Choosing Politics, Choosing Democracy
(Guest post by Tacit, a previous version posted at Rumi Ahmed’s).
In the days of yore, when men were men, and giants strode the earth, there used to be a website. It was called unheardvoice. It was, for a while, very good. Then it stopped being as good. Then it disappeared. So it was with great interest that I recently read a newspaper column by Asif Saleh, one of the founders of unhearvoice.
What does Mr Saleh want? He wants us to stop blaming Awami League for the recent violence. He wants us to label the current ongoing political agitation by the opposition, including presumably the 29 December road march to Dhaka, as “terror.” And he advances the notion that while Awami League is responsible for its failure in “stating clear and convincing terms for an interim government”, everything else going on in Bangladesh today, including the grisly violence and murder we are seeing every day, is BNP’s fault — directly or indirectly.
Mr Saleh’s piece is labeled “Politics is about choosing sides.” But democracy, as far as we know, is about the freedom to choose sides, but maybe as importantly, the freedom not to choose any sides. The freedom to be left alone. In fact, the majority of the people in our country have not chosen sides. Their votes alternate between the two parties, election after election, with the result that neither of the two parties has ever managed to get a majority of the votes cast, since 1991.
However, we have a funny kind of democracy currently in Bangladesh. One where you are not free to contest an election or withdraw your candidacy if you want. Where you are not free to resign from the cabinet, nor from the Parliament, if you want. And, depending on who you are, you may not even get to choose whether you need to be admitted into a hospital or not.
“Politics is about choosing sides.” Which is ironic, because that’s exactly what Awami League refuses to let the people of Bangladesh do. For if you think about it, what is a general election except for a gigantic exercise of choosing sides? You stand in the voter booth, and you choose a side. Or if you don’t show up to vote, you are also choosing a side. But one way or another, a choice is made.
Except for the just concluded elections, of course. An election in which people in 154 constituencies, out of 300, did not have to choose sides. Their representatives had already been elected. So perhaps, there should be a postscript to Mr Saleh’s formulation: “Politics is about choosing sides… as long as you choose mine.” Or perhaps, in Orwellian terms, “All sides good, my side better.”
Mr Saleh further thinks that anyone who has not chosen a side in the current conflict is somehow a razakar. Of course, if you choose the wrong side, as Sajeeb Wazed Joy explained so kindly to us when talking about the EU’s decision not to send election observers, you are also a razakar. You see how much fun this could be? Perhaps the US, which also didn’t send election obervers, is full of razakars. But Mr Wazed lives in the US. Is he a razakar? But how can that be?
It…does…not…compute (loud beep).
But perhaps, Mr Saleh is confused about what the word means. He says, “Razakars in 1971 were not necessarily malevolent people. They were scared to take sides, they wanted the safety of not having to choose.” Which is funny, because I thought razakars were the people who in fact did choose sides – the wrong side. I thought they were the people who systematically unleashed a campaign of murder, loot, and rape against their fellow countrymen. That instead of being afraid to choose, they chose, to paraphrase Indiana Jones, poorly.
Mr Saleh’s call to choose has already become irrelevant in today’s Bangladesh. The choice is no longer between AL and BNP. “”We want to tell the prime minister and the AL that it is no longer a matter between the ruling party and the opposition. It is between the voters and the un-elected parliament that is being forced upon us. Election belongs to the people and we feel that it has been taken away from us. And again, we as voters cannot and will not accept this.” (Source: The Daily Star, The Third View, PM’s Gift: A Voterless Election, Mahfuz Anam, December 20, 2013)
Hold on, was that also from a razakar? Can someone please check and let me know?
Mr Saleh wants people to choose a side. If I were him, I would worry less about people choosing a side and more about people judging his side. His side can keep postponing the judgment, but, sooner or later, it’s coming.