Bangladesh gained independence 48 years ago. In 2021, it is going to celebrate its golden jubilee or 50 years of independence. Here it should be mentioned that Bangladesh became independent not through any negotiated process but winning a liberation war participated by masses only with the exception of a few political parties and their adherents who collaborated with the Pakistani occupation regime. In the process of the liberation war which lasted for 9 months 3 million lives were lost, many hundreds and thousands of mothers and sisters lost their honours and 10 million people were driven out of their homes and had to take shelters in neighbouring India. These stark realities have shaped the politics and political culture of Bangladesh over time. National consensus and unity was achieved through the liberation war and the country started its onward journey with a pledge to establish an egalitarian democratic polity where all peoples’ rights will be respected and the rule of law will reign supreme. However, with the overthrow of the elected government in 1975 through the extreme form of violence of gruesome killing of Bangabandhu, his family members and close political associates the high ideals of the liberation war were set aside by the conspirators and usurpers of the state power. In fact, they tried to establish another Pakistan in the name of Bangladesh with the similar brand of political culture being practiced there.
However, with time and as consequences of many developments of diverse nature the political culture and psyche underwent profound changes. Here political culture means the attitudes, beliefs, and sentiments that define a political process and these also provide the underlying assumptions and rules that govern behaviour of the political system. It includes the political ideals and the operating norms of a polity. Thus the political culture is the manifestation in aggregate form of the psychological and subjective dimensions of politics. It is also a product of both the collective history of a political system. Political culture seeks to understand the long-standing concepts of political ideology, national ethos and spirit, national political psychology, and the fundamental values of the people. As mentioned earlier, changes in the political arena of Bangladesh can be seen from a chronological development perspective with some timeframes or phases. The first phase would be the tenure of the governments led by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from 1972 -1975. This was the formative phase of the development of the political culture and psyche of the country. During this particular phase constitutional development took place in the form of the framing of the Constitution of the new born Republic. First Parliamentary election was held as per the new constitution. The existing provincial administrative structure was changed into a national one to suit the purposes of the new state. Relief and reconstruction was mooted and the economy was put on rail again to ensure growth and development. But the political arena experienced volatilities and uncertainties because particularly of the opposition of the left leaning parties. These oppositions also gained covert support of the defeated forces of the Liberation war. In the international arena, particularly the countries that supported Pakistan in 1971 also lent their support to dislodge the government of the day by creating anarchy in the country. Ultimately they became successful in deposing the Government through unnatural and unconstitutional brute force. This paved the way for military and quasi military rule for about next 15 years. Now, if we analyse the period 1972-1975 or the tenure of the governments led by Bangabandhu, the dominant political culture and psyche was largely democratic in nature with opposition of diverse nature including some form of particularly left extremism. The form of opposition was agitative in nature considering the government as anti people. This culture and the psyche have been quite similar to that what existed during the British and the Pakistani rule. This is because of the fact the government during those two periods were not considered by the people as their own rather colonial governments ruling over native subjects. Moreover, the people in general enthusiastically participated in all political movements and activities like, strikes and hartals with utmost zeal. These often led to street fights with police and destruction of public and private properties.However, with the imposition of the martial law, the political culture underwent a fundamental change under state patronage. Political parties were floated by the military rulers that were joined by the politician having past history of collaboration with the Pakistani occupation forces and members of the other political parties with insignificant popular support base that also included many leaders of the left leaning political parties. As a result, the political culture and psyche underwent fundamental change. The culture of opportunism emerged. The age old political parties and their leaders that emerged long back through due and recognised political processes largely remained outside the culture of the politics of opportunism. The political activities continued to remain agitative in nature with large scale participation of the masses like the earlier days. During these days the economy also did not make much progress but private participation began to gain momentum because of changes in the policies of the government putting more reliance on the private sector for economic growth. Things began to change after the restoration of democracy in the early nineties. Politics led by civilian leaders of the political parties again came to the center stage of the national life by forming governments and becoming opposition parties in Parliament with popular mandates. Political activities during the nineties and the first decade of the 21st century retained its agitative character of the olden days with mass participation. However, the fervour waned with economic growth and development as people in large number became engaged in gainful economic activities as entrepreneurs and employees of various enterprises largely owned by the emerging entrepreneurs. In the last ten years, the political culture and psyche underwent further fundamental changes. It appears that the culture of agitative politics for days after days with mass participation is over. The uninterrupted continuation of economic pursuit leading to personal and national prosperity has become more important than disruptions and complete shutdown of economic and other activities having relationship with livelihoods of a great number of people. Now the common people though support and participate in the political activities of different political parties but it is perceived that the nature of it has changed to a great extent. Destructive agitation and complete shutdowns for days after days are no more liked and accepted by the people. They consider such phenomenon as against the interest of all employees and entrepreneurs of various ventures. Here it may be noted that the size of the national economy and per capita income has also increased manifolds over the last decade. The people from all strata of the society have started to enjoy the fruits of economic prosperity in some form or other. As such, the people working as daily wage earners also consider long term agitative political activities to be a threat to their livelihood. All these developments are leading the way for peaceful political activities without disrupting normal lives of all sections of the people. It is believed that these changes in the culture and psyche in the coming days will shape the future of politics in Bangladesh.
(The different sources of information are acknowledged with gratitude)
The writer is a Professor, Department of Public Administration, University of Dhaka and Member, National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh and a columnist.