Politics is an astonishing profession — its most amazing component being the political power that propels it. Its mystic element has carried different meanings to many of its practitioners throughout history in all societies. There have been practitioners who used it without being aware of its inner content — the superficial application of it satisfying them.
In all these cases, this was application without knowledge and in the complicated area of socio-political management this proved disastrous to many societies. And yet there have been practitioners whose application of political power was the result of deep understanding of its philosophical and moral content. These practitioners were in a relentless pursuit in their understanding of its dynamics, and the social engineering needed to make its application meaningful.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation, as a political personality symbolised almost everything that politics meant in the contemporary history of the sub-continent. He was a thorough practitioner, constantly in pursuit of political power — its mystic content providing the inspiring base of his leadership.
It was a career, colourful in its form, defiant and heroic in its practice, and yet somewhat tragic in its fulfillment. The sustaining basis of that career spread over three decades was devoted to what political power and its application should mean to transform societies. To him political power’s legitimate base was the inescapable content of popular approval of its moral basis — its application inevitably leading to the ultimate goal of public good. To him these two components were inseparable: practising political power without a moral basis of its source was immoral and illegitimate.
Throughout his entire political career he continuously sought popular approval of his definition of political programs which he again converted in his own creative way into a source of political power. He galvanised an oppressed minorities’ position into the slogan of power: he articulated the Six Point Program as a vehicle of political power: he stood defiant against a ruthless military oppressor — made the call for an independent Bangladesh in a rare piece of political eloquence, his thunderous voice inspired by the mystic popular approval — the ultimate source of political power.
He firmly believed that application of political power in a democracy cannot be sustained without this element of popular approval. To him a conceptual misunderstanding of this theoretical definition of power could lead to enormous distortions into the process of social management. Comparisons are odd and this proved prophetic in Bangladesh’s context. Bangladesh had its unfortunate share of confused practitioners whose lack of understanding of this issue has led to disastrous consequences. The nation was forced to accept usurpation through illegitimate adventurism as source of political power: the settled definition of nationhood as a secular democratic order is threatened to be redefined: its secular content is being challenged by a manipulative state-sponsored religious fundamentalism; the economic objectives of the revolution are being sacrificed at the altar of unbridled capitalism: role of practitioners of political power as trustees of national resources is being compromised. One can add. But these are some of the legacies left behind by the “confused practitioners.”
Debates have been endless on Bangabandhu’s political experiment with Baksal and I am not sure if history has given a definitive judgment on an experiment essentially political in nature encompassing all sections of people. This was neither an act of usurpation nor grabbing of power through military adventurism. Its alleged authoritarian character remains debatable in the context of its broad-based composition. Debates apart one of the compelling component remains the experiment’s committed endeavour to bring political power close to the people.
The introduction of the District Governorship, for example, stands in stark contrast to the inability of the subsequent political establishments to decentralise power to the people mandated by the constitution. Ostensibly the failure is due to the establishment’s failure to determine the position of the MP in expedient power structure. It only points to the conceptual problem related to the source of the political power and the owner remains denied.
Bangabandhu’s historic achievement in this regard has been the framing of the Constitution of 1972 which gave a clear definition of political power and the location of its ownership. There has been several attempts to tinker with that definition. Subsequent political developments have only proved that nobody could bypass the powerful message authored by Bangabandhu in that historic document.
It is unfortunate that Bangabandhu’s attempt to define political power in an institutional form and make it a practising tool dedicated to the common good was cut short by his tragic assassination. It is tragedy with enormous political consequences evident from the series of political crises suffered by the nation for the last thirty years. The ultimate authority of political power stands threatened to be disfranchised and rescue packages regrettably have to be designed to ensure the obvious — to prove the ownership of the title holder.
Three years was a short period of time. Counter-revolutionaries, political urchins, enemies of the revolution and regrettably, class-conscious revolutionaries — all got restless to find a new definition of politics in Bangladesh. Did they get it?
Bangabandhu stands out majestically in the colourful canvass of history as champion of the common man’s power — the ultimate source of political power — which he so admirably symbolised.
With so many others as one who had the distinction of serving him personally, I salute him on this day.
A dead Sheikh Mujib remains as great as he was when alive.
Author : Nurul Islam Anu
The author, a columnist, is a former civil servant.