A meaningful economic development is impossible without democracy and we took lessons, in this regard, from the British colonial rule and Pakistani oppression. Keeping that experience in mind, we made a decision to categorise democracy as one important pillar with the three other pillars such as secularism, nationalism and socialism for running the state smoothly immediately after the independence, says Mujahidul Islam Selim, president of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, in an interview with Mohiuddin Alamgir and Moloy Saha
New Age: The ruling Awami League and its partners claim these days that economic development is more important than political democracy. Do you agree?
Mujahidul Islam Selim: Leaders of the Awami League are saying nowadays that the economic development should be the first priority and the issue of democracy will come afterwards. Some of them are even one step ahead as they claim that we already have more democracy than needed. Others say that Bangladesh should follow the development model of Mahathir bin Mohamad and Malaysia [Mahathir bin Mohamad was the fourth prime minister of Malaysia, for 22 years during 1981–2003, which makes him Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister].
After hearing these discussions, the first question that arises is whether the Awami League is officially going to take the path of Mahathir instead of the path of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman [the founding president of the country and a leader of the Awami League].
At this point, I want to add that the ways of Bangabandhu and Mahathir have differences and they are mutually exclusive.
Mahathir’s path follows the way of capitalism and plundering and has a catchy development model, suspending almost all democratic norms. And the direction of our liberation war runs counter to that of Mahathir’s path. The war of liberation had the prospect of building a society based purely on egalitarian and democratic principles in its view. In other words, it inspired the people to establish a socialistic economic system denouncing personal property and aiming at the deconstruction of society.
The government always circulates Amartya Sen’s [the Nobel prize winner economist of India] popular words but never heeds his invaluable comments such as democracy is the fundamental element of development and no development can take place without democracy.
Besides, the policy of development bypassing democracy is against the spirit of the liberation war.
The incumbents are using such a policy to enshrine their absolute power. They are, thus, trying to stay in power without the approval of people as well.
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?
Mujahidul Islam Selim: There is no doubt that the basic class character of the Awami League had undergone a change. When Bangabandhu was alive and also some years after his brutal killing, the leadership of the party was in the hand of the people belonging to the middle class. Lawyers, peasants, school teachers, petty businessmen and shopkeepers were elected upazila-, district- and central-level leaders.
Now, things have changed totally as some opportunists who have recently become rich are now occupying those positions. As some plunderers and upstarts have grabbed this leadership, a significant change is noticeable now.
The change of policy has put once dedicated leaders of the party on par with those greedy businessmen-turned politicians. The proportion of Awami League members in the parliament and the executive committee of the party starkly signifies the change in character of the party.
Besides seasonal politicians, retired members of the civil and the military bureaucracy have bolstered their stronghold in the party especially as policymakers of the party.
In the democratic system, political leaders dictate the state machinery for smooth functioning of the state, but we are observing a new thing now. The instruments of the state such as the police and the civil administration are taking decisions now, which should come from the politicians.
The situation has reached such a point where public support for staying in power has become irrelevant. State machinery, such as the police and civil and military bureaucrats, is getting undue privileges. The government is apportioning favours among the civil servants.
The latest example is that the cabinet has approved the draft of the Public Service Act 2015 incorporating a provision requiring prior approval of the government for the arrest of public servants and the production of charge sheets against those people in criminal cases. The incumbents are, thus, providing protection for government officials now.
It is a signal to the bureaucrats from the government that it would give legal protection for them if they can, in their turn, protect the interest of the government and help it to stay in power for long. This kind of decision has been made by the government in line with its fascist philosophy. These are bad symptoms for the country’s future.
No party is above its class character. The Awami Leage was, at first, a centre-right political party, then it became a centre-left party and now it has again become a centre-right political party. The way they are talking about religion and religious beliefs easily leads us to assume that there is a chance of the Awami League to turn into an Awami Muslim League again.
The Awami League had fought for democracy not from its idealistic point of view but as the people of the country love democracy. If it distances itself from the path of democracy, people of the country will never forgive it as they love the path of democracy. So a conflict between the Awami League and the people of the country is inevitable.
The current path taken by the Awami League would give rise to more internal clashes in the party and among its associates over tender manipulation, extortion and plundering, which will be the cause of a sustained surge in crimes such as murders and killing in the country.
The policy of staying in power by force and increasing practice in consumerism by the Awami League would leave a negative impact on the people as brutality will be noticed among them, which will prove dangerous for society.
One needs to keep it in mind that if a building collapses, it is easy to construct it again but if the morality of the people deteriorates, it is difficult to redeem it.
New Age: How do you evaluate the ‘development’ taking place under the present political regime? Are the people at large significantly benefited from the development model, if there is any, that the incumbents are following?
Mujahidul Islam Selim: The government-projected picture of development reminds me of one thing — the use of statistics is the best policy if you want to hide the truth.
The government often claims that Bangladesh has become a lower-middle income country with the increasing gross national income per capita. But the question is: have all the people of Bangladesh really graduated into that group?
If Bangladesh has advanced so much from developmental perspectives, why are a lot of unemployed people of the country embarking on voyages in cargo vessels and trawlers across the perilous sea?
Development without democracy will prove to be a mare’s nest. Development does not mean building some infrastructure only. It must have a direct relation with human rights, the freedom of speech and security. We are quite sure that the people of the country do not have such things in the country under the authoritative state structure without democracy. A caged bird is not free even though it is given much food and a comfortable place to live in.
Development is impossible without democracy; rather growth would take place in the life of a small number of people who are basically plunderers exploiting the power of the state and those who are tied to the ruling quarters.
It has been circulated that per capita income of Bangladesh is now more than Tk 1 lakh. But we know that the self-proclaimed prince Moosa bin Shamsher has the wealth amounting to Tk 1 lakh crore. If we have 160 people more like him, the total wealth would be worth Tk 160 lakh crore.
And every economist knows that if this Tk 160 lakh crore is put into fixed deposit, its 10 per cent interest would amount to Tk 16 lakh crore.
It would, therefore, not be wise to calculate the total wealth. We want to see an equitable distribution of wealth among people.
Workers and peasants are not benefited from the ongoing development model but people engaged in plundering are getting the benefits of it.
New Age: Is a meaningful economic development possible without people’s democracy?
Mujahidul Islam selim: A meaningful economic development is impossible without democracy and we took lessons, in this regard, from the British colonial rule and Pakistani oppression. Keeping that experience in mind, we made a decision to categorise democracy as one important pillar with the three other pillars such as secularism, nationalism and socialism for running the state smoothly immediately after the independence.
Ruling classes have already thrown out socialism and compromised on secularism and now are getting rid of democracy, which means that we have only one pillar left and that is nationalism.
The true spirit of nationalism is also absent in them. I want to ask a question. Will they be able to say that we will live on grass but not take conditional World Bank loans, as Tajuddin Ahmad [the country’s first prime minister and an Awami League leader] said in the past.
The birth of Bangladesh took place following the progressive spirit of nationalism. But now we have degraded ourselves to the extent of kneeling down with a policy to satisfy the imperialists.
The margin between the poor and the rich has widened.
New Age: How do you think Bangladesh can combine democracy and development?
Mujahidul Islam Selim: We fought the war of liberation. The spirit of that war is not something abstract. Anyone can figure it out by taking into account the four principles of the nation. For a combination of democracy and development, we have to bring back those four principles.