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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2524

M J Akbar Speaks out in a Dhaka Diary

By Rabindranath Trivedi - for Asian Tribune from Dhaka

Dhaka, 13 February, ( M J Akbar, an Indian writer, chief editor of the ‘Asian Age’ and former Member of parliament, recently in his column ‘Byline- A Dhaka Diary’ satirically exposed the poorness of leadership of some Asian Muslim countries-like Iraq, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Allah, worried about the fate of the faithful, called a conference of leaders of Muslim nations. The President of Iraq had only one question to ask: "When will I see peace and prosperity in my country?" Allah looked at him compassionately and said that would happen in about a hundred years. The Iraqi President began to weep, saying, "Alas, it will not happen while I am alive!, “ writes Mr Akbar and added: “The President of Pakistan had the same question, but the answer was different. Pakistan, said Allah, would become peaceful and prosperous in about a hundred and fifty years.

The President began to wail, "I will not be alive to see my country prosper". The President of Bangladesh was next. Troubled, despondent, beset by bandhs and the impossible deadlock to which no one had either a key or a clue, he asked when Bangladesh would become the dreamland of its founding fathers. This time, Allah began to cry.” (The Asian Age , Feb 11) But why these three leaders appeared before the Allah and under what circumstances compel them to appeal to Him for ‘peace and prosperity’. Allah, the kind and all mighty, could not reply on Bangladesh rather begin to cry?

Bangladesh's quest for democracy took a serpentine course when the bond of a common religion was thought to be paramount, transcending the linguistic and cultural differences between the two wings of Pakistan. The war of liberation threw to the winds the two nation theory that preached that Hindus and Muslims in the Indian sub-continent could not live together. I S Johar in his satire-drama on Bhutto appeal to the Lord of the Universe and depicted the inner contradiction of Pakistani politics and leadership. But Drama could not stage due to opposition of Pakistan Government. This time, these three nations may raise the question that their Allah has been portrayed in different way. Because satire, humor, is a cultural expression to free mind and criticism is its form. But Muslims cannot stand criticism in case of religion.

’The story of Pakistan is one of remorseless tug and pull between the civilian and military rulers on the one hand, and the liberal and religious forces on the other. In the process, the country has failed to become a democracy, a theocracy or a permanent military dictatorship. The chief casualties have been the rule of law, the state institutions and the process of national integration, with grave consequences for the civil society.

The "Talebanisation" of the north-western region is one manifestation of the prevalent disorder; an unending separatist campaign by nationalists in the south-western Balochistan province is another. Meanwhile, sectarian and ethnic tensions have kept the two largest provinces - namely Punjab, which is the bread-basket of the country, and Sindh, which is its trading and industrial mainstay - perennially instable. How and why did all this come about?” M Ilyas Khan says in the BBC News on 14 August 1007.

A power-sharing deal between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto ended in a blast. However, “The latest annual survey conducted by the New York based Freedom House, a watchdog organization for democracy, shows that only 90 countries among the 193 countries of the world have been found eligible to be called democracies. Sixty countries are considered as "partly free" and the rest are considered as ineligible to be named free. The criteria for judging whether a country is free or democratic are the generally accepted principles such as free elections, free press, independent judiciary, commitment to human rights, respect for Opposition parties, etc.

These criteria cannot be clearly measured in tangible terms, but are reliable indicators about a country’s commitment to democracy. …. It is an axiomatic truth that no democracy can be considered as healthy and sound unless there is a healthy and sound party system based on inner party democracy with regular elections at all levels of the party hierarchy.”(Quality of democracy is not fine By Dr P C Alexander, The Asian Age, 11 Feb. 08)

“ Indians are proud of their democracy. Yet, they view politicians who win democratic elections as knaves and thieves. What a paradox!

The institutions that command the most respect are the Supreme Court, Election Commission and Army. All three are unelected. We have little respect for the elected and immense respect for some who are not.

Why? Because democracy means much more than elections. Dictators across the world hold elections and make quite sure they win. Enver Hoxha, former communist head of Albania, was outraged when he got only 99.9% of the vote, and not 99.99% he expected. Across swathes of the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa today, you get elections but not democracy.

The fundamental mark of a democracy is not elections but an institutional framework that lays down the rights of the people and rules of political engagement, and cannot be trampled on by the ruling government. The framework is typically a Constitution. In many countries, Constitutions are mere pieces of paper, ignored by rulers. In a true democracy like India, the Constitution is actually enforced.

So, democracy stands on two pillars. One is Constitutional democracy, which lays down the rules of political engagement. The second pillar is popular democracy, which elects politicians.

Popular democracy dominates our attention. Yet, Constitutional democracy is more important. Popular democracy empowers majority groups. But Constitutional democracy protects minorities, and that is crucial. …From a long-term perspective, every country needs strong institutions that work without political interference. But it is against the interest of politicians to have a system where everything works smoothly. Rather, they want a system where things do not work well, enabling politicians to intervene and be seen helping voters. Besides, to make money politicians have to first create hurdles and then charge a fee for overcoming them..” (Democracy depends on the un-elected By Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar, Times of India 27 Jan.08). Bangladesh lacks two pillars. The constitutional democracy diluted with the popular democracy and has created a situation that even Allah has no answer but cry. The present caretaker opened the Pandora box –revealing corruption of the political personalities.

"The Indian government strongly believes Bangladesh will soon return to the path of democracy and an elected government will take over,” Indian High Commissioner Shri Pinak Ranjan Chakraborty said recently while exchanging views with reporters after inaugurating a two-week exhibition on contemporary fine arts at the Indian Assistant High Commission's Gallery at Khulshi in Chittagong”. What would the model of democracy? Because, Bangladesh is not enlisted in the democratic list of countries, because she has crossed the limit of efficiency in dealing with people.

Bangladesh is on the Road Map of democracy. It’s irony of history that Bangladesh was born in 1971 with fire for democracy-in the name of people’s equal rights. In democracy by the people, of the people and for the people, means government. Here in Bangladesh a section defines people, there is no existence of minority as it’s not in the Constitution, says Khaleda Zia. Minorities in Bangladesh, feel insecure as the polls draw nearer.

In October 2001 election, the incidence of violence was the highest. Minorities were violated in 2,685 villages in the country. Minorities were debarred from casting votes in the election -- a fundamental right of any citizen of Bangladesh. They were obstructed from casting their votes on the way to the voting center. The government formed after the alliance won the election was absolutely blind to the violence that the BNP cadres were committing against their political rivals. "Because minorities, especially Hindus, were subjected to intimidation and other forms of pressure during previous election campaigns, the United States has increased its monitoring of this issue in anticipation of the 2008 election.

Under the BNP-Jamaat alliance rule, Bangladesh has been transformed into an inauspicious outpost of Islamic militancy and terrorism. It is a phase of correction in the country, which for years, had the reputation of being the most corrupt in the world, particularly that few of its political leaders bothered to hide the fact that they were in politics for what they could get out of it. Khaleda Zia’s BNP led 4-party Alliance, was responsible for plunging the country's politics into a dirty cesspool of inefficient administration, gross abuse of power, corruption, nepotism, favoritism and whatever else contributed to it having earned the name of being among the worst countries in the world.

Bangladesh reflects on why the country has been steadily Islamizing in violation of its original secular democratic aspirations. The military-bureaucratic elites inherited notions of a divine right to rule from the Pakistan era and, lacking legitimacy, used Islam to shore up their rule. Under General Zia ur-Rahman, the state identified itself with Islam and persecuted Hindus, Ahmadiyas or Qadiyanis. It engineered demographic shifts to dilute the ethnic composition of minorities. Society was turned toward a "mosque-centric" direction and politics became "street-centric" during General H M Ershad's dictatorship.

Despite 15 years of formal democracy, the army remains unaccountable to the public, who cannot freely criticize it due to constitutional forbidding. Even the liberal Awami League party uses religion in all its activities and does not clearly advocate reinstitution secularism in the constitution. Political leaders of all spectrums oppose civil society activism in the name of traditional religious values.

The culture of intolerance, hatred and violence of political parties goes hand in hand with terrorist activities that have "intruded into the popular psyche" since the mid-1990s. The state's total failure to check terrorist threats to democracy is ascribed by many to the fact that Bangladeshi rulers themselves patronize Islamic fundamentalism. Politicization of the bureaucracy and judiciary and the absence of internal democracy within parties are other obstacles to democratic practice. "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely says Lord Acton." So not dictatorship, but democracy -- a government of not one man but of all people -- is now the norm in almost all countries of the world.

But the quality of democracy obtaining here is abysmally low. The reasons are not far to seek. Corruption has eroded the vitals of democratic institutions all over the country. A large segment of Parliamentarians, who make laws and frame the guiding principles of governance, and the bureaucrats who implement the same, barring a few, indulge in corruption. That is why democracy in Bangladesh took different shape and size under bootish regimes and became demo-crazy of power. Why Allah Cries on Bangladesh because it may be

“The dream that liberation of Bangladesh generated in many hearts was rudely disrupted by extra-constitutional interference in the governance of the country. The country had come to the brink of civil war due to the machinations by the alliance government (2001-2006) in Bangladesh, whose unbridled commission of kleptocracy had generated skepticism among the people about the concepts of both Lockean liberalism and that of Immanuel Kant's perpetual peace.’ writes Kazi Anwarul Masud (The Daily Star,10 Feb.08)

Rabindranth Trivedi is a retired Additional Secretary and former Press secretary to the President of the People's Republic of Bangladesh.

- Asian Tribune -

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