Tofael Ahmed is sad that amlas have so much power while politicians have less. It's sad that it took him so long to notice this. They have been losing their power for a long time. Their own history is a good description of that narrative as politicians have battled for supremacy with others. Briefly, it may have tilted towards them when the state construction project was on under colonialism and Pakistan but otherwise amlas have always been strong contenders for state power. A lot of it depends on what politicians and amlas represent.
Bangladesh has had two major historical phases. A. The State seeking phase which ended in 1971 December 16. B. The state construction phase which began after that. One was about gaining power and the other was about sustaining the power for state building.
In the first phase the politicians were most powerful and the source of power was public support. But this phase was aspirational rather than established since they had nothing to exert in terms of state power. Hence there was no contestant as they had fought without the state machinery. This situation changed after independence when state governance and construction became their main task.
This of course created conflicts but some of it was inevitable as all regimes show. There were also extreme phases when non-political groups took over state power such as the army which began in 1975 and ended, in earnest in 1990. oxcept for a brief 2007-2008 situation. Obviously, the army -civil group saw that a pure military regime was impossible and even blended ones were a hard sell without politicians.
So the period from 1971 to 1991 was one of ruling class composition construction phases which has now stabilized and no one single group will possibly rule. It's the blend that is going to work and this blended ruling class that comprises the army, the ankle, the businessman and the politician who finds a way to rule together. In this case the PM is also the blender in chief.
The structure of power in Bangladesh
The warrant of institutional precedence within the ruling class has the army at the top. It is the most organised and institutionalised cluster and has no conflict within that is visible. The entire army benefits from its role as peacekeepers and it's seen as clean. It also interacts little with the people so the lack of familiarity works for it in terms of protection of reputation. As it's institutionally outside politics, it's almost entirely unaffected by any prospect of political change.
The business class is a very dependent one despite its wealth. Most of the rich are beholden to decisions based on connections rather than the quality of products and services so it's not independent. Public information has greatly tarnished its reputation.
However, as the principal player of the connection economy it has enormous resources and keeps various other ruling class members happy too. As the primary holders of wealth, their clout is guaranteed and this provides them with protection in case of regime changes as the past has shown.
The third layer in the tier are the amlas who play the facilitators of power and live in a slightly undefined world as they play all the roles minus the military one. The power of decisions over resource allocations is their main strength and with increased dependence on them for socio-development projects as well, their clout has increased. They keep the machinery running albeit inefficiently but they do which makes them very important. They are marginally affected by regime change.
Finally comes the politicians who are at the bottom of the tier because of their current historical changes. Over time, their role has been much more traditional than the others and they are constructed around the political imagination of a pre-1971 world where hartal, speeches and connections decided all. It's true that the connections remain and they can gain benefits and privileges but it also has led to loss of reputation. As elections and political activism declined in importance and governance demands increased, politicians have a lesser role to play. The priority is not politics but administrative governance.
The amla as a proto- political force
Politicians in Bangladesh are not independently powerful but depend on connections too to be powerful so it's much easier to ignore them at this stage. One is not sure of their capacity to govern and amlas from that angle is a much safer bet. Thus the top rungs of the ruling cluster have promoted greater politicization of the amlas which was very visible in the last elections. They can manage a variety of tasks which are not possible for the politicians. Since they run the risk of wholesale exit if power changes hands, they are far more vulnerable to the anxiety of power politics.
The amlas can deliver so if they are loyal to the ruling class, the need for the politicians is going to decline.
It's this blending of identities within the ruling class which Tofael Ahmed has failed to grasp well. It's far more important to be effective than to be just a member of a cluster of the ruling class. The distinctions between the politician and the administrator have also undergone changes making the politicians not as important as they once were.
If they have become less needed than they once were, it's their responsibility to find out why. It doesn't matter much to the overwhelming majority of the people or the ruling class, but to the politicians themselves.
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