Recent months have seen a resurgence of interest in Interim/Caretaker government for reasons well-known. But are these understandable and more to the point, are these acceptable? The only argument proffered in this regard is that the incumbent government cannot be trusted to be neutral and to ensure free and fair elections. The conundrum here is mind -blowing as this would be the precise position of one or the other major political party come the next election season. The mistrust/distrust not only go on deepening but go spiraling out of control.
The latest demand for an Interim (and not Caretaker) government comes from somewhat unexpected source - the FBCCI and the business leaders from a broad spectrum of social, political and economic interests. I have placed a post with a preliminary analysis of the move (of FBCCI initiative and the quest of the Holy Grail of Politics?) and along with a very large hushed audience, I am holding my breath for necessary elaborations on what, when and how of this initiative, hoping the leaders would soon flesh (and bone) out their vision. Till then, I would like to,urge FBCCI to announce a substantive award for participants in contributing their thoughts on the theme. If they wish, FBCCI can really seek such enlightenment as would help them to do the value-added dimension to their already-announced intentions. We all are certain that their success would be assessed by a grateful nation for their bold attempt, if not for the outcome.
It seemed to me that it would be appropriate that I follow up my suggestion with some thoughts of my own. A decade and a half back, I recall, I had expressed a strong view on then recently introduced concept of caretaker government to serve in between two elected governments. This very proposal, I wrote, is a slap on the face of democratic governance of the country. To add insult to the injury, the move itself came from a political party and apparently supported by all other parties.
The people of Bangladesh had elected governments from time to time under the country’s sacred Constitution and barring some protests and complaints, the democratic exercises through country-wide voting were declared free and fair and the party with the majority seats (singly or in coalition) formed the new government. There were neutral election observers, including impressive arrays of foreign teams, to oversee the election process unhindered. Interestingly, one recalls that their reports always made a very cogent point in their concluding remarks - that there were instances of irregularities and cases of malpractices and so on, but these in no way, had affected the overall outcome of the general elections. And the voting was conducted in a free, fair and transparent manner.
The new government is sworn in for a period of five years and they have the total power and full jurisdiction under, of course, all the laws of the land and subject to the rules and regulations set for conducting the state business. And they do so - good, bad or indifferent - whatever may be the opinion of the people in general and the parties in opposition, the incumbent government holds sway over the state apparatus on the pledge to do their mandated jobs without fear or favour.
The same very government, whose coming to power was constitutional, who had all the trust and expectations of the people to deliver and whose performance during the stipulated tenure of office would come for scrutiny and judgement in the following general elections, as we say, in the people’s court, is declared untrustworthy and unfit to undertake one of its final lawful act, constitutionally imposed, to arrange and hold the general elections in the country. We must also keep in mind that there is an independent Election Commission responsible for all the aspects of conducting this nation-wide exercise. There are law courts , the High Court and the Supreme Court.
There are many neutral watchdogs and above all, there is a vast, vibrant and vigorous media , electronic and print, with remarkable capabilities of analytic, investigative and reporting skills and competencies. One ought not to forget the crucial cover provided by our friends and governments in the neighbourhood and overseas.
In such a scenario, should we not have the wisdom and a longer vision to practice and persevere with patience the democratic norm, culture and practice to allow the government to conduct the elections? Or do we have to show and prove our intolerance, anger and immaturity by hoisting an arrangement that is a total anathema to democracy in whatever form one may define it? First, the caretaker advisers are an unelected, motley collection of opinionated people and they have a short spell to settle down, know the ropes and deliver. It is, in any case, the Election Commission, the law and order agencies and the bureaucrats in the secretariats and in the field as before who are to perform.
Another question I had raised earlier as well, is there anywhere else around the world such a mechanism has been deliberately installed and that too even after 41 years of state existence? Is there any guarantee that this solution to a perceived problem would not itself become a more vicious problem ? We have the 7/11 caretaker administration as a visible reminder as to how much such a quick-fix formula could go wrong.
They had the audacity to regenerate their term of office and degraded the political institution and in my view, the worst display of insolence was when they turned the Sangshad Bhaban-a symbol of freedom and democratic credentials of the nation, into a virtual prison and placing there most unceremoniously the two leading political personalities who had enjoyed the votes of confidence of the people and were elected to the sovereign Parliament on a number of occasions. These are unforgivable charges they should be indicted on and made answerable for. One would do well to heed to Sir Winston Churchill when he famously said ‘ Democracy is the worst form of government, but unfortunately, we have not yet found any better one.’
In this backdrop as well as in recognition of the prevailing realities, one is obliged , however, to re-evaluate the governance strategy.While all the stakeholders should continue a dedicated search in good faith for a balanced democratic polity in the supreme interest of the people and their welfare, one needs to be pragmatic and adopt a workable policy to meet the legitimate demands and aspirations of all. It is my humble belief that the verdict of the highest court in the country on this issue has displayed its deepest wisdom in declaring the caretaker government arrangement unlawful and ultra vires of the Constitution. The verdict has also indicated that the highest judiciary indeed recognised the ground reality in allowing next few elections to be undertaken, if required, under such neutral,non-partisan interim framework. I must admit that I do not have access to the judgement as such, but I trust this reflects the gist fairly appropriately.
It is generally believed that a well-chosen Interim Government of knowledgeable, competent,experienced and impartial advisers with proven integrity, would create a win-win situation politically. And by ensuring clean, comprehensive and enabling environment and by holding a transparent, free and fair general elections as per schedule, the interim government would be successful in opening new windows of opportunity for democracy to flourish and the people to prosper.