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Rampal: The political environment

  • Published at 12:02 am September 1st, 2016
  • Last updated at 08:12 pm September 1st, 2016
Rampal: The political environment

With the BNP as an enemy, does the AL need a friend? BNP support to the anti-Rampal cause couldn’t come at a better time for the government.

Now it has got the matter where it wanted, which was to shift it out of the “environmental and ethical energy production” space to the deadly political one which it controls.

So, the point is no longer about the environment and protection of Sundarbans, but how to prevent BNP-Jamaat from halting the progress of Bangladesh, read Rampal power plant.

BNP could have helped the cause by keeping its mouth shut, but a party so desperate to survive will grasp at any straw. That straw for the moment was Rampal, and now it has dragged down anti-Rampal agitation with it.

All that the AL needs is to bring the BNP-Jamaat issue to the top, and, given the present mood, it can not only clobber the political combo but the Anu Mohammed-led environmentalist combo as well, who have disowned BNP support anyway.

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Rampal has become a major conflict issue, but is limited to the urban areas. In some sense, it’s becoming an issue of principles rather than arguments as the environment affects all of us, but few understand the technicalities involved.

This has had an impact on the issue as well. The opponents of Rampal can’t cite the present, but point to future dangers only, describing the price of consequences. But in a notoriously non-future-interested country, where people survive only for today, and have no luxury of contemplating what is happening tomorrow or any other future, no future arouses too much concern.

This mindset has gone against the anti-Rampal agitations. It’s too distant, far away, and abstract for people to react to in a large way, to turn it into a movement. The result is public apathy for the nitty- gritty arguments which the activists are placing before the public.

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But Rampal has become an issue -- however little -- for emotional, not environmental, reasons. It’s considered a threat to the Sundarbans, our national heritage. Environmentalists argue about the damage to nature, but people seem to be reacting to a concept of an abstract heritage. Nobody cares much for the Sundarbans, and even less for the tigers, but there is a sense of pride in having a UNESCO heritage site in our midst.

India is next door, has a complex everyday relationship with Bangladesh, and is part of our security and political structure. That is why the Rampal plant is not just an energy issue or a matter of rights

Given a chance, many Bangladeshis would sell the tigers and trees to the highest bidder, but a heritage site is pride-generating, and that is why the movement has sustained for so long in a country where no environmental campaign ever succeeds. Even the arsenic contamination of water, which is already becoming one of the biggest killers in the country, caused, and now causes, more than a shrug.

Rampal, like Kansat and Phulbari, tweaked emotional switches which made some public reaction possible. But that too was limited in scope. There was never a national movement on these issues. And nothing sustainable ever happened.

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The other emotional part of course is India, which is financing, building, and going to benefit from the Rampal plant. India has the most intimately intertwined history with Bangladesh, but it has been mostly unfriendly after the honeymoon year of 1971. Soon after liberation, the relationship soured, and went seriously downhill after the Farakka barrage construction.

Everything else has contributed to that scenario, and the public perception of India is negative.

So India building the Rampal plant has completely different meaning than, say, Germany building it.

India is next door, has a complex everyday relationship with Bangladesh, and is part of our security and political structure. That is why the Rampal plant is not just an energy issue or a matter of rights as Phulbari and Kansat was.

It is also one where national perceptions of friendship and hostility are involved. As a result, whatever public reaction there are, is also fuelled by mutual antagonism that are rooted in the history after 1971.

That makes the Rampal plant issue much more sensitive than any other international deal. And that is why more questions have been raised, and many of them have not been satisfactorily answered.

Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist and researcher.