Padma: Not just the bridge we tend to think
Talking about Padma the other day a colleague of mine, an elderly and an erudite one, came up with an utterly new piece of analysis. Try as I did to disagree, I must thank him for the ingenuity with which he was able to firm up his analysis.
What he said was that everything that emerged since the World Bankâ€™s scrapping of the credit line â€“ the reactions of the government, the series of statements from various quarters, especially those from the prime minister herself, the finance ministerâ€™s seeking various options and finally (sadly!) the resignation of Syed Abul Hossain from the cabinet â€“ are all part of a compact power play the government has been playing knowingly and methodically. Yes, the key message he conveyed was â€˜methodâ€™, a vastly convoluted term to imply so many things at a time.
Better drop the analysis here lest I meddle with it too much.
There are few questions that citizens like me, unworthy of finding rational clues for an innovative analysis, would want to have answers. Why did Syed Abul Hossain resign (SAH)? Why is the finance minister, almost in defiance of what the prime minister has been saying so strongly to build the bridge at own expense, looking for other options including donor funding? Is the government after so much of drumbeating finally resigning to accept â€“ yes accept â€“ the allegations of corruption? Finally â€¦ letâ€™s drop that too for now.
Chances that Syed Abul Hossain resigned on his own are almost nil. Given the hullabaloo over the issue, that too over the largest infrastructure project of the country, he could have merrily walked home around a year back, long before the WBâ€™s press statement mentioned of the now-famous â€˜credible evidenceâ€™ of corruption. Resigning from the office of the Republic over a controversy does not in any way incriminate the person in the offence he may be alleged with. But he remained resolute, more than himself â€“ the government wouldnâ€™t have allowed that to happen as it was challenging the least link of corruption with the appointment of the consultant for the bridge project. What he has mentioned as reason for his resignation is not known. The finance minister made a brief statement ruling out as usual the charges of â€˜credible evidenceâ€™, but what he uttered reflected a flip flop no one expected in so simple terms. He said the resignation was to fulfil the WB condition. This was too much opening up of oneâ€™s heart, perhaps naively.
Since his initial blast, the FM for over a fortnight or so, is visibly at work on a broad agenda to source funds for the bridge. There is more than an obvious divide in what he has been working on and what a determined PM has been announcing. The PM sounded candid, she had a single agenda â€“ having the bridge built with own money; asking the WB for money sensed something of a pathological hatred. The FMâ€™s agenda, rather arbitrarily, had more than one thing under its fold. In fact, he had and perhaps still has, four options to weigh out. The first one is to reinstate the credit agreement with the World Bank, the second is to go with the other three donors and someone new, if available. The third is to execute the project under PPP (Public Private Partnership). And the final option, he told the media at the secretariat, â€˜is to construct the Padma bridge with own fund as the Prime Minister had announced.â€™ Isnâ€™t the divide too clear to see? Conspicuous indeed is the rating in priority of the PMâ€™s announcement â€“ the last, if no other options work out. Is this a sign of going oneâ€™s own way no matter where the journeys are destined?
Now coming to whether the government has at last resigned to accept the WB allegation need not be answered squarely. The WB wanted the former minister out of office on alleged charges (of corruption). The FM is saying he has resigned not because of the alleged charges but to fulfil WB condition. What then was the WB condition? Remove him, weâ€™ve charges against him.
This is a dismal scenario; far too pathetic one can feel pity for. Arenâ€™t we at all in a position to see things as they, in their starkly bare forms, look like? Is it all about ego sacrificing national priority to individual caprices? And honour, we were drumming up honour. Mind you, honour-killing is a practice some societies, tribes to be exact, prefer when things get too wrong to sustain the tribeâ€™s honour at stake. Now, the final question that I left blank with dots: is this the way we protect honour?
The tribes practicing honour-killing know it by their very basic instincts.
Wasi Ahmed is a journalist, short story writer and novelist.