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     Volume 6 Issue 25 | June 29, 2007 |

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Rise and Fall of the Godmothers

“False, fabricated and baseless charges have been brought to tarnish the image of Zia family.”-- Khaleda Zia.
“The agreement (with the Khelafat Majlish) was signed for a certain period to resist communal-fundamentalist forces led by Jamaat.”-- Sheikh Hasina.

Ahmede Hussain

In the last 16 years, most politicians in our country--especially the elected representatives of the people-- have abused the trust we have given them. Khaleda Zia's last term in office, in particular, has been a case in point. Armed with the then Prime Minister's backing (and at times indifference), some Bangladesh Nationalist Party men (and women) unleashed a reign of nepotism, corruption and misrule. The centre of these nefarious elements of the society has been no-one other than Khaleda's first-born Tarique Rahman himself. In fact, from the uncompromising pro-democratic image that it had earned during anti-autocracy movement of the eighties, the BNP in Khaleda's last term in office has made itself into a mafia-like clan where a gang of thugs led by the crown prince runs supreme. Moderate voices, though a minority inside the party, were snubbed, gagged and sometimes given a share of the booty.

Tarique and his cronies have given birth to an era of unbridled thuggery, not to mention the amount of money they have siphoned off abroad. The so-called young Turks of the BNP, in Khaleda's last few forlorn years, increasingly resembled a private army of bullyboys. It is indeed difficult to find a young BNP-leader who, in the last few years, did not receive payola for government promotion or any other favour. Along with the looting of people's money, politicisation of the administration has taken place at an unprecedented level. Some unscrupulous businessmen, too, joined in; the Bangladesh that we have earned with the blood and sweat of millions has turned into the most corrupt country in the world.

Corruption and misgovernance have been ever pervasive, and the Awami League leadership, it is clear now, is not immune to it either. Money, crores of it, has been taken by both the major leaders from shady businessmen, which include alleged murderers and bank-loan defaulters. In fact, when it comes to funding their parties, for Khaleda and Hasina these criminals remain the lenders of last resort. According to recent newspaper findings on the funding of the major parties, crores of taka of subscription fees received from criminals have been distributed among the top leaders of both the parties, the way we see it only in old Hollywood gangster films. The banks that some of the leaders have set up or the television channels they have started-- all with the money extorted, looted from the people, our hard-earned money, with which we were supposed to be giving people food, we would have been making bridges, building hospitals, we would have brought smiles to the hungry, malnourished, stunted poor children of our country.

Whenever one of these parties wanted to launch a movement to topple the government, these crooks came up with bagsful of money, which were used to kill people, not to mention the burning of public transport; we have witnessed numerous such acts of arson in the last 16 years. In return, all that these scoundrels wanted was a free hand on government lands and contracts; subscription money paid to the BNP and AL gave them a free reign over the country and its people.

Under the oligarchic rule of Khaleda-Hasina, Bangladesh has become a fiefdom, a filthy playground for a clique of nouveaux riches, who drove Lexuses and Audis, while millions toiled to earn a decent meal of dal-bhat. If one wants to trace the reason for the dysfunctional governance that has threatened to destroy our democratic polity, the names that turn up inevitably belong to a politician-businessman nexus, with Khaleda-Hasina-Ershad-Nizami in the helm. The shameless nomination-business we have witnessed in the run up to the aborted elections of 22nd January is a testimony to this. Instead of giving nominations to its own tested supporters, all the major parties (even Awami League) sold party nominations to different businessmen at Taka one crore apiece. A sheaf of paddy and a boat, election symbols of the BNP and AL, have become an open market commodity, where anyone who meets the price tag can get elected to decide the fate of a country where both the parties boast a huge fan following. Those who have indeed abused the faith and trust of the masses are still in the leadership of the BNP and AL.

In addition to this abhorring practice of selling off people's trust and confidence, both the leaders have sided with religious extremists whenever it has suited them. The BNP has a long history of patronising extremist elements to reap political dividend. Khaleda Zia has turned a blind eye to the activities of several leaders of her party who helped infamous militant gurus Sheikh Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai build their militant network across the country. The party has made a strong alliance with zealots and criminals like Matiur Rahman Nizami and Fazlul Haque Amini to stay in power; Nizami here deserves a special mention: a war criminal, who actively opposed Bangladesh's liberation war and headed the Al-Badr paramilitary group that killed and raped thousands, was given an important portfolio in Khaleda's cabinet. The flow of Khaleda's blessings remained uninterrupted and unflinching for Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), which took up arms to kill and maim those who opposed the oppressing Pakistani army in 1971. In fact, Khaleda's government tried it best to suppress the link of BNP-JI men with religious extremists-- the top leadership of the BNP, some ministers holding important portfolios, even publicly denied the presence of Bangla Bhai in the country; Nizami called Bangla Bhai a figment of media's imagination. Such was the extent to which Khaleda and her friends in the JI tried to hide and abet the Islamic militants, who would later launch several suicide attacks on the country's judiciary.

Like her BNP counterpart, Sheikh Hasina, too, remains a seasonal friend of the JI. Immediately before the 1996 general elections Hasina made a pact with Nizami-led JI to "get rid of the bigger evil". So a strange marriage of convenience we had to witness in the mid nineties: photos of Hasina and Nizami together, on the same dais, adorned the front pages of national dailies, to the dismay of the supporters of both the parties. Hasina's comment, made last week, to justify her party's alliance with Khelafat Majlish by saying that "it was signed for a certain period to resist communal-fundamentalist forces led by Jamaat" shows a form of dishonesty that regularly visit the households of some of our politicians. Hasina's political career is, sadly, littered with many such acts of immaturity, highhandedness and rash behaviour.

Both the parties, though its leaders talk of democracy in seemingly every breath they take, are fundamentally undemocratic: in both the BNP and AL, all power has been vested in the hands of Khaleda and Hasina, every major policy decision has been taken by these two Begums. So the world of decadence, not to mention the degeneration, that we are mired in sprouts from the same source. This must be addressed too. The war on corruption should not spare anyone, no matter who that person is. It is good that some leaders of the major parties now want an end to the authoritarian rule of the Begums. But that should not mean that the war on corruption has to take a back seat.

We must keep in mind that every corrupt person (reformist or conformist) must be brought to book. The culture of corruption, violence, bigotry and intolerance that we have witnessed in the last few years has not been built in a day. The path that the country has taken to get rid of the mafia culture will not see a happy ending until all the major graft suspects are punished. The goal that we have set before us as a nation is to see a prosperous Bangladesh, an industrially developed society based on democracy and social and economic justice. The juncture of history we are at comes to nations after years of a long laborious journey; this chance of giving our malnourished, precarious existence a bright new future must not be thrown away.


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