Bangladesh: The better case
Henry Kissinger, in 1971, dismissed Bangladesh as a nation blighted at its very birth by calling it an “international basket case”.
Kissinger’s “basket case” is now eyeing 8% growth (from 5.8% in the year ended June 30); has pioneered a unique loan model for the poor; is one of the few Muslim-majority nations to pocket the Nobel Prize and last year picked up an award for work on the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. Oops! Sorry about the long sentence. I’d rather blame the long list of laurels instead.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh need not heave a sigh at 25% of Bangladeshis being opposed to India, if the rest 75% offers hope.
Turkey is often the Muslim country the world cites as a possible model for others. Bangladesh is an unsung hero we have much to learn from.
There are many upsides that looked impossible 40 years ago. Bangladesh’s population is rising less slowly than it did; it has achieved almost universal gender parity in primary education and reduced under-5 mortality impressively, according to the UN.
Bangladesh was in 2005 named among 11 developing countries that Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said had the greatest potential for long-term economic success. In an April 2007 report, JP Morgan Chase & Co. named Bangladesh one of the “Frontier Five” markets.
Bangladesh’s garments export totalled $12.3 billion last year, making it fourth in the world. Gerry Weber International AG, Germany’s second-largest maker of women’s clothing, moved production from China to Bangladesh. In March, Florida-based women’s clothier Chico’s FAS Inc. permanently moved some of its sourcing to Bangladesh.
According to The Economist Intelligence Unit, inflows of remittances from Bangladeshis working overseas stood at US$4.5bn in the second half of 2008, representing an increase of 31.1% compared with the year-earlier period.
Bangladesh also ranked 130 among 139 countries for its network of roads, power and ports, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2010.
It’s unfortunate when the West lampoons Bangladesh as “bang-the-dish” and we in India think Bangladesh owes its existence to us.
There was a time when Bangladesh fed eastern India, with its fish and food. It was once the Golden Bengal, where Tagore and poet laureate Kazi Nazrul Islam were born. Then, people from undivided India would migrate to the more fertile and prosperous east Bengal.
The odds are stacked still. Bangladesh, which has seen three major coups and two-dozen violent uprisings since its birth, has had underpinnings by vendetta politics and radical Islam. But few countries have shown the resolve to confront terror and embrace plurality.
Last July, the Supreme Court overturned a 31-year-old constitutional amendment and restored Bangladesh’s founding status as a secular republic. This June, Bangladesh High Court demanded an explanation from the government the legal grounds of keeping Islam as the country’s state religion, amid demands to restore the secular character of 1972 constitution. The two-member bench from which the notice came was symbolic in its composition; it comprised judges Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik and Gobinda Chandra Tagore, a minority Hindu.
Overall, Bangladesh is a place where remarkable progress has been made. But it is also a country where much progress remains to be made. This needs our appreciation and recognition. Far from being the basket case Kissinger made it out to be, Bangladesh is earnestly trying to emerge as the better case.