Bangabandhu visualized state-building strategy prioritizing food, communication in war-torn Bangladesh
A K M Kamal Uddin Chowdhury
Envisioning economic reconstruction as a pressing need of the political economy of a war-ravaged country, architect of independent Bangladesh Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had successfully devised a state-building strategy with a focus on food output and restoration of damaged communication system to enable people to earn a decent living in the post-war era.
Standing on the throes of debris, Bangabandhu had planned for a long road of economic effort implementing policies necessary to overcome challenges of the war-torn nation and to transform the ravaged war economy into functioning economy.
Experiences of his long and strenuous political journey amply readied Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to spur post-war economic reconstruction and rebuild war-wrecked country immediately after his return home from the Pakistan’s jail. In visualizing a Bangladesh that would bring socio-economic freedom for a suffering people, Bangabandhu had aptly conceived a special strategy on the development of communication system and food production.
“It was obvious that the two greatest needs were food and the restoration of the transport system with which to move the food around the country. It is remarkable that Bangabandhu’s administration was able to prevail and the refugees returned in a very well organized way,” said Julian Francis at his article on ‘Thinking about and Remembering Bangabandhu’ at a commemorative publication on the occasion of the Birth Centenary of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
National Implementation Committee for the Celebration of the Birth Centenary of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman brought out the commemorative publication. Julian Francis, a former official of the renowned British NGO, OXFAM who worked among refugees in 1971, said he learnt of the genocidal crackdown on 25th March, 1971. “Later still I became involved in Oxfam’s large refugee relief programme in refugee camps in the border areas of India providing succor to about 6,00,000 Bangladesh women, men and children”, he added.
After the Liberation War, he said, he came to Bangladesh and paid a courtesy call on Bangabandhu, arranged by Tajuddin Ahmed (Prime Minister in exile in India in 1971).
At the meeting he told Bangabandhu that he wanted his advice about what a small organization like Oxfam might be able to do to assist the rehabilitation and development of Bangladesh.
“Bangabandhu took his pipe out of his mouth and pointed the stem of the pipe at me. ‘How did you come here, young man?’ he asked me in a booming voice. I told him that I had driven overland from Kolkata. ‘In that case, he told me, ‘You have seen more of the country than I as I was a prisoner for over 9 months. So please tell me what you think my country needs. What have you seen?’,” he added.
As a result of the meeting with Bangabandhu, he said, Oxfam was able to procure three truck-carrying ferries and to assist the repair of many others.
In his article, Julian Francis also mentioned that in his (Bangabandhu’s) speech on January 10, the day he returned to Bangladesh, Bangabandhu said “My brothers, you know that we have a lot of works to do. I want all my people to begin working on repairing broken roads. I want you all to go back to the fields and cultivate paddy. I want to say, not a single employee should take bribes. Remember, it was not an opportune time then, but now, I will not forgive those who take bribes.”
He said that at that time -January or February 1972- Bangabandhu repeatedly reminded everyone in government positions that they should dedicate themselves to the service of people.
“He (Bangabandhu) reminded them (government employees) that they are the servants of the people, not masters. He also ordered that no luxury items like air conditioners, carpets and furniture could be purchased,” he added.
Former Bangladesh Bank Governor Dr Atiur Rahman said the country’s first national budget also put priority on agriculture, education and social welfare, including construction of houses for the freedom fighters and the women, children and others who lost everything during the War of Independence.
In line with the budget, the country’s first fifth five-year plan with Taka 4,455 crore was also announced at the special initiative of Bangabandhu aimed at eliminating poverty and ensuring education, health, food and housing for all, he added.
“He had always worked for the poor. Even when he was a little child, he shared his father’s crops with his poor neighbours,” Atiur said.
Bangabandhu laid emphasis on agriculture, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and cottage industries for creating employment opportunities and reducing income discrimination.
Atiur Rahman said the government under the leadership of Bangabandhu started reconstructing some big bridges, power stations and telephone exchanges for restoring communication and power supply which were critical to revitalizing the country’s economy.
“In the next few years Hardinge Bridge, Tista Railway Bridge and Bhairab Railway Bridge were reconstructed and reopened to the traffic. Chittagong Port was also made useable by removing mines and ship wreckages from the port entry,” he added.
Atiur said Bangabandhu announced a long-term credit facility, short-term loan for working capital and equity support for capital investment.
Establishing effective diplomatic relations with other countries was another step that Bangabandhu initiated without any delay after forming his government. Due to his prompt steps, a proposal was tabled in the United Nations for providing Bangladesh Taka 411 crore for rebuilding the country. India also came up with rehabilitation assistance and relief with $250 million.
The UN relief operation team in a report in 1972 mentioned that Bangladesh has been established as a disciplined country within a year of the War of Liberation thanks to various initiatives of the democratically run government.
The US embassy in a special report for the US government also wrote that the Prime Minister (Bangabandhu) of Bangladesh had brought everything under his control. The way he organised his administration, none could think that Bangladesh was non-existent only a year ago, the report noted.