The general secretary of the Awami League has had an angry riposte to BNP leader Abdul Moyeen Khan. Obaidul Quader has let Khan know that the casinos which are now being discovered and busted in the nation’s capital are a legacy of the government the Bangladesh Nationalist Party presided over more than thirteen years ago.
Not long ago, the railways' minister griped that the sorry state of our trains, of railway services had to do with the bad state in which the last BNP government left the system in.
The complaints of the ministers are understandable, perhaps. No one will remotely suggest that the period of governance by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, in alliance with the Jamaat-e-Islami, between 2001 and 2006 was a golden era. It was not. It was anything but, for the good reason that it was a time of intense darkness for the country. It was a bad patch in our history, for here we were, burdened with the ugly reality of seeing some of the very men who had violently opposed our struggle for freedom through collaboration with the Pakistani occupation forces ending up being ministers in the very state they did so much to abort at birth.
Our comprehension of the BNP, of the many sordid instances in which it played truant with national history and undermined national aspirations, is therefore deeply embedded in our collective consciousness. We as a people are not willing to return to the old nightmare, to the ugly upending of the political realities we have observed shaping the course of our epic struggle for freedom forty eight years ago.
That is the unvarnished truth. There is the other truth as well, which is that the BNP was last in office thirteen years ago. In all the time since it left office in October 2006, political governance has for close to two years been in the hands of the caretaker government which supervised the general elections of December 2008. And for the eleven years since then, it has been the Awami League which has presided over the fortunes of the country.
Therefore, to pin the blame on an erstwhile, long-gone government for the operation of these casinos that are under justified attack from the instruments of the law is quite some stretching of the truth. If indeed the casinos were patronized by the government that held sway over the country for the five years between 2001 and 2006, why did it take so long for a government which has been in office for eleven years to crack down on the men behind these casinos, indeed behind all the immorality of behaviour we today observe being exposed in broad daylight?
A search for scapegoats is not always a healthy idea. What matters today is for the ruling Awami League to step up and squarely take the blame for what has been happening in Bangladesh in these past few weeks. Condemning the BNP over the casino affair is a trivializing of the reality as it happens to be. Informing the nation that the bad state of our railways is a terrible legacy handed down to us by a government which ceased to exist thirteen years ago is making light of a situation which calls for desperate remedies.
There is at this point in time a grave requirement for a thorough debate on everything that has not been going well in the country. There is the endless money laundering which keeps drilling holes in our economy. There are grave allegations of the corruption which has been eating away at the vitals of higher education in the country, instances of which have been streaming into our social awareness from Jahangirnagar University. The top leaders of the Chhatra League have been forced to vacate office, but there are also the dark clouds which hang over the vice-chancellor. Here in the nation’s capital, ridiculously expensive furniture is purchased for the home and office of the vice-chancellor of Dhaka University and no one is in a position to explain how that situation has come to be.
The chief of the Jubo League informs us that the Jubo League man netted with such a huge load of cash a few days ago is not really a Jubo League man. And if he had known of the goings-on at the casinos earlier, action would have been taken. Must we now convince ourselves that no one in the corridors of political authority knew what has been happening in these many clubs that are now being raided, examined and sealed? We cannot reasonably be expected to accept the explanation that those governing the nation have had precious little idea of the wrongs and the iniquities and the corruption that has been going on. Of course, no one engaging in criminality will be spared. The larger truth is that for the past many years scores of people have been pushing politics to the precipice of criminality without fear of any reprisal from the state. The old platitudes, of the law taking its own course in dealing with crime, will therefore not work. Action on the ground will.
The absence of fear, fear of the law and fear of justice, has been at work. Why else would Tk 57 crore vanish from a Tk 1500-crore project on afforestation even before the project has taken off? Those who have squandered the money have had little to offer in terms of explanation before the parliamentary standing committee grilling them on the issue. What does the state now do about such corrupt men, about prosecuting them under the law?
It is time for serious and informed debate --- in the Jatiyo Sangsad, in public policy forums, in the media, among public intellectuals --- on the state of the nation. The liberal democracy we as citizens are sworn to uphold, the secular polity we are pledged to defend in light of our long-ago struggle for national liberation are principles we cannot permit to be washed away by ugly, dirty waves at the shore of corruption.
The government must act, in resoluteness which comes of wisdom born of enlightened politics. Often a time comes in the history of nations when governments must crackdown on their own followers and hangers-on. Often there are the moments when governments need to weed out the elements undermining them from within. There is a term for such action. The word is ‘purge’.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is the author of biographies of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Tajuddin Ahmad and writes on politics and diplomacy.