Mostafa Kamal Majumder
The historic Victory Day has been celebrated on 16 December in remembrance of the victory of our nine-month-long War of Independence on this day in 1971 over the occupation forces, that led the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent and sovereign nation. The day is very significant this year which is marked by strife between the political forces in place of their joining hands to celebrate and create inspirations for the
new generation of Bangladeshis to take fresh vows to safeguard national independence and sovereignty at all costs and hold their head high.
As the day dawns the people are taking a look back into the past to assess how far the goals of the war of independence have been achieved in the 41st year of victory. In fact a number of political parties and
organisations held seminars, roundtable and discussion meetings on the expectations and achievements of the 41 years of independence. The 1971 War was the culmination of a long struggle of the people for
democracy and economic emancipation.
After the creation of the state of Pakistan the people of Bangladesh (then called East Pakistan) had a bitter experience of deprivation of democratic rights and economic subjugation. The people of this land were responsible for creation of the movement that ultimately led to the creation of the state of Pakistan, but due to disproportionately low representation in the armed forces and the civil services, policy planners most often ignored their rights and demands. This explains how Bangla, the language of the majority of people of Pakistan, was initially refused to be made one of the state languages of Pakistan.
The historic March 7 speech of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made clear mention of the fact that the power elite of the then west Pakistan never allowed the democratically elected leaders of Bangladesh to have positions of power and influence in that setup. Not even the clear mandate of the people expressed through the 1970 elections was respected by the civil military bureaucracy which instead took the path of military action to quell the people’s democratic uprising through the ballot. The massacre of unarmed civilians left the people of Bangladesh with no option other than taking up arms to free the country from the Pakistani occupation forces.
In independent Bangladesh however democracy was not allowed to function without interruptions. The legacy of failure to nurture democracy for which the people fought the War of Liberation still haunts the nation, which is yet to make confident and secure strides in the path to democracy. After the knocking down of some previous amendments that were unanimously incorporated in the 1991 Constitution the nation has once again fallen into a grave uncertainty about the future course as the nation has sharply divided into two parts, one seeking election under the incumbent government by keeping the Parliament alive and the other asking for restoration of the system of election under non-party caretaker government. The nation very
recently witnessed the observance of nationwide road blockade and two successive hartals (general strikes) over the issue.
Even without getting into the merits of the two positions on the Constitution, the fundamental law of the land, it is more than abundantly clear that the divide is deep and clear. But a democracy cannot thrive with one section of the people feeling alienated from the Constitution. Because the fundamental law should be based on the general will or consensus of the people. The people of Bangladesh had the rare opportunity of adopting a consensus Constitution in 1991.
There was no dissent against the document even though there were suggestions for improvements. The constitutional history of Bangladesh shows that confrontations over the fundamental law of the land can
only be interpreted as a signal for instability, chaos and political disturbance.
Then again if one examines the functioning of the organs of the government constituted on the basis of the Constitution one finds a dismal picture. The legislature – Parliament – remains virtually non-functional due to non-participation of the opposition. The major legislative functions performed during its current tenure do not enjoy the confidence and support of the opposition. The executive branch of the government has not succeeded to take initiatives to bridge the gaps through give and take that are so fundamental to the functioning of democracy. Governance has suffered as a result, the share market scam, the Padma Bridge scam and the Sonali Bank scam being the glaring examples. The opposition has been complaining of infringement of their democratic rights to freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Human rights bodies are reporting on extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances.
The less said about the judiciary is the better. The people do not find the courts functioning independently, as they expected, to be assured of justice and fair play. So the democratic aspirations of the people do not appear to be fulfilled.
On the economic front although there have been some success stories of the last two decades, the people are complaining of unequal distribution of wealth and opportunities. More than 20 million able-bodied people are unemployed. Employment to government and semi-government services has become virtually impossible without persuasion and corrupt deals. Average people have now started taking irregularities by public servants as the order of the day. These definitely are not compatible with the ideals of democracy and
economic rights as the people aspired during their movement for democracy before 1971 and during the War of Liberation.
What’s worse sharp divisions are emerging in the body politic instead of rock solid unity that is needed to steer the country forward in the path to progress and economic prosperity. The people waged the war not
to protect selfish interests, but to promote the common good of the people. Would the leaders of our political parties measure their activities and achievements with the yardstick mentioned above? The brighter section of youths of today pursue studies abroad and settle there instead of coming back. They in turn send sponsorships to take their parents and relatives away from homeland to live in a trouble-free peaceful atmosphere. In other words there has been a huge brain drain from the country as the talented young people do not believe they have good prospects in their own homeland. In fact this tendency is being noticed even among senior bureaucrats and a section of our political leaders. If the policy and decision makers look
forward to settling in safe havens abroad, how the ordinary people can feel secure at home? Is lush green fertile Bangladesh being consciously turned unlivable? How will the ruling elite, irrespective of the political divide, benefit out of this. How those people who swung into action to liberate the country from foreign occupation way back in 1971 will console themselves?
On this victory day the people do not want to see the political of confrontation any more. They want to have a common vision and common future. They want to leave Bangladesh livable for the future generation. They want to face the challenges of global warming and sea-level rise that threatens to drown one-fifth of the country. But these challenged cannot be faced without rock-solid unity of the people.
Mostafa Kamal Majumder