While celebrating achievements in this golden jubilee year, Bangladesh needs to take steps to reduce economic and social injustice and improve the quality of democracy so that people get fair share of development, an international conference was told yesterday.
The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) is organizing the four-day event to tell the story of Bangladesh's developments in the last 50 years since independence and challenges that are lying ahead.
"We want to discuss not simply our achievements, we also want to note our shortfalls and mistakes so that we can learn lessons from them for course correction in the future," CPD Distinguished Fellow Prof Rounaq Jahan said.
"Most importantly, we want to identify the challenges that lie ahead particularly in the post-Covid changing world order when competition for survival and domination will be more intense," she said, elaborating on the theme of the four-day international conference.
The CPD is holding the virtual event on the occasion of the golden jubilee of Bangladesh's independence and "Mujib Borsho."
CPD Chairman Prof Rehman Sobhan made a keynote presentation titled "Bangabandhu's vision of a Just Society: Promises Kept and Promises to Keep."
He said economic and social injustice are compounded by the depreciation in the quality of our democracy.
The dominance of money and force in electoral contestation have "further moved "us away from Bangabandhu's vision of a just democratic order," the senior economist pointed out, suggesting that greater social justice can be brought by ensuring the rule of law for all, implementing policies and enforcing regulations.
"All these remain within the domain of a well-intentioned government and do not require revolutionary upheavals," Prof Rehman Sobhan said.
He stressed reforming the Election Commission to ensure free, fair and participatory election and redeeming the weakness of electoral democracy.
"If we want to realise just democracy, we have to free institutions of democracy and operate on just principles," said Prof Rehman Sobhan.
The virtual international conference, co-sponsored by the South Asia Program of Cornell University, is bringing together 47 participants from different countries. Twenty papers will be presented in 8 different sessions.
On the first-day session on Monday, convenor of the event Prof Rounaq Jahan said, Bangladesh today is vastly different from what it was fifty years ago when it emerged as an independent state.
She narrated how hard struggle, entrepreneurship and innovative actions unique to Bangladesh brought steady progress in key human development and economic indicators during the last half century of our independence, drawing the attention of international agencies and the Western media.
She cited global observers' doubt about Bangladesh's viability right at her birth in 1971, some calling it "an international basket case."
The country is now being called by some as a "development miracle" and by some others as a "paradox" which refers to Bangladesh's record of sustaining high economic growth despite deficits in good governance, she added.
"These brandings by western media, whether positive or negative, are usually based on a superficial understanding of the enormous changes that have taken place in Bangladesh over the course of the last fifty years," Prof Rounaq Jahan said on the inaugural day of the event.
Dr Mirza Hassan, senior research fellow at BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), analysed the evolution of state-society relations in Bangladesh during the last five decades.
In his paper, Evolution of the state-society relations in Bangladesh: An analytical narrative, Dr Mirza Hassan explored how the relations between the political elites and other elites as well as non-elites have changed during the last five decades. He explained how the global politics of the supply chain industry dictates the state-business-labour relations. The paper also examined how "dysfunctional electoral democracy" impacted the governance of Covid-19 lockdown and relief management. It also reflected on future trajectory of liberal democratic governance in Bangladesh
Dr Ali Riaz of Illinois State University, USA focused on both political parties and social groups that pursue the agenda of Islamization of society and state. In his paper on Islamist politics in Bangladesh, he argues that Islamism as an ideology has gained traction as a bottom-up process – a view that is contrary to the conventional wisdom that the emergence of the Islamist politics is a mid-1970s phenomenon exclusively as a 'state project.'
Dr Arild Engelsen Ruud of University of Oslo examined how violence is used as a tool of political rivalry in Bangladesh. The paper presented by Dr Arild argued that local political leaders in collaboration with the state apparatus have created a situation of "polyarchy."