Sheikh Hasina’s leadership skills: Unique combination of exemplary courage and vision
By Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury:
Bangladesh was created when East Pakistan became separate from Pakistan in 1971 and in less than 50 years Bangladesh economy has overtaken Pakistan economy overwhelmingly. Bangladesh, despite military rule and thereafter misrule by BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami has surged ahead of Pakistan which today has become a basket case with its PM Imran Khan visiting countries after countries seeking grants and investments.
Bangladesh has emerged as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Its per capita income has doubled over the last decade. It is all set to leave the category of “least developed countries”. Hasina’s ambition is to accelerate the annual economic growth rate from the current 7 per cent to nearly 10 per cent by the time Bangladesh celebrates its 50th birthday in 2021.
What does this economic transformation of Bangladesh mean for the Indian Subcontinent? It has begun to change the economic situation in the region, by displacing Pakistan. The per capita income of Bangladesh, $1800, is now larger than that of Pakistan’s at about $1600. It is also a question of direction, momentum and national purpose. In contrast to Pakistan’s bleak economic future, there is economic optimism about Dhaka’s economic prospects. If Prime Minister Imran Khan is travelling round the world to stitch together yet another bailout of Pakistan’s economy, PM Sheikh Hasina talks of reducing reliance on aid focusing on trade and investment.
Some in Pakistan are now asking the Imran Khan governemnt to adopt the “Bangladesh model” — where the focus is on economic development rather than political adventurism and promoting secularism instead of extremism. As Bangladesh rises, it changes the balance within South Asia by tilting the region’s economic centre of gravity towards the east.
The economic advancement of Bangladesh helps lift up the whole of the eastern Subcontinent, including India’s Northeast as well as Bhutan and Nepal and pushes BBIN (Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal) partnership as well as BIMSTEC and India’s South East Asia policy. thanks also the initiative of Bangladesh, its maritime territorial issues with India and Burma have been peacefully resolved through arbitration. That opens up significant room for maritime economic and security cooperation within the Bay of Bengal. That in turn will deepen the integration between eastern Subcontinent and Southeast Asia.
Till date, Pakistan has asked for and gotten 12 International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailouts, and is looking for its 13th and most expensive one yet. On top of these bailouts, it has gotten generous financial assistance from countries like Saudi Arabia and China. To save itself from an economic crisis this time, it has received $6 billion ($3 billion deposit in balance of payments aid, $3 billion in deferred oil payments) from Saudi Arabia, a similar amount (or so it says, no one really knows yet) from China, and is in talks with the UAE and Malaysia.
Compared to this Hasina has assured to work for realizing aspirations of converting Bangladesh into a developed country by 2021. Compared to the past BNP-Jamaat government which virtually patronized all radical Islamic groups and pro-Pak forces and was even involved in engineering a grenade attack on Awami League rally in Dhaka targeting Sheikh Hasina who was then addressing the anti-terrorism rally on August 21, 2004, it was a huge relief for all those who are opposed to Islamic radicalism, terrorism and corruption. Legacy of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman confers a unique symbolic identity to Awami League which is credited with the very creation of Bangladesh and laying of foundation of Bengali nationalism.
The success of Sheikh Hasina is nothing less than a miracle. She has developed the country from almost nothing. That the least developed country Bangladesh is now a developing country is her contribution to development. Her first term of office as Prime Mimister (1996-2001) was a warm up phase after years of decay and deadlock caused by the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975. It, however, faltered as the BNP-Jamaat alliance took over and unleashed a reign of violence, corruption, religious extremism and militancy that lasted for a full term of five years from 2001. Then Sheikh Hasina appeared as the savior and came up with her party’s manifesto ‘Charter for Change-Vision 2021’ and swept to landslide victory in parliamentary election held on 29th December 2008. She took up the reins for second consecutive term in 2014 and made the country rise like a phoenix from the ashes of ruination. The journey continued and is still continuing now against all the odds.
The economy of Bangladesh now is booming. HSBC Annual Report says that Bangladesh is becoming the 26th largest economy in the world and will be followed by Philippines, Pakistan, Vietnam and Malaysia. The country has been enlisted into the Next Eleven countries – South Korea, Mexico, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Turkey and Vietnam which are ready to become the biggest economies in the 21st century world after the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia,India and China). As the second largest economic sector in the subcontinent, Bangladesh is marching forward as member of the Commonwealth, D-8, and Organization for Economic Cooperation, SAARC, IMF, World Bank, World Trade Organization and Asian Infrastructure Development Bank under Sheikh Hasina’s dynamic leadership. Sheikh Hasina has demonstrated how it was possible to venture into the Padma Bridge construction without any World Bank funding, defying opposition of all big powers.
A big success of Sheikh Hasina is the bold move to bring the war criminals of 1971 to justice. These war criminals earlier shared power with Khaleda Zia and wielded tremendous political clout during the BNP regime. The people of the country, particularly those who lost their near and dear ones during the liberation war in 1971, must have been happy to see the perpetrators of war crimes put on trial and brought to justice decades after these heinous crimes were committed.
Sheikh Hasina is a supremely courageous leader who stands before the raging storm with the spirit of Liberation War. Trying the war criminals of 1971 was the boldest ever initiative after the War of Liberation. Not bowing down to any internal and external pressure, she went on with her mission in fulfilling her avowed commitment to the nation. This is a new history in the dispensation of justice in Bangladesh which proves crimes against humanity never go void. Putting the war criminals on trial and bringing them to justice was a very bold decision on the part of Sheikh Hasina and the war crimes trials are on an equal footing with the Nuremberg trials, Tokyo trials and Manila trials.
Another achievement that Sheikh Hasina can be credited with is that her government is engaged in relentless battle against religious militancy. It is a serious problem besetting the Muslim countries. Innocent people are being annihilated in thousands in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and other places by radical forces. In recent past Bangladesh also came under the grip of militant forces. The horrible bombing of Ramna Batamul in 2001, the grenade attack on Auguat 21, 2004, the simultaneous country-wide bomb blast on August 17, 2005, and the latest Gulshan Café standoff on July 1, 2016 heralded the existence of religious militancy in Bangladesh. If these social evils had not been fought back in right earnest by Sheikh Hasina they would have, by now, risen to a point of no return. Sheikh Hasina is taking a tough line on them and her anti-militancy role can provide a model that other Muslim countries can emulate.
Women empowerment is another remarkable success of Sheikh Hasina. This is for the first time in Bangladesh that large number of women is holding high offices. According to Nobel laureate Prof Amartya Sen Bangladesh is ahead of India in all indexes of gender equality and empowerment. The Sheikh Hasina government adopted a national policy on women empowerment and brought about radical change in their social and legal status by implementing the policy.
Being a successful manager of the affairs of the state, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ensured peace and stability in the country through her consummate tactical skills in neutralising the destabilising forces and eliminating the potential threats of subversion and extremism. Showing zero tolerance to religious fanaticism and fundamentalism, Sheikh Hasina has triumphantly upheld the basic principle of secularism declared in Bangladesh constitution. In fact, the long uninterrupted spell of stability during her tenure obviously makes up the exclusive chemistry of her development vision.
PM Hasina’s extraordinary handling of the hugely gigantic humanitarian Rohingya issue at once brought her acclaim and recognition of her capable leadership beyond the national borders. Giving shelter to more than seven lakhs Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina has truly emerged as the Mother of Humanity. All global bodies by awarding innumerable titles and tags have virtually recognised her outstanding contributions towards distressed humanity. Ensuring the better living conditions and increasing the facilities for the long deprived inhabitants of the enclaves, she has held out a dream of living with dignity before these distressed and detached people from light. These unbelievably daunting tasks of rehabilitating and resettling underprivileged and deprived people was a challenge for her which Sheikh Hasina has overcome with her singular charisma and courage.
Sheikh Hasina has now become a symbol of national unity and solidarity. She embodies an entity that is ever vigilant to thwart all conspiracies against Bangladesh. Those who love Bangladesh and her independent spirit have to lend their whole-hearted support to Sheikh Hasina so as to help her carry her onward march of development in building the long-cherished Sonar Bangla. The people must keep in mind that the successors of the heinous reactionary elements who killed the Father of the Nation are still lying in wait for the slimmest chance to destabilise the enviable development of Bangladesh once again.
Sheikh Hasina’s landslide victory in the just concluded 11th national election has conclusively proved an overwhelming electoral mandate in favour of her mission and commitments. By voting Sheikh Hasina into power for the fourth time, people has reposed their trust in her. Now it is the turn for the Awami League to keep up with the trust. The best possible way to celebrate the overwhelming victory is to materialize the hopes and aspirations of the people from all walks of life. Sheikh Hasina’s leadership is essential for the country, the region and the world as well.