It would be difficult for an outsider today to imagine that underneath the surface, Bangladesh is dynamic and on the move forward. All that most of us are exposed to in the global press is the widespread poverty or calamities and disasters that rain on this country annually leaving many dead or missing.
To top it, there is the diversity in Bangladesh politics, the occasional strikes, and some issues that carry deep emotional scars from 41 years ago during the time of liberation. However, in as much Bangladesh exists as a functioning democracy, that is to be expected.
On the political arena, it would seem that the strong willed personality of the two key female figures in Bangladesh politics is etched in unyielding granite. Both are at odds with each other on just about every issue. As the country moves towards elections towards the end of next year, both these women are hedging for an advantage and verbal sparring is on the rise.
Leader of the opposition party, the BNP, and a former prime minister herself, Khaleda Zia is unquestionably the champion for those who resist the charms of the Awami League headed by Shaikha Hasina. Last week, in a direct verbal onslaught against the ruling party, Khaleda implored the freedom fighters of the country to ‘stage another fight to consolidate democracy and save it from fascist, repressive and corrupt governance.’
She was making these charges during a function honouring the freedom fighters by her party. She continued, “We have started our struggle against this repressive, killer, corrupt government regime. Come and stage another struggle to save the country. The fruits of spirit of independence will be achieved when the country will be freed from this subservient government.”
Alleging that the country was being treated as personal property in a direct and veiled attack on Shaikha Hasina, daughter of Shaikh Mujibur Rahman, father of the nation, Khaleda charged that, “The country is not anyone’s paternal property; it won’t be allowed. It is time for the freedom fighters to wake up and stand against this government. The new generation will join you because they want development of the country; progress for the country.”
Khaleda hammered that “the government is not taking care of these problems of the people as they are engrossed in taking commission from different projects. The government itself and its relatives, ministers and MPs are thieves. All around the government are thieves.”
Shaikha Hasina, the current PM enjoys wide support among the growing youth of the country. The prime minister cautioned the military, her administration and the public against the covert activities of anti-liberation forces who seem to be delaying the progress of the nation with their subversive activities. She countered that caution should be exercised by her constituents against those seeking to promote their hidden agenda, and asked them to work ‘towards securing democracy, development, national independence and sovereignty.’
Referring to the rejection by the opposition to try those suspected of being collaborators during the nine-month siege against the people of Bangladesh just prior to its liberation, she said, “The anti-liberation forces are trying hard to raise their heads again; they are hatching conspiracies to foil the trial of the identified war criminals. They are on a destructive path discarding the democratic principles. Their conspiracies will continue. I urge the patriotic armed forces, civil administration and the people of the country to remain alert.” Shaikha Hasina made no bones of the fact that her government was successful on many fronts. She maintained that the present government has placed much emphasis on a strong and professional armed force that has been the generous recipient of an incremental budget increase for the last four years. Apart from strengthening the armed forces, Shaikha Hasina noted the developments with new medical facilities and upgraded educational institutions among other added benefits for armed forces members and their families.
There are challenges that face Bangladesh such as food, energy, international affairs and the environment which are generic for the 21st century, she said. “If any of these securities becomes vulnerable, national security will be endangered.” She expressed strong confidence in the people of Bangladesh to turn their country into a middle-income country by 2021.
It may appear that with this diversity in political vision and with parties often at odds with each other, driven undoubtedly by the personalities of their two female leaders, that such a vision may not be attainable.
But if one does indeed have any doubts, then a visit to the country will dispel all such uncertainties. The country is only 41 years old; it did suffer a traumatic birth. But the majority if its people are young and growing, and while that may be true of many other countries, one thing becomes apparent very quickly and that is that the people are not idle. They are hard working and productive and given that commitment, the country of Bangladesh will indeed be on the road to success.
While political parties or strong-willed women may be on opposite sides of the spectrum, it is the will of the industrious people of Bangladesh that will move their country forward towards a singular goal of success. In that endeavour, we wish them well.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.