Monday, August 26, 2013

Polls 2013 - Of power, pain, princes and poli-tricks


by Mac Haque 


''And in what fairy tale would John ever be any sane person’s idea of Prince Charming anyway? He was the opposite of charming. More like Prince Terrifying.'' Meg Cabot, Abandon

THE onset of Eid-ul-Fitr holidays saw Bangladesh struggling to rediscover a semblance of normalcy, which had eluded it from the beginning of the year. For the average citizens, trapped and held hostage between demeaning polemics and arrogance of the two mainstream political parties, the mighty ideals of democracy that all free nations aspire for has been laid waste. Time has come to a standstill as our politicians have stalled our minds to make any sense of the ‘what next’. 

Those ‘what next’s’ have led to a proliferation of ‘what ifs’ and all we can do for now is breathe heavily in anticipation; hearts asunder, we wonder whether it is any more fashionable to talk about reason. That an absence of reason equals to anarchist insanity is not even being considered in these unreasonable times.

We are forced to gulp nothing more than fear pills about threats of more violence and loss of lives and limbs. The visually violent faces of politicians we see on television or the unfriendly speeches we have to endure cannot make for comforting imaginations when we mull over the prospects of elections 2013. 

Every passing day confronts us with further uncertainties, and there are no assurances or indicators available anywhere to suggest that the loss of opportunities, loss of businesses, and the ultimate trial of our patience and sanity this year will be recompensed in the foreseeable future. Regardless of whether we vote and usher in the Awami League or the Bangladesh Nationalist Party with their respective allies to government in 2014, there seems to be no chance for peace ever to return. 

And all of our continuous pains, insults and ignominies are because we cherish ‘democracy’, which, in the Bangladesh perspective, has historically been no more than a battle of two families that have personal squabbles and scores to sort out, have one-upmanship as their only means to an end. Overindulgence in innuendoes and profanity-filled diatribes in public to force upon the people their mentally convoluted mandate and undermining ‘will’ in the end leaves no one with any inclination that our politician’s intentions are anything but to serve the interest of the people.

As if in a theatre of the absurd, even at the best of times, our politicians remind us of ‘pain’ and how more painful our fate and fortune ought to be, just to remember, like the original sin, the ‘original pain’! 

Take for example the prime minister’s comments, published in New Age on August 19, during her much-heralded press conference about the dismal power situation that the AL government has succeeded in taking a tight rein on. 

While the prime minister surely deserves accolades for the improvements made during her tenure, her statement that she deliberately switches off power for two hours daily and will increase it further so that ‘people can understand (remember) the pain of going without power’ sends very abrasive signals. More than a public display of her tendency to go overboard whenever she is surrounded by cronies, it also suggests arbitrariness of the highest order. 

What has gone unnoticed is improvement to the power situation is not exactly a ‘favour’ granted by the prime minister to the people but a duty she is obliged to perform in keeping with her much-touted dream of ‘digital Bangladesh’. Electricity is not exactly provided free to the citizens at large, yet amongst the phalanx of journalists present during the conference no one questioned or even challenged the revenue losses to the national exchequer for the hours power is switched off because of her whims and fancy.

If it is the loss of votes the Awami League should be worried about, the prime minister’s utterances were subversive in nature, an open admission of abuse of power and fundamentally a violation of her oath of office, and may have easily cost her over a million votes on the day alone. In addition, this punishing ‘pain’ on the people, simply because a huge proportion of our population supports the BNP, is pushing her luck to the brink.

The prime minister should have remembered that despite all the great deeds of her government, the Bengali race tends to sway in the direction the ‘wind is blowing’. Favourable wind ironically is yet to strike the sails of the ‘boat’ she concurrently navigates. Despite all her and the Awami League’s ‘great achievements’ in five years, the party should not forget the Bengali adage ‘Ek mon doodh noshto kortey ek fota lebu jothesto’ (a drop of lime is enough to destroy gallons of milk). The BNP does not have to struggle too hard to win. More sour words from the prime minister aimed at the people are enough to guarantee the Awami League’s suicidal defeat.

On a different note, our politicians have started believing that citizens at large have turned both deaf and mute, or complete jackasses. With constant barrages of warnings about ‘unconstitutional forces’ or individuals who will usurp power at the first given opportunity, they have craftily launched a ‘charm offensive’ that we accept by default ‘unconstitutional leaders’ that both parties are propping up as the nation’s potent saviours as our ‘take it or leave it choice’? 

For the love of God, can someone please tell me who ‘prince’ Tareque and ‘prince’ Joy are to lecture us anything at all on politics and statecraft? Are they elected leaders? Given an even playing field as opposed to the abject advantage of their pedigree, will they ever stand a chance to be elected by the people?

The propping into ‘national limelight’ of these two inconsequential ‘prince wannabes’ displays the political frailty, vulnerability and bankruptcy of both the Awami League and the BNP. It tends to reinforce the public perception that, whilst we continue to pay high prices in our pursuit of the elusive golden deer — democracy, the mainstream parties are anything but democratic. Indeed, what is on offer is a dynastic continuity, meaning Bangladeshis will have to keep tolerating that its land is no more than a fiefdom. 

As far as ‘prince’ Tareque’s track records are concerned, the nation has had a taste of his abuse of power and interference in the functioning of the previous BNP government. It is his alternative source of power, the bastion of his cronies and sycophants, termed the ‘young Turks’, in Hawa Bhaban that caused the electoral disaster for the BNP in the last polls and maybe even the consequent 1/11. While public memory in Bangladesh is traditionally short, to imagine that the nation has forgotten the episodes of the past or have forgiven him completely may be basking in a fool’s paradise.

‘Prince’ Joy, on the other hand, emerged out of nowhere ahead of Eid holidays and proceeded on a rampage of ‘killjoy’ comments! Despite his American university degrees and a bideshi wife to boost his image among the ‘peasantry’, when it comes to pettiness, his incoherence and indulgence in poli-trickery led many not only to be surprised but also deeply shocked. When it comes to ‘sophisticated bumpkin-ness’, there is not too much of a difference in his demeanour that sets him apart from his newly sworn nemesis — ‘prince’ Tareque. 

The media in combi with the BNP, however, had a field day making mincemeat when he muttered unintelligibly about having access to ‘information’ that confirms the Awami League would have a thumping victory in elections 2013. What actually transpired was ‘prince’ Joy used something akin to Gallup Polls outsourced to some of his buddies, as a guiding parameter to his ‘prophetic comment’. That the ‘information’ itself could have been doctored to please him is where he failed to make any matured judgement. 

That aside, the social network images of his mother (the prime minister) cooking in the kitchen for his birthday did nothing to boost his image; on the contrary, it may have projected him as a pampered ‘mama’s darling’.

However, what is very baffling is the public perception in general that the BNP will sweep into power. The success of the party in routing the Awami League in five city corporation elections may have buoyed their confidence, yet their rabidly growing ‘overconfidence’ about the people’s likely mandate is worrying and raises some pertinent questions: 

1. Assuming that the BNP accedes to the AL intransigence on the caretaker government issue and wins a decisive majority in parliament, bringing them back to power, will the next elections then be held under the BNP government? If yes, would the Awami League be ready to accept the same and contest the next elections under the BNP?

2. If the BNP comes to power, will it be possible for it to go along with the excess baggage they have accumulated over the past five years in the shape of the extreme right-wing Hefajat-e-Islami or even the remnants of Jamaat-e-Islami? Specifically, will they accept the 13-point demand of Hefajat and other such groups in the lunatic fringe? 

3. Assuming that the Awami League loses and is back in parliament as the opposition, does it mean the war crimes tribunal will be dismantled and all convicted criminals set free? Will the continuation of whatever has been of common good to the citizens in the AL tenure of five years be torpedoed?

4. Assuming that point 1 becomes a reality, does it mean that the Awami League has gotten so bankrupt (or ‘rotten’ to quote Khaleda Zia) as a political party that there is absolutely no chance of it ‘ever’ coming back to power?

While we mull over the above ‘what if’ hypothesis, the most important points for the citizens to consider is the following: 

5. In the event of a BNP victory and capture of state power ‘democratically’, what guarantees do the citizens have that the Awami League will give a respite to street agitations, murder mayhems, human rights abuse, attacks on minorities and women as well as unending calls for hartal? 

6. What assurances do we, as voters, have that tit-for-tat regime of violence and uncertainties that has been part and parcel of our so-called ‘political culture’ will end for good?

For now, there are unfortunately no convincing answers. 

The BNP’s agenda for the polls is to merely trash the Awami League’s achievements and focus on what it sees as ‘corruption, arbitrary conduct, violence, human rights abuse’ and the much misused propaganda of ‘attack on Islamist and their construed faith and belief by atheist in the government’. That the BNP cannot absolve itself from the same exact evils and the same allegations is one that bedevils the national psyche.

Likewise, the Awami League’s agenda for the polls is only to talk about its achievements, and how the nation will face the prospects of ‘militancy, bomb attacks and rehabilitation of war criminals and Taibanisation’, if the BNP wins — an old and rehashed piece of trash that does nothing more than to appease the US and its allies in the non-existent war on terror! Other than a continuation of one fear psychosis or the other, the Awami League or the BNP has nothing tangible as such on offer.

In the above scenarios, it is not the politicians but the citizens who in the end will be the perfect and ultimate losers. Whether or not the election will be held at all is speculative, yet if within the ongoing chaos a ‘respectable poll’ does come through, what will be interesting to look out for is no party having a clear majority to form a government. A ‘hung parliament’ will hopefully usher in a ‘political culture’ where the Awami League and the BNP will be left with no option but to battle it out on the parliament floor — and not on the streets, not at the cost of innocent citizens. Outdating either ‘decisive’ or ‘brutal majority’ seems to be the only answer for the time being. 

I welcome the prospects — as a hung parliament will ensure that the people, the citizens will be spared the ‘pain’ of being hanged by politicians repeatedly!


New Age Op Ed Monday 26th August 2013

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