The staggering number of nomination seekers, more than 4,000 for the 300 seats in the National Parliament, from the two major political parties that have ruled the country for the better part of our independent existence, gives rise to hope and concern. Decades ago George Orwell said, “In our age there is no such thing as 'Keeping out of politics'. All issues are political issues.” It would not be an exaggeration to say that Bangalees are obsessed with politics and politics indeed is too much with them.
Let us admit that we cannot get rid of our obsession with politics. But should politics be restricted to formation of governments, their dismissals, press conferences, statements of political leaders of all hues and colours, representing parties of all sizes—big, medium, small, and even those that are known as “drawing room” parties?
The above premonition creeps in when one sees the near-final list of prospective candidates of both the political alliances for the ensuing national election. In this list, amongst others, one can quite clearly see that neither party, in nominating individuals, has given much importance to past records of corruption or links with militancy.
Every nation has its obsessions, every individual his idiosyncrasies. But the intriguing part is the narrow view we take of our favourite subject. Politics in Bangladesh mostly means the comings and goings of governments and the indiscretions connected with politicians.
One can clearly see that almost all our leaders are rhetorical to the core and their politics is largely based on worn-out clichés and inanities. They hardly talk in terms of issues, blueprints, action plans and targets. Issues which affect the day-to-day life of ordinary Bangladeshis rarely get any attention even from our educated classes.
Pessimists would say that politics has never been a particularly edifying activity. Daniel Webster said that the unvarying tendency of the mad strife of politics “is to belittle greatness and corrupt goodness. It contracts the mind and hardens the heart.” John Dewey observed that “while saints are engaged in introspection burly sinners run the world.” As of now, pessimists in Bangladesh perhaps could not be blamed for holding a view as above because there is an unpalatable feeling that the politicians have not risen to the occasion.
Our civil society activists and other public-spirited folks would say that at this critical juncture, right-minded citizens cannot afford to stand frozen in disgust and dismay. The do-gooders would insist that we cannot merely look upon the political developments in sorrow and upon our politicians in anger. Their premonition is that the crisis, if not mastered, can turn into a disaster further down the road.
Whatever maybe the state of politics and the deficits of our politicians, a dispassionate look and balanced view would suggest that politics should not be reviled in the manner it is being done now. Perhaps it is a natural weakness to revile that which we cannot do without. However, what is disheartening is that in political exchanges we are witnessing a temper that is pressing a partisan advantage to its bitter end. This temper cannot understand and respect the other side and does not feel a unity between all citizens.
Cynical observers of the current Bangladeshi political scene entertain grave doubts about a real change in the style and substance of politics insofar as desirable democratic governance scenario is concerned. Their continued pessimism is not without ground as hapless Bangladeshis sadly watch their guardians unmoved despite the combined onslaught of logic and reason, law and fact.
In a democracy based on adult suffrage—which means the head-counting method—the only way to achieve progress is to “educate our masters,” to borrow the historic phrase of Disraeli. There must be a nationwide campaign to disseminate correct facts and right ideas among the public at large. The best charity which one can do in Bangladesh today is to carry knowledge to the people.
The duty of the citizen is not merely to vote but to vote wisely. He must be guided by reason, and by reason alone. He must vote for the best man, irrespective of any other consideration and irrespective of the party label. The right man in the wrong party is any day preferable to the wrong man in the right party.
It seems doubtful whether in the immediate future we shall attain stability and rapid progress through the democratic setup. However, what is more valuable and easier to save is the more distant future of this resilient nation. Years of intensive mass education will be needed if the standards of rationality and fair dealing, of social justice and individual freedom, which are enshrined in our Constitution, are to be bred in the bones of our young men and women who are in their formative years and to whom the future belongs.
Politics should touch our daily lives. For residents of urban centres, the issues of law and order, shortage of water and electricity, lack of a public transportation system, and unemployment should be the focal points of our politics. Issues which concern citizens' lives are political issues.
The colonial masters introduced the concepts, if not the perfect practice, of modern governance: a neutral civil service selected on the basis of a competitive examination, codification of laws, delegation of powers, local self-government and an independent judiciary, and, of course, modern universities and colleges for social science, medicine and engineering. If we succeed in rejuvenating all these, we will have excelled in the art of politics.
Muhammad Nurul Huda is a former IGP.