'Bangabandhu laid foundation for today's economy'
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.
I was not even born when our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated.
But I did not grasp the true essence of this loss until much later when I grew up and learned more after gaining experience as a business community leader.
That was when I began exploring the foundations laid out by the Father of the Nation and his farsightedness.
Those born after 1971 found out about rebuilding a post-war Bangladesh from reading history.
The foundation of the economy we see today was laid way back and the country subsequently saw the fruit of that foundation.
The circumstances, out of which Bangladesh emerged, left Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with a society and economy in disarray, after his release from prison in 1972.
Yet, his proactiveness and undivided effort to improve and empower Bangladesh’s democratic infrastructure remains a blueprint for its leaders today.
Resource mobilization is tough even in today's Bangladesh, let alone for a war-torn country.
Restoring law and order, recovering illegal arms, rehabilitating the freedom fighters, rebuilding the communication system, saving lives of anti-Liberation War supporters from public wrath, and most importantly, feeding millions of hungry people, were among the main formidable challenges.
Bangladesh's War of Liberation in 1971, although a political one, was induced by economic disparity brought in by the imbalanced resource allocation between East and West Pakistan.
Economic disparity over years pushed people to ask political questions, which led to the war.
Although Bangladesh won politically, the aftermath of it found the country’s resources further down in the negative.
Bangladesh, which back then was known to be an agriculture-based economy, found its fields filled with shells, landmines, and war debris.
Acres of lands that had fertile soil, and produced fruits and vegetables of green lush, were nothing less than scorched.
There was a scarcity of food, and the population of the newly formed country in disarray.
Additionally, infrastructure was destroyed.
Trading hubs such as ports, railways, and roads were destroyed.
Ports were inoperative, filled with marine mines that barred international trade.
So all the variables that an economy needs for its business sector to thrive- land, labor, infrastructure- were all shattered.
What the Father of the Nation did was rebuild all those.
Bangabandhu focused on removing mines and shells from the fields, as well as marine mines from the ports.
He undertook programs to boost agricultural production through rebuilding the industries’ infrastructure whilst also supporting an equal pay and support system for farmers.
The social safety net that is much discussed today, was launched by the Father of the Nation himself.
He allocated Tk30 crore for the homeless and the 166,000 freedom fighters consisting of both men and women.
A budget of Tk500 crore was the highest allocation in the first ever budget of 1972 that focused on social welfare and education.
He also established the ‘Women Rehabilitation Board’ for the welfare of the women who had physically, mentally and economically suffered during the liberation war.
This ethos of gender equality has now become ingrained into the political philosophy of present-day Bangladesh, as it ranks 7th in the world for political empowerment according to the World Economic.
Furthermore, he lifted duty on fertilizers as well as baby food for children and agriculture to flourish.
Cotton yarn tax was slashed so that everyone could wear clothes.
Bangabandhu also set forth the guiding principle of Bangladesh's foreign policy: "Friendship to all and malice to none."
As many as 140 countries recognized Bangladesh by 1973.
He opened the Embassy of Bangladesh in the USA, reached out to USA, USSR, India and the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC), led by Bangabandhu.
For businesses he established 'Bangladesh Shilpa Rin Shangstha,' FBCCI, Long and short term credit facility, and equity support systems that are still playing an active role in the country’s economy today.
He also dreamed of Bangladesh to rely on nuclear power for which he established the atomic commission back in the early 1970s, which speaks for his farsightedness.
The Bangladesh Council of Scientific Research (the present Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, or the BCSIR), Bangladesh Agriculture Research Council, etc - are all examples of how he foresaw economic transformation through research as well as developing the planning commission.
Unfortunately, 1975 happened.
August 15 pushed the country back by several decades.
However, the current Prime Minister and Bangabandhu's daughter, Sheikh Hasina, has been working to bolster Sheikh Mujib's dream of "Shonar Bangladesh."
Shams Mahmud is managing director of Shasha Denims and former DCCI president