The special session of parliament that was held this week to mark the 50th anniversary of the Jatiya Sangshad, of which the first full iteration covering 300 constituencies would be returned through the first election to be held in independent Bangladesh in 1973. Today we are in the final stretch of the eleventh republic, with the scheduled election for the twelfth, that has already drawn an unusual amount of attention from different corners of the world, bearing down on us even amid various uncertainties.
Still, the special session was notable for the spirit of introspection it seemed to invite onto members when they rose to speak on the motion, and it gave the country an opportunity to take stock of its experience in representative democracy - the only option that could make sense for a nation born starving for freedom, and a say over its own matters, after 214 years of decisions that affected their lives being taken for them not just by others, but in fact faraway, overseas centres of power - be it London, or eventually Islamabad - where the vast majority of them were highly unlikely to ever set foot. Religion, or a common faith had failed to work as a sort of miracle glue to hold together this fragile proposition. Even if we were to assume the best of intentions on the part of the West Pakistanis, they would never be able to provide leadership to a people with whom they shared literally nothing by way of ethnicity, background or world view. Politically, it should have been a non-starter.
So to fashion a state that would be responsive to the people inhabiting it was obviously a major concern for the architects of the Constitution, that itself had its Golden Jubilee some months ago. But guided by the archetypal "Man of the People" in the figure of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, they addressed this head-on in Article 7 of the founding document, where it states: "All powers in the Republic belong to the people, and their exercise on behalf of the people shall be effected only under, and by the authority of, this Constitution." By requiring all power to be derived from the people, and its exercise to be always 'on behalf' of the people, the primacy of the Jatiya Sangshad, the foremost platform where the people's representatives exercise power through making and passing laws, is clearly established.
Now democracy can be a murky sport, and bad actors abound in every society. In reality the clear link between the people and their representation can often be tenuous at best - due to representatives acting in bad faith, or a compromised process. We have seen both, and while some members of the flock going astray can be acceptable on grounds of human imperfection, allowing a compromised process to persist, that can taint the hallowed turf on which the aspirations of 160 million people meet, would be a betrayal of the trust they repose on 350 to represent them.
The special session was an occasion to acknowledge the journey of our hard-won parliament. But we can never rest on our laurels. Thomas Jefferson, one of America's founding fathers, didn't actually say it (it was more likely the abolitionist Wendell Phillips, according to new research), but one of the most telling messages passed down in their notes on the American Revolution, and the democracy they sought to devise, was that "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance." We won our freedom valiantly, and irreversibly. We must honour it forever with our vigilance.
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