The rise and fall of Tarique Rahman
"Khaleda Zia is our leader
Ziaur Rahman is our philosophy
Tarique Rahman is our future"
This particular gem that has been ubiquitous on walls in the capital Dhaka for the past five years encapsulates perfectly the cult of personality that had been created around the person of Tarique Rahman and gave us a strong indication of where Bangladesh was heading had the January 22 election been permitted to go forward as scheduled.
Had the one-sided election been consummated, we would have been looking down the barrel of the Tarique Rahman raj. The last five years he has grown steadily in power and influence as the joint secretary general of the ruling BNP, recently promoted to "senior" joint secretary general, lest there remain any confusion as to who really ran the party, and, by default, the country.
Tarique Rahman's rise and consolidation of power has been a stealthy and, in many ways, ingenious process. The cult of personality which was skillfully developed despite his lack of any discernible charisma or acuity or any of the other qualities one would expect to see in a leader (in this he is not unique, see e.g., Bush, George W.) was just one part of the process.
In these days of rent-a-crowds, stage-managed public appearances, and embedded journalism it is not difficult to create an aura of leadership and popularity around a presentable-looking young man, especially if he happens to be the eldest son of a respected ex-president and freedom fighter, especially in a country where, regrettably, too many people are all too happy to ignore simple things such as truth and consistency when it comes to their political self-interest and pledging their allegiance (indeed, one could argue that the entire BNP was established on this foundational principle), especially in a country so starved of good leadership that the impressionable and opportunistic are eager to latch on to any new thing.
Hand in hand with the cult of personality went the slow-motion take-over of the party (the senior partner in the coalition ruling the country, mind you) apparatus, placing Tarique loyalists and sycophants in every nook and corner, even to the extent of squeezing out long time party-men who refused to bow down before the brash, new dispensation.
Matters came to a head last August 26, when the young Turk's of the party's national executive committee took serious exception to some of the party's senior leaders and demanded their immediate expulsion from the party for having the temerity to criticise Tarique. Ruhul Quddus Talukder Dulu, deputy minister for land and a close associate (incidentally, now also in jail) went so far as to state: "BNP means Zia Family. He or she should be expelled from the party who will speak against this family."
Indeed, it was precisely this tendency that resulted in BNP founder members Dr. Badruddoza Chowdhury and then Oli Ahmed as well as a host of others being essentially forced out of the BNP and into first the BDB and then the LDP. The only reason there wasn't a more pronounced exodus was a well-founded fear of retribution and the combination of cringing sycophancy and grasping opportunism that marks Bangladeshi politics.
The hallmark of Tarique's ascendance and the closest we can come to in terms of an approximation of his vision for the country was the systematic centralisation of all crime and corruption: from the grandest of grand larcenies to the pettiest of petty larcenies, the idea was that nothing would escape the net of his influence.
Be it transporting a truck-load of vegetables from the north to Dhaka or selling those same vegetables in the market-place at Karwan Bazar, no transaction was too small to escape the attention of Tarique's coterie. The taxes or "tolls" that small traders transporters had to pay that eventually found their way to Hawa Bhaban make the NBR look like a charitable foundation.
The system in place for collection of tolls was fully computerized (though, no doubt, those computers are now to be found at the bottom of the Buriganga) and so sophisticated that one wonders whether Tarique and his coterie might not have been able to achieve something for the nation if they had had even the slightest inclination towards the common good instead of concentrating so single-mindedly on looting the country and establishing their reign of terror throughout the land.
From the power sector to the import trade, there was no corner of the economy that did not fall under his shadow and that his all-encompassing reach did not touch.
Until January 11, Tarique Rahman was the most powerful person in the country, indeed he was the most powerful behind the scenes power broker Bangladesh has ever seen. Considering that he was neither a member of parliament nor held any executive position, his reach tells us all we need to know about the sorry state of Bangladesh politics.
And had January 11 not happened, Tarique's reach would only have gotten more suffocating, his foot-print heavier. Had the four-party alliance returned to power, nothing could have stood in his way, he would have ascended from crown prince to king. Bangladesh would have been turned into a nasty police state where nothing would have moved without his consent, no dissent, no rule of law, no opposition, absolute power.
Tarique was selling himself, inside the country and out, as Bangladesh's Mahathir Mohammad, although any resemblance between the two is purely imaginary. Our foreign friends were willing to hold their nose and tolerate him, thinking, perhaps, that here was a man they could do business with and who would be ruthless enough to be able to deliver to them the wealth he did not loot for himself. Some countries have always had a soft spot for pliable third world despots.
When the days after the first spate of arrests began to pass without his arrest, concern began to mount that he was not being taken in. No list of the criminal and corrupt would be complete without his name at the top.
On the one hand, we were told, in whispers, to wait, to be patient, the authorities were preparing an air-tight case, Mamun was singing like a canary, the noose was tightening, they would go for Tarique when the time was right.
On the other hand, we heard of army units remaining loyal to him, we heard of the authorities setting out to arrest him and then pulling back three times, we heard of desperate back-room deals to keep him and the rest of his coterie out of jail.
Everyone knew: as long as Tarique Rahman remained at large, his poisonous coterie remained alive and able, potentially, to regroup and turn things around.
Now he is in jail. Others were swept up with him in another dramatic midnight raid. Some, doubtless, deserving, but others, again, of doubtful criminality. Still, "balance" has to be maintained at all times, I suppose.
But the message has been sent. Tarique's goons who have terrorised their localities with impunity for the past five years will now run for cover. He can't protect them any more, and now that he is behind bars, the house of cards that he and his coterie built up will start to tumble.
Perhaps I am speaking too soon and he can conjure up a resurrection from his jail cell, but this seems unlikely. The authorities know how fateful a step it is putting him in jail. He hasn't been incarcerated only to be sprung on a technicality to wreak vengeance on those who put him there.
I do not know where things will go from here, for good or for bad, but the five-year stranglehold Tarique and his associates had over the country, that they considered their birthright and personal fiefdom, had to be ended. Our long national nightmare is finally over.
Zafar Sobhan is Assistant Editor, The Daily Star.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
An excellent article on Tarique Rahman
Thanks Faiyaz for providing the link. It is one of the best articles I have read in the Daily Star. I would like to put it here: