Life isn’t getting better

Mubashar Hasan

Since the inception of the country we – the masses – are caught between politics and conflicts of interest between elites who develop, shape, and use mass sentiment for their own purposes.

Politicians in our country quite often use the phrase “people are the source of all power.” Our constitution too, in Article 7(1), states that “all powers in the Republic belong to the people.” However the reality is somewhat different.

Since the inception of the country we – the masses – are caught between politics and conflicts of interest between elites who develop, shape, and use mass sentiment for their own purposes. The carefully crafted, vague conflict among elites in Bangladesh revolved around religion, secularism, and national identity. But my question is: What do these mean for me or you – the masses who are caught between supposed ideological distinction and regularised events such as forced disappearances, crossfires, load shedding, roadway mishaps, extortion, hartals, arson, water shortage, rising food prices, traffic jam, etc, every day?

Our politicians ride the high-tech cars of the latest model, they have unabated access to power and wealth while we suffer year after year. A study conducted by a professor of political science in Pennsylvania University finds that a key aim of politics in Bangladesh is to receive and use unjustifiable state patronage, influence permits, license, and foreign policy to some extent. In short, the study indicates that “people” are the capital for politicians to make money here, in the sense that they vote for them, and in return, they have access to power and resources. Therefore, we see most of our politicians are millionaires in a country where millions live under $2 per day. This is immoral and vulgar.

One could argue that these parties have a large following as they demonstrate in front of droves of people in every rally, therefore I lose validity in my point which says politics is not about the people. However, I argue that most of these people participate in the rally not out of ideology but because they also get a share of the power in smaller contexts such as in trade unions, teachers’ unions, doctors’ unions, journalists’ unions, student wings, administration, and so forth, through the party patronage system.

The important point to note about these associations or unions is that most of the members come from not-so-economically solvent families. Party patronage in the name of foreign trips, media license, jobs, work orders, political postings, keeps these associations alive.

In other words, these people, with otherwise limited access to resources, are simply being exploited by the powerful elites, and as a result, we see corruption everywhere. Morale seems to have been all but lost here. The ideological distinction between two parties seems a facade.

In support of my argument, I raise a point arguing that, since 1990, there has been no fundamental distinction between the two parties in terms of service delivery for human development, which includes human rights, political and civil liberty, corruption, political violence, and, above all, increasing quality of life.

Finally, I feel that time has come to change the very theory of politics in our country. The point of politics should no more be about using people as a means to acquire power, rather, the interest of the people should be the end. In Aristotelian terms, people are the wealth of a nation. By that I mean increasing the quality of life for the masses should be the top priority for politics here in Bangladesh. This idea was first put forward by Amartya Sen who criticised the traditional utilitarian approach of measuring lives of people by economic value.

The main concept of his idea is that a person’s well-being does not only depend on economic value. There are other factors related here apart from money; for example, a person’s happiness, sorrow, friendship, security, mobility, etc. In his view, a person’s being and functioning is important when considering his/her capabilities.

Similarly, Sen is a critic of the traditional GDP measurement that fails to reflect people’s actual capabilities, and also fails to depict the deficiencies in the people’s quality of life. To put it simply, whether one has the money to buy basics is not the real indicator of development, rather whether one has money to buy basics and whether they enjoy a decent and secured life should be the major point of politics. If one doesn’t have electricity and water in their home, if one has to remain stuck in traffic for hours, if one can just be picked up and shot dead for no reason, what is the point of life?

The spirit of our liberation war was about improving the quality of life in times of Pakistani oppression and discrimination. If one argues that oppression and discrimination are now being institutionalised, few will retaliate; because after our independence, we, the masses, are now caught between politics for power and their subservient middle class goons who dominate public discourse. As a result, quality of life is in jeopardy as our country is becoming an increasingly dangerous place to live in each day. The use of unevenly balanced GDP indicators as an indicator for growth sheds little truth about the quality of life here.

Source: Dhaka Tribune

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