Missing Country of the Year title

Nilratan Halder | Published: January 06, 2018 00:11:34

That Bangladesh came within a whisker of winning the Country of the Year title is likely to produce a mixed feeling among its people. Mixed feeling because of the near miss and the solace that the country was considered a serious contender for the laurel the prestigious magazine The Economist has been awarding since 2013.  The fact that Bangladesh lost ultimately to France is frustrating, only more so because its otherwise high scores were let down by two visibly negative factors-crushing "civil liberties" and allowing "Islamists free rein to intimidate".

By severely restricted civil liberties, the magazine most likely refers to little space for dissent and people's disappearance suspected at the hands of security agencies. This is, indeed, one grey area of administration in a country otherwise doing fine on many counts. But the charge that 'Islamists' have been given a free rein is not fully substantial. So far as the communal attacks on minority communities are concerned on this or that pretext, the official record is not quite enviable. But if militancy is an issue, it is hardly contentious. A few countries like Japan feel that they have things to learn from Bangladesh in tackling terror.

So Bangladesh has scored highly on its generosity for sheltering the Rohingya people driven out from Myanmar. The other plus points include the country's 'rapid economic growth and a sharp fall in poverty'. Looking from a different point of view, though, the achievement is not negligible either. Only four contenders were there for the accolade. These are Argentina, South Korea, Bangladesh and the winner France. By making it to the short list of contenders, Bangladesh surely stands taller than before. It is adding one after another feather to its cap. Although, this time it missed the laurel by a small margin, its image has become brighter in the international arena.

This is encouraging enough for a country that was once termed a basket case by a former US secretary of state. Notwithstanding the many inglorious performance on the domestic front, Bangladesh is making firm strides ahead. Its nascent democracy is yet to take a concrete shape and the lapses, weaknesses it exposes are parts of the game. Achieving stability in democracy against a legacy of ingrained dictatorship of military rule is no easy task. It will need more time for consolidating its political gains. This is a transition period and something will go awry, some other things will fall apart here and there. But then the loose ends will be brought together to have a more durable framework for its dispensation.

However, topping the generosity of a nation aspiring to earn the status of a middle-income country by 2021 should not blur the vision that it will put tremendous pressure on the country. Making provision for 1.0 million refugees is more than a daunting task. How ruthless treatment was meted out to people from the Middle-east seeking shelter in some of the richest countries in Europe certainly puts Bangladesh in an incandescent light. But an act of humanity cannot be an indefinite gesture. The interests of both the host people and the refugees get compromised over time and tension builds up to the extent where the bonhomie ends leading to antagonism.

This is true even if the country won the Country of the Year title. After all, a country under heavy pressure from population of its own, cannot take the extra pressure from 1.0 million foreigners. The Western media may wax eloquence over Bangladesh's helping hands but the burden is likely to push back its progress by several years. This cannot be acceptable. Nothing short of the refugees' early return will ease the problem.

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