Awami League's political capital and the reign of brothers

Sajjad Hossain Barkat and Imtiaz Hasan alias Rubel
Sajjad Hossain Barkat and Imtiaz Hasan alias RubelCollected
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The election commission under ATM Shamsul Huda enforced certain rules to ensure the accountability of political parties. One rule was that all political party committees, from the top down to the grassroots, must have one-third participation of women by 2021. Another rule was that the parties would have to submit an account of their income and expenditure to the election commission every year. It also said that the views of the grassroots would have to be take into cognizance for party nomination.

The political parties accepted these conditions and registered with the election commission. However, halfway through 2020 sees that women are in nowhere near 33 percent of the posts and now the election commission has decided to drop that regulation. It is much like severing the head to cure the headache.

The yardstick of a party’s political gain is its popularity and image. In this context, in Bangladesh the ruling party’s political reserves are always negative. The longer a government remains at the helm, the more its political capital wanes.

Most of the parties are following the rule to submit an account of income and expenditure. At least they submit an annual report of their income and expenditure to the election commission.

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Awami League’s 2019 report shows that they the savings in their party funds have increased by 35 percent. In 2018 there was around Tk 375.60 million (Tk 37 crore 56 lakh 3 thousand 838) in the party find. By the end of 2019 this had become around Tk 503.74 million (Tk 50 crore 37 lakh 43 thousand 593). On Wednesday, Awami League’s publicity and publications secretary Abdus Sohban Golap and office secretary Biplob Barua submitted the financial report to the election commission secretary.

A total of Tk 400 million (Tk 40 crore) of Awami League’s saving is in a fixed deposit bank account. Last year, its income was around Tk 210.24 million (Tk 21 crore 2 lakh 41 thousand 330). Its expenditure was around Tk 82.10 million (Tk 8 crore 21 lakh 1 thousand 575).

According to the report submitted by Awami League, a large chunk of its revenue the previous year came from the sales of party nomination forms, amounting to Tk 123.23 million (Tk 12 crore 32 lakh 30 thousand). Profits from its bank deposits amounted to around Tk 2.34 million (Tk 2 crore 33 lakh 75 thousand 223). Another Tk 10.76 million (Tk 1 crore 7 lakh 64 thousand) came from MPs’ subscription. The remaining amount was from monthly subscriptions of the central committee members, district-based primary members’ subscriptions, member form fees, the central office’s hall rent, ads in publications, book sales, etc.

The highest expenditure was made for the national conference, totaling around Tk 34.30 million (Tk 3 crore 43 lakh 800). Around another Tk 11.38 million ( Tk 1 crore 13 lakh 77 thousand 700) was spent on staff salaries, bonus, entertainment and other sectors. Various programmes used up Tk 11.80 million (Tk 1 crore 18 lakh 865). And Tk 5.5 million (Tk 55 lakh) was spent on rent for the party president’s office.

BNP has not submitted its accounts for 2019. In 2018 its revenue was around Tk 98.66 million (Tk 9 crore 86 lakh 56 thousand 380) and expenditure around Tk 37.33million (Tk 3 crore 73 lakh 29 thousand 143).

Unless the party can be retrieved from the hands of such brothers and their so-called patrons, no matter how much financial capital Awami League may accumulate, it will take no time for its political capital to dwindle to zero.

Questions may arise as to the veracity of these financial reports of the political parties. Do they actually pay the subscriptions and so on? Even so, the positive side is that all parties, big and small, have to submit an account of their income and expenditure along with an audit report to the election commission. The election commission can scrutinise these papers if it wants, though till now it has not raised any questions in this regard.

In any country of the world, the ruling party’s income and expenditure is higher that then rest. Being 11 consecutive years in government, it is not surprising that Awami League’s savings are growing steadily. However, what is more important is, how has it gained politically?

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The yardstick of a party’s political gain is its popularity and image. In this context, in Bangladesh the ruling party’s political reserves are always negative. The longer a government remains at the helm, the more its political capital wanes. The political capital of the opposition increases.

The political opposition here is much like the moon which has no light of its own, but shines in the borrowed light of the sun. It does nothing to increase its own popularity, but basks in the waning popularity of the government. That is what the results indicate in the four elections held under caretaker governments.

Behaviour of the party men is another yardstick of a party’s popularity. The longer a party is in power, the more wayward their behavior becomes. All over the country, various pockets of power crop up, like ‘the reign of brothers’ and the ‘ganglands’. Before there were various cadre groups formed in the names of the political parties. Now the cadres have been replaced by the ‘reign of brothers’.

The government over the last 9 or 10 months has accosted some of these ‘blessed’ leaders and activists of the ruling party. Their notorious tales exceed all limits, one tale worse that the other.

People were amazed at the corruption that came to light when the government carried out an operation against the clandestine casinos in the country in September last year and nabbed leaders and activists of the ruling party and its front organisations.

People were even more shocked to see the mounds of cash stashed away in the house of two brothers, ward committee leaders of Old Dhaka.

But that was overshadowed by the escapades of a woman Jubo League leader in Narsingdi.

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The next scam to come forward was of Md Shahed alias Shahed Karim and his manipulations of medical treatment. He may or may not have been on any Awami League committee, but he used the party’s name to carry out his crooked activities.

Not long after that came the shocking story of two Awami League brothers in Faridpur, their rise to wealth and power and their despicable misdeeds over the past ten years.

Then, like a footnote to the Faridpur brothers, came the story of three brothers at a union level in Khulna, where the rule of law was non-existent. Everyone would just have to obey whatever the three brothers told them to do. Three persons were killed for trying to stand up against the injustice. Before that there were four brothers in Pirojpur and the two brothers of Bajitpur in Kishoreganj.

One after another, stories of these ruling Awami League brothers are being revealed. The political liabilities of the party are mounting. ‘Reigns of brothers’ continue in the various districts of the country. In some areas, the minister’s brother is more powerful than the minister, the MP’s brother wields more clout than the MP.

Unless the party can be retrieved from the hands of such brothers and their so-called patrons, no matter how much financial capital Awami League may accumulate, it will take no time for its political capital to dwindle to zero.

* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet. He can be contacted at sohrabhassan55@gmail.com

This article appeared in Prothom Alo online edition and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.

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