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The return of hope: The clear light of a new dawn


How citizens rejected the anti-Indian and Jehadi forces. Saurabh Kumar Shahi Reports
TSI | Issue Dated: January 18, 2009
Tags : Bangladesh | Saurabh Kumar Shahi | positively hyperbolic | marauding Bengali Muslims | anti-India tirade | human-carted rickshaws | Bengali maid servants | archetypal Delhi slum | Kafkaesque description | unwarranted exaggerations | Wahabi fanaticism | Lata Mangeshkar | burka-clad women | Rabindranath Tagore | Robindro Songeet | Rezwana Chowdhury Bonna | General Election | pro-BNP journalists | smooth boulevards | Awami League | Sheikh Hasina Wajed | Henry Kissinger | Grameen Bank | Nobel laureate | Mohammad Yunus | sports apparel | Gulshan | Banani | Dhanmondi | Baridhara | right detour | Jamaat propaganda | Vision 2021 | Herculean task | food autarky |
The return of hope: The clear light of a new dawn Bangladesh is celebrating democracy as it never has. Saurabh Kumar Shahi looks at the larger picture from inside

Images of neighboring Bangladesh in India could hardly be described as positively hyperbolic. What comes to mind immediately? A nation of marauding Bengali Muslims that draws succor from anti-India tirade; that it is so underdeveloped; that modern communication is limited to human-carted rickshaws. Much of this imagery is fired by the presence of Bengali maid servants, who live in the archetypal Delhi slum and work in millions of Indian homes, rumoured to be from Bangladesh. This Kafkaesque description reaches a pinnacle in another racial stereotype: people are so poor and ill-fed that a big-fat lavish Indian wedding can feed the entire nation.

I am happy to report, however, that this typicality has unwarranted exaggerations. In fact, the image could be quite on the contrary. To be sure, Bangladesh has its share of problems, but to suggest that it has lost the mechanism to deal with them will not only be farthest from truth but callous at the same time.

Let’s get down to breaking myths. Across the length and breadth of the country, I met scores of people who were still grateful that India midwifed the birth of their nation. The mere mention of India lights up their eyes. And this feeling cuts across barriers. Students, housewives, professors, politicians and prostitues, all have something good to say about India.

It is interesting to remember here that Bangladesh follows its own version of Islam. Undoubtedly, there are pockets bordering India which are currently under the spell of Wahabi fanaticism, but large parts of the country remain liberal at heart. Tell them you are from India and you are politely informed that some edible preparations are beef-based, as if to warn you. Questions about ones religion are asked in very gentle tones, as if not to embarrass their guest.

The nation survives on a diet of Indian movies and music. Shahrukh Khan could easily give most of their leaders a run for their money, should he be allowed to contest elections, at least theoretically speaking. As will Lata Mangeshkar.

The classical music and drama scene in Dhaka is so vibrant that at times it becomes difficult to believe that it is not Kolkata. There are only a few burka-clad women, no more than you’ll find in Kolkata. Bangla names are still common. Among Muslims here, there are as many Rasheeds and Sohels as there are Ripons, Saraths and Gogols. The return of hope: The clear light of a new dawn Rabindranath Tagore remains an iconic figure. In fact, there are those who believe that the real Robindro Songeet is to be found only in Bangladesh, immortalised in the voice of the great Rezwana Chowdhury Bonna.

However, to say also that there are no reservations about India would be to miss the obvious. There are discordant voices, but they remain on the fringes. And even then, courtesy is never abandoned. Like, on the eve of General Election results, when one of my friends introduced me to two pro-BNP journalists, one of them snapped at my friend: “Bechedile to deshta oder desher haatey!" (So, you sold this nation to his country), unaware that I, like millions of other Indians, understand Bangla. When told of the truth, profuse apologies followed, many, many times.

Dhaka is aptly called a city of rickshaws, because it has more than four lakh of them plying on the roads. That does not make it the only form of transportation by any chance. The wide, smooth boulevards are swarming with the latest models of Suzuki, Toyota, BMW and the like. Other modern amenities are arriving. The bus system is comfortable. So are radio cabs. The government is planning to invest billions of dollars to modernise transportation. Informed sources say the plan has been well laid out. The thumping majority to Awami League (AL) means its mandate to implement reforms is stronger and free of people who could needlessly throw a spanner in the works. Sheikh Hasina Wajed is not likely to face too much of that. And she can afford to plan. The railway system is being modernised. Plans are afoot to convert the entire railways to broad gauge. Several flyovers and bridges have come up in last few years. And Bangladesh is happening.

At the end of the day, however, it remains a nation of impoverished people. Poverty is widespread in villages. But it is definitely not a “basket case”, as Henry Kissinger once famously said and believed. Their experts say that poverty elimination programs are bearing results.

And there is no better evidence of this empowerment than Grameen Bank and Nobel laureate, Mohammad Yunus, both of whom epitomise the spirit of the country. The mobile penetration is 30 per cent – twice that of India and Pakistan. The textile and garment industry is the backbone of the country. Bangladesh is the largest exporter of sports apparel in the world. Last year, it exported goods worth a whopping $10 billion. There is a good chance that Kissinger’s fancy suit may have come from Bangladesh. Although huts remain a common sight, the cities of Bangladesh are comparable to anything south Asia offers. The official number of millionaires in Bangladesh is 4,500. The real number could be much higher. Upscale conclaves like Gulshan, Banani, Dhanmondi and Baridhara can take the breath away from South Delhi and South Mumbai enclaves. The city boasts of some excellent hotels and fab discotheques.

The country has significant achievements in education. The gross enrolment ratio in Bangladesh is close to 100 per cent. The problem area is the drop-out ratio. Bangladesh needs to focus on that. Also, higher studies are in tatters. The AL manifesto has promised to make higher education free. Political analysts say that it got a thumping vote from the student community. Currently, there are three types of educational institutions: Bangla, English and Madrasaa. They often produce citizens with conflicting ideas and thought processes, not what the country’s education planners had in mind.

The nation, during the reign of BNP had taken a `right’ detour. A lot of it was a result of Jamaat propaganda. The “Moshjide ulu dhoni” campaign by Jamaat was panned to mislead the masses. Ulu dhoni is the typical auspicious sound emanating from women's mouths during Hindu religious ceremonies. Jamaat's contention was that if AL comes to power, Hindus would take over mosques. Yes, a section of people are helping terrorists. But voters have rejected them. Jamaat has been decimated. Its top leaders including its Aamir and General Secretary lost in their so called bastions. “A religion with a global following of 1.4 billion in danger?” people pondered. "And will it be saved by voting a party in Bangladesh. Hah!" The AL has vowed to transform the lives of people through its Vision 2021, a date by which it envisages total education, healthcare and nutrition. According to its projections, longevity would reach 70 years and poverty would have been condensed to a third of what it is currently. A Herculean task, if there ever one was.

But those are long term goals that require intense, methodical preparations. The shorter term objectives of the Awami League government remains universal access to clean water by 2011, food autarky by 2012, universal access to sanitation, GDP growth of eight per cent, 8,000 megawatts of power generation, universal free education up to university by 2013 and complete literacy when its incumbency ends in 2014. As a sympathetic Indian, all that I can do is to doff my hat in Hasina's direction. The Prime Minister is, afterall, India’s best friend in Dhaka.
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017