Bangladesh all of a sudden is looking at yet another cloud burst of dark political storm. I have been trying to figure out why the storm is happening at this particular time. The thing is I cannot figure out the real and underlying reasons other than, um, sour grapes. In my quest I went and looked into the seven-point demand by BNP and all I could see is a collection of grievances that has about zero effect on the wellbeing on the country in the short and long run. This morning I clicked on bdnews24 and it screamed “four killed in political violence”. These lives that are lost were mostly in the early adulthood or late teens. Their promise, their potential will never be achieved anywhere. If they had died for reasons that would benefit the country, bring better economic conditions and maybe more jobs then and maybe only then you can justify the taking of four young lives. No, these people died for a bag of grievances that has no relevance to the future of Bangladesh except for Khaleda Zia and her desire to have power. I tend to be non-partisan about Bangladeshi politics and maybe even a little bit against the ruling party, just because they are the ruling party, whichever ruling party. Something in me always sticks out against anything “ruling”. But, for the first time I am clearly drawn to make a statement that says the opposition BNP is being utterly short-sighted and selfish and in the long run destructive for the economy and the country.
As we enter 2015, we are coming on to a world of changed economic and geopolitical landscape. The dollar is strong, which is beginning to put pressure on various countries that do dollar-denominated trades because raw material costs are going up due to unfavourable exchange rates. The oil prices are in a long term decline and the barrel of oil just hit below-$50. So, finally the balance of power is shifting from commodity based rentier economies to productive economies, where you make a living by your work not because you are sitting on oil due to some geological happenstance! This also means that countries like Bangladesh can make a run for the gold. The time is right and it is all about Carpe Diem, or seizing the day! But of course, uncontrolled violence and property destruction can only in bring in a year of crap as opposed to a year of glory.
The sad part is, this unnecessary agitation and violence is intensely personal and hence probably does not have a logical end. The orgy of violence will have to exhaust itself and people will have to reject it wholesale. That will take time and in the meanwhile Bangladesh will lose a step or two towards its march to a middle income country by 2020. Oh, the goal is so achievable and yet so far because we insist of calling each other names like Razakars and we want to have power at any cost. We are not a failed or failing state like, say, Pakistan. The very definition of failing state is that the authorities cannot provide adequate security for the people and the property.
It is the property damage that causes the most mayhem and economic disruptions. The truck owners do not dare to take their trucks out, buses do not run and even the rickshaw pullers go hungry. Not because they all support the strike, err, Aborodh but they are afraid of losing their livelihood forever and ever!
So, when the Begums fight because they want some new arrow in their quiver full of arrows of sorrow, infamy and hunger for power; the ordinary people have to simply cower in the corner. This cowering has great and negative economic impact. How do we make sure that Bangladesh’s march towards a middle income country is stalled for good? Here are is a thought.
Be more tolerant of dissent from all sides. If someone wants to hold a rally, OK yes do a rally but limit the damage on the economic life. How do we do that? First and foremost make property damage a seriously punishable crime. In the US willful property damage is viewed as a high grade felony and the punishment can be quite severe. Judges routinely hand out sentences in the 10 to 20 year range based on the extent of property damage. The sentencing guidelines make these sentences mandatory.
Lo and behold, this has had a serious deterrent effect on property crimes. In Bangladesh we do not pay enough respect to property. It is one of the hardest countries to establish property rights. People steal property from under the rightful owner’s noses by dint of bribery, political connection and muscle. So, besides passing a tough property crime laws the country will do itself a huge favour if by some miracle we can establish a public and verified property ownership record system. It can be a website where you can keep the property records by type of property and any change of hand of the property must then be registered with the database through an independent judicial system, the Muhuris and kanungos! This has to be done in a transparent manner with notice given to all concerned parties. The concept exists but execution is abysmal.
My heart aches for the land of my father. I see the destruction and I see the chance of becoming a middle income country getting ever so remote with every brickbat thrown, every bus burned down and ever young person shot and killed. We need to stop the madness before it kills the prosperity and chance of prosperity for Bangladesh. No more flinging the “potla” full of grievances that are personal in nature and in the process hurting a vibrant economy on the march. Here is to sanity in 2015.