During the 5000 years before the 18th century, there were no states of the present-day ilk in this world, no democracy either. The sky didn’t come crashing down in the absence of democracy. Civilisations sprouted up all over, flourishing with rich culture. There was socio-economic growth. Undoubtedly there were wars too, genocides and violence. But despite all this, there was creativity too. Beautiful structures were designed and built. Books of invaluable religious doctrine, philosophy, literature and art were authored. In our country, elaborate architectural edifices were constructed, like the Kantaji Mandir with its intricate filigree, Shaatgambuj Masjid with its 60 domes, and other beautiful temples, mosques and buildings. All this was done without the advent of democracy.
Great men were born – Rammohan Roy, Vivekananda, Rabindranath, Nazrul Islam and more. The country was subservient to outside rulers and not an iota of democracy was in place. Yet under those circumstances in the 19th and 20th century, there were so many great thinkers in this land. Political leaders emerged to fight for people’s rights. The people looked up to them. They ushered in independence and democracy.
With the formation of East Bengal and Assam as a new province in 1905, politics of the people was introduced. From 1919 a limited version of election politics began too. In the beginning of the 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi drew people to politics with his non-violence movement, though it did not ultimately remain non-violent.
Till the eighties, the people were more or less a part of politics. Then began cadre-based politics. The people moved aside. Politics, which had aimed at public welfare and serving the nation, then became a lucrative business.
People do all sorts of things to earn a living. They run shops and supermarkets; they engage in import and export business. They set up mills and factories, thus contributing to the national economy. Then again, there are those who smuggle drugs and destroy the society and the economy. Some became kings through the share market, others paupers. Some even become pimps to earn a penny.
The latest profession for Bangalis is becoming a member of parliament. This involves massive investment, from securing nomination to the Election Day. But from then on, it is all about the inflow of cash. This is the biggest source of earning since the industrial revolution.
All states are not established in the same way. Some are done through negotiation and some through armed struggle. Our Bangladesh emerged through armed struggle. That is why a certain coveted class does not begin a single discussion without uttering the words ‘liberation war’ and ‘independence’. The liberation war, they feel, is the source of their good fortune.
No one dares to question the patriotism of a certain group. Members of this group dine at a five-star hotel and after that, even a slightest burp sends them on the next flight to Bangkok or Singapore for medical treatment. After drinking a bit too much, if they go more than twice to pee at night, they rush to Bangkok for a blood sugar test, avoiding the teeming crowds at BIRDEM.
Then again, weary with the tedium of work, they fly off to Bali or any other isle for rest and recreation. Or they take some respite at their beautiful ‘farmhouses’ tucked away in the lush greenery of Bhaluka, Jaidevpur or Mymensingh. Such farmhouses are a new concept. The 22 wealthy families of Pakistan back in the day didn’t have such homes away from home. The Adamjees and the Ispahanis back then could have bought all the land from the Tongi bridge to the agriculture university in Mymensingh. Land was so cheap; they could have bought up all the land on either side of the highway from Aminbazar to Aricha ghat and build as they please.
Had the Adamjees and Ispahanis so wanted, they could have bought thousands of acres of land from Meghna bridge to Cumilla. It would be nothing for them to purchase all the land from Shyampur to Mawa ghat. Today, the fortunate class that has emerged on the scene has bought up all the cropland around the capital city and has filled it up. Where there are no landfills, there are brick kilns. The soil is scorched in hellish fire round the clock. And the chimneys spew out black smoke to cover the blue sky.
No idiot can deny that all this is a brilliant example of economic development. Many politicians are even predicting the exact time when Bangladesh’s economy will exceed that of Australia and Canada and reach the ranks of G7 nations. What good news! But perhaps these wise men need to take a glimpse at the maps of Australia and Canada. They need to take note of the land mass and population of these countries. If industries grow up on every bigha of land in Bangladesh, if brick kilns are set up, if rivers are filled to give place to tobacco and corn cultivation, then our economy can even exceed that of China.
If Bangladesh becomes developed like Australia, Canada or Japan, then people won’t even think twice about democracy. No one will complain, no matter how bad the traffic congestion may be. People will be happy consuming all the adulterated and toxic food with not a complaint. They will not utter a protest about Dhaka’s air being the most poisonous in the world.
The budget is becoming unbelievably large. Even the homeless street kids are familiar with the phrase ‘role model’. They might not understand its meaning, but they hear it being used day in and day out. The economy is so rich that many will no longer vie to be fake freedom fighters. If the system to get rich in the shortest span of time remains intact and the banks can be looted freely as at present, even the al-Badrs and razakars will be happy to berate Pakistan.
Ninety per cent of the 3 million families who lost their dear ones in 1971, do not own any land or property. In face of their misfortune, others are building fine farmhouses in the hills and forests, building empires on either side of the highways.
Bangladesh is all set on meeting development goals and ambitious targets. Some proudly inform the people that Bangladesh will become Malaysia by such-and-such date. Back in 1971, not a single Bangali would aspire for Bangladesh to become like Malaysia. On the contrary, Malaysia would want to be like Bangladesh. Up until the eighties, Malaysian students would come here to study medicine, engineering and other disciplines. Today millions of men and women are streaming to Malaysia from Bangladesh to work there is servitude. I still cannot grasp the meaning of this ‘role model’.
Summer is here and budget rhetoric fills the air. The traditional budget drawn up by consultants has a certain value. But what is much more important is to draw up a development plan taking into consideration the contemporary economic, social and cultural characteristics of the country, taking into consideration the capabilities of the people, identifying the problems and possibilities, and placing priority on protecting the environment. The trend of development without people’s representation can never be sustainable. No new civilisation can emerge from this.
* Syed Abul Maksud is a writer and researcher. This piece appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.