Q. Are you better off than you were 6 months ago?
A. Depends on whom you ask. The slum dwellers who got evicted, or the 150,000 people who are in the jail without charges, are not. But people perhaps are happy in general with the political stability, with a new hope that the days of politics as usual are over.
Q. Are you happy that some of those people who thought Bangladesh was their own property have been thrown in jail?
A. Absolutely. No well-intentioned person will oppose any anti-corruption drive.
Q. Are you seeing a more hands-on, pro-active, government with good and capable advisers?
A. We like the advisers who talk less and work more. We are happy with some of the announcements, and now we want to see them implemented.
Q. Then why are you complaining?
A. Like everybody else, we see this as a tremendous chance to fix the democratic institutions and set ourselves for the future. We also strongly believe in democracy, more than in any other system in the world.
We believe in democracy based on strong democratic institutions, and not the election-only democracy that was practiced during the last 15 years.
We are complaining because we have high hopes from this government, and we want it to succeed in delivering a truly meaningful, free and fair election in Bangladesh. We are not complaining only, we are also applauding some of the more challenging tasks that this government has taken on. The path that the nation is walking on is a treacherous one. Steps in the right direction will take us forward a long way, but the slightest mis-step will let the opportunists take us back many years. We are worried when we see some dangerous trends.
Q. Why are you worried? Isn’t the government doing what you asked them to do pre-January 11?
A. We are worried that the practice of making a mockery of our judicial institutions continues. We are worried that due process is not being followed in capturing the accused. We are worried because we see not enough care in actually filing proper charges with solid investigation against the corrupt.
We are worried that if such trends continue, then it is only a matter of time before similar bending of rules and breaking of promises will happen in the future, which we will not like. We are worried when we see that the murder of Mandi activist Chalesh Richil remains unaccounted for.
We are worried when we see such human rights abuses and extra judicial killings continue like before. We are worried because we expected a lot better from this government, whose claim to legitimacy is its moral high ground .
Q. Why are you worried about military getting involved in politics?
A. Perhaps there was no way, other than the military getting involved, to break the deadlock in January 11. But military out of the barrack for a prolonged period of time has never brought out any thing good in the past and can never bring any thing good in the future.
We risk losing the last institute that is known for its efficiency and perceived as trust worthy by the people. Let the military help the caretaker government and return to the barrack. They are here to help the government to do a job — let them do it. Let them go back after that. Imagine what a wonderful image the army will set for the rest of country and the world by doing this. This is also the announced intention of the army.
Q. Why do people bring in the example by Pakistan?
A. Trends point to the fact that a similar experiment like that of Gen. Musharraf is being tried in Bangladesh. Gen Musharraf govt is falling apart without bringing in any meaningful change in Pakistan’s future in the last eight years. There is no reason to believe that this experiment will be successful in Bangladesh.
Q. So where do you stand?
A. We are happy that in the short term accountability is being brought to our institutes and they are being depoliticized. We are happy that in the short term steps are taken to mitigate the corruption. We are happy the election reform proposals are being discussed.
But we are worried that such short term measures without systemic changes will not get us to our journey towards forward looking society with social justice. We are worried when we see too many press comments and very little implementation.
We are worried that the civil society is giving blank checks to a group without realizing the long-term implication of it. We are worried that the representative of the people, the political parties, are not in the process of discussing electoral reforms. Any attempt to quick fixes can bring short-term cheer but no meaningful long-term impact. We will only have to wait till someone else comes to power and bends the rule to their convenience.
Let’s fix the election rules, bring democracy inside the parties, and make election commission independent. We will then be on our path to democracy that is accountable and meaningful. With the absence of a parliament, civic society has a greater role to play here. Until then it is very important not to give a few good men the power to do anything and everything in the name of anti-corruption.
We don’t want to go back to the era of pre January 11 dysfunctional democracy — even more we don’t want to go back to the military era of the 1980s when similar talk of anti-corruption was followed by limitless corruption by a new interest group.
We want to go to a path of functional democracy, which will deliver for the people. When we see the government move away from that path and indulge in the very same practice that they accuse their predecessors of doing, we want to keep a sharp look and criticize where necessary.
We speak out because we love our country and the people who serve our country honourably. Our cheering and our finger pointing is driven by the government actions and it is all because of a common interest of seeing what is best for our dear homeland named Bangladesh.
Just one request: please don’t term us “anti-state” because the government won’t like what we say. Stopping the information flow is not the way to deal with criticism but rather by changing the minds with transparent actions, one can convert the people from being critics to cheerleaders.
Asif Saleh is a contributor to the Drishtipat Writers’ Collective and founder of Drishtipat.