Cleansing or special drives that are mainly undertaken for a certain time to reduce gross mal-practices with some drastic efforts have been mounted in Bangladesh for the last few years. The 2018 anti-drug drive, the 2019 drive against food adulteration, the 2019 drive against Casino business, and some other cleansing drives including anti-corruption move, especially during the pandemic, aiming at addressing undesired mal-practices in government, private and other sectors are notable. It is undeniable that occasional special drives have good potentials for curbing down wide-spread irregularities which put significant barriers to overall development, even if there are some considerable criticisms. In fact, it seems difficult to make desired positive changes in the extant socio-politico-economic irregularities and administrative mal-practices in Bangladesh without such drives.
Refinement efforts against socio-political and administrative mal-practices are not new at all in Bangladesh. In fact, -independent Bangladesh Awami League (BAL) government made significant efforts to make the government/administration and the party corruption-free. In spite of some criticisms including extra-judicial killings, one of the most talked-about special drives in the recent past is the nation-wide anti-crime drive named ‘Operation Clean Heart’ which the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led government carried out against terrorists and political criminals during 2002-2003. Most recently, the BAL government, which is in state power for more than a decade since 2009, has been simultaneously performing cleansing drives in a range of areas to curb down undesired corruption and some other mal-practices with its repeatedly declared zero-tolerance policy.
It is not surprising that special operations have brought some notable positive changes including the reduction of killings by terrorists and drug trafficking. But, as is widely criticized, achievements of such drives are not up to the mark and have not translated into a durable change in socio-politico-economic irregularities as desired. After a certain period, situations in terms of corruption and other forms of irregularities appear to be almost similar on most occasions — and deteriorated on some occasions. Thus, a few questions can relevantly be raised: Why do cleansing drives not result in expected immediate outcomes? Why do situations turn to be almost the same after a certain period of drives? How can cleansing drives— special and/or regular — result in sustainable social change.
In my opinion, inadequate achievements are because of 1) loopholes in special drives 2) insufficient follow-up drives, and 3) inadequate long-term steps. Without doubt, special drives have not mostly been performed as desired; in fact, commitment related, operational and other loopholes including unwillingness to take adequate steps, political favoritism, nepotism among political leaders and officials, unwillingness to hold alleged heavy-wrights accountable, obstacles (especially) from the ruling party due to the perception of comparative disadvantage in national and local politics, undue criticisms against drives and a lack of adequate planning largely make cleansing drives failed to result in desired achievements — political and others. Sometimes, cleansing efforts, such as the 2019 Casino drive, were also halted abruptly without reaching to desired immediate outcomes.
Special drives, which mostly bring about immediate changes of situations rendered as grossly undesired, cannot alone lead to desired outcomes. On most occasions, there is a lack of adequate follow-up steps, which give a clear message of a strong stance against diverse mal-practices and which are needed for making sure that cleansing efforts are consistently on track. Despite the fact that the government is now continuing some drives including an anti-drug drive, a drive against food adulteration, and a cleansing operation against the leaders and activists of the ruling party for years, these are not done as expected. In fact, the scale is limited and, as is often criticized, these gradually turn to be target oriented and sometimes become an opportunity for monetary benefits and political gains.
Long-term steps, which can be rendered as the most effective means of bringing out lasting change in society, are of several types including political party based, public administration based, and socio-cultural. Some notable long-term steps can be transparent leadership making process, political party-based disciplinary measures, and good governance in the public administration. But the undeniable fact is that special and follow-up drives have mainly been taken for the refinement of bad elements from political parties, public administration, the business community, or other segments of the society without putting sufficient emphasis on much needed long-term steps. Despite high potentials, most special and follow-up drives, as a result, fail to achieve expected immediate and lasting outcomes for society.
Obviously, long-term efforts to reduce diverse irregularities are not absent altogether. Indeed, there are disciplinary measures in political parties (with variations), practices of good governance in the public administration, presence of good social norms, etc. to a certain extent. But party-based and administrative efforts are inadequate. As is often criticized, the exercise of might or gross misuse of power — political and others — exist in almost all segments. In fact, different stakeholders including different government administrations and political parties are varyingly responsible for it, though all political leaders and administrative officials are not. Also, many perceive and use political might-based context as a means of realizing unjustifiable interests because of decaying social norms and values, caused by various factors including unprogressive socio-political elements, crimes, and mal-governance.
Since follow-up efforts are insignificant and long-term efforts are inadequate or inadequately functional, irregularities re-start in diverse sectors — with or without the formation of syndicates. In my opinion, corrupt syndicates may re-occur with the involvement of a range of stakeholders including ill-motivated political leaders, government officials, businessmen, and others immediately after, or after a certain time of, cleansing drives. In the continuation and/or re-formation of syndicates, any of such stakeholders may play leading roles depending on situations and types of irregularities. As a consequence, almost similar socio-political and administrative circumstances are re-established and diverse mal-practices such as drug trafficking, tender-businesses, extortions, and corruptions or other forms of gross misuse of power continue at the national, regional, or local level.
For the improvement of overall situations of people and the country as desired, it is obviously crucial to come out from unprogressive circumstances. In this respect, cleansing drives against a wide range of areas should, in my opinion, be carried out with good intention and commitment, unless significant positive changes acceptably occur especially in the socio-politico-economic context. But concerns with special drives, follow-up steps, and long-term steps within parties, administrations, and beyond need to be well-addressed. Special drives, in particular, need to focus more on heavyweights and major irregularities, which have rippling effects on malpractices at lower tiers. But concerns especially extra-judicial killings, as raised by human rights organizations, need to be heeded by the concerned authority.
Of course, long-term efforts need to be given emphasis. In long-term efforts, the special focus may, in my opinion, be given on strong disciplinary steps against wrongdoers within party mechanism, transparency and accountability in the public administration, more effectiveness of the anti-corruption commission, honesty based process of making party leaders and nomination of good leaders for electoral competition. In addition, good political norms and values, as well as good social norms and values, may be very helpful for making desired social changes in the long run. Without these steps, neither special nor follow-up drives may help to make sustainable changes in unprogressive societal conditions and establish a genuinely human development-friendly societal context in Bangladesh.