Uproar over media reports equating Bangladesh seeking funds from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) — under the creditor’s Resilience and Sustainability Trust (RST) — to a ‘bailout package’, promoted the multinational lender to dispel such a barrage of misconceived notions.
Putting to rest reports of a dent in forex reserves, a pointer of an “impending doom” for Bangladesh, a top IMF official explained, “Even though Bangladesh’s reserves have come down, the stocks are still high enough to cover four to five months of prospective imports.”
With global headwinds looming across the bigger economies, originating first from the Covid pandemic and then from the Russia-Ukraine war-induced economic fallout, the opposition of South Asia’s youngest nation is on an overdrive to draw perhaps an outwardly foolhardy comparison between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Just like it did with the pandemic, this green delta can ride out the latest hurdles too, although the economy has endured some real troubles.
The key reason for this optimism is Sheikh Hasina, who turns 76 on Wednesday. Hasina is a persevering stateswoman determined to ensure that her country gets the ‘developed’ status. And surely, much to her unshakeable commitment and relentless struggles, Bangladesh is more poised to navigate a sea of hurdles ahead of the looming recession than many European nations.
The awkwardly off-the-hook comparison with Sri Lanka further suffers a heavy blow as news outlets conveniently ignore the key factor about the country’s food production capability, given that Sheikh Hasina, from the outset of her term in power, introduced heavy subsidies for farmers. Her persistent stress on maximising cultivable land and modernisation of farming led the country to earn sufficiency in food production, in contrast to Sri Lanka’s misguided drive for organic agriculture that led to the sharp dip in food output.
Here’s a look into the trials and tribulations of Sheikh Hasina on the eve of her 75th birthday.
Six years of exiled life following the assassination of her father ‘Bangabandhu’ Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, mother, brother and almost all family members, and nine long years of arduous battle against military dictator General Ershad’s rule, known as the “fight for people’s right to vote”, clearly put her above a lot of global leaders.
For a country that topped the global corruption index under BNP-Jamaat rule for almost five years, reducing poverty, achieving gender parity in school education, and bringing down maternal mortality are some achievements that many other developing countries should take a cue from.
HASINA’s STEELY RESOLVE
Arrested without warrant by the military-backed caretaker government in 2007, daunting times in prison, smear campaigns carried out against her during that regime as later admitted by Mahfuz Anam, editor of the country’s leading English daily, who confessed to producing unverified information fed by the country’s prime intelligence agency DGFI, are surely exemplary for future leaders.
Her indomitable courage: Keeping up the fight against a rabidly radical political ecosystem that includes Jamaat-e-Islami, even after braving at least 19 assassination attempts, Sheikh Hasina remains the best hope to rid Bangladesh of the menace of militancy. From initiating a war crimes trial to taking on radicals who staged ‘Boycot French products’ protests and calling for an end to girls’ education to putting an end to the notoriety of the country as a safe haven for transnational terrorists, Sheikh Hasina is surely the biggest bulwark against those militants. Achieving such a feat in a Muslim majority country, once ruled by such elements, needs to be emulated.
As Bangladesh passed 50 years of its independence in 2021, Sheikh Hasina’s biggest success was how her policies turned around millions of lives. Under her watch, homes for the homeless — a scheme rolled out by her office — has paid dividends for thousands of lives with a target to end homelessness. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, her stimulus packages for the affected families and some cash incentives alongside food rationing helped lower-income groups survive unprecedented crises like lockdowns.
UNCOMPROMISING AND DECISIVE
Soon after the World Bank pulled out from funding the country’s largest infrastructure undertaking, Sheikh Hasina went ahead with a move to self-fund the Padma Bridge project that connected Bangladesh’s once isolated southern part with the capital. Unlike Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port, which attracted hardly any shipping after being built at a huge cost, the bridge on the river Padma earned millions soon after it was opened to traffic.
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