Only democracy can ensure sustainable development

Politics and democracy are synonymous as are democracy and development. The proposition of politics without democracy arises when politicians lose confidence in democratic politics and a political party sets aside the democratic polity. Such a situation comes when they lose confidence in people. Their confidence is then reposed in state actors; from people’s representation, the dependence then shifts to partisan state actors, says Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury, member on the advisory council to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party chairperson, in an interview with Rashed Ahmed Mitul

Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury

Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury

New Age: The ruling Awami League and its partners claim these days that economic development is more important than political democracy. Do you agree?
Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury: I do not understand why the Awami League is talking about politics without democracy. Politics and democracy are synonymous. Similarly democracy and development are also synonymous. Such a proposition arises when politicians lose confidence in democratic politics and a political party sets aside the democratic polity, the people and their representatives. Such a situation comes when they lose confidence in people. Their confidence, then, is reposed in state actors. From people’s representation, its dependence then shifts to partisan state actors. This scenario is given rise to by dictatorial and non-inclusive politics.
Basic principles of democracy are pluralism, inclusiveness, governance by discussion and public representation. But these are no longer recognised by the Awami League. Now it is trying to survive by resorting to the slogan of development.
If we look into history, we will find that this sort of slogans originated from dictatorial regimes to divert people’s attention from the main crisis.

New Age: Why do you think that the Awami League, which has fought for political democracy in the past, has now resolved for development without democracy?
Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury: It is unfortunate that it has moved away from the basic principles of democracy. And so it does not have any respect for other political parties based on the principles of democracy, people’s right to vote, the rule of law, civil liberty and human rights. In a word, democratic values have lost their meaning to the ruling party. Its history also confirms that.
Its mindset has not changed. This kind of trend is inherent in its nature.
The spirits of independence and the liberation war of the country are embodied in democracy. But the Awami League always appears unwilling to relinquish the state power to the elected majority.
The spectre of one-party system again takes the possession of its mind. That it is aiming at disenfranchising the citizens depriving them of their civil rights is a pointer to the fact that it has a dictatorial and fascist mentality. Its slogan for development is a fake slogan as true development occurs when there is participatory politics, and elected representatives, in the real sense of the term, run the country.

New Age: How do you evaluate the ‘development’ taking place under the present political regime? Are people at large significantly benefited from the development model, if there is any, that the incumbents are following?
Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury: A lot of these development narratives are political rhetoric. If we go by statistics, we will see that the GDP growth that the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led government left in 2006 was 6.68 per cent. The growth is still hovering below that figure with the Awami League being in power for seven years now in two consecutive terms.
Manufacturing growth in 2006 was about 11 per cent and it is now around 8 per cent, below the 2006 figure. The growth in the service sector was 6.60 per cent in 2006; now it is around 5.83 per cent in 2014. The growth in the agriculture sector has come down from 5.55 per cent to around 3 per cent. Private investment from around 10 per cent in 2006 has come down to 4 per cent. Export growth has also reduced from 25 per cent in 2006 to below 6 per cent.
Any growth in public investment has been used/misused to meet the ruling party’s political requirements. We have not noticed completion of any major strategic infrastructural projects such as the Padma bridge, Dhaka–Chittagong highway, Dhaka–Chittagong double line railway, etc. And still there is such a large expenditure from the public investment.
An increase in power generation came from controversial, high-cost rental power plants and the big consumption jump in the 14th financial year by the government has come for subsidising these rental plants.
Besides, the state-owned banks were totally misused through Hallmark-type of operations and so they now need continuous recapitalisation from the budget. One can easily understand that this type of development model is based on the idea of capitalism and plutocracy and is used to establish an oligarchy.
The growth trend that the BNP left in 2006 and 2007 was poised to reach about 8 per cent by this time given the success in the period between 2002 and 2007 financial years.
The financial sector is in shambles because of outright plundering from banks, capital market and the share market by the people tied to the ruling quarters. Extortion at all levels has crossed all limits. In the absence of democracy, civil rights and the rule of law, private-sector investment has come to a grinding halt.
Capital flights and migration of entrepreneurs have marked a significant rise. Low-income groups are putting their lives at risk when they are undertaking a journey across the sea in search of jobs. Against this backdrop, investors have lost interest in investing in the country.

New Age: Is meaningful economic development possible without people’s democracy?
Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury: As I said earlier, democracy and sustainable development have to go hand in hand. I do not think it needs to be proved again. No development model can work without inclusiveness and the participation of people at large.

New Age: How do you think Bangladesh can combine democracy and development?
Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury: Only a democratically elected government and the parliament can set a development goal which is sustainable as only democracy can ensure a free and fair environment which provides an opportunity to tap the potential of every citizen. A national goal and the roadmap to achieve it should be chalked up with the participation of all.

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