The Next Hope

 Published in: The Daily Star on October 19, 2016
The Next Hope

A car hit one of the workers working in our house this morning. He was cleaning the wall and the car smashed his bones. Apparently, a big microbus had hit the car from behind, slammed against the car in front of it and speeded off in a hurry, while the driver was busy speaking on his cell phone. The poor driver of the car in the front was defenseless with his brakes failing and hitting the worker, who had to be rushed to the hospital. Unfortunately, there is no price tag attached to the lives of the poor in our country. While millions of people are being lifted out of the extreme poverty trap and while the latest figures indicate that the percentage of this group is 12.9 percent, almost 10 percent of the total population, and while we take pride in the poverty dipping from 44.2 percent in 1991 to a remarkably improved 18.5 percent in 2016, the fact remains that most of us living in our elite bubbles, lack empathy and are investing in aggression.

Just the other day, I was almost deafened by a VIP horn. In the short ride from Airport road to Banani, the VIP horn rattled my sanity. Addicted to Twitter, I got ready to take a picture of the car and prepared to launch a battle in social media, complaining against the unnecessary ruckus the vehicle had created. On the ground, I had expected at least two protocol cars accompanying the “VIP” vehicle. Sensing this, our driver turned around and said, “Madam, choto cheley, choto gari”, meaning it was a young boy in a small car, who was bulldozing his way through the traffic. All he had was a horn. He was just a kid, with his license plate hidden by a hugely protective bumper. All I saw was “Dhaka Gha” and nothing beyond. Unfortunately, we have innumerable tales of VIPs’ son pulling out guns in public and threatening people. We also have sons and daughters pulling multiple VIP stunts in our societies. In fact, we have too many VIP antics in our platter who do not assume real responsibility. Quite sadly enough, our town is ridden with audacity.

Our latest vision is to take the extreme poverty figure close to zero by 2030. At the pace that Bangladesh is moving, we should be able to achieve that way earlier. After all, our workers take loans to buy refrigerators these days; after all, the children of our workers are getting admitted to better schools and colleges, and after all, just the sound of “Shonar Bangla”, triggers goose bumps in almost all of us. According to the latest World Bank update, on the scale of the Shared Prosperity Premium, Bangladesh has outperformed India, Bhutan and Pakistan but is still lagging behind Vietnam, China and Cambodia. This basically means that the consumption of the poorest has grown remarkably well. Bangladesh, in spite of the decrease in remittance from countries of Gulf Cooperation Council, has continued to grow with earnings from the readymade garment sector, which is continuing to feed and sustain the export basket, irrespective of the taka appreciating against the euro, pound, INR, Pakistani rupee and even Chinese Yuan in August 2016. Even think tanks are reporting findings of improved perceptions relating to the economy of Bangladesh. According to a survey conducted by Centre for Policy Dialogue in February-April 2016, more than 37 percent respondents indicated positive impressions about the improved business environment. Meanwhile, the indomitable spirit, with which the country moves on, is still an enigma to all. Bangladesh is indeed growing at a speed that beats all the textbook narrative.

Suddenly, the recent realignment of diplomatic lines speaks volumes of this country’s strategy. Suddenly, we are important to many. Russia, with its vastness of six million square miles, eleven time zones vast, the largest country in the world is building our first nuclear plant in Rooppur. China, the 4,000-year old civilisation and not just a nation, by wanting to be a two-ocean power (Pacific and Indian) is investing heavily in a country like Bangladesh, buying good relations, ensuring trade links back home and marathoning towards its Belt and Road initiative. And in spite of Bangladesh being surrounded by India because of the 2,545-mile long frontier and with the Bay of Bengal having too much access to the country, India may now need to rethink its strategy and consider Bangladesh as an important partner in international diplomatic policies.

This is a time, when China, Japan and India are all competing to build Bangladesh’s first deep-sea port, with contending plans that may lead to pitting these countries in direct competition with each other, stalemating Bangladesh’s strategic importance in the process. Strange that once upon a time Bangladesh, a country predicted to be doomed, has now equally, if not more surprisingly, smashed all ceilings and is headed to the top.

I was listening to the current World Bank President talk the other day. He referred to a “collective paranoia” that had led Korea to build and prepare for next challenges. I agree. We must all not be complicit and ready ourselves for the next leap the next time around. The diversification in our export basket is a reality that we must consider and while we figure our next steps, it is essential for us to invest in social capital. The strength of this country lies in its people, its own labour, without which progress will only be a mirage. Prosperity cannot happen with those on the bottom rung of the ladder struggling to have three square meals a day. Real progress can only be inclusive and as a nation, we must set daily reminders on our conscience.