There was just about a flicker of hope as the media’s brief coverage spotlighted a group of business leaders’ meeting on a new initiative to help address the country’s continuing political uncertainties and ongoing crisis pervading in the economic arena. I could only find some sketchy reports on the move by the doyens of the country’s finance, commerce and industrial community.
I was awaiting the details of ‘a work plan’ that the incumbent President of FBCCI promised ‘to follow soon’. I have not seen any elaboration of what exactly the business leaders were seeking to achieve and in what manner till now: it is also possible that I missed accessing these.
Be that as it may, we could perhaps have a closer look at what has so far appeared in the press. The basic thrust of the initiative that the media has identified is that FBCCI ‘demands law to ban hartal for good’. That this is an incredibly simplistic approach given the country’s political and governance history for the last 22 years, would be discussed a little later after we check out the other elements the ‘posh hotel’ group had talked about and as featured in the published reports.
Following the FBCCI governing council meeting (03 May,2012), its President told the media “We want that a law is formulated with the participation of all to ban hartal for good.” Stating that the country’s economic development and investment was being hampered due to the political instability, he added “We would meet the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.”
The council had also reportedly prepared ”a set of proposals to ensure that the country’s economic and political health looked up.” The proposals include, as we are told, moving the court, holding meetings with professionals and taking out silent processions. Mr. A K Azad also informed that ”A work plan would be prepared soon on the basis of the proposals after meeting former presidents of the apex body.”
The Financial Express (04 May, 2012) had some more interesting additions under ”FBCCI for interim government, suggests law banning hartal’, ‘opted for a home-grown solution to the ongoing political impasse”. FE report, that I presume to be an authentic version of FBCCI announcements, adds further that this’ badly affects trade and commerce and damages Bangladesh’s image abroad”. It is to be specially noted that FBCCI President is reported to have referred to” outsiders intervention in our problem.
‘This somewhat intriguing and heavily loaded comment along with the one relating to ‘home-grown solution’ requires a transparent clarification. The other major point made in the FE report related to FBCCI’s proposal for formation of ”an interim government” -”We don’t want a caretaker government” and ”business leaders will negotiate with political leaders about a framework of an ”interim government.”
It is an astounding feat that a group of perfectly wise, experienced, well-travelled, well-meaning entrepreneurs, business giants and level-headed finance magnates could come up with such a mélange of conceptual confusions, half-truths and impractical suggestions. Rubana Haq’s incisive piece on ‘The leaders and their Chinese whisper‘ has several interesting points. Of course, one cannot agree that the business leaders cannot have their thoughts expressed in the overall interest of the country’s economic wellbeing and obviously make profits for themselves while pursuing that objective.
FBCCI initiative in the present shape and form suffers from some fundamental shortcomings. I would prefer to know more about their set of proposals before detailing my observations. Briefly, the core defect lies in their insensitivity to the common people’s continuing sufferings in every phase of their life and living. If the business leaders are talking (curiously wishing to ‘negotiate’) ‘politics’, should not they consider the feelings and the needs of the masses?
Hartal and strikes are the tools that the disadvantaged groups of people who suffer injustice, unfair deals and degradation of all kinds; have to signal their existence and protests. No one but the vested interests turns these into violent acts and vandalism and as are evident, making political statements for a group even an individual, which has got nothing to do with the people’s welfare and their legitimate demands. The latter get demonised and FBCCI has to clearly appreciate that distinction.
In this context, Afshan Chowdhury’s opinion ‘But why do we all have to suffer?’ is an eye-opener and an eloquent read, hoping that the business leaders would muster the courage to ask this question and demand answers, before even raising the flag on ban. One needs to be reminded perhaps that it is not hartal per se, but the issues around it and the shape (violence, destruction) it takes ( due basically to the intense intolerance on all sides of the divide ) that need to be defined and addressed.
In this write up, another point I would like to touch upon and that relates to the FBCCI’s demand for an ‘interim government’(IG) and not a caretaker government (CG). And that also the business leaders would negotiate.’ Two obvious questions arise in this behalf - one, what exactly are the differences between IG and CG and are they suggesting another piece of legislation to give licit cover to the form FBCCI has in view? And two, what precisely is the locus standi of the business group (as opposed to many other defined groups in the country) to negotiate on the shape and structure of the future government? One could become hugely concerned should such a scenario come to pass. Among many imponderables, business group interest-led governance by definition is anathema to any democratic, people-centric dispensation.
We have way more of problems as of now, and let not these be added on top. It is not to suggest that the reality of business interests does not exist but all around the world these come alive when darkness falls. The concept of ‘invisible powers’ still prevails even for the best of democracies.
It would enormously benefit all the stakeholders of a nation aspiring to work for a democratic system of governance in peace and for the development and welfare of its nationals, to be briefed appropriately about the FBCCI initiative. The business leaders have a combined wisdom and global exposure and I trust a fund of goodwill for the people and could indeed set out in good faith for the Holy Grail. They have been given much and much is expected from them. We all hope they will not sell us short and we wish them all god speed.