Bangabandhu wanted to build a society free from exploitation
The general philosophy of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Bangabandhu was development, and political and economic sovereignty for Bangladesh, as well as the eradication of hunger, poverty, and communalism, and to erect a society free from discrimination.
Since the beginning, the Pakistani government never treated Bangladesh equally. Bangabandhu realized that along with social and political dimensions, this inequality had economic dimensions as well.
He strongly condemned the “Federal Control of Industries Act” which virtually gave full control of the industrial sector to the central government by-passing the provincial authorities.
The farmers of the Eastern Province of Pakistan produced excellent quality jute, and yet, more than 90% of the foreign exchange earned through the export of jute and jute goods went to West Pakistan to pay their import bill. Even large industrial units in East Pakistan were being handed out to West Pakistani owners.
Pakistan was then an oligarchy, and industrialization and development of the Eastern Province of Pakistan was the last thing on their minds.
The phrase “Sonar Bangla” was very common in the speeches and writings of Bangabandhu well before the independence of Bangladesh. He was always thinking about re-establishing “Sonar Bangla.” But this was no mere political rhetoric for him. This aspiration was based on his consciousness about the past glory of this land.
The ambition of Bangabandhu’s economic independence for the people of this country and the reluctance of the Pakistani authorities was the catalyst for the Liberation War of 1971 and the independence of Bangladesh.
Freedom fighters dreamed of equitable economy. Their belief was that economic disparity would decrease if Bangladesh achieved independence. Subsidy will be given to the farmers. Social protection will increase.
The constitution of 1972 saw a great reflection of the people’s repentance. Bangabandhu wanted to build a society free of exploitation. Through hard work, the country may be rebuilt.
From here, it is understood that Bangabandhu gave priority to agriculture and industrialization as well. He realized that agriculture would not only provide food for the people, but would also continue to be the main source of income for this country for many more years. Besides, along with poverty reduction, the strong agricultural sector will provide necessary raw materials for the country’s expanding industrial sector.
One year later
On the first anniversary of independence Bangabandhu uttered: “We can surely rebuild the country through hard work. Let us work together so that the Golden Bengal shines again.”
Immediately after the independence of the country, Bangabandhu took some prudent initiatives to ensure agricultural growth. Some of these initiatives were: Rebuilding the war-ravaged agricultural infrastructure, ensuring supply of agricultural equipment on an emergency basis free of cost or at concessional rates, ensuring adequate supply of seeds, cancelling one million certificate cases for loan default against farmers filed during the Pakistan period, fixing minimum fair prices for agro-products, ration facilities for poor and marginal farmers, etc.
Bangabandhu was also conscious about the complementary relationship between the agricultural and industrial sectors. Bangabandhu knew there was no alternative to industrialization. Industrial expansion was needed on the one hand, for producing goods to consume internally and to export; on the other hand, industrialization would ensure employment for a growing population.
However, just after independence, with no foreign reserves, no foreign investment, very little backward and forward linkages, and above all, very few people with entrepreneurial experience, industrialization perhaps was the biggest challenge that Bangabandhu had to face.
In the newly liberated country, Bangabandhu rightly chose to go for state-led industrial growth. He nationalized major banks and insurance companies, all jute mills, sugar mills, and textile mills as all the Pakistani owners and managers left these enterprises, often taking away with them all the money and inputs.
All these factories started to do better than they were during the Pakistan period.
From Bangabandhu to Sheikh Hasina
Bangabandhu was leading the country along the path of inclusive development based on agricultural and industrial policies. But evil forces took him away and moved us off track. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has backed that growth under her leadership.
If we continue to progress, we will indeed have the true “Sonar Bangla” Bangabandhu had dreamed of. For that to happen, we must remain focused on completing the mega-projects initiated by the present government, including Padma Bridge, Special Economic Zones, major power plants, deep seaports, metro rails, upgradation of rail and waterways, and, of course, developing digital infrastructures to promote e-commerce and mobile banking.
We must also remain mindful of promoting skills and digital entrepreneurship to address the burgeoning challenges of unemployment among educated youths. We should continue to support mechanization of all shades of agriculture, particularly in promoting mechanized combined harvesting.
Finally, we must remain focused on developing sources of renewable energies including solar and wind energies to achieve our Sustainable Development Goals on time.
Shishir Reza is an Environmental Analyst and Associate Member, Bangladesh Economic Association.