Treacherous weather of democracy

Rubana Huq
Published : 5 March 2012, 03:11 PM
Updated : 5 March 2012, 03:11 PM

"I am justly killed with mine own treachery". — (Claudius, in Hamlet)

The weather is treacherous and the weather teases us with unpredictability. In spite of meteorologists predicting with a high degree of certainty whether it will rain tomorrow, in reality, most of the times, we remain clueless. Social scientists share the same boat; they have theories to base their predictions on, but they lack the firmness as ground realities change overnight, prompted by people on the street. Can a nation really feel when things go wrong? Can coups d'etats be predicted? Can these attacks on institutional order, involving tiny conspiracies be spotted in democratic radar? If there are no means to predict such unfortunate happenings, then what is a possible barometer of a democracy? This answer probably lies in the hearts of the disgruntled citizens. The only remedy to this uncertainty probably lies in our political leaders who should engage in adequate exercises into addressing the psyche of the citizens who turn the tides of democracy.

1980s and 1990s seemed to have marked "the end of history" as per Francis Fukuyama, but the reality was less kind. With the military regimes collapsing in Latin America and Africa and with the end of the communism in Eastern Europe and Russia, the world looked rosier and free of authoritarianism.

But reality is different from what was predicted three decades ago. Russia has forced a questionable election result; China has just announced their increase in defense budget, Syria is burning, EU is an economic rage, Obama (under Israel's pressure) is not "bluffing" when he is threatening Iran, the North Korean leader has just finished inspecting the borders close to South Korea in spite of going hungry. Instead of the tyrannies ending, instead of the repression being contained, new strategies have evolved, prompting newer protests in the form of "risings".

Bangladesh is no exception to this trend. We are witnessing students clashing in our neighbourhood; we are practicing using these students for all our own rallies; we are compensating these youth by promising them hefty political future. Therefore, who are we to blame when campuses are vandalised and when the police continue their practice of suing unnamed students in the block? Who are we to blame when we watch ambassadors touring our borders, paying visits to our very own DB offices? Who are we to blame when we speak before we know, walk before we assess and gather crowds before we have fixed a specific agenda?

It was only the other day I noticed in the newspaper pages a BNP rally with colourful rows of supporters. I must say that it was an aesthetic gathering indeed. Red, green and yellow, I believe were the colours of the supporters' rows, clearly defining the strength of the party's workers. However, I don't think the mass needs a specific colour to be labelled as democratic. The fact that our own prime minister has also pledged that 28th of March will be a show of gathering not less than ten lakhs of people in her support, only proves our worst fears: We are hostage to numbers churned by money and power.

The nation today is facing the wrath of individual political leadership breeding vengeance. It's perhaps time for all of us to stop investing in casual adda-s. It's perhaps time for us to realise that real life has no space for revenge plays, in which the protagonist produces a scheme of horror by which he destroys his opponent? It's perhaps time for us to also re analyse the front pages of our newspapers where we read Vengeance as a headliner maxim of all the political parties, where Vengeance is as hideous as the original crime.

With 12th of March nearing, can we not sense a repeated adherence to the Senecan maxim where crimes are to be avenged by greater crimes? When shall we learn that in spite of well meaning diplomats and foreign institutions whispering multiple democratic formulas in our ears, at the end, all we have is our own piece of land to rest our feet on? After all, democracy is not a pre-ordered package and has no quick fixes. People need to live through the pangs of democracy in order to realise the value of liberty. There are no steroids to be applied on the bruises that often appear in our bodies as a result of repression and abuse. There are no radiation or chemotherapy or even alternative herbal treatment to cure us of occasional, malignant political tumours that pop up on our bodies, treacherously reminding us of their lethal presence that strangle popular dreams.

Fortunately, democracy does not kill us and what does not kill us, of course makes us stronger.

Rubana Huq, Managing Director, Mohammadi Group.