Interview of Badruddin Umar

‘A quarter is plundering more than the East India Company’

Badruddin Umar is one of the leading figures among the political theorists and the politicians of the country and region as well. His father Abul Hashim was one of the key persons of the Muslim nationalist movement in British India. Being from a family with a political legacy, Umar has been involved in politics for 53 years. Recently He talked to Bonik Barta about the present and future of the economic and political condition of the country. Anika Mahjabin took the interview .

What’s your observation on the present condition of the financial institutions of the country?

An opportunist group now controls almost every bank in the country. A lot of banks came into being with the evil intention of looting. The banks are embezzling billions of taka. A few days ago, it was reported that a group by the name of S. Alam had created a number of companies and assets abroad without the central bank's authorization. In addition, 90% of garment business owners conduct business across borders defying all laws and regulations. Even after allegedly committing a number of irregularities, WASA MD has been appointed for the seventh time. They took action against the chairman of the board who filed complaints against the MD. As a result, instead of him, the chairman was ousted from the scene. Whoever did those have ties to the MD and the government. Who can deny that? Several govt organizations are affiliated with the party.
Right now, the situation is so awful that politicians along with business owners and manufacturers, are plundering and smuggling money. This cash is being transferred outside the country. Their smuggling is comparable to the robbery of Lord Clive and Warren Hosting during the East India Company era. This looting is far worse than East India Company's. One notable difference is that the Englishmen used to steal money and send it to their home country. Whereas, Bangladeshi looters are looting their own country and transferring the proceeds overseas. As a result, the country is suffering. These looters are more terrifying than the imperialists we have denounced.

Mega projects are opportunities for mega embezzlement in this context. The loans that were taken out to finish the mega projects are currently being repaid to a great extent. The new party will be responsible for paying off this debt even if the current party is voted out of power. Mega projects are being carried out, but the citizens are not receiving the necessary healthcare or education. Everyone is involved in this looting, including the businessmen. The ruling party is leading the way. Thousands of people are making plundering money out of this country.

Prior to independence, we saw the election results accepted by all parties. After 50 years of independence, why couldn't we resolve the election crisis?

When Ayub Khan initiated a military take-over at that time, the politicians of East Pakistan and West Pakistan were discredited for having bad blood within them. Because of this conflict, the JuktaFront (United Front) got elected but could not form a government. Whoever voted in 1954 Awami League and Fazlul Haque’s farmer-labor party because of the situation created by their conflict, also went against them. Ayub Khan reigned into power exploiting this situation of the politicians.

The situation was different under Yahya Khan. Yahya came to power after the mass revolt of 1969. At that time, Yahya had nothing to say against the politicians. A big democratic movement took place at that time. So he had to hold an election in view of these movements. There was not enough scope to rig the election because of the unrest going on.

Another issue was that Pakistanis were always afraid of Bangladeshis. Bangladeshis, on the other hand, were fearless. They are the owners of this land and have the right to do whatever they want because they used to believe it was their country. Pakistanis were seen as foreigners in this country. As a result, they were frightened of the ongoing oppression. There were no allegations of rigging in Ayub Khan's election. He had a monotonous election, but he did not dare to use

How much is the Election Commission capable of holding a free and fair election that is to come?

The Election Commission is irrelevant here. Now the election commission is a part of the ruling party. So there is no way we can think they have any distinct role here. In India, there is a constitutional system, and it works in a constitutional way. But here, there is no way to work freely. An election in Gaibandha has been rejected by the Election Commission. And the ruling party began to believe that the election commission was operating independently. As a result, they approved a law that forbade the election commission from disrupting any elections. That is astonishing! The election commission is thus shown to be irrelevant in this situation; the government's decision is the final one. The opposition parties are calling for the dissolution of this election commission as a result. In actuality, we require an election commission and a commissioner who will not represent any party or be subservient to any party in order to conduct a fair and impartial election. Therefore, this election commission needs to be disbanded in order to conduct a fair and impartial election. It is necessary to create a new election commission.

Is the BNP's movement strong enough to achieve the party’s goal?

BNP is organizing rallies and processions. They are doing it all over Dhaka and the country, stating that they will not participate in elections under this regime. BNP will not be able to demolish the Awami League with only that. If Awami League holds another election and BNP does not participate, Awami League will be in a win-win situation. Meetings and rallies are ineffective. That is insufficient to destabilize a government. This election must be held under a caretaker government in this country, which means that no other government can hold a free and fair election. And if the election is not fair, every citizen has a duty to disregard the results. If people see that the election is not fair and they are not a part of it, it becomes their moral obligation to call it off. However, calling for a boycott will help the Awami League. So, BNP must claim that no election can be held. They need to say that they will halt the election, surround every polling center, and no one will vote. Pakistan, too, has a caretaker government. Elections can only take place under a caretaker government after the cabinet is dissolved within two or three days. Even in Pakistan, elections are being held under a caretaker government.  Yet they are saying that they will not hold any elections under the caretaker government.

Will the politics be in conflict if BNP declares that no election will be held?

It might be abrasive. There will be conflict if there is a large-scale uprising. It cannot be simple or non-violent. There will be hostility if there is a conflict between the people and the government. The environment can eventually turn hostile if anyone thinks that I won't be hostile. They might clash with one another. You have no reason to fear that. Insurrections always result in conflicts. It is not a tea party.

Are there any similarities or differences between BNP’s current movement and the previous anti-government movements?

The anti-Ershad movement was a protest against military rule. It was attended by every civil political party in the country. There was also a distinction between the military and common people. However, militaries have no say in the current situation. They have no ties to the movement. The conflict now exists between two political parties. The difference between Ershad's regime and today's scenario is that the repression of opposition parties is now more severe than it was during Ershad's reign.

Where do you think the politics of Bangladesh are headed in the future?

The direction of Bangladeshi politics is ambiguous. We can say that the situation we are in is uncertain. They won't be able to maintain the current level of repression for many days, and if they do it will make it difficult for the government to remain in power. However, BNP is also not exactly ideal. People are now committed to toppling the current government. BNP is gaining public support as a result of this. If there is a vote, they are going to vote BNP.

What do you think about intellectuals' roles in politics and the economy?

Intellectuals in Bangladesh know very well how to use their intellect. The intellectuals' concerns are with how to advance one's career, how it will be advantageous for employment, how they will get a promotion, and how to travel abroad. They do not use their intellect for study or research.

Intellectuals had a voice when the British or the Pakistanis were in power, but we no longer hear them. They are voiceless. They only care about keeping their job and getting paid more. Because of this, they have no say over what is happening right now. They occasionally say one or two things. That's it. Poets, writers, novelists, and storytellers all possessed connections with the populace at one point in time. However, they are currently idle.

In universities, there is one professor for every three teachers. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Until 1947 Dhaka University had only one professor. Ramesh Chandra Majumdar (R. C. Majumdar) was his name. Even prominent figures like Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah and Satyen Bose were merely Readers. There were even very few readers even then. They were too knowledgeable yet they were not professors. However, nowadays, age makes someone a professor; knowledge is no longer necessary. They advance with age, just like government employees. Moreover, corruption and connections with high-ranking people also help to get you promoted to become a professor.

What’s your assessment of the 52 years of politics in Bangladesh?

If you want to understand the politics of Bangladesh in the last fifty-two years, you have to understand who controls the power. First, we have to see who came into power after the independence of Bangladesh. Those in power act as the main controlling force of politics. The Awami League is made up of a section of an unproductive class. Lawyers, their assistants, school teachers, shop owners, unemployed youth, and students were the members of Awami League. The owners of large lands and big industries were involved with the central government of Pakistan. This Awami League suddenly came to power. Even in the 70s, they did not think that they would come to power and the country would become independent. Since they did not represent any productive section of society, they started to build their own economic base after getting power. If they were the productive section, they would have gained wealth through production. As the Pakistanis did, and which happened in Europe during the bourgeois development. As they (Awami League) were not involved in the production, their only means of acquiring wealth was to loot the existing resources. It included government property, property of non-Bengali Biharis, or property of non-Bangladeshis who were not involved with the Awami League. That means looting was done in every possible way. There was no way to build industries and factories here in the name of socialism after looting millions of taka. As soon as the money accumulates, the capital goes towards its profits. And when profit is the main purpose, the business will not run legally, because there are limitations. That's why this money started to be invested in smuggling. This is inside the country. Similarly, smuggling is a foreign trade as well. This is how the middle class or the ruling class was formed under the leadership of the Awami League in Bangladesh.

The business bourgeoisie has been the main driving force of politics for the past 50 years. In the 1973 elections, it can be seen that there were few businessmen in the National Parliament. Because the businessmen could not be organized till then. But gradually they began to organize and started to capture everything. Now it can be seen that about 70-80 percent of the members of the National Parliament are businessmen. The rest are not businessmen directly but are somehow related to the businessmen.

On the contrary, the Communists harmed themselves organizationally and politically by making various mistakes in 1971. They could no longer stand on their own feet from being pro-Peking and pro-Moscow. The role of communists in these 50 years of politics is very little. The communists had a very important and powerful role in politics during the British period and even during the Pakistani period. Although they were not the main opposition party.

An important aspect of post-independence politics is the depoliticization of the students. Students played a key role in politics in the British and Pakistani periods. They had an important role in 1954, in 62, 66, and even in the movement of 1969. But the students are no longer in the scenario after 1972. Hence I call the seventies a dark age. The student politics that was initiated in the eighties had no democratic or progressive character. Student politics started to decay after 1980. But interestingly the students under BNP and Awami League after Ershad’s regime were not the same as before. They started hooliganism and began to take a share of the construction work. It means they started to get involved with the economic affairs of the universities. We couldn’t even think about it before. They turned into goons. It started in 1991. Before that, general people used to have sympathy and love for the students. But they don’t love them anymore now. The importance student politics had in a developing country like ours, it doesn’t exist anymore. 

In the first three and half years of Awami League after the independence, all the opposition groups were suppressed. In 1975, most of the newspapers were shut down, and all the political parties were banned, the democratic process was banned. The democratic process again eroded more after Ershad’s regime. What Ershad exercised, continued even under the democratic regimes. Now it is a fully oppressive system going on. There is no freedom of the people in this system, election has almost been eliminated. The representation of the general people is absent here. Same thing happening in India also. However, the election process is still impartial and accepted in India. The opposition cannot deny the result there saying that it has been rigged. But in Bangladesh, the electoral process has been ruined. When the electoral process is ruined, there is no longer any bourgeois democratic ambiance in a country.

Translated by Dewan Maruf

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