If anyone wants to see the image of politics in Bangladesh one has to only look at the picture of Sohel Rana. His is the face that encapsulates the quintessential character of Bangladesh politics — politics that thrives on sheer muscle power, greed and cronyism that has made it an investment with the fastest, easiest and the highest rate of return. And that kind of politics has distorted governance to such a degree that makes the notion of good governance look like a cosmic phenomenon.
He is the most despised individual, being responsible for the deaths of more than five hundred, mostly women, garment workers.
But while he has become an idiom for greed and iniquity, it will be wrong to put the blame for the tragedy entirely on him alone. There were several others who had exercised illegal power and committed deliberate acts of commission and omission in the vicious nexus between politics and corruption. If Rana’s is the real face of politics, his plaza is the epitome of corruption and bad governance in the most putrid form. Unfortunately, there are dozens of Ranas roaming our streets and countryside.
Those who have failed to pass through the portals of even the high school can take heart from the saga of Rana’s rise literally from rags to riches, which has been made possible by criminalised politics.
Unable to make any headway with studies, he did what many of his kind do, linkup with the local politician, particularly one belonging to the ruling party, and start by doing the politician’s dirty jobs. And when time came after his guardian angel got elected to parliament, he asked for his pound of flesh and got a ton in return.
He came to own a plaza that was on, reportedly, a misappropriated land belonging to a person with apparently no political links who, being from a minority community, felt totally helpless against the might of a gangster belonging to the ruling party and with umbilical links to the local MP. He owns, illegally mostly, large tracts of land and, reportedly, thousands of crores of taka. This is quite a fairytale-like rise by one whose father had to work the wheels of a local oil mill to maintain the family.
Because of his political links and backing of the MP, the building plan was passed without proper vetting, and his political muscle allowed him to illegally extend it upwards. The supervisory agencies either cowered to his clout or were purchased. The result was a high-rise building, where not only low grade building materials were used but was also utilised for a completely different purpose, waiting to collapse.
The ugliest face of politicisation of the administration and collusion of politics and corruption is exposed by the way a clean chit was given by the UNO to a hazardous building and by the way the garment workers were coerced to work in that. The UNO was a chosen person of the MP, and being so had to do his biddings.
But what followed in the aftermath of the collapse of Rana Plaza, attempt to disown him and the apparent effort to save him, speak even more of the unholy link between corruption and politics and the hideous and painful outcome of it.
No sooner had the building collapsed than the spin doctors of the ruling party went into action and unabashedly tried to disown the person. What was sickening and painful were the PM’s comments. She not only did not acknowledge that Rana had anything to do with her party, her attempt to shift the blame by saying that while the workers were warned of the danger, those that had been trapped under the rubble had gone inside to collect their personal belongings, is a crude mockery of the victims and utter disrespect for the intellect of the common man.
In trying to better everybody else in diluting the gravity of the disaster and shift the blame for the collapse, the crudity resorted to by the inimitable home minister has surpassed all imagination. His is perhaps the latest theory, on horizontal shaking, for which he is being compared to Newton and Einstein. He needs to be reminded of the maxim that, “It is better to keep quiet and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”
While Rana had the misfortunate of being trapped under the rubble he was fortunate enough to be saved by the MP and kept, allegedly, under his protection, till pressure was such that he had to be arrested from near the border.
But Mr. Rana, you need neither lose heart nor despair. Your links with the government and the BGMEA will see that you get off, as had those involved in the killing of Spectrum and Tazreen workers. Take heart from the fact that the charges against you have been framed under very weak sections. And even if you have the bad luck of being tried and found guilty and awarded the severest punishment, there is always the presidential pardon for killers like you. That is the real face of politics in Bangladesh.
The writer is Editor, Oped and Defence & Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star.