Will repair do more damage? | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 13, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, June 13, 2008

Cross Talk

Will repair do more damage?

AMUSING as it is, the most colourful name of any war in history is that of the War of Jenkins's Ear. Under the Treaty of Seville, the British had agreed not to trade with the Spanish colonies, and the Spanish were permitted to board the British vessels in Spanish waters to verify the treaty.
During one of the inspections, a Spanish coast guard severed the ear of Robert Jenkins, captain of the British ship Rebecca. Jenkins exhibited his pickled ear to the House of Commons, which whipped up war fever against Spain. The War of Jenkins's Ear lasted from 1739 to 1748. I am not kidding. It's on record.
Never again the physical well-being of any individual found way into national discourse until the health condition of two former prime ministers was escalated last week. Medical boards were rapidly formed for their health check-up and also for the two sons of one of the two leaders. For most of the early part of the week, the country floated on rumours that all four could be going abroad for advanced treatment.
Both leaders were quick to respond. One made it clear that she had no intention of leaving the country but wished that her sons did. The other said nothing but must have quickly conceded since preparation for her departure started immediately after the medical board submitted its report.
Then, open sesame and all doors opened. Her passport was returned, she was exempted from physical appearance at court hearings, released on Wednesday and yesterday boarded a British Airways flight, which took her out of the country. Needless to say, when the government is happy, wishes are granted with the speed of a fairy.
But where does it leave us as a nation? One of the two leaders has gone to sojourn, and another is still left in prison. And it's somehow comparable to a half-full, half-empty glass situation. Whether the government is still trying to minus the two leaders or create an enabling environment for the dialogue, one can argue both ways. Either the problem has been half-solved or the solution is half-problematic.
So, what will happen now? Will it help the dialogue to set sails? Will it now clear the coast to bring the two political parties to the discussion table? The leader who has been released met with the government advisors within hours after she reached home. She talked to the chief advisor on the phone and expectedly announced that her party was ready to sit for the dialogue.
What about the other party, whose leader remains in custody? It's interesting that she appears less bothered about her own health than the government, which wants to send her out of the country. She is understandably more concerned over the failing health of her two sons, which could become her Achilles' Heel. She may be on a dare to refuse now, but how long will it take before the declining health of her children forces her to change her mind?
Here is a famous scene from the movie Amistad, where Cinque, the leader of slaves who were transported to the American shores from Africa, meets the former US president John Quincy Adams. He tells the president, who agrees to act as their legal counsel, that whenever they have a crisis in the tribe, they invoke their ancestors.
In our case we don't rely on our ancestors, heroes and martyrs who laid down their lives to protect our freedom. Instead, we invoke the strength and wisdom of foreigners for guidance in matters ranging from medical treatment to national interest.
No matter who goes abroad and who stays home, that dearth of dignity persists in our hearts. Perhaps long after the leaders recover, dialogue is completed, elections are held and we go back to popular government, democracy will still stumble, because, we are long way from finding our feet on the bedrock of democratic aspirations. Leaders must believe in their people and treat them with respect. In democracy, people aren't cannon fodder. They are the cannon itself, which fires the shots.
One of the political parties has recently announced that its leader would guide it wherever she was located. In fact, leaders can lead from anywhere in the world as long as they are close to people. That is how the links work in the daisy's chain of power struggle. People listen to leaders who in their turn listen to their leaders. That is how supremacy builds up, the powerful dominate weaker ones.
Last week's development somehow had the element of writing history with a blowtorch. It was the concentrated expression of our struggle to find a solution, a crash course in political brinkmanship that will go down in history as a desperate moment. One leader free and another in prison, people of this country might feel they have been left out again. They know what has happened, but may not be sure how this is going to make any difference.
Since we are a nation of xenophiles, I would like to invoke the example of one man from a foreign land and faraway times. Three modern cities in Italy (Cincinnato) and the United States (Cincinnatus and Cincinnati) are named after him. In the 5th century BC, Lucuis Quinctius Cincinnatus was nominated dictator for six months by the senate to save Rome from the Aequians.
Cincinnatus defeated the enemies, resigned his dictatorship, and returned to his farm on the far side of Tiber. Everything was done within sixteen days after he took the job. In his second term as dictator, he put down a revolt by the plebeians, once again left the job, packed up, and went back to his life as a farmer.
For us it's important to ask why our struggle for democracy has been disrupted from time to time. The answer is that there is fat in the fire, damage in the repair. Time will tell that when we restore democracy, we also plant the seed of disruption.

Mohammad Badrul Ahsan is a columnist for The Daily Star.

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