Some of the untouchable kingpins of Bangladesh politics and related business are no longer feeling safe. The nexus in this case is that of business and politics. Most rich people tie the two up anyway and make money. But the product they utilize to do so is influence on institutions including banks that is the formal sector. It’s safe and less risky. The current spate of clamp downs were of another cluster of the same kind of money makers.
The names that the RAB raids netted are of a particular kind of business. They were alleged to have neither AL/Jubo League nor Chhatra League connection. This lot use physical muscle backed by party identity to make money through criminal means.
Three kinds of business are noted. The CL duo Shovon-Rabbani were ousted after being blamed for demanding cut money from JU projects. The other two sectors are linked to gambling and using muscle and clout to obtain contracts. Both differ but are largely muscle powered and as practiced in Bangladesh, largely criminal. These carry high profit margins but requires street level muscling.
All are part of the informal sector not the formal governance structure. They involve political interventions but not policy decisions. While the official sector has restricted entry, the informal doors are always open. This equation may be influencing some of the decision makings. Why it should be happening now is another matter but the forces within the state are in a dynamic state hence such collisions between the formal and the in formal though unexpected may happen.
The semiotics of the raids
The process of the raids began when the CL leaders were blamed for asking for cuts from projects. These leaders thought they were immune as they had rendered great service during the two anti-government movements, the anti-quota and the road safety movements. Though both were powered by non-party activists, the mood was anti-government. CL rendered sterling service and beat up many of the activists.
They were also appointed to the posts with the blessings of Sk. Hasina herself so it’s only fair for them to think that they were protected. However, what they did in the Jahangirnagar affair was create conflict within the loyalist camp. The VC is a loyalist too so the issue was not as much as cut money but inner conflict. Cut money is of course part of the informal economy and the risks are low till they are tolerated. Without any institutional backing, they depend on the patronage of the powerful. If that protection is withdrawn, the cut money enterprise falls.
Casino and contractors
Casinos are a fancy name for gambling dens and many of Dhaka’s sports clubs have been involved in it since birth. These casinos were not a secret to most and the law enforcers may deny it but no one will believe they didn’t know of their existence. Of course they were illegal so obviously they needed protection and so obviously ruling party biggies came in. It’s this informality that signifies. Such dens offer no institutional support. They survive on the mercy of the powerful. Once that was withdrawn they fell.
A far more important arrest was that of G K Shamim, a truly serious “tender man” who was into big money. He was big enough to attract the biggest names and who hob- knobbed with the rich and the powerful. While in the post arrest scenario many are denying connection s with him including Jubo League and AL, that he moved with them is no secret. A person who got the contract to construct a part of the RAB HQ and many such important projects is hardly a small timer. A few hundred crores in the bank legal or illegal is another indicator. Yet he was felled and several other crimes are now being added to a growing list against him including murder.
He used guns and thugs to get contracts and was obviously tolerated. What happened to warrant such a swoop is not known. There are many speculations but none fully explains.
Post swoop scenario
New leaders are already in the Chhatra League seats and they have already beaten up Chhatra Dal activists inside DU proving their usefulness. But by doing so, they have become part of the informal transaction system which makes such activists more vulnerable in future. With no power of their own they have to live on power lent from the top. This applies to all in the informal -politics= money -sector.
The casinos may return or may not but gambling will go on. Just as shutting down sex worker zones in no way ended prostitution, gambling and such units will spring up all over the town. However, talks of formalizing casinos are also being heard. With it will come new forms of protection and political equations.
The tendering business turmoil is a bit of a mystery because it’s the biggest channel of making very large and unaccounted money. It’s not by accident that construction work is most profitable in the world in Bangladesh. It’s a distribution channel and on it the informal economy thrives. When politics and money making both have informal sectors, it’s tough to see how it will change. Formalization, whether by intimidation or law carries massive reasons of making millions unhappy. And that carries a cost in many areas. Powers that be will ponder if it’s worth it.
While the rich who belong to the formal sector and make money partly through bank loans will not be touched as they are linked to institutions. But it’s obvious that the high profit informal sector once in a while may become a bit risky and uncertain. That’s part of the informal system itself. The formal doors are not open to all.