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HindustanTimes Fri,18 Apr 2014

World

Bangladesh celebrates victory day amid fears and hopes
Jayanth Jacob, Hindustan Times
Dhaka, December 16, 2013
First Published: 20:23 IST(16/12/2013)
Last Updated: 20:30 IST(16/12/2013)
Bangladeshis flip colored cards to form the national flag during Victory Day celebrations in Dhaka. (AP Photo)

Bangladesh celebrated the 43rd victory day on Monday, with many recollecting the painful memories of the bloody birth of the nation in 1971.

Measured in sights and sounds, patriotism seeped in boundless joy is openly expressed on the streets of Dhaka. But, the country of 154.7 million people is also at a crossroads, grappling with many challenges as it tries to deepen its nationhood, ahead of the crucial general election early next year.

A host of commentators is saying that Bangladesh has come a long way from being a "basket case", as US diplomat Henry Kissinger had smugly christened the country in 1971.

With an economic growth rate of 6%, it is the world's third largest exporter of readymade garments and has also made considerable progress in various sectors such as education, health, energy and infrastructure.

"We stand tall now under a democratically-elected government with history's most massive mandate. We can only march ahead and move on," wrote Syed Abdus Samad, a freedom fighter who served as a personal assistant to father of the nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Everyone is not sharing that optimism though.

"The crisis that the country faces today is the creation of the 40 years of failure of the contrarian forces (like a democracy yielding to military dictatorship, a secular constitution being turned on its head) and our inability to build the country on the promise of the December 16," Ziauddin Choudhury, a former civil servant wrote in the Daily Star.

Still, Bangladesh has shown a promise on the economic front with its per capita income almost touching the US $1,000. It is being clubbed with countries such as Mexico and Turkey as the newest kid on the fastest-growing-countries block.

But political challenges are far too complex. Ahead of the next general elections, there are signs of political stalemates, agitations and bitter political rivalries between the two main political parties - the ruling Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party that is supported by Jamaat-e-Islami.

With the US openly supporting the BNP, the domestic political tussles have also acquired a new geopolitical dimension, which is no good news for India either. The death sentences handed over to Jamaat leaders and the execution of Abdul Quader Molla last week have snowballed into a crisis already.

Molla had been found guilty in February by a much-criticised tribunal of having been a leader of a pro-Pakistan militia that had killed some of Bangladesh's top professors, doctors, writers and journalists. For many, including a sizeable number of the youth, bringing "war criminals" to book is an unfinished agenda of the 1971 liberation war.

But this has further divided the polity. The opposition parties have already raised questions over the fairness of the next elections.

"Our country has come to another crossroads in history, and perhaps another last chance for its leaders. Will they fulfill our dreams of December 16," asks Choudhury.

But there are no easy answers.


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