Bangladesh’s Governance Decay: A Case Of Leadership Betrayal?


The sad thing about democracy is that every time you vote, a politician wins and for Bangladesh its tryst with ‘democracy’ its politicians have been anything but happy.

Most Bangladeshis feel that they have been betrayed by their politicians especially by their leaderships. They have witnessed how their leaders that sought votes and got themselves elected through democratic frameworks and thus were expected to govern through democratic norms trashed democracy as soon as they entrenched themselves in the seats of power and turned the system into autocracy or semi-autocracy, mainly to suit their own needs more than those of the people that voted them in. People also witnessed that almost every government that ruled the country since its inception in 1971 simply took turns to curtail  freedom, suppress and repress opposition and plunder and pillage the national coffer with such regularity that in the name of democracy all they got is a retinue of ‘rotating plundering governments’. Among these there was also one particular political leadership that went one step further and made what may be termed as,Luichchami(in the absence of proper Englishthis local term has been used to describe a rare form of one human behaviour that mixed pornography and lying with theft), as a governing philosophy.

Lately, even the language of political discourse has changed. Gone are the days when in spite of their differences leaders used to treat each other with respect and never ever strayed from decency and decorum and never departed from the accepted code of civility while criticising their political rivals. Not any more,these days obscenity and foul words are the norm and have become favoured and common epithets in political lexicon.

Notwithstandingits impressive economic and social accomplishments, some however, argue and with some justification that much of these such as reduction of poverty, improvements in education, gender equality, nutrition, sanitation etc.  are mainly due to contributions made by the creative and enterprising men and women of the private sector that have used the market forces to expand manufacturing; toils and tears of migrant workers that fill the national coffer with foreign exchange (only to be stolen by the government and its agents) and the empathizing NGOs that have successfully filled the void that have been left by most governments in social sector, current trend is gloomy and risks reversing the gains made so far. Indeed, Bangladesh is a classic case where progress has been made despite government and the predatory behaviour of the government has become so dangerous that the coterie is starting to eat out the very soul of the country. What is also quite worrying that in order to hide their failures and most importantly, their plundering acts and this is being done quite aggressively now, that the government has resorted to nationalistic rancour that has diverted attention of people to non-issues and at the same time, divided the very people the leadership is expected not just to represent but also to serve,equally. As a matter of fact, parliamentarians that grace the hallowed hall of the Sangsad Bhavan and warm its comfortable seats are anything but selfless crusaders of people’s cause. On the contrary, over the years these political elites have taken turns to rob the country and bully the opponents,while helping themselves and their cronies to become obscenely wealth and dangerously powerful so much so that the entire political system has now become a prisoner of these wealthy predators.

Things cannot and should not be allowed to go on like this forever. But, given its control on the system, is there a way out?

Indeed, there is a way out and it is within the very system that has betrayed the people of Bangladesh and made them powerless in the first place. The answer is in democracy itself – yes, in democracy but not in the democracy of the rich, the minority but in the democracy of the poor and the marginalized, the majority.

José ‘Pepe’ Mujica, a former armed revolutionary,who until recently has been the President of Uruguay,someone who never stayed at the presidential palace but in his small hut for he firmly believed that presidential palaces, red carpets, flagged cars etc. are all colonial legacies,that were deliberately introduced to separate the ruler from the ruled should have never been the norm in a democratic polity and someone who is also popularly known as ‘poor’ president for his frugal lifestyle who never used presidential plush state car and instead travelled in his beaten up beetle to conduct official business,who also donated 90 per cent of his presidential salary to charity firmly believes that democracy is not safe under rich people though rich per se are not the problem. Mujica believes that the rich are not the best people to represent the interest of the poor and this is because perspectives of the rich are very different from those of the poor and thus by linking democracy with lifestyle he once queried that if democracy is about representation and reflection of the majority “..should the heads of state not live like the majority and not like the minority.”

These days in Bangladesh, lifestyles of the political leaders –the president, the prime minister, the ministers, members of the parliament etc. etc. – and the way the potentates manner they conduct themselves resemble more like the Arab Shiekhs (in every bit of its vulgar sense) and not the majority and thus the rich men’s(who are also crooks) ‘democracy’ has corrupted the entire society and marginalized the majority ever so aggressively that at the present time notions of justice, fair play, morality, honesty etc. are an anathema where inequality is on the rise, corruption is rampant, critical conversations are ignored or crushed either through menacing threats or through deaths . A cloud of despair has descended upon Bangladesh where a sedating mix of ‘development’ rhetoric and evocation of false nationalism is used to grease a good proportion of the civil society that acquiesce the ruling elite of their acts of plunder and murder (literally), where democracy sounds more like a death warrant!

So what should the people of Bangladesh do to rescue democracy from the clutches of these wicked elites to make it work for the people again?

Mujica has a solution. He believes that only democracy can cure democracy and that suggests in conditions such those that have gripped Bangladesh the way to resurrect democracy for the people is for people to shun the wealthy (and by extension, crooks) in politics, change is inevitable and rewarding at the same time.

Prof M. Adil Khan is a social scientist and former United Nations Senior Policy manager

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