The heights we should scale

Nurul Islam Anu
Reviewing a revolution or an armed struggle for political emancipation — after three decades or so of its chequered evolution is a challenging and complicated intellectual exercise. A revolution or a struggle for political freedom and its colourful journey towards the ultimate goal of social reconstruction evolves through a complicated dynamism of its own. The inputs that influences its evolution are immensely intricate in nature; a varying level of commitments from the original ideals that inspired it, the amazing and unforeseen array of social phenomenon that inevitably influences the evolution — are imponderables that have posed challenges to the ingenuity of the post revolution political engineers. The process has witnessed stunning successes in post-revolution reconstructive endeavours and at the same time painful derailments from its pristine purity. A consistent pursuit of ideals had therefore enjoyed varying degree of success ratios in the post Second World War global political canvas. While Fidel Castro’s Cuba could boast of an admirable level of consistency in ideological pursuits Julius Nayyarre’s Tanzania, Sukarno’s Indonesia, Jomo Kenayattas Kenya, Nkruma’s Ghana, Abu Bakar’s Nigeria — to name a few — represent a mixed picture of relative success and post revolution derailment with Gandhi’s India legitimately claiming a successful secular democratic experiment. But that is how it is inherent in this fascinating drama of triumphs and disappointments.

On a day when the glory of triumphs is being rejoiced, some thoughts on the qualitative content of those triumphs could sound appropriate. While the glory of triumphs provides a much desired spark to a renewed commitment — it simultaneously creates a psychological national setting for an objective analysis of the nature and quality of the abandonments, if any. Sixteenth of December was resounding triumph of a resolute majority asserting their right against the deliberate repression of an insensitive minority; it was a militant expression of the deeply held aspiration of 120 million people to build a political order inherently democratic in character and therefore non-discriminatory and non-communal. Political accountability to the sovereign, the owner of the Republic, the common Salimuddin and Kalimuddin had to provide the core foundation. The order was intended to be pluralistic in character where political behaviour and the process will be conditioned by the most ardent commitment and inculcation of democratic values and religious adherence to the principle of Constitutionalism. A respect for dissent a higher degree of tolerance for the different view, an almost spiritual abhorrence to abuse the instruments of the state to repress dissent — were perceived to be the characteristics of that democratic order.

That order would be respectful to individual rights of the common man, duly protected by a supreme law the Constitution and enforceability of that law ensured by an unfettered judicial system. Economic rights of the common man in a society dominated by pervasive poverty was intended to be protected by a burning sense of commitment to his welfare, a commitment to ensure his basic right to education, health, through initiation and conduct of economic policies consistent with that objective. Inherent in that desire was a reluctance to submit to unbridled Capitalism as the only remedy for all economic ills; the wider ramifications of the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few was perceived to be a threat to the establishment of a democratic order through the manipulative power of money and its degeneration into an inevitable instrument of exploitation. It conceived and dreamt of a peaceful society where citizens’ social existence will be conditioned by love, compassion and respect for others’ right to property; where an administrative and law enforcement structure will be designed, where public servants will act a servants of the Republic — where politicisation of that structure for a narrow political purpose will be scornfully avoided. The society expressed its clear rejection to any form of terror or intimidation as political tools. The revolution dreamt of the management of national resources by a board of elected trustees to be conditioned by the strictest adherence to a principle of accountability and its relentless pursuit — where scrupulous management will be rewarded and dishonest management ruthlessly curbed.

Fundamentally, revolution through a victory on the 16th of December spoke of its unflinching commitment to the principles that inspired the revolution and the critical need for its preservation. Because ideals like a dear child needs to be protected against predatory raids and any lack of vigilance and failure to protect results in its qualitative erosion and its eventual loss. This is a brutal lesson of history.

Bangladesh’s pursuit for post-1971 social reconstruction was no exception to the classical historical pattern of triumph, disappointment and abandonment. In terms of fulfilment of the ideological goals of a revolution, an inherent conflict exists between the forces of expedient interest and the fulfilment of the ideological goal. Historically, the tendency to capitulate before expedient compulsions has been overwhelmingly tempting. Expedient interests represent essentially class and group interests, short-sighted and self-serving in nature and hardly universal in its appeal. Dereliction from the about democratic goals in the post 1971 political evolution were essentially caused by authoritarian interests of groups or a small number of individual and the countless constitutional amendments — totalling 13 in number are startling examples of the abandonment of core democratic values and disregard of constitutionalism.

The Fourth and the Tenth Amendment, just to name a few, dealt a severe blow to the Democratic and secular character of the 1972 constitution the Fifth legitimising armed adventurism. Abandonment of core values for expedient interests is essentially — counter productive in nature because it creates a vicious cycle of repetitive derelictions. For example armed adventurism against a constitutional order inevitably led to the infringement on the sovereign’s right to vote — the entire corrosion of the electoral process — the foundation of a democratic society. It led to the introduction of terror as a vicious tool of intimidation of political opponents and the voting process on the election day. Sham referendums substituted transparent electoral evolution. Politicisation of the bureaucracy and the law enforcement agencies was used as additional tools to manipulate the process. Manipulation is inherently immoral and always sustained by a continuos flow of corrupt inputs. The twin dangers of terror and corruption are thus introduced as a vicious social enemy disrupting almost every institution and they are sustained by a vicious momentum of their own.

The propensity to utilising servants of the Republic for partisan purposes is repugnant to the ideals of good governance — besides being injurious to the important goal of establishing an anonymous impartial bureaucracy dedicated to the service of the Republic. Politics, as perceived by the dreamers of the revolution and martyrs — was not intended to be a continuous and boring confrontational exercise resulting in the spectacles of a half vacant Parliament witnessed for the last 15 years.

In its eternal march, 16th of December and a blood stained history poses a simple question — where do we go from here? As indicated earlier the noble and challenging task of social reconstruction cannot be achieved in an ideological vacuum. A democratic society, for example cannot be established by abandonment of core democratic values — respect for the sovereigns’ right to vote, regard for dissent, the recognition of the need for a continuous dialogue towards Resolution and Reconciliation and above all upholding the virtue of grace in the overall conduct of political behaviour. Confrontation is undemocratic and must therefore the abandoned. Democratic mandate means the sovereign’s entitlement to good governance — his right to live in an atmosphere of social tranquillity conducive to the preservation of his individual rights and pursuit of unhindered economic activities. Economic management has to be guided by the inescapable concern for the need of the common man who owns the republic. It is the Trustee’s responsibility to ensure the desired level of investment that would ensure employment. Education as a pursuit of human advancement must be open to Salimuddin’s son, the right to be treated by Kalimuddin’s 70 years old ailing mother by a decent medical facility must be ensured without hindrance.

In short there must be a return to a profound realisation of the pristine purity of the ideals of the War of Liberation and its institutional safeguard. Aberration, distortion and abandonment of ideals have been enormous and the clear need is for a reinvigoration. The creative, hardworking, imaginative, people of Bangladesh are ready to scale new heights — as can be deduced from the wonderful success story created by them under the most adverse of circumstances.

The author is a retired civil servant.

Leave a Reply