Malaysia Daily Star
"Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day."
-- Theodore Roosevelt
Sense & Insensibility
For the leaders, by the leaders, of the leaders
By Shahnoor Wahid
Today, let us deliberate on "democracy," the mysterious word, being used by all sorts of "minority" people in the world to perpetuate their rule over the "majority" with … mere promises. But before getting involved in the fracas let us make some changes in the definition of democracy that was articulated by Abraham Lincoln. Democracy is no more "for the people, of the people or by the people." Today, "people" are mere pawns in chess and I am sure you will not differ with me. So, let us say: "Democracy -- for the leaders, by the leaders, of the leaders."
Going back to promises. You see, promises grow plentifully in this fertile land of ours, like those succulent jackfruits, which the "leaders" dish out by the dozens from a podium at a safe distance. The hungry people, the majority, come to the meetings to listen to those promises and then go back on the same trail their hungry ancestors took. And leaders drive away in expensive vehicles to another meeting.
Democracy has this fascinating thing about it that makes it so easy for the leaders to lie, cheat, corrupt, dupe, trick, hoodwink, and finally bring their corrupt kinds out of jails. We are stuck with it, and it seems like we are preordained to go to our graves ever wondering what good it had ever done for us when we were alive. It did not help us in doing well in our studies (or bad), it did not help us in getting a scholarship, it did not help us in getting a good job, it did not help us either in dying peacefully in our bed.
In this country, people have been fighting for democracy introduced by the West (just as cleverly as they had introduced tea and tobacco), and then made us dependent on it. See, now we cannot do without either of the two! Well, since then numerous people gave life for it while numerous more enjoyed whatever they got from democracy -- name, fame, infamy, notoriety, money (black), foreign trips, foreign health trips, foreign apartments, government property, and name plaques on every bridge. See, that is why democracy is now defined, "for the leaders and by the leaders."
Well that was our take on democracy, as we have experienced it in this country, as it has been served by our own leaders. But what do the academics and the wise of other distant countries think about democracy? Are they as cynical, as disillusioned, as we are? Let us have a look at some of the sayings on democracy by some renowned personalities in history. To me the very best has been said by Theodore Roosevelt. He said: "Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day."
Dear readers, please read those lines once again and then feel that thought inside you trying to come out fashioned in words. Now you rest a while and read the following lines said by Abbie Hoffman: "You measure democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives its assimilated conformists." But is it the same in this country, in our very own democracy? Do we allow the dissidents to talk? Rather, if we did, then we would not have been in the mess we are in today.
Louis D. Brandeis, a US Supreme Court judge said the following: "We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." Now, dear readers, do you think you have heard of such things being discussed by your friends at one of those parties?
Noam Chomsky has some bitter words to say about capitalism and democracy. Read and do your own analysis.
"Capitalism is a system in which the central institutions of society are, in principle, under autocratic control. Thus, a corporation or an industry is, if we were to think of it in political terms, fascist, that is, it has tight control at the top and strict obedience has to be established at every level... Just as I'm opposed to political fascism, I am opposed to economic fascism. I think that until the major institutions of society are under the popular control of participants and communities, it's pointless to talk about democracy."
Here are the words of Howard Zinn. I am sure many of you will wonder why he had to say whatever he said. And this is what he said; "When people refuse to obey, then democracy comes alive."
But no deliberation can be of any meaning unless ended with the words of none other than the greatest of all minds, George Bernard Shaw. His wit has lent meaning to so many of our follies, thereby immortalising both the words and the follies. He finds "democracy is a form of government that substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few."
Well, so much for democracy in the context of the world. Since Bangladesh's future hinges so badly on getting the "saviours of democracy" back to business, we can only hope their lust for wealth has subsided considerably, and now they will sit in parliament to do something for the "majority" who will give them the mandate. Will they fail this time too?
Shahnoor Wahid is a Senior Assistant Editor of The Daily Star.