Wednesday, December 4, 2013
This December . . . that December
Syed Badrul Ahsan
THIS December is not that December. That winter is not this winter. This country is not that country. That generation is not this generation. But that dream, that old dream of an egalitarian society taking all Bengalis in its fold, is this dream of a state decisively founded on secular democratic expressions.
In December 1971, it was a twilight struggle we waged, the final phase of it, in defence of liberty in this land. It was a dream coming true, through the sacrifices of millions, through the courage of the Mukti Bahini in confronting the Pakistan occupation army across a soon-to-be Bangladesh. In December 2013, the old dream of a people inhabiting a land of freedom resting on individual and collective dignity is threatened with nightmarish visions of all-enveloping despair.
In December 1971, once the land stood liberated, the Mujibnagar government decreed a ban on the Jamaat-e-Islami, Muslim League, Pakistan Democratic Party and Nezam-e-Islam Party in the interest of an inclusive, non-communal and modern political dispensation. In that season of euphoria sailing in on the wings of battlefield triumph, those who had helped the enemy in humiliating the Bengali nation were put to shame and were on the run.
Forty two years on, this nation wages a new war against the successors of the generation of fanatics that picked up teachers, engineers, lawyers and journalists through nine months of a war for freedom and never let them come back home again. In that long-ago December, it was bullets and bayonets that mutilated lives in this land. In this December, it is petrol bombs that are hurled into moving vehicles, the fiendish goal being an incineration of citizens in the sordid interest of bad politics.
That December was a time when democracy triumphed through bringing seventy five million Bengalis together in what was surely a great experiment in pluralism and constitutional government. This December is a long spell of agony democracy suffers from through an unbridled struggle for power that leaves a nation of a hundred and sixty million people reeling from the consequences of the conflict.
This December is a season when the global community implores us to do nothing that will imperil the march of government based on the consent of the governed. That December was a time when the world witnessed the birth of a nation spontaneous in its determination to have the rule of law underpin its institutions. Back then, the world went out of its way to save this nation from being destroyed by a medieval occupation force. Today, that same world worries hugely on the need for this nation to save itself from its brazenly ambitious men and women in the corridors of politics.
In December 1971, international diplomacy stayed supportive of our yearning for nothing less than political sovereignty. As Indian forces assisted our freedom fighters on that final leap to liberation, the Soviet Union made sure that its veto worked long enough for Bangladesh to emerge before a halt to the war could be called.
In December 2013, the United Nations, the United States and the European Union remain busy in the thought that Bangladesh cannot be permitted to fall apart, that its future course depends on the kind of democracy it means to pursue for itself. That December was a point in time when we became the arbiters of our destiny. This December is a winter where foreign powers remain intent on informing us of the course we need to take because we have collectively lost our way.
In 1971, the country roads we knew so well before the war took us back home at the end of it. In 2013, our roads are vulnerable to violence and our homes have mutated into metaphors for despair. In that December, the nation’s political leadership exuded energy and held high the idealism that revolutions build on. In this December, it is a fractured land our political leaders squabble over, with crass materialism gnawing away at our collective vitality.
This December is that harrowing time when statecraft gets increasingly frayed at the edges through a decline of politics in the country. In the struggle for power, parochialism puts paid to all our aspirations of enlightenment.
That December was a dawn when new possibilities rose out of the mist, new dreams took shape on the wings of national ambition, with our revolution being the road map to a territory of political liberalism and cultural creativity.
Now is the winter of our discontent. Then, it was a season that awaited the advent of spring.
Then, it was a spacious Bangladesh, in terms of expression, thought and belief, that was our world. Now, an endless stream of images shows, in slow but sure degrees, the consistent shrinking of space in political discourse.
That December is not this December. That December was when sovereignty cast its cool shadows across the landscape. This December the sense in us grows that perhaps the old revolution was unfinished, that the mountain-top is yet to be reached.
In that December, politics ruled the land in all its fragrant glory. In this December, anti-politics runs riot on the streets and citizens cower in their homes.
In December 1971, Bangabandhu prepared to come home; the Mujibnagar men came home. In December 2013, we wait by the village road in the falling light of day for new, purposeful national leadership to emerge through the sparkle of the stars in our bleak skies, to tell us the future is again ours to seize.
The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.