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He Had A Dream, And…

People of the eastern Indian city of Kolkata (then Calcutta) were seen erupting in joy when the Prime Minister of a newly born country, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, began his speech at the Brigade Parade Ground on February 6, 1972. Popularly known as Bongobondhu (Friend of Bengal), Sheikh Mujib not only did announce the victory of the people of Bangladesh in a loud voice, but also sought blessings of the Bengalis residing in India, on behalf of a Nation, in a neo-natal State. Even 50 years after that memorable incident, people of the eastern Indian Province of West Bengal remember that historic speech delivered by Bongobondhu.

In the last five decades, Sheikh Mujib’s Bangladesh has glorified the History of the Indian Subcontinent… other countries in the region, even the so-called Regional Superpowers, are even seemingly jealous of their progress! The Foreign Exchange Reserves of Bangladesh are now three times that of Pakistan. When the Prime Minister of Pakistan recently expressed hope that he would try to strive to lead his country to be in an identical status of that of Sweden, his Advisers reportedly told him to follow Bangladesh, first. In its 2020 Report, the International Monetary Fund stated that India, too, lagged behind Bangladesh in terms of GDP per capita! Interestingly, Bangladesh achieved this feat before the spread of COVID-19 Pandemic. In fact, the starting point determines the success of any journey. In 1972, the then US National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, had called Bangladesh a ‘Basket Case‘! Keeping this in mind, one can easily understand how far Bangladesh has moved forward…

Sheikh Mujib delivering speech in Calcutta

Sheikh Mujib had rightly realised that building a strong Nation would never be possible without a Secular thought process and the ideal of Equality… otherwise, its foundation would be weak, and success would be momentary. Well, it had happened in erstwhile East Pakistan! Almost every Bengali, both in India and in East Pakistan, felt the pains inflicted by Partition of the Indian Subcontinent. The extent of that suffering was doubled in the then East Pakistan, because of the State’s ruthless attack on Bengali Language and Culture. The dream of an Independent Bangladesh was embedded in the Language Movement of 1952. Sheikh Mujib and his comrades had built that dream, and made it visible to others on the basis of the ideal of Secularism. They were also able to connect it with the long-standing social traditions, values and mutual beliefs of the Bengali Community. It helped Bongobondhu become a Statesman. He used to believe that no one could be forced to adapt to different languages and cultures.

Sheikh Mujib, the architect of Independent Bangladesh, was able to free himself from the poison of Communalism. The first Conference of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was held in 1961 under the supervision of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, President of then Yugoslavia Marshal Tito, and Sukarno, the first President of Indonesia. During the Cold War, NAM had played an important role in maintaining Global peace, sovereignty and security. Two years after Bangladesh gained Independence in 1971, Sheikh Mujib arrived in Algeria (in 1973) to represent his newly-born Nation at the NAM Conference. While the Conference progressed, he held meetings, separately, with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. They had reportedly expressed to Bongobondhu that if Bangladesh was declared an Islamic Republic, they would recognise the newly created Nation and would offer financial help. Bongobondhu did not heed their advice, saying that although Bangladesh had the second largest Muslim population in the world, over 10 million non-Muslims had taken part in the Liberation War of Bangladesh! By tightening the bond of harmony among his countrymen, Sheikh Mujib did not allow Separatism to raise its ugly head.

Sheikh Mujib with then Indian PM Indira Gandhi

Immediately after the IMF published its Report in 2020, the Government of India started explaining why the comparison between Bangladesh and India was not a true reflection of reality. New Delhi argued that the Textile Sector had saved Bangladesh from the COVID-19 crisis. However, the Indian Government did not explain who or what had stopped India from concentrating on such a sector or any other sector?

Moreover, the Economists are of the opinion that GDP is not the only indicator of Basic Human Needs and Standard of Living. Earlier, Nobel Laureate Economist Amartya Sen had claimed that India was at the top in Human Development Index in the 1950s among the countries in the Subcontinent. However, it has gradually moved to the bottom! At the end of 2020, the Average Life Expectancy in Bangladesh is three years longer than in India. Bangladesh’s Infant Mortality Rate (25 per thousand), too, is lower than India (28 per thousand). In terms of Women’s Employment, Bangladesh (36%) is ahead of India (20%). Now, the question is: who will infiltrate, and in which direction?

PM Sheikh Hasina with her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi

Perhaps, this is the right time for India to learn some lessons from neighbouring Bangladesh with the help of Economists and Sociologists. The bilateral relationship is robust, thanks to Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina. However, to rely only on the skills of one leader may not be enough for India. New Delhi must take the long view on Dhaka…

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