In the midst of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic situation, Bangladesh observed itshistorical golden jubilee of political independence in 2021. In course of time,Bangladesh achieved remarkable development combating different types ofchallenges. On the other hand, the country has faced lots of ups and downs,conflicts and solutions, hopes and frustrations in its political development history.
According to US scholar Walt Whitman Rostow and Lucian W. Pye, “Politicaldevelopment aims at national unity and broadening of the base of politicalparticipation”. Another US Scholar Hegan regards political development as the“growth of institutions and practices that allow a political system to deal with itsown fundamental problems more effectively in the short run, while workingtowards more responsiveness of the regime’s popular demand in the long run”.So political development mostly depends on state building, national integration,practices of principles, values and cultures, political parties’ development andsustainability, transparent electoral process, peoples’ participation and ownership,political parties participation in election, institution building and functionalism,governance system, freedom of speech-expression-choice, rule of law,coordination and bargaining capacity, distribution of welfare, etc.
In the history of political development, the proud people of Bangladesh achievedindependence in 1971 after 24 years of vibrant political movement and a bloody Liberation War sacrificing three million lives and 0.2 million women suffering. Thefirst provisional government formed on April 17, 1971 under the Awami League(AL) led by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as president for continuing the Liberation War. After victory on December 16, 1971 he returned to the country onJanuary 10 and took oath as Prime Minister on January 12, 1972. Within a veryshort time, the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh was adoptedand enacted on November 4, 1972 upholding the four state policies includingBengali nationalism, democracy, socialism and secularism. The new countrystarted its political journey.
During this period, the opposition to the AL government was extremely weak. TheJamaat-e-Islam and other religion based parties were banned under articles 12 and38 of the Bangladesh Constitution, which prohibited organisation of religion-basedpolitical parties due to their strong collaboration with Pakistan. But through his ‘Haq Katha’ National Awami Party (NAP), led by MaulanaBhashani, became thestrident opposition in public positions. In 1972, the emergence of a new leftistparty ‘JatioSamajtantrik Dal (JSD)’ led by a group of AL student wing leaders andsome former radicalised military officers became the most vibrant and vigorousopposition and won rapid popularity. AL got an overwhelming victory of 276 outof 300 general seats in the first parliamentary election held on March 7, 1973.
In January 1975, through the fourth amendment of the constitution, passed by thefirst elected parliament, drastic changes were brought about. A presidential form ofgovernment and a single party system was introduced involving all segments ofcitizens in the country considering the political and economic situation. After theodious political and military assassination on August 15, 1975, politics becamedifficult for politicians due to army intervention in the state power continuing up to1990.
Major General Ziaur Rahman took over the state power as chief of martial law(1976) and president (1977) and started major shifts in politics. Under thepresidential form of government, he started to establish a new party by statepatronisation by including political factions, withdrawal of political ban ofcollaborators and Islamic parties, radical leftists, involving non-politicians inpolitics for establishing so-called multi-party politics. He also brought two majorchanges in the Constitution including ‘Bangladeshi nationalism’ instead of Bengalinationalism and Islamic ideology omitting secularism. Such tendencies werecarried on by General Hussain Mohammad Ershad till 1990, as he becomes thepresident and chief martial law administrator after the assassination of PresidentZiaur Rahman in 1981.
During the 15 years from 1975 to 1990, the politicaldevelopment of Bangladesh was divided into two major ideologies Bengalinationalism vs. Bangladeshi nationalism; Secularism vs. Islamism, that divided thepeople. Among the different types of political shifts, both these military rulersformed political parties, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by General ZiaurRahman in 1978 and Jatiya Party (JP) by General Ershad in 1986. After 1981,major political parties including AL, BNP, Jamaat-e-Islami, leftist parties started todemand for democratic system, finally clinching democracy by mass movement in1990.Restoration of electoral democracy by 5th amendment of the Constitution in 1991was marked by a two-party dominant system which later evolved into two electoralalliances led by the two major parties, Awami League (AL) and BangladeshNationalist Party (BNP). A new pathway started in the political development inBangladesh. Bangladesh got four caretaker governments and seven parliamentaryforms of governments from 1991 to 2021. AL led by Sheikh Hasina, won theparliament election four times (1996, 2008, 2014, 2018) while BNP, led by BegumKhaleda Ziathrice(1991, 1996, 2001). But there were huge controversies in theelectoral process in all the parliamentary elections under caretaker governmentsand partisan governments.
The basic question is what type of political development have we achieved at thegolden jubilee of independence?
There were some significant achievements in different development aspects from1972 to 2001 as Bangladesh became a ‘development role model from ‘bottomlessbasket’. Major credit goes to the AL government. For example, the size of theeconomy rose from USD 0.58 billion to USD 348 billion, GDP 2.75 per cent to 8.2 per cent, national budget BDT 7.86 billion to BDT 5680 billion, revenue income BDT 2.50 billion to BDT 780 billion, ADP BDT 5.01 billion to BDT 2050billion, reserve USD 0.2 billion to USD 44 billion, per capita income USD 129 toUSD 2064, import USD 0.28 billion to USD 53 billion, export USD 0.33 billion to USD 34 billion, remittance USD 8 million to USD 20 billion, average age 47 to 72years, poverty rate 88 per cent to 20.5 per cent, inflation rate 47 per cent to 5 percent, literacy rate 20 per cent to 72.8 per cent, child mortality rate 16 per cent to3.8 per cent, maternal mortality rate 16 per cent to 1.73 per cent, foreigndependency on development works 100 per cent to 34 per cent, food production1.8 crore tons to 4.54 crore tons, electricity production 4000 mw to 24000 mw,pitch made road 3,100 km to 22,000 km (MonirHussain 19 March, 2021, The DailyJugantor). The elected government, weak opposition, democratic institutions, 50more political parties and watchdogs of governments are functional in the country.
In spite of this massive development, the political development process remainstoo weak as it was one party led government from 1971-1975, military backedgovernment from 1975-1990 and weak democratic governments from 1991-2021.
Now it is very alarming that the political parties are backed by corporate sectorsand around 61.07 per cent parliament members are businessmen, 13 per cent arelawyers, five per cent are servicemen, four per cent are farmers and the rest belongto different professions (The Daily Star, Jan 7, 2019).
In the political development process, the people of Bangladesh got different typesof divisions like Bengali nationalism vs. Bangladeshi nationalism, Secularism vs.Islamism, parliamentary form of government vs. presidential form of government,state-patron political party vs.people-patron political party, etc.
Major political development indicators including national integration, puredemocracy, democratic institutions, functionalism of parliament, free-fair-credible-participatory election, intra-party democracy, politics for the professionalpoliticians, rule of law, freedom of opinion-expression-choice, right to life andsecurity, strong state monitoring, corruption and crimes, use of religion in politics,tolerance in politics, strong presence of oppositions, pure and active civil society,etc. are yet to be upgraded. So, besides economic development, it is also necessaryto improve political development agendas that strongly contribute to a welfare andnoble nation.
The writer is an MPhil Researcher, Political Science Department, Dhaka University and Executive Director, Research Evaluation and Development Initiative.