Everything had gone well for years as he had climbed fast to the top of the ladder. But finally Gazipur city mayor Zahangir Alam has fallen from grace.
He has been expelled from the ruling Awami League for life for his alleged defamatory remarks about Bangabandhu and the Liberation War martyrs.
He no more belongs to the party in power. A day after his expulsion he was seen on television weeping in a press conference on Saturday as he appealed to the Awami League chief, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, to review the expulsion decision taken by the party's highest decision-making body in a meeting on Friday with the party chief in the chair.
Thanks to his expulsion, people are now knowing more about the other side of Zahangir as the media started shedding light on the darkness of his two years' rule as mayor.
In the last two days, mainstream national newspapers focused on various incidents of his alleged wrongdoings and abuse of powers.
According to media reports, businesspeople in Gazipur were frequently harassed by the mayor and his men. For widening of roads, the city corporation led by Zahangir allegedly forcibly acquired private lands without giving compensation to the owners. He used to harass businesspeople in the name of resolving disputes between rivals. His followers continued extortion. He allegedly made "huge wealth" through unlawful means.
Some businesspeople had informed the ruling party high command about the harassment on several occasions, but got no relief.
There are more allegations and many more may surface.
None of the wrongdoings took place suddenly one day. But, the media focused little on it until Zahangir's expulsion. More about his wrongdoings may come in the coming days.
Why is the media so active now in reporting on the Gazipur mayor's wrongdoings?
The answer is simple. Zahangir has lost his "unofficial immunity" as he has fallen from grace.
MPs in a democracy usually enjoy the privilege known as immunity that ensures that they can freely exercise their parliamentary mandate and cannot be exposed to arbitrary political prosecution. As such, it guarantees the independence and integrity of parliament as a whole.
Unfortunately, in a fragile democracy some leaders of the party in power and leaders holding various public offices claim to have the privilege to enjoy "immunity" from their wrongdoings.
Zahangir seems to have become one of such politicians.
Born in a poor farmer family, Zahangir was active in politics of Chhatra League, the student front of the Awami League. He made wealth through the business of fabrics scraps, locally known as Jhut, by building a strong network of cadres to do monopoly business.
In the 2018 mayoral election, he was the richest candidate as he showed his annual income to be Tk2.16 crore – which was several times higher than the combined earnings of eight other contenders in the polls.
Luck favoured him. At the age of only 39, Zahangir was elected mayor in the polls mired in various irregularities.
He did not spend much time to jump to the top post of the city corporation. He was elected the vice-chairman of Gazipur Sadar Upazila in 2009.
Just four years after his first election as a public representative, his eyes were on maiden election to the Gazipur City Corporation in 2013. He appeared to be a challenger of AL favourite Azmatullah Khan, who was defeated by the BNP candidate. Zahangir was blamed for the defeat. But no action was taken against him. Instead, he successfully managed the AL high command and got ticket in the 2018 election.
But Zahangir seems to have forgotten that politics is a great game of snakes and ladders. He climbed to the top of the ladder, but fell prey to the snakes due to his alleged defamatory remarks about Bangabandhu and the Liberation War.
He is now vulnerable. A case will be filed against him under the Digital Security Act for defamatory remarks about Bangabandhu and the Liberation War. If proved guilty, he may face a jail sentence up to 10 years under Section 21 of the law.
Even before his conviction, he may be removed from the mayoral post by the LGRD ministry as leaders of the party in power think the offence committed by Zahangir is unforgiveable.
He may also be sued on charge of corruption as media reports indicate.
This is a typical story. When someone is in power, he barely faces any scrutiny. But once he falls from grace, cases hunt him.
Examples of such incidents are aplenty. Take the crackdown by law enforcers on casino kingpins who had built the empire of wealth through unlawful gambling in the city's clubs for years. They were linked to the party in power and beyond the purview of the laws for years. Now some of them are in jail facing trial, others on the run.
These 16 casino kingpins, including Ismail Hossain Chowdhury Samrat, Khalid Mahmud Bhuiyan, and Enamul Haque Arman, siphoned nearly Tk1,169.30 crore out of the country, the Criminal Investigation Department told the High Court.
The story of controversial contractor GK Shamim was appalling. The expelled Jubo League leader allegedly spearheaded a bid to maintain influence at the government's Public Works Department. Shamim led a "syndicate" of contractors who paid the money to influence appointments and postings at the PWD. He made a fortune by "illegally" winning government contracts reportedly by identifying himself as a ruling party man. In the crackdown on illegal gambling operations, tender-manipulation and extortion, Shamim was arrested along with his seven bodyguards on charges related to drugs and illegal arms.
Zahangir's case and other such incidents indicate a worrisome story of poor governance and absence of checks on people exercising state powers.
When you are either in power or linked to the people in power, you enjoy "immunity" to the degree of your capacity to avail it. When you fall from grace, you are vulnerable like Gazipur city mayor Zahangir.
Shakhawat Liton is deputy executive editor at The Business Standard