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The Financial Express

Founding Father and the idea of Social Justice

Mokerrom Hossain | Published: March 20, 2020 20:37:54


Founding Father and the idea of Social Justice

Bangladesh, a country of 170 million people, celebrated the 100th birthday of its founding father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, on March 17, 2020. In 1971, inspired by their leader Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, people fought an armed struggle against the occupied Pakistani army and earned its freedom on December 16, 1971. It was a people's struggle for independence from all kinds of injustice.  Sheikh Mujibur Rahman struggled for the whole twenty-five years of the united-Pakistan period to bring economic and social justice for the people of the land. In the course of his struggle, he realised that winning political justice was critical for winning wars against other economic and social injustice. Mujib's political activism challenged commonly held beliefs and practices about political participation and led his followers to fight a war and face the consequences. His political activism was founded on strong principles of social justice. But, unfortunately, he was assassinated, and his philosophy of social justice was truncated.

At the 100th birthday celebration of the Founding Father, a discourse about his philosophy, in my opinion, might shed some light on guiding the typical course of economic development process the country's typical policy experts are following. Mujib's political strategies were never conventional, somewhat atypical, and that made him Charismatic leader-following Max Weber's typology of leadership. Sheikh Mujib understood the social reality of his followers in their time and space. And that made him quite different from all other politicians of his time. His understanding of social injustices the people of this land were confronting for decades was unique and unparalleled. His atypical understanding of 'economic development' was quite different from the understanding of students of economics. His understanding of social justice parallels with a philosophical movement called Social Justice, which was taking hold in the West along with the publication of John Rowel's A Theory of Justice in 1971. This publication coincided when the Founding Father's final offensive began to capture the political power needed to establish social justice in Bangladesh.

FREE-MARKET ECONOMY AND SOCIAL JUSTICE

In 1971, the people of erstwhile East Pakistan fought an armed struggle against the Army of West Pakistan to establish an independent secular socialist democratic Bangladesh. In 1974, the war-ravaged Bangladesh became a full member of the United Nations, getting a stigma from the U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Kiesinger, as a "bottomless basket." After a troublous period of political instability along with economic uncertainties, gradually, it started turning away from economic hurdles to economic development. In 2015, Bangladesh earned the status of a lower-middle-income country. In 2018, it had fulfilled all three eligibility criteria to leave the UN's Least Developed Country (LDC) list for the first time and was expecting to earn the status of a developed economy in 21 years (The UN News, March 13, 2018). According to a current estimate, the Foreign Direct Investment in Bangladesh went up by 67.94% in 2018, the World Bank reported. Bangladesh registered a record level of foreign direct investment (FDI) inflow in 2018, topping the list in South Asia. In 2018, Bangladesh reached the highest ever level in the country's history at $3.61 billion, according to the World Investment Report 2019 by United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD, 2019). For a free-market economy, these types of information are encouraging. Moreover, when these facts are added with good GDP and good per-capita income, a country has reasons to celebrate. However, the people of Bangladesh should not forget that just one year after, when the West celebrated Pakistan's economic development as a 'Model of Economic Development', that country fell apart and is still hobbling to move away from the status of "failed state." In Bangladesh, since independence, the process of democracy and secularism has been thwarted by violent military coups and counter-coups, before a clear "victor" emerged and a free-market economy got free rein. 

A free-market economy has a tendency to stick to the paradigm of maximisation of profit, typically ignoring other aspects of society. As a result, to tame the free rein, many western states, including the USA, have forced to adopt the idea of distributive justice by developing an elaborate safety-net layout to guarantee social justice. During the Pakistan period, Sheikh Mujib frequently criticized the economic indicators like GDP and per capita income commonly used by the ruling power to demonstrate the economic success because these indicators were not the true reflection of people's economic status. Anyone with some knowledge of history could recollect that the Founding Father lashed out at the role played by the 22 Families of Pakistan during the united-Pakistan period and how the people's economy had been impacted negatively due to their roles. The theory of "Two Economies" provided him the idea of social justice he wanted to establish by winning the political war.  Mujibur Rahman, who did not become Bangabandhu until three years later, in Six-Point Movement demanded the creation of a separate currency for the erstwhile East Pakistan, was not a typical political demand. His idea of 'socialism' was also not typical; thus, many leftists did not approve that. He was for social justice for all and also for free-market for the people, not for a hand-full of people like 22 Families of united-Pakistan. In Bangladesh top 5% income people have taken over 95% of total income, which indicates an uneven distribution of wealth definitely; it does not correspond with the idea of social justice of the Founding Father. 

In the U.S., K-12 schooling, in the context of Bangladesh up to HSC, is free and mandatory. The state also provides subsidized free lunch to students depending on the parent's income. Students also get free books. However, income inequality in the U.S. is also not decreasing; on the contrary, it is on the rise. But all things considered, there are specific policies in place to safeguard the securities of the people of the lowest strata. Like, emergency healthcare for the needy and the services are of the equal standard of the private hospital. No hospital, as per law, can deny emergency service to any needy individual. The discrepancies that exist between services of private and public hospitals in today's Bangladesh would not have been acceptable to the country's Founding Father. Somehow, the people of the higher strata and especially those technocrats who have been the policy framers and executors have failed to recognize the ideological framework associated with social justice the Founding Father wanted to achieve by winning the political independence of Bangladesh.

In my opinion, the year 2020 provides a life-time opportunity for all, especially for those technocrats who are associated with the administration to make honest efforts to comprehend the postulates of Social Justice, the motivating guidelines of the Founding Father's political activism and innovate some atypical strategies of development rather than just following the textbook lessons-plans generally followed in mainstream educational institutions of the West.  

Dr Mokerrom Hossain is a Professor at the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, Virginia State University, Petersburg, VA 23807
mhossain@vsu.edu

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