August 15 is the national mourning day for Bangladesh. On this day in 1975, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation of Bangladesh, along with his wife, Bangamata Sheikh Fazilatunnessa Mujib, sons Sheikh Kamal and Sheikh Jamal and their wives and even his youngest son, 10-year-old Sheikh Russel, were brutally assassinated. His two daughters Sheikh Hasina, presently Prime Minister of Bangladesh, and her sister, Sheikh Rehana, survived as they were abroad. It is unfortunate that Bangabandhu, called a poet of politics by Newsweek on April 5, 1971, died at the hands of anti-liberation forces.
The spirit Bangabandhu instilled in the hearts of millions guides the nation. He was the visionary leader of our nationhood and architect of our independence. Since the historic language movement of 1952, he led every struggle and democratic movement, including the election in 1954, mass movement against martial law in 1958, the six-point movement in 1966, the mass upsurge in 1969, and general elections in 1970. These movements were directed towards attaining the right to self-determination and independence through non-violent and constitutional means. But when the Pakistani occupation forces resorted to force and started the genocide, Bangabandhu sent a message to the nation: “This may be my last message — from today, Bangladesh is independent. I call upon you, the people of Bangladesh, wherever you might be and (with) whatever you have, to resist the Army of occupation to the last. Your fight must go on until the last soldier of the Pakistan occupation Army is expelled from the soil of Bangladesh. Final victory is ours.” This call was carried by Reuters and was published in the international press.
The people fought bravely against all odds and paid the heaviest price for freedom. Bangladesh was born and soon thereafter, Bangabandhu returned home after nine months of captivity in Pakistan. Dhaka was delirious and millions were on the streets to receive him. Before landing, the British comet which had brought him from London circled for 45 minutes over the countryside in deference to Bangabandhu’s desire to see his “Shonar Bangla” (Golden Bengal). What a patriot he was.
Bangabandhu suffered more than anybody at the hands of Pakistanis and their cohorts and yet, in his first speech, he asked his people not to seek revenge. If Bangabandhu had not returned, many feared that there would have been a bloodbath in Bangladesh. Alas, these reactionary forces were behind his killing three years later.
At the international level, it is largely due to his personal appeal that nearly a hundred countries, including most of the major powers, recognised Bangladesh within a few months. Again, due to his personal interceding with the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, India withdrew its troops within three months from Bangladesh. This is an unprecedented event in contemporary history.
The UN, even before Bangladesh was admitted as a member, set up the United Nations Relief Operations in Dhaka (UNROD). It was later renamed as UNROB, after Bangladesh joined the UN. That has thus far been the largest international relief and reconstruction effort by the UN.
On the basis of Bangabandhu’s forward-looking foreign policy, based on peaceful coexistence and “friendship to all and malice towards none,” Bangladesh was able to establish close and cooperative ties with all the countries of the world within a short time. Bangladesh joined the Non-Aligned Movement, the Commonwealth, the Organisation of Islamic Conference, and finally the UN between 1972-1974. Earlier, Bangladesh joined World Bank, IMF, ADB and other financial institutions. Bangabandhu, in his speech at the UN General Assembly in 1974, announced that “peace is an imperative for the survival of mankind. It represents the deepest aspirations of men and women throughout the world. Peace to endure, however, must be based on justice.”
At home, the country was able to restore its devastated economic infrastructure; millions of refugees returned from India and thousands of stranded Bangladeshis returned from Pakistan. The country adopted its first constitution providing the basic guidelines for the new state. The country’s first five-year plan was adopted, which inter alia gave primary emphasis to education, health, agriculture and rural development. The basic aim of the plan was to alleviate poverty and build Shonar Bangla.
It is a matter of great pride that under the leadership of his able daughter, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh — once ridiculed as a bottomless basket — has emerged as one of the fastest-growing economies. Since she assumed office for the second time in 2009, Bangladesh has achieved impressive targets. It has an average GDP growth rate of 6.6 per cent, while the developing economies’ average was 5.1 per cent. Public investment rose to 8.2 per cent from 4.3 per cent and the per capita income increased from $759 to $1,752.
Inflation declined from 12.3 per cent to 5.8 per cent and the revenue-GDP ratio rose to 10.3 per cent from a low of 9.2 per cent. The budget grew from Tk (taka) 89,000 crore to Tk 4,64,573 crore. Annual exports registered an increase from $15.6 billion to $34.8 billion and imports rose from $22.5 billion to $47 billion. The rate of poverty declined to 24.3 per cent from 31.5 per cent and extreme poverty rate reduced to 12.9 per cent from 17.6 per cent. Our Human Development Index (HDI) is now 0.579 from 0.535 and Bangladesh is now categorised as a “Medium Human Development” country.
Recently, the UN Committee for Development Policy has announced that Bangladesh met the criteria for graduation from the LDC status. This is a historic achievement. It is is the first step in our drive to fulfil the dream of Bangabandhu to transform Bangladesh into Shonar Bangla. Bangladesh is confident that under the dynamic and visionary leadership of Sheikh Hasina, the country, as per her vision 2021 and 2041, will emerge as a middle income and developed country, respectively.