Sheikh Hasina is way out the most powerful and high performing Prime Minister of Bangladesh ever. Her father led Bangladesh as it was trying to recover from the trauma of the liberation war. The challenges that he faced were far greater than anyone afterwards and his short reign testifies to that.
However Sheikh Hasina came at a time when Bangladesh had sufficiently recovered and was in a much more stable political situation. From that stage she expanded the power base. She stands at a time when opposition has been whittled down to insignificance and her control over the ruling class is unquestioned. That is great news for many but on the long haul should also elicit some concern resulting from that success. It is obvious that a dependence driven culture caused by a very powerful leader is beginning to show an ‘only she can do it mentality’ that is creating a political and governance concern.
Ending the one party rule justification
Sheikh Hasina has shown that single party rule as the BAKSAL model envisioned is not necessary for economic development which was being showcased in 1975 and as it’s being displayed now. The economic aspects of BKSAL were less and its politico-administrative aspect was greater. The justification was a quasi-socialist model of governance.
However, it was announced at a time when the so-called Soviet led socialist world itself was already under great stress and within a decade it began to struggle and ultimately crumble. Hence the bureaucrat led command economy model was already doomed with hapless bureaucrats running impoverished socialist states as history showed.
Recovering from that state has also taken the Russian run post-socialist countries a long time. Ultimately the capitalist model has prevailed though one hopes without many of the flaws in the European model. In Bangladesh, it was the last ideological regime linked to an economic system. Subsequent regimes have had political markers left governments but they constitute a long stream of continuity significant for their more practical approach avoiding ideology as a governance stimulus.
What Sheikh Hasina has been able to achieve is the economic growth without being hampered by a problematic or even robust political opposition. Thus the political conditions as the platform for growth spurt have been achieved without changing the form. This has been done by adjusting the political transaction content and ensuring the weakness of the parties not aligned with the ruling party.
Is the present regime model sustainable?
What was significant is that the ruling class and the ruling party have both come so close that it is not entirely distinct in many cases. This has meant that the dominance has become close to supremacy. Having been in power for so long, the administrative stakeholders are now part of the system to which the ruling party also belongs. Thus she has shown that one party rule is not necessary for growth based economics dismantling the conventional argument. This is an important road mark. So far so good.
The domination of the party, the complete control by administrative forces and absolute supremacy of the PM both politically and governance and most importantly the herd mentality of the ruling class minions are all there. But the tendency to develop an over dependent on the PM scenario is obvious.
In the short run, everything looks fine but in the longer term, this could have a sustainability issue as it is centred around a person rather than a system. The recent crisis at Churihatta in Chowkbazar and the Biman hijacking experience shows, that just about everyone is waiting for the PM to act rather than perform themselves. In fact informing the PM of the situation is considered part of the action and the rest is then left to happen.
The statements and inner conflict of the ministers were obvious when the Ministers contradicted just about everyone and gave an image of an administration not able to handle a disaster related crisis. On the very day, the PM was saying that she would make Bangladesh a model for the world to admire, the Ministers were unable to explain how the Chowkbazar mess had remained a mess 9 years after the Government had decided to implement a 38 point accord it had written in participation of all after the Nimtoli disaster.
From infighting to inefficiency
The arguments given by the ministers tended to move from the escapist to the ridiculous when two ex-ministers began to blame each other publicly. It was an ugly match of mud slinging and the united front image was cracked. No matter whose fault it was, the message was clear. That none had been able to do what they should have done and had promised to do. It made the government look unable to deliver what they promise. If the price for this lack of efficiency is human life, the claims of a great governance system will not be cheered by the people forever.
The place hijacking incidence also brought out the crisis when the State Minister went on TV and basically said that he didn’t know what was on and was about to inform the PM what was it all about. When he did so, he found out that the PM already knew what was on and had ordered actions.
As if this wasn’t enough, the Minister went on to say that the airport security was total but couldn’t explain how someone with a gun, real or toy, could get into the plane if the security was intact. He next said that an inquiry committee would find out what had happened. In that case, why was he saying so much and what was the basis of all the information was not explained. The only reliable information was that the hijacker’s ex-wife’s name though he didn’t know till then that they were no longer married.
Perhaps the over-all situation was explained by the hijacker himself who wanted to talk to the PM to solve his private life problems.
People must grow up and it’s now up to the PM to say that they must.