Bangabandhu’s economic philosophy and Bangladesh’s private sector
The assassination of the Father of the Nation on August 15, 1975 shocked the nation. Many of today’s industry leaders, business people and independent business owners tell the Dhaka Tribune where they were and what the shock of hearing the tragic news was like for them personally.
When Bangabandhu was torn away from us, I was a primary school student. I do not know how much I understood then of the magnitude of what was stolen from the nation, but I remember clearly the terrible arrogance of the killers spilling through the radio in the early morning of that fateful day, announcing the murder of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and my mother covering her ears in absolute anguish.
On the sad occasion of the National Day of Mourning, I pay my deepest respects to the Father of the Nation and all the martyrs of August 15, 1975.
In the 50th year of our independence, and the birth centenary of Bangabandhu, I express unreserved gratitude to him because had he not dreamt, and given everything of himself in the fullest measure to attain that dream, we would not be proud citizens of an independent country today.
The murderers did not then, and could never have understood, that they could kill the man, but they could never kill the dream.
Today’s Bangladesh is the living proof of that.
Bangabandhu’s vision for Bangladesh has been reflected in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, which as a lawyer I find to be one of the finest constitutions ever drafted.
The preamble to the constitution states: “…equality and justice, political, economic and social, will be secured for all citizens...”.
Article 10 says: “A socialist economic system shall be established with a view to ensuring the attainment of a just and egalitarian society, free from the exploitation of man by man.”
Article 13 provides for state ownership, cooperative ownership, and private ownership.
Equality and justice, therefore, are two of the key principles underlying his economic, political, and social philosophy.
Several speakers who had the privilege of knowing and working with Bangabandhu referred in a recent seminar hosted by Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) titled “Bangabandhur Orthonoitik Dorshon: Shilpo o Banijjo Unnoyone Bangladesh” to his pragmatic approach to economic development in a war-torn country with few resources and few functioning frameworks.
He was, above all, a pragmatist who would espouse all means at his disposal to attain his vision of “Sonar Bangla”.
He himself had written in his Unfinished Memoirs that he was not a communist; at the same time, he strongly opposed unbridled capitalism.
Many people today do not know of Bangabandhu’s close interaction with the private sector.
Albeit for a short time, he was the minister for Industry, Commerce and Labour in the Pakistan government, he was chairman of the Tea Board, and he worked in the insurance industry.
FBCCI was formed in 1973 on his direction. While in the then exigent situation, and to be true to his commitment to socialism, industries and financial institutions were nationalized, he had decided that industries with Bangladeshi owners would be denationalized.
He could not fulfill that commitment due to the tragedy of August 15, but Bangladeshi owners did get back their ownership subsequently.
In Bangabandhu’s industrial and commercial policies, there was always space for the private sector. He prioritized both agriculture and reviving the industrial economy. He was strongly in favour of encouraging small and medium-scale private enterprises and insisted on establishing independence in relations with external partners.
Bangladesh joined the non-aligned movement and became a member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) as early as December 16, 1972.
While Bangabandhu did not get the time to fully expand upon his vision for the development and growth of Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s governments have been distinctly pro-private sector.
She opened up the mobile telephone industry to wider participation, widened private investment in the banking and financial sector, opened up the power sector, and provided significant policy and fiscal support to the IT industry, as well as agriculture and agro-industries.
The prime minister always says that for all her tasks undertaken for the socio-economic development of the country, the vision had been laid out by Bangabandhu.
Her clear policy statement is that the private sector is the engine of economic growth. The private sector is committed to working towards the vision of an egalitarian and just society articulated by the Father of the Nation and enshrined in our constitution.
Nihad Kabir is a barrister at Law and president of Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI), Dhaka