Politicians need to brighten their own images
THE ninth Jatiya Sangsad on Sunday kept on hold legislative business for a while, to censure a ‘sweeping remark’ by educationist and social activist Professor Abdullah Abu Sayeed about ministers and members of parliament. According to a report front-paged in New Age on Monday, the founder of Biswa Sahitya Kendra and pioneer of the ‘We want enlightened people’ movement allegedly said the ministers and members of parliament behaved like ‘thugs’ and indulged in corruption in violation of their oath. While his frustration is understandable, such unqualified castigation is unacceptable. The learned professor needs to remind himself that the state is a political entity, managed by the politicians, and that the political class has contributed immensely to the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent state, by spearheading sustained political movements against colonial Britain and neo-colonial Pakistan, and has also been at the forefront of the post-independence pro-democracy struggle against military regimes. Of course, there are some rotten apples; however, it would be wrong to malign all for the wrongdoings of some. Hence, parliament was right to censure Professor Sayeed for his unqualified remark against the politicians as such.
That said, it needs to be pointed out though that the ministers and lawmakers have undermined parliament and also themselves more than their critics and detractors will be able to do ever. Ruling and opposition lawmakers have consistently defied parliamentary norms and decorum, and often discarded individual decency even, when making unsubstantiated accusations, laced with vulgar innuendos, against one another. In such exchanges, the leaders of the two camps, dead or alive, have not been spared. On more occasions than one, such heated exchanges would have led to fist fights, had the speaker not timely intervened. Little wonder then that none other than the speaker once ruefully likened the ninth parliament with fish market. On another occasion, the speaker told the lawmakers: ‘If you want a fist-fight or wrestling, the Paltan ground is the right place’ (New Age, March 5, 2010).
Meanwhile, many lawmakers have themselves said in different forums at different times that, by concealing their actual electoral expenditure, they violate their oath on the very day that they first take it. Moreover, while they make wholesale allegations of corruption against each other, such allegations are hardly ever credibly investigated and competently prosecuted. Cases are filed and withdrawn with the change of government. Even corruption cases, filed during the military-controlled interim government, a regime that the Awami League initially extended unqualified support to, have been withdrawn through a blatantly partisan review. As such, doubts in the public mind about the involvement of politicians in high-profile corruption have lingered on. As we have commented in these columns before, instead of using or abusing power to quash the corruption cases brought against them, the politicians should have faced the charges in the court of law, proved their innocence through a credible and transparent legal process, and come out clean. Hence, while the sweeping comment by Professor Sayeed was unwarranted, it may have resonated well with the people in general.
Corruption aside, on the question of morality and principle, politicians do have a dubious record. When in power, politicians are often accused of abusing power and displaying partisan attitude, even when dealing with national issues. Moreover, they often conveniently forget the promises they make when in opposition. Are abuse of power, blatant partisanship on matters of national importance and duplicity not devoid of political ethics and principles? Besides, how many of politicians today can live up to the legacy of their predecessors that the people hold so close to their hearts and so reverentially recall? Is the number of rotten apples in the political class not increasing at an alarming rate?
These are questions that the politicians need to effectively address if they really want respect from the people at large. The parliamentarians have every right to condemn Professor Sayeed’s sweeping remark; however, what they seem to overlook is the disappointment that their electorates feel every time such allegations are raised either by one lawmaker against the other or by some other individuals or institutions. A society is indeed hapless — and helpless, too — when the political leaders fail to maintain a positive image both at home and abroad.
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