The tragic assassination: Its impact on the nation

AnuBangabandhu’s 28th Death Anniversary Special
Nurul Islam Anu
Assassination or loss of human life through lethal acts is inherently violent and disruptive. It violates the basic foundation of individual or social existence; its brutal character results in immense amount of individual misery besides proving an irritant to a deeply held value of social cohesion and tranquility. Killings have, therefore, been decried by humanity through generations; religious sanctions against it are absolute and unequivocal. It is disdainful to universal human values.

Political assassination has wider and deeper ramifications since it means demise of an important political personality symbolising or dominating a process or a system. Inevitably it represents a violent overthrow of a system a society had opted for on the basis of its deeply held political and economic aspirations evolving over a long period of time, often at a considerable cost.

In the case of Bangladesh it was a system just born, trying to define and articulate the values of a secular democratic country with a compelling commitment to economic justice in an atmosphere of pervasive poverty and social inequality. Given the background of its colonial association with Pakistan and the international geo-political reality surrounding its birth — the challenge was overwhelming — the task of social and political engineering extremely complex. The demand was on the creativity of the leadership to define the fundamental character of nationhood, create the basic character of the political edifice and institutions that would provide permanent sustenance to it. Those were critical demands.

The nation was trying to get defined the Constitution of 1972 laying the basic political foundation of the Republic. The writer of this column feels obsessively nostalgic about that period of nationbuilding because of his close proximity to the centre-stage where the drama was being designed, rehearsed and enacted. In an atmosphere of near anarchywith a fragile civil administration, with arms being brandished indiscriminately, with pockets of warlordships ruling — a reasonably effective civil rule was established to satisfy the requirement of its sovereign existence. Membership of the world community was legitimised by entering the United Nations. Entry into the global economic order was achieved by becoming member of the world Bank and IMF ultimately facilitating formation of the Aid Group committed to Bangladesh. More significantly, a democratic secular constitution was being given a try. Institutions — a parliament, an administrative network, a judiciary were being built and getting established. The philosophy underlying the economic management of the Republic was being articulated.

Commitment to a democratic order and its subsequent degeneration into authoritarian experiments and ideological derailment from the main goals of the revolution have been observed in many emerging democracies. This has happened because of an inherent disrespect to the core philosophical content of that established order — the sovereign’s inviolable right to change in the event the sovereign finds an elected trustee delinquent in the discharge of his or her responsibilities.

The tragic event of August 15 was a lamentable attempt to usurp the sovereign’s right of ownership of the constitutional process and arrogate a dubious claim of patriotism to a senseless bunch of armed adventurists devoid of an insight into the complex process they were ostensibly trying to revert. Bangabandhu’s entire political career stretching over 30 years represented a process which he admirably symbolised. An overwhelming sense of patriotism, deep love for the commonman and his rights, respect for a political process as a tool for social change, a high level of political integrity, indomitable courage and determination to sacrifice characterised this process. Any indication of political derailment by him from the principal goal of the trusteeship must be a matter of political justice for the sovereign the common man-who has been the most judicious arbiter of his political destiny. A conspiratorial indulgence in a violent assassination based on a questionable claim to patriotism by usurping sovereign’s right is morally unacceptable. The right to that ownership is absolute, inviolable and sacred and the exercise of that right must be the sovereign’s absolute discretion. Any infringement on that right without his consent is an illegitimate act of usurpation and therefore inexcusable.

Such acts of armed adventurism committed in the name of a confused deviant future has almost inevitably led to a disastrous counter-productive process. It has always meant an unscrupulous military dictator indulging in a manipulative process to create a sham political order. The process has always been expedient and characterised by:

** A corrupt manipulation of the existing political process by indiscriminate abuse of political and economic patronage that the usurper suddenly finds himself in command of.

** A ruthless use of the instruments of oppression to assist the above process.

The result of the above twin process is the creation of an authoritarian political order with a veneer of constitutionalism attached to it. Political evolution of Bangladesh from 1975 to 1991 bears an illuminating witness to this classical replay of post revolution military adventurism.

The first casualty was the sovereign himself he stood practically disenfranchised for 15 years; he was subjected to a shameless parade of sham referendums to legitimise the rule of the dictator. The common man lost his confidence in his or her right to vote and a monstrous culture of the abuse of the entire electoral process was born black money and terror being the most debased sustaining base of that culture.

A rescue package for restoration of the sovereign’s right to vote had to be designed through a movement with the innovative constitutional experiment of a “Caretaker Government” coming into play. Inherently it is an admission of failure of the existing political system to fullfil a primary responsibility of managing an election in a free and fair manner. This leaves a legacy of a pervasive atmosphere of mistrust at the highest political level- with the ghost of a politicised bureaucracy and partisan law an enforcement machinery haunting the soul of the nation. The dynamics of institutional distortion have a momentum of its own and three successive elections have not been able to lift the nation to a desired level of electoral satisfaction.

This process because of its inherent malignant character is no respecter of institutions. Devoid of a philosophical realisation that every member of the civil bureaucracy and the law enforcement machinery is a servant of the republic engaged in a public service, his anonymous character has been under a ruthless assault with disastrous consequences for its image, integrity or level of efficiency.

Judiciary, as the ultimate refuge for the protection of the common man or protector of a democratic system has not been able to avoid the wrath of this degenerative process. The controversy surrounding the integrity of the process of judicial appointments and its constitutionality — with scenes of lawyers fighting in courts to enforce boycotts — are sad spectacles indicative of the degenerative process. No public institution — including the highest court of a land is supposed to operate outside the overwhelming weight of the “Social Conscience” and in that context the repetition of a series of ” Embarrassments” expressed by judges in concluding the most celebrated trial of the murder case certainly does not generate the desired level of confidence in the system.

An usurper indulged in an indiscriminate use of state power to distribute economic benefits to his cronies leading to a culture of economic cronysm distribution of financial favor becomes selective to those serving his interest. Plundering of scarce resources with no productive input to the economy becomes the order of the day. A “default culture” is born under state patronage which survives and sustains itself by the sheer strength of the financial muscle power the defaulter is able to command. It distorts the financial sector and the flow of scarce capital to productive investment is inhibited. The nation gets stuck up with multilateral donors lecturing everyday to set house in order.

A constitutional system or process depends on a very delicate balance of consensus reflecting certain values held by that society very dearly. The disruption of that balance has inevitably been counter productive. Indonesia and Pakistan in Asia, Chile in Latin America, host of countries in Africa like Nigeria, Kenya have been victims of this counterproductive process.

Nation-building or social reconstruction can never be a product of expedient adventurism of the few. It is a collective endeavour heavily principled by values reflected in a constructional set-up. There is no short-cut to statecraft.

In remembering a great man’s tragic demise on this day, a man who politically fathered the republic at the cost of enormous sacrifice, a little reflection on these issues mentioned above, may provide a fitting tribute to his departed soul.

Author is a former civil servant.