CPD concluded its celebration   ‘Fifty Years of Bangladesh: Retrospect and Prospect’

CPD concluded its celebration   ‘Fifty Years of Bangladesh: Retrospect and Prospect’


Dhaka December 9 2021 :

Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) celebrating Fifty Years of Bangladesh with virtual International Conference ‘Fifty Years of Bangladesh: Retrospect and Prospect’ which is happening from 6 – 9 December 2021 in collaboration with South Asia Program of Cornell University.

On DAY 4, Panel 8 : Bangladesh in a Changing World Order held on Thursday.  It was the concluding session of the celebration. It was chaired Professor Rehman Sobhan, Chairman, CPD.

Panelists were Professor Rounaq Jahan, Distinguished Fellow, CPD, Professor Naila Kabeer, Professor, Gender and Development, Department of Gender Studies, The London School of Economic and Political Science, Dr S. Nazrul Islam, Chief of Development Research Branch, United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs and Professor Saleemul Huq, Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), Professor, Department of Environmental Science, Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB).

The concluding remarks and Vote of Thanks delivered by Dr Fahmida Khatun, Executive Director, CPD, Professor Iftikhar Dadi, Director, South Asia Program, Cornell University and Professor Rehman Sobhan, Chairman, CPD.

In the final session of the celebration summaries are here:

Nazrul Islam Order vs. Disorder:

The most important change at the global level that is occurring currently is in probably in the arena of technologies. As you know, some observers have put forward the view that the world is now going through what is now called the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR). The term was coined and promoted most strongly by Klaus Schwab, the founder and Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF), who has already written two books on the subject (Schwab 2004, 2006). The term 4IR been embraced by the UN Secretary General to. On several occasions, Mr. Gutteres has used this term. There is some controversy regarding this characterization. In view of some observers, the new technologies that we are seeing represent a continuation of the 3rd Industrial Revolution, also known as the Digital Revolution, which began with the invention of computers. The proponents of 4IR however think that the new technologies, in particular the emergence and application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) mark the beginning of an entirely new stage that deserve to be called as another, new Industrial Revolution. According to this view, the emergence of AI can be regarded as a watershed moment in the human history.

Recall that the 1st Industrial Revolution heralded the substitution of muscle power by the power of machines. What AI is doing is substituting many forms of mental labor by smart machines, which can “think.” They also point out that an incipient revolution often goes unnoticed by the contemporaries, and it is only with time that the significance of small, initial changes become clearer. For example, when first factories of the 1st Industrial Revolution arose, those were not perceived as the harbingers of a revolution. In fact, often these were not even noticed, because until steam engines started to be used in factories in the nineteenth century, most of the early factories were located near the streams, to be run by the force of the water current, far away from the cities. It is only with time that the significance of the momentous change brought about by those rudimentary initial factories became clear.

Whether you call it a new 4th Industrial Revolution or an extension of the previous Digital Revolution, the point remains that the technologies are advancing at breathtaking speed and the world is changing right in front of our eyes. Just look at this conference! Who could think even a few years ago that people from across the world could congregate in this way while sitting in their homes. As the 2021 World Social Report produced by DESA and titled Reconsidering Rural Development (United Nations 2021) showed, the possibility of remote working has undercut the very technological rationale behind the rural-urban divide. The necessity of physical congregation that led to the emergence of cities is thus disappearing. The dream of ending the rural-urban divide that progressive thinkers put forward in the nineteenth century can now finally become a reality. Similarly, the emergence of 3D printing technology is emerging with the potential of converting manufacturing into boutique operations that can be dispersed across the country, so that the world, following a process of “negation of negation” may return to a situation of dispersed manufacturing, as was the case during pre-industrial societies, except of course that it will be based on entirely new level of technology. All this may seem somewhat futuristic. However, as I already mentioned, beginnings of great changes are sometimes not well perceived by the contemporaries.

Sustaining Democracy and Good Governance: The challenge of creating political will by Professor Rounaq Jahan, Distinguished Fellow, CPD

In the four days of this conference celebrating the golden jubilee of Bangladesh we have repeatedly showcased our remarkable achievements in several indicators of human development and economic growth. However, a recurrent theme in almost all the papers is that our political development has not kept pace with our social and economic development. We have failed to institutionalize democracy. Our governance system has failed to uphold rule of law, transparency and accountability which are essential to deepen the quality of democratic system we all want to build.

To respond to your question about our performance in giving substance to Bangabandhu’s commitment to a strong democratic order which gives voice to the common people, the short answer is that we have fallen short. Bangabandhu captured his vision of democracy, in a simple slogan. Bhater odhikar, Voter odhiker (right to food, right to vote). He envisioned democracy to serve the interests of common people which will give them a voice. We all believed in that vision. At the time of independence we thought that our economic growth will go hand in hand with democracy. But unfortunately that has not happened.

As we all know we started well. Within a year of independence we adopted a constitution which enshrined four fundamental principles of state – nationalism, democracy, secularism and socialism. But very soon we deviated from these foundational principles. The critical question for me is not that we deviated from these principles but why we have not been able to reclaim these principle in the last five decades. What are the prospects of rebuilding mass base of popular support behind these foundational principles as we look forward to the next decades?

Professor Rehman Sobhan concluded the celebration saying that at the end of four days and seven sessions, covering diverse topics of considerable academic interest and public relevance this conference, convened by CPD and the South Asia Program of Cornell University, appears to have stimulated an extraordinary level of public interest. Given the difficulties created by Covid these events have been organized virtually. The international composition of our contributors and participants has meant that the programme had to traverse 6 time zones across the globe to accommodate everyone. Bangladeshi participants had to stay with us as late as 10 pm. It is a tribute to the calibre of the paper writers and discussants that over 3000 people have registered for this event.

This valedictory session at the conclusion of 4 days and 7 sessions is intended not so much as a summing up of our enormously exciting discussions but is an attempt to use what has been presented so far as a platform to explore the prospects for Bangladesh’s future. It was my privilege to provide a similar summing up of a no less exciting event convened 25 years ago, again by Professor Rounaq Jahan, whose then academic home was at Columbia University, New York in collaboration with CPD. It is appropriate that Rounaq Jahan, now a Distinguished Fellow at CPD, should attempt to take us on a longer journey which both looks back 50 years and ahead to the next 25 years to explore Bangladesh’s metamorphosis.

We are pleased that this session is being initiated with a message from Professor Nurul Islam, now aged 91, who was initially involved with Bangabandhu in the struggle for an independent Bangladesh and at his call was actively engaged in the nation building process in post-liberation Bangladesh, as the Deputy Chairman of the first Bangladesh Planning
Commission. Nurul Islam was also present and involved in Rounaq Jahan’s seminal event convened 25 years ago.

Those who have contributed these 20 papers of exceptional quality across 7 panels, their discussants and the panelists present at this valedictory session represent a post-liberation generation who have attained their professional maturity in an independent Bangladesh. They are thus specially qualified, drawing on their own lived experience, to track the course of our journey, through all its ups and downs, over this half century. They have covered the vicissitudes of our democratic journey, the perhaps unanticipated contestations over our cultural identity and political ideology, the transformation from a possible economic basket case to a developmental success story which has significantly reduced poverty, enhanced our human development and actively engaged women in this transition. Yet at the same time the presenters have also had to take account of the widening of inequality and social disparity, as well as the abuses of our fragile environment. These trends have originated from the weaknesses in our institutions of governance which have furthered the growth of exclusionary tendencies in our society, manifested in the capture of our economic policies and political spaces by a politically patronized plutocracy.

The four panelists are, accordingly, expected to explore how Bangladesh may draw upon its singular achievements, registered over half a century, to confront these negative trends which have frustrated our progress and guide us in navigating our way through a fast changing, more complex global order.

Rounaq Jahan, who has invested a lifetime of research on Bangladesh’s political development will explore the challenges of giving substance to Bangabandhu’s commitment to a durable democratic order which gives voice to the common people of Bangladesh; Naila Kabeer, who has greatly expanded the discussion on social inclusion, particularly in relation to women, will address the scope for taking the struggle of our less privileged segments of society, especial women, to a level where they can participate as full partners in the construction of a more developed, more just society; Nazrul Islam, drawing on his experience at the global level as head of development research in the UN, may evaluate how Bangladesh can move forward beyond our elevation from our LDC status towards a more developed economy, within a more contested and fast changing world order; Saleemul Huq, who in his capacity as a scholar and activist, has engaged himself over many years in addressing Bangladesh’s severe environmental problems in a world faced with exponential climate change, can draw upon his experience to advise us on what Bangladesh can do to cope with our aggravating environmental challenges in a not particularly sympathetic world order.

The session will provide space for our persevering participants to not only join in the discussion opened up by the panelists but to also address issues relating to cultural identity, our changing architectural landscape and the flourishing of creative talent represented in the evolution in the world of art. Our objective, at the end of these eventful four days, is to encourage both participants and audience to reflect more deeply on Bangladesh’s historic journey over these 50 years, to take inspiration from our achievements and to think constructively on what more can be done to take forward Bangabandhu’s vision through ensuring that amader sangram would continue as muktir sangram.