For a long time there has been no such thing as politics in Bangladesh. A kind of non-political situation is going on. In our country, politics usually means mutual criticism between the government and the opposition in the parliament and on the ground, rallies against each other, processions, etc. It also includes movements, blockades, strikes etc. on various issues.
After the fall of the Ershad government, the politics of the country has been conducted in this direction. Although there has always been a question as to whether this kind of politics is right or wrong. However, the conscious community has always given and continues to give advice for the smooth running of politics. They are talking about a qualitative change in politics. They suggest fair politics is about having effective opposition parties in parliament and criticizing and protesting various government activities by them, holding processions and meetings in the streets with various interests, problems and demands of the people.
The people will also discuss and criticize the pros and cons of the government and the opposition. The ruling party will not run exclusively. There will be checks and balances of power.
However, there is no such politics in our country. The politics of intense conflict between the ruling party and the opposition is prevalent. Until the tenth parliamentary elections in 2014, such politics was going on at least a little bit. Since then, this trend of politics has also changed. The ruling party has an exclusive dominance in politics. Opposition politics and its opportunities are limited.
Observers call this situation depoliticization. Many political analysts say that the country has been depoliticized. Their allegation is that the ruling party’s monopoly and intimidating politics have deprived the opposition of the opportunity to engage in politics. The biggest opposition party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), complains that they are not allowed to do politics. They are forced to stay away from holding meetings and rallies. The government also obstructs peaceful programs like human chaining in the streets. Whether it is on the basis of this allegation of the opposition party or due to the strict rule of the ruling party, a kind of depoliticized environment is going on in the country, only conscious people are realizing it.
Allegations of depoliticization have not been strongly denied by the ruling party. This attitude is expressed in the speech and behavior of its leaders. Ordinary people are also the target of this depoliticization. As a result, they are no longer engaged in spontaneous debates on politics as they used to. Their reluctance towards politics is visible throughout the country.
The interest of the people of our country towards politics is eternal. They are aware of politics. Whether they eat or not, they like to engage in discussions and debates about politics. When the talk of politics arose, they joined it spontaneously. If the discussion is good, they shake their head and agree, otherwise they get involved in an argument. They do not know the name of the Greek politician and philosopher Cleisthenes, the father of the theory of democracy, or the definition of democracy given by the later world-renowned thinkers, nor do they know that they themselves are practicing democracy by engaging in argument.
Unknowingly they roam in democracy. It is their eternal habit to give importance to one’s opinion or to accept logical opinion through ethics. The political parties that present their ideology through the practice of democracy, the common people support those parties of their choice. The debate on political issues was visible everywhere from the teashop gatherings to wedding ceremonies.
Basically, this was how the politics of our country was prevalent for many years. Now it seems to have cut. Politics has become like clapping one hand on the table. It is difficult for the people of the country to remember when they saw the spontaneous rallies of the government and the opposition. It has been a long time since the top leaders have bothered to meet face to face or listen to them from afar.
Consistently, the political parties in the districts, especially the opposition parties, must dig deep into their memory to remember when they have held large public meetings. Publishing huge pictures and reports of public meetings in newspapers is no longer visible. There is no competition among the political parties for holding public meetings. There is no challenge to how big the motorcycle rally is and how many people could they gather. The festive and competitive politics that used to be seen in holding public meetings is now lost.
Ordinary people who are aware of politics may sigh invisibly and say, where did that politics go. Why cannot we attend meetings and processions like before, we can’t hear the speeches of leaders in public meetings. Needless to say, everyone in the country and abroad knows that ordinary people cannot attend meetings and processions like before. Public meetings, processions and various programs of political parties were a part of democracy in our country since the independence.
Now this essential element of democracy is not in the country. As a result, allegations have been raised that depoliticization is going on in the country. Opposition parties are not being given enough space in politics. However, the ruling party has always said that the meetings, processions and rallies of the opposition are being held regularly. Many representatives of civil society do not agree with this statement of the ruling party. They have been saying for a long time that the space for democratic and normal politics in the country has been narrowed.
The ruling party has not taken these words into account for a long time and the government is continuing its work in its discretion. Democracy is being highlighted as secondary to development. The government’s ingrained idea is that if they can present the picture of development to the people, they will not worry too much about whether there is democracy or not.
However, most of the conscious people disagree with this policy of the government. They think that there is no alternative to democracy in establishing balanced and sustainable development and good governance. Development and democracy are complementary. With the exclusion of one the other cannot last very long. The hallmark of a successful and efficient government is to advance development and democracy on an equal footing. Excluding any one of these is considered as its incompetence.
There is no such thing as right to vote in the country now. All elections, local and parliamentary, are being held, but it is only in name. Spontaneous turnout of voters is not observed. People have become reluctant to vote. They know very well that there is no benefit in voting. It will not reflect their views. Inevitably the ruling party’s candidate will win. Opposition candidates will be disqualified and even his bond money will be confiscated. Even the candidate of the ruling party knows that getting a nomination from the party means his sure victory. As a result, the competition for nomination among their candidates start long time ago before the election schedule is announced. Nomination means winning for sure.
The culture of such exclusive voting has been going on for almost a decade now. Analysts believe that this is a result of depoliticization. In other words, the government has been able to deactivate the opposition parties with various slanders, repressions, attacks and lawsuits. It has been able to instill fear in the leaders and activists of the opposition. This fear has also spread among the common people. Where the leaders and activists of the opposition are in a state of harassment, why should their supporters and the general public be in trouble for speaking out against the government. As a result, they too have sunk in silence. They are running the way the government is running.
Now no one wants to be loud because of the strict suppression of the ruling party. Because, they have this example in front of them of how to crush the big opposition party and how to keep it at bay from the top-level leader of the party to the grassroots. Considering this, it is very difficult for ordinary people to speak freely. It is believed that if anyone says anything, he must face the wrath of the government. There are many examples of what happens when someone writes on social media criticizing the government from time to time. Even there are examples of arresting and detaining teenagers for posting something against the government on the social media.
As a result, many people are now living on their backs. The ruling party is making it clear that you do not need to worry about politics. Everything you need to do is to keep yourself away from politics. “The country is rapidly moving towards development” when such a claim is presented to the public with some pictures of recent infrastructure development, who can point the arrow of criticism at the government. Where politics is cold-blooded, there can be no reason for ordinary people to discuss politics. There is no denying that the majority of the depoliticization process in the country is the responsibility of the ruling party.
On the other hand, some unwise decisions of the main political opposition party like refraining themselves from participating in national election in 2013 have pushed the ruling party to be more aggressive towards them. Ruling entity is always right. BNP is participating in the local government elections including the parliamentary elections with presuming defeats. Their argument in favor of participating in elections is that we want to show that fair elections are not held under the ruling party.
The opposition has no choice but to make this argument. This is because the leaders and workers of the party feel the need to participate in the elections in order to bring out the people, grassroot leaders and workers on the street who have become inactive and have entered the house. Maybe the party thinks that one day they will be able to come out of the process of depoliticization only if the grassroot leaders, workers and general people are strengthened in this way.
Analysts believe that limited, controlled or short-lived democracy is more dangerous than dictatorship. Dictatorships have a place to comfort the people. The dictators will not care about the people, they know it. However, the system of governance in the guise of democracy is more dangerous for the people. People cannot say anything. There is democracy, there is no democracy – they have no choice but to be frustrated by a sphere of puzzle.
Such a system of governance cannot be desirable in a democratic country. Just as the people of our country have not obeyed dictatorship, so they would not obey this kind of democracy. If we look at history, we can see that they fought for democracy and gave their lives despite poverty and hunger.
The movement has struggled for a democratic system of governance. No matter which political party is leading in this movement, they have spontaneously participated in it. He has stood up against those who have disrupted democracy. In other words, for the people of our country, happiness or development is not a big issue, democracy is their first priority. They want both governance and development to be within the framework of democratic governance. Apart from this, any kind of cunning in the name of democracy is not acceptable to them. They do not want to live in a depoliticized environment. Although many rulers have been able to temporarily suppress this traditional feature of the people of the country, in the end they have succumbed to the will of the people.
Politics controlled by the people has to be returned to the people. This precedent has been set more than once in the history of Bangladesh. All political parties, including the ruling party, know that the people of Bangladesh do not compromise on democracy and want to take an active part in politics. Therefore, whoever is in power, they have to realize this characteristic of the people of Bangladesh and play a responsible role and rule the country. It is important to understand that depoliticization, one-party hegemony, authoritarianism or perversion of democracy are not accepted by the people. The consequences are not pleasant. In this case, there is no alternative but to continue the democratic trend based on the participation of the people and to give an institutional basis. It is necessary to take initiative to open and develop democracy by accepting this reality. Depoliticization never brings welfare to the country and the people.
*Mahmudul Hasan is a recent LLM graduate of The George Washington University Law School and a law practitioner based in New York. He can be contacted at [email protected].