The policies Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman adopted and the challenges he encountered while supporting scores of returnee refugees and rebuilding war-torn Bangladesh were reflected on at a discussion held on Friday night.
The webinar, organized to discuss Bangabandhu’s plans on rebuilding Bangladesh, featured discussions by Mashiur Rahman, Economic Affairs Adviser to the Prime Minister, Dr. Rounaq Jahan, Visiting Scholar, Columbia University, Syed Badrul Ahsan, senior journalist and columnist, and Hasan Morshed, young writer and researcher. Waseqa Ayesha Khan, Finance and Planning Secretary of Bangladesh Awami League, conducted the session, organized by the party’s finance and planning sub-committee.
Dr. Rounaq Jahan called upon the young generation to focus on substantial and quality research on Bangabandhu’s role in rebuilding post-independence Bangladesh.
Mashiur Rahman, who also worked as a young government officer in a handful of ministries in post-independence Bangladesh, reminisced on that period, saying just after the independence, when Bangabandhu was yet to land in the newly liberated country, the government of India offered them some government officials, known as Civil Administration Liaison Officers, to aid our administration.
"Indian Planning Commission Member Sukhamoy Chakravarty coordinated the issue. Later, they withdrew the officers when they observed that Bangladesh had enough manpower to run the administration," he said.
Moreover, Mashiur said, a segment of Indian armed forces stayed in the country to ensure peace and order.
"Bangabandhu in a feat of unwavering commitment and courage compelled their armed forces to return to India by requesting Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi,” he added.
When the ‘unjust demands’ and ‘imposed decisions’ by the World Bank, IMF, and USAID, approaching with relief and loan proposals following the independence, violated the country’s interest, Bangabandhu firmly sent them off the table, said Mashiur Rahman.
He said, “Relief management is a tough job to deal with. Through this task, Bangabandhu set off in the independent country’s economic aspects. The bank authorities also tried to unjustifiably shift the loan burden on Pakistan to Bangladesh. Then Bangabandhu said, it’s due to my call that hundreds of thousands of Bengalis sacrificed their lives. If I call upon them once more, they will starve if necessary. Still, your unjust demands will not be accepted.”
Then Bangabandhu agreed to some proposals for loans that had valid grounds, said Mashiur. Researching land and resources management in China and Russia, Bangabandhu initiated co-operatives, Mashiur added.
“IMF proposed for devaluation in case of relief and loan disbursement. Bangabandhu was forced to accept that proposal. But, his masterstroke was on adding a condition to it and that is the devaluation must be implemented at the time of harvests coming to the market and not before that. He hinged on the fact that product prices turn low at that time. That is why its effect will be comparatively low on the market.”
Justifying the nationalization of industries, Mashiur said, “That time 70% of the export came from jute mills. Most mill owners were non-Bengalis. The nationalization was part of the struggle towards freedom because those we obtained independence from were owners of these mills.”
Dr. Rounaq Jahan said in addition to developing fragile infrastructure in post-independence Bangladesh, Bangabandhu had to set out on recovering the economy as well.
"Before independence, large industries all belonged to Pakistanis. Then foreign reserves virtually met the bottom. Those running the administration were young.”
She said Bangladesh was the first independent country that emerged as a new country breaking free from a post-colonial state system.
"It was a unique development for that time. Now it became normal owing to our observation of the Soviet Union disintegrating into quite a few nations. But, at our time, the list of quarters not favoring our cause included not just the western world but the third world and Islamic countries as well. This is because they thought it would spark a nationalistic movement in their countries as well," Dr. Rounaq said.
Dubbing the rigid stance of the USA as one of the reasons behind the 1974 famine in Bangladesh, she said America was one of the biggest food supplying countries in the world.
"Though it supplied food to war-torn Bangladesh in 1972, things took a turn for worse in 1973. While Bangladesh approached them for food, they declined. The reason they showed was the export of Jute by Bangladesh to Cuba. That is why Bangladesh suffered a famine in 1974.”
“Proving the concern of the World Bank as wrong, local experts chalked out the first five-year plan of the country one year into its independence,” said Dr. Rounaq, adding, “Youths were at the leadership when Bangladesh just emerged as an independent country. He (Bangabandhu) got only three years and a half. He initiated quite a few policies and some of them didn’t work. He dropped them because he was practical. He set out on changing some of his policies.”
“The researchers of this generation must subject them to careful analysis. The new generation has to come forward to do research on Bangabandhu and Bangladesh. They have to analyze objectively, with courage and a free mind. Our country is yet to produce quality research on Bangabandhu. The biography that best describes him was also written by none other than himself.”
“Despite Bangabandhu’s untiring efforts to rebuild Bangladesh, the country slipped into a famine. Had he lived for a few more years, he could himself observe that the country was turning around. But assassins cut his life short," she said.
Hasan Morshed said Bangabandhu virtually started from scratch to rebuild the economy of Bangladesh.
"He set the shuttle of independent Bangladesh’s economy in motion by prioritizing relief and rehabilitation because a flood already took a toll on Bangladesh before the war broke out and ravaged the country. Bangladesh incurred a substantial loss in its agricultural economy in 1969 and 1970 due to the flood. During that period, 65% of the internal production used to come from agriculture," Hasan Morshed said.
“The period between January and June of 1972 was dedicated to rehabilitation. A staggering 4,300,000 houses were built to support the refugees who returned from India. They were supplied with food. This relief distribution was done by involving political activists at the grassroots," he said.
After the first six months, reconstruction was added to economic recovery. Then the budget was announced. The first budget was named Budget for Reconstruction.
Within just one year, 59 miles of rail lines were reconstructed, 82 rail bridges repaired, road and bridges repaired. Mines were cleared from Chittagong port.
Cooperative model was given utmost priority and modern equipment added. Bangabandhu initiated the Coordinated Rural Development project in 1972, incorporating small loan disbursement. Co-operative venture Milk Vita was introduced in 1974.
Senior journalist and columnist Syed Badrul Ahsan said just after the liberation, we required 123 tonnes of rice, 82 tonnes of Boro rice seeds, 30,000 tonnes of fertilizer, and 1,500,000 tonnes of potato seeds, as reported by World Bank.
On January 10, 1972, the father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman came back to Bangladesh, he said.
"On January 12, he took the oath as the prime minister of Independent Bangladesh. Apart from chalking out a wide array of plans to rebuild the country, Bangabandhu took up long-term plans for the economic emancipation of Bangladesh, whose benefits Bangladesh is still reaping," said the journalist.
The webinar was aired live on the official Facebook page of Awami League and YouTube. Centre for Research & Information (CRI), the Awami League’s research organization, was responsible for overall cooperation in organizing the discussion meeting.
CRI Coordinator Tonmoy Ahmed said, “Different sub-committees of Awami League have discussed some crucial issues as part of regular activities of the party. We have plans to organize webinars of this kind at least twice a month.”