A lot has happened since the commencement of the 2/13 (February 2013) Prajanma Chattar Movement, and the nation is now truly under siege, en route to a calamitous total breakdown. The need for the nation to come together and rally for a universally greater purpose has never been more paramount since liberation. It is with this inspirational lifeline in mind, this commentary proposes the addition of the slogan, Joy Bangladesh to the nation’s cherished heritage of Joy Bangla. To be certain, Joy Bangla is forever to be in the heart beat of all Bangladeshis and Bangalis at large, it is not to be replaced. However, it can be and needs to be augmented by Joy Bangladesh to celebrate and preserve all the miraculous achievements of the state of Bangladesh since liberation.
Following the hoisting of the Red Green Yellow flag of an independent Bangladesh at the March 2, 1971 Dhaka University rally, Joy Bangla became synonymous with the struggle for liberation on March 7, 1971, when Bangabandhu concluded his memorable speech with Joy Bangla. It is worthwhile to recount what Joy Bangla really represented. The most historical, fundamental and defining aspect of pre-1947 East Bengal and then 1947-1971 East Pakistan is that the culture, civilization and way of life here are intimately and passionately grounded in the maternal langue, Bangla. Intriguingly, while the same applies equally to the Bangalis of West Bengal, the twins would become irreversibly separated state wise in course of the unforgiving history of the Indian subcontinent leading up to 1947. This imposed reality of statewide division was later reinforced by the fact that the Bangalis of West Bengal did not find themselves as ethnically suppressed and vulnerable in post-1947 India as did the Bangalis of East Bengal in the new state of Pakistan. While the West Bengal Bangalis grew accustomed to the state based nationalism of post-1947 India, the East Bengal Bangalis, in the new state of Pakistan, were compelled to actively defend their linguistic and cultural rights starting with the historic 1952 Bhasha Andolon. As the years unfolded, their ethnic nationalism as Bangalis grew steadily stronger than their sense of citizenship of Pakistan under increasingly undemocratic, unjust and outright oppressive governance by the non-Bangali rulers from West Pakistan.
This intertwined development, resentment against citizenship of the nation state of Pakistan and ethnic coalescing as Bangalis first and foremost is the essential genesis of Joy Bangla, it synthesized ethnic nationalism and state based nationalism of a new and independent state where Bangalis would be in control of their destiny, first time in centuries. But critically this new state was clearly not meant to, and could not and would not reclaim the historic territory of Bangla. With the western part missing and no apparent and pragmatic reason for it to directly join the liberation war of the East, the new state could not be named the historic and once undivided Bangla, and so was born in 1971 Bangladesh, the Bangla Desh, the country of Bangla, the language.
Bangladesh, the state, is to Bangalis, the people, what England is to the English speaking people worldwide, France is to the French speaking, Spain is to the Spanish speaking, and so on, it is the emotional home of all Bangalis regardless of their place of birth or state based citizenship. But importantly, Bangladesh is also a politically and geographically defined state. As a state, its successes are earned and its failures are felt overwhelmingly by its citizens, not by all Bangalis worldwide. Also, practices, values and passions developing within a state are not necessarily shared by the same ethnicity elsewhere. As history has it, state based nationalism often, but not always, takes hold and becomes stronger in time, especially with steadfast and glorious achievements of the state. And so are born state based national slogans (like God Bless America, Viva France).
The achievements of Bangladesh as a state since liberation are nothing short of remarkable and are globally recognized so. Once dubbed as a bottomless basket, the economic engine of today’s Bangladesh is an envy of the developing nations. According to Index Mundi, in terms of year 2,000 US$, GDP grew from $15.35 billion (1972) to $82.98 billion (2010), GDP per capita rose from $224.21 (1972) to $558.06 (2010), and the Food Production Index (2004-06: 100) tripled from 40 to 121 during the same period. Bangladesh now produces and exports a wide array of manufactured products, with trade as percentage of GDP more than doubling from under 20% (1972) to 43.42% (2009). The country is now the second largest exporter of RMG in the world, and RMG revenues and remittance from Bangladeshis working abroad are fuelling the 6% plus economic growth of Bangladesh in recent times. The banking and finance sector has also grown rapidly with much broader and extensive access, with the world acclaimed Grameen Bank and its founder Dr. M Yunus winning the Nobel Prize in 2006. Led by the pioneering efforts of Grameen Phone and Grameen Telecom, and aided by rural electrification and expansion of electricity generation (1.03 billion KWH in 1972, 37.68 billion KWH in 2009), communications, access to media and technology diffusion have transformed Bangladesh into a new millennium society.
The non-monetary achievements of Bangladesh have drawn even more attention. To name a few, the literacy rate shot up from 29.23 in 1981 to 55.90 in 2009, the mortality rate under age 5 (per 1,000 live births) dropped from 229.30 in 1972 to 47.80 in 2010, and the life expectancy at birth dramatically improved from 38.97 years in 1972 to 68.63 years in 2010. According to UNDP, between 1980 and 2012, Bangladesh’s Human Development Index rose by 1.5% annually from 0.312 in 1980 to 0.515 today.
Admittedly the democratic and political achievements are nowhere near as shiny, but they are not negligible either. Since the early years of failed experiments with single party democracy, tragic assassinations and military coupes and autocratic route to presidential democracy, the country has steadily, albeit in a tumultuous fashion, emerged as a thriving, fiercely competitive and pluralistic parliamentary democracy. Despite the global trend of rising religious fundamentalism and increasing obsolescence of communism/socialism, the country has duly earned worldwide admiration for its inclusive style, even allowing the extremists of both types to fully participate in the political process. However, the largely Muslim and socially conservative electorate continues to overwhelmingly favor the moderate centrists (AL and BNP) led by two female leaders, thus exhibiting a level of electoral prudence and progressive bent normally expected of mature democracies in economically advanced countries.
To summarize, Bangladesh has exploded on the world scene as a state with stellar performance and enormous potential in economic and human development arenas, and as a progressive and secular democracy.
Despite having so much to celebrate, the nation is currently imploding from within due to a vicious cycle of political turbulence and internal violence. There is plenty of blames to go around, but that won’t help in restoring the internal calm pivotal to the preservation of the stupendously successful state that has been built since liberation. However, the nation’s history bears testimony to how powerful a captivating nationalistic slogan can be in inspiring a people to rise above sub-national rifts and rally to a universally greater cause. Forty plus years ago, it was Joy Bangla that called upon the pride and strength of ethnic nationalism as Bangalis. Perhaps today, Joy Bangladesh, can perform a similar magic in stoking and celebrating their state based nationalism as well, and thereby calling upon them to preserve and celebrate their enthralling achievements as Bangalis and Bangladeshis of all stripes.
Joy Bangla, Joy Bangladesh, Salam (Peace Upon) Bangladesh.
Mo Chaudhury is a Professor of Practice in Finance at McGill University, Montreal, Canada.