Following the instructions of Tajuddin Ahmed, Prof Sobhan would go on to present the case of Bangladesh to the United States and other global powers as the sole representative from the fledgling provisional government in 1971
In the second episode of IPDC Finance Limited’s webinar series titled “IPDC Ogroj,” eminent economist Prof Rehman Sobhan discussed his early life and challenges with rehabilitating the economy in the wake of the Liberation War.
The hour-long webinar was hosted by Anis A Khan, a revered senior banker, and streamed directly on Facebook Thursday night.
“The whole infrastructure of the country was destroyed after the Liberation War; 10 million people were homeless and there was zero food stock. There was no central bank, no revenue board, no foreign ministry. None of the organizations were there. The real problem was how to activate the economy,” Prof Sobhan recalled.
A close associate of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Prof Sobhan was appointed to the country’s first Planning Commission to help formulate means to turn things around.
While studying economics at Cambridge University from 1953-1956, Prof Sobhan had courted Salma Sobhan, the first female barrister in the Indian subcontinent and niece of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, the political guide and mentor of Bangabandhu.
After obtaining his degree, Prof Sobhan joined Dhaka University as an associate professor in 1957 at the age of 21.
“My salary was 800 rupees per month and it was not a bad salary at the time,” Prof Sobhan said.
At a seminar in 1961, he presented the concept of “the two economies of Pakistan,” which was built upon the ideas of other Bengali economists.
“The concept exploded into the public consciousness. The seminar was a small affair, but the message reverberated to the highest echelons of power. Ayub Khan, the president of Pakistan at the time, was visiting Dhaka concurrently. During his departure from Dhaka, he was asked about ‘the two economies’ by reporters, and he vehemently rejected the concept. The next day, the Pakistan Observer brought out its first page with two parallel headlines, one with Ayub Khan saying there’s only one Pakistan economy, and another with me saying there are two.”
Subsequently, he would be involved in the discourse with Tajuddin Ahmed, Dr Kamal Hossain, and Nurul Islam to develop the policy agenda of the Six Point Movement.
Prof Sobhan recalled how he had sung four national anthems throughout his life – “God Save The King” during his school years in British India, “Jana Gana Mana” in post-Partition India, “Pak Sarzameen” during the Pakistan years and “Amar Sonar Bangla” in Bangladesh.
After the Liberation War of Bangladesh broke out, he managed to cross the border into India at Agartala, from where he would fly to Delhi to present the case for Bangladesh in collaboration with other Liberation War stalwarts.
Following the instructions of Tajuddin Ahmed, Prof Sobhan would go on to present the case of Bangladesh to the United States and other global powers as the sole representative from the fledgling provisional government.
Discussing the Centre for Policy Dialogue, a private think tank he set up and chairs, he said the purpose was to address several problems of the country.
“I invited political leaders, the business community, civil society, workers and other stakeholders to discuss major policy issues. It is now a much bigger organization, which reviews the state of the economy.”
Anis A Khan, the webinar host, asked him about the books that Prof Sobhan has written and how they incisively addressed various issues.
He noted how Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina lauded the efforts and findings of the CPD when she was the opposition leader in the early 90s.
His schooling started at St Paul’s School in Darjeeling, where his younger brother Farooq Sobhan joined him after five years. As the elder brother, he had to take responsibility for his younger brother.
An enthusiastic student, he developed interest in extracurriculars, particularly sports. To this day, he enjoys football and cricket in particular, and in the conversation expressed his profound support for English Premier League club Manchester United.
In addition to sports, he enjoys partaking in good food, reading, music, and movies, noting that he inherited his fondness for the cinema from his mother Hashmat Ara Begum. He lamented his inability to indulge in good food as much as he would prefer to due to medical and dietary reasons in his advanced years. He praised his wife Rounaq Jahan for her scholarly and professional achievements, and the similar interests and the camaraderie they share.