Bernier, a 16th century French traveller to Bengal had said, “Bengal has thousand gates to enter, but not a single for exit.” The early 16th century Chinese ambassadors to the court of Bengal Sultan Ghyasuddin Azam Shah (1392-1410), gave two certificates to the people of Bengal: they do not lie, and they do not cheat anyone. The first evidence related to how much the foreign visitor was enamoured of the natural beauty; while the second one was about the high moral standard of the people. Both the evidences point to a satisfactory state of Bengal and its people.
Nevertheless, superficial observers as they were, historical evidence has it that, Bengal was never what is passed off as a Golden Bengal. There were riches juxtaposed by rags as there was inequality between the well-to-do and those who found it difficult to eke out a living.The vision of Golden Bengal was first conjured up by the nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Thakur, and then Bangabandhu; Rabindranath’s was a poetic imagination, and Bangabandhu’s was a realistic and task-oriented.
On 10 January 1972, in his homecoming address, while detailing a roadmap for the new country, Bangabandhu uttered a loaded sentence, “Bangladesh will be an ideal state.” It would be well-nigh impossible to define an ideal state; and no country of the world approaches the definition of the ideal state. It may be suggested that Bangabandhu meant to achieve a welfare state – a Sonar Bangla. He articulated the contours of his vision of Bangladesh as he spoke at Rajshahi on 9 May 1972: “What do I want? I want the Bengal people get two square meals a day. What do I want? I want unemployed get jobs. What do I want? I want my people of Bengal be happy. What do I want? I want my Bengal people be smiling and be sportive all the time. What do I want? I want my people of Bengal smile again to their heart’s content.” I believe this was Bangabandhu’s roadmap for a Sonar Bangla.
At 50, Bangladesh may take pride in having taken sure and rapid strides in economic growth, so much so that the country is certificated to be graduating from the least developed country status to one of the developing.
There remains a lot more to be done. Economy progresses, but politics lags. Democracy, the earliest commitment of Bangladesh, has had, a stunted growth. Moreover, Bangabandhu’s vision of golden humans for golden Bengal is yet to be had. At the beginning, the new state of Bangladesh was prognosticated by Dr Kissinger to be a ‘bottomless basket.” Bangabandhu, in his 1,314 days to rebuild the country, did substantially fill the so-called ‘bottomless basket’; now the basket is full to the brim, even over-spilling.
Nevertheless, in realistic terms, it appears that we can hardly be smug in what we have so far achieved. Indeed, we have many more miles to go to reach the vision of a Sonar Bangla. Economic strides are interspersed with ideological slips; and there has been yawning gap in equality over the years.
The writer is the Chair Professor, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Chair, Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP)