Sheikh Hasina becomes historically eternal with Padma Bridge

Published : Tuesday, 28 June, 2022 at 12:00 AM
MIR MOSHARREF HOSSAIN PAKBIR

The long-awaited Padma Bridge is now open for public use. Padma Bridge, a dream project for Bangladesh, is more than just a bridge. It is a landmark for Bangladesh. This bridge not only connected 21 districts of the country to the capital Dhaka, but it is also our pride. It is the symbol of our confidence as well as capability. It is the result of sheer courage, confidence and foresight of the eldest daughter of the father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The implementation of this project has taken Sheikh Hasina to such a height that it is almost impossible for any other politician to match her. Hence, the politicians of our country should learn from her how to serve the country with ambition and dignity.

Sheikh Hasina has been leading Bangladesh for the last fourteen years as the prime minister and is currently in the fourth term as the head of the government. It is widely recognized that Bangladesh is now a modern nation with strong economic performance and it is because of Sheikh Hasina’s dynamic leadership. Undoubtedly the Padma Bridge bears the signature of Sheikh Hasina’s visionary as well as dynamic leadership. Not only Padma Bridge but also several other mega development projects under her visionary leadership is going to transform the country’s future in the upcoming years as Bangladesh is moving fast to get out of the group of Least Developed Countries by 2026.

Interestingly, the first foundation stone of Padma Bridge was laid on July 4, 2001, by the then Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina towards the end of the first term of her government. When Sheikh Hasina came into power in 2009, she in her first month of office decided to proceed with the costly Padma Bridge project. The GDP of Bangladesh was 102.5 billion USD in 2009 and the foreign currency reserve was 10.75 billion USD in 2009-10.  Electricity production was only 5,500 MW and only 3.1% of the population had internet access. Hence, Padma Bridge project was seen as impossible at that time logically. But the determination and focus of PM Sheikh Hasina made the project a reality. Moreover, the Padma Bridge project did not compromise other development projects as many other infrastructural projects were ongoing simultaneously.

While Padma Bridge was to be funded by World Bank, they cancelled the funding with allegations of corruptions. Syed Abul Hossain, the then Communications Minister, had to resign from the cabinet. The then Communications Secretary even was sent to jail. But later the charges were found false. Few Third World leaders would have dared to do what Hasina did. She first promised a thorough enquiry into the corruption allegations but she wanted the World Bank funding to materialize to get the project started. When the World Bank dithered releasing the funds, she asked them to pack up and leave. China and Malaysia immediately offered funding but Hasina, encouraged by the country’s rising foreign exchange reserves and booming economy, decided to do the bridge with Bangladesh’s own resources.

She won the elections in 2014 and the Padma project went ahead full steam. Her critics, including opposition leader Khaleda Zia, said the bridge will never be completed. Now, it is their turn to eat humble pie. However, a number of challenges came up after the construction work started, e.g., bold and groundbreaking engineering skills were required in river training and piling; the costs of the construction continued to rise. But surprisingly, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the bridge construction activities were in full swing due to the will and determination of Sheikh Hasina. If we compare, Jamuna Bridge, which is about two-third of Padma Bridge at 4.98 km long, took almost 13 years to complete and three governments changed during that period. But much larger Padma Bridge took only 7 years under the strong focus of PM Hasina and her government.

The government of Sheikh Hasina carefully weighs each project on the basis of local need and one would know how different Hasina is from the Rajpaksa family. So, those who wildly predict Bangladesh is heading for a Sri Lanka type of collapse are way off the mark.

During the creation of Padma Bridge, Bangladesh simultaneously prospered in terms of its economy. The GDP of Bangladesh is around 400 billion USD in 2022, the foreign reserve is at 38.3 billion USD in May, 2022, electricity production is at 5,158 GWh, 31.5% of the population has internet access and lifestyle indices are at all-time high.  The foreign remittance growth has been significant throughout the last decade. Per capita income of Bangladesh is now USD 2,824 while that of our South Asian neighbor India is USD 1,850 and Pakistan is USD 1,250. Bangladesh has outperformed Pakistan, from whom we snatched freedom in 1971, on different indices. We have also outperformed India on several indices. We are better economically than Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan or Afghanistan.

Many intellectuals took their position against the Padma Bridge project and even told that it was impossible to implement this project with own funding. But their intellect is now under questions. Many opposition political leaders criticized the effort of PM Hasina but she was determined to change the future of her fellow countrymen and Padma Bridge is now a reality. But most of our achievements during the last decade are the results of farsighted leadership of PM Hasina. Due to her commitment to the country’s welfare, the expense behind Padma Bridge and many other mega projects along with the tremendous threats and pressure imposed by COVID-19 pandemic and now the Russia-Ukraine war did not hold back the economic progress of Bangladesh.

After she came in power in 2008, Sheikh Hasina took many bold steps like; ensuring justice to the war criminals and killers of Bangabandhu and family; electrification of whole Bangladesh; digitalizing Bangladesh; war on terror, drugs and corruption; implementation of several mega infrastructural projects etc. She executed everything she was determined for with finesse. She is truly a courageous and devoted leader.

Sheikh Hasina remained in power for a long time but she did not really tried to enjoy the power. She did not enjoy a lavish life like the Rajapaksas of Sri Lanka. Rather she kept her focus on the progress of the country. There were 21 attempts on her life, her family members were brutally murdered but she returned to fulfill the dreams of her father. She did not provide any undue benefits or posts to her family members like many other leaders of different countries. She did not spare any of her party personnel if found involved in any illegal activities and hence, many leaders and activists of her party are still in prison. It is truly unprecedented and she only kept us mesmerized with her honesty and commitment.

Along with different development projects, Sheikh Hasina declared war on drugs and corruptions. If she continues that drive for the next one and half year of her current tenure, she will be framed in history. It will also make future leaders to come out of that drive to save their face at least and the country will benefit.

We may see transfer of power in future where new leadership will come. But reaching the heights of Sheikh Hasina is truly unimaginable. According to many, she has gone beyond Mahathir Muhammad of Malaysia or even her father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in terms of leadership and country’s progress. If new leadership comes, we want them to follow the footsteps of Sheikh Hasina. BNP Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia once said, if BNP comes in power, they will build two Padma Bridge. We hope she delivers on that. Every leader must learn the lifestyle, attitude, simplicity and courage of Sheikh Hasina.

Bangladesh, once ridiculed by the western world as a ‘bottomless basket’, is moving towards tremendous development. The country is now considered a role model for other developing economies in achieving sustainable development. This is due to Sheikh Hasina’s charismatic leadership. Most politicians think only about the next election, but a statesman like Sheikh Hasina thinks about the future generations. Sheikh Hasina is truly our pride and anadmirable global leader.

The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Chief Patron, BangabandhuShishu Kishore Mela

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