The Gulshan crisis has exposed some pretty serious fissures in Bangladesh society and politics. The laissez faire looting class which can overlook any law has come under focus. It’s mostly their children who were involved in the attack, and a society based almost entirely on lifestyle and not value structures now stands exposed. However, it’s on this very society that the political system rests, so as long as a government exists they are not threatened. But the internal conflicts that are beginning to surface will have longer impact. Bangladesh is not exploding from terrorist action but imploding from mal-governance and opportunism of every shade possible. We are not a failed state but a suicidal one.
The main problem is the process of wealth-making on which the rest of the system depends. In this looting process, the governmental machinery has played an integral part. It’s impossible to make this kind of money without support from the authorities, and 44 years is a long time to entrench a system that can sustain a “killer class” like the one we have as rulers.
It’s not just because the Jongis mostly came from that class, but over time they have built a reputation as being extremely ruthless in looting and flaunting it too. It’s a city that is full of rich people, who are culturally crude, disloyal to Bangladesh and are ready to fly away to dip into the money they have stashed abroad. The rich have done it with the help from the governments that we have had. They have bought the right to loot Bangladesh by funding and sustaining this murderous political system we have.
Bribery and crossfire have become the two great symbols of our failed governance system today. It’s obvious that the authorities have been unable to do much to rein in either. The fact that there have been more encounters and remand killings than Jongi killings is a frightening reminder of how inept the security regime is. However, as the powerful people are not affected by such killings, it’s allowed to go on. As the inability of the police to properly investigate and reduce crime is exposed, it leads to greater lack of confidence, greater lack of co-operation and ultimately greater lack of confidence in the state system itself.
A quick survey of opinions shows that the Gulshan incident hasn’t affected everyone the same. The upper class that maybe identified as car riding, able to take vacations abroad, and are driven by the need for consumption, are in a panic. It’s their children who dominate the Sehri party and Sheesha bar joints, and they want to flee. They stay in Bangladesh to make their money, but that money-making has to be guaranteed by the security regime. But that understanding has cracked after Gulshan and their confidence shaken. Since their life depends on high income and high consumption, it’s no fun to be here if it’s not fun.
The middle class is shocked but don’t feel that threatened. They are worried but not unduly, as they see themselves as alienated so deeply from the ruling class that they find no common space to share. They fear extremist regimes but not a definite one. They expect little from the government and believe it exists to protect the rich and the see the Gulshan incident as “rich people’s problem.” There is no identity with the crisis as they are so worried in their own life on a regular basis. They see this as “news” but not their news.
The poor seem to be looking at it all as a spectacle. They are so far away from this problem and their livelihood is so constantly at risk that they simply don’t understand what’s going on. Since they mostly survive outside political partisan identities, they have no BNP-JI, IS, JMB etc. issues to bother with. They saw a dip in holiday shopping for their street and shop business, but beyond that their perception is one of bemusement at what rich people and their children do. Some see this as “karma”, a price God extracted for the sins of the rich.
This is inevitable in a society which is so divided, with inequity rising constantly. The notion of one “Bangladesh” has become very weak and that is why there is no united national response. It’s a class by class matter with everyone trying to look after themselves. In many ways, Bangladesh no longer resembles a nation-state as imagined in 1971. A new pro-rich state has emerged from the ashes of 1971 and many can’t call it their own. But apart from the Jongis, the India factor has created a new dimension which has pushed Bangladesh into more uncertain waters.
That India would be involved was a given, because terrorism in Bangladesh means problems for them too. Even earlier, Indians accused Bangladesh of harbouring Jongis, had expressed great concerns at the killing of Hindus, and now with the death of an Indian national, the matter has become very serious. Indian public opinion is very pro-intervention and Indian media has declared that India is already working with Bangladesh agencies.
India has to act, because thousands of Indians are working in Bangladesh in high places, billions are invested in trade and it can always be used as a safe spot by the ISI. So whether India or Bangladesh likes it or not, India will be involved.
But India’s track record with Bangladesh and other South Asian countries is not too good. Pakistan can be halted at the Line of Control, but the very integrated economic and human resources relations makes such a scenario impossible with Bangladesh. But it already faces hostile public opinion. Whether India’s involvement will make the matter better or worse only future can say.
In this atmosphere of high uncertainty, we face a future we neither wanted nor can explain. But the time for wailing for our future is already over. It’s here.