The emergence of the politics of development

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Published on June 24, 2018
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Shah Ali Farhad:

Awami League, the oldest and largest political party in Bangladesh, celebrated its 69 years of founding in the early hours of 23 June 2018. That, in political time, is quite a long duration for any party to remain influential and most importantly, relevant in the fast moving politics of late 20th and early 21st century.

A duration, which for perspective, spans across the post-World War II era consumed by questions of sovereignty, through to the polarized Cold-War era, to a new world order where supremacy among world powers remain unclear.

Awami League has seen its unfair share of turmoil though, especially in a Bangladesh crafted after the assassination of the Father of the Nation and almost his entire family in August-1975.

But it should be remembered that as the party who constantly campaigned against cases of military and quasi-military regimes in the first two decades of its existence, it was never an easy walk for Awami League even before 1975. But there was something sinister about the 1975 tragedy, which traumatized the party to its core.

In the post-1975 era, Awami League was weakened due to external as well as internal malignant factors. The situation remained precarious even after the return from forced exile of Bangabandhu's eldest daughter and current Awami League President and Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

From May 1981 to her steering the party during the military government era of General HM Ershad, Sheikh Hasina had to face very difficult circumstances to re-forge a party disillusioned by the loss of its leader, who had become to them synonymous to the organization itself.

It is safe to assume that as Party President, Sheikh Hasina was molded into her elements of leadership, not only by the events of 1975 and before, but the obstacles she had to overcome to return the party to its former repute in a post-1975 era of Bangladesh.

With incessant hard work and tireless travelling, Sheikh Hasina managed to make the party an efficient one again organizationally, which was able to mobilize not only themselves but also the masses on given issues.

This movement and character driven trait of Awami League was present during most of its history in the pre-Bangladesh era of politics dominated by the forthright style and ideas of Bangabandhu.

In the early nineties, it was able to place itself as a strong opposition to the government headed by Bangladesh Nationalist Party, especially on issues important to the masses like food and democracy, a policy championed by Sheikh Hasina herself.

In their first stint as government in post-1975 Bangladesh, Awami League showed an era of economic prosperity between 1996 and 2001, which set the bar high in terms of development-related results a party must demonstrate while in power. This was one of the reasons why the failures of the immediate latter BNP-Jamaat Government appeared that much clearer to public perspective.

2001-06 was a dangerous and testing time for Awami League as the then Government adopted a policy to normalize deadly violence against political opponents. Despite the violence and intimidation, Awami League demonstrated its power of popular mobilization during this period, although a high price was paid in blood.

Before becoming better, the situation deteriorated for the partyin the 1/11 period, an era marked by the arbitrary legal harassment and torture of Sheikh Hasina and many of her party leaders and also other political figures.

Out of one of its most tested period, Awami League branded itself as the best contender for a new Bangladesh in 2008 where development of the country would take center stage. Sheikh Hasina placed herself as the leader to be relied upon for delivering results.

A number of potential crises did come in the ensuing 9 years, including the Pilkhana Carnage, the violence perpetrated by Jamaat and Shibir over the war crimes trials, the violent use of Hefazate Islam by BNP-Jamaat for their political gains, and the ultra-violent style of civilian-targeting street agitation by BNP-Jamaat over its so-called "position" on polls time government. But development remained constant in the interim periods and even during the potential crises times.

No matter which side you are on, you must admit that 'development' no longer remains an elusive idea. It is not anymore something available to all other countries except ours. It is now a set of tangible measures, which can be seen and felt. Padma Bridge, metro rails, expressways, 4-lanes have become the new normal in national discourse.

We are now not very surprised by the annual rise of the major economic, social and human development indicators. One can say that development expectations have become normalized. This is what can be called 'Politics of Development'.

A brand of politics that normalizes the attaining of lower-middle income status and graduating to a developing country from a least-developed one.

A political approach marked by slogans such as 'Digital Bangladesh', a promise that has been substantially fulfilled by the way. A style of governance signified by measurable visions, such as the Vision 2021, and more importantly now, Vision 2041.

A far-sighted organization and its visionary leader, which thinks space technology is important, climate change must be tackled and Bangladesh should have an important role in global and regional affairs. An inclusive society where robust economic growth is complimented by the fair reduction in poverty.

We now live in a Bangladesh where more girls enroll in primary education than boys, where smartphones are increasingly becoming household items, where the conversation has upgraded itself from literacy rate to quality education, where the discourse has shifted from aid to partnership, where we are not no longer afraid to play a major humanitarian role, and where our Premier advises the UN on best practices for attaining global development goals, a respect afforded only due to the successes already demonstrated.

This does not mean that the story ends here. There are still unfinished work to be done, both for the party as a Government and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina personally, in continuing to elevate Bangladesh to its ultimate development potential.

And there is no doubt that our political culture itself has potential to develop further. But at least now, there is ample hope that Bangladesh can achieve the aims it sets for itself. And the conversation would continue as to how best to go about our next sets of development and other aspirations.

But in the meantime, as Awami League passes its seventieth year in existence and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina leads for the fifth year of her third Premiership, we owe both and especially the latter, due gratitude for making development a normal and expected reality rather than a theoretical construct.

Writer: Lawyer, researcher, political activist

Courtesy: The Daily Asian Age