In these past many years, the growth of a syndicate culture has kept the country hostage on a number of fronts. The recent wildcat strike resorted to by transport workers in a number of places is proof, if proof were needed, of the malaise we face today. These workers were not willing to accept the provisions of the recently announced Road Transport Act because they were not ready to accept any blame that might come their way if drivers caused any accidents.

The intriguing part of the story is that when the new law was made public, owners of transport gave the impression that they were on board with the authorities on the issue. But their actual attitudes quickly came to the fore when their workers went on strike. That is one of the clearest instances of the syndicate culture keeping the country in its vicious grip. The result of the transport workers' strike is that the government has now backtracked on its determination to implement the law as it has been made known publicly and has instead decided to go for a review of it. If that is not capitulation, what is?

The syndicate culture has in recent times acquired renewed vigour through the crisis over the prices of onions. The fact that onions did not come from India this season, owing to problems in India itself, was a golden opportunity for dishonest traders in Bangladesh to hike the prices of the bulb, so much so that the entire matter became a scandal. Where a kilogram of onions ought not to go beyond Tk. 35, here we were forced to cough up as much as a whopping Tk. 240 for a kilogram for this essential cooking item. No matter what the exhortations or warnings were from the authorities about the hike in onion prices, it was the syndicate that mattered. And just as people wondered how to tide over the problem, a good number of ill-intentioned traders began to ponder a rise in the prices of salt through hoarding them. In other words, here was another syndicate ready to wade into an area that is already of grave concern to the public.

It is time for firm leadership to be exercised in clamping down on such syndicates. The audacity with which question papers for examinations at various levels have been leaked, the affront that has been shown in resisting measures toward reforming the administrative system in the country, the terrible way in which the syndicate culture has wormed its way into as sacred a place as university education are matters which cause concern and call for decisive steps to be swatted down.

Our objectives of creating an egalitarian society, of building a democratic ambience, will all be set at naught if these pernicious syndicates are not uprooted, firmly and ruthlessly.

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