Dateline Dhaka: Eroding institutions in a polarised society

November 09, 2013

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Bangladeshi police personnel stand guard during the second day of a nationwide strike called by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party in Dhaka, Oct 28, 2013. — Photo AFP
Bangladeshi police personnel stand guard during the second day of a nationwide strike called by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party in Dhaka, Oct 28, 2013. — Photo AFP

The cynics in the current hyper-charged socio-political situation would say that ”the banality of evil” has come home to us with a strange poignancy. They cannot be blamed, because violence has characterised our national life on a scale so widespread and so unchecked that even the incorrigible optimists have lost hope of orderly and civilised reconciliation of opposing political views. One is perhaps frustrated to ask if we have made life too easy for the rough and the rowdy and the brats and the deviants and too difficult for the law-abiding citizens.

The question is, shall we render ourselves ungovernable under the present constitutional setup? Such premonition arises because although we gave unto ourselves a lofty constitution we do not appear to retain the ability to keep it. Are we destined to suffer and endure in patience without the perception of our potential?

The country is now sharply and dangerously polarised with political adversaries bent upon discrediting each other. The language of reason and moderation is absent while there is hardly any trace of tolerance. This, however, should not come as a surprise as forebodings of a perilous polarisation were there for any keen observer to realise. One feels constrained to comment that the country is held hostage to the partisan ambition of an immoral and acquisitive class whose kleptocratic instincts are no secret.

The unfortunate reality in Bangladesh, as of now, is that on almost every aspect of national life, the people are being ominously divided into two deadly hostile groups. The tragedy is that when consensus is the need of the hour, at least on fundamental national issues, the two main political parties are continuously imposing their partisan dogmas on the public and are not hesitating to brand the dissenters as traitors to the national cause. Dissent, according to them, is an unpatriotic act. Such a mental frame is taking us on a suicidal course by obstructing national integrity and promoting confrontationist postures leading to violence.

In the not too distant past Bangladeshis had to witness the unfortunate plight of the workers of the defeated political party following the national election. Their miseries had demonstrated the pathetic fugitive existence of hapless workers who, in the absence of their leaders, were forced to live a miserable life. Their misery was further compounded by the filing of politically motivated criminal cases with a view to psychologically and socially crippling the political opponents. As a result, political identity did become a hazard for some individuals and groups and consequently politics turned into a dangerous business. In such a scenario physical annihilation of the opponents often became the dominant objective.

The polarisation of different occupational and service organisations along political lines has assumed a disconcerting proportion. Professional organisations have, unfortunately, moved away from the desired objective of advising the authority by their enlightened counseling. By forsaking their intellectual independence the professionals have compromised their integrity and independent thinking. The partisan behaviour of public servants has degraded their esteem and status.

Polarisation of public servants is admittedly an area of heightened concern. Needless to say, a biased person cannot truly become a servant of the Republic. There are credible allegations that politically activated public servants are succeeding in cornering the upright meritorious ones. The appointees of particular years are being considered more loyal than others and are rewarded as such. Such developments, undoubtedly, sap the morale of public servants.

Let us bear in mind that behind the acrimonious debate over revival of non-partisan government to oversee the national election, the conduct of public servants, particularly those in police and the general administration, especially at the field level, assumes significance. Unfortunately, public servants are not trusted to act neutrally under a political government. The factors behind our reaching such a deplorable state are the deliberate dilution of state and government interests. The denigration of services of the Republic has quite clearly not been in public interest.

Coming to the social circuit, barring honourable exceptions, politicians of different shades of opinion in our society do not socialise among themselves and some are not even on talking terms. They are setting an unhealthy precedent that is vitiating the social atmosphere wherein revenge is strongly likely to replace healthy competition.

For observers, both internal and external, it is quite intriguing as to how Bangladeshis who have crafted such an admirably lofty Constitution could often be so foul mouthed in political exchanges. Such observers wonder about the treatment of criminals from a political viewpoint and cannot comprehend as to why the criminal liabilities of a particular time are condoned at another time without undergoing the test of legal scrutiny. To them, the integrity and veracity of our regulatory institutions appear less than credible.

In these circumstances the political parties have to come to an accommodation on the modality of holding the ensuing parliamentary election in a credible way. It is indeed difficult in a polarised environment marked by weakened institutions. However, failure to do so will mean “further erosion in people’s confidence in state institutions, decay of social cohesion and a diminution of governance effectiveness”.

One may need some guile or perhaps be wily to remain steady in the rough and tumble of politics, but must we stoop low and deadly to besmirch the regulatory and corrective institutions only to outwit the opponent and perilously clamber to power? Politics and politicians perhaps should not be reviled the way it is being done now.

We need to come out of the tribal mentality in transacting affairs of the state. The political cracks centering national election conduction and the ominous fling to disturb communal harmony will further degenerate our society. That has to be halted. Our politicians are surely under no promise never to become wiser. Major political parties have to be equally committed to shared principles of constitutionalism. If that does not happen, the situation will be much worse.

The writer is a columnist of The Daily Star.

By arrangement with The Daily Star/ANN