by F R Chowdhury
During the Second World War (WWII) the world witnessed the highest number of 5-star generals also known as Field Marshals. The Russians had a number of Marshals. Hitler used to promote German generals on the battle front for their initial success. Field Marshal Rommel was promoted before his mysterious death. The last five star general in US was General Omar Bradley. Britain had colonies all over the world. The head of the Imperial Army was always a Field Marshal until Prime Minister John Major abolished it. The similar rank in the Navy is Admiral of the Fleet. Britain being an island state, navy is the senior most service. After all they established their colonial empire through the Navy. During the WWII the Royal Navy had more than 500 sea-going ships. The First Sea Lord was always an Admiral of the Fleet. In Britain HM the Queen as Head of the State and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces holds the rank of Five Star General of all three forces.
Time has changed. Nations do not intend to conquer each other’s territory. They spend more money on education, health care and other essential sectors. They do not require big armies. They depend more on diplomacy rather than military power. However, though smaller in size, nations still maintain well trained and well equipped army to ensure national independence and pride. They do not require Five Star Generals. Despite all that we have seen crazy dictators like Dada Edi Amin becoming a self-proclaimed Field Marshal. Other than that Five Star Generals can be found in modern world only in royal families.
Traditionally the Head of the State is also the Supreme Commander of the Armed forces. He or she may be a king or queen or may be a president of a republic. Unless a directly elected executive president, he or she is a non political person. The armed forces have their ultimate allegiance to the state through their supreme commander, the president. The president and the armed forces remain above all political debates and arguments.
In parliamentary democracy like Bangladesh the prime minister is the chief executive and he or she runs the country in the name of the president. The prime minister being a political person should normally avoid direct contact with the armed forces. The military ceremonies and functions should be kept for the president to attend. This is what we see in the United Kingdom and India. Unfortunately it is different in Bangladesh. When Sheikh Mujib found out that as prime minister he does not get the same protocol as president he made himself the president (the first executive president without being directly elected). He in fact killed democracy. That is another chapter and we shall not discuss any further on that matter.
The trend still continues. The prime ministers in Bangladesh behave like head of state. They want to attend all military parades and ceremonies. They want the national anthem to be played on their arrival. Not only this, they also behave like military dictators. They forget that they have been elected by the people for betterment of the people. They should dedicate themselves to the service of the people. They should have no time for such celebrations. These are best kept for the president.
The prime minister or the defence minister has a lot to do with the armed forces. They need to make periodic reviews and discuss with them about their future developments, procurement and training. These are serious matters which are discussed and analysed in series of visits or meetings. The concerned ministers may even some times attend exercises to see for themselves the preparedness of the armed forces. These are not to be compared with national day parade, commissioning/ graduation ceremonies, commissioning of new naval vessels or award of national standards etc.
I will request our prime minister or Home/ Interior minister to identify the difference between above stated functions and ceremonies and confine their appetite within the ceremonies and functions of the Police, Border Guards, Coast Guard, Ansar & VDP. A democratically elected prime minister attending military ceremonies with the epaulette and cap of a five star general does not look good. Our prime minister is not the supreme commander of our armed forces. That picture of the prime minister in different papers made her look very ridiculous. This has to change. With that the attitude and mind set must also change. We must learn proper democratic culture and etiquette.
Let us learn how to respect the president who is the ultimate custodian and protector of state, democracy, constitution and sovereignty. The president is the symbol of our nationhood. The president is the supreme commander of the armed forces. Let us keep certain protocols reserved for the president. The national anthem should be played only on arrival of the president/ head of the state. Showing respect to the president means respect for the state and the constitution. The head of the government must understand that there is something known as head of the state above him/ her. That will definitely make them more humble and remove the animal instinct from them. The humble attitude and behaviour is bound to bring change. They would not behave like military dictators. They would behave like prime minister of a democratic country where the real power lies with the people and their elected parliament.