Zero tolerance for dissent
The recent cabinet reshuffle has come under severe criticism for many reasons, and one would prefer not to dwell on them at length here. The substantive and qualitative changes have been open to question and so has been the timing of it. The comical aspect is that new inductions have been made and new portfolio designated while there is one in the cabinet with no office to hold.
Suffice it to say, the underlying motivation behind the induction of seven new faces, all but one of who are totally "green," was a desperate attempt to retain the integrity of the alliance which by now has become a mere agglomeration of a few political parties. The commonality is in the common "enemy" and nothing to do with political philosophy or national policies. There is at best a gloss of integrity of the coalition; and the loose cohesion in the party came out so transparently through the refusal of Menon and Tofail to join the cabinet.
And while so much space has been devoted to the reshuffle, very little has been said about the two turning down the offer to join the cabinet, the reasons offered by them for doing so and the reaction of the AL to the explanations.
The reshuffle, I am inclined to believe, has highlighted a few things that reflect our political ethos and culture. For one, it has demonstrated clearly the lack of political correctness in dealing with political allies and for another it has demonstrated a total absence of toleration of dissent within the AL. One may ascribe various subtexts to the rationale of the two but cannot deny that both have a very cogent argument in their favour for doing what they did.
While the two "dissenters" have received effusive accolades for their action they have been coshed by the AL, one more than the other, and whatever may be the interpretation of the explanations offered by the two, the reaction of the party, particularly to Tofail's negative response, is unbecoming of a vintage political party. The manner of approaching a prospective cabinet member may not be new or surprising in our context, neither is the reaction to the offer, but what is certainly surprising is the way AL has vented their wrath on the two, particularly Tofail.
Menon has got off lightly, perhaps because he is not an Awami Leaguer, by being told that the procedure adopted in approaching him for the minister's job was correct. Was it really so? Is Menon justified in feeling aggrieved that the procedure was at best slipshod. One should not forget that Menon does not belong to the AL but is a member of the coalition. Was it not the right thing for the PM to consult him beforehand without taking him for granted? We know from instances in India that not all coalition partners are always willing to join the cabinet, though many (in our case) may lack the potency to differ with the major partner. It is lack of not only political correctness but also of refined attitude for a member of the coalition to be informed of his new status by the cabinet secretary.
As for Mr. Tofail Ahmed, he has chosen to submit with good grace by preferring not to answer the vituperative comments made about him post cabinet reshuffle. One of his colleagues has seen in the decisions, "a forecast of a new equation of new politics" that, "create a new equation of the new shape of queer politics." I must admit that such a sublime thought I have not the intellectual capacity to interpret, but it is not surprising that the views have sprouted from one who has plenty of spare time in his hands. But the stalwarts in the working committee were even more critical, terming Tofail's decision as a "black chapter" in the party's history. And the party GS went a step further suggesting that this was a part of conspiratorial politics.
Not only Tofail's dissent but all those AL members who have been generally critical of the party's misgovernance were singled out for criticism and suggestions were made to the party chief to take disciplinary action against them.
Tofa-l is the senior-most member of the party whose credentials or commitment to the party is above board. And for the PM as the party chief it would have been only civil to speak to him beforehand and give out the thoughts behind her intentions to reshuffle her cabinet and what role she envisaged Tofail to play in it, which would have perhaps made him feel "wanted" and motivated him to accept the offer. He might still have turned down the offer, in which case all these differences might not have come to the public domain and the party, the PM in particular, could have saved its blushes.
When a party of the vintage of the AL demonstrates a deep-rooted paranoia against criticism and where disciplinary action is called for dissent, we have reasons to be worried. Criticism and dissension are the hallmarks of a vibrant political party and when it ceases to be tolerant of the "other view" it only exposes a degenerative culture, which can engender anything but democracy.