Rising 'demon-cracy' eating fragile democracy

Suddenly things turn dramatic. Something happened to the 'crime lord' of Naraynganj! He himself is now accusing his men of killing his men. He is also accusing Rab of killing elected councillor Nazrul and 6 others. On May 4, Nazrul Islam's father-in-law Shahidul Islam alleged that some Rab members (including commanding officer and one major) killed Nazrul in exchange for Tk. 6 crore from Nur Hossain and other accused (The Daily Star, May 5). Later, Shahidul presided over the meeting where ruling party AL MP Shamim Osman accused Rab and his close associates of murdering Nazrul and others. But the MP, known as godfather, has started saying these things -- accusing his party men and Rab of abduction and killing -- only after people's outrage against abduction and killing has spread all over the country.
Who are these big and small 'lords' actually? Yes, they are accused by the local people of everything that makes citizens hostage to a group of criminals. In fact, Narayanganj is a concentrated form of the whole country, a place for free-style extortion, abduction, disappearance, land grabbing and killing. Victims range from general citizen, children, opposition party worker, protester, business partner, competitor, to their own party men.
According to data sheet compiled by Ain O Salish Kendra, a total of 268 persons have been kidnapped across the country from 2010 to March 2014. Bodies of 43 of them were found and 24 were released. Rest are still missing. Some 53 persons were abducted using the name of law enforcement agencies in 2013. 39 persons have been abducted from January to March this year. Among them, 12 bodies have been found and four of them have come back. We all know that things have worsened in April.
In another estimate, more than 20 children, including Twaki, were killed in the last one year in Narayanganj alone. Police headquarters statistics showed that 168 incidents of kidnapping and abduction were recorded in October-December, 2013; while the figure was 196 for January-March in 2014 (New Age, May 4).
These statistics did not include killing by police or Rab in the name of crossfire or encounter. One may find interconnection between the two streams of killing and disappearances. This is not just a 'law order problem,' or 'failure of law enforcing agency.' The whole situation appears to be anarchic, but if we go deep we may find an organised system of plunder, extortion and grabbing. Abduction and killing are the outcome of this mad race for money and power.
Both the size and the proportion of illegal, underground, unreported and criminal economic activities have increased on an unprecedented scale in the last decades. One unpublished study by the ministry of finance estimated the size of this economy as minimum 50% and maximum 83% of Bangladesh's GDP. This particular economy encompasses bribery, crime, arms trade, employment of professional criminals, corruption, grabbing, women trafficking, illegal commissions to approve projects harmful for the country, and leakages from different government's projects. The bigger the government project, the bigger the pie.
The quickly-formed super-rich class of the country is mostly a product of this economy, and they also happen to dominate the political arena. Nur Hossain, the accused killer and longtime associate of Shamim Osman, is a case here. The rise of the quick-rich and Mafia lords and their domination over policy makers cripple institutions and make the Jamindari style rule work. This scenario also gives ample opportunities for global grabbers to promote their agenda too.
In 2001, the world entered into 'War on Terror' era, a free license for the US to occupy countries and kill people. In the name of fighting terrorism, it has been terrorising the whole world. Every country, including Bangladesh, formulated its own version as well. Agencies and forces were formed, trained and organised. Here, extrajudicial killing was institutionalised in 2002, during BNP-Jamat regime, with 'Operation Clean Heart.' In 2004, Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) was formed. Since then, we have been reading monotonous stories of killing of 'terrorists,' cruel incidences of not only killing but also labelling them as 'terrorist' -- like the US model operating around the world. Therefore, extrajudicial killings have not stopped with the changing of governments. Thousands have been killed without any accountability, with no investigation afterwards! No law works except immunity for the killers!!
In 2011, the m (January 26) reported that “a Bangladeshi paramilitary unit that receives training from British police has resumed killing people in so-called 'crossfire'.... (earlier) ceased the killings briefly after the existence of the British training programme was disclosed in US diplomatic cables posted on the internet by Wiki Leaks last month.”
The killers wearing official dress or those who are invisible have their own agenda too. Money; grabbing land; working as hired goons; taking control over terminals, transport, markets; leasing land, forest and water bodies; grabbing tender to secure orders of high cost roads, bridges, flyovers, toll booths -- everything involves violence, reported or not. Only those who can make necessary contact and contract, win! But violence may not end there.
Therefore, as we witness in Narayanganj as elsewhere in Bangladesh, wealth and power accumulation process takes a primitive form. Official 'development' programmes and the process of primitive accumulation work as twins, in that they go together, help each other, rationalise each other and strengthen each other. Government policies increased the scope and legality of corruption, criminality, resource-grabbing, commissions from bad deals with foreign companies, and gangsterism. With the rise of consumerism, money madness spread wildly. Persons enjoying power supersede institutions and law of the land. That creates conditions for the rise of godfathers or mafia lords, which obstructs democratic exercises in every sphere of the society.
Therefore, on paper we have democracy, in reality we feel every moment that we are surrounded by demons, living under the rule of 'demon-cracy.' Every moment, 'demon-cracy' is eating weak democracy. Hence, no institution is working. Here political power, money and muscle work against majority of the people. We feel suffocated. Only when people rise collectively, express their anger collectively, do we find breathing space. But we need to do much more to have sustained human moments.

(May 06, 2014 Published by The Daily Star)

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Anu Muhammad
Professor of Economics
Jahangirnagar University

আনু মুহাম্মদ, Anu Muhammad

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