by Afsan Chowdhury
Sohel Rana, the owner of Rana Plaza has been arrested and we are all cheering the news. It happened the day a young female garments worker, Shahina, perished in fire in the final hours of the rescue efforts. Rana who is a member of the Juba League and close to the local MP Murad Jung is a long time thug and made millions grabbing other people’s property, erecting illegal construction and doing drugs trading. Nothing was done to him for long because he was close to the pro-AL ‘Jung’ family who certainly must have benefited from this criminal connection. Chances are that Rana will be the sacrificial political goat who will in all probability be awarded severe punishment, the ruling party will claim all credit, people will be happy and we shall forget everything.
It’s not Rana who is the criminal but it’s the state that produces the endless number of Ranas that is. When there is no rule of law, it’s Ranas and their godfathers who rule. How the BGMEA has managed to evade all responsibility and probably looking for their own scapegoats to keep orders flowing shows the nexus between the RMG owners and the government they control.
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Rana is a commonplace thug who populates every part of Bangladesh. They have emerged because they serve a vital socio-political purpose which is production of muscle power to keep the system growing in the absence of legal power. If a state runs on illegality, the Ranas become an essential part of the state system. Our political state can’t exist without the Ranas so they are as much part of the system as our politicians. Blaming Rana is basically passing on the guilt. Right now, he is curiously enough, a victim of the same system which birthed him. He is no more than a ‘tax collector’ who is allowed to keep a portion of the funds he gathers for the party bigwigs. His godfather is Murad Jung, the MP who has claimed he is a national hero but the media has made him a villain. And from Murad Jung, the road goes up and up.
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The rise of the many Jungs and Ranas can be traced to the nature of the state which is not only useless and toothless but actually goes to great length to ensure that it remains so. The kind of money hunger that pushes the powerful can be satisfied only when there is life without rule of law. And this state version that we have in Bangladesh is probably the most sophisticated of its kind because it makes sure that the casualties of such endeavours are limited almost entirely to the group which has no political power, the poor.
The kind of money that these thugs make is astounding and it’s not possible to do so in a normal economic environment. So the state ensures that such a system continue as it has since 1972 when national politics of our independent country was born. The decline of the legal and legislative system contributes significantly to this and this can’t be accidental that we have a judiciary that is immobile, a nonexistent legislature and an inactive executive branch while black money making goes bigger and bigger. It’s no coincidence that the Rana Plaza was okayed by Mirza Abbas of the BNP and built during the AL rule and continues to enrich everyone more and will do so in future no matter who comes to power.
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The people most happy with the arrest of Rana is the BGMEA who can now claim that the culprit has been caught and they were all innocent. Nobody must forget that the killed and the maimed were RMG workers and it’s the sector as a whole that has been responsible for the mass killing of workers again and again. However, because they fund politics and politicians, they have gotten away every time. They will continue to do so in future and herein lay the issue. How does or why should one complain to the government about the situation of the RMG sector when it’s the biggest patron of the RMG owners? It’s no wonder the BGMEA will cheer the arrest of Rana and will try to put all attention to this. The only people they care about are the foreign buyers who now face pressure from their own country. It’s not public opinion within that matters but opinion in buyer countries and that’s why the anxiety of the RMG owners.
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The complaint by the BGMEA that BD media is projecting a negative image is most ridiculous because the international media has given the widest possible coverage to the event and the world at large will collect information to make up their mind from the BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera, etc. not from our TV channels or newspapers. It’s just another example of the typical ignorant attitude of the garments lobby. They can be so arrogant and ignorant because they are aware that at the end of the day the politicians need them. The symbolic display of their power is probably the BGMEA building which despite so many protests and decisions continues to stand tall.
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Many things went wrong with Bangladesh since birth but the worst disaster has been steady decline of the state organs and the consequent impunity of the powerful people. The 1971 war liberated the rich and didn’t do much for others so the state exists mostly for the rich. The only meaningful response that can be done by the state is the introduction of trade unions in the RMG sector. It will not be a solution but it will make the relationship between workers and the owners a little more balanced.
Arresting, trying or hanging Rana will solve nothing other than diverting attention from the main issue.