THE recent Eid-centred political event in the Moudud-Obaidur constituency is a sign of the state of politics here. The efforts by the police to make sure that Moudud Ahmed of the BNP cannot go out and make visits during Eid because of ‘security reasons’ is not just absurd but comical. It is a hilarious reminder that politics has reached a point where it does not make any sense even to the politics-obsessed. Only politicians care about it.
For reasons we do not understand, the Awami League is a bit more anxious than expected and no longer cares about how it tries to contain the BNP, a party it claims has no clout. This kind of political war is increasingly becoming like ‘crossfire’ deaths and bank loan default and money laundering. Everyone knows it happens but nobody knows what can be done to end it. Or if it can be ended at all? So, caring about how politics is handled also has eroded.
Political structure and politicians
THE political structure has not been established in Bangladesh as a result of which it stays in the crisis mode and a permanent state of ad hocism. Depending on which group of the ruling class is on the ascendance, the nature of governance shifts, changes and are formulated.
Politics has been established as a tool for gain through collective power control. Four major clusters have manipulated the scene after the ‘violent’ period that began in 1975 and ended in 1981. Since then, bloodshed has not been part of power transfer and none has tried to establish a ruling system limited to one group only that excludes others. It has essentially become a structure based on ruling class members’ coalition.
Given the nature of the ruling class functioning, people’s participation is not the prime objective of politics but sustaining power is. This structure has been built around the wealth making system which basically decides how politics will assist this wealth-making process. Thus, the mainstay is the economic dominant and politics is subordinate to that objective. In any post-political society, this equation operates. And Bangladesh is no different.
The power cluster: do politicians matter much?
BUT are professional politicians part of the political hierarchy and power structure? If so, where do they lie? Going by history, we see four major power clusters that form the ruling class. At the top is the army which does not change when there is a regime change, the most stable and secure group. Then comes the business community which is also protected by the wealth and connections to make more money. Unless politically linked, most will also survive regime changes smoothly.
The connector between all the groups is the civil bureaucracy, which keeps the administration going but regularly performs quasi-political tasks and is often political loyalists. A percentage of these loyalists lose privileges and jobs in case of a regime change but most stay on. It is only when all these clusters are exhausted that politicians arrive on the scene, the most vulnerable to getting out of power. That may explain why the Awami League is nervous even when no one can take the BNP as a serious contender.
Short rise and death of better brand of politics
WHILE institutions have progressed, politicians remain in chaos depending on the paid servants of the state to do their job. In the absence of a viable political structure what goes in the name of politics is largely hounding each other, the less powerful by the more.
Since a system does not exist, anything goes becomes the system. Between 1991 and 2006, a system of sorts was taking root though with all the limitations intact but the BNP’s partisan attempt to manipulate the system and the Awami League’s angry response killed the chance. So, the continuity from 1972 onwards was restored and the fractured architecture was reopened for business again. That continues.
That may explain why the Awami League seems nervous even though every power cluster is with it. When there is no system, nothing can guarantee a change of power which makes even the heavily lopsided election of 2018 a matter to be pushed by the Awami League.
The vulnerability of politicians
SO MOUDUD not being allowed in the name of his own security is neither about Moudud or Obaid or even the police who stopped the BNP politician. It is an indication of a further weakening of a system that now exists for the weakest section of the ruling class called the politician.
The difficulty lies perhaps in over-dependence even within the parties. The BNP without Khaleda Zia is faltering and the Awami League without Sheikh Hasina may falter too. With all the energy spent on rivalry, the house in which politics lives is under a cloud. And since people play no part in the management of the state, the shenanigans have all become an internal crisis of the lowest rung of the ruling class.
Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist and researcher.
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