311Published on January 11, 2021
Ruling the country for over 12 years in a row is not the only feat that Awami League can be credited for. Rather, many countries and organisations across the world take note of their basket of achievements in socio-economic aspects. But, is everyone in Bangladesh willing to take any lesson from them? Before taking over as the prime minister for the second term on Jan 6, 2009, Sheikh Hasina, daughter of Bangabandhu, declared a set of promises for the countrymen. The vision she gave the entire nation was uplifting the country’s status from an ‘underdeveloped country’. Bangladesh, the country born through the supreme sacrifice of three million martyrs, must transition to a middle-income country. On the eve of the Dec 29 election in 2008, she announced many other initiatives – trying the assassins of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the war criminals of the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh, spreading education and enhancing its quality, developing the power and energy sector, and constructing Padma Bridge. She advanced the concept of Digital Bangladesh.
The challenge posed before Hasina was enormous. That Bangabandhu’s assassins will be brought to book and the verdict will be executed was even beyond the imagination of many. The Indemnity Ordinance promulgated by the sphere of Ziaur Rahman and Khandakar Mushtaque Ahmed was geared towards protecting the notorious assassins of the Father of the Nation forever. Even there was a threat that the trial of war criminals would lead to a civil war. Bangabandhu’s killers, whose audacity had even gone to the extent of saying “Try us if you can”, were hanged as well. When the date for hanging Quader Molla, notoriously known as the butcher of Mirpur, was getting fixed, then the US secretary of state John Kerry ringed Hasina, saying if he went to the gallows, Bangladesh’s parliamentary elections might be derailed.
What Kerry failed to fathom was Bangladesh in its new shape. The World Bank couldn’t realise it either. Unfortunately, those who proclaim themselves as elite citizens couldn’t figure it out either.
It’s known to us that the 10th parliamentary election was set for Jan 5, 2014. The BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami carried out terrorist activities throughout the country to foil this election and the trial of war criminals. Petrol bombs set the capital and other parts of the country on fire. Back-to-back strikes pushed the country towards anarchy.
Who in the world did witness another instance of 93 days of strikes and petrol bombing in a row?
On Feb 4, 2013, the Jamaat, which, back in 1971, had organised the notorious Al Badr collaborating with the genocide-perpetrating Pakistani army, and its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir converged on Shapla Chattar in Motijheel. They threatened civil war if the government didn’t stop the war crimes trial.
Three months later, Hifajat-e Islam played the same note gathering on the same spot on May 5 of that year. They were blessed with the allegiance sworn by BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia. This conspiracy was thumbed down by the tough stance of the law enforcers. The executions of the verdicts on war criminals were falling in place. The national parliamentary election followed its course. The Padma Bridge construction triumphed over all the local and foreign conspiracies hatched to stop its progress. The project crucial to the socio-economic development of Bangladesh was delayed by the baseless claims about corruption centring it.
On Dec 10, 2020, Bangladesh reached a landmark by erecting the 41st and final span of the Padma Bridge, a feat previously subjected to forestalling with false claims of corruption, which had prompted the World Bank to backtrack on financing the project. Asian Development Bank and Japan’s JICA also fell for it, distancing themselves from financing. Khaleda said that the World Bank didn’t finance the Padma Bridge construction as they smelled corruption.
Secretary of the civil society platform SUJAN, Badiul Alam Majumdar said, “Awami League government’s corruption in the Padma Bridge project is a hindrance to the foreign assistance that it was supposed to receive.”
Dr Akbar Ali Khan said, “The loan-disbursing organisation will look at Bangladesh with doubt.”
Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International, Bangladesh who considered the World Bank’s stance as of right, said that then communication minister Syed Abul Hossain should have stepped down following the allegations brought by the World Bank against him.
Unfortunate as it may sound, those who stood by the World Bank’s claim that time now even fail to criticise them. Some people pour all the blames on Hasina and her family. We owe a heart-whole thank to the Canadian court that debunked all the myths and termed all the allegations regarding the so-called Padma Bridge graft as twisted and baseless.
On Dec 19 last year, 42 ‘eminent citizens’ requested President Md Abdul Hamid to form a supreme judicial council to investigate corruptions, malpractices, and other irregularities perpetrated by the Election Commission. Formation of such a council is allowed under section 118 of the constitution when someone in the constitutional post gets involved in corruption or irregularities. ‘Eminent citizens’ are entitled to that. Some of them registered their support for the BNP-Jamaat’s ‘March for Democracy’, set for Dec 29, 2013, aimed at foiling the election on Jan 5, 2013. They demanded postponement of the parliamentary election by any means. If that happened, that would serve the purpose of extremists and undemocratic quarters. If they rose to the power, we wouldn’t even imagine the Padma Bridge project; Digital Bangladesh would never be dreamt of. But the critics kept mum on the dark-age demands made by the Hifajat-e Islam on May 5, 2013 – to formulate the blasphemy law, sending women from garments industries, educational institutes, government, and non-government organisations back to their houses. The critics lend no words about those who roar out loud against the spirit of the Liberation War. General Zia even issued a decree on Aug 4, 1976, barring anyone from uttering the name of Bangabandhu and discussing anything about the ideals that the Father of the Nation lived by. The tone he then set is now carried forward by his followers who raise the demand of demolishing the sculpture of Bangabandhu. ‘Eminent citizens’ do not consider the rise of that evil force as a threat to democracy.
Henry Kissinger, former secretary of state of the United States of America, once made the most derogatory remarks about Bangladesh, then a newly emerged state through the sacrifice of three million men and women, terming Bangladesh a ‘Bottomless Basket’.
Previously, two senior economists of the World Bank made nearly the same remarks about Bangladesh. According to them, if Bangladesh could mount the development ladder, any nation in the world could.
Bangabandhu picked up the US capital Washington, DC as the stage whereby he could retort to the belittling remarks made by Kissinger and World Bank consultants. As noted by Dr MA Wazed Miah in his book ‘Some incidents surrounding Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib and Bangladesh’, “In September 1974, Bangabandhu said in a press conference that some mock Bangladesh as an International Basket Case. But Bangladesh is not a Basket Case. Bangladesh has been looted for over 200 years. It is the resources of Bangladesh that were made to enrich London, Dandy, Manchester, Karachi, and Islamabad. Even today Bangladesh is endowed with enormous resources. Bangladesh will turn around and stand on its feet someday.”
Now the world is eyeing this Bangladesh with endless resources.
Here comes the question: how many ‘eminent citizens’ uttered even a word about the unjustified claims and decisions made by the World Bank? Could they take the right stance on trying Bangabandhu’s killers and war criminals?
That Bangladesh, which had once been mocked as a bottomless basket by a quarter in the US and the World Bank, is now talked about by the world’s most widely circulated English Daily, the Times of India, which noted, “India, look at the east: Bangladesh is outshining India economically. We (Indians) must learn from them.” On the previous day (Oct 14), Anandabazar said, “India is falling! Bangladesh is surging ahead in per capita income.”
The World Bank’s former chief economist Dr Kaushik Basu said, “Bangladesh will stride in terms of per capita GDP. But, we have to bear in mind that India was 25% ahead of Bangladesh in GDP only five years ago.”
Indian National Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said that BJP’s vindictive nationalist culture led to huge success – Bangladesh is striding ahead of India.
Bangabandhu repeatedly said, “We have to stand on our feet. Beggars are void of dignity.”
IMF said that India is trailing Bangladesh in per capita DGP. It is also noteworthy that the achievement of Bangladesh and the Hasina-government has been positively portrayed by the Indian media. At the same time, India is urged to take a lesson from Bangladesh.
But, do we see that discussion in the media of Bangladesh? Have the ‘eminent citizens’ turned a blind eye to that? Won’t they learn what others are learning from the achievements of Bangladesh?
Since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, some organisations and people involved in research and economic activities brought forth only the negative aspects. For example, The BBC’s Akbar Hossain raised a question in the first week of April – ‘Will the garments industry of Bangladesh be able to survive?’ Eighty-three percent of the export comes from this sector. It amounts to over $30 billion. But, the coming days will be terrible.
BGMEA President Rubana Huq said in the interviews with BBC and other media – “No buyer will purchase pants or shirts at this moment. The only thing they will buy is food and medicine.” Every day her quotes made news headlines – export orders worth billions of dollars were cancelled.
CPD remarked that the GDP growth will plummet to 2.5 percent in the fiscal year 2019-20, which will be a record low in 30 years.
Hasina announced an incentive of more than Tk 1 trillion to keep the wheel o economy rolling. Relief activities went on in full swing. The government announced that it would dole out Tk 2,500 to each of five million ultra-poor families through mobile banking. Relief thieves were on the lookout for their scopes. Befitting steps were taken when corruption and irregularities surfaced. That the shuttle of the economy started moving again remained mostly unnoticed.
There is a quarter in the country that is reluctant to admit that Bangladesh is resilient even in the face of disasters.
Prominent Indian Journalist Shekhar Gupta quoted Swati Narayan from the report, published by The Indian Express on Feb 14, 2020, while discussing IMF’s earth-shaking report that Bangladesh was set to surpass India in per capita GDP. That time a minister of the Narendra Modi-government mockingly said, “If provided with citizenship, half of the people will settle in India.”
Swati Narayan raised the question – why will they come? Bangladesh strode ahead of India in many aspects – education, health, toilets in residences, reducing the mortality rate of mothers and children, girls’ admission to schools, women empowerment, and the literacy rate.
Moreover, they are providing every year 40 million books to school children for free. Now Bangladesh has led India in per-capita GDP as well. It’s not a miracle that happened only this year, but it will continue as well, according to the projection of IMF, which is not relaxing news for India. This organisation is also predicting that Bangladesh will catch up with India in GDP and Bangladesh will then lead in points. In 2025, the per-capita GDP of Bangladesh will be $2,756 and that of India will be $2,729.
While IMF prediction came as a shock, the ‘International Hunger Index-2020’ report carried by the International Food Policy Research can be an aftershock. They said that Bangladesh ranked 88 out of 107 countries in the last year and it has mounted to 75 this year. In the previous three years, it ranked 86, 88, and 90, respectively.
No government or organisations are immune to mistakes when it comes to running the state and not everyone will approve of the activities of the constitutional body. These issues can be picked up by the media or the parliament and be subjected to criticism.
That discussion can gain momentum on social media as well and the job of the government gets much easier if this practice rolls on. Those who proclaim themselves as ‘eminent citizens’, can do this as well. But, when the ‘eminent’ tag is worn, there comes responsibility as well. Who could project even a decade ago that Bangladesh would excel in the economy to this extent and would create the immense possibility of lifting itself to the 25th economy of the world in terms of GDP? Who could even think that the slogan of ‘Digital Bangladesh’ coined nearly 12 years ago would transition to reality and help Bangladesh ensure this much progress amid the coronavirus pandemic that sent mankind off the perch across the planet?