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Dhaka Tribune

‘In 50 years, Bangladesh’s progress and corruption have both progressed side by side’

  • Corrupt people in Bangladesh are so strong that political will is needed to break them
  • “In contrast to success, institutional weaknesses abound'
Update : 18 Apr 2024, 10:10 PM

Though the success of Bangladesh in 50 years is visible, corruption has also progressed along with the country’s growth, according to economists. 

“In contrast to success, institutional weaknesses abound. The success of Bangladesh in 50 years is visible, but permanent corruption has also progressed. Both progress and corruption have gone hand in hand,” they said. 

However, corrupt people in Bangladesh are so strong that political will is needed to break them, they said. 

The economists expressed their views at the launching ceremony of the book, titled "Fifty Years of Bangladesh: Economy, Politics, Society, and Culture," at a program at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) in Dhaka on Thursday.

The book portrays the multi-faceted dimensions of Bangladesh's development journey, its economic and social transformation and political and cultural aspects.

It presents new empirical data supplemented with critical analysis of processes, actors and actions that have been the drivers of Bangladesh's transformation.

Organized in six sections, the book provides a multi-disciplinary, holistic and interrelated narrative of the Bangladesh story.

At the publication ceremony, one of the authors, Hossain Zillur Rahman, executive chairman of the Power and Participation Research Centre, said politics has become a factory for the very rich. In the future, the agenda of the economy will be the agenda of politics.

He also said that corruption is now the main agenda of the elites. They commit corruption for their own security. 

The fifth section of the book states that society and politics provide a broad overview of the evolution of regime types, state-society relations, and the changing power dynamics between classes and groups. It investigates two specific issues that have emerged as challenges to the sustainability of the democratic process - Islamist politics, its nature, scope, growth, and pathway, and the evolution and use of violence in politics.

The book is edited by Prof Rehman Sobhan, founding chairman of CPD, and economist Prof Rounaq Jahan, member of the Board of Trustees and distinguished fellow at CPD.

Published by Routledge of London in November 2023, the book portrays the multi-faceted dimensions of Bangladesh's development journey, its economic and social transformation and political and cultural contestations.

In his comments, Prof Rehman Sobhan said that no national institution, like the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) or the Election Commission, is working. “Now we see the decline of democracy.”

He said that a new business group is coming into politics. But earlier, there used to be good elections through caretaker governments, the approach adopted by Pakistan and Nepal. The balance of two-party politics was preserved.

This economist commented that democracy is declining.

The author of a part of the book, Dr Ali Riaz, a political analyst and distinguished professor at the Illinois State University, said that conservative Islamists will be stronger in the country's politics in the future.

Joining the event virtually from the United States, Dr Ali Riaz said the government has tried to remove Islamists from politics. Conservative Islamists have filled that void. They may become more powerful in the future.

Another author of the book, Prof Selim Raihan of the economics department at Dhaka University and executive director at Sanem, said that reform is necessary in Bangladesh now. “The corruption in our country is so strong that political will is needed to break it. Otherwise, there will be no reforms; the government's revenue collection capacity will not increase.”

Prof Rounaq Jahan said another such book on Bangladesh was published in 1996. It was thought then that Bangladesh would go to a better place politically. There was not so much ambition for the economy then. Now there is frustration with politics; it is rather the economy which is in good shape.

She also said that change has its good side as well as its bad side. That is, there is a price to pay for change.

Three experts reviewed the book after the authors discussed it in four parts. They said, it should be understood why there has been no institutional reform despite the developments in these 50 years.

Dr Mirza M Hassan, senior research fellow at the Brac Institute of Governance and Development, provided an analytical narrative of the evolution of state and society relations during the last five decades. 

He investigates different political orders by examining the nature of the dominant party state during its “intermediate regime” phase of the decade of the early 1970s, the praetorian state of the late 1970s and 1980s, the alternate patriarchal monopolies of the 1990s and early 2000s, and the dominant party state of the last and current decades. 

The chapter concludes with reflections on the nature of subaltern citizenship, the salience of positive liberty over negative liberty, and the dynamics and future trajectory of liberal democratic governance in Bangladesh.

In Chapter 14, Dr Ali Riaz investigates various strands of Islamist politics in Bangladesh, focusing on both political parties and social groups that pursue the agenda of Islamization of society and the state. 

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that the emergence of Islamist politics is a mid-1970s phenomenon and exclusively a “state project," he argues that there is a long tradition of Islamist politics in the country and that Islamism as an ideology has gained traction as a bottom-up process.

He concludes that the erosion of democratic space will strengthen conservative Islamists, as their support will be sought by mainstream political parties for moral legitimacy.

Another author, Arild Engelsen Ruud, traces phases in forms of political violence in Bangladesh from independence until today. He argues that violence has been harnessed in ways that have significantly contributed to the making of the Bangladesh state and also influence its coherence. He draws the unorthodox conclusion that the authority of local political leaders, in collaboration with the increasingly strong state apparatus, has created a situation of severalty overlapping political authorities.

Dr Zahid Hussain, former lead economist  of the World Bank; Matiur Rahman, editor of The Daily Prothom Alo; Professor Firdous Azim, PhD, chairperson, Department of English and Humanities, Brac University; The Daily Star Editor and Publisher Mahfuz Anam; and Dhaka Tribune Editor Zafar Sobhan were also present on the occasion.

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