The Pyrrhic victory of our politicians
GREEK king Pyrrhus, whose army suffered irreplaceable casualties in defeating the Romans, expressed his joy saying that one more victory like that would have undone him. That's the origin of the phrase 'a Pyrrhic victory," which describes a victory with such a devastating cost that it is tantamount to defeat. Now that our political confrontation has escalated from the mean streets to the highway, it's no longer the question of which political party is going to win. Instead the question is at what cost to the country it will win that victory.
We should no longer suffer from the delusion that a victory for the politicians is also a victory for the country. Politics has turned into a con game by which ordinary citizens are tricked into a trance so that politicians can plunder the country. Patriotism, democracy and freedom are nothing but hypnotic chatter that lulls people into sleep.
After the chief election commissioner announced the election schedule last Monday, the simmering discontent came to a boil, and it's still boiling. The violence that erupted since then has led to deaths and havoc across the country. Victor Hugo defines civil war as a war between the Europeans. If Bangladeshis are killing Bangladeshis and they're also destroying the property of their fellow countrymen, what's it but silent civil war smoldering in the guise of political conflict?
The nature of this war is that its virus remains hidden most of the time, active only in the months preceding national elections. Our political contention can give Romeo and Juliet a run for their money because a street brawl had turned the Capulets and Montagues into sworn enemies. For all practical reasons, we are now one nation divided into two mutually exclusive parts. This country is like two gangs vying for the same neighbourhood.
But where is this heightened tension going to take us? How long is the government going to suppress the opposition? How long is the opposition going to resist the government? What if the elections are held? What if the elections are foiled? What if the ruling party comes back? What if it's defeated?
There are many subjunctives that make the future all the more uncertain. What if the government goes ahead with a one-sided election? How long will it last in office? If it's eventually forced to reconcile with the opposition demand, will it have more at stake than an electoral defeat? It's almost certain that the opposition will retaliate blow by blow if it wins.
This country by all means is caught between a rock and a hard place. No matter which way the election goes, the country will have to brace up for more troubles. If the opposition is entirely crushed and wiped out from the political scene, the ruling party and its allies will be tempted to become more tyrannical. In that case we shall see more of what we have seen in the last five years. More scams, more shams and more hammed up attempts to manipulate politics.
The word zeitgeist means spirit of the time and it's attributed to German philosopher Georg Hegel. He said that no man can surpass his own time, for the spirit of his time is also his own spirit. Our politicians are made in the image of that spirit as much as we are also made in that same image. Yet they're different from us. They're the victimisers of that image and we're the victims. Unfortunate is that politicians don't have our best interest in mind.
Thomas Carlyle presented the great man theory, which stresses that leaders do not become leaders by fate or accident. They become leaders by virtue of possessing characteristics of great leaders. And these characteristics allow them to obtain positions of power.
Our politicians start backward. They obtain the position of power first, which is why they don't have to care about greatness or its characteristics. They never graduate into leadership because they already begin from where they are supposed to finish. Blood ties and money land in their laps the rare privilege, which politicians have to earn in other countries.
Here's the ultimate tragedy. We don't allow callous drivers to drive our cars, but callous leaders are running this country. The country hits ditches, skids and swerves off the road from time to time. It goes through lowdown showdown, bitter bickering, virulent violence and binge of bloodshed only because politics has been in the wrong hands.
The failure of our politics is rooted in mutual delusion. While people see politicians as leaders, politicians think of people as ladders. Neither knows what to expect of either. Politicians lead a political party. Leaders lead a country. A bunch of parochial folks, our politicians are a breed apart. They're busy roasting their potatoes, when the house is burning.
The writer is Editor, First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star. Email:[email protected]