Climb not too high
BANGLADESH is now in the grip of a crisis, one whose magnitude and dimension surpasses anything of the kind in the history of the country. Both the ruling party and the opposition are adamant and unbending. Nearly 100 innocent people have been killed in petrol bomb attacks and street violence since the indefinite blockade and hartal was imposed by the BNP. Dozens have died in "crossfire" and "encounter". Both sides have crossed their limits. But as the saying goes: Climb not too high.
The French Revolution was the greatest democratic movement the world has ever seen. Madame Roland, an activist of the French Revolution and follower of the ideals of Rousseau and Voltaire, said,'O, democracy what crimes are committed in thy name.' Madame Roland refused to compromise her principles and accepted her fate of death on the guillotine – a fate now facing our democracy.
Democracy is not only a form of government but also a philosophy and value. Democracy is a culture. Several members of the cabinet and leaders of the ruling 14-party alliance have built a reputation of using filthy language, indecent remarks and ugly metaphor against their political opponents and dissentors. Democracy allows dissent.
Leaders of different parties and representatives of the civil society have been urging repeatedly to hold talks in order to break the deadlock. The ruling party leaders have turned a deaf ear to their request. The information minister categorically said that BNP is an organisation of arsonists and terrorists, so there can be no dialogue between humans and demons.
At an informal discussion in a weekly cabinet meeting on February 2, a number of ministers came down heavily on the civil society and alleged that the civil society was very vocal about holding a dialogue but not equally vocal against burning people to death. This is an utter denial of truth. On February 4, finance minister AMA Muhith said Khaleda Zia is a 'stupid leader', who is trying to destroy the future of the country. Her activities are totally anti-state, he added.
We have reasons to worry. The bureaucrats, police officers and people heading state agencies have been speaking the language of politics. Some police officers are addressing meetings as if they are not public servants but the home minister. Each and every man in the country wants the law enforcing agencies to nab arsonists and makers of petrol bombs. The DIG, police of Chittagong region Mr. Islam said, 'We (policemen) have the ability to kill two people for your (arsonists) every single killing.' Everybody knows police are equipped with lethal weapons. They are capable of killing not two but many criminals if they want to. But the function of the Police force is not to kill anybody but to protect them from killers. Extra-judicial killing in the hands of law enforcing agencies has been a serious transgression
In a parliamentary system, the President is the titular head of state, save only the appointment of the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice, the President acts in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister. But in case of any political or social crisis, the President as the guardian of the people can exert considerable influence on the conflicting groups and play a part in solving socio-political deadlock. That was why the leaders of the civil society have made an appeal to the President to use his good offices to prevail upon the government and the opposition to break the political impasse. There was nothing wrong in that appeal.
No matter from whichever angle the situation is considered, the political situation is close to the point of no return. Considering the political reality, impartial citizens would want to see Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina adopt a less unbending attitude towards the categorical imperative of political conciliation.
The present government spent exactly one year undisturbed. The parties that did not participate in the 'last year's effective one-horse race' can with a fair amount of reason talk of fresh elections. The case for a fresh election is no longer the quibble as it sounded a year ago.
At present our political culture is at its lowest ebb. The vengeance is too much to bear. The hypersensitivity of the government to any criticism is at an all-time high. In a democratic culture, politicians criticise their opponents for valid reasons. It is indecent and unethical to spit venom of hatred on the opponent. One should realise that hate is most harmful to the person who hates, and not to the person who is hated and insulted. Those who want political solution through dialogue are called 'cancerous' elements and 'septic boils' of the society. The policy-makers of ruling party have not learnt any lessons from the past.
The nation is passing through a serious turbulent time. Our leaders have to put their heads together and consult each other about what could be done to save democratic polity. If pragmatic approach is not taken by the government and opposition leaders and the problems are not solved peacefully, the future seems dark. Still many people are optimistic. But optimism fights back in a pitch dark tunnel of an unrewarding politics that holds little light at the end of it. It may be a blind tunnel with no way out.
The writer is a noted author, researcher and social activist.