Dhaka Courier

Bangladesh: A culture of overdoing


The old Bangla proverb says, “when the soldier is asked to fetch someone, he ties him up and brings him”. It’s a very culturally appropriate example of overdoing which is common in Bangladesh.  It becomes more obvious when the various segments of the ruling class or party and supporters exercise it as is common in this land no matter who is in power. The Opposition does it too but they are waiting in the wings and when they get a chance repeat it.  History gives evidence to this.

The politician as an over doer

Politicians are the greatest over doers. This is entirely possible that they do so because they are the most insecure people around. They are scared all the time.  They know they hold power at the mercy of the leader so are overdoing are acts and expressions of loyalty for political safety. If they keep their political job, their economic jobs and privileges will be intact.

So every time a politician gives a speech or does something political he overdoes it.  He doesn’t just praise the person concerned and family but distant relatives too and everything else.  Every act is praised as the finest divine act possible to imagine and the train doesn’t stop there but goes on and on in the pursuit of overdoing.

Overdoing the bank looting

Bangladeshi elite also overdo corruption. Take bank looting. They have done so with such great enthusiasm that they have crippled the banking system causing a crisis. This looting follows the grand overdoing tradition. But why loot banks which are professional institutions, supposedly managed by professions, for the same category of people? One would expect that people would know that if the banking system dies, everyone including the current and potential looters would lose?

By wrecking the banking system, the looting period is vastly diminished. The way it’s going now, they can loot for only a few days.  But if they loot moderately, they can loot banks for 14 generations. But the cultural pressure to overdo looting is so intense that they can’t moderate it making their own looting life short inevitably by killing their golden goose.

Recent clampdown

We are currently going through an unusual phase because several party midwigs have been caught for looting. Of course they are not party chiefs but in a normal day, they could wreak havoc on any place and end any life without much worry. But as soon as their security blanket was withdrawn by the PM, they fell into pieces and are either on the run or inside. She has promised to continue.

Now, I accept that if people are in power, they will exercise it and that will include not just conventional and not exactly lawful economic activities. But then who follows such norms anyway? Banks are allowed to loot, construction cost is one of the if not the highest in the world, tenders are won by firepower display a la Shameem and pillows and curtains are bought for millions.  This is only natural.

So how are these people supposed to know when to stop or limit themselves? Many of these people had thought by beating up Opposition workers or protesters or giving slogans and praising leaders they would be gaining a right to do whatever they wanted to make money. And now suddenly, they are being arrested.  Of course it’s all because they were overdoing which they thought was what they were supposed to do.

Is the politics of overdoing under threat?

The way the anti-quota and safe road protesting students were beaten up shows that these people were lulled into a false sense of security by assuming that overdoing is always rewarding. Unfortunately, as events show, that is not the case suddenly and now a section of the over doers are in trouble.  The Government will have to do a lot of overdoing to save them and it doesn’t seem interested. In fact the Government has threatened to go after many other over doers and that means some more may be in trouble.

That is actually troubling because overdoing has built up our political culture and its socio-economic manifestations.  The entire ruling class management system is largely based on extravagant displays of loyalty.  So what will happen to the political system if over expressions of loyalty and over expectations based on such displays of loyalty are not met with overdone rewards has become a question.

 While a small band of loyalists exist who will stick around come what may, most are there for the looting since it’s where power is.  So if such money making activities are banned and criminals punished, how will politics survive? One certainly hopes there will not be an overkill of such people when the system itself is based on the equation of over doing.

Perhaps the symbolic overdoing was made by the VC of Rajshahi University who after saying Joy Bangla was so carried away by his sense of overdoing hospitality that he shouted “ Jay Hind”.  In a culture of overdoing, everything is possible. Even chanting national slogans of another state.

  • DhakaCourier
  • Afsan Chowdhury
  • Issue 13
  • Vol 36
  • Bangladesh: A culture of overdoing

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