Is it wrong to be rich?

Is it wrong to be rich? Why has everyone been bad-mouthing rich people lately in Bangladesh? Are not there rich but good people living there any longer, or are they a near extinct, or already wiped out, social class? Since when did affluence and goodness become mutually exclusive? Is it the wrong time to be rich in Bangladesh, and to live with dignity? Who degraded the rich there and associated all sorts of filth with wealth?

When I was growing up in the early and mid-80s, I used to hear stories of the rich who were distinguished and generous – they founded schools, colleges, mosques, temples, and madrasahs, donated to the youth and social clubs and programmes, fed strangers, gave to paupers and established charitable hospitals.

They were pro-people – an esteemed segment of the society. We read in our primary school textbooks the biographies of wealthy merchants like Haji Mohammad Mohsin. It was a dream of the middle class to be famous and generous like them.

Quite startlingly, the rich of Bangladesh could not keep up their good name. They turned themselves into a deplorable and disgusting social class. Now riches means corruption and greed, riches stands for land-grabbing and loan-defaulting, riches denotes hoarding, smuggling, black marketing. The rich give us an impression of meanness and wickedness.

This should not be the case. No one should be against the rich. Every nation must create wealth for its people. They must move from poverty to prosperity. However, there is no nation that does not have poor people.

What is expected, however, is that, while the rich continue to live in luxury, those who are poor must also have access to some basic necessities of life.

Wealth brings responsibility. Many of our problems are due to poverty. Many of us try to figure out why democracy seems to be failing in our country, whereas it operates in most developed nations as a vehicle for promoting good public governance.

Recent examples of malfunctioning democracy in large countries like Pakistan, Indonesia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Philippines signal that democracy may not be a panacea for all societies, especially where most people are poor.

A man who cannot feed his children for days, or whose children cannot go to school, will surely be indifferent about democracy if he is offered money by an unworthy aspirant to an elected office. He wants his benefits immediately, even if they come from an evidently criminal politician.

During nominations for an election, we see that candidates are bought and sold like cattle. Poverty undermines democracy and progress. It encourages emergence of idiots as leaders, thereby injuring our future.

It is, indeed, wrong to be rich and not care for the poor.

No public sector programme in Bangladesh has been effective, so far, in reducing poverty. Why can’t we get sensible people on board to solve our problems? Why did we fail every single time we got the chance to get the right people? Or, is it that whoever we select becomes blind to the needs of our poor when he is in power?

Do we care about our poor? They live on the footpaths and slums, and we walk pretending that we do not see them. They have no food, yet we eat in posh restaurants spending Tk 1,000 (US$14) per meal – a poor family’s whole month’s worth of food. They beg, knock on our windshields; we say we do not have change.

They cannot send their children to primary schools; we send ours to Tk 10,000 (US$143)-a-month private schools. They have no livelihood and no future. However, being desperate, when they start mugging and stealing our law and order agency extorts whatever they earn, and, if nothing works out, we just develop elite forces to annihilate them.

Is it their fault that they are poor? Or, is it the failed policy makers who made them so? No jobs, no food, no hope, no future – yet we expect them to follow the law and all the social niceties. They can die of hunger, but they cannot disturb our well-being. We will live and let them perish.

Continued ignoring of poverty will obviously bring danger. The recent emergence of Islamic militancy is because of the exploitation of some very poor, hopeless, youths.

The incidents of Phulbari, Kansat, and Shanir Akhra also send out similar signals that the have-nots and the disadvantaged are losing patience quickly; they are looking for alternatives to the status quo.

How much do the poor actually want? What do they want? Is it that hard to provide, by quality leadership and fair governance, what the poor want – even with our limited resources? They want to have a dwelling to live in, a job to be able to buy food for their children, access to basic health care, and education for their children. Are these not the basic essentials of life? Are they asking for too much? If a state cannot provide these, then why does it exist?

A nation with a large population of poor will invariably fail to progress, and insecurity will be the order of the day.

No one will disagree that the poor are easy to use to create unrest, violence, robbery, arson, looting, murder, election malpractices, and other social vices. The fact that there is so much poverty around us makes us live in fear. Every rich and middle class person is desperately security conscious. We live in fear of those left behind by the system we created.

But can we continue to live this way? Why this insecurity?

We need to care for our poor if we are to live safely. We live in insecurity because we know that we have neglected the poor and are afraid of their wrath.

It is not wrong to be rich. But it is indeed wrong to be rich like the rich of Bangladesh.

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