Time to make our independence meaningful

Maswood Alam Khan from Maryland, USA
The passage of time is an amazing experience, especially so when applied to the growth of anything that is beloved to you: like, your beloved nation, your own child or a tree you had lovingly planted. It is during its formative years when you have got to take utmost care of a growth. It is upon the caregivers whether the growth would be stunned or unimpeded.

It is baffling to imagine what we saw in 1971, a newborn Bangladesh, and what we are seeing today in 2011, a full-grown nation, exactly after 40 years of its independence. The sequence and change of events in the political and economic fields that have shaped Bangladesh were perhaps not exactly what our freedom fighters had expected or in some cases dreamt about.

Our economy has grown substantially but failed to gather pace of what took place in other emerging economies. We are being left far behind in the race of graduating ourselves from poverty to prosperity. Domestic politics have become abominably nastier. Envy, in place of sagacity, has been a dominant gene running in the veins of our leaders influencing their behaviours. Leadership is nearly absent. There is a plenty of politicians vying and greedy for power; but there is not visible a statesman holding a moral compass to navigate us.

It seems we had our independence just the other day. Time seems flying as, like many who were young during our liberation war, I am getting mellower; the reason perhaps is our weakening memory with the years passing; as we can’t remember all the details of what has happened yesterday, let alone last week or last month, time flies and our minds also fly.

Time does not really accelerate, but still it seems time is gaining speed. Time perhaps moves very slowly during the first half of life when we live in the future tense, always looking forward to new things: spouse, children, a car, a house, carrier, promotion etc., and, to the contrary, time moves very fast during the second half of life when we live in the past tense, recalling triumphs and tragedies in our younger years. The slow repetition of days and weeks in our young life had lulled us into thinking time was passing slow, then one day we find the days have made a decade.

We have already spent four decades since our independence. On March 26 in 1971, we had declared our independence and nine months later on December 16 we declared our final victory. On the day of our victory, our country was shattered and our people tattered. But our morale was high. We had to pick up the pieces, very small pieces, brick by brick. The edifice of a war-ravaged Bangladesh had to be rebuilt from the debris left behind by the occupation forces. An ailing economy had to be nursed back to health.

I was not fortunate to be a freedom fighter though many of my friends, when I was in my teens, were lucky to cross the border and claim themselves as direct contributors to our independence. In spite of myself I had to stay back along with my family at our Gandaria residence in Dhaka.

My father was a tiger father and I was treated like a baby even when I was in my 20s. He did not allow me to stay outside of our house after five in the afternoon, let alone the question of my undertaking an odyssey of crossing the border to join the forces of liberation war.

During the whole period of liberation war, my father, like many, was unsure whether Bangladesh would ever be independent in the absence of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with whom my father was friendly at Calcutta when he was studying in Calcutta Presidency College. My father could not also believe his own eyes and ears when Bangladesh was liberated on December 16, 1971. Even after liberation my father was still not sure about the sustenance of independent Bangladesh with Bangabandhu still remaining in Pakistan. Only after Bangabandhu had returned back to Bangladesh my father heaved a sigh of relief and smiled. I remember my late father saying on the day Bangabandhu returned home: “Mujib will take care of Bangladesh; we may now relax”.

But little time did the born leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation, get to take care of Bangladesh in her formative years. So did Ziaur Rahman, the military-turned-political leader, who got a small chance to navigate the nation as a leader with a vision. Both leaders were killed by the enemies who could not stand to see the nation standing high in the comity of nations. With the departures of two Rahmans our nation has since been floundering like a ship without radar, like a boat strayed into an unknown territory with no boatman to paddle it. People had to yield helplessly to the subsequent leaderships — the leaderships that were powered by a mixture of hidden autocracy and adulterated democracy — as people were left with no other choice, as no other leader with a statesmanlike character did ever brave to take the leadership.

In the last century, Asia was seen as the area with most growth. The growth trend, expected to continue in this century, will be powered by the rapidly expanding economies of China and India, coupled with significant growth occurring in certain parts of South, South-East and East Asia. Out of the 10 fastest growing countries in the world, five countries, including Bangladesh, are located in Asia. China has been enjoying a growth rate of more than 10 per cent, India more than 8.0 per cent and even East Timor more than 7.0 per cent and Laos more than 6.0 per cent while Bangladesh is yet to reach 6.0 per cent. Bangladesh is on the threshold of a meteoric growth as there is now a new wave of expansion in Asia and a resurgence of growth in South Asia.

We must ensure sustainability of 5.0 to 6.0 per cent growth over the long-term and raise the growth to a 7.0 to 8.0 per cent range, which is desirable and needed to meet our poverty reduction goals. How can we achieve the goal? Of course, we can achieve this goal only if we could surmount the leadership crisis emanating from rivalry between two main political parties.

The bright future of Bangladesh hinges mainly on our two leaders: Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia. The fate of 156 million people squarely depends on how these two leaders look at the future.

Both the leaders are in their mid-60s. They both are in the second half of life and “Time”, to both of them, would seem to be moving very fast as they have not much time left before they have to say goodbye to us. They have achieved the best one can ever dream of. They have nothing more to gain or lose. It is time for them only to give. It is time for them to enter history with glory so that our posterities would recollect their sacrifices and triumphs with pride and gratitude.

Can’t our two leaders reconcile on only one cause: the wellbeing of Bangladesh? Can’t they erase two affixes—‘Awami League’ and ‘Nationalist Party’—from the names of their respective political parties so that by deletion of these two superfluous words from both ‘Bangladesh Awami League’ and ‘Bangladesh Nationalist Party’ there is left only one word with a bold name “BANGLADESH”? We don’t want to hear anymore separately the names of Bangladesh Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party. We want to hear only of one guardian with one name: “BANGLADESH”. Let this be our pledge on the 40th anniversary of our independence!

Our freedom fighters gifted us a country with set boundaries, but we are yet to be in harmony with countries across the boundaries. We have a flag of our own to hoist aloft but we don’t know how to respect our flag. We have achieved our independence but we are yet to be independent in framing our policies. Our freedom fighters had answered to the call of independence and played their role by sacrificing their lives but we are not safeguarding our independence. Now is the time for a new set of fighters to wage a new crusade to ensure and secure our independence and sovereignty to be truly meaningful.

Time has already passed by when we could give this nation a vision. And not much time is left before we could salvage our nation from being drowned. No more can we afford wasting time! Still there is a faint chance we had excavated our achievements and failures and mapped out our future courses to fulfill the aspirations of our founding fathers and our freedom fighters before we further lose our sense of direction.

Independence Day is going to be celebrated with fervor on the March 26. On this day, we will especially remember with profound gratitude the sacrifices of those brave persons who helped make Bangladesh an independent country. It was due to the efforts of so many people, some known and some unknown, that we now live and breathe freely, without any fear or dominance.

The towering leader, without whose sacrifice Bangladesh perhaps would not have gained independence, was Tajuddin Ahmad, the first prime minister of Bangladesh at the critical period of our independence movement. Let us pay, on this solemn occasion, our tribute to Tajuddin, whose name would remain etched in gold letters in the history of Bangladesh.

The heart of Bangladesh will throb and pulsate with finesse, clarity, peace and happiness if only we take care of Bangladesh the way we take care of anything that is beloved to us. Let’s all get together in order to nurture our country. Such nurturing can only be done if we all individually water the green garden of Bangladesh.

The writer can be reached at e-mail : maswood@hotmail.com


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