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Padma Bridge . . . and a resilient nation

Padma Bridge . . . and a resilient nation

We are indeed a resilient nation. The proof of it is the Padma Bridge. There are many of us who recall being laid low by despondency when the World Bank came forth, even before the construction of the bridge went underway, with allegations of corruption in the project. Our despair, in a pretty collective sense, was well pronounced. Those allegations, to be proved false, were a deliberate move to humiliate a nation.

But then the government made it known that the Padma Bridge would be built with our own national resources. We applauded the decision even as we wondered how long, how many long years it would take to have the bridge span the mighty Padma River. As a people who had gone through a multiplicity of vicissitudes in national life, we wondered. We hoped for a miracle.

And we prayed that this endeavour of building the Padma Bridge would succeed. Our prayers have been answered, more through the singular dedication the government in office brought into the job than anything else. On the twenty-fifth day of this month, therefore, it will be a nationwide celebration we will be indulging in, for all the right reasons.

In that celebration will be reflected the resilience we as a nation have throughout the course of our history demonstrated before the world. That old slur, per courtesy of the Nixon administration in Washington, of Bangladesh being a basket case for years attempted to lay us low. We were punished for trying to sell jute to Cuba. An American ship carrying food grains for the hungry was made to reverse course in 1974. Poverty that could not be tided over was a formulation flung at us in all its insensitivity.

And yet our resilience has brought us to a defining fork in the road today. We are proud of all that our garments sector continues to achieve for the nation. We are grateful to our migrant workers for the hard work they do in the Middle East, in Japan, in Malaysia to provide happiness to their families back home, to strengthen the national economic base through their remittances. Micro-finance has been shining a light on pockets of poverty.

Today the lifespan of Bangladesh's citizens touches a respectable level; our women do not die the way they once did at childbirth and infant mortality has gone down. All our social indicators have had us pull ahead of our neighbours and in places like Delhi and Islamabad the Bangladesh example of breaking free of shackles has often been cited as a point of reference. And that is where everything counts.

No, we are not complacent, must not be. There are the myriad issues, in a good number of sectors which have assailed us for decades, still do. As we ready ourselves to take the leap from low income status to middle income nation, we remain conscious of what yet needs to be done --- in politics, in administration, in education and what have you.

The Padma Bridge is, for this country, a harbinger of things yet to be or ought to be. The bridge will open doors to a wide range of industry, with all the concomitant opportunities of employment for people in regions on and beyond both banks of the mighty river. Barishal will go for a regeneration; and Barishal is but one instance of what we can expect in the months and years ahead.

So what does the government need to focus its sights on, now that 25 June will come and pass? Begin with a re-energising of rural Bangladesh, through its villages. Scores of roads running through our rural regions need to be widened and repaired and paved anew, for these roads have been in a state of collapse owing to rains, to the movement of heavy vehicles through them and, of course, to the propensity of contractors to use cheap materials in their construction for reasons not unknown to citizens.

The health system calls for greater attention than has been given thus far, through ensuring the availability of doctors, nurses, health workers and equipment at the local level --- upazilas, unions and villages. Firm political leadership will be necessary to ensure that doctors do not lobby for their return to urban settings because they are unhappy in their new places of work. But that entails the presence of a fully functional public health structure in the nation's rural regions.

It was a resilient nation which emerged from death, destruction and the debris of war to come together as an independent republic more than a half century ago. It then follows that new resilience, through the building of local administrationsempowered to administer their own affairs independently of central control, is called for. Governance comes best through devolution, which is why our districts and our upazilas need increased authority, in terms of finance and politics, to conduct business in regions under their jurisdiction.

Now that the Padma has its bridge, it becomes an imperative for every other river, dying and drying up and commandeered by the unscrupulous, to be reclaimed and breathed new life into. Industrial waste dumped in our rivers is an area where brutal leadership must be exercised against those committing such criminality. A dredging and excavation of rivers cannot but be a priority in every effort to reclaim the waters that once flowed through our hamlets and villages.

And, yes, our villages need re-engineering. The slide into urban squalor which has been a characteristic of so-called economic progress calls for a reversal through the promulgation of laws prohibiting any move to undermine the traditions and heritage underpinning our pastoral regions. Agrarian rejuvenation will be yet one more sign of the resilience we can bring forth as a translation of present dreams into future realities.

Quality education for the young across the country, a development of manpower resources skilled as well as general, the establishment of a social securitynet which enjoins on the state the care of every citizen aged and ailing and unemployed and economically at a disadvantage ought to make it to the government's to-do list.

The Padma Bridge opens up a vast new vista of opportunities. For this government as also for governments of the future, it is a symbol of what and how much a nation imbued with self-esteem can do if it chooses to come level with the rest of the world on its own terms.

The Padma Bridge is but a resurgence of the national spirit of resilience. It is a bridge to all the bridges this nation needs to cross, literally and metaphorically, in the times to be. ***


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