RN Desk: Only Awami League can make it, only Awami League will make it,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina says in an article she has written commemorating the 65th founding anniversary of the ruling Awami League. Her hopes are that the people of the country will see an end to their days of sorrow as the Awami League is in power for the second time in a row through the January-5 parliamentary polls.
The Bangladesh Awami League, the country’s largest political party and the ‘torchbearer of democracy’, observed its founding anniversary on June 23 at a crucial juncture for both Bangladesh political parties and the country’s nascent democracy. The Prime Minister’s resolution surely ignites the hopes and aspirations among the people of the country. But the downside of Bangladesh politics is that our leaders always fail to come up with follow-up actions. If you look back at the country’s political history, you will only find the Awami League which has been able to grow up as a genuine political party. After the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Awami League had gone through tumultuous years until Sheikh Hasina brought it back to power in 1996.
Sheikh Hasina also led the party to power in 2019 after its resounding victory in the 2008 election after remaining out of power for over seven years. And its second term in power began with a strong economic growth but it soon collapsed amid corruption scandals and political paralysis that Hasina was seen as too aloof to stop. In its 65-year history, the Bangladesh Awami League, as a political party, has seen many successes, achievements and trying times when it was in power and even when it was out of power. There are many things for the Awami League for which it can be proud of. Yet, going forward, deviation from the focus on governance, development and democratic principles could imperil these gains.
This is true that building democracy takes time. It cannot be given full shape overnight. It is a long journey forward. The path is bumpy and rough. At times, it demands too much of price. The people of Bangladesh paid that price on various occasions. Even after years of movements and sacrifices, the path still looks far too long. All efforts look too tiny. It is an uphill task to establish a democracy because it depends on widespread support and compliance unlike autocratic regimes. Political leaders, their supporters and above all the common people are unlikely to repose their confidence in an unpredictable political system where no one knows what is next.
To make the ruling class go for credible polls and thus make it willing to concede defeat, there should be a trusted system that will make sure that their opponents will not use power against the losers. An atmosphere must also be ensured that key institutions like the judiciary and legislature will protect the integrity of the political system. Political pundits call it institutionalisation of democracy. Winning an election and ruling the country like a military ruler only send out a wrong message.
The political party that led the country to its independence has its role to play in presenting the nation a functional democracy, which will help constitutional bodies grow and function independently what we see in India.
When Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina says that the people of Bangladesh have suffered a lot, sacrificed many things and their days of sorrows will end, that sounds reassuring. But the question remains to be answered how that will happen. The successive governments, including that of the Awami League, failed to ensure governance. When we talk about democracy, we need to accommodate all political parties. When a political party claims an election victory, the election has to be inclusive one. When a party wins an election it will have to win it for all. When a political party assumes power, it will have to get along with the opposition, with humility.
In his first speech in the Lok Sabha, new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his government would focus on the uplift of the poor while working for development of all sections, including Muslims, and promised to take along every political party and state to make the country prosperous and powerful. ”Victory gives lessons and we must learn. It teaches us humility,” the Hindu nationalist leader said.
There is nothing wrong for a leader to get emotional with his or her party, but when a leader says, “Only AL can make it, only AL to make it, then it can be said there is something amiss in this assertion because a great leader includes all and exclude none. No one can deny the historic roles the Awami League had played at various historic moments and movements. But a great party liberates a country for all, a great party wins an election for all, an elected government governs the country for all and a great leader talks for all, and in the process treating opposition with humility.
Holding an election disallowing people to exercise their franchise is not a democratic practice. The Indian National Congress of Sonia Gandhi would know it very well that her alliance was heading towards a worst election debacle well before India’s Lok Sabha election 2014 began but it did not engage in machination to keep its opponent out of the election race. It is not possible to do that either because India has institutionalised its democracy. Democracy falls behind when political parties resort to undemocratic practice in the name of democracy. Leaders need to keep in mind that democracy can survive one or two disappointments, but too many can be catastrophic. Egypt and Thailand are the latest in a long list of examples.
If leaders and others fail to stand up for democratic principles when other priorities seem to be more important, there will be nothing left to safeguard democracy when it is under threat. Retaining power through a non-inclusive election is nothing but a pointer to the radical shrinking of political choices. Not surprisingly, the country these days brims with a political class that only guards its own privileges and perks.
After the formation of the new government, the most important task for Sheikh Hasina, as political analysts say, is to unite the country, though this is a difficult task in a culture of aggressive politics. She will also have to soothe the nerves of those who got terrorised due to unabated incidents of enforced disappearance, abduction and killing.
Hasina’s priority will also be to put the country back on the track to economic growth and development by restoring business confidence, creating jobs for millions of unemployed young people, creating better prospects for the growing middle class and improving the country’s infrastructure. She must continue the process of modernising the country and making it fully fit for the current century. Hasina must also undertake a master plan to save Dhaka city which is on the brink of disaster, though it is a Herculean task.