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The Great Political Divide - Revisiting The Six Points of Sheikh Mujeeb-ur-Rehman

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Democracy: An Assortment of Divergent Perspectives

Politics is about give and take. Democracy is not practical without a democratic attitude. A majority rule indifferent to the aspirations of the minority is not short of autocracy or subjugation. An electoral victory of a political party is not necessarily a defeat of other major parties. Democracy is not a win-lose proposition.

The essence of democracy is representation, not majority rule. Every class and segment of society has an opportunity to have their voice in the parliament through their chosen representatives. Diversity in a federal or parliamentary system is not a curse but may in fact reflect health of the system. The assortment of voices, perspectives, stances and attitudes in politics is the fundamental instrument of representing, debating and addressing a broad spectrum of societal issues. Each voice represents a distinct constituency or class of society, distinguished from the rest in geographic, socioeconomic, ideological, philosophical, ethnic, cultural or religious basis etc. These interest groups enable a more holistic view of the problems and make the decision making process more comprehensive. Engaging a wider stakeholder base also enhances the acceptability, ownership, practicality and viability of the political outcome.

No homogeneous representation can possibly appreciate or effectively tackle the myriad of problems faced in a society of millions. Society is too complex a system to be managed unilaterally.

Polarization

Heated political debates and extreme stances build tension and are often perceived unfavourably from the perspective of national integration. They tend to "divide" a people. It is this "free will" of the people and their representatives that makes certain rulers (especially despots), bureaucracy, analysts, suspicious about democracy and provides them with a motive to be inventive in devising an intervention for “rescuing” the system to safeguard the "national interests".

The Great Divide

Sheikh Mujeeb-ur-Rehman's Six Points programme for provincial autonomy, presented in 1966 is often viewed as a turning point in our history. The debate and events that followed deepened the divide between the East and West Pakistan. It provided the Bengalis in East Pakistan as a rallying point, and triggered strong reaction in West Pakistan. The military regime of General Ayub Khan (and later Yahya Khan) tried to exploit the Bengali demand as providing a justification for further military and bureaucratic intervention, and the use of force to "save the system". He and his comrades gave great publicity (through state media) to the Six Points, portrayed Mujeeb as a villain and an Indian agent, and his program, a ploy to disintegrate Pakistan. The action and reaction thus created an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust between the East and the West.

Like temperature, extreme political stances are not a problem per se, but rather a symptom of a deeper and hidden problem. Sheikh Mujeeb's Six Points represented the already existing and ever widening gulf between the East and the West. And it was not merely a matter of perception, but was rather based on some bitter facts that pinched Bengal for decades, which included:

Extreme Stances: Opportunity to Address the Real Problem

Mujeeb's Six Points could have been viewed as a wake up call to recognize the intensity of resentment developed over the years among the Bengali population, mainly against the most inventive political arrangements devised by the military and bureaucratic elite (of West Pakistan). A right diagnosis at that point, appreciating the failure of the artificial political system, engineered for a decade by the military and civil bureaucracy, and initiating a serious yet empathic political debate with the Bengali stakeholders from all walks of life could have resulted in a different course of history. But like many opportunities in history, it was lost in thin air through a reactionary war of emotionalism and short-sighted political gains. With the passing of each such opportunity goes a chance for enhanced political maturity.

Crushing the Symptoms and Fueling the Problem

The military dictators deemed (or portrayed) the symptoms as the real problem and tried to nip it in the bud with the use of brute force. The generals tackled a basic political issue with a typical militaristic approach. They blasted off opposition both politically and militarily like enemy targets. The generals did not have the capacity to understand that you cannot conquer your own people. A point was reached where almost every Bengali was perceived a suspect. How can more than half of your people be traitors? It’s mathematically impossible!!! But out-of-the-box thinking of a military despot can construe "facts" far beyond common sense.

Road to Maturity

Every now and then, we come across an intense political conflict that divides the nation. Our emotional, political and administrative response to such crises depicts that we haven’t learnt much from history. We have not stopped taking sides passionately and labeling parties to conflict as either absolutely right or wrong. Probably our fear to disintegrate is too strong to address such issues dispassionately. We do not feel confident about our units and still view our opponents, especially those with extreme perspectives, as having hidden agenda, with "enemy funding". Our obsession with security and national integration is arguably the biggest obstacle to our political maturity. Insecure minds are by design reactive in nature. We need to learn to live with differences. All great nations in history are integrated by values and healthy social norms than by a strong administration or military.

See also: The Six Points of Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman

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[H. G. Wells]