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Bangladeshis suffer as politicians play games

December 15, 2012

Bangladeshis carry caricatures of war criminals during a rally held to mark the country's 41st Victory Day in Dhaka on December 16, 2012. - Photo by AFP
Bangladeshis carry caricatures of war criminals during a rally held to mark the country's 41st Victory Day in Dhaka on December 16, 2012. - Photo by AFP

DHAKA: We are witnessing difficult and sad times in Bangladesh. Manifest dehumanisation of politics does not cause concern. Gory murder in broad public view does not move many. Guardians of public order come up with stock replies that only fuels cynicism in a precariously polarised society. All in all there are reasons to feel worried as living in a democracy is becoming hazardous.

It would appear that the Bangladesh polity is going to experience more political confrontations in the run-up to the next general election, thus causing severe inconvenience for all segments of the population including the law-enforcers. Political thinkers who are reputed for their time and space-transcending relevance have pointed to the inevitable insecurity and suffering consequent upon political instability. While the fate of the teeming masses of our country may not change due to the confrontationist postures and actions of the mainstream politicians, the game of politics has a rewarding bearing on those who are the players.

The non-deliverance by our politicians has meant demonstration of arrogance by incumbents to somehow stay in power, or fearsome manipulation on the part of the opposition to grab power. In such a scenario, the country is kept on tenterhooks and the process carries within itself multi-dimensional enforcement and security implications.

There is no denying that Bangladesh needs to be presided over by a capable, effective ruling group that can tackle aggressive and destructive forces and provide adequate protection to its citizen. Success of a political government is significantly measured by the absence of violence and the presence of confidence of the people in addition to the element of adaptability to new conditions and challenges. In such a background, the scale of our political instability may unfortunately turn out to be the prelude to political decay.

Many factors militate against our quest for a stable political order. The military or civilianised military rule of the not-too-distant past has been a serious damper and a deficit. A political culture conducive to stability is yet to emerge and unfortunately the facilitating factor of level-headed leadership is in short supply. Consequently, we have to witness a lack of social cohesion and the crippling state incapacity that is rooted in internal threats. Such deficits pose serious threat to the core values of our independence and sovereignty.

British Indian state is alive

It is pertinent to note that the state organs are largely the objects of people’s wrath, rightly or wrongly. The state apparatus left behind by the British, standing above and insulated from society, with the police as one of its primary agencies always attracted the nationalist leaders. However, there were very little efforts to modify the British Indian State.

Our leaders while legitimising the institutions of the parliament, cabinet and the political party, preferred working through the pre-existing bureaucratic structure. They perhaps thought that the rational-legal bureaucracy created and left behind the British had its utility in the “state building” they were undertaking.

Consequently, the state became the centre of political energies and the bureaucracy became the guardian of the society’s collective interests. Administrative change became difficult under such a scenario. This has been the sub-continental experience.

Violence caused by political activities or apprehensions of the same would naturally call for a political response from the state authorities rather than a police response. The latter may be necessary but is seldom satisfactorily adequate. In our situation, it needs to be known that large-scale institutional malfunctioning has resulted in politics acquiring an appetite for all spaces, both public and private.

In our situation all violence becomes political, in a sense. Ironically, in such a situation the state relies largely on the police machinery for information pertaining to protest and violence, as well as for the analysis and interpretation of the phenomenon of public disorder in terms of their nature, causes and solutions. The continuation of the colonial practice of relying on police on such a crucial matter and also in determining state response has been less than salutary.

Terms such as “law and order”, “public order”, or “security of state” are often used in our situation to deploy state violence with impunity. The police tend to make indiscriminate use of the provisions of Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code to disperse “unlawful assemblies”. Effective guidelines are not provided in law for the use of force to deal with such assemblies. The general specification is that minimum force shall be used. Such use of force has often led to the loss of life and liberty.

The relationship between political violence and power has to be noted. Often the law itself becomes violent on account of severity of application backed by official sanction. The rule of law thus can lead to the deployment of violence for purposes of governance. Therefore, there is a necessity of serious policy discussion of the phenomena of violence.

While security of the state is important, it runs the risk of exceeding the limits of legitimacy and indulging in unacceptable levels of violence. The state thus may turn into a provider and predator of security, a dimension which must be examined in any optimal notion of security.

In the sub-continent police coercion became a vital instrument of state policy by mid-1930s. The political parties in our situation exercise influence over the deployment of police during demonstrations, strikes and elections. Political turbulence brings out in full virulence the repressive role of the inherited police system. It is time for both the public and police to break out of an increasingly norm-free, unpredictable and unjust environment. The professional imposition of a coherent moral consensus on the society is the answer.

Bangladeshi society remaining afflicted with divisive tendencies is unable to come up with a consensus on major national issues.

Most political discourses and deliberations, unfortunately, are not characterised by logic but by politicised emotion, and the principal differences have given rise to the tragic social divide. Social cohesion would be impossible in these conditions.

Enforcement becomes a nightmare in such an atmosphere of opposing push and pulls. Sheer good luck and sudden good sense may prevent us from plunging into anarchy.

By arrangement with The Daily Star/ANN