed him. She has not done that. What lessons do we get out of all this? That our democracy is all a matter of pretence, that semi-feudalism is what we have been prey to since the fall of autocracy in late 1990?
These are sad days. And they are because of a clear absence of leadership in the country. When ruling party men go after other ruling party men in Phulgazi, you ask if things are not falling apart. When police prevent the Ganojagoron Mancha from marching on the streets, when the political opposition is given no space anywhere for its rallies, when the Hefajatis begin to shower praise on the government, you wonder if your dreams of a modern, secular, egalitarian state are not beginning to mutate into nightmares.
Everything falls. Everything pales. Everything palls.
The heart grows weary, forty three years after liberation.
The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.