Tea, the most popular aromatic beverage in Bangladesh, is clichéd aswarming incentive to motivate the soft soul of folk voter in the recent local election. Interestingly almost in every vote campaign station nothing but tea must require. Even when candidates meet the crowed, often at Tea-stall, known as village parliament, a cup of tea should be offered to make the voters happy and smile. But here is the indecisive puzzle with its intellectual paradox. Some Political analyst thinks it is an act of traditional curtsey. Elsewhere critics think it a tool to purchase votes and engineering elections indeed. But the buzzing question is does really the tea and money make ivory tower? Let having other fish to fry. Interestingly many poor candidates become poorer by offering ‘cha-cigarette’ to prospective voters, who take tea-cigarettes from all the candidates and then vote for none!
Elsewhere the exuberant candidates Perhaps perceived that the rural people of Bangladesh are very soft, easily can joy them with very simple things even with a cup of tea and a piece of Bela-Biscuit, popularly consumed cookies across the country. Here invisible reality is a large portion of rural people live under extreme poverty curb as hand to mouth system. Hence couple of hundreds money may motivate many indigents to sale their votes simply. Because, as Abraham Maslow, A notable American psychologist, said a plate of food often might be a great incentives to an individual who has no food. Likewise Tea politics therewithal lump sum strait cash, token-money or pork-barrel as a shortcut incentive in purchasing votes exercising extensively indeed due to lack of social mobilization and voter’s poor livelihood.
Here is not end of the story. The tea politics is symbolic; an extension of Clientalism. It is indeed a verbal agreement between Patronage, the candidates, and the clients, the voters, in exchange for one’s support, basically money, and vote. The outcome for the good or incentive is a question of did you or will you vote for me? Meanwhilevote-buying jeopardizes the legitimacy of polling results,disparages public trust in the democratic system, and adverselyinfluences post-election politics, government accountability, and public appreciation of accountability. Vote selling leads to the selection of lower quality candidates, escalatingmoral hazard and undermine principles of representative democracy. Consequentially the urgency of candidate’s quality, competency, and latent leadership traits do not do bigdeterminant.
Nevertheless clientalistic business primarily starts with buying party nomination with high price. And now due to partisan line election at Upzila-Parishad and Union Parishad (UP) level, after Parliamentary election, money-election conjugality has been competitive bull market. Recently the trend “Ruling party’s nomination means winning the election” escalates the bid. Alongside “winning at any cost” like bellicose attitude of ruling party’s candidates triggering massive violence. As a result in last five pages UP election-2016, about 37 people lost their livesincluding candidates, school-goes and women. This apart, during electioneering and after the polls since February, about leaving 101 more died and thousands were injured that is unprecedented (The Daily Star, May 29, 2016).
But the humming question is why tea politics becomes popular clientalistic incentives in Local election? Here is the key. Firstly as Abraham Maslow said a plate of food is a great incentive to him who has no food. Country’s lion portions of poor people live in rural areas with hand to mouth system. Poverty and illiteracy makes them lame and client of political elites. Secondly after election representatives seldom come close to local voters during their crucial moment except election period. Finally their Brocken road, culvert and drain remain unrepaired month after month. Thus “something is better than nothing” becomes vital to poor voters. Interestingly tea politics does not work well in case of Parliamentary election where mainstream political parties symbol plays most predetermining role among voters instead of Candidates’ quality, competency and personality.
Nevertheless, Spending money in recent UP elections, like other local government election, has become intense momentum as competitive money spending sports. For instance, the P.M. Khali Union Parishad, located at Cox’s Bazar Sader, is a Hallmark of omnipotent money expending competition. It is such a hotspot which locally knows as a place that can never be conquered without money. During interview, under CDLG research with Public administration of University of Dhaka, a candidate, who waspreviously two term chairman, closely shared that during the last UP election he has to spend more than one crore (ten million) taka and the his nearest defeated rivalspent around sixty lakh (six million) taka, that is very difficult to believe. Albeit according to EC’s new rule a chairman candidate allowed to spend a maximum of Tk 5 lakh and a member Tk 1 lakh.
However, Clientalism or patron-client relation has deeply rooted in all political arena of Bangladesh. Like many others intermediate states, here patrons are the social elites comes from rich peasants, ex-bureaucrats, local advocates or small traders and sometimes retired mid level army officials who hold power, social status and wealth. And the client consists of poor farmers, landless floating people, rickshaw puller or day labor that is primarily illiterate or semi-literate, vending their vote and participate agora in exchange money or little material incentives.
The patron-Client exercise, the exchange of goods and services, is now more visible at the top to bottom arena of Bangladeshi politics where the petty bourgeoisie, basically the party cadre, comes from lower middle class family, provide absolute political support or mobilizes local-masses towers party, organize rally in pursue to get handsome governmental job, pork-barred, tender or embezzling public property by passing formal regulation.
Meanwhile, the Clientalism, a growing politico-economic pathology, adversely exploits the rule of law. Alongside muscle politics, vote tendering, central political interference and disorder triggering huge violence that leads to bloodsheds in UP elections. Now the big question is does the present Bangladesh deviating from the spirit of proclamation of independence that guaranteed equity, human dignity and social justice for all?
The writer is research fellow at Bangladesh Initiative for political Development (BIPD) and pursuing Post graduation in Public Administration at University of Dhaka.