Bangladesh at 50: Development and Challenges is a collection of 11 well-articulated papers on Bangladesh’s arduous journey since its independence in 1971. The book commemorates Bangladesh completing half a century of its existence as a republic and attempts to assess and analyse the varying issues of politics and economics affecting the South Asian country. The editors S. Narayan and Sreeradha Datta have managed to bring together an eclectic group of contributors belonging to diverse areas of expertise who are able to bring forth their scholarly as well as practical knowledge pertaining to development and challenges in Bangladesh. Narayan and Datta introduce the volume, setting in context the relevance and the timeliness of the work. What are the parameters and indicators of development and challenges in Bangladesh, and what do they say about the political, economic, societal and institutional milieu of the country? The volume covers these and many other aspects providing a holistic perspective.
Rehman Sobhan in the Foreword categorically argues that Bangladesh has seen a remarkable growth in its economy, but has been underperforming in the sector of governance. This remains a primary challenge for the trajectory of growth and progress in the South Asian country and the crux of what is referred to as the “Bangladesh development paradox”. Bangladesh has indeed made a big leap in terms of transforming to a middle-income country, showing positive signs in many development indices and aiming to make further strides in the coming years. However, the record has been more worrisome in the political sphere, income inequality and social disparity. Sobhan competently sets the tone for the subsequent chapters in the volume to highlight the progress that Bangladesh but also to understand the inherent contradictions prevailing in the country.
In the chapter “Bangladesh: A Journey of Dual Graduation and the Attendant Challenges”, Mustafizur Rahman vouches for Bangladesh’s bright future despite the noticeable development paradox. Bangladesh has shown tremendous potential and accomplishments in becoming one of the fastest growing economies of Asia, and there remain immense opportunities for the country to play a bigger role in regional and global issues of governance. Good governance is a key driver and so, policymakers, Rahman contend, must design appropriate strategies to ensure sound macroeconomic management, regulatory reforms, transparency and accountability.
Bangladesh’s transition from a Least Developed Country (LCD) to a Middle-Income Country (MIC) will present its own sets of opportunities and challenges. One of the significant challenges will be seen in how Bangladesh trades with other countries, more specifically, the shift from non-reciprocal, differential and special access to that of more reciprocity. While Bangladesh has built its economy based on an effective export-oriented strategy, the loss of non-reciprocal treatment in trade will require a more robust Free Trade Agreement (FTA) strategy. Amitendu Palit in the chapter “Bangladesh’s Future Export Challenges and the Need for a FTA Strategy” comprehensively discusses the challenges that will be emanating from this transition in Bangladesh’s economic status. He argues that there is a need to find new preferential access from elsewhere, especially from Asia and Africa, besides other traditional centres of engagement among the developed economies.
Selim Raihan in the chapter “The Challenges of Readymade Garment (RMG) Industry in Bangladesh” debates the challenges faced by the readymade garment (RMG) industry, which is one of the major drivers of economic growth in Bangladesh. He analyses major structural shifts, diversification to automation and the need for a well-planned strategy to address issues and skilful implementation of the strategies in the industry as crucial to Bangladesh’s future. S. Narayan in the chapter “Role of Multilateral Agencies and NGOs in the Development of Bangladesh” examines the contribution of four programmes i.e., the population programme, the Grameen Bank, Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) models and Proshikha to improve the human development index.
Salehuddin Ahmed, in the chapter “Policy Stances and Financial-Sector Developments in Bangladesh” emphasises on the importance of policy efforts, making the financial sector competitive and service-oriented, and backing it with a “political will” to ensure and accelerate sustainable developments in Bangladesh. In the chapter “Bangladesh: Examining the Contemporary Politico-Social Fabric”, Sreeradha Dutta assesses the contemporary politico-social fabric in Bangladesh and contends that economic triumphs are laudable but tackling core governance issues are critical to its journey ahead. Serious concerns persist relating to dealing with issues affecting effective governance in the socio-political realm that needs immediate attention and call for effective remedial measures. Datta stresses that the onus for further progress is on the political parties and on the civil society. Additionally, Amit Ranjan and Roshni Kapur in the chapter “Militancy in Bangladesh” reiterates terrorism and militancy are not synonymous and that radicalisation does not take place in a vacuum. Tracing its roots from the Liberation War in 1971 to the present, Ranjan and Kapur point out de-radicalizing the youth and checking the spread of militancy as important prerequisites to ensuring development and progress in Bangladesh.
Amena Mohsin in the chapter “Women, Development and Empowerment: The Bangladesh Context” argues that Bangladesh has made remarkable strides in lowering the gender gap but not without space for further improvements. S. Narayan and Sarin Paraparakath, in the chapter “Energy and Development: Issues of Sustainability” reason that the future growth projections of Bangladesh will be inevitably linked to how it deals with the alignment of energy security, development and sustainable goals. Higher development goals for Bangladesh are clearly predicated on greater demands for energy and in this context; the future of Bangladesh’s energy matrix and the role of renewables in it will remain a matter of discourse.
Shamsher M. Chowdhury, in the chapter “Five Decades of Bangladesh-India Relations”, gives an insightful analysis of the evolving trajectory of bilateral relations between India and Bangladesh. The evolution of this relationship, right from India’s role in the inception of Bangladesh to the complex bilateral dynamics of convergences and divergences in the current times, has been comprehensively covered. In the concluding chapter, “Bangladesh’s Foreign Policy: Acquiring New Relevance”, Sreeradha Datta deliberates on the evolving contours of Bangladesh’s foreign policy and how it acquires new relevance in the 21st century. With Bangladesh’s growing economic fortunes, the issues of development and challenges in this South Asian country is being keenly watched by the international community. Given Bangladesh’s foreign policy orientations of managing its relations with different power centres and the role of Bangladesh in regionalism and sub regionalism, it will be worthwhile to follow the changes and continuities in how the country engages with the outside world.
In throwing light on the many facets of development and challenges in Bangladesh, the volume is hopeful but cautionary and the diversity in the perspectives adds significantly to the literature on studies relating to South Asia in general, and Bangladesh in particular.
Gracy Samjetsabam is a Research Scholar at Manipal Institute of Communication, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal.