Streamlining the election dynamics  

Shihab Sarkar   | Published: December 17, 2018 22:13:16

In this country in the past, precisely from the mid-1950s onwards, 'vota-vuti' (colloquial Bangla for election) had been integral to the list of its many social festivities. The East Bengal legislative election in 1954 and the national one of 1970, and also that of 1965, which was national and a Presidential one, were viewed as great occasions of fanfare. In essence, those were, however, the fights of ballots. The jovial and folksy mood would prevail mostly in the rural elections, especially those held under the ambit of local government. People now above sixty can remember well the festive mood that dominated those local government elections in the 1960s.

The reason these scenarios come to mind is an observation made by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) in the capital the other day. Among many other issues on its agenda, distinguished fellow at the think tank --- Dr. Debapriya Bhattacharya, has picked an irksome poll-related issue. He observed that elections in this country were being held upon making 'big investments' by the candidates. According to him, "There are 'some people' who can manage their default loans and become eligible for the elections and there are may be 'some genuine entrepreneurs' who cannot do the same." What he was trying to impress upon was the point that eligible and honest candidates were not getting nomination as polls had become a big investment. "Some people have 'grabbed' rules and regulations of the money market for their own interests," Depapriya felt.

 This has been the undeclared rule in the elections held over the last few decades in the independent country. To speak without mincing words, elections, be they local government-level or national, have long turned into a lucrative business. Tersely speaking, they can also be likened to a gambling of sorts. After spending hundreds and thousands of taka in campaigns and underhand poll-winning dealings, a prospective candidate might too get defeated. It's, however, a different episode, especially resulting from election manoeuvrings adopted by the members of cabals. These instances are rare. Seasoned candidates with backing from strong and influential quarters hardly fail to succeed in the race. Compared to these complications tainting today's elections, participating in the polls in the past emerged as performing a sacred national duty --- both on the part of candidates and voters.

It was an unalloyed simplicity which dominated election scenarios in the past. In fact, the very definition of poll festivity in the decades of the bygone days was different. In rural Bengal, acts of violence were not strange to people in the past. Clashes over land dispute and other contentious issues were common. In spite of these recurring hostilities, electoral rivalries would hardly be seen deteriorating into blood-spilling violence or senseless fatalities. To return to the pervasive atmosphere of warm joviality, elections in those days meant a few weeks' joyous campaigns in favour of the respective supporters' candidates. Although the people in the urban areas were used to loudspeakers mounted on horse-drawn carriages and rickshaws, the rural neighbourhoods would witness professionals using crude bullhorns to publicise candidates. The candidates had to do a lot of door-to-door walking in the villages. Elections, like also today, would emerge as proper occasions to do public relations. No other occasions could provide the broad opportunities to meet certain areas' people, meaning voters, personally and in a way that renewed the ebbing warmth in day-to-day ties. Largely innocuous treats through gossip sessions over tea or 'bidi' would also comprise the electoral festivity. These are the days of purchasing voters in exchange of money and different kinds of material favour, or coercing others into supporting a certain party or candidates. Compared to it, the 'voter-treats' of the past may appear inane to today's younger voters. The poll festivity used to reach its peak the days prior to the day of election. Dhaka and the other cities and towns were also no exception.

That the elections in the past were mostly free of the modern-day scourges had a lot to do with the politicians' 'clean image'. In the days of the past, one's direct involvement with politics would elicit spontaneous support and approval. They were viewed as persons worth holding in high esteem. For their selflessness and dedication to man and society, they were respected by people in general. Ranging from those at union levels to national spheres, politicians were able to carve out a place for themselves in the social set-up. How could it be otherwise? Those were the times of Sher-e-Bangla A.K. Fazlul Huq, Maulana Bhashani, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and many others. They entered politics with one single mission: Serving people. As a corollary, the institution of election could remain above all controversies. The path to the emergence of Bangladesh was created by the watershed national election of 1970. It has long been recognised that in the 23 years after the 1947 Partition, the election of 1970 is the most spontaneously participated, and free of the faintest of irregularities that mar today's polls.

The electoral culture in the country needs to be cleansed thoroughly. The extent to which the norms of national and other public polls have declined is appalling. Bangladesh is no extraordinary case. Less advanced and politically stunted countries in general are found mired in disputable and violent elections. Bangladesh, which takes pride in its pre-birth epic election, cannot let itself be overwhelmed by ills-ridden and rancour-filled polls.


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