The last two weeks have been surreal with no idea what is going on. Almost unheard of events have happened and no one is sure who is chasing whom. The arrest of casino owners, sports officials, politicians known for muscle lending etc. and contractors who may have bribed almost everyone who deserves to be bribed in the Bangladesh construction world has made everyone wonder what exactly the scene is.
Coming as it does after 2 decades of insisting by everyone concerned that the ruling party Awami League is the cleanest party in town and corruption is BNP’s monopoly, this is a shock. It’s not like this is the theft of a wallet but billions of taka that is being talked about. The why? How much? Why now? And What? - are endless. On top of it all came the murder at BUET that has shocked everyone, even AL loyalists. Is this part of the same crisis or not? Is it too much? What next?
However, no answer is forthcoming.
The Emperor’s court
Meanwhile the authorities have claimed a lot of credit for the arrest of Shamrat, the Jubo League biggie. Coming as it does after a gaggle of other JL leaders being taken in, all into organized gambling, extortion, money laundering, and as we were told into collecting kangaroo skins and drinking hard liquor. The last ones are very serious and deserve attention not just of law enforcers of all hues but religious leaders as well. Every time there is a raid, we see whiskey bottles proving once more that we are publicly serious about fasting, praying and even hajj but it seems also drinking. We hope religious police may also be introduced soon to handle such matters.
However, what is also scary is the scale of the operations of the very few that have been caught. But such is the political structure of politics, it’s impossible to practice the kind now in Bangladesh without large funds. Mobilizing thousands to show how powerful the ruling party is requires money. Where can it possibly come from except from organized crime when parties can’t do business? No less a person than Shamrats’s wife has told media those boys in politics has changed and they need money to do politics.
Now it’s very easy to blame Shamrat but when he is asked to organize a rally, does anyone ask where the funds come from. Shamrat has dome what has been done before and will be done in future. Given the structure of politics, it’s impossible not to turn to raising money from chandabazi.
What Shamrat did was make it more organized, regular and profit oriented business like. If anything, he was doing an efficient job and not depending on extortion and forced contribution only. So he had along with others developed a business model to fund political activities.
Crack down on him and other Jubo league leaders are a positive move but many are not convinced it’s just a drive against crime. Rumours are on but they are not concrete yet. The roots could be from internal political conflict to pressure from India who is feeling unhappy with such a large presence of the “Criminal economy”. When that exists there is a possibility of terror funding and hence the anxiety. The US is also worried but while US pressure can be ignored Indian pressure is more immediate. But again it’s all speculation.
Of rivers and murders
Which brings to the other news which also concerns India which is the Feni river water sharing arrangement. The sentiment that most people have about it is negative. Almost everyone feels that if India stalls over Teesta, agreeing to Feni is bad. It’s also nothing else if not bad timing. While India is getting water, Bangladesh is not. The equation is simple and the Bangladeshi foreign ministry could have used that rarely used commodity to read what could be the possible repercussions of such a move. But the Government has always brushed aside all such issues given the huge popularity they can claim after the 2018 elections.
However, the murder of Abrar of BUET for criticizing the treaty in which the entire Chhatra League high command participated for hours to beat him to death may actually make it to the Guinness Book of records. Almost 18 people spent several hours killing one boy who had dared to criticize the treaty on FB. It’s obvious this was meant to be a welcoming show of loyalty to the leader returning home after her visit to India. Things may have gone a bit too far but given the way the judicial system works, the public is not very hopeful that justice will prevail.
The week has been a bit embarrassing for the ruling party of course. First came the evidence that it’s true that JL and CL leaders are involved in crime and the political system is dependent on crime money. Next come the proof that most people were deeply involved in price fixing, tenders, bribing etc. in construction and other sectors of the Government. And then came the killing in BUET which showed the lengths to which political loyalists were ready to go to serve their party as per their thinking.
People are scared but there is no reason to think the ruling class is.