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When democracy appears a distant dream

by MK Aaref

Fire fighters recover the body of a passenger after a train derailed in Gaibandha early Wednesday because of the removal of fishplates by blockade supporters. — Focusbangla photoFire fighters recover the body of a passenger after a train derailed in Gaibandha early Wednesday because of the removal of fishplates by blockade supporters. — Focusbangla photo

I DON’T fall under the category of ‘sushil samaj’. Therefore, no reporter or TV station will come and ask for my opinion about how I am coping with the current ‘situation’ and what are my grand thoughts on how to end the political stalemate. However, people like us do suffer, either by paying through the roof in the kitchen markets due to the collapse of supply chain, or due to the risks we take when we head out for work trying to make a living, or through the psychological morass that we are constantly subjected to thinking of our dysfunctional democracy and the fact that even after more than 20-plus years since its restoration, we are still subjected to this kind of shenanigan-ism when elections are around the corner.
Should I call it a South Asian malaise or a particularly Bengali one where we simply can’t get along? Many countries have looked beyond their in-built fault-lines and made the concept work. We don’t have a Shia-Sunni or Catholic-Protestant divide, we don’t have a black and white racial or tribal divide, nor do we have an ethno-cultural divide. We are more or less a homogenous group of people who, instead of thriving on this unity, have gone bipolar based on the fault-lines of the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Ironically, in terms of visions and philosophy, they are not exactly miles apart. Both want a free economy, and both have similar macroeconomic goals. Both have promised stronger civic institutions and instead have weakened them, both have promised stronger local governments and yet, while in power, have maintained the centralised status quo. Both preach democracy and the concept of the rule of law, and yet, democratic practices in both parties are personality and dynasty based. Other than the issue of secularism and foreign policy, these two parties have more in common as to what they want and how to get it than being dissimilar.
Now, how is this to be explained to the common man being roasted alive as an offering to the gods of democracy? So far, I have not heard a single word or piece of news about anyone, particularly from the government coming forward and providing some form of relief or compensation. I have been told all my life that we, Bengalis, are born poets. Yes, we excel at rhetoric and daydreaming, and now falling behind in practicalities in the national level as our daily lives descend into hell of sorts. Why is that after 42 years of independence and getting rid of external colonizers, and 22 years after the restoration of democracy, we are subjected to this kind of disintegrated political climate every time elections come along?
I am not going to delve into the details of events that have led to these stalemates again and again, but when will our politicians grow up, confine themselves to the hallowed halls of a functioning parliament and let our lives be? It is tiring to go through the motions of — depending on whether the Awami League or the BNP is in the driving seat — the looks of our currencies changing, names of civic institutions changing, and even bits and pieces of history of independence from 1971, which should have been above and beyond any controversies, disintegrate into debates based on party lines.
At the same time, social compliance is part of the psyche as well. We have immense capacity to grin and bear with it, surrender to the circumstances and let everything slide. We talk and talk and talk, and yet …that’s it, talk more. Ironically none is listening, especially the parties who have become accustomed to the helm by rotation. This trickle down democracy from the top keeps burning our back and we are proving to be increasingly tenacious with our capacity to endure.
We rejoice at our achievements in public health compared to India next door, a lumbering giant of billion plus people with layers of national, state and local governments and a functioning institutionalised democracy, and somehow fail to compare ourselves to the likes of Korea and Japan, countries which were literally flattened in the 1940s and 50s by war and yet have reached the status of the top tiers of industrialised, modernised and, more importantly, peaceful nations. Japanese prime ministers come and go, but Japan never comes to a standstill. Since India is a benchmark these days, let’s ask ourselves — when was the last time the country came to a standstill before elections? Every now and then, violence and stalemate, along with violence related to elections, ethnicities, and local issues have erupted throughout the parts of India, but never did the whole country come to a halt.
Other than arson and random violence, we have now added sabotage in our expressions of politics. Trains have started derailing because of the damages done to the rails. As far as I am concerned, they were built with funds from the exchequer, not from the largesse of the BNP’s or the Awami League’s funds. What will it escalate to? In 1971 blowing up of tracks, roads, and bridges to halt the advances of the hated Pak army, which transitioned from a national army to an occupying enemy force right before our eyes, was done to achieve a goal that was much greater than any struggle we ever partook in. It took decades to recover. Short-term goals and the lack of taking into account of long-term repercussions seem to be yet another of our collective shortcomings.
Dear ‘rajneetibids’, leave us ‘projas’ alone. Let us pursue our lives, liberties, and the pursuit of our livelihood in peace.
Bdnews24.com, December 4. MK Aaref is an architect, and the CEO of Edward M Kennedy Centre Dhaka.




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