Prometheus Siddiqui :
In its 43rd year of independence Bangladesh has emerged as nation to reckon with in the global arena. Holding a significant position in terms of geography, the country is becoming a gateway to a region that holds almost one third of the global population. Sharing boundaries with an emerging super power and being in close proximity to one that already enables Bangladesh to come under close watch by the whole world. The country has indeed come a long way. Compared to its neighbor it has undergone more political transformation, yet maintained a high degree of national cohesion. This can mainly be attributed to the passion that the people have in attaining freedom.
Post British rule, the land was pegged together with a country that lay far west merely on the basis of having a majority belonging to a religious belief. Many then argued for this so called unification (more like skewed division) based on the claim that as a nation it may not have sufficed given its resource endowment and governing capabilities. The language movement of 1952 was a clear message to the greater power that lay in west that no matter what, oppression was not going to be tolerated in any manner. Young university students lay down their lives protecting their right to speak in their mother tongue. Thus ‘Bangla’ became the very first language in recorded history that was established as a result of bloodied movement. The mistreatment continued for the next two decades as leaders of a nation facing impending division continued to turn a deaf ear to a brewing struggle for freedom. The nation decided that mass killing in the night of March 25, 1971 would be the last draw, and so with the rising sun of the next morning, the country surfaced as an independent one. Nine months of war which followed claimed millions of lives, ravaged infrastructure but the world witnessed a nation rise to protect its right to persist. Post independence the one cause leading to emancipation began to fade, and the next two decades saw a brief stint of an elected civilian regime followed by military and military-dominated rule. When the nation had been counted out, the people decided to reclaim the right for which they once fought and democracy with its inherent inconsistencies was restored in 1990. From then till now the nation has come together in disaster, devastation, conflict, jubilance and glory but most important of all, to uphold its sense of being one.
Bangladesh has been able to prioritize its economic and social goals quite well over the last two and a half decades. Pursuing the ultimate aim of mitigating poverty, the nation has strived hard to promote growth and create employment. GDP growth which was just below 4% in the early nineties has been stable around 6% over the past few years. Unemployment rate was as high as 35.20% in 1996 and has now come down to nearly 5%. When the global economy was in turmoil, Bangladesh’s ability to shade itself led UN experts to deem it a star in the world economy. The achievements made by Bangladesh in health, education and demographics have been startling considering Bangladesh’s public spending in these sectors as a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) has remained lower than what is expected even at comparable low levels of per capita. Observing the period 1991 to 2011 we find, infant fertility rate (per 1000 births) coming down from 93.5 to 36.7, life expectancy at birth rising from 59.99 to 68.94, the prevalence of malnutrition falling from 76.70 to 43.20 and adult literacy rate going up to 56.78% from 35.32%. A major part of these improvements have come as a result of spreading of new and innovative ideas through the strong presence of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and institutions. Organizations such as Grameen Bank, BRAC and others have been able to penetrate into remote regions of the country and address different dimensions of poverty. Stable and continued economic growth and impressive gains in a number of social indicators over the past decade are all a testament to Bangladesh’s enormous potential.
Unfortunately a great deal of complacence has come over us and we are unable to properly acknowledge and appreciate our progress. We are being flooded with needless endogenous challenges. One would expect the political scenario to be less contentious given the country’s independence came with extreme struggles and sacrifices. There could be no better illustration of an ailing democracy than the recent parliamentary elections. Even though the constitution of the nation allows a citizen the fundamental right to assembly and there are no significant constraints on the freedoms of association, opposition activists are reprimanded and detained on a regular basis on frivolous charges. There have been little or no efforts from opposition parties since the restoration of democracy to have constructive inputs in the progress of the nation. Measures such as strikes are failing to have any impact on the political status quo instead costing the livelihood of millions. Student wings of political parties which once formed the backbone of patriotism are now turning into groups of thugs who work for money and power.
Starting from the cancellation of World Bank loan to build the country’s largest bridge following charges of conspiracy and corruption to money being squandered from state owned banks, the state turning a blind eye or merely taking feeble measures reinstates its lack of interest to effectively deal with a contiguous and terminal problem. Instead of strengthening institutions such as the Anti Corruption Commission, its wings are being curtailed so that various vested groups can have their way around. The recent political polarization of the judiciary paints nothing but a grim picture.
With a heritage of struggling and fighting for freedom, we have much to fall back on. Not all hope is lost. Our post independence development may have come at costs which were too negligible for us to comprehend, and even worse to appreciate, but we must assess our strengths and move forward. Depending on the rise of a transformational leader one fine morning that would provide a quick fix to all problems is futile. Thus as a nation we must start contemplating our roles. Each of us must start acting from our positions and fight to protect our freedom. It is certainly a daunting challenge, and we must taking strides today before it is too late tomorrow. Branded a bottomless basket, we have proved many a wrong by weaving one ourselves and its time we start filling it ourselves.
(Prometheus Siddiqui is a contributor to the New Nation. Email : [email protected])