The striking similarity between certain incidents occurring in different parts of the world can be mind-boggling. Last Monday the American Merriam Webster dictionary declared that 'gaslighting' was the most searched for word online this year.
'Gaslighting' thus became the Word of the Year for 2022. Over the year, searches for the meaning of this word went up by 1740 per cent. The word basically means, 'to manipulate someone by psychological means into doubting their own sanity.' Merriam Webster elaborates that this is a psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one's emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.
The British daily, The Guardian, says this is a heinous tool frequently used by abusers in relationships -- and by politicians and other newsmakers. It can happen between romantic partners, within a broader family unit and among friends. It can be a corporate tactic or a way to mislead the public. There is also 'medical gaslighting', when a healthcare professional dismisses a patient's symptoms or illness as 'all in your head'. We often hear complaints about unnecessary tests or prescriptions.
This practice has increased alarmingly in our country too, as everyone is surely bearing the brunt. The only difference we have with the US is that here we don't have to delve into any dictionary.
Then there is another difference. If you are cheated in the US, you can seek legal recourse. The injured party can expect justice, can have hope. If the politicians cheat, you can topple them through the elections. Since 2014 in Bangladesh, alongside losing our rights to vote, we have had to relinquish many more hopes and still are doing so.
Without looking for any other examples, we can look into the persons who have been clearing out the banks. The Supreme Court judges are now asking whether the authorities will just look on as mere spectators. The judges burst out in annoyance and admonished the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) hardly a week since the commission chairman claimed that they were creating a world record in catching the corrupt 'big fish'. A former commissioner of this commission is now a director of Islami Bank and is giving a clean chit to the bank regarding the loan scams, saying, "All the rules have been followed."
The Supreme Court judges have expressed anger over why investigations into the looting of BASIC Bank's funds are not being completed. But has anything been done even about the bank scams before and after BASIC Bank. The founder directors of the former Farmers Bank are all hale and hearty, active in politics. Needless to say, the founders were frontline leaders of the ruling party, an important minister, his family members, relatives and associates. Efforts are on to salvage the bank under a different name, though no one can say this has been a success so far.
Ministers and civil servants claim that no bank in the country has become bankrupt or has closed down, but they hide the fact that these are being artificially kept alive with state support and special interventions. In fact, the state-owned banks would never have survived under the burgeoning default loans and loans being written off, has not the deficit in capital been met over and over again from the taxpayers' pockets. The general people are having to pay for the survival of these banks. The finance minister has rejected the contention that the banks are in a bad condition. His predecessor too had disregarded the Tk 35 billion of the Hal-Mark scam as a paltry sum. Basking in the smug satisfaction of drawing up a multi-billion taka budget, this amount of money was nothing to him.
It has already been proven how vacuous the claims of self-reliance in food production were. The lines of hapless poverty-stricken people grow long and longer in front of the trucks selling rice, lentils and oil at lower prices. Now the middle class has no choice but to join them in the queues
Almost every day news reports are emerging about the banking sector. How much longer can the people be fooled into thinking there is no crisis in the sector? I do not know of a single instance anywhere else in the world where one single business group is in control of over half a dozen banks.
According to the audit reports of the central bank, this business group has taken Tk 300 billion from the private Islami Bank under various names (S Alam Group lifts Tk 30,000 crore loans from IBBL alone, The New Age, 30 November 2022). The New Age report said that if the rules and regulations were followed, the group could have availed a loan of Tk 2.15 billion. That means, it has used its unseen power and influence to get a loan at least 139 times higher than to which it is entitled.
S Alam Group took control of the bank in 2017 through quite a drama. It is not difficult to understand that under the influence of that invisible power, the Tk 60 billion bad loan of the group with the bank's Khatunganj branch, revealed in Bangladesh Bank's probes, was regularised in the bank's annual report.
Of course, it is nothing new in the politics of our country to spread misleading news to thwart the rival. But when that exceeds all limits, the consequence is never good, as many instances will indicate. The problem is, smokescreens to create confusion in politics may yield temporary gain, but that does not apply when it comes to the economy.
It has already been proven how vacuous the claims of self-reliance in food production were. The lines of hapless poverty-stricken people grow long and longer in front of the trucks selling rice, lentils and oil at lower prices. Now the middle class has no choice but to join them in the queues. I heard the shattering of illusions in a song the other day. A girl rapper was singing out:
"The footpaths are lined with tiles, shiny, bright,
That's the bed for street children to spend the night." (Roughly translated)
* Kamal Ahmed is a senior journalist