SERMON FOR DEMOCRACY: ITS MEANING AND MOTIVE
ABDUL GAFFAR CHOUDHURY
Two great spokesmen of our civil society Professor Rehman Sobhan and Dr. Kamal Hossain are still lamenting for the lost democratic values in Bangladesh. They are pointing out the faults of democratic practice in the last January election and giving sermons on democracy in their speeches and writings. Professor Rehman Sobhan in a recent article in a Dhaka daily emphasized on returning to the old democratic values perhaps the colonial ones.
We, the people of last generation grew up under a shadow of that colonial democracy and that democracy is still the standard bearer to us. Dr. Kamal Hossain also expressed his agitation over the democratic situation and the collapse of the democratic values in Bangladesh and asked the people to assemble at Suhrawardi Udaan on 26th March to demand proper establishment of democracy in the country.
I have grown almost tired from listening to these sermons for a long time repeatedly from these giant intellectuals who believe that only they know the meaning of democracy and its values. Even those who directly or indirectly were associated with the destabilizing of democracy are very much vocal about the demise of democracy in the country. It is an irony of fate we are now very much confused about who are the real democrats? Are these pundits of our country fundamentalists in their belief in democracy like religious or ideological fundamentalists? Or, do they think democracy is a static and unchangeable ideology like religion or certain idealism?
Democracy is neither a religion nor an ideology. It is a pattern evolved long ago when the Greek City states changed and modernized every century. Democracy was not preached by a prophet or a theorist. It evolves from human nature to safeguard their rights and aspirations. Society changes and so does its democratic patterns. After the collapse of feudalism in Europe and the industrial revolution democracy took an improved pattern which we call western democracy.
But with the expansion of western capitalism democracy gradually became their tool of imperial aggression. The type of democracy we have seen in the subcontinent during British rule was called colonial democracy. Under that system we had limited privileges for the upper classes but not for the masses and we did not enjoy a proper independence. We had no right to govern ourselves but were governed.
After a prolonged war of independence the colonized countries in Asia, Africa and also in Latin America freed themselves from the western rule but adopted their system of colonial democracy. The power was not transferred to the proper representatives of the ordinary people but to the privileged educated class
who were subservient to the foreign rulers.
It did not help that the mass emancipation of the ex-colonized countries concentrated power at the hands of a privileged and educated class and bureaucracy who became the masters of the people replacing their previous foreign rulers.
It created new social conflict in the newly independent Asian and African countries. They first followed the western patten of democracy, but soon found out that it was very difficult to follow the pattern of democracy of the Industrial countries in feudal and half agrarian societies. In China the country was ruled for a long time by a western pattern of democracy under Kuomintang party. But the people suffered from utter poverty and backwardness under that pattern of bourgeois democracy. After liberating the country from the misrule of western bourgeois democracy Mao Zedong, the leader of people’s revolution established a system called new democracy and named China People’s Republic.
After few years he led a cultural revolution to wrestle the power from the urban bourgeois elite class and bring the ordinary people in the direct participation of governance. This Cultural Revolution was condemned by the western world who profess they are the follower of true democracy. Indonesia, after freeing the country from the Dutch and afterwards from the Japanese occupation Sukarno, the leader of the Merdeka (independence) first followed western democracy, and then introduced a type of democracy called controlled democracy.
The socio cultural and racial situation in Indonesia was totally different from western countries. So Sukarno had to bend some rules of traditional western democracy to safeguard people’s right and sovereignty and of course the western powers dislodged him from power in the name of true democracy. Now throughout the world democracy has evolved in different forms with different connotations.
During the communist era Brezhnev, the Russian leader prescribed limited democracy and sovereignty for the Eastern European countries. In Pakistan Ayub, the military ruler wanted to curb the rights of the people under a system called basic democracy. The democratic pattern in America and England are not the same. The sovereign of England has no executive power but almost all the executive power is concentrated in the hands of the President of the United States of America.
If we look at the post independent Bangladesh we will see the error of judgement in pursuing the western pattern of democracy. After a bloody liberation war though there were millions of people who fought and died for the liberation but they were not freed from economic enslavement. The power was actually grabbed by newly emerged elite class, bureaucracy and business syndicate who flourished especially under the foreign Pakistani rule and they were influenced by the mentality and behaviour of their previous rulers. This new ruling class started accumulating huge wealth and fortune making people poorer everyday and led the country to perpetual poverty.
Sheikh Mujib, leader of the liberation war declared four state principles for Bangladesh before achieving independence.
The principles were nationalism, secularism, democracy and socialism. He first tried to establish these principles adopting western democracy and found himself against a Himalayan opposition from the new rich classes who were still half agrarian and feudal in character and have not become even true capitalists. They were lumpen bourgeois and under the influence of communal and religious culture they became the dominant force of the country after independence.
Sheikh Mujib with his loosely organized democratic party could not fight this rising power patronized by western imperialism and capitalism. Mao Zedong in China tried to halt the advancement of the new privileged class by Cultural Revolution but failed almost the same way. Sheikh Mujib in Bangladesh wanted to prevent the rise of a new bourgeois ruling class aided by an opportunistic elite class by his Bakshal Revolution which means replacing western bourgeois democracy by the democracy of the exploited. He also failed.
After the August tragedy of 1975 a battle was ongoing mercilessly and continually between the social forces of the exploiters and the exploited. Awami League with all its leaning towards the class of exploiters still could not sever the links with the class of the exploited. Now in one side is the newly risen privileged and educated class who want to keep their vested interests under the garb of western democracy, on the other side Awami League and the Left democratic parties are now trying to fight against that enemy of the real democracy by even bending some traditional rules of western democracy.
There is no other way for them because the other camp is patronized by western powers and their associates are the communalists and the fundamentalists. If Awami League has bent some rules of traditional western democracy they have done it to save people’s democracy and secularism in the last January election. Otherwise the alternative of the people of Bangladesh was medieval, atrocious Talibanism.
By condemning Awami League and January election our pundits like Professor Rehman Sobhan and Dr. Kamal Hossain in reality preach for this Talibanism.
Their sermon for democracy should explain what type of democracy they want? Is it western bourgeois democracy which is now a dangerous mask for global capitalism and their aggressive role that we have seen throughout the world from the Middle East to Ukraine?
Democracy has transformed its character in so many forms throughout so many centuries. If some of our pundits remain fundamentalists in their belief in colonial democracy then they are not helping the country to achieve real democracy but pushing it towards a dark era of medievalism.
MARCH 11, 2014