It's been 37 years since Bangladesh won its independence, but we are still grappling with the malaise of a desperate political culture aimed at power and wealth. Known to be a brave and patriotic nation, we poured our blood and sweat for freedom and a flag.
1971 – a red letter year in the history of this world – witnessed the emancipation of a nation from the shackles of colonial hegemony. We thought that was enough; that years of struggle was over. The thousand-year-old Bengali culture had all the emotion, warmth and zeal to ensure happiness for the bereaved families of our freedom fighters and the loving people living in the valley of poverty and pathos.
1971 is perhaps the only year in the history of Bangladesh when the nation was able to demonstrate the strength of its unity. Our great leader Bangobandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman walked on the same fiery path taken by Gandhiji, Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro by living up to his dream of freedom. He refused to acknowledge death threats, believing that his beloved people could never turn into enemies.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman even refused to entertain the idea that his countrymen could fall victim to western conspiracies and kill their very symbol of freedom. Occidental theories of colonialism also marked other precious lives of our national leaders who were part of the 1971 war of freedom.
Thus started the divide and rule of Bangladesh; a gross division of political philosophy gave vent to a series of killings, coups and counter-coups. All this while, the masterminds sitting across the Atlantic were cooking up delicious recipes for a unipolar world of McDonalds.
The moment a charismatic General (Ziaur Rahman) started looking for friends in an alternative world order, western game theorists to upped the stakes by alluring a few ambitious natives into removing this emerging South Asian leaders from the game board.
The imperial designs of divide and rule were so imprinted onto our system that they diffused all patriotic attempts to unite the country along the path of equity and self-sufficient development. Our freedom and economic sovereignty were made vulnerable to continued foreign intervention. The traitors were, sadly, none other than our very own.
With the bank of patriotism and politics badly pilfered by western imperialists, radical Islamists saw an opportunity to take over whatever else was left. In the name of counter-hegemony they stealthily geared up to forward their agenda. The western forces and Islamist radicals joined forces with each other to brand Bangladesh a politically failed state.
So, we became divided; into Hutus and Tutsis, Lilliputians and Blefuscudians, Awami League-led Grand Alliance and BNP-Jamaat Coalition, each side polarized into blind power struggle.
Shortly before and after the liberation war, our countrymen used to pray for the release of patriotic political leaders imprisoned by Pakistan, but now our masses can be seen and heard cursing policy-makers, politicians and exploiters for abusing democracy to make their fortunes. Elections are now nothing more than a civil war of vote to earn a blank cheque from the silent majority.
Bangladesh is a one-dollar-a-day-per-capita-income country, where parties are only concerned with political tribesmanship; no one cares about the social mortality rate of mother and child, and the healthcare degradation of those living in grey poverty. In our 37 years we could not envision the importance of development bound politics; election manifestoes prepared by partisan, outdated intellectuals could not carry out the commitment to nation-building; all attempts to institutionalize democracy could not withstand the onslaught of political chaos; and the arena has been left wide open to the shouting and screaming power mongers who roar like wrestlers demanding an eye for an eye.
I wonder if democracy ever meant people's rule, if it ever meant respecting each other's opinion or representing people to change their fate. It is, perhaps, utopian to imagine our political leaders reconciling for the sake of living up to their commitment to the nation.
This could be a pseudo observation on my part that I have never seen Republicans and Democrats fighting on the streets of Washington. The only clash I did witness on a street in Vienna was between expatriate Awami League and BNP followers. The Austrian police asked me the reason for the clash. I could not answer, I didn't have any.