Politicians playing Russian roulette with people
RISE and shine Bangladesh, the promised day is come. Acting secretary general of BNP has warned that after the quarterfinals and semifinals, the final round would be played on October 25. The home minister of the country expressed his inability to guess, claiming that only palmists could tell what might transpire today. For weeks the two main political parties have been drumming up excitement in the manner promoters build fights with catchy superlatives and clever nicknames.
What is going to happen on this fateful day? It may be a big bang or it may be a whimper. The purported showdown may even get pushed to a new date. Experience tells us that a fight doesn't always match its bombastic buildup.
Then how is it going to influence the ongoing political deadlock? The prime minister addressed the nation last Friday, when she made a subliminal offer of compromise. Three days later the opposition leader in her press conference turned that offer on its head. Her counteroffer hasn't left the ruling party thoroughly impressed. Someone still has to take the fuse out of that explosive situation.
Meanwhile, the next line leaders of the two parties have exchanged a letter. They have also talked on the phone, their smiling faces and the news of their conversation televised as if it was the Oscar Night for political melodramas. An exasperated nation welcomed every move of these politicians like parents are thrilled by toddlers when they take their first steps.
But the suspense of October 25 has not dissipated. Instead it has got the people divided on its likely outcome. The optimists believe things can only get better. The skeptics don't believe everything they hear. Lastly, the paranoid are worried this time the confrontation, missed in the past, might actually lead to a disaster.
These probabilities make this day the roll of a die. We have been repeating this pattern every five years and betting our future on the odds. Every time we came within a hair's breadth of confrontation. Every time we narrowly escaped, not by dint of much contrivance but sheer luck.
That gives our politics the dynamics of Russian roulette, a potential game of chance. A single round is placed in a revolver, spinning its cylinder to make the chance even chancier. The shooter then bets on whether the chamber which rotates into place will be loaded when he pulls the trigger.
Which is the game our politicians play at the time of power transfer. They press the muzzle of the gun against people's head. Then they draw sadistic pleasure by pulling the trigger, pretending that clicking of empty chamber was a calculated measure.
The buildup this time has got people held up again, while politicians are sorting out their brownie points. But we shouldn't forget that a modern revolver has six chambers. We have had four confrontations so far, which were defused by caretaker governments, counting the one in 1991. This is the fifth time, which increases the chance of hitting the loaded chamber.
Will that happen today? Shall we at least see the beginning of an end? Probably not. We might see clashes; some blood may be spilled and some lives may be lost. But the possibility of unlocking the deadlock looks far-fetched. There's a slim chance that the incoherent monologues of our politicians will add up to a meaningful dialogue. The defiance of each side will further widen differences between them.
That's the only thing which signifies this October day. Politics is meant to be a battle of wits, when politicians defeat each other using their intelligence. If they have to come to blows every time and people have to live in fear, it reduces politics to gangland strife. For the fifth time in a row, our politicians have proved that politics of Bangladesh is driven not by brain but by brawn.
It's not bloodshed, bitterness or broadsides that make our politics so bad. What makes it disappointing is the arrogance of politicians, who run this country like neighbourhood gangs. Whatever happens today won't matter, because one party will win and another will lose before the whole thing starts all over again.
German writer-politician Goethe said it's the strange fate of man that even in the greatest of evils the fear of the worst continues to haunt him. This nation has been living in fear too long. Its haunting power is inhibiting our taste of freedom. This nation is a contradiction where a liberated country is inhabited by subjugated people.
This October day comes three days sooner than October 28, 2006. The next one might be another October day five years later. But firing blanks is bringing us closer to the loaded chamber. Either we have to take out the bullet or politicians have to stop pulling the trigger.
The writer is Editor, First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star. Email: [email protected]