We celebrate today the 42nd anniversary of our victory against the occupying Pakistani forces. The surrender of the Pakistani forces to the Indo-Bangladeshi High Command at Dhaka Race Course (now Suhrawardy Uddayan) on this day in 1971 made our declaration of independence on March 26 a reality.
There may be differences of opinion regarding our successes in achieving our goals in the 42 years since victory. But it may be said that our successes have outweighed our failures.
Our economy had been severely damaged during the liberation war. It was stated in the two-year plan (1978-80) that the country’s transport, communication, and power system sustained severe damage. Trade was severely handicapped. Domestic production was hampered as a result of the loss of inventory, stoppage of maintenance supply lines, flights of foreign managers, and generally unsettled conditions. Damages are estimated to be around US$1.2 billion.
The recovery of the war-torn economy of the newly-born Bangladesh called for a huge amount of foreign assistance, and this prompted the US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to term Bangladesh “a bottomless basket.” Kissinger has been proved wrong.
Bangladesh might not have achieved the desired economic goals, but its successes are by no means insignificant. In the last seven years, we achieved around 6% GDP growth.
Although Bangladesh has not been able to achieve self-sufficiency in all foods, it has succeeded with rice. While the total production of food grains (rice and wheat) for 75 million people was 11.8 million tons in 1969-70, food grain production stood at about 35 million tons in 2012-13 for 160 million.
The food grain growth rate has surpassed the population growth rate. This has been possible primarily due to the development of infrastructural facilities like the availability of electricity, deep tube wells for irrigating croplands, easy availability of fertilizer, and other agricultural input.
This has prompted Dan Mozena, the US ambassador to Bangladesh, to criticise Kissinger for his insulting remark on Bangladesh, and say that Bangladesh has become “a basket of food.”
The performance of the RMG industry has been astounding. It is not only one of the highest foreign exchange earning sectors, it employs more than 4 million labourers, of which 90% or so are poor women.
Sources suggest that Bangladesh received more than $14 billion as remittance in 2012-13, against approximately $3 billion in 2002-03. All indications suggest that Bangladesh will graduate into a middle income country by 2021.
Bangladesh has made significant progress in human resource development. There has been rapid expansion of educational facilities both in the government and the private sectors, resulting in the increase of the literacy rate to about 60% from 18%.
More importantly, there has been tremendous improvement in the enrolment of girls at the primary and secondary levels due to various incentives provided by the government.
Observing of February 21 is no longer limited to Bangladesh. The UN has declared the day International Mother Language Day.
We have failures too. People expected that our democracy would flourish. This has not happened. The path to democracy has been troubled. In the mid-seventies, people saw the imposition of the one-party presidential system of government, in place of multi-party parliamentary democracy. This was followed by military rule that lasted for a decade or so.
The end of the dictatorial regime in 1990 rekindled hope for democracy. But the confrontational politics of the two major political parties, the Awami League and BNP, led to an army-backed government in January 2007, which lasted for two years. Democracy is again threatened due to confrontational politics of these two major political parties.
Corruption has become a serious problem for the country. It is eating into the economy. Bangladesh topped the list of the most corrupt countries for five consecutive years, starting from 2001.
Fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution have been violated again and again. Arbitrary arrests, detentions, and custodial deaths have become routine matters. The freedom of the media is under constant threat.
The observance of Victory Day will be meaningful when we overcome our failures, and make Bangladesh a fully democratic, modern, and prosperous country.