Mohammad Ashraful is one of our more swashbuckling cricket stars who like most things Bangladeshi is inconsistent, full of swagger but ultimately fails to live up to its promise. He has had a long lean patch from which he was seemingly stepping out when the match fixing scandal got to him according to the latest reports. He has been asked to stay ‘off’ cricket which in common language means temporarily retired till the final report from the ICC is delivered. Several other players have been named but the shadow of suspicion is less on them. It seems that Ashraful may also have become a “patriot’ a la Sheikh Hasina’s well known description of the Padma Bridge chief corruption suspect.
Anything can be a source of corruption particularly where it’s such an unstructured activity like sports. Just about anyone can get involved in match fixing and betting and because people can bet on just about anything, control over the game is very little. Cricket as a source of money making has now become as important as the game itself and it’s no longer sports only but mainly an income generating activity. The 20-20 version has made betting more possible with so many variations available to punters. With a much higher number of players in an IPL or BPL, the scope for guarding is also less. The end result is a gullible audience, advantage taking betters, money hungry players and a general slide in the management where the fate of a game depends on the size of the bet rather than the quality of the game. So be it if that’s how the wind blows.
But why should it shock us in Bangladesh where corruption is a way of life and is integrated into the system. We have had so many corruption scandals that we don’t even remember when the last one took place. And which one is a corruption case anyway? Is it the Hallmark Scandal? The Destiny one? The Padma bridge global scam? Which one ? Compared to these big fishes, poor Ashraful is not even a minnow. He is in fact not even a fish. But Ashraful is not a member of a political party, he can’t share the loot with others in power and he can’t even play too well anymore. When that happens, things can go bad. Especially if you are doing something which doesn’t involve any political cost so there is no need to save him at all.
Bangladesh has no system to reduce or punish corruption because there is no political need to do so. Corruption has no stigma in Bangladesh so it really doesn’t matter. We know our leaders are corrupt and so are their friends and families. In fact we believe they are entitled to it. We know that the ways of the rich and powerful are beyond our capacity to understand and they feel they have a right to it. However, some social forces think that the politicians and the powerful are accountable so although corruption is universal, everyone makes a song and dance about it. Thus we have something called the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) which is known to investigate accusations but rarely if ever convicts. In fact the only high profile man to be punished for corruption is President Ershad. This was possible because both Hasina and Khaleda hated him. Barring such co-incidences, it doesn’t do anything to prevent to end corruption. Members recently visited Canada to obtain copies of the Ramesh Shah – SNC Lavlin- diaries relating to the Padma bridge but failed though the ACC officials have claimed success.
But the ACC should not be seen as a failed organization because it has managed to make people believe that the government really wants to do something about corruption. So if anyone asks any unpleasant question, the matter can be sent to them and after the usual media display, people can forget about it. Few can live clean when corruption rules in any society and when it becomes socially acceptable. Most politicians are believed to be corrupt but no Bangladeshi will ever refrain from voting that same person just because he/she is corrupt. Tarique Zia is a good example of this. How many will fall on his feet when he returns in whatever capacity even if he is convicted of corruption? Our leaders are beyond corruption.
Ashraful’s case has more to do with globalization than corruption. Our corrupt politicians are safe because our national politics is a local matter not an international one. The rules of the world don’t touch us and we can behave as we want but Ashraful got involved in a space which also has international connections and scrutiny. Corruption in cricket concerns the entire cricket playing world which is why there was an investigation and actions possibly. Look closely to see that nothing happened when the share markets were crashed for personal gains, when humongous bank loans were stolen, when the Padma bridge theft conspiracy took place, etc. But when garments factories behaved badly there was repercussions and when some players did a touch of fixing, detectives arrived on the scene. So it’s not corruption that was the issue but the space in which it takes place and its international links.
We have no problem with corruption, it’s part of us. It’s a patriotic thing to do. But one should know that it’s the kind of patriotism we accept and adore and not the rest of the world.
If it’s Ashraful, maybe he should learn about building bridges or playing the stock market should he be keen to make more money.
Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist, activist and writer.