Bangabandhu returned home on 10 January 1972. On 17 January, the American weekly the Time ran a cover-page story on the newly emerged Bangladesh. The cover-page carried a bust-size photograph of Bangabandhu with the caption written diagonally on top left, "Bangladesh From Jail to Power." It is to be noted that, in this caption, Bangabandhu and Bangladesh were used synonymously; which was right in historical terms. On 17 May 1981, Sheikh Hasina returned to Bangladesh to assume the presidentship of the not too well Awami League, after having spent six years in exile in India. On her day of homecoming, I wrote in my diary, “Bangladesh from Exile to Existence." Ostensibly, while conceiving of such a sentence, I was influenced by the Time caption; and I also considered Sheikh Hasina synonymously with Bangladesh. That I was not wrong came to be proved subsequently as the renowned poet Hasan Hafizur Rahman, in a tete-a-tete with Sheikh Hasina, called the latter, "You are Bangladesh." Indeed, the return of Sheikh Hasina symbolized the return of Bangladesh.
Emotional profusion vis-a-vis Sheikh Hasina's homecoming may have two explanations. First, we have lost Bangabandhu, the founding father; but Sheikh Hasina returned to us, as it were, as the incarnation of Bangabandhu. Again, Sheikh Hasina has so far earned a niche` as Bangabandhu's daughter. This father-daughter image still reigns supreme in our psyche. We do recognise that Bangabandhu created Bangladesh; and his daughter Sheikh Hasina has been building Bangladesh. She appears to be a fit custodian of the heritage bequeathed by her father. Second, the post-1975 Bangladesh was an anathema to the spirit that had created the country through the Liberation War. Indeed, the country was exiled, and was fast assuming the pseudonym as the mini-Pakistan. In this context, the return of Sheikh Hasina was symptomatic of the return of the spirit of the Liberation War. It seemed the country was poised to hark back to its pre-1975 position.
1. Charisma: There is no denying the fact that Sheikh Hasina's leadership has a flair of charisma, and that too in the sense that Max Weber meant while coining the term and conceptualising the construct. But her charisma has mixed elements. First, she enjoys a borrowed charisma; borrowed from Bangabandhu. Her charismatic appeal is primarily based on the fact that she is Bangabandhu's daughter. Second, her people-centric doings have added to her borrowed charisma.
In tandem with the charismatic Sheikh Hasina, She is also a transformational leader. Bangabandhu had both the qualities. If Bangabandhu's BKSAL programme was fully implemented, Bangladesh would have been fully transformed. Sheikh Hasina has been transforming Bangladesh; it is a fact agreed on all hands.
2. Creativity: Without being imaginative and creative, no one qualifies to be a leader. Sheikh Hasina is a mix of two types of leadership – eventful and event-making. While having been in the lead through circumstances, she has so far proved to be a leader of the event-making sort. By being the president, she has saved the Awami League, at a time when the party had faced the most critical juncture. That as the head of the government, she has been enriching the country continuously with her creative inputs, is an accepted fact.
Of the many, two instances of her creativity, are shared here. The first one is the Community Clinic. Spread across the country, these clinics take healthcare to the doorstep of the marginalised people; and this is a fact unprecedented in Bangladesh.
Another instance is the Ashrayan Project (1 and 2). Under this project, the landless-homeless hapless people are given homes as gifts. Public money is being spent for public welfare. As per the prime minister's statement in the Sangsad, around 10 lakh destitutes have so far received such homes, an unprecedented phenomenon, not only in Bangladesh, but the whole world.
4. Courage: In his own words, Bangabandhu had indomitable courage; so has his daughter. This kind of conscientious courage is based on tremendous self-confidence, which is a trait of both father and daughter. The end-result of Bangabandhu's courage was the independent Bangladesh; the fruit of Sheikh Hasina's courage is to turn impossible into possible.
One such example of courage is the trial of Bangabandhu's killers. Back in 1976, while speaking in an interview on the London ITV channel, Col. Rashid, one of the killers, smugly asserted, "I have killed Sheikh Mujib. Do you dare put me on trial?" Salute to Sheikh Hasina; she has dared put the killers on trial, along with the razakars. The trial of both these anti-liberation elements was once unthinkable in Bangladesh.
The extraordinary feat to construct the self-financed Padma Bridge is a glorious chapter in the annals of leadership courage. After the dramatic about-turn of the World Bank from financing the bridge, Bangladesh was, as it were, in a quandary; which was, however, to end as the lone courageous voice of Sheikh Hasina decisively thundered, "we will build the bridge at our own cost." In 1971, the people battled and shed blood to realise the wonder that was Bangladesh at the call of Bangabandhu; and, now the people responded adequately to the call of Sheikh Hasina. The Padma Bridge stands as the epitome of people's sacrifice, for it is the people's money that has financed this mega project. The decision, as it was, given by the courageous Sheikh Hasina; therefore, in the final analysis, the Padma Bridge would remain a symbol of intermesticity between prime minister and people; and, as such, a wonder as well.
5. Women's Empowerment: To convey the extent of advancement that our womenfolk have achieved during the time Sheikh Hasina has been the saddle of power, a few lines of the popular English song by the heart-throb songstress Helen Reddy are borrowed –
I am a woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
If I have to, I can do anything-
I am strong,
I am invincible,
I AM WOMAN!
(The last line was sung at the top of voice.)
The women's policy formulated in 2010 was the starting-point; and since then, spaces have been opened for our womenfolk. The spaces thus opened have been taken up; only two spaces still remain vacant; the one relating to presidentship of the state, and going to space as astronauts.
6. Trail-blazer in Growth/Development: we do remember that, at the time of the birth of Bangladesh, Dr Henry Kissanger, licking his wounds as an ignominious diplomatic failure, after having failed to thwart the emergence of Bangladesh, made the Cassandra-like prognostication that our dear country would end up being a bottomless basket. As it was galling to him, Bangladesh, during the life-time of Bangabandhu, had achieved a GDP growth averaging seven plus. In 1976, after Bangabandhu's assassination, two development pundits of world repute, Just Faaland and J.R. Parkinson, made three terse comments vis-a-vis Bangladesh's development future. One, Bangladesh's development was the most difficult problem. Two, if at all, Bangladesh was developed, all countries of the world would develop. Three, even if Bangladesh was developed, it would take at least two hundred years. Bangladesh in 2016, falsifying the expert prognosis, acquired from the World Bank a certificate as the role-model for development. Needless to mention that in 2016, Sheikh Hasina was the head of government. Recently, Bangladesh has graduated from the position of an LDC to that of a middle income one. On 21 September 2021, Bangladesh has received the UN Award for Sustainable Development.
A jarring note is that, what Bangladesh has so far achieved is growth, not yet development per se. Development is growth with equity; and Bangladesh has gross income and wealth inequity. But growth is a precondition for development. Bangladesh has made impressive strides in achieving growth; from now on, work has to be done to reduce inequity. This is a challenge to be squarely faced by Sheikh Hasina. We have every confidence that she can and will.
There is an adage in Sanskrit; translated into English, it reads, once someone paves the way, and, later on, there is no dearth of travellers along the paved path. If that be so, Sheikh Hasina traverses the path once paved by her father, and, she is sure not to get lost; although her going may sometime get tough.
With these traits of leadership, Sheikh Hasina is not only remarkable at home, but also across the world. She has indeed groomed herself as the leader of world stature.
Happy birthday to you, Sheikh Hasina.
The writer is a Bangabandhu Chair Professor, Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP)