The International Monetary Fund (IMF), in its October 2020 report, titled, World Economic Outlook: A Long and Difficult Ascent, notes that Bangladesh has overtaken India in terms of per capita GDP scoring US$ 1888. Notably, in 2015, just five years ago, India’s per capita GDP was around 40 percent higher than Bangladesh. Kaushik Basu, a former World Bank cheif economist tweets that ‘Any emerging economy doing well is good news’. The focused and visionary plans, actions, and the hard work of the Sheikh Hasina government and the people of the country made possible such success for Bangladesh. Though this write-up began comparing Bangladesh’s economic success with India, certainly Bangladesh identifies India as a great friend rather than competitor, believes in constructive engagement with India and other major powers rather than embracing conflict or competition, and acknowledges the role of the major development partners in the overall socio-economic development of the country.
The impressive economic success of Bangladesh has become a matter of discussion in the Indian media and beyond. It is also seen that while many countries in the world including the developed ones are experiencing negative growth due to COVID-19 global pandemic, Bangladesh is experiencing positive growth that also becomes a matter of celebration for Bangladesh. In this context, it becomes crucial to investigate the rise/ emergence of Bangladesh as an economic power. In addition, only the negative news on Bangladesh becomes emphasized in the global media while overlooking the positive developments.
To understand the emergence of Bangladesh as an economic power, one needs to look at the past. The decades long oppression, suppression, injustice and severe discrimination against East Pakistan by West Pakistan made the people of the East Pakistan poor and illiterate. For instance, in a typical year of between 1960 and 1970, per capita annual income was Bangladeshi Taka 450 (US$ 5.30, based on 2020 value), nearly half of the population had a deficiency in calories intake, and the literacy rate was 17 percent only. Between 1949-50 and 1969-70, the per capita income of Bangladesh could increase at an annual rate of hardly 0.7 per cent. In fact, during the fifties, the per capita income of Bangladesh declined at an annual rate of 0.3 per cent. Per capita consumption of milk, fats, oil, fish and other protein items were extremely low in Bangladesh. In March 1972, P. C. Verma wrote in the Economic and Political Weekly that ‘During the last 24 years, while Bangladesh was a part of Pakistan, its economy stagnated. The economic policy pursued by the central government of Pakistan kept it economically backward’ (p.580). Development expenditure in Bangladesh was extremely low. It is also argued that the policies taken by the central government of Pakistan in the context of foreign aid, trade, interregional trade had severe adverse effects on Bangladesh.
Thus, the decades long severe discrimination against East Pakistan by West Pakistan economically, politically and structurally led to the independence movement in East Pakistan under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Finally, after nine-months of War of Independence, Bangladesh emerged as an independent nation-state in 1971. The 1971 War exacerbated the situation. The United Nations estimated the reconstruction cost in/of Bangladesh at US$938 million. In such a scenario, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation took the leadership to rebuild the country, and to make it a ‘Shonar Bangla’ (Golden Bengal). In fact, it was a daunting task. Even at this stage, many raised questions about the viability and stability of Bangladesh as nation-building in a new state was not an easy task. For instance, during his visit to Dhaka in 1974, Henry Kissinger termed Bangladesh as a ‘bottomless basket’. Ambassador U. Alexis Johnson defined the newly born state, Bangladesh as ‘international basket case’. However, Bangabandhu was able to overcome those predictions and speculations through his visionary leadership.
On October 4, 2019, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina wrote in the Print that “Beyond self-sufficiency, we are now the fourth-largest in rice production, second-largest in jute production, fourth-largest in mango production, fifth-largest in vegetable production and fourth-largest in inland fisheries in the world’. Since 2009, Bangladesh has been achieving more than 6 percent growth. The country graduated to a lower-middle-income nation in 2015 while in 2018; the country met the UN criteria for graduating from the ‘least developed country’ status by 2024. Bangladesh is one of the key players in the global textile industry. This is, in fact, tremendous achievements for Bangladesh. Behind such achievement, the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina played a crucial role along with the hard work of the tens of thousands of farmers, factory workers, garments workers, and other classes of people in the country. Bangladesh has been awarded ‘South-South Award’ in 2013 to make remarkable progress in the poverty alleviation. If one looks at few forecasts, according to a study of UK-based firm PwC, Bangladesh will be 23rd largest world economy by 2050. In addition, the Goldman Sach forecasts Bangladesh as one of the countries in ‘N11’ after BRICS who will dominate the future world economy.
Bangladesh has the potential to become the economic hub in South Asia which requires regional and global economic cooperation. Under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh is preparing 100 special economic zones for major investors which will create employment opportunities for millions along with increased economic growth that can contribute immensely to the overall socio-economic development of Bangladesh. To attract foreign direct investments, Bangladesh enacted One-Stop Service Act in 2018 to provide all the required services to investors from the same point. In addition, Bangladesh offers the most liberal and congenial investment regime in South Asia. Notably, the GDP of Bangladesh has grown from US$102 billion in 2009 to US$302 billion in 2019. One can also note that foreign direct investment has also increased from US$ 700 million in 2009 to US$ 3613 million in 2018. In 2018, Bangladesh was the second recipient of FDI in South Asia.
After coming in power in 2009, the Sheikh Hasina government set several targets for Bangladesh, i.e. to achieve the status of a middle-income country by 2021, accomplishing the SDG goals by 2030, becoming a developed country by 2041, becoming a miracle by 2071, and executing a delta plan by 2100. Thus, one can argue that under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh is moving forward with specific targets in mind. Many argue that Bangladesh can be a developed nation by 2041 if the current political stability in the country under Sheikh Hasina regime continues along with the supports from the major development partners. One of the major strengths for Bangladesh is that among 170 million people more than 60 per cent are energetic and dynamic youths who can contribute immensely to the overall development of the country. The world needs to know that Bangladesh is no more an ‘international basket case’. And for this success, Bangladesh and its people sincerely appreciate the cooperation from the international community.