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26th-Feb-2015

Prof Amartya Sen's observations and our context

By MAINUL HOSEIN

Nobel Prize winner Prof Amartya Sen's visit to Bangladesh is a matter of great honour for Bangladesh. His current visit has taken place at a time when the country is nearing civil war for misguided political leadership and lack of intellectual assertiveness. So everybody who is anybody has followed his public utterances with keen interest and hoped to see some light in this hour of darkness.His observations on democracy and liberty are particularly profound but so discreetly placed that these may be interpreted differently by different quarters according to their conveniences. Some may use him to say that there can be democracy without liberty also as they are already advocating. Some others will explain differently. One eminent English daily published his speech under the caption: Democracy not at cost of liberty. The caption itself tells how it can have unintended meanings. As if there can be democracy without being liable for the challenge of liberty.Prof Sen's views on democracy bear special significance in our context when the country is facing the worst kind of crisis for democracy over the demand of a mid-term fresh election as promised by the Prime Minister herself. All sorts of devious effort are being made by the supporters of government to be forgetful of the promise of fresh election. It is the obduracy of the government on the election issue that the country has plunged into a clash of death-dealing violence between the police power and the street power. The most callousness of the situation is that one does not know which agency of the government is doing what and under whose authority.The law enforcing agencies should enforce the law in full confidence professionally and without hide and seek. It is not the job of the police to create panic of uncertainty when arresting somebody under the law.At a time of violent politics, instant arrest and disappearances the distinction between kidnapping and arrest by police must be strictly observed. Local police must be kept informed and midnight knocking avoided. Otherwise the law-breakers will feel free to pass themselves as plainclothes police. The question of having democracy does not arise if individual liberty is not protected. Democracy is for the protection of liberty for all.Prof Sen has been quoted in the press as saying: I do not believe that liberty has to be cut down for the sake of democracy. His emphasis on not to curtail liberty under the pretext of democracy is also susceptible to mean that the government is anxious to save democracy. But obviously  that is not the clear picture. No dialogue and no election  can be anything but not "aspects" of any democracy.We are not sure if the special posters of an Awami League member of the parliament now on display all over the city has come to the attention of Prof Sen. These posters say boldly and loudly: Development First, Democracy Next.True progress and sustainable economic development cannot be achieved in any country where the government is afraid of election for public accountability and transparency. Prof Sen knows it best that true development is measured not by pliable arithmetical figures but by the quality of life and happiness the average people enjoy. And the quality of life includes basic security of life and freedom of expression.Prof Sen's observation that stronger government is important for development should also be examined in right perspective unless it is to be misunderstood by the government. A government is not stronger for its police power, it is stronger when it has strong support among the people.The present government for the weakness of it not being properly elected is keen to be called a "stronger" government for development as if a democratically open and accountable government is not good for the development of the country.All dictators kill democracy justifying strong governments in the name of development they claim to have attained for their countries. Since dictatorship is a government of fear and not of liberty so whatever the dictator says is to be accepted as the truth. It should also not be unknown that the dictators survive through corruption and abuse of power.It is also admitted universally that no just and fair development can take place where corruption and abuse of power go hand in hand and where the opposition is silenced. It is a truism that under dictatorships, like in wars, truth is the first casualty.The Nobel laureate expressed himself on politics with so much subtlety and at the same time with so much praise for the economic progress that it is most likely that his deeply thoughtfully impregnated remarks will not be understood in the proper perspective for the righteous impact.In our present state of things, when our people are passing through a time of panic and insecurity of life, Prof Sen's presence could have been immensely helpful for the government and the people if he were more down to earth in expressing himself as a friend of Bangladesh.Our party politics needs to be unshackled if democracy has to find a safe space.