Freedom Over Independence!
So, here we are! A new decade starts. We welcome 2011 (I am in disagreement with those who say the decade started last year). We welcome the fortieth year of our independence. As I sit by my reading table on the morning of the first day of the New Year, my gaze goes beyond the potted plants on the window sill, the chirping of the sparrows waiting for their morning quota of grains that is their due, and I try to look beyond the horizon into the future. We are turning forty.
Forty years is nothing in the life of a nation. But forty years, I think, is enough time for retrospection especially for those who were associated with the birth of a nation, directly or indirectly. We called our war “Mukti Juddho” and not “Shwadhinata Juddho”. This, as I might have said before, is pretty significant while recounting or reviewing our birth as a nation. Freedom was the corner stone of our realisation of nationhood and the subsequent war that we fought. And freedom is not merely independence. Freedom is much wider in connotation than independence.
At forty the pertinent question that comes to mind is whether we have been really able to achieve freedom in thought and, as its natural corollary, in action? This is a very difficult question to answer. For, this freedom is a difficult one to achieve. We are constantly being confused. Especially now, when by virtue of all pervasive openness of the channels of communication, just as we have had inflow of knowledge, we have also had to be content with the inundation of our thought process by the malevolent import of garbage generated all over the world for profiteering. When I say we, I mean us or entities like us who have become the new regulator of our destiny and are groping for a sense of direction. Our journey for freedom, forty years ago, started with a defined and definitive purpose--on surer feet. We have a culture that is thousands of years old and we wanted to wrest freedom from the usurper colonialists. Forty years after being independent we find that, that freedom may have eluded us.
My editor wanted this piece on the occasion of the New Year to be hopeful but it seemed to have started on a note of slight regret. Well that's bad. But I wanted to put on record some thoughts that go beyond worldly gains or losses, trials and tribulations. People often say that when you are dealing with a geographical entity it is not good to be philosophical. But a nation is not merely a geographical entity, therefore the need for an in-depth analysis.
This said, we started off not too well after our victory in a protracted battle of nine months that ensued after the country was declared independent by its founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on the 26th of March 1971. The scar that the war had left on the nation was deep and wide. It was so devastated that nobody thought it could be put back in order in the foreseeable future. This prompted many to draw a hopeless picture of our future. Indeed, Henry Kissinger, then the Secretary of State in the US government, called Bangladesh a bottomless basket. Many politicians today, who are opposed to the politics of Bangabandhu and tow the Pakistani line, promptly refer to this as a failure of the Bangladesh Government then. But Kissinger had his own agenda. He wanted East Pakistan to be the launching pad for a future friendship between US and China. East Pakistan's becoming Bangladesh had made his work difficult. I have reasons to believe that at the time, America-China-Pakistan axis never wanted independence of Bangladesh and a conspiracy was hatched by their lackeys when the war of liberation was already on. As a result of this we saw annihilation of Bangabandhu, with his entire family and compatriots on the 15th of August 1975 followed by killings in the central jail at Dhaka of the four most important possible successors to Bangabandhu. Khandakar Mushtaq Ahmed, the 'Brutus' in the Bangladesh cabinet of ministers, who was actively involved in the conspiracy of killing Bangabandhu assumed the state power and since then for 16 long years we saw men in uniform, armed to the teeth, rule over the freedom-loving people of Bangladesh. Despite the devastation wrought by the war and total non-cooperation by the Middle Eastern countries, Pakistan and China under the influence of the then US government, Bangabandhu tried his best to put things in order and in November of 1975 we saw his green revolution yield an excellent harvest in the country. Mushtaq could not have claimed the credit for this being in power for only three months since the cold blooded murder of Bangabandhu. By citation of this example what I am trying to drive at is the fact that ordinary people who spontaneously opted for independence from foreign occupation made this country viable despite all odds.
As we start our journey in 2011 things seem really gratifying to say the least. Development in the infrastructural area has always been ear-marked as priority and today we have a number of laurels which indicate that Kissinger's basket case has by now become a faded dream. As I write this piece, we have the largest foreign exchange reserve with our central bank, thanks to the remittance of patriotic Bangali wage-earners. We have emerged as the third largest exporter of readymade garments after China and Vietnam (an improvement from the 5th position), our per capita GDP has grown two fold from 3 years back, our villages are beaming with signs of affluence, the index for purchasing power parity has also doubled commensurate with the GDP growth. The investment possibility by overseas investors is showing clear signs of improvement. In fact according to some of my banker friends, many possible investors are today more interested in Bangladesh than Vietnam, this used to be the first port of call for such purposes until last year. Our education policy has undergone a revolutionary change. Books have begun to be distributed in the primary and secondary level of schools, free of cost. Agricultural output shows a steady growth. Religious extremists are being apprehended reflecting the progress of pluralist ideology.
Over all from the point of view of all development indices Bangladesh is on the verge of taking off. I am aware of the fact that there hiccups. The power sector is not been able to deliver yet and there is constant shortage, but a long term plan is in place to sort this out in the shortest possible time. There is problem of traffic jam on the streets of Dhaka to be sorted out. We already see that work has begun on flyovers and construction of express ways is contemplated upon. So at the advent of this year we can be happy that we are on the right path. But there is no place for complacency, more so on the part of the common people. For, they are the ones who can guide their leaders towards a fool proof solution to all our problems.
However, the debate between freedom and independence still bugs me. In order to make material progress sustainable, freedom of thought is an essential precondition. And that can only come through proper education and enlightenment. We hope our rich and diverse cultural heritage will encourage us to place this above all other considerations. this is what our brave people have laid down their lives for four decades ago.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010