It is indeed a tough task to write a few lines on a legendary figure like our golden daughter Sheikh Hasina, also the mother of exploited population of Bangladesh, who is committed towards the downtrodden. Because of her vast competence, farsightedness, wisdom, deep sense of justice, fairness and dynamism, I am unable to decide from where to begin and where to conclude. A person’s personal, family, social and state activities can be evaluated through chapter-wise discussion, but honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is not only the president of a political party or head of the government, who has created milestones one after another and an embodied symbol of humanity as well as a forerunner in the forward march of a nation, but also an extraordinary personality whose unparallel dexterity, merit, statesmanship, remarkable wisdom and indomitable willpower are beyond expression. I do not possess the ability of writing in detail all about her qualities. It is also impossible on my part as we were classmates in student life. A book can be written by narrating the activities of her student life.
I know Sheikh Hasina for 50 years. We, along with Chhatra League workers, have lots of memories. It never came to my mind for even a single moment during our student life that she would have to shoulder the responsibility of building Bangabandhu’s Sonar Bangla. Narratives of her activities that she pursued to lift the nation from the vast deep of errors is not possible by writing a few chapters or in hundreds of pages. I hope someone will write her auto-biography by evaluating herself in a proper manner. I would have been glad enough if I could do that. It is an impossible task to collect information relating to Sheikh Hasina and highlight the major activities that she carried on during her 17-year regime. The same situation has arisen over Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Research over him and his life and work are not comparable with any other Bengalee. In the Mujib Barsha, we received lots of information about him. As to why, he became much more memorable. On the other side, apart from being the political successor of Bangabandhu, Sheikh Hasina guided the nation in a wider perspective. There is no way to compare Sheikh Hasina with great politicians of Bangladesh like Sher-e-Bangla, Suhrawardy, Bhasani or many others. During her long regime, she has entirely transformed the country which is unparallel in history. She has transformed an agriculture-based country into a digital one.
Sheikh Hasina’s teacher Professor Rafiqul Islam who taught her 50 years ago at Dhaka University’s Bangla department very often tells about her student as a modest one who inhibits no pride. Late Anis Sir too used to evaluate her in a similar manner. It seems our two teachers could not forget the activities of Sheikh Hasina's student life at DU Bangla department. A much-talked-about video has drawn attention of all where we saw Professor Anisuzzaman Sir was walking along the red carpet while Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina walking through the grass taking care of her dear teacher. By witnessing the small incidents, you can learn how did Sheikh Hasina treat her teachers with deep reverence. Being her contemporary, we were witness to similar incidents in 1970. We have also observed it how she had spent her student life as an ordinary Chhatra League worker coming from a family of middle-class background. Afterwards, she went abroad and came back to Bangladesh in 1981. Later, I had an opportunity of meeting her in 1983. I went to her Mohakhali residence to take an interview as a journalist. On that day, she not only gave me her interview offering me a cup of tea, but she reminisced about remarkable events of her student life. I have seen how she led a simple life at a government quarter at Mohakhali as a spouse of a nuclear scientist. Alongside, she had confronted the political challenges.
After 50 years of our independence, let us remember how Bangabandhu embarked on a journey of transforming a developing country through his aptness and wisdom. Think about enrolment of ITU-UPU membership. Remember the opening of the first satellite earth station at Betbunia on June 14, 1975. It is quite absurd to conclude a discussion if we do not talk about formation of Qudrat-i-Khuda Education Commission, Compulsory Primary Education, nationalisation of primary schools, rebating of tax on 25 bighas of land and determining the ceiling of 100 bighas of land. But, one thing is true that the Father of the Nation has earmarked the country's destination with the announcement of launching the second revolution in an effort to build the country as ‘Sonar Bangla’. Actually, he had laid the foundation of Digital Bangladesh. Those who think about Digital Bangladesh as Fourth Industrial Revolution, and Robotics, IOT and Artificial Intelligence etc as Fifth-sixth Revolution, they have done a mistake. Digital Bangladesh means ‘Sonar Bangla’ of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman what the honourable Prime Minister terms as a happy, prosperous, poverty and discrimination-free Bangladesh.
By founding Bangladesh, the nation learnt to dream of ‘Sonar Bangla’ from Bangabandhu. If we try to analyse in a simple manner, we find that Bangabandhu sowed the seed of developing Bangladesh scientifically. Alongside technical education, he took initiatives for industrialisation of the country. He first introduced science education, scientific research and innovation. Think about the satellite that we launched in 2018. Bangabandhu himself inaugurated the satellite's earth station back in 1975. Presently, the telecom sector is the highway to the world's Fourth Industrial Revolution. As a foundation of the telecom sector, he had established the T&T Board.
Earlier, we have mentioned that Bangabandhu had sown the seed of Digital Bangladesh. Let me remind on what perspective Sheikh Hasina gave an announcement of Digital Bangladesh. Remember some important events of her first five-year rule. In 1996, she institutionalised V-sat ushering in an era of the internet. Alongside, she gave license to four mobile operators instead of monopoly mobile operator. This has resulted in beginning of the golden era of mobile phone in Bangladesh. She made an important announcement in the 1998-'99 budget to withdraw Customs duty and VAT from computers. During that period, she stressed the importance of computer education and announced to make 10,000 programmers. But the advancement of Bangladesh was halted in 2001 when efforts were made to turn Bangladesh into Pakistan endangering the country's very existence. During that seven-year period, all arrangements were done to move the positive achievements of Sheikh Hasina backward. During a period from 2001 to 2006, the digitisation work of Sheikh Hasina was forced to turn back. Despite having a positive outlook of the 2007-08 caretaker administration, it was none but Sheikh Hasina who had to announce Digital Bangladesh in 2008.
In a very clear term, it should be mentioned that Bangabandhu's worthy daughter Sheikh Hasina, also the noble daughter Mother Bengal, has been implementing the programme of building Bangladesh suiting to the needs of the digital era. Although Bangladesh could not participate in three industrial revolutions, but she took an epoch-making initiative to flourish the Information Technology (IT) so that the country can be able to take part in the next industrial revolution. Being assisted by her worthy son Sajeeb Wazed Joy, Sheikh Hasina was the first politician of Bangladesh who guided her party through use of computer in the ’80s of last century. It is also time to remember that she was the first president of a political party in the country who utilised IT for the party. In 1996, she carried on election campaign through ABAS, the first ever digital news service of the country. Following announcement of Digital Bangladesh programme on December 12, 2008, the country underwent a rapid transformation which is a wonder in digital world.
While delivering her pre-recorded statement at the event, she stated that the Covid-19 pandemic had revealed the strength of digital services and also exposed the stark digital divide. Sheikh Hasina said, the Bangladesh government has envisioned a "Digital Bangladesh" by 2021, and the country witnessed a boom in the internet due to its push for digitalisation. “The total number of internet users stood at 103.48 million. Our digitalisation has afforded our people huge opportunities to become change-makers,” she said. The premier said the government's focus on digital connectivity has facilitated economic development and catalysed social changes, including women's empowerment. “It is helping SDGs implementation and fighting against Covid-19.” Through this address, the honourable Prime Minister informed the world that she is not only the architect of Digital Bangladesh, but also the leader of Digital World.
Since 2018, I have travelled a few countries across the world on official work. The countries include Spain, Switzerland, Japan, Singapore, Thailand and India. Wherever I went, I had to talk with the policymakers of those countries. While talking about Sheikh Hasina's Digital Bangladesh, my breast swelled everywhere. Everyone praised the Prime Minister's great initiative. Many countries wanted to know about Bangladesh's digitisation procedure or its application, sought cooperation or wanted to sign Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).
It is unimaginable that there are almost 17 crore mobile connections and around 11 crore internet connections in this land of 16 crore population. At each and every union, there are Fiber optics connections. In this lingering period of ‘Mujib Barsha’, as well as the Golden Jubilee of our independence when we are going to celebrate the diamond jubilee of Sheikh Hasina's birth anniversary, the entire nation and Bangla-speaking people living around the world convey the heart-felt greetings, gratitude and congratulations to our leader. Bangabandhu's ‘Sonar Bangla’ is being built by Sheikh Hasina. That is why we express our congratulations to this great golden daughter.
The writer is the Minister of Post and Telecommunication
Translated by Z A M Khairuzzaman