Are politicians facing natural extinction in Bangladesh?

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Jatiyo Party leader G.M. Quader had his moment of epiphany when he said that amlas do everything and politicians just sit and watch. It was a brutally frank assessment of the identity he holds now. He could be right and he could be wrong but that the stock of politicians has been in a free fall for long is not in doubt.

There has not been much discussion on what he said partly because of Covid and other problems but it may also be because no one really doubts this. It’s on public display so to speak and the public who are left to observe and form opinions probably know which side of the bread has been spread with ghee. They need politicians but not for politics as its functions are no longer very clear. However, they certainly need amlas in their life to get things done.

Perhaps amlas matter to the politician too. So where do politicians go from here? Or has the nature of politicians and perhaps even politics has changed so radically that it’s not easily recognizable, including by the older variety of the same breed.

Who are politicians anyway?

Conventionally, politicians are supposed to be freelance individuals involved in representing the will of the people at the policy making to the local problem-solving level. That basically means that they are managers of power, sometimes in and sometimes out. They are not professionals in the sense that it’s not law or medicine. They don’t go through a structured education process to become politicians.

It’s much more about experience and credibility. Politicians have existed when people trusted them. However, this concept of trust has also changed over time. Why exactly should they be trusted by the people?

The reason holds much of the answer. People would trust them to get something done. Closer they are to power; greater is their clout to get something done. Hence power determines their usefulness. If they can’t do much, people have no need for them. They may respect someone for many reasons but they will not be trusted to get something done.

But if they can’t get something done, they are not really needed, somewhat superfluous speech givers who can even be an imposing figure but who doesn’t or can’t deliver goods. In that case why should politicians be considered necessary in a state where basic needs are in such short supply.

Rise and decline of politicians in Bangladesh

The grandest period of politics lay in the state making phase which sort of ended in 1971. Till then, these politicians didn’t deliver any socio-economic goods, but were working to deliver the biggest goods of them all, the State. Thus they were seen as service delivery agents trying to deliver the biggest prize of them all, the state structure which is a resources access mechanism.

A lot of the traditional imagination of the politicians is built around legendary figures like Sheikh Mujib, Maulana Bhashani and others who mobilized political opinion in favour of the state objective. But a transition of sorts began 1971 when Mujibnagar happened. It was symbolized as the bulwark for freedom and that was a bureaucratic construct. Those officials of the Pakistan state whether military or civil had committed a political act by joining the Mujibnagar government. The traditional distinction between the two was significantly erased.

Tajuddin Ahmed, the wartime PM was close to the amlas. In fact a section of the politicians even rebelled against him but it failed. The amlas, civil and military and the people were in an alliance and the politicians were part of it but not its absolute leaders. Hence, the roots of the current rise of the amla led governance lies in 1971 war.

In the post 1971 scenario, the problems politicians faced lay in managing governance as it faced a number of crises that arose. A state before birth is a political imperative but after birth becomes a socio-economics dominated one. And the politicians could have done better.

The BKSAL experiment has often been much criticized for being a one party system but that issue is political not socio-economic. It was not a multi-party rule but a coalition project built with both amlas and politicians working together including members of the army. However, the exclusive civilian political rule was resented as the politicians' rating had weakened.

The entry of the established army to take over the administration marked a new trend. Once, such constructs became political parties,-BNP, JP etc- the state went back to politician led governance/ rule but with a heavy dose of bureaucrats, civil and military playing significant roles: an alliance.

This model has been repeated which is the processing of a new way of governance. The nature of the state and what its people seek have changed over time and the concept of governance by a cluster of people identifying themselves as civil politicians holding exclusive rights to govern is not on the plate anymore. In that way, it’s wider and narrower at the same time.

People have put more money on socio-economic development rather than politics understandably and that is the role of the worker not lawmaker or speech giver. Power belongs to whoever can perform. This transition naturally isn’t popular with civilian politicians but not much can be done about it. It’s the state that has changed as a reflection of people’s intent. It’s the doer that matters.

As the state moves from the political to economic, it’s the bureaucrat delivering governance and services related goods, who will take preponderance. All developing states have seen this trend and on the cusp of a major global shift so have many emerging and established powers.

In this new framework, as people can communicate their needs and wishes directly, the translator are not that necessary in the conventional role. The intermediaries will always remain the great power player but it won’t be limited to politicians. Whoever can interpret and deliver the needs of the people will be in charge not just the old fashioned politicians.

It’s not just the politicians but the amlas are following the trend of history. In that sense, Quader bhai is right even though the reality may hurt him and others of his kind.

  • Maulana Bhashani
  • amlas
  • Leader G.M. Quader
  • Jatiyo Party
  • Tajuddin Ahmed
  • Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
  • Covid-19

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