Bangladesh in Five Decades: Constant Efforts for ‘Real Independence’

Bangladesh became independent after many struggles and lives. But the newly independent country faced a huge challenge. In the hope of equality and social justice, the people took part in the bloody struggle led by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and expelled the occupiers from the country. His main goal at that time was to fulfill that dream with the people of the independent country. Therefore, on the eve of Victory Day in 1973, he said, “This freedom will become a real freedom for me only when all the sorrows of the peasants, laborers and miserable people of Bengal will come to an end.” The people of Bangladesh have been making continuous efforts for this ‘real independence’ under the leadership of Bangabandhu since independence. Bangladesh had to start its journey from scratch in the post-war ashes. It is surprising to think that when Bangabandhu took charge of the country, the size of the economy was only eight billion dollars, the reserves were zero. The ratio of savings to GDP is eight percent and the ratio of investment is nine percent. Not only that, we didn’t have our own entrepreneurial class. On the other hand, natural disasters were hitting one after the other. International politics was not in our favor either. On the one hand, the rise and fall of oil prices in the international market, on the other hand, the politics of the superpowers with food aid, as a result of all this, Bangladesh was in a very delicate situation.
Bangabandhu has given direction to the nation even in such adversity. During his short tenure, he set an example to the people of the country on how to move forward by tackling challenges. He gave the highest priority to keeping the development process inclusive by reflecting the national aspirations. He drafted the constitution on the basis of the four main pillars of nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism. The 1972 constitution promised “equal opportunities for all” through human rights, decentralization, education and health care for all, women’s empowerment, agriculture and rural development, and above all upholding the fundamental rights of all citizens. Besides, Bangabandhu had to rebuild the war-torn infrastructure, rehabilitate one crore refugees, rebuild 2 million houses and reorganize the regulatory bodies including the central bank in spite of his limited resources. At the same time, he brought together the best economists and technical experts of the country in the Planning Commission. Despite the limited resources, Bangabandhu was leading the country forward in a planned way by finalizing the first five-year plan. He was walking on two legs. He adopted a balanced development strategy with equal emphasis on agriculture and industry.
At the beginning of the country’s economy was mainly dependent on agriculture. Therefore, agricultural development was also a central consideration in Bangabandhu’s development philosophy and plan. Bangabandhu initiated initiatives in Bangladesh such as rebuilding agricultural infrastructure, supplying high yielding seeds, providing subsidized or free agricultural inputs, withdrawing 1 lakh certificate cases against farmers during the Pakistan period, and introducing fair prices and ration facilities for farmers. The whole macro-economy has benefited from this patronage given to agriculture later. However, Bangabandhu was aware of the need to develop agriculture as well as industry quickly and effectively in order to bring the desired speed in the development process. In the first phase, due to the absence of the entrepreneurial class for the management of large scale industries, Bangabandhu chose the path of development of the industrial sector on state initiative. As a result, industrial production increased in the fastest time. However, Bangabandhu was gradually moving from this ‘state-led model of industrial development’ to the development of industry in the private sector. He was initially in favor of creating an environment for the private sector by developing the industry on state initiative. So in 1974-75, we saw that he increased the limit of investment in the private sector from Tk 25 lakh to 3 crore, and transferred the state-owned industry to the private sector.
In addition to meeting the immediate macroeconomic needs, Bangabandhu also thought about long-term issues. Because there is no substitute for long-term planning to bring the benefits of development to the extreme. Bangabandhu formulated the first five-year plan to build a continuum of plans to build a self-reliant country. At the same time, it was clear to the architect of independent Bangladesh that human resources could be the biggest force for a small economy. So Kudrat-i-Khuda formed the Education Commission to prepare educated young people who are optimistic about Bangladesh and who will play a role in creating equal opportunities for all in the future. Earlier, in his pre-election speech in 1980, he had said that at least four per cent of GDP should be invested in education.
In less than four years, Bangabandhu put Bangladesh on the ‘express way’ of inclusive development, disproving the views of many experts. It is rare in history for a war-torn micro-economy to turn around in such a short time. In that short time, he not only laid a solid foundation for the country’s macro-economy, but also made everyone optimistic by presenting to the people the future roadmap for rapid and people-centered development. In this short period of time, the per capita income of Bangladesh almost tripled to 263 US dollars. If that conspiracy had not been interrupted by the conspirators, if Bangabandhu had not been physically snatched from us on August 15, 1975, we would be wondering where we would be today!
It is our misfortune that the journey of inclusive development of the country after losing Bangabandhu almost came to a halt in the next two decades. Liberalization at the beginning of the last decade of the last century has given the economy some momentum, but it is insignificant compared to expectations and our real potential. However, Bangabandhu has always been in our minds and thoughts. So our struggle continued for the welfare of the nation that he created in this nation to overcome many obstacles. And as a result, in 1996, the country returned to the right path and his worthy daughter took the hand of our Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. With the rule of the country in hand, Bangabandhu Kanya began to lead the country in the path shown by her father. His same aim was to ensure ‘real freedom’ by bringing the benefits of development to the marginalized people of the country. By ‘real freedom’ he means a well-educated society free from hunger and poverty like Bangabandhu.
In 2001, the activities of the conspirators were interrupted again. But Bangabandhu Kanya came back to power by fighting for her life again 12 years ago. And since then, the pace of our development journey seems to have outpaced the imagination! Just as we have set unprecedented strides in all macroeconomic and social indicators, so too have we been able to tackle the global economic downturn and the Corona epidemic on a strong macroeconomic basis.
We need to discuss the macro-economic and social implications of the inclusive development that Bangabandhu embarked on and the trend that his worthy daughter has accelerated, as well as a desperate assessment of the factors that have worked behind this success. Because the challenges of our development have also changed over time. And such an assessment will help us create a roadmap to move forward in tackling those changing challenges.
Since 1975, Bangladesh’s per capita GDP has more than quadrupled to মার্কিন 2,000. It is true that per capita income has increased faster than before since 1990, but especially in the last 10-12 years, it has gained dramatic momentum. Therefore, the per capita income that has increased since 1975 has been 63 percent in the last one decade. The same applies to the growth rate. Over the past decade, GDP has grown at an average rate of 6 percent. But the average growth rate of the previous two decades is 5 percent. In the five decades of independence, export earnings have increased 96 times to বিল 39 billion. This growth has also been two-thirds in the last decade. Remittances have doubled in the past decade, and reserves have quadrupled.
The normal contribution of agriculture to the GDP of the economy has decreased. The contribution of agriculture has come down from 28 percent in 1990 to 14 percent in 2019. This place is occupied by the industrial sector (18 percent to 35 percent). Total food production but increased. We are currently producing 4 times more food grains than in the post-independence period. That is why we have left behind the big agricultural countries like China, India and Vietnam in the food production index. And increasing opportunities for non-agricultural income in rural areas, agricultural wages have not decreased, but increased. It is to be noted that even in the rural areas of this country, a large part of the total income is now coming from the non-agricultural sector. Above all, being able to control inflation consistently has kept all income-class citizens free from stress. All in all, it has been possible to keep our economic progress fast and balanced at the same time.
This continuity is also reflected in the social development indicators. Therefore, in the last three decades, the rates of poverty and extreme poverty have been brought down to less than half, around 20 and 10 percent, respectively. Besides, Bangladesh has surpassed many non-LDC countries in the index of human development and gender. However, despite all these successes, income inequality has increased a bit. However, the people are relieved that the inequality of consumption has not increased so much. In fact, with the rapid growth, the rate of inequality has not increased in Bangladesh. Therefore, Nobel laureate economist Paul Romer said, ‘Recent experience in Bangladesh has shown that it is possible to achieve more growth and equality at the same time. I am confident that Bangladesh will be able to continue the simultaneous trend of growth and equality in the process of becoming a middle-income country.
It has been the main force behind Bangladesh’s unimaginable achievements that demand separate attention. First, the environment has been ensured so that the NGOs of the country can play an effective complementary role along with the appropriate policies and programs of the government. As a result, success has come quickly in providing financial services in remote areas, from health services to health services to marginalized people. Second, the silent revolution of financial inclusion that has taken place in this country in recent decades has also boosted the whole economy in a way that has benefited the citizens on the deck of the social pyramid. In particular, the benefits of disseminating financial services through the use of digital technology have played a major role in keeping the country’s economy afloat. Above all, the fact that a large part of our manpower is young has also helped in the implementation of prudent policies of the government. Therefore, the trend of giving special priority to human resource development has been continued. Apart from this, Bangladesh has also shown success in attracting foreign investment in recent times. The recent eight-step progress in the World Bank’s Business Environment Index proves so. I believe that if the pace of work on mega projects, including the Padma Bridge and Special Economic Zones, is maintained, we will soon see a dramatic leap in attracting international investment.
As I have said before, the continuity of inclusive and sustainable development has been maintained, so Bangladesh has done better than many other countries in the world in dealing with the epidemic. It must also be acknowledged that the epidemic has hampered our progress. However, the recently released Eighth Five Year Plan by Bangabandhu Kanya has reflected the outline of our economic recovery. Like Bangabandhu, his daughter is confident of facing our challenges. It is now desirable for all to move forward together, keeping that confidence and our commitment to ‘real freedom’ to create equal opportunities for all.
In the meantime, vaccinations have begun to intensify the Corona resistance struggle. Bangladesh is a country of vaccines. In this case, he has a long tradition. So, despite various propaganda, people are vaccinating with interest. I believe that this vaccination campaign will be more active in the coming days. And with that, the environment of trust in our society and economy will improve. As a result, ‘business confidence’ will also increase. Entrepreneurs will be enthusiastic about new investments. And the way in which old and new entrepreneurs are being provided with liquidity through incentive programs will require more emphasis on economic activity. People’s income will also increase. Consumption and demand will both increase. The domestic market will expand. And Bangladesh will be able to accelerate its momentum in the year of Mujibvarsha and Subarnajayanti. And that will succeed in fulfilling our dream of ‘true freedom’.

* The author is Bangabandhu Chair Professor of Dhaka University and former Governor of Bangladesh Bank.

DC


Source: Bhorer Kagoj by www.bhorerkagoj.com.

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