Having observed unremitting political schism, egregious falsification and unbridled corruption by politicians of all shades of colour in Bangladesh for nearly four and half decades, time is now ripe to speak out loud and clear and point out the root cause of national malaise. This is not the country which once inspired and galvanised people of all strands of life to rise up against the repressive, brutal hegemony of Pakistan. People demanded democratic rights, cultural freedom, freedom of expression, and above all a free, fair and honest society where everybody irrespective of creed, colour and religion would live in peace and harmony. What they have got now is exactly the opposite of their demands. But probably people themselves have fundamentally changed and now demanding something else which was not what the country was created for.
The root of Bengali nationalism came from the Bengali language movement of 1952, but that was within the context of framework of Pakistan. At no time during those long years since the language movement was there any significant demand for a separate, independent nationhood. But ironically, it was the antagonistic stance and the brutal repression of the Pakistani regime that propelled Bengalis to seek separate identity and nationhood. Within nine months a nation was born and that was only possible with the active help and support of India. No country in the world came into existence – from conception to inception – within a short nine months. Vietnam fought the bloodiest war of independence against France and then against America for over 30 years, Algeria fought vicious fight against France for over 15 years, India fought against Britain well over 40 years, if not more. The short span of nine months in Bangladesh’s case did not give Bangladeshis sufficient time to develop nationalistic mind set or even conduct a war of independence on its own, which would have imbibed a feeling of nationhood.
We may not like to admit that India played a major role or may even deny that India’s role was decisive. However, some liberal minded people might go that far in admitting that India’s help was significant and shortened the liberation struggle. But within a year or two, they proclaim, even without India’s help Bangladeshi Mukti Bahini (freedom fighters) would have liberated the country anyway. Hardly do they realise that if India would have closed her borders for the East Pakistanis when Pakistan unleashed brutal repression of Bengalis, then the valiant Mukti Bahini would have been sitting targets for the Pakistani soldiers and they would have killed them like flies. Denying inconvenient truths is our national character. We deny obvious facts and manufacture truth out of lies. A ubiquitous depravity has percolated over our national character.
During those heady days of 1970/71, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the leader of the Awami League who won the overwhelming majority in 1970 election, was bundled out of the then East Pakistan in March 1971 and kept in prison in the then West Pakistan. Ten months later he came back to the same land and, hey presto, it was an independent country, called Bangladesh. He was accorded the grand title of ‘father of the nation’ by the student leaders (one of whom was Tofail Ahmed) with whom he worked before his arrest.
When Sheikh Mujibur Rahman announced within a few days of his return from the prison in Pakistan that three million lives were lost in the war of independence, it was an outstandingly bad mistake or may even be a deliberate lie. More likely, it was a case of bad mistake based on ‘lost in translation’. But what pains the discerning and conscientious observers are that instead of correcting this farcical mistake, the political and bureaucratic elites of the time clung on to this mendacious falsification in the hope that world sympathy would be that much magnified by this inflated fatality figure! This was the first step of manufactured truth on a national scale relegating facts and honesty. Little did they know that there are many ways of verifying a claim, particularly when it comes to human fatality. The world is not so easily swayed by a single utterance when overwhelming facts are against it. A highly inflated falsified figure by the father of the nation not only set an outstandingly bad example for the countrymen to emulate, but also eroded country’s moral footing.
Right from the beginning the political leaders, family members of the ‘father of the nation’ and state bureaucrats all started thieving national assets almost at will. There was no transparency, no accountability and the governance of the state almost broke down. While the whole nation looked at the father of the nation to put a stop to all these egregious things, the father of the nation was scheming to deprive the nation of the fundamental rights over which the country was born. Within just four years of independence, the country faced a famine of magnitude that had never taken place during the whole of Pakistani period. Instead of reining in family members of the ‘father of the nation’ who were looting the country, he rather proceeded to suspend democratic rights of the people, to form a single party system etc. However, he paid the price for his incompetence, but the legacy of unbridled corruption and affinity to mendacity lingered on and polluted the genetic inheritance of the nation.
Taking advantage of the utter mismanagement and outstandingly fractious governance of the state, Islamists who kept their heads down so far because of their opposition to the liberation raised their ugly heads. These Islamists, supported financially by the Saudi Wahhabism, and aided and abetted by Pakistani agitators and conspirators (ISI), started getting back into national political arena. In any case, ever since its inception, Bangladesh could not shake off its past religious baggage. A tug of war between Islamists and secularists ensued and it is going on ever since with varying degrees of intensity. The country is torn between these two camps, led by two dynasties: Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (the father of the nation) and his family leading the Awami League Party and Ziaur Rahman (the self-proclaimed liberator of the country) and his family leading the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
These two political dynasties are laying claims on the ownership of the country on the pretext of their contribution during the liberation war. This country for which tens of thousands of people sacrificed their lives, millions suffered pain and hardship has now been turned into an item of dispute between the dynasties and the people have been turned into mere pawns. And the sad part of it all is that these people are buying such conceited notion and falling behind one or the other of these families and slavishly supporting them, not the country.
When Arafat Rahman, the son of Ziaur Rahman and Khaleda Zia, died in Malaysia recently and his dead body was brought back to Bangladesh, literally millions of people came from all over the country to pay their last respect. It may be pointed out quite clearly that Arafat Rahman was not a politician of any description and he achieved nothing whatsoever in life. His only contribution was that he siphoned off millions of dollars of national wealth during his mother’s premiership and when he was charged with corrupt practices by the Caretaker Government, he ran away to Thailand and then to Malaysia as a fugitive. When he died, he died as a fugitive and an alleged criminal who evaded national justice and deserves no respect. So where from this ‘respect’ of the millions of people are coming? Aren’t these people extremely communal, paying respect not to Arafat but to the son of the gang leader, even if he is a criminal and fugitive? Doesn’t it display an utter state of depravity on the part of millions of people, who would respect even a criminal only because he is a family member of the leader of the party? Can democracy flourish in such blatant communality where common sense and decency have taken leave?
When Khaleda Zia gives her action programme for blockade (and to carryout burning vehicles, derail trains, kill people etc.) in the name of ‘establishing democracy’, what democracy is she talking about? Can barbarism and vandalism establish democracy? Is she not delusional and totally depraved? Since 5th January more than 60 innocent people had been killed, hundreds had suffered burns, more than five hundred vehicles had been destroyed. The 20-party alliance, led by the BNP, proudly proclaims that “the alliance on behalf of the people has continued their glorious, valiant and heroic struggle against mindless and brutal BAKSAL fascists!” The death and destruction of common people are probably collateral damage in their jargon of ‘glorious struggle’ and everything goes in their stride to gain power. This is depravity at its height.
Such blatant communality is not limited to the BNP only. The BAL also attracts equally aggressive and communal bunch of people. The loyalty to these two camps by the vast majority of 160 million Bangladeshis runs so deep that there is hardly any area of activity – be it public service, education, judiciary, military or any other field – where a clear red line is not visible. The judiciary fails to function properly as verdicts by the judges are based on party loyalty, not on the merit of the case. Academic performance of students is tarnished by party prejudice. The functioning of the whole society is sectarian and depraved.
Admittedly, a state is led by leaders and these leaders are what people produce. If depraved leaders manage to take the centre stage, take the reign of the country, people must have produced them. If the people are innately immoral, they would tend to produce leaders who would reflect their immorality. So, if the country is depraved, and there is no doubt about it, it is not a simple reflection of illiterate, degenerate political leaders, but the innate nature of the people.