The crisis of the state
Dr. Mizanur Rahman Shelley
As 2006 draws to its close Bangladesh once more finds itself
in the iron grip of a crisis of the state. Thirty-five years
after its sanguinary
inception the country is in the throes of a great convulsion.
The turmoil is evidently political. The visible part of the
trouble is literally
the tip of the iceberg. Beneath it lies submerged the basic causes
of the relentless unrest.
These causes are many and varied. The principle one relates to
the inability of the politico-social elite to achieve consensus
political issues. Divergent
and apparently contradictory ideas about the nature of nationalism haunt
the land. The political elite remains unable to agree on a
consensual concept of
nationalism. The Awami League and its allies are staunch advocates of “Bengali
Nationalism”. According to their view this nationalism emanates from
the unity forged among the Bengalis by the glorious war of liberation in
implication it is based on unity of language, culture, heritage and territory.
The reference to the war of liberation confines, at least in political terms,
this feeling of national unity to the people of Bangladesh. It leaves no
scope for irredentist aspirations and does not toy with the idea of spreading
nationalism beyond the frontiers of Bangladesh.
By contrast Bangladesh Nationalist party, BNP and those political
parties which share its ideas are avowed adherence of “Bangladeshi nationalism”.
This concept while recognizing the essential Bengali core of national unity builds
itself on direct and clear exclusion of those Bengali speaking people who are
citizens of other countries. Its exclusive nature on this count does not prevent
it from being inclusive on another plane. “Bangladeshi Nationalism” thus
easily contains those communities of Bangladesh who are not Bengalis. These
include the hill people of the Chittagong hill tracts and of the territories
in the North
East of the Country.
Although the advocates of this brand of nationalism do not overtly
proclaim any religious component in the composition of this nationalism
is, a feeling
among its critics that it tends to promote the Muslim Characteristics
of the majority of the people of Bangladesh.
Basically both the concepts centre round the people of Bangladesh.
In essence, therefore, there may be more of convergence than of
divergence and contradiction
between the two. However, the differing concepts of nationalism
espoused by the two major organized political forces in the
country seem to
driven a wedge
between the two. Over the years the gap has widened and the differences
have sharpened. In consequence in recent times the nation at least
intellectual and professional elites have become dangerously polarized.
This is the epicenter of the present crisis of the state.
The other causes of the crisis also issue from and are related
to this core of the problem. The unhealthy and basically “unreal” disputes
relating to the historical place of national leaders belonging to the two
camps is the
result of the divide in thoughts on and approaches to the question of Nationalism.
Similarly these differing mind-sets also issue in difference
of approach towards important matters of foreign policy. Bipartisanship
affairs has not
grown to desirable extent. Fortunately for the country global
regional developments since the end of the bipolar world order
in early 1990s,
have led to a convergence
of approach to economic affairs. The manifesto of both major
parties now reflect avowed adherence to open market economy
differences of style. Thus
while the BNP speaks of social justice, the Awami League stresses
welfare of the society while committing themselves to market
The major political forces also have evolved a consensus on
the form of desirable pluralist multiparty democracy. In
of the end
in 1990 the fifth parliament unanimously resurrected the
parliamentary cabinet type of democracy in Bangladesh. It
is another matter
that in practice the system
tended to remain dominated by the chief executive, the prime
Subsequently in 1996 there was also agreement on creating
a level playing field for elections by the constitutional
a non partisan
whose task is to hold fair and free elections untainted
by partisan considerations. It should be noted however, that
this new amendment
to the constitution
was the product of intense and widespread civil agitation
by parties outside power but
The pity is that despite consensus on these matters of
economy and political procedures the basic political
divide on matters
the nation from effectively resolving the crises of the
The caretaker government, it is now alleged, does not
adequately serve the purpose for which it was created.
The very forces
which led the
movement for designing
the caretaker system now complain that those in power
in recent times have engineered to load the system
against others. There
is at present
the reform and recasting of the caretaker government.
present Carekater government is under severe pressure
to set matters
right to ensure
a level playing field
for all the participants in the national elections
scheduled for January 2007.
Meanwhile, the nation, especially its upper crusts
remain captive of a dreadful division. Politics of
of intellectual and professional arena. The bureaucracy
has been politicized
and polarized to such an extent that it is difficult
to find neutral and objective elements. Same is the
professionals: lawyers, teachers,
engineers, economists, journalists and agricultural
is a sad spectacle. . A more sordid scenario feature
the student communities
especially in the universities
and colleges. Polarized and divided educated youth
adds to the danger facing
While all this takes place at the upper echelons,
relatively better off and more educated elements
of the society,
the people at large
their misery and desperation. The political conflicts
sap national vitality. The economy, though growing
despite inept governments
and seemingly endless political feuds, is prevented
from achieving what it could.
International analysts and critics see great hope
vibrant and hard working people of Bangladesh.
Some see the country
among the next ‘Eleven’ to
rise. Others forecast a growing developed and vibrant economic future for
Bangladesh. The vast majority of the people who continue to work and add
to the productivity
of the land know what they are: Bengalis of Bangladesh. They do not find
any contradiction between being Bengalis and Muslims or Bengalis and Hindus,
or Buddhist at the same time.
The division and polarization created by distorted
and confused politics, itself the victim of system-capture
by greedy and
and robber Barons,
is in the eyes of the people not only undesirable
but totally unnecessary.
The sooner farsighted, competent and committed
leaders put an end to this state of affairs
the better. If
and economic development real the new generations
will out-flank and cast them to the fore winds.
author, a noted thinker and social scientist, is the founder
Chairman of the Centre for
Development Research, Bangladesh
(CDRB) and Editor,
AFFAIRS”. He was member of the erstwhile
civil service of Pakistan CSP and a technocrat
(non partisan) Minister for Information and
Control and Water Resources Development of the Government of