Awami League is holding its 21st national council session today, Friday. Political scientist and former vice chancellor of Dhaka University, Emajuddin Ahmed, spoke on the issue in an interview with Prothom Alo.
Prothom Alo: What are your thoughts about Awami League’s national council?
Emajuddin Ahmed: It is important for Bangladesh to be very strong. If Bangladesh it to reach its goal, if it is to meet its target as a sovereign independent state, the ruling party must be strong. And so it must pay attention to domestic politics. Building ties with the political opposition is a means of strengthening itself as a party. They must stand united. Until and unless they take up this stance, the weaknesses of the state will not be resolved. At this moment they need a get together with everyone, including the opposition, regardless of party, views or political differences. That would be a source of empowerment.
Prothom Alo: It is also true that the foreign policy of a state is an extension of its domestic politics.
Emajuddin Ahmed: Yes, that is true. The ruling party must win the trust of the other political parties. Then when the prime minister speaks at any forum abroad, she will effectively be speaking on behalf of Bangladesh. I remember back in 1973 when Sheikh sahib was going to attend the OIC conference, Tajuddin Ahmed said it him, it’s fine that you are going, but talk to India about it first. But he replied to Tajuddin in unequivocal terms, “I will do what I think is best for my country.” Look at India and its citizen’s amendment act. They made no mention of Sri Lanka or the Muslim-majority Maldives. They pointed to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Bangladesh has given so much, but to no avail. It is time to come up with a positive response.
Prothom Alo: There had been a political tradition for parties to invite the opposition parties to attend the council.
Emajuddin Ahmed: And the opposition parties would attend these councils. Inviting the opposition leader with due respect is an indispensible and imperative part of democratic culture. That is the beauty of democracy. It would be good if Awami League did so for its council this time.
I want to stress that if one has to tackle alarming behaviour of outside forces, one must first be strong within one’s own country. But this is lacking in Bangladesh. This will only happen if the opposition is drawn close.
Prothom Alo: Your former student, political scientist Harun-ar-Rashid has said that BNP is no longer the largest opposition.
Emajuddin Ahmed: Even now the relatively small public gatherings that are held outside of the BNP office are proof of the support it still has of the common people.
Prothom Alo: This former student of yours also believes that it is not wise for the ruling party general secretary to also hold a ministerial post in the cabinet.
Emajuddin Ahmed: I agree. In order to render the parliamentary system effective, just as it is important to separate the state from the government, it is also important to separate the government from the party. The government and the party will not be one. If they merge as one, parliamentary democracy will fail.
Prothom Alo: The government took stern measures against some of its party leaders during the drive against casinos and corruption. How do you view that?
Emajuddin Ahmed: If certain more measures were added to it, it would mean a bright future ahead. If the ruling party draws close to the opposition, it would make a difference. During the movement against Ershad, the two rival political parties drew close to each other. They had a working relationship on many levels. Such close ties are a part of parliamentary tradition.
Prothom Alo: Why aren’t the political parties forming their committees democratically? What will happen to social leadership?
Emajuddin Ahmed: If we want to adhere to democratic norms and governance in the country, then public interests must be given priority. For that, the government must separate itself from the party, at least to some extent. The party belongs to the party, but the government belongs to everyone.
Prothom Alo: Did BNP take any such step when it was in power?
Emajuddin Ahmed: I would advise BNP to do so if it holds its council at a national level. They should prepare themselves from now.
Prothom Alo: After Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir became BNP’s secretary general, he formed a subject committee. It was much like a shadow cabinet. This could have enriched the political trend of the country, with constructive views and opinions. But this didn’t happen.
Emajuddin Ahmed: There were reasons for this not to happen, but that’s another story. Things are stagnant, not just here but the world over. Changes do not occur under such circumstances and there is no saying for how long this spell with last. But it is also true that thinkers and astute personalities can emerge in such situations.
Prothom Alo: What would you hope from Awami League’s council?
Emajuddin Ahmed: I hope they adopt such steps, policies and decisions so that they do not breed enmity with the opposition. They need not be friends, but there should be a degree of cooperation.
Prothom Alo: Is there something positive in the fact that after a long stretch in jail, Khaleda Zia is being kept in hospital instead?
Emajuddin Ahmed: I am sure there is, or else they wouldn’t have brought her to the hospital. But she should be given long term bail in consideration of the fact that she was leader of the opposition, the prime minister for three terms, that she suffered during the liberation war and also that her husband was a valiant freedom fighter.
Prothom Alo: What is the future of parliamentary democracy in Bangladesh? It used to be seen as a two-party democracy, but now it looks like a single party. Where is Bangladesh heading?
Emajuddin Ahmed: There will be many small parties, but the two-party system is the fundamental mantra of parliamentary democracy. The practice of having elected committees within a party should become a long-standing norm.
Prothom Alo: BNP is not in power, but it does not have any movement, processions or public meetings. They have a lot of time on their hands, but they too do not want elected committees. But unless there is a practice of free and credible elections at this level, then the national elections will also be lacking in that manner.
Emajuddin Ahmed: BNP also must have elected committees. These committees must be formed through ballots if Bangladesh wants a two-party democratic future. If the committees are formed in such a matter, social leadership will emerge. I can only hope that in this national council, Awami League takes measures to form committees in accordance to its constitution. Once this is set in motion, it will become a practice.
Prothom Alo: Thank you.
Emajuddin Ahmed: Thank you.
* This interview appeared in the print version of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir