Dhaka Courier

Are the corrupt ones the new zamindars of Bangladesh?

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One of the great discoveries after 1971 was the road to corruption supported by impunity. Corruption is universal in Bangladesh but some are more corrupt than others. In Bangladesh it has sort of peaked. Or it’s quite possible that the summit of corruption was reached long before but we didn’t know so well.

With the recent discovery of the casino racket and attendant stuff we are seeing it's an all pervasive fact of life in this land. Almost anyone who has authority and power is probably dipping his/her fingers into black money making and spending. Spending where, how and on what may be the key to understand the black money game.

The new zamindars?

The situation is similar to the zamindari culture that emerged after Permanent Settlement of 1793 set up by the colonial British. One major objective was buying loyalty in return for making whatever money they could from peasant. But these zamindars failed as estate managers and spent most of their time in conspicuous consumption as babus and bhadroloks are wont to do.

However, it established a pattern of culture which had long term implications in most aspect of Bengal life. In fact it ended Bengal as the British came to know it. It even ended Bengal as the zamindars knew it. But most importantly, it ended Bengal as the peasantry knew it. There is a” good riddance to bad rubbish” feeling about it which the hyper corrupt of today don’t know.

But the money making, corruption, duplicity, violence, political and social clout, sex and sleaze etc. are at a level nobody had ever reached before under colonialism. The post-colonial thug is bigger than the colonial state’s landlord. And he is literally a “landlord” because the houses that have come up all around Dhaka show that whether one likes it or not, consumption is also an inherent by-product of corruption. Social and economic repression needs cultural manifestation as well. So what is the scene in Bangladesh today?  

The zamindar’s mansion in Gulshan 2?

The zamindars mansion is one good example. They usually had two major villas, one in the zamindary and another in Kolkata.  This was almost universal and even today such decrepit ex-mansions are found in many villages. Huge mansions in considerable contrast to the very ramshackle homes of the peasantry. This is where they made their money and occasionally lived it up.

So what is the parallel space of the Bengal colonial village in post-colonial Bangladesh? Well, it’s Gulshan of course. This is where you make your “ottalika” so that others can see. But Gulshan is also not a full description and not all Gulshan is the same. There are gradations there too.

There is Gulshan 2 which is the top of the pyramid and the truly big zamindars live there. This is followed by Baridhara which is equally posh. Then comes Gulshan 1 where the apartment buildings are many so a slight fall in the class hierarchy. Its stands equal to Banani and then comes the DOHS and so on.

This is the core zone of the hyper rich and this is where and how money is made. It’s not a matter of land price or apartments but that people can afford to stay here and know that they are at the top. It’s no fun being rich if one can’t flaunt it.

But where is Kolkata of Dhaka’s zamindar babus?

But then where is Kolkata of the babus of Bangladesh? Well, because the level of corruption I so high and spread among so many there are several. The low end corrupt that is who make money by running casinos and extortion prefer Malayasia and the ‘second home ‘programme. It has been so successful that a new expat Bangladeshi zone is growing up who have broken the London-Network corruption residence monopoly.

Singapore and Bangkok are emerging as better destinations as it offers certain better facilities including medical ones. Another attraction of course is the availability of attractive women who are willing to serve as “companions” in return for resource transfer. This is no secret and so while Malaysia offers second homes, these places offer second, third and fourth “wives” as well. The result has been an influx towards that address. Plus anytime one falls sick there is quality care to prolong life hence opportunities for corruption. So in effect they are also offering a second life.

And the West?

So what happens to the West where many thieves once fled? The current corrupt know that the western world doesn’t take kindly to the corrupt unless they speak a reasonable level of English. It would be very difficult for a hailla corrupt to explain in English that he want to buy a car, a house, a woman and whiskey etc.  The zamindar is smart so he has sent his children to the West while he makes money in Dhaka and spends in casinos abroad.  The result is the rise of the new zamindars located far away but living off wealth made in Bangladesh. Apparently, that is how the new system operates.

This is just a teaser and is part of a study project to explore the world of the rich and through this we hope to understand their variety, rise and growth and how they live and die of course.

  • Are the corrupt ones the new zamindars of Bangladesh?
  • Afsan Chowdhury

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