Untranquil Recollections: Nation Building in Post-Liberation Bangladesh 9789353887391

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Untranquil Recollections: Nation Building in Post-Liberation Bangladesh

Table of contents :
List of Abbreviations
1 Introduction: Untranquil Recollections
2 First Days in Liberated Bangladesh
3 My First Exposure to Government
4 The Political Leadership of the Planning Commission
5 The Workings of the Planning Commission
6 Discovering the Political Economy of Policymaking
7 The Challenge of Delivering the Five-year Plan
8 Making the State Effective
9 The Challenge of Improving the Performance of the Nationalized Sector
10 My Return to Aid Diplomacy
11 Laying the Foundations of Indo-Bangladesh Economic Relations
12 The Gathering Storm
13 Darkness at Noon: The Last Days of the Bangabandhu Era
14 Recollections in Tranquillity
About the Author

Citation preview




Nation Building in Post-Liberation Bangladesh

SAGE was founded in 1965 by Sara Miller McCune to support the dissemination of usable knowledge by publishing innovative and high-quality research and teaching content. Today, we publish over 900 journals, including those of more than 400 learned societies, more than 800 new books per year, and a growing range of library products including archives, data, case studies, reports, and video. SAGE remains majority-owned by our founder, and after Sara’s lifetime will become owned by a charitable trust that secures our continued independence. Los Angeles | London | New Delhi | Singapore | Washington DC | Melbourne

Advance Praise

This second volume of Rehman Sobhan’s memoirs spans four eventful years from 1972 to 1975 when an independent Bangladesh began life. For the author, it was a period that was preceded and followed by political exile from the country he loves. Its elegant prose and engaging narrative are oral history at its best from an activist, participant and witness to that era. It will be most valuable for readers in Bangladesh and South Asia as well as for those elsewhere who wish to understand the complexities of nation building. The third volume of his memoirs, spanning almost half a century since 1975, on the turbulent political evolution and impressive economic development of Bangladesh, through his eyes as a concerned citizen, is an exciting prospect. Deepak Nayyar, Emeritus Professor of Economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; Honorary Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford; and Chairman, Board of Trustees, Institute of Development Studies, Sussex The first volume of Untranquil Recollections gave us a vivid account of Rehman Sobhan’s personal recollections of the liberation struggle in Bangladesh. From this volume, we can expect an equally vivid insider’s account of the first few years of the making of Bangladesh. Kamal Hossain, Former Law Minister and Former Foreign Minister of Bangladesh

At a time when Bangladesh’ s economic and social advance is being hailed, the publication of the second volume of Dr Rehman Sobhan’s memoirs is very timely. He was a pivotal policy figure in the 1970s and continued to be an influential scholar thereafter. This book is as much a rich personal narrative as it is a deep contribution to the understanding of a fascinating country that, even as it faces many challenges, has proved all prophets of gloom and doom wrong. Jairam Ramesh, Member of Parliament and Former Union Minister ‘Witness and actor at the founding’ could be the title of this exciting story by one of the original architects of Bangladesh’s economy. This second volume, following the first on the struggle for Bangladesh’s independence, describes Rehman Sobhan’s experience as a member of the first Planning Commission that charted the early economy of Bangladesh. The memoir contains rich remembrances of challenges, issues, debates and actors that launched an independent Bangladesh. Especially illuminating is Sobhan’s description of the interfaces and interaction between economic and political leaders on national policies—linkage of theory and on-the-ground realities! Something must have been done right since Bangladesh’s GDP is now that of a middle-income country, having recently overtaken neighbouring India. Lincoln C. Chen, President of China Medical Board; Former Taro Takemi Professor of International Health, Harvard University; and Former Chair of BRAC/USA and CARE/USA Rehman Sobhan is a witness and vivid chronicler of one of the most tragic, turbulent and eventually triumphant episodes of the second half of the 20th century, the liberation struggle and the creation of the nation of Bangladesh. Sobhan played an important role in the independence movement, discussed in the first volume of these memoirs, and formulated economic policy

for the Mujib government, which is the narrative of this present volume. This book describes the task of nation building in a country emerging from a searing trauma and shortly to be plunged into another crisis, whose many consequences endure to this day. Absorbing and essential reading for historians, economists and general readers. Krishnan Srinivasan, Former Indian Foreign Secretary and Former Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Rehman Sobhan is not just the most eminent social scientist in Bangladesh but, as we saw in Volume 1 of Untranquil Recollections, he can also write gripping accounts of important events. This second volume takes us inside the post-liberation government and provides a perceptive, compellingly readable assessment of the crucial drama that emerged. James Manor, Professor Emeritus of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Studies, University of London

Untranquil Recollections

Untranquil Recollections

Nation Building in Post-Liberation Bangladesh

Rehman Sobhan

Copyright © Rehman Sobhan, 2021 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. First published in 2021 by

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ISBN: 978-93-5388-739-1 (PB) Sage Team: Manisha Mathews, Satvinder Kaur, Sonam Rana and Kanika Mathur

In memory of Salma who shared my untranquil journey over 43 years while at the same time forging her own path towards inspiring the struggle for the empowerment of women in Bangladesh and across the world.

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List of Abbreviations






  1. Introduction: Untranquil Recollections�������������������������������������� 1   2. First Days in Liberated Bangladesh���������������������������������������������� 9   3. My First Exposure to Government�������������������������������������������� 31   4. The Political Leadership of the Planning Commission������������� 59   5. The Workings of the Planning Commission ���������������������������� 77   6. Discovering the Political Economy of Policymaking���������������� 99   7. The Challenge of Delivering the Five-year Plan���������������������� 125   8. Making the State Effective������������������������������������������������������� 147   9. The Challenge of Improving the Performance of the Nationalized Sector������������������������������������������������������������ 171 10. My Return to Aid Diplomacy �������������������������������������������������� 201 11. Laying the Foundations of Indo-Bangladesh Economic Relations����������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 233 12. The Gathering Storm��������������������������������������������������������������� 265 13. Darkness at Noon: The Last Days of the Bangabandhu Era������295 14. Recollections in Tranquillity���������������������������������������������������� 329 About the Author




List of Abbreviations


Asian Development Bank Asian Development Institute Annual development plan Awami League Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation Bangladesh Rifles Bangladesh Food and Allied Industries Corporation Bangladesh Forest Industries Development Corporation BIDS Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies BIWTC Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation BNP Bangladesh Nationalist Party BOGMC Bangladesh Oil, Gas and Minerals Corporation BPC Bangladesh Planning Commission BRTC Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation BSEC Bangladesh Shipbuilding and Engineering Corporation BSMC Bangladesh Steel Mills Corporation BTS Bangladesh Transport Survey C&B Construction and Building CDP Committee for Development Planning CHT Chittagong Hill Tracts


Chhatra League Chr. Michelsen Institute Chief Martial Law Administrator Chief of Army Staff Communist Party of Bangladesh Civil Service of Pakistan Deputy Chief Martial Law Administrator Dhaka Nawab Family East Bengal Regiment Executive Committee of the National Economic Council East Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation Economic Relations Division Food and Agriculture Organization Freedom Fighter Welfare Trust First Five-year Plan Five-year plan Indian Civil Service International Development Research Centre International Economic Association Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division Indian Planning Commission Inland water transport Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal Monthly information report National Awami Party Nationalized Industries Division Pakistan International Airlines Pakistan Institute of Development Economics Prime minister Prime Minister’s Office Physical Planning and Housing Pakistan Planning Commission Rakkhi Bahini Semi-knocked down Sena Kalyan Sangstha

Untranquil Recollections


State-owned enterprises Short take-off and landing Trading Corporation of Bangladesh Trade Union Centre

List of Abbreviations



This second volume of my memoirs largely draws upon a threevolume account of the two years and eight months I spent in the first Bangladesh Planning Commission from January 1972 to September 1974. This draft was written, over 18 months, between January 1976 and August 1977, during my tenure as a Visiting Fellow at Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford, and Chr. Michelsen Institute, Bergen. This work ran concurrently with the writing of a 600-page volume, co-authored with Professor Muzaffar Ahmad, Public Enterprise in an Intermediate Regime: A Study on the Political Economy of Bangladesh. This volume on public enterprise comprising an account of my days in the Planning Commission was written drawing upon my first-hand exposure to the policymaking process and its outcomes. The two manuscripts were prepared within two years of my leaving the Planning Commission. The events and issues discussed in these volumes were, at that time, still fresh in my mind. The emotions, hopes, disappointments and frustrations of that time were sufficiently alive in my consciousness to influence what I wrote during our days in Oxford and Bergen. The world and society we had inhabited during our years with Bangabandhu had not changed significantly at the time of our writing these manuscripts, though the political landscape in Bangladesh had, by the late 1970s, certainly experienced seismic changes. My perspective on the events and issues I wrote about was, thus, also largely unchanged. Had I, therefore, published the account of my

Planning Commission days just after I had completed the first drafts, it would have emerged as a vivid account of real-life experiences which had remained alive in my mind’s eye. Our work on public enterprise was eventually published by Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies in 1980. It was part of an international project organized by International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, seeking to overview the performance of public enterprise in Asia. I chose at that time not to publish the work on the Planning Commission. Those who read the drafts strongly urged me to do so. My main reason for not publishing the work was that the Awami League (AL) regime, which I had served during my tenure in public office, was then out of power and demonstrated little prospect of returning to power any time soon. Writing about the AL regime, of which we in the Planning Commission were an integral part, would have been unfair because it could be misused by its political opponents who remained hostile to Bangabandhu and his regime. I, therefore, decided that I would hold back publication till the AL returned to power. This did not come about for another 20 years. The AL, led by Bangabandhu’s daughter, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, eventually did return to power in 1996. By that time, the idea of writing about my Planning Commission days had receded from my mind. The original manuscript had also been mislaid and could only be relocated many years later. The three volumes of my work on our days in the Planning Commission have, for the last 45 years, remained locked in my drawer. It was only after the publication of the first volume of my memoirs, Untranquil Recollections: The Years of Fulfilment, by SAGE in 2015, that I decided to publish a further volume on my life’s journey to cover the remaining years until the present. I dug out my original manuscript on the Planning Commission, dusted off its cobwebs and reread it to see how much of it could be used in the second part of my memoir. I was gratified to note that, notwithstanding the passage of five decades, the manuscript read well and was quite serviceable for reviving historical memories of a formative phase in Bangladesh’s history which had virtually xiv

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disappeared from public awareness and remained shrouded in myth and controversy. I, therefore, decided to use this volume as the first part of the second volume of my memoirs. When I initiated work on my second volume and related the Planning Commission work to the full table of contents of the prospective memoir, it became apparent that if this was to constitute just the first part of the remaining half century of my life from 1 January 1972 to the present, the volume could cover 600 pages or more. From my own experience and as per the advice of my prospective publisher, a volume of this length would discourage prospective readers in a digital age. I, then, decided to present the memoir of my Planning Commission days in a separate volume covering the period from 1 January 1972 to 31 December 1975, the life of the Bangabandhu regime and its immediate aftermath, and to then publish a third volume on the remainder of my life until the present. There was some risk for me in this decision since I was already entering the eighth decade of my life where completing a second volume would be challenging enough, but to now commit myself to third is to challenge providence itself. I expected to draw heavily on my original manuscript, prepared in 1976–1977, for most of the source material for this second volume. I could, therefore, use some of the chapters on my own work in the Planning Commission, incorporating much of the details of our experience written when it was fresh in my mind. However, when I reread the original volume, I became more conscious that perspectives had also changed with the passing of time and changes in the external world. I eventually decided that I would keep much of the original memoir, as written in the 1970s, intact so that contemporary readers would not only learn more about those days but also have a better sense of what we felt and believed in those times and how it influenced what we did and how we viewed what we did. The present volume should, therefore, not be read as an objective history of those times but as a memoir of an activist who was himself a part of the historical process. This does not Preface


mean that what I write may be factually challengeable. I have tried to at least be objective on this aspect, drawing again both on first-hand experience, which had at the time of its original writing in the 1970s remained fresh in my memory, and on further material that I had overlooked, which either remained embedded in my memory or was extracted from documentation available from that time. This volume, as it stands, must be read as was the first volume of my memoir as a footnote to our unwritten history written by an activist who aspires to share not just his memoires but also his emotions and values of that time with the present generation whose perceptions of their history are not just lost in the mists of time but may be contaminated by the divisions of contemporary politics, which constantly seek to rewrite history to serve partisan political agendas.


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The full manuscript has been read by Syed Akhter Mahmood and Zafar Sobhan who have provided valuable comments and editorial interventions, which have been very helpful. Also, I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Rehnuma Siddique Shinthi, Programme Associate, who helped with some archival research needed to refresh my memory of events long past and her intensive efforts in copy-editing parts of the manuscript. My Senior Administrative Associate, Abdul Quddus, contributed Herculean services in the word processing of many drafts of the manuscript with his usual efficiency. I have also drawn upon the memoirs and writings of my close colleagues of those historic days, Kamal Hossain, Anisur Rahman and Nurul Islam, which cover the same terrain as my memoir. Nurul Islam, in particular, has contributed three volumes covering his days in the Planning Commission in the form of serious economic analysis, as well as insightful personal memoirs. He has also collaborated with Just Faaland, who then headed the World Bank’s resident mission in Bangladesh, and his colleague Professor Jack Parkinson in publishing a highly informative and insightful book on Bangladesh’s relations with our aid donors. The prime mover in encouraging me to persevere with completing this memoir, even when I found the effort too exhausting, remains my wife, Rounaq Jahan. She had already performed the role of literary entrepreneur, manager, critic and editor in helping

me to complete and publish the first part of my memoirs, Untranquil Recollections: The Years of Fulfilment, in 2014. The challenge of writing this second volume of memoirs of my years in the Planning Commission, during the life of the Bangabandhu regime, has turned out to be a much more challenging task. This volume is to be followed by a third volume of memoirs, updating my life to the present, which has been written concurrently with Volume 2 and is nearing completion. Rounaq has again remained the prime mover for bringing both volumes to fruition as an insightful reader, critic and editor, and as a motivator for my flagging spirits. However, at day’s end, neither Rounaq nor my commentators and colleagues should assume any responsibility for the final outcome of this volume, which will emerge as the product of my own deficiencies of memory and limitations as an author.


Untranquil Recollections

Introduction: Untranquil Recollections


This volume covers the second phase of my journey through an eventful but rather untranquil life. The first volume, Untranquil Recollections: The Years of Fulfilment, narrates the tale of an ordinary person whose life’s journey began from a place where its culmination in my engagement in a political struggle to establish a new country, Bangladesh, appeared highly improbable. The central theme of my memoirs sought to explain how and under what circumstances a child born in an elite nursing home in Calcutta to the great granddaughter of Nawab Ahsanullah and a father who was a member of the Imperial Police Service of India would on 27 March 1971 have his home in Dhaka invaded by the troops of the Pakistan Army to take him into custody on charges of high treason to the state of Pakistan. Over the subsequent nine months, I remained actively involved as a global envoy for the Bangladesh liberation struggle. The story was, thus, presented as a narrative of my growth and transformation as a person located within a period of great historical turbulence culminating in the emergence of the nation state of Bangladesh. The memoir culminates at a high watermark in my life when, along with my friend and comrade, Mosharraf Hossain, on 31 December 1971, I alight from an Indian Air Force Dakota onto the bomb-cratered airport runway of Dhaka, now the capital of an independent Bangladesh. My sense of exhilaration at that epic moment in my life was indescribable. A new year and a new life were opening up for us, and I, at least, was full of hope and expectation for the future of my country.

At that moment in my life, I could not imagine that within three years and ten months, I would be flying out of this same airport towards another phase of self-exile where I would spend the next four years of my life—in Oxford. In this time, the newly independent nation of our dreams would languish under cantonment rule while its founder, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, his family and his closest political comrades lay silent in their graves. The present volume of my memoirs traverses a no-lessmomentous phase of my life from the moment of my arrival at Dhaka airport into an independent Bangladesh to my unanticipated departure into exile from this same airport. This second phase of my life was expected to serve as a continuum to the years of fulfilment which climaxed in the liberation of Bangladesh. This phase began in hope but ended in darkness. My story remains a personal story about my participation in the building of a new nation where I served for two-and-a-half years as a member of the first Planning Commission. It attempts to capture the challenge of building an institution which was expected to contribute to the realization of the hopes and dreams which had permeated the struggle for national liberation. Institution building is a learning process where you discover your own limitations both as a builder and a learner. The first lesson you learn is that institution building is a largely political task, where academics having their first exposure to governance tend to remain quite unprepared to deal with the more complex world of political engagement. Writing about political economy as a key determinant of policy design and its outcomes is again far removed from having to deal with political challenges on a dayto-day basis. The major part of the volume covers my tenure in the Bangladesh Planning Commission (BPC). Nurul Islam and I were invited by Bangabandhu on 12 January 1972, just after he had been sworn in as the prime minister (PM), to join him in setting up the first Planning Commission for an independent Bangladesh. We were subsequently joined by two of our close friends and colleagues, Mosharraf Hossain and Anisur Rahman. 2

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My story narrates the experience of setting up an institution designed to give direction to the social and economic agenda of a nation born through revolution and consecrated with the blood of countless martyrs. It is, therefore, not just my story but the story of four comrades who had chosen academic careers but who now found themselves invested with a political challenge of exceptional complexity for which they had no previous training. Our task was rendered more challenging because we were expected to discharge our responsibilities in the service of an elected government where none of its leaders, including the PM, had any experience of serving in a national government and coping with the responsibility of running a war-devastated nation state with limited resources, populated by some of the most deprived people on the face of the earth. Serving in such a government was the equivalent of participating in a massive social experiment where from top to bottom we were all engaged in the task of learning our job by doing it. Virtually, all the major political players who formed the first government had invested their political lives in struggling for the assertion of the democratic rights of the Bengalis so they could rule themselves. To now affect a transition from the role of political agitators who had endured long spells of imprisonment, where they and their families were exposed to considerable insecurity and material deprivation, to highly responsible administrators committed to respond to the myriad demands of their electorate was in any country a demanding task. In a wardevastated Bangladesh with no previous exposure to national governance, a hollowed-out entrepreneurial sector and a young population which had for the first time in generations engaged in armed conflict, the challenges of governance were unimaginable. My story largely focuses on my own first-hand experience in creating an organization from scratch, negotiating its role in the design and oversight of economic policy and manoeuvring our way through the political minefield within which the policymaking process was located. Nurul Islam, in his insightful and informative memoir, Making of a Nation, Bangladesh: An Economist’s Tale, has already highlighted Introduction: Untranquil Recollections


the various areas of contestation which needed to be navigated by the Planning Commission in formulating economic policy and ensuring its implementation. Our principal challenge originated from our interaction with political ministers whose sense of empowerment originated through being elected to office by the people. This legitimacy invested them with the right to formulate policy and ensure its implementation. The Planning Commission, as conceived at its foundation, was expected to offer policy advice and coordinate policymaking at the ministerial level to avoid overlap and inter-ministerial contestation both over resources and administrative jurisdiction. In areas of macro policy, the Commission was expected to play the lead role in designing the policy. However, within a democratic system, the final decision-making power for all policies remained with the Cabinet presided over by the PM. In the prevailing political reality of Bangladesh where there were contradictions at the Cabinet meetings over various issues, it was the PM who made the final decisions on policy. Where there were disagreements between the Planning Commission and the ministries or between different ministers, it was invariably the PM who arbitrated and resolved such conflicts. Decision-making on various policies, thus, largely depended on persuading the PM to support the issue under discussion. The PM, on occasion, would steer his own course and persuade the contesting parties to modify their positions or where necessary, redesign the policy on lines advised by the PM. In my own domain in the Planning Commission, which covered industries, power and natural resources and physical infrastructure which included transport and communication as well as housing and physical planning, policymaking remained the exclusive responsibility of the respective ministries. In practice, on many occasions, the relevant ministries invested little time over policy issues or institution building but were more preoccupied with seeking budgetary and external resources for development projects prepared by their ministries. Since many such projects originating from the ministries were weakly designed with inadequate assessment of their economic 4

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value and remained oblivious of their impact on other ministries, the Planning Commission was compelled to be more engaged with the policymaking process and evaluation of projects than may have been necessary if the ministries had been better prepared to discharge their designated responsibilities. This tension between the demands of a ministry for budgetary allocations and the coordinating functions as well as prioritizing of resource use invested in the Planning Commission remained a source of perpetual tension with the respective ministries. Such structural conflicts put the Commission into contestation both with ministers and the bureaucracy. Much depended on the ability of the concerned member of the Planning Commission to maintain amicable relations with the minister and his/her secretary. Where negotiations broke down, the issue in contest needed to be referred to the PM for resolution. In the course of this memoir, I attempt to identify some of these areas of contestation with the ministries and to reflect on the eventual outcome or lack of it relating to a particular issue. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from my exposure to government was that contestations over policy and resource allocation were superseded by the far more in tractable challenge of policy implementation and effective resource use. In these areas, the exclusive responsibility vested with the concerned ministries where the Planning Commission had little role to play. My growing frustration with the incapacity or even reluctance to implement the declared policies of the government and make productive use of resources compelled me to move beyond my designated areas of responsibility as a member of the Commission. In the course of this volume, I report on my periodic tendency to overstep my jurisdiction and to engage myself in attempts to ensure that policies enacted by the Cabinet were actually being implemented and resources allocated to a ministry were being well used. In such engagements I write about my attempt to extend support to various public sector CEOs, many from the nationalized industries, transport and power sector which were the designated instruments for implementing policies and Introduction: Untranquil Recollections


projects. These public entrepreneurs emerged as the stepchildren of the state condemned to remain in a state of perpetual conflict with the secretariat bureaucracy. These officials did little to support public enterprises within their jurisdiction so as to improve their performance and more frequently sought to constrict their freedom of action by assertions of bureaucratic supremacy. The second rather shorter part of my memoir covers the period after I resigned from the Planning Commission and my departure from Bangladesh after the regime change following the killing of Bangabandhu. In this period, I returned to academic life as the President of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS). I could have discussed the problems involved in running such an institution, but the narrative is rather less exciting than any discussion of the complexities of policymaking and institution building. All the events of consequence in that last year from September 1974 to August 1975 were percolating in the wider political domain where I was largely a spectator. I could, thus, only keep abreast of the unfolding political crisis at second hand through occasional encounters with some of those involved in the drama. It was only in the last days of the Bangabandhu era and its immediate aftermath that I was, at a personal level, touched by my brief encounters with some of the actors engaged in shaping events at that time. These encounters and some related events had a significant impact on the direction of my life and that of my family over the next four years and perhaps for the remainder of my life. The narrative that follows is largely drawn from my life and work during the period from 1 January 1972 to the end of December 1975. I also discuss some of the historical drama which was unfolding around me since the events impacted me. Strangely, very little research has been invested in this formative phase of Bangladesh’s history. A number of memoirs have been written by important players in the drama such as Kamal Hossain, Nurul Islam and Anisur Rahman, who were all close to me. I draw on their accounts to lend greater depth and width to my story as also 6

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on some other personal and historical accounts of that period, based more on second-hand accounts than direct exposure or primary research, where I could muster some confidence in such narratives. The practical problem facing the historian of that period relates to the sharpening contestation over both the historical facts and their interpretation offered by interested parties. One would have expected that the life and times of such epic figures as Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his intimate colleagues like Tajuddin Ahmad would be the subject of intensive historical research which could have provided a more definitive account which could educate future generations. Unfortunately, their lives and the history of that period have been entrapped in contemporary political debates where contested parties have preferred to depict our nation builders in hues of white and black depending on the narrator. For 24 years after the killing of Bangabandhu, in the era of cantonment rule and its political heirs, Bangabandhu was effectively erased from public memory. Large segments of Bangladesh’s history, where Bangabandhu played a critical role, were covered up so that the then historical narrative moved forward with significant unexplained gaps. The writing of history for our students was similarly distorted so that Bangladesh faced the risk of rearing a generation with no clear knowledge of our past. It was not till 1996, when Bangabandhu’s daughter, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, was elected to office as the PM at the head of an Awami League (AL) led coalition that the people of Bangladesh were given the opportunity to reconnect with their history. Much effort not only at the official level but also in academic circles was invested in correcting the historical record. Unfortunately, where our history provides one of the major fault lines dividing two major political parties, the process of setting the record straight has also been exposed to some overcompensation. Over the years, as contemporary political contradictions have sharpened and levels of tolerance for the other have deteriorated, the contemporary official historical narrative has been invested Introduction: Untranquil Recollections


with sacrosanct qualities. As a result, those elements of the narrative which may reflect adversely on some actions of our leaders have not only been elided over but attempts by scholars to cast light on the less complimentary sides of the story have been discouraged and even exposed to the risk of punitive censure. In such a contested and risk-prone environment for researchers, both scholarship and the education of generations of students have emerged as the main casualty. The world still awaits the emergence of the intrepid historian who is willing to face up to the hazard of writing a more objective account of the life and times of such leaders as Bangabandhu. Sadly, my own exercise in memoir writing falls short of presenting such a definitive account because I could not invest the time for the research needed to undertake such a heroic and demanding challenge. What I have written, based on my limited exposure to the events and what little has been written about these events, inevitably reflects my own narrow perspective and the biases of a bit player in some of those events. I can at best hope that the historian who eventually writes our epic story will be able to fill in a few footnotes by drawing on my modest narrative.


Untranquil Recollections

First Days in Liberated Bangladesh


Living through the Twilight Phase In Quest of a Government I awoke on a cold New Year morning of 1972 with sunshine streaming through my windows, suffused with a sense of wellbeing and optimism. I was home in a liberated Bangladesh after nine months of tension and uncertainty where I had traversed the world as a soldier of Bangladesh with no expectation that I would arrive at journey’s end any time soon. I was a guest at the home of my dear friend, Zeaul Haq (Tulu), and his wife Jolly on Road 20, Dhanmondi. They had taken me into their home the day before on my arrival from Kolkata in the company of our mutual friend Mosharraf Hossain. In these nine months, the Pakistan Army had invaded my home on Road 69, Gulshan, to arrest me. My wife Salma and our three sons, Taimur, Babar and Zafar, had narrowly avoided being held as hostages for my surrender before managing to get out of Pakistan and reach England where they had set up a transitional home in Oxford. I had moved from Dhaka to Delhi via Agartala from where I had been sent off by an independent Bangladesh’s first PM, Tajuddin Ahmad, to campaign abroad to withhold foreign aid to Pakistan and to obtain recognition of our sovereignty from the world community. My mission had taken me to Paris, London, Oxford, New York, Washington DC, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Boston, New Haven, Philadelphia, Williamstown, Ottawa, Syracuse, Rome and Kolkata. My adventures on this long journey, which began

from my home at Gulshan on 27 March 1971 and ended at Tulu’s Dhanmondi residence on New Year’s Eve, have been narrated in an earlier volume, Untranquil Recollections: The Years of Fulfilment. We began New Year’s Day with one of Jolly’s epic breakfasts which had been served and she continued to serve over the years as a welcoming aperitif for many historic encounters. We exchanged stories about our experiences over the last nine months since I had parted company with Tulu at Baraid village on the outskirts of Dhaka just before I embarked on my journey. He had deliberately chosen to stay behind in Dhaka where he performed a critical role alongside Mukhlesur Rahman (Shidhu Mia) and, initially, Muyeedul Hasan, in facilitating the movement across the border of those who opted to leave Bangladesh and, in some cases, join the liberation struggle. Shidhu Mia and Tulu had, more significantly, served as a source of clandestine fund raising and intelligence gathering on the activities of the government of occupation which was channelled to the Government of Bangladesh located at 8 Theatre Road, Kolkata. It had been a hazardous life with many of their close friends and comrades being picked up by the Pakistan Army and its local collaborators and ending up in death camps. Those like Tulu, who fought the war from within, could never be sure when they may hear a midnight knock on their door. His close friends like Shahidullah Kaiser, the journalist who I had often met at Tulu’s home, had ended up as mutilated corpses in the brick kilns at Rayerbazar in Mirpur. My first awareness that the bright sunshine of New Year’s Day may obscure some darker aspects of the newly independent state were provided by Tulu. In the fortnight since the surrender of General Niazi at the Race Course Maidan, the country was living through a twilight phase. Some of the leaders of the post-liberation government had been flown into Dhaka on the same Indian Air Force Dakota which had recently landed Mosharraf and me in Dhaka. The Cabinet was installed in what is now Bangabhaban but which at that stage was a shell-struck, derelict mausoleum with gaping holes in the roof through which the sun streamed 10

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down on visitors. Syed Nazrul Islam, the acting president; Tajuddin Ahmad, PM; Mansur Ali; Abdus Samad Azad and even Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad, who had been removed from his position as foreign minister in the Mujibnagar government but remained a minister in the first Cabinet, were in residence and had been joined by Qamruzzaman who had accompanied me on the flight from Kolkata the day before. These six ministers, who together constituted the first Government of Bangladesh, were attempting to establish their authority over a war-devastated, traumatized nation with no functioning administration, police force or budgetary resources to underwrite their government. In these circumstances, the government needed to work in close harmony. Whilst the Tajuddin-led Cabinet provided the formal authority, particularly in dealing with India, the five leaders resident in Bangabhaban had constituted their own centres of power. Within their respective fiefdoms, each minister received those personally loyal to them, made decisions which lay within their authority and dispensed what patronage was available to them without reference to the PM. Tajuddin made some attempt to restore coherence in the decision-making process. Some important decisions like the move to practise austerity by imposing a ceiling of Tk. 1000/00 on salaries of all public servants were taken by the Cabinet. The Indian government had dispatched a large mission to identify the government’s resource and administrative needs. Qamruzzaman had, from his Mujibnagar days, been assigned the portfolio of rehabilitation and was authorized to interact with the Indians. In the weeks prior to liberation, the Planning Board, under the leadership of Mosharraf Hossain, had worked with Qamruzzaman to prepare a draft of a rehabilitation plan which was used as a basis for discussion with the visiting mission from India. Such initial actions by the government in place in Bangabhaban left much ground uncovered so that the basis of a functioning administration still remained some distance away. Within this emerging vacuum in governance, alternative centres of power were moving in to fill the spaces. Much of First Days in Liberated Bangladesh


Bangladesh still remained a no-man’s land with more sinister manifestations of anarchy emerging in the shape of what came to be known as the 16th Division. This was made up of armed youth of uncertain antecedents, claiming to be mukti juddhas (freedom fighters), who were taking over vacant houses, hijacking cars and extorting money at gunpoint from unwary citizens. In Iqbal Hall at Dhaka University, a centre of power had emerged, constituted around the four student leaders from the Chhatra League—Abdur Rab, vice-president of Dhaka University Central Students’ Union; Shahjahan Siraj, its general secretary; Nur-e-Alam Siddique, president of the Chhatra League (CL) and Abdul Quddus Makhan, its general secretary. Termed popularly as the four caliphas, they had already established their own autonomous administration. They had their own bahini (fighting force) exercised power and disbursed patronage as they saw fit. The caliphas were not organized or cohesive enough to enforce discipline on the large numbers of armed youth who engaged in various forms of private brigandage using the cover of the caliphate in Iqbal Hall. Apart from the four caliphas who remained an autonomous entity of their own, at another location, the Mujib Bahini, a wellarmed military formation, led by Sheikh Fazlul Haque Moni, nephew of Bangabandhu, along with CL leaders—Sirajul Alam Khan, Abdur Razzaq and Tofail Ahmed—provided yet another centre of power. This formation had been specially trained by the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), a special force of the Indian intelligence agency under the direction of Major General Sujan Singh Uban, as a prospective counterforce to what was apprehended to be the more radicalized insurgents active in the liberation struggle outside the discipline of the Mukti Bahini. As it transpired, the Mujib Bahini became more of a problem for the high command of the Mukti Bahini since they operated through their own independent chain of command. It is not clear how effectively the Mujib Bahini used their better quality of weaponry to fight the Pakistan Army but in the post-liberation period, their military capability was perceived as a challenge to the authority of the post-liberation government. 12

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Whilst none of those emerging centres of power had as yet begun to overtly challenge the authority of what was formally recognized as the Government of Bangladesh, the passage of time was expected to expose its administration to more serious contestation. The nights in Dhaka had become a fraught moment where people preferred to lock themselves at home or moved around within their own neighbourhood. The areas outside Dhaka remained even more uncertain areas of darkness. There were as yet no functioning agencies of law enforcement to whom one could turn for protection from acts of extortion and violence. On the night of 25 March 1971, the Pak military, through Operation Searchlight, had launched their genocide on the Bengali people through their assault on the police lines in Rajarbagh, Dhaka. As a result, most of the Bengalis in the police service had taken up arms and fought in the liberation war as part of the Mukti Bahini. The police force, which was then largely serving as part of the Mukti Bahini, was yet to be reconstituted as a law enforcement agency rather than a military formation. As a result, most police stations across the country were deserted or insufficiently manned, so law enforcement in their environs remained insecure. In such circumstances, it says much for the shared sense of patriotism generated by our liberation and the sense of selfdiscipline not just of our citizens but most of those who had taken up arms that some elements of normalcy prevailed in those fraught days. People had begun to go about their business until such time as they may personally be exposed to some threat to their security. The task of establishing a coherent administration was complicated by the arrival of those who had constituted the machinery of administration in the Mujibnagar government in Kolkata. The migrant officers were led by officials who had, during the last days of united Pakistan, been serving as district administrators in the border areas of Bangladesh. At the outset of the war, such areas were more readily placed to proclaim their allegiance to the independent state and in a number of cases, liberate themselves First Days in Liberated Bangladesh


for a while from Pakistani occupation. Most of the officers serving in these areas crossed the border into India and helped to constitute the core of the Mujibnagar administration. These not very senior officers, who had emerged as the first servants of the Republic, had expectations of higher responsibility in a liberated Bangladesh. The appreciation of Tulu, and those close to him, was that unless Bangabandhu could return home and take over the leadership and governance of Bangladesh, this growing diffusion of power could more seriously disturb the restoration of peace and discipline. Tajuddin had shared some of his own anxieties with Tulu but had put on a brave face in confronting these challenges and persuading his colleagues to work together to establish a working administration. The fact that Tajuddin enjoyed the recognition and full support of the Indian leadership was an important resource which lent authority to his position. But the level of authority exercised by him at 8 Theatre Road, Kolkata, was hardly available to him in a recently liberated Bangladesh where the political balance of power had been drastically altered. In the absence of any news about the fate of Bangabandhu, the immediate prospect for stable governance in Bangladesh remained uncertain. I enquired Tulu about the whereabouts of Professor Nurul Islam. I had spoken with Nurul, then in residence at New Haven, Connecticut, before departing from the USA in mid-December. He had told me that he had been invited by the World Bank to take up a senior position as director of research. This would have led to his possible elevation to vice-presidency and would offer security to him and his family for the remainder of their lives. He had been in two minds as to whether he should return to Dhaka after liberation. I advised Nurul, in no uncertain terms, that it was our bounden obligation to return to Dhaka and put ourselves at the disposal of the newly established regime. It was much easier for me to proffer such gratuitous advice to Nurul since I was, at that time, an unemployed vagabond with no certain source of income, serving a shadowy government which itself commanded no assured source of revenue. Nor was it 14

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certain that such a government would be anxious to retain our services. Our principal engagements, prior to March 1971, had been with Bangabandhu whose fate at that time was somewhat unpredictable. I too had a job of sorts available to me since I had already been offered a research position at Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford, by its director, Paul Streeten, which was paying me a modest salary sufficient to support Salma and our three sons at their tiny home in Wolvercote, North Oxford. I could, therefore, spend the next couple of years writing a book on the emergence of Bangladesh as I had always aspired to do. I had indeed already signed a publishing contract with Penguin Books to do so. But such temporary security available to me was hardly comparable to the lifetime opportunity offered to Nurul that could ensure a comfortable and secure life for him and his family. In those days, I was an inconsiderate and not particularly sensitive person, so I had no qualms about pressurizing Nurul to join me in Dhaka. To his credit, Nurul did not hesitate to put the World Bank’s offer on hold and immediately travel to Dhaka, arriving there shortly before me. After I left New York, I had spent the subsequent fortnight with Salma and the boys in Oxford where she had strongly urged me to stay back at Queen Elizabeth House and work on my book. When I learnt that Nurul was already in Dhaka, I felt guilty enough to feel he should be my first port of call. Tulu took me over to meet him at the residence of his father-in-law who lived quite close to Tulu’s home in Dhanmondi. Nurul’s first reaction on meeting me was to take me to task for pushing him back to Dhaka to face an uncertain future. Bangabandhu’s fate was still unknown. Nurul’s first encounter at Bangabhaban with Tajuddin Ahmad and some of his Cabinet colleagues had been far from encouraging. In his encounter with Mansur Ali, the then finance minister, he had offered to appoint Nurul as the first governor of an as yet non-existent Central Bank. Given the rather nebulous state of the administration, all such gestures appeared to be more hypothetical than substantive. I suggested to Nurul that the two First Days in Liberated Bangladesh


of us should call upon Tajuddin the next day to learn more about the shape of things to come.

Returning Home I utilized the rest of that first day to visit my home in Gulshan. It lay abandoned after Salma had departed from there shortly after I had left on 27 March. Our only neighbours, the Ispahanis, had also left their home as the day of liberation approached and taken up residence at the Ispahani colony in Moghbazar where a larger assembly of non-Bengalis, now fearful for their own security, had congregated to seek the security of numbers. During the year, elements of the Pakistan Army had looted our house. To prevent further such invasions, my cousin Akhter Morshed had kindly arranged for whatever moveable assets we had to be crated and stored at the residence of Anwar Kahlon, a senior member of the Ahmadiyya Community and CEO of Pak Bay, where Akhter worked. Kahlon’s residence was likely to be more secure from Pakistani vandals since his younger brother was the then chief of staff of the Pakistani Air Force. As it transpired, Kahlon and his family, along with some of the better-off nonBengalis, locked up their house and had flown away to Pakistan on the imminence of liberation. Our goods, then stored in Kahlon’s garage were, thus, once more exposed to looting, this time by members of the local 16th Division. Fortunately, our gardener Tayyeb Ali, who had also fled our house with our other retainers, had returned to the house in the wake of liberation and established himself in residence as a solitary watchman. When further visitors from the 16th Division turned up to explore the remaining spoils at our home, our guardsman informed them about the antecedents of the real owner of this house. This information was passed on to the local AL leader in the area who not only took steps to ensure that our house would be protected but persuaded the others, who had taken away our possessions from Anwar Kahlon’s garage, to restore these to our home. I imagine that others, whose houses were invaded by the 16th Division, were not so fortunate. 16

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A similar state of tension prevailed among the better-off segments of the population in Gulshan and Dhanmondi where being a Bengali was no guarantee that you would escape unscathed. Both these enclaves of privilege, particularly the Gulshan/Banani area where many of the non-Bengali elite had preferred to live, were now populated with abandoned houses which became fair game for prospective vandals. In later years, the houses themselves were declared as abandoned property with their ownership rights vested with the state. But such properties in later more settled times served as a happy hunting ground for appropriation by those with higher levels of influence.

Rediscovering My Family During this twilight phase in the nation’s life, I had time to take stock of the personal costs of the liberation war. My dual ancestry implied that different components of my family would have viewed the liberation of Bangladesh with mixed feelings. There was no ambiguity in my own feelings since I had joined the liberation struggle by choice rather than inheritance and could look forward to the emergence of an independent Bangladesh as one of the most fulfilling moments in my life. But I needed to remind myself that for many of my family, life in an independent Bangladesh was a journey into the unknown. As I pointed out in some detail, in the first volume of my memoirs, Untranquil Recollections, my family were hardly regarded as sons of the soil. My father’s side of the family, the Khondkars, originating from Murshidabad district in West Bengal, were Bengali speaking but most of the educated men folk were also fluent in Urdu. A number of them such as my father, his siblings and cousins had been encouraged by their uncle, Khondkar Fazle Rabbi who had served as dewan to the Nawab of Murshidabad to go in for English education and were, thus, fluent in English as well as Bangla and Urdu. My father’s family had, after the partition of India, distributed itself between East and West Pakistan, while a small segment stayed back in our ancestral home in Murshidabad. The Khondkars who lived in Bangladesh, given their Bengali First Days in Liberated Bangladesh


background and familiarity with Bangla culture, had no reason to feel uneasy about life in an independent Bangladesh. In contrast, my mother’s side of the family were largely Urdu speakers. Her father’s family was from Uttar Pradesh but had made Kolkata their home and most of this side of her family stayed on in India after partition. In contrast, her mother’s side of the family, mostly born in Dhaka, was part of the Dhaka Nawab Family (DNF), which had its origins in Kashmir, were Urdu speaking and remained largely alienated from the culture of their birthplace. A part of DNF had been actively involved in the struggle for Pakistan. Over the years, because of their association with the Muslim League, politically active members of DNF found themselves on the wrong side of Bangladesh’s struggle for self-rule. My own involvement with Bangabandhu and the struggle for selfrule was, thus, viewed within DNF as something of an aberration, though it did not necessarily distance me from the family because of my mother’s standing in the family. Her maternal uncles were Khwaja Nazimuddin and Khwaja Shahabuddin, whilst her grand uncle was Nawab Salimullah. Although my mother had spent most of her early life in Kolkata with her father, her links with DNF remained in good repair. Given the rather ambiguous roots and ethnicity of the two sides of my family, I remained uncertain about how the liberation war had impacted the fortunes of those who had been resident in Bangladesh during 1971. I, therefore, felt it appropriate that I explore, in this interim period, the fate of my family members and indeed what had become of my own home in Gulshan, which I had abandoned on 27 March. Quite a few of my relations who had felt uncertain about the acceptability of their provenance in Bangla, some with more reason than others, had chosen to depart from their ancestral home on the eve of liberation for the most proximate outside destination which tended to be Karachi. For example, the family of Khwaja Nazimuddin decided to leave when Khawja Nazimuddin’s son, Khwaja Saifuddin’s father-in-law, a non-Bengali 18

Untranquil Recollections

who worked at the Ispahani Textile Mills in Kalurghat, Chittagong, had been killed. Other family members of mine experienced more mixed fortunes. Those who eventually managed to move beyond Karachi to the newly emerging horizons of opportunity provided by the recently enriched oil rich states of the Arabian Gulf, mostly enhanced their fortunes and lived more stable, comfortable lives. The large diaspora to the Gulf states provided a stepping stone for providing better education to their children and opportunities for many families to move to the UK and North America. A large segment of DNF did stay on in an independent Bangladesh. After facing some moments of uncertainty, they ended up making good lives for themselves and their children, most of whom became fluent in Bangla.

The Demobilization of Lt General Wasiuddin In 1973, the return of Lt General Khwaja Wasiuddin to Dhaka with his entire family provided greater reassurance to DNF about their future in Bangladesh. Khwaja Wasiuddin was the highestranking Bengali serving officer in the Pakistan Army and in March 1971, held the senior position of Corps Commander in Multan, one of the most important positions in the army. Even though his father, Khwaja Shahabuddin, a senior minister in the last Cabinet of Ayub Khan, was an active political figure with strong loyalties to Pakistan, Wasiuddin declared his allegiance to Bangladesh. Wasiuddin was a completely apolitical, professional soldier. He was a man of exceptional decency and integrity who had been instrumental, along with Colonel (later General) Osmani, his close friend, in raising the East Bengal Regiment (EBR) with the goal of inducting more Bengalis into the Pakistan Army. Wasiuddin felt a strong sense of loyalty to his regiment which had emerged as one of the vanguard forces of the liberation war in March 1971 and played a leading role in the formation of the Mukti Bahini. At the outbreak of the genocide on March 25, Wasiuddin had been outraged and had written a strong letter to Yahya Khan First Days in Liberated Bangladesh


denouncing his actions, advising him to immediately release Bangabandhu and resume political negotiations with him to seek a peaceful, democratic, resolution of the crisis. Wasiuddin showed me a copy of this letter when I was staying with him in Paris where he was posted as Bangladesh’s ambassador to France. For his bold stand, Wasiuddin was immediately recalled from his Corps Command in Multan and kept inactive throughout 1971 so that he would have no contact with the Bengalis then still serving in the armed forces in Pakistan. At the liberation of Bangladesh, Wasiuddin was put under surveillance at his home in Rawalpindi and when the Bengali troops and officers who had declared their allegiance to serve Bangladesh were eventually moved into concentration camps, he moved into the camp with his entire family, having opted to serve Bangladesh. This was again a bold, even unexpected decision for Wasiuddin since his father had stayed back in Pakistan along with two of his sisters, while his wife came from a well-known Punjabi family and his four children had all been born and brought up in West Pakistan. When the repatriation of the remaining Bengalis, including those in the armed forces, was underway at the conclusion of the Simla Agreement in 1973 between India and Pakistan, it came to be known that Wasiuddin had opted for Bangladesh. There was much speculation in Dhaka and within the government as to the prospective role he would play in Bangladesh after his return. Wasiuddin as a serving Lt General in the Pakistan Army far outranked all Bengalis serving in the Bangladesh Army. Osmani, himself a sincere, honourable man, advised Bangabandhu to appoint Wasiuddin as the Chief of Staff of the Bangladesh Army, which was then headed by Major Shafiullah, one of the nine sector commanders in the Mukti Bahini, who had been elevated to the rank of Brigadier along with Ziaur Rahman and Khaled Mosharraf shortly after liberation. Osmani believed that since Wasiuddin was a totally professional soldier without political ambitions, he would restore professionalism to the force, unify it and keep the officers away from 20

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politics. If Bangabandhu was reluctant to take such a radical step, then Osmani suggested that he should at least appoint Wasiuddin as his defence advisor to draw upon his long experience in helping Bangabandhu, within his capacity as defence minister, to effectively govern the Bangladesh Army and bridge the emerging tension between the mukti juddhas and the returning armed forces who had been held captive in Pakistan. Prior to the return of Wasiuddin to Dhaka, it was reported that the three mukti juddha brigadiers of the army, Shafiullah, Ziaur Rahman and Khaled Mosharraf, who had each been sector commanders in the Mukti Bahini, jointly met Bangabandhu and advised him to keep Wasiuddin out of the army and all defence matters. They argued that leadership of the armed forces should be left exclusively in the hands of the freedom fighters. Bangabandhu went along with the advice of those three sector commanders and eventually retired Wasiuddin from the army, appointing him as Bangladesh’s ambassador to Kuwait. It is not clear if Bangabandhu ever speculated that an army led by ambitious officers with their own sense of political empowerment, earned through their role in the liberation war, was preferable to a more professional force, led by an apolitical general who had no political identity but was widely respected by the entire force who recognized his seniority. Wasiuddin accepted his disconnection from his beloved army with some sadness but without complaint. He informed me at our Paris encounter in 1977 that he appreciated Bangabandhu’s compulsions at that time to get him out of the army. I remember Wasiuddin’s arrival in Dhaka accompanied by his family and four large Alsatian dogs. He was accommodated at the Officer’s Club in the cantonment where I went to meet him the day after his arrival. When I was with him, I recollect that our three brigadiers came to call on him, in full uniform, and smartly saluted him before they sat down. Wasiuddin warmly embraced and congratulated them on their heroic role in the liberation war. First Days in Liberated Bangladesh


The Return of Bangabandhu Waiting for Bangabandhu The 10 days of 1972 after my return to Dhaka were something of a twilight phase in our nation’s history. The attention of everyone in Bangladesh and perhaps also in some of the major capitals of the world was centred around the fate of one man, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, then held in captivity in Mianwali Jail in Pakistan. The people of Bangladesh had no knowledge of his fate or whereabouts but hoped and assumed, more on faith than evidence, that he was alive and would soon return to Bangladesh. What they did not know was that Bangabandhu had already been released from Mianwali Jail and brought to an official guest house in Sihala near Rawalpindi on 26 December under the orders of Bhutto who had recently taken over as president of Pakistan. After 16 December and the surrender of Lt General Niazi at the Dhaka Race Course Maidan, Pakistan entered into a state of political turmoil. The emergence of an independent Bangladesh and the humiliation of their military defeat in Bangladesh had put the Pakistan armed forces in a mutinous mood against the military and political leadership of Yahya and his military accomplices such as General Hameed, the army chief of staff; Lt Generals Peerzada, Umer, Mitha and others. This turmoil was exploited by other senior officers such as Lt General Gul Hasan to carry out an intra-military coup which deposed Yahya and invited Bhutto to become the president. Till the time Bhutto actually took over as president, the fate of both Bangabandhu and Kamal Hossain, his chief advisor on constitutional issues who had been incarcerated in Haripur Jail and charged with high treason, remained highly uncertain. In the absence of a chain of command, anyone could have come into their respective jails and assassinated them. Bhutto was under pressure from some global leaders to release Bangabandhu. He faced even greater pressure from the Pakistan military to somehow secure the release of the 93,000 members of the armed forces then in custody across Bangladesh under the 22

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protection of the Indian Army. Under such conflicting pressures, Bhutto needed some days to decide on how he would deal with Bangabandhu. He could not have made his decision much before 26 December, the date Bangabandhu was released from jail and brought to the Sihala Guest House where he met Bhutto. But it took around 10 days for discussions with Bangabandhu and debates within Bhutto’s high command to work out the precise timing and logistics of his return. It was not till Bangabandhu and Kamal were aboard a special Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane flying them to London on 8 January that the news of their release and returning home was made public. The uncertainty of Bangabandhu’s fate thus kept Bangladesh in a state of tension and its then government in limbo. While important decisions were taken by the Tajuddin government to establish its writ across the land, there was an air of provisionality about the government which tended to weaken its authority and constrained more decisive actions needed to restore greater normalcy to public life. While much time was spent tuning into radio and television sets to pick up whispers in the wind about the fate of Bangabandhu, we also had the time to speculate about the shape of things to come. For me this offered time for reconnecting with family and friends and gossiping at Tulu’s residence which had always been a centre point for bringing together a wide array of like-minded comrades.

Reconnecting with War Heroes One of the unscheduled visitations to Tulu’s Dhanmondi residence was from rather unexpected visitors who sought to reconnect with me. One evening, we were much surprised when Major Khaled Mosharraf and Major Ziaur Rahman, accompanied by their respective wives, were ushered into the living room. Khaled Mosharraf had facilitated my first contact with our freedom fighters when we met him at the Titas Gas Guest House in Brahmanbaria on 31 March en route to cross the border with my companions First Days in Liberated Bangladesh


Anisur Rahman and Mustafa Monwar. I still remember the sense of exhilaration within us to meet someone who had taken up arms and actually liberated a part of Bangladesh from Pakistani rule. I have written about this and about our evening spent with Khaled and his freedom fighters at their headquarters in Teliapara Tea Estate in my memoir Untranquil Recollections: The Years of Fulfilment. Khaled had invested us with specific responsibilities about seeking arms from the Indian government to support what was then a highly underequipped struggle against a far better armed Pakistan army. The other task was to seek out the prospective political leaders of the liberation struggle and advise them to constitute the government of an independent Bangladesh as quickly as possible. This government should commission the Bengali insurgents from the armed forces into the army of the state of Bangladesh. Until such time as they did so, all the insurgent military personnel in the service of the Pakistani armed forces would be regarded as mutineers who could be court-martialled and shot. I was happy to confirm to Khaled that I had dutifully discharged my commission to him by passing the request for arms to the highest quarters of the Indian government and had advised Tajuddin, during our historic encounter in Delhi, to commission our fighting forces into the Bangladesh liberation army. Tajuddin had taken cognizance of my advice and commissioned nine sector commanders, including Major Khaled Mosharraf, Major Ziaur Rahman and Major Safiullah of EBR among others, as officers of a newly constituted Mukti Bahini. In July 1971, I again met up with Khaled in Kolkata when he had come in from the battlefront for a meeting of the sector commanders with the Bangladesh government. He had updated me about his military exploits particularly at the battle for the Belonia Bulge which had been captured on television in the UK by Vanya Kewley, an intrepid reporter of Granada Television. I had been instrumental in advising Vanya, during an encounter in London in April, to meet with Khaled if she could catch up 24

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with him on the battlefront, and she was quite dazzled by his good looks and air of supreme self-confidence in his mission to liberate Bangladesh. In the later part of the war, Khaled’s tendency to lead his troops from the front resulted in his being grievously wounded in the head during an encounter with the Pakistan Army. Khaled had undergone an extensive surgery in India which had saved his life but had left him with a visible indentation on his forehead. I had met Ziaur Rahman for the first time in Kolkata, also in July 1971, at the time of the Sector Commander’s Summit and had several encounters with him at the Skyroom Restaurant on Park Street in the company of Muyeedul Hasan. In sharp contrast to Khaled’s rather flamboyant style, in those days Zia was a more reticent personality. Interestingly it was Zia, rather than Khaled, who continued to maintain contact with me during my days in the Planning Commission, but this remains part of a later story. It was flattering to my self-esteem that these two heroes of the liberation war had come to call on me, accompanied by their respective wives. I was, then, hardly a public figure to be sought out by two war heroes although some news of my global campaign had been in circulation among those engaged in the liberation war. Neither of their two wives left any sharp impression on me though I do recollect that Begum Khaleda Zia appeared extremely shy and barely spoke a word through the evening in spite of Jolly’s best efforts to engage her in conversation. As with every gathering across Bangladesh, the chief topic of conversation centred on the fate of Bangabandhu and speculation about what may evolve if his return was prolonged or if he may indeed never return. The warriors believed that the Pakistanis may hold him hostage to secure the return of the 93,000 Pakistani troops, then held as prisoners of war by the Indians in the Cantonments across Bangladesh. Zia and Khaled, along with most Bangladeshis, were anxious to put many of these killers on trial for war crimes committed through their genocide of the Bengali people over First Days in Liberated Bangladesh


the last nine months. But they recognized that the fate of these prisoners, under the terms of their surrender, left them in the custody of the Indians whose own strategic interests were more likely to determine their future. Furthermore, the Pakistanis also held a large number of Bangladeshi troops and other civilians hostage in Pakistan but their ace in the hole was Bangabandhu, in exchange for whom they could ask for the sky. At the end of the conversation, all we were left with were a series of unanswered questions. However, both Zia and Khaled did also convey their anxieties about the uncertain state of the country, including how we may cope with the huge number of arms now in the hands of those outside the discipline of the Mukti Bahini like the forces of the 16th Division. They naturally sought my views on the prospective economic scenario and the unpredictable role of their comrade-in-arms, the Indians. Here Zia, in particular, in his own rather low-key manner conveyed his discernible discomfort with the role of the Indians both during the war and its aftermath. Even at that stage, it was becoming evident that our freedom fighters, particularly those from the erstwhile armed forces, were apprehensive that the Indians may exercise a dominant influence over the newly liberated, but resource-poor country. Some of these resentments were carried over from the liberation war where some sector commanders had resented the dominant role played by their Indian counterparts in their respective sectors. It should, however, be kept in mind that in many sectors during the war, the Indians and their Bangladeshi counterparts worked quite harmoniously within a joint command to defeat the Pakistani enemy. In those early years of liberation, this anti-Indian sentiment within certain segments of the officer corps of the Bangladesh army continued to grow. This animus fed into the ongoing campaign from the far left and right of the political spectrum to project what emerged as their self-serving political agenda for propagating the narrative about India’s hegemonic influence over the AL-led regime in Bangladesh.


Untranquil Recollections

The Fate of Kamal Hossain News of Bangabandhu’s release from jail in Pakistan by President Bhutto and his imminent return to a liberated Bangladesh, which did not reach us till around 7–8 January, transformed the public mood into a heightened state of optimism. A visit by Nurul and me to Bangabhaban to meet Tajuddin and learn more about this elevation in the nation’s spirits found him greatly relieved and in a much more lightsome mood than when we first met him. At that stage, we learnt that Bangabandhu had been released from custody and was on the way home but the precise schedule and trajectory of his return to Bangladesh were yet to be clarified. Kamal Hossain has given his own full account of the circumstances of Bangabandhu’s release and eventual return to Dhaka in his memoir Bangladesh: Quest for Freedom and Justice, so there is nothing for me to add to his insightful, first-hand narrative. For us, as a family, what touched us deeply was Bangabandhu’s deep personal concern and loyalty to those close to him. The moment he first met Bhutto in the state guest house in Sihala, where he had been taken after his release from jail, he enquired after Kamal’s well-being and asked that he too be released so he could join him. Kamal had spent nine months in solitary confinement in Haripur Jail, knowing nothing of the fate of Bangabandhu or the course of the war. He was, during this time, exposed to prolonged interrogation about the so-called conspiracy with Bangabandhu to break up Pakistan in the hope that he would give evidence against his leader in his trial for treason against the Pakistan state. Kamal did not break under interrogation where a wide variety of pressures, including misinformation about his role and connections, were used against him. Kamal survived his interrogation with his integrity unblemished and joined Bangabandhu at Sihala Rest House to accompany him on his journey home. With Bangabandhu’s strong endorsement, Kamal persuaded Bhutto to include Hameeda Hossain and his two young daughters, Sara aged four and Dina

First Days in Liberated Bangladesh


aged two, who were living with her parents in Karachi during the nine months Kamal was in jail. Kamal suggested to Bhutto that since the PIA plane, which would fly them to London, would be flying from Karachi to Rawalpindi, it should bring on board Kamal’s family in Karachi so they could fly home with Bangabandhu and him.

Bangabandhu’s Journey Home Bangabandhu did not wish to directly fly back to Dhaka in a Pakistani plane nor were the Pakistanis willing to fly him to Delhi. It was eventually agreed that a PIA aircraft would fly Bangabandhu to London from where the UK government had offered to provide a special plane to fly him back to Dhaka with a stopover in Delhi where Bangabandhu wished to meet Indira Gandhi. In London, Bangabandhu and Kamal were honoured as guests of the British government and were accommodated in suites at the luxurious Claridge’s Hotel. Salma travelled down from Oxford with our three sons, Taimur, Babar and Zafar, to reconnect with Kamal and Hameeda. While Kamal was preoccupied with Bangabandhu at a series of public interactions, including a meeting with the British PM Edward Heath, Salma and Hameeda spent the day catching up with their respective adventures enjoying the luxurious facilities of Claridge’s, whilst the children gambolled happily on the lush carpets of their suite. Bangabandhu was scheduled to arrive in Dhaka in a British aircraft around 3 pm of 10 January. It seemed that the entire population of Dhaka turned out to greet him. Since I was still moving around on crutches because of my torn ligament, there was no way I could greet Bangabandhu as he descended from the aircraft. I decided to view the proceedings from a comfortable distance and was accommodated by Jamil Chowdhury, the first director of Bangladesh Television, in the BTV Communications van positioned at a safe distance from the landing spot. I could from there get a distinct but not a grandstand view of the historic event.


Untranquil Recollections

There was later a rather unpleasant fallout for Jamil Chowdhury because of the privileged location of the BTV van. At one stage, some young CL boys demanded entrance to the van but were denied by Jamil. A day or so after the event, Jamil was picked up by these CL youth and taken to Iqbal Hall for his lèse-majesté to those who presumed they had the right to make demands on anyone anytime. It required some political diplomacy with the four caliphas to secure Jamil’s release. The event indicated that even Bangabandhu’s return did not promise an early return to normalcy. Tulu and I had deduced that in the massive surge of humanity to greet Bangabandhu, Hameeda, Sara and Dina were likely to be forgotten and perhaps even exposed to some physical hazard. Tulu was accordingly instructed to get to the plane and somehow rescue Hameeda and the girls and bring them over to where I was located, from where we could travel back to Tulu’s Dhanmondi residence. This mission was accomplished with some dexterity and life-endangering skills by Tulu, so that Hameeda and family could join me as house guests at Tulu’s Dhanmondi home. The family remained at Tulu’s till Kamal was sworn in as a minister on 11 January and allotted an official residence on Minto Road. When the Hossains eventually moved to Minto Road, I moved with them and stayed as their house guest till Salma returned from Oxford in April. Kamal had a more challenging homecoming, spending his first few hours on Bangladesh soil preserving himself from being crushed to death by the vast crowds who aspired to reach, embrace and shed tears with Bangabandhu. There was inevitably massive contestation by the young Turks of the AL to compete for proximity to Bangabandhu in the open truck carrying him to Suhrawardy Udyan to address a public meeting of what appeared to be the entire population of Dhaka. There is much pictorial and cinematic evidence of those scenes at the foot of the aircraft and en route to the meeting venue. Kamal, with difficulty, managed to ascend the truck but was submerged by the more muscular elements of the party and

First Days in Liberated Bangladesh


relegated to a position of anonymity somewhere in its depths. However, in those historic moments of exhilaration and rediscovery, all those around Bangabandhu would have been happy to travel with him on a chariot of fire in order to share those precious moments which became central to the life stories of all those around him. Kamal eventually joined us at Tulu’s home where we spent the next few days reminding ourselves of our shared good fortune to be alive and well, sitting around the dining table, enjoying once again Jolly’s splendid cuisine. Kamal, of course, did not have too many such moments of leisure since he was immediately summoned by Bangabandhu to discuss the formation of a government and its swearing into office. There was a critical question over whether Bangabandhu, who had already been designated as president of Bangladesh by the first government at the time of the independence proclamation on 10 April 1971, should continue in that role. If I recollect, Bangabandhu insisted, supported by Kamal’s legal opinion, that since his government derived its legitimacy through a massive electoral mandate to constitute a constitutional assembly, he should assume the mandate of the PM which was what he always aspired to do. Bangabandhu needed to locate a credible, distinguished non-political personality to take on the honoured responsibility of president of the Republic. It was not difficult to identify Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury for this position since he had played a heroic role in providing leadership to the Bengali diaspora in 1971 in their highly effective campaign to earn global recognition for a sovereign Bangladesh.


Untranquil Recollections

My First Exposure to Government


Appointment with Destiny The return of Bangabandhu on 10 January immediately provided an unchallenged focal point of authority within the government which reassured not just the people of Bangladesh but also the global community. On the second day, 11 January, after Bangabandhu’s return, Nurul Islam and I set out to pay our respects to him at his temporary residence in Dhanmondi where Bangabandhu had been reunited with his family. Begum Mujib along with Sheikh Hasina, Sheikh Rehana and their young brother Russel, then just six years old, had been kept under a form of house arrest in a house in Dhanmondi during the nine months of the war. Hasina, during that period, was expecting a child, who was born on 27 July 1971. This turned out to be Sajeeb, who was appropriately given the dak nam, Joy, to celebrate our victory over the Pakistanis. Those were painful days for the family who never knew whether Bangabandhu would return alive from Pakistan or whether his sons would survive the war where they were involved with the Mukti Bahini. I had called on Begum Mujib during the period when Bangabandhu’s fate was uncertain, where she had shared the family’s anxieties over whether they would ever see him again. Nurul and I deduced that the first day after his return, Bangabandhu would be inundated by thousands of people coming to greet him. We presumed that on the second day, there would be more space to at least say hello to him, with little

expectation that any serious conversation would be possible. Bangabandhu had been assigned an abandoned house, opposite to where his family was in residence, to meet with his callers. When we arrived, there was a large concourse of humanity milling around trying to gain access to his person so we had decided to come back another day when fewer people may be around. As we were moving out, Bangabandhu got a glimpse of us and immediately came over and embraced us. He said he wanted to talk to us and instructed us to come and meet him again the next day following the swearing in ceremony scheduled for later that evening. When we returned to meet Bangabandhu the next day, 12 January, he was still in residence at Dhanmondi and was yet to move to his official residence, which was being prepared for him at the former state guest house at the corner of Bayley Road which used to be occupied by the President of Pakistan on his official visits to Dhaka. The last time Bangabandhu had visited the house in late March 1971 was for his final meeting with Yahya Khan. The crowds seeking to meet Bangabandhu remained undiminished. Considering that Bangabandhu was now the PM of Bangladesh, his security was non-existent except for the presence of his long-standing bodyguard, Mohiuddin, who greeted us and told us to wait in the next room till Bangabandhu could get away from the masses who were surrounding him. We spent the next half hour getting an insightful glimpse of Bangabandhu interacting with this unending deluge of people who appeared to come from a variety of backgrounds. Miraculously, Bangabandhu greeted every visitor as if he personally knew them and possibly knew enough about them to address them by name, enquiring after their experiences in 1971, the fate of their family, whose names he also appeared to remember. This exposure of a great leader’s ability to touch the soul of every person he met was, for us, an unprecedented demonstration of his humanity. I had earlier seen him in action during his election campaign between 1969 and 1970 and later in March 32

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1971 and would continue to observe this magical connection with people during his few years in office. Bangabandhu eventually managed to extricate himself from his visitors, whose numbers remained undiminished, and join us in a more secluded room which he firmly bolted from the inside, so he could give us his exclusive attention. He spent our initial moments together enquiring after our own experiences and the welfare of our families. He already appeared to know about my personal experiences during the nine months and about Salma and her encounter with the Pakistani major who had led the force to arrest me from our home on 27 March. When Salma had informed him at Claridges that the officer had claimed to have been part of the team which had arrested him on the night of 25 March, he appeared to recognize him. Once the personal aspects of our exchanges were over, Bangabandhu, without much ceremony, informed Nurul Islam that he was appointing him deputy chairman of the Planning Commission and me as member of the Planning Commission. He also wanted to appoint Anisur Rahman as a member. When he heard that Anis was still in residence at Williams College in the USA, he suggested that we immediately send him a message to return without delay to take up the position. Nurul and I suggested that Bangabandhu should take more time before making such vital decisions as appointing members of the Planning Commission which, at that stage, did not even exist. We advised him to reflect more on such an important decision, consult with his senior colleagues as to what was expected from such a Planning Commission and the direction of his economic policies before deciding whether we were the most suitable persons for such important positions. Bangabandhu informed us that he was determined to have a socialist economic policy and that the role of the Planning Commission was to advise him on how to realize this goal. He left it to the members to define the precise role of the Commission. We soon realized that Bangabandhu was quite decisive in his decision-making and knew whom he wanted as his colleagues. My First Exposure to Government


He presumably recollected our respective roles in arguing the case for self-rule and his more intimate exposure to our thoughts and capacities from our association with him from the time of the round table conference in Islamabad in February 1969 up to 25 March 1971. Bangabandhu even remembered my fateful encounter with him in the company of Mazhar Ali Khan at his home at Road 32 on the evening of 25 March, when he told us that the Pakistan Army was about to launch a military action that night. I remember his observation that ‘the army believed that they can crush our struggle for self-rule by killing me, but an independent Bangladesh would be built on my grave’. Well, an independent Bangladesh had indeed emerged within nine months, though fortunately for the nation, he lived to see this day. What we then did not anticipate was that those who had failed to kill him in 1971 would realize that mission on 15 August 1975 and that his vision of Bangladesh would be buried with him in his grave for the next 21 years. It appears that Bangabandhu’s decisions originated from his own assessment of the concerned people. He had not consulted Tajuddin Ahmad about these appointment even though Tajuddin was his finance minister designate. Tajuddin heard of these decisions from Nurul Islam when he called on him later in the day. I had suggested to Bangabandhu and Tajuddin that they invite Professor Mosharraf Hossain to join us as a member of the yet-to-be-formed Planning Commission to provide connection with the Planning Board set up by the Mujibnagar government in Kolkata. When I came to Kolkata in July 1971 to report to the Mujibnagar government on the international mission on which I had been despatched by Tajuddin Ahmad at our historic encounter in Delhi in early April 1971, I had prepared a proposal to set up a Planning Board to advise the Mujibnagar government on economic issues and plan for an independent Bangladesh so we would be better prepared to face the challenges of the post-liberation period. There were a number of well-known economists and scholars 34

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who had by then arrived in Kolkata and were mostly unoccupied and waiting to be of some service to the government. I suggested that Tajuddin invite Dr Mosharraf Hossain, the senior most among the economists residing in Kolkata, to chair the facility. I had presented my note on the Planning Board to Tajuddin who subsequently invited me to pilot it through the Cabinet where it was approved. Professor Mosharraf had been the moving spirit behind the Planning Board in Kolkata. We advised Bangabandhu that Mosharraf’s presence with us in the Planning Commission would provide both continuity and connectivity with the Mujibnagar government. At that stage, Bangabandhu did not know much about Mosharraf who had spent the 1960s in Rajshahi University and had no opportunity to interact with him. He was, however, willing to support our suggestion which was strongly endorsed by Tajuddin, who was apprehensive that the efforts of his administration in Mujibnagar may stand eclipsed in the excitement of Bangabandhu’s return and the massive challenges facing his government. Tajuddin, later, sadly complained to the members of the Planning Commission that Bangabandhu never ever sat down with him and asked him for a full account of what had happened during the nine months of the liberation war. This absence of communication between Bangabandhu and Tajuddin over this defining phase of our early history opened up the first fissures in the deep ties which had bound them together throughout the struggle for Bangladesh. These divisions widened into a chasm through the conspiracies of Tajuddin’s many enemies in the upper echelons of the AL, including among those close to Bangabandhu. We were first-hand witnesses of this growing divide and its fateful consequences. When we sent our message to Anis in Williamstown, he told us he was already planning to return but had hoped to resume teaching economics at Dhaka University. Since he had received a direct invitation from Bangabandhu, he would be joining us at the Commission on his return. My First Exposure to Government


Mosharraf was initially somewhat less enthusiastic about joining us in the Planning Commission. His political antenna was, in those days, much more sensitive than any of the other three members. His experiences in Kolkata serving the Mujibnagar government had given him some exposure to the problems of working with a government which tended to be riven with political and personal differences. He appreciated that with Bangabandhu as the PM, authority may be more concentrated and decision-making more decisive than it was at 8 Theatre Road, but he remained sceptical about an AL government serving as an instrument of change. Mosharraf was, however, tantalized by the prospect of working in government and was persuaded by me to reverse his decision to return to Rajshahi and join us at the Commission. Within a few days of our encounter with Bangabandhu on 12 January, the respective fates of four lifelong academics had, for better or worse, been decided for at least the next decade of our lives and possibly even longer. Whether any of us should have taken any more time than Bangabandhu to decide our future is no doubt a decision which has haunted us over the years to come.

Constructing a Coherent Administration The New Boys in Office The new government with Bangabandhu as the PM had been sworn in on 12 January 1972. Kamal, at the age 34, was perhaps the youngest Cabinet member and was invested with the portfolio of law minister. He was entrusted by Bangabandhu with the enormous responsibility of framing the constitution for an independent Bangladesh. A high-powered committee was appointed by Bangabandhu to participate in this historic mission. Most of the other Cabinet members, appointed by Bangabandhu, were in their 40s and early 50s. Bangabandhu himself was then only 52 years old. Not one of the Cabinet members, except


Untranquil Recollections

Bangabandhu, had any experience in government. Bangabandhu’s only exposure had been at the provincial level when he was briefly minister in the Jukto Front Cabinet in 1954, then headed by Fazlul Huq, and in 1956–1957, had been Minister for Commerce, Labour and Industries in the AL provincial government in East Pakistan. The powers of a provincial government were, in those days, limited with most powers concentrated in the central government in Karachi. Such limited exposure to governance indicated that in postliberation Bangladesh most of the newly inducted ministers would need to depend heavily on their Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP) secretaries, who had some experience of service in the government, though few had attained the rank of secretary in the central government where real power resided and none had exercised power in one of the more important ministries. Most of the secretary-level Bengali CSP officers were then serving in the Central Government of Pakistan in Islamabad and were not immediately available to serve the new government.

Hierarchical Tensions Within the hierarchy of the bureaucracy, there were signs of an emerging tension between the senior bureaucrats, who had attained secretary status in the provincial government or even in the central government, and the younger bureaucrats, who had served in the Tajuddin administration at 8 Theatre Road, Kolkata. Most of these officers had served the Government of East Pakistan at the level of sub-divisional officers or additional district magistrates. Among these Mujibnagar officers, only two had attained the rank of deputy commissioners and none had moved beyond the level of joint secretary in the provincial administration. These officials had, however, demonstrated their commitment to the independence of Bangladesh by crossing the border and pledging their loyalty to the government in exile. Every one of these officers, who opted to cross the border, had

My First Exposure to Government


the logistical advantage of serving in the border districts of Bangladesh so that crossing the border was more feasible and, in a number of cases, was unavoidable. Only one bureaucrat had travelled from Dhaka across the border to serve the Mujibnagar government. Most officials, including the senior bureaucrats located in the Secretariat in Dhaka, chose to stay on in the service of the Pakistan administration. It is unlikely that any, except a very few, felt any loyalty to this government but they presumably felt that discretion was the better part of valour. The senior Bengali bureaucrats serving in the central government in Islamabad had no option but to continue in service. The practical difficulty faced by the newly established government of Bangladesh was to work out the relationship between these two cohorts of bureaucrats. Those who had served the Tajuddin administration felt that their commitment should be appropriately recognized. The initial administration under Tajuddin Ahmad had accordingly decided to elevate most of the CSP-level officials who had served in Kolkata to the rank of deputy secretary and those of a more senior level to that of secretary or joint secretary. This placed a heavy responsibility particularly on those officers who were to serve as secretaries since none of them had been exposed to such elevated levels of responsibility in their pre-Bangladesh service careers. As far as I recollect, after a few initial hiccups, most of the promoted officers rose to the occasion and did not perform less well than their more senior colleagues who had stayed back in Bangladesh. This did not assuage the sense of discomfort felt, though not voiced too loudly, by their senior colleagues who were either superseded by their juniors or were fellow secretaries, often holding meetings with these younger colleagues around the same table. All such officers who had remained in the service of Pakistan in 1971 were initially unsure as to how the newly arrived Tajuddin government would treat them. The Mujibnagar government had issued a decree, sometime in April 1971, ordering all Bengali 38

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officials to withdraw their services from the Pakistani government. This call was more aspirational than real and did not have much of an impact on officials serving in Dhaka under the direct gaze and guns of Lt. Gen. Tikka Khan. These officers were initially unsure if the Tajuddin administration’s threat to treat anyone serving the Tikka Khan government as a traitor would be carried through. As it turned out, Tajuddin realistically permitted everyone to continue in their positions in the administration till the government had sorted itself out. Bangabandhu, on his return, confirmed this decision through those critical days of reconstruction and regime consolidation. He believed that with the vast challenges facing his government, he needed their experience and that they would continue to serve in co-existence with their younger newly elevated colleagues. Eventually, some Bengali officers, who were deemed to have provided services, above and beyond the call of duty, to the military regime in 1971 were retired from service. One of those retired was Shafiul Azam, the senior most among the Bengali CSPs, who had always stood first from his matric exams to the Pakistan competitive exams for the Central Superior Services. Shafiul Azam was, if I recollect, additional chief secretary in the East Pakistan administration in March 1971 and was a person of unquestioned ability. It was decided to dispense with his services, presumably because he was deemed to have worked ‘too closely’ with the Pakistan government in 1971. It was significant that one of the first actions of the post-Bangabandhu regime in 1975 was to bring Shafiul Azam back into service and elevate him to the position of principal secretary to the government under Khondaker Mostaq. He was further elevated by General Ziaur Rahman to ministerial rank. I have no direct information to validate this assumption about Azam’s actions in 1971. In those days, reputations were made and unmade without much resort to due process. Stories provided from ‘informed’ or even motivated sources tended to serve as the best available intelligence on an officer’s competence and alleged political allegiance. Sadly, this tradition of administrative My First Exposure to Government


advancement has persisted over the years and has, in contemporary times, attained narcotic proportions.

Exposure to a Hierarchical Community When we joined the government around mid-January 1971, we came across one group of secretaries who had been our students at Dhaka University when the Planning Commission members were teachers there and another group who were senior to us in years and had entered government even before the more senior of us, such as Nurul Islam and Mosharraf Hossain, had passed out of university. It was obviously easier to work with those younger than us though some among them who had been at least Dhaka university contemporaries of someone like Anisur Rahman were uncomfortable in accepting his elevation to the rank of state minister. The more senior officials were the most uncomfortable in their dealings with us and particularly with me since I was at least 20 years younger than some of them. Although none of these senior bureaucrats felt too uncomfortable dealing with elected minsters who were also much younger than them, somehow, the spectacle of these academic upstarts, now placed in positions of authority and influence, was more provocative to their sensibilities. Our initial appointments were announced in the media though I do not recollect if any formal letters of appointments were concurrently issued to us or came later. What I do recollect is that it took some time before the terms and conditions of our appointment were worked out with the Ministry of Finance. As a result, for the first three months of our service, we were not given any salary; after that, we were offered the handsome salary of Tk. 2,000 per month along with payment of our utility bills at home and the services of a chauffeur-driven car. These were rather theoretical perquisites since in those preair-conditioner days and subsidized power, utility bills were modest. Our exposure to vehicles from the Secretariat carpool 40

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was a more fraught problem since availability of such cars was limited and their quality was somewhat antique. I inherited or rather opted for a bone-shaking Land Rover vehicle, which was referred to by Nurul Islam as ‘Rehman’s truck’, where I had to ride in beside the driver. Nurul himself was provided with a no less ancient Mercedes car from the Secretariat car pool, a long way from the shining new Mercedes cars which were at the service of the various deputy chairmen of the Pakistan Planning Commission (PPC). Nurul’s unhappiness at his reduced fortunes was compounded when his fellow members in the Commission took a collective decision that we would not avail of our privilege, as ministers, of flying a flag on our car. In our rather idealistic mode, we felt that such symbols of status were inappropriate for our image as progressives. Since Nurul had no such self-image and had for nearly a decade been exposed to the arrival of the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission at the board meetings of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), which he chaired, looking resplendent in a sparkling new air-conditioned Mercedes, flying a provocatively large Pakistani flag, the denial of even this modest privilege was hurtful to his sense of history. But Nurul did not have much time to think about these small injustices inflicted on him by his colleagues as he had many more serious tensions to handle in his dealings with his ministerial colleagues and the senior bureaucrats. He has written about his own experience in his memoir, Making of a Nation, Bangladesh: An Economist’s Tale, so I will only dwell on my own first exposure to government. I had myself never served in government till I entered the Planning Commission and always saw the state as an adversary. I had, even in my adversarial days, been a frequent visitor to the Eden Building which was now elevated from a provincial secretariat to the headquarters of a sovereign government. Mosharraf was the only one among us who had served in government at the same Eden Building during the tenure of the AL government in 1957–1958 up to the introduction of martial law by Ayub Khan in October 1958. He held the not very elevated post of deputy My First Exposure to Government


chief economist and remained at the mercy of layers of bureaucracy which could frustrate his efforts to get anything done. My own acquaintances with the Secretariat were those of an academic and later a journalist seeking to extract official data from my friends in the administration. In 1969–1970, I was a regular visitor to the offices of Dr Rabbani, then chief economist in the Planning Department, and Dr Shahadatullah, the deputy chief, to extract the latest information on the results of the meetings of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) in Islamabad where major decisions on economic policy were taken. These briefings greatly educated me on the policymaking process of the Pakistan state and provided valuable copy for the columns of Forum. I remain appreciative of the patriotism and cooperation of these Bengalis who were taking some risks in sharing such confidential information with me. But in those days, most Bengali civil servants, even the most senior among them, were always willing to make such inside information available to people like me because they too were no less conscious of the deprivation of the Bengalis than any of us or any opposition politician. A number of those senior civil servants regularly shared such information with Bangabandhu and other senior opposition leaders. To now find myself, once the scourge of government, sitting in government was a novel experience and our first days had a certain surreal quality. The Planning Commission, which initially consisted of its four members and the small staff of the East Pakistan Planning Department, was located in a more recently built six-storied building overlooking Abdul Ghani Road, where the finance ministry was located. The Planning Commission was housed, if I recollect, on the first two floors of the building and the finance ministry on the floors above us. I was assigned my room by Dr Rabbani, who continued as secretary of the Ministry of Planning. It was the biggest room in which I had ever worked, which accommodated my large desk, a conference table to hold meetings and some sofas from where I could share tea and biscuits with my visitors. I was informed 42

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that the size of the desk was determined by the rank of the official so that as a state minister, I was, technically speaking, entitled to an even larger desk and possibly even a larger room. Since both my desk and room were large enough for me, I was content to stay with what I had. I also inherited a personal assistant as well as several serving staff or peons, as they were termed by the British, and was informed that I was also entitled to a private secretary whom I could select from within the administration. I eventually opted for Mizanur Rahman, who was in the Income Tax Department, but had been a competent and reliable research assistant to me after he had graduated with an MA from the Economics Department of Dhaka University in 1965. Our earliest experience on entering the Secretariat building was to be confronted by all the peons sitting outside each office, arising from their torpor to stand up and salaam us. Anis and I found such elevations, whenever we walked past them, offensive to our sense of human dignity and spent our initial days instructing these unfortunate staffers to remain seated whenever we passed by. Anis, always the most socially sensitive among us, occasionally felt it necessary to wrestle with these staffers in order to contain what was, on their part a purely reflex action, to keep them seated. Eventually, we realized that it was difficult to daily, if not hourly, challenge the laws of gravity so we gave up the unequal struggle. In my case, I faced the added embarrassment of coming to office every day using the services of a crutch as I was nursing a torn ligament when I arrived in Dhaka incurred not in some fierce military encounter but speeding down an escalator in the UN headquarters on 14 December 1971, in New York, after witnessing a dramatic meeting of the Security Council on the ongoing war in Bangladesh. My hobbling figure, traversing the corridors of the Secretariat, aroused much speculation about it being an injury sustained during the war of liberation. Such rumours generated their own narratives about the particular military action where I had sustained this heroic war wound! Denials sounded rather My First Exposure to Government


lame, so I eventually decided to resort to the enigmatic smile when questioned about my military escapades. Nurul and Mosharraf needed to sort out their living arrangements. Nurul was allotted a house in Minto Road as was Mosharraf Hossain. Anis and I declined the offer of official residences. Anis stayed on at his family residence in Segun Bagicha, while I preferred to stay at my own home in Gulshan, which meant a longer commute, though in those days this did not take hours. My move into my Gulshan residence was delayed till April when Salma returned from Oxford with our three sons. Till then, I was the house guest of Kamal and Hameeda Hossain in their official residence of law minister, also located on Minto Road.

Setting Up the Planning Commission In Quest of a Model In the first days of our tenure in government, we were mostly engaged in establishing some familiarity with our surrounding, being briefed by Dr Rabbani about the state of planning in his department, getting acquainted with our new colleagues and drinking large quantities of tea in each other’s offices speculating about what we were supposed to do. Nurul faced more frequent summons from Bangabandhu to address the myriad economic problems which were surfacing daily for his government. Mosharraf and I were occasionally called upon and needed to demonstrate more common sense than knowledge of economics in dealing with such issues. In the last fortnight of January, attempts were made by the new Commission members to draw up the organizational structure of the Planning Commission, define its role and identify personnel to staff it. Our discussions were guided by our understanding of the organization and workings of the Indian and Pakistan Planning Commissions. The Indian Planning Commission (IPC) had been designed on the lines envisioned by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who aspired to set up a socialistic society in independent 44

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India and was a strong believer of a planned economy. The Planning Commission he envisaged was initially built by pioneers such as Tarlok Singh, Pitamber Pant and P. C. Mahalanobis and was intended to serve as the heart of the decision-making process for the economy with none other than the PM as its chair. The CEO of the Indian Commission was designated as the deputy chairman with the rank of a Cabinet minister, while its members were invested with the rank of state ministers. This model was adopted from the inception of IPC but the power exercised by it was somewhat removed from Nehru’s original conception and was closer to the bureaucratic structure inherited from the British where the finance ministry served as the beating heart of economic policymaking. The Indian model appropriated the image and elevated status envisaged by Nehru, but its policymaking powers were limited to preparing the five-year plans (FYPs) and allocating development funds to the state governments. The alternative model of the PPC was better known to us as we had seen it work up close. Pakistan, at no stage, aspired to any form of socialism, and the Ayub regime explicitly committed itself to constructing a capitalist state. However, the PPC, as it evolved under the Ayub regime in the 1960s, was a far more influential body than the IPC. The PPC deputy chairman presided over the Pakistan economy as its virtual economic czar. PPC formulated policies, prepared FYPs and the annual development plan (ADP) which was then used to allocate all funds from the development budget. PPC’s power, derived from allocating resources through the ADP, was further enhanced by its exclusive control over dealings with aid donors and control over the negotiation process as well as allocation of aid throughout the economy. In contrast, aid negotiations in India remained the exclusive responsibility of a division in the Ministry of Finance. Unlike in India, where professionals were invited to head the Commission, in Pakistan, the deputy chairman was invariably a senior civil servant reporting directly to the president who was the chairman of the PPC. In contrast to the IPC, the members of the PPC, who were usually professionals, were rather insignificant My First Exposure to Government


figures and assigned the rank of a secretary, but they never attained the status or powers of the powerful permanent secretaries who effectively ruled Pakistan. Reflecting on these two models of the IPC and the PPC, our own idea for the Bangladesh Planning Commission was to create a hybrid of these two role models. As events transpired, the organization we designed was shaped more by the role of personalities who occupied its top echelons than the needs of the moment or the formal responsibilities assigned to it.

The Original Conception of the Planning Commission Determining the Mission: Contradictions and Tensions Bangabandhu and Tajuddin left it to the newly appointed deputy chairman and members to draw up their own terms of reference for the Commission and to detail its organization and staffing pattern. The Planning Commission was rather fancifully conceived by its newly commissioned leadership as the general staff of the Cabinet in matters pertaining to the economy. It was expected to coordinate all development programmes and the use of resources for development, as well as formulate and coordinate all policies and programmes relating to the development of the economy. This rather exalted role was based on the view that acute scarcities facing Bangladesh would demand careful coordination in resource use within the government in order to determine priorities for resource allocation with a view to optimizing their use. The Planning Commission was to work out the priorities in relation to available resources for approval by the Cabinet and to then programme these resources to see that they were not dissipated under conflicting claims from the ministries. The Planning Commission was also expected to give expression to the goals proclaimed by the government for realizing a socialist economic policy. These nebulous goals were to be translated into 46

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policy objectives by the Planning Commission, which was also expected to review the policies emanating from the ministries within this perspective and try to eliminate the overlap and contradictions between these policies. The above premise for the role of the Planning Commission was articulated in discussions between the PM and the finance minister with the deputy chairman and members of the Planning Commission after they had been appointed by the PM but before the role of the Planning Commission itself had been formalized by the Cabinet. This sequence of events is significant because it indicated that perceptions shared by the planners in informal discussions with the top leadership did not necessarily reflect a consensus reached in the Cabinet room. The draft paper spelling out the responsibilities of the Planning Commission which was presented to the Cabinet, in fact, brought to the surface the anticipated concerns of the ministers which were to plague the relations between the Commission and the ministers in the days ahead. The ministers accepted the formal commitment to socialism and acknowledged the need for careful husbanding of scarce resources. But they were extremely reluctant to cede any say in policy and even resource use to the Planning Commission. Their misgivings stemmed from a variety of motives which merit scrutiny. The principal concern of the ministers stemmed from the fact that many in the Cabinet viewed any constraints on their use of funds or formulation of policies as usurpation of their democratic mandate. Long years in the wilderness, in many cases under heavy persecution from the bureaucracy, made the ministers naturally jealous to preserve their prerogatives and be conscious of their representative status. They were far from willing to differentiate the planners from the bureaucrats or to accept any shared political perceptions of the planners, whose own credentials stemmed from associations with the top leadership but hardly extended to the rest of the Cabinet. The planners were thus viewed as another version of bureaucrat but with the more sinister connotation of having views which were possibly not shared My First Exposure to Government


by the ministers. This put them in a more dangerous category from that of the bureaucrat whose views are expected to conform to those of their political masters. Since the planners also had independent credentials, acquired during the struggle for realizing the rights of the Bengalis, and had some standing not just in their own professions but also with the top leadership and with the public, this made the ministers even more uncomfortable. This concern was aggravated by the inner contradictions in the Cabinet. Since the PM, who was accepted as above all factions, had ceded the chairmanship of the Planning Commission to the finance minister, the Planning Commission immediately became a part of the dialectic within the Cabinet. Tajuddin Ahmad, the finance minister, was identified with the radical and antiwestern wing of the party. To this extent, those who opposed him in the party and Cabinet on personal and political grounds felt that any sharing of authority with the Planning Commission was a concession to the authority of Tajuddin and the political tendencies associated with him. In this situation, the Cabinet paper spelling out the responsibilities assigned to the Commission were subject to careful debate. It was pointed out to the Cabinet by the Commission that the role of the Planning Commission stemmed from the political goals prescribed by the Cabinet. Similarly, the people chosen for the job of deputy chairman and members should as far as possible be people who share the political vision of the Cabinet. Any contradictions in these goals or the perception of the planner’s role would generate contradictions in the workings of the government which would be detrimental not just to the realizing of policy objectives but also the efficient functioning of the administration. As was to subsequently happen on a variety of occasions when the Cabinet was confronted with its proclaimed political premise, it was difficult for them to publicly and coherently articulate their contradictions. Thus, the fact that a number of ministers had serious misgivings about building a socialist economy, that they personally had misgivings about the planners and that these 48

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indicated strong divisions in the Cabinet which were not permitted to surface were all subsumed under pressure from the PM. As a result, with some minor modifications, the central and coordinative roles of the Planning Commission in the field of resource allocation and economic policy were confirmed by the Cabinet. This formal enactment, however, in no way represented a definitive delegation of authority to the Commission whose role was periodically reviewed and debated formally and informally in the Cabinet and other high fora as a result of specific issues or more fundamental attempts to reappraise the role of the Commission.

Contestations over the Rules of Business The most substantive effort to review the role of the Planning Commission arose early in 1974 when the government sought to frame Rules of Business for the administration and allocation of responsibilities among ministries. This basic document which traditionally codified the working relations and responsibilities within the government had, by the end of 1973, not been finalized. As a result, working procedures for the administration were undefined and a combination of precedent based on past rules and ad hoc expedients governed the working of the administration. To review the Rules of Business, the PM set up a Cabinet subcommittee which included the senior ministers of the Cabinet, deputy chairman and members of the Planning Commission, the principal secretary to the PM with the Cabinet secretary as secretary. Here, after much debate, it was agreed that the Commission’s role as approved by the Cabinet would be incorporated into the allocation of business, whilst a special dispensation was given to the Planning Commission to frame its own Rules of Business for work within the Commission. This was a concession to the fact that the structure and workings of the Commission were different to the workings of the ministries and could not conform to any standard format. Drawing on the tradition inherited from the Pakistan administrative system, the secretary of the ministry was invested with My First Exposure to Government


executive powers so that all decisions from the ministry originated under their signature. All interactions with other ministries or outside bodies by officials or autonomous bodies within the jurisdiction of the ministry could only be initiated by the secretary. In contrast, in the Planning Commission, the members had traditionally issued orders on issues within their domain of responsibility and had independently interacted with other ministries but had, at all stages, kept the secretary, Planning, informed. This had worked well so Nurul and I suggested to the committee that such a system should be formalized in the Rules of Business. The subcommittee eventually included in its report to the Cabinet a provision that the Planning Commission would prepare its own Rules of Business which would be separately put up for approval by the Cabinet. This special dispensation for the Planning Commission in the Rules of Business changed after August 1975 so that the supremacy of the secretary was established over the Planning Commission.

Setting Up the Planning Commission Deciding on the Chairman of the Planning Commission The first problem in setting up the BPC had arisen over the chairmanship of the Commission. Bangabandhu initially decided that Tajuddin would hold the planning and finance portfolios and would, thus, also serve as the chairman of the BPC. However, when we explained the structures of the IPC and PPC to Bangabandhu, he concluded that he should be chairman so as to give the Commission the supra-authority of his office, as was the case in India and Pakistan. In such an event, Tajuddin’s role as minister of planning would tend to be rather anomalous. Bangabandhu expected Tajuddin to play a key role in the direction of the economy as finance minister but also wanted him to serve as minister for planning. But for Tajuddin to be minister of planning whilst Mujib was chairman would assign his ministerial


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role to redundancy. Nurul offered to step aside so that Tajuddin could become a full-time deputy chairman; at this stage, Mujib resolved the problem by backing down and leaving Tajuddin as minister for planning and chairman of the Planning Commission with Nurul as deputy chairman. Thus, at its critical foundation stage, BPC emerged as a much weaker entity than IPC or PPC because it was denied the backup of the all-encompassing authority and influence of the PM or the president. At that time, all the members envisaged that this embryonic entity would face political problems and we were not proved wrong. The initial decision by Bangabandhu to let Tajuddin Ahmad hold the portfolio of minister for planning and chairman of the Planning Commission required that he retain the concurrent portfolio of the finance minister. After fresh elections to the National Parliament in March 1973 and the appointment of a new Cabinet, the PM assumed charge of the planning portfolio on grounds that the Planning Commission must be taken above interministerial contestations and given the supra-authority of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The deputy chairman remained the executive head of the Commission and was given the rank of a minister. Unlike the dispensation in India and Pakistan, he was not designated as a member of the Cabinet. In practice, however, Nurul Islam was invited to attend virtually all Cabinet meetings.

The Organizational Structure of the Commission The Commission was, in addition to the deputy chairman, composed of three members. We have seen that the first three members, as also the deputy chairman, were economists. This aroused considerable misgivings within the Commission and the need to diversify the professional composition of the Commission was sought by the members themselves. Their concerns stemmed more from the bad public relations implicit in having only economists as members and reflected a basic ambiguity in their perception of their role. It was perceived by them that the

My First Exposure to Government


planner’s role was to provide a bridge between the administrative and political components of the government. The planners believed that they were not there on account of their professional skills but because they were professionals who had played a political role in the past and thus enjoyed the political confidence of the leadership. The fact that they were all economists was seen as a coincidence. If the political leadership could find engineers, doctors, scientists or bureaucrats who enjoyed their confidence and shared the perspective of the planners, diversification of the Commission was welcomed. Since the members were to give direction to policy appraisal and formulation, it was felt that an ability to grasp policy issues, including their technical component, was necessary. This need not demand technical expertise which could be supplied by the professionals on the staff of the Commission. In practice, the Commission suffered from the narrow range of experience of its members whose backgrounds were essentially academic. This meant that a wider perspective to their deliberations, which could have come from long experience in administration or in other executive positions, was lacking to temper their perceptions. Whilst there is a tendency to exaggerate this disability, it was likely that a more balanced composition would have aided the planners. When a senior administrator joined the Commission in December 1973, two of the economist members returned to academic life. By this time, the Commission itself was undergoing its own metamorphosis so that any evaluation of the impact of the administrator does not lend itself to meaningful comparison with the situation in the initial period. The deputy chairman and members presided over 10 divisions within the Commission. The Commission was structured as follows: • Deputy chairman: Nurul Islam, External Resources Division and Bureau of Statistics • Member I: Mosharraf Hossain/A. K. M. Ahsan, Agriculture Division, Water Resources Division and Rural Institutions Division


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• Member II: Rehman Sobhan, Industries Division, Power and Natural Resources Division, Physical Infrastructure Division (Transport, Communications and Physical Planning and Housing [PP&H]) • Member III: Anisur Rahman, General Economics Division, Programming and Evaluation Division and Social Infrastructure Division In practice, Professor Anisur Rahman, after the first year, moved back to the university and functioned as a part-time member. The divisions under him were reallocated with the deputy chairman taking over direct responsibility for General Economics as well as Programming and Evaluation, while Mosharraf as Member I took over Social Infrastructure. When A. K. M. Ahsan joined as member of the Planning Commission at the end of 1973, he took over the original responsibilities of Member I as indicated above.

The Drama of Appointing the Secretary of the Ministry of Planning In those early days, Rabbani provided us with exposure to the human resources available to us to initiate the planning process. His presence, guidance and experience were critical to our induction into public service. As the Commission began taking shape, it appeared that Rabbani became uncomfortable with the idea of serving as secretary of the planning ministry. As reported in his memoir by Nurul Islam, Rabbani was becoming increasingly unhappy at the relative depreciation in his position vis-à-vis Anisur Rahman who, as a member, held the rank of minister of state. Anis had been Rabbani’s contemporary at Dhaka University which appeared to enhance Rabbani’s sense of relative deprivation at Anis’ elevation. For some reason, Rabbani felt no such discomfort in his relations with Mosharraf or me. Rabbani’s unhappiness at his situation reached a level where he sought to get himself posted out as economic minister to the Bangladesh Embassy in Tokyo, a clear My First Exposure to Government


demotion from his status as a secretary. Strange are the notions of prestige and status in certain segments of our society. The Commission, at an early stage in its life, was now left in search of a secretary. At that time, Dr M. A. Sattar, a mid-level civil servant who was serving in the Planning Commission in Islamabad, turned up in Dhaka. Since he had a PhD in economics from Tufts University, he believed he had the credentials to replace Rabbani as secretary, Planning, and managed to obtain access to Bangabandhu to persuade him to appoint him to this position. At the Commission, we had no problem with this decision as both Nurul and I knew Sattar from pre-1971 days. However, I was aware that Sattar was not a common or garden bureaucrat but was an exceedingly ambitious person with strong political aspirations. On his return to Dhaka, Sattar turned up unannounced at my home where he handed me a paper he had prepared for Bangabandhu about the advantages of converting our polity into a one-party state on the lines of post-colonial states such as Tanzania and Ghana. I advised Sattar that his idea was highly inappropriate for a political party and tradition which had fought for democracy for the last 24 years and needed to create a new nation to eventually realize its mission. I do not know whether Bangabandhu read Sattar’s paper or what he then thought of it, but Sattar’s model of a one-party state resurfaced through the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BAKSAL) revolution initiated by Bangabandhu in 1975. I have no evidence as to whether Sattar’s paper in any way influenced this change in the direction of the polity. Once Sattar was designated as secretary, Planning, he presented himself at Nurul Islam’s office and sought a meeting with all the members. Here, he advised us that now he was back, he would relieve us of the burden of running the Planning Commission, leaving the professors free to concentrate their energies on higher things like planning for the future of the country. The members were rather bemused by Sattar’s presumptions. We immediately sought a meeting with Bangabandhu to advise him that Sattar


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was quite unacceptable to work as secretary to the Commission and we would like him to be transferred elsewhere within 24 hours. Bangabandhu was no less amused and impressed at our decisive response. He immediately obliged us by having Sattar transferred to his own secretariat. Fortunately for us, M. Syeduzzaman, a joint secretary in the Ministry of Finance in Islamabad, had also just returned from Pakistan, so we requested his services. At some risk to himself, Syeduzzaman and his family managed to escape from Pakistan to Kabul through the services of a thriving class of people smugglers. These entrepreneurs, for a price, managed to facilitate the escape of quite a large number of Bengali civil servants held in quasi-captivity in Pakistan. From Kabul, these Bangladeshis managed to fly to Delhi and then to Dhaka. This process helped to keep the Bangladeshi administration functional, reinforced by a steady stream of experienced bureaucrats, well before the official repatriation process was put into motion in 1973. Syeduzzaman was one of the most talented Bengalis serving the government of Pakistan as a joint secretary in the Ministry of Finance and was perhaps the only Bengali ever to be involved in aid negotiations by the central government. He was an officer of exceptional competence, integrity and decency. He was an excellent colleague for us and served both as administrator and aid negotiator with dedication and skill throughout our tenure in the Commission.

Staffing the Commission The Commission began its life with the small staff inherited from the Provincial Planning Department of the Government of East Pakistan. This had a hard core of dedicated professionals who had acquired considerable experience in the workings of the Bangladesh economy and had fought many battles on its behalf in extracting resources from the central government in Pakistan. The Secretary of the Planning Department, Dr Rabbani, who had a PhD in statistics, was retained as secretary, Planning Commission. My First Exposure to Government


Rabbani was both experienced and competent in addressing the problems of a provincial economy but needed to raise his game to deal with the affairs of a national economy. The basic disability of the Planning Department sprang from their limited numbers and their limited exposure to high-level policymaking. The Provincial Planning Department had prepared the provincial ADP but had little say in its final dispensation. It did the initial evaluation work on projects, but this too was more concerned with pushing schemes through the National Economic Council in Islamabad than the intrinsic merits of the scheme. By definition, any scheme designed for the Eastern Wing was better than a project for the Western Wing so that inter se priorities to programme scarce resources were of less concern to the department. On issues such as aid negotiations and programming, the Provincial Department was without experience, the task being completely appropriated by the central government. Issues such as monetary, fiscal and commercial policy hardly passed through their hands except to give opinions to the centre. In these circumstances, a major escalation in the quantity and calibre of the staff of the Planning Commission was called for. At the level of division chief, the planners scouted the best available talent and sought to bring in expertise through bilateral negotiations. Thus, to head the Agriculture Division, the services of Dr S. D. Chowdhury, for many years the vice chancellor of the Agricultural University at Mymensingh, were obtained. To head the Industry Division, we brought in Dr Muzaffar Ahmad, who had been my colleague in the Economics Department at Dhaka University from 1957 to 1967 but had for some years moved out of the university to work as a senior executive for planning in the then East Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation (EPIDC). He was one of the leading experts in industrial economics with a great deal of field experience. To head the General Economics Division, Dr A. R. Khan was brought back from Nuffield College, Oxford, where he was on leave of absence from


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his post as research director, Bangladesh Institute of Development Economics. He was recognized as one of the leading economists in Bangladesh. Similarly, well recognized professionals were headhunted by us to head the senior positions in the Commission. Our initial intake to the Commission was directly recruited by us or were transferred from other agencies of government through negotiation with the Commission. To tap a wider talent base, a public recruiting programme was undertaken whereby candidates were selected through rigorous competitive examinations and interviews. Since the intake into the Commission was one of the few major recruitments to senior professional positions in the new government, there was considerable competition for positions, not just from within the public sector but from outside the government and even abroad. The Commission was under severe pressure from virtually every minister or person of political influence to extend patronage to their particular candidates. By refusing to succumb to any pressure at all, the Commission was able to select an outstanding group of professionals to staff the posts from section chief downwards. For this, the best talent from the ministries, corporations, public enterprises and universities was mobilized. By the end of 1972, the Planning Commission had assembled a staff of considerable excellence. These were combined with an infusion of permanent civil servants of established ability. Most of these civil servants had been our students at Dhaka University and had backgrounds in economics; some had obtained higher qualifications abroad and had proven records as able administrators. This enabled the Commission to blend academic distinction, professional expertise, field experience and administrative ability. In consequence, the BPC was judged to be equal in quality to anything which had been assembled in the heyday of the PPC. It is perhaps one of the tragedies of the planning experience that this distinguished galaxy of experts could have been allowed to slowly drift away. Over the years, the Planning Commission depreciated into a shell of its original self, served by a handful of

My First Exposure to Government


professionals but staffed mostly by career officers of the economics cadre of the administration, headed by a floating population of permanent civil servants to serve as members. Most of the qualified professionals recruited after liberation eventually ended up abroad, though a few returned to their original professions within Bangladesh.


Untranquil Recollections

The Political Leadership of the Planning Commission


The Planning Commission, composed of a deputy chairman and three members, was expected to function as a collective entity which coordinated the work of the departments under it and directly communicated with the Cabinet. Its regular meetings were to be presided over by the deputy chairman but the full Commission was itself expected to meet regularly with the Chairman who was to be kept informed of the workings of the Commission and was to provide it with political guidelines as determined by the Cabinet.

Tajuddin Ahmad as Chairman Laissez-faire Chairmanship During our first year, Tajuddin, the minister of planning and chairman of the Commission, met only infrequently with the Commission. No routine of meetings of the Commission was established where the chairman could meet regularly with the Commission. This point was frequently raised by the Commission, first with Tajuddin Ahmad, who concurrently held the portfolio of finance, and again with the PM when he assumed charge of the planning portfolio. While the principle of regular meetings was conceded by Tajuddin, the deputy chairman was advised to seek such meetings only when the need arose. This privilege was extended to Nurul Islam by Tajuddin as a result of his confidence that Nurul and his members were fully committed to manage the affairs of the Commission without the

help of Tajuddin who was already overburdened with the major responsibility of managing the nation’s finances. Under the prevailing dispensation established by Tajuddin, the Commission met the chairman infrequently to discuss some major policy issues. The deputy chairman met him more frequently to discuss specific issues which needed immediate resolution. I do not recollect Tajuddin Ahmad convening any meeting with us, of his own volition, during his tenure as chairman. Our expectation at the Commission had been that Tajuddin would be regularly communicating to us the political vision and felt needs of the regime which needed to be formulated into policy. Tajuddin was perceived by us to be the torch bearer for the agenda of social transformation which had been incorporated in the 1970 election manifesto of the AL where he had played an important role in its conception and approval process. His direct engagement with the liberation struggle was believed to have sharpened his policy awareness so that he was expected to play an important role in advising the Commission on how we may operationalize Bangabandhu’s commitment to socialism. As it turned out, during the period from February 1972 to March 1973 when Tajuddin held dual tenure both for the finance and the planning portfolios, he remained far too preoccupied with the work of the finance ministry to give serious attention to the work of the Planning Commission. The popular belief that has floated around in some left-wing circles in recent years that Tajuddin was the radical conscience of the regime whose progressive ideas were frustrated by Bangabandhu is, in our experience, a legacy of their romantic imagination. Tajuddin was, indeed, one of the most progressive among Bangabandhu’s party colleagues but this was rarely manifested in his leadership of the Commission or the finance ministry in the realm of policymaking. As a result, during Tajuddin’s tenure as chairman, directives on the economy rarely emanated from him to the Planning Commission nor did he pass on anything in the way of political or ideological guidelines. This meant that the initiative for seeking policy guidelines or political directives rested with the deputy chairman and members. 60

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Cabinet papers prepared by the Commission had to be presented to the planning minister for approval. In practice, he rarely found time to read these papers but frequently discussed the main issues involved with the deputy chairman and concerned member. These meetings were usually sought by the Commission, rarely by Tajuddin. As a result, our meeting remained ad hoc and informal in character even when particular policy papers were ready to be sent to the Cabinet. In practice, very few proposals emanating from the Commission were turned down by Tajuddin as minister. When the minister did choose to involve himself in discussions on the substance of these papers, his incisive mind and mature political perspective were not only educational for us but made us conscious of the loss in not having a more substantive political input from him to guide our work. This rather casual process of extending ministerial approval created some problems for the governance of the economy. One of the major reasons for giving the portfolios of finance and planning to the same minister was to eliminate any basis for contradictions between the two ministries. This had been seen as a serious constraint during the period of Pakistani rule. The minister was supposed to reconcile any potential differences between the two ministries by presiding over joint discussions on contentious issues and giving his own decision on the subject if the gap was irreconcilable. Some attempts were made to do this, for instance, in preparing revenue estimates for the 1973–1974 budget and to set the expenditure levels for the Annual Development Plan (ADP). It was, however, found that where there were serious differences as in this case, the minister was unwilling to take a decision so the differences went up to the Cabinet. Here, one had the paradoxical situation of two ministries under the same minister engaged in gladiatorial contest before the bemused Cabinet with the minister making an independent intervention not necessarily committed to either side. This rather laissez-faire attitude to the Planning Commission meant that the Commission was left to fend for itself. This meant The Political Leadership of the Planning Commission


that the deputy chairman functioned as a de facto minister without any ministerial interference. The planning minister occasionally passed on some candidate for job placement or even more rarely some party figure seeking patronage, but as I recollect, most of these requests were turned down on merit. He never raised the issue of ministerial prerogative with us and accepted the Commission’s decision, though perhaps with some occasional irritation. This relationship was in some ways unique in that no other ministry or agency of the government enjoyed the executive freedom vested with the deputy chairman. This distinctive situation explains, inter alia, the degree of criticism or hostility directed to the Commission both from the ministers and permanent civil servants and the public at large who saw the Commission as the repository of all the ills of the economy. As it transpired, the price for executive freedom was rather excessive. It meant that the Commission, in effect, was denied either Ministerial guidance or protection. In the highly politicized ambience of post-liberation Bangladesh, these were indispensable, particularly when the Commission was attempting to initiate a process of social change. The ability to gauge the political temperature necessary for policy formulation was not our strong point nor was there any attempt made at the ministerial level to educate the political party or even the public about the significance of policies emanating from the Commission and their role in making these policies successful. The Commission was, thus, left in an ideological vacuum where it was expected to interpret the political mind and distinguish between ideological rhetoric and the felt needs and capabilities of the ruling party.

Exposure to Factionalism within the Cabinet This rather detached approach of the finance minister in his dealing with the Commission was not apparent to his political colleagues. As a result, the Commission was caught up in the emerging political conflicts within the higher echelons of the regime. Without 62

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actually taking sides, there is no doubt that our confidence in Tajuddin and closer identification with his political perspective did bring us closer to him than to any of his Cabinet colleagues except Bangabandhu. But it did not involve us in any way in taking sides in an ongoing intra-party conflict. Without actually providing any conspicuous manifestation of our alignments, I was, on one occasion, presented with direct evidence of our perceived identification with Tajuddin through an unsolicited visit to my residence in Gulshan by Abidur Rahman, the owner of the pre-liberation daily the People. Rahman had graduated from the media world to become a business tycoon in the post-liberation era whose main capital was accumulated through maintaining close connections with the leading figures of the regime. I had no particular link with Rahman so I was surprised when, quite gratuitously, he sought to advise me that the members of the Planning Commission should attempt to develop closer ties with other senior ministers such Nazrul Islam and Mushtaq Ahmed as we were perceived by the senior members of the Cabinet to be in the Tajuddin camp which was generating some political hostility against the Commission. I did not appreciate Abid’s advice to me and attempted, perhaps inadequately, to point out that I had a perfectly satisfactory working relation with Nazrul Islam, with whom I worked in the industries sector, but could not say the same for our relations with Mushtaq since I remembered his unsavoury role in 1971 in Kolkata in seeking a possible resolution to the liberation war within the framework of a united Pakistan. Our encounter ended on this inconclusive note, but I passed on the message from my encounter to my colleagues though not to Tajuddin. I do not know if Nurul ever raised this issue with Tajuddin. The Commission occasionally sought political guidance from the PM in order to get some idea of the political barometer of the moment. The PM rarely sought such meetings which were only secured at the insistence of the Commission. These occasions arose either because of a specific issue of some urgency or because a backlog of unresolved issues requiring the PM’s intervention The Political Leadership of the Planning Commission


had accumulated. This provided the occasion for a meeting where the PM sat with the planning minister and the members of the Commission to not only discuss specific issues needing decision but to also discuss general issues of policy.

PM as Chairman of the Planning Commission Competing for Time When the PM took over the planning portfolio after the elections in March of 1973, it was believed by us that the Commission would remain closer to the source of political authority. This would enable us to push more effectively through policy reforms and actions needed to improve governance. In practice, this assumption proved to be misconceived and the Commission was more than ever left on its own to weather the growing storms directed against the regime. The PM, when he assumed the portfolio of chairman, met with the Commission which advised him of the need for regular meetings where he could be kept posted on the state of the economy, convey political reactions to policies formulated by us and give directives for policy initiatives to be taken by the Commission. The PM accepted and confirmed that he also wanted to rescue the Commission from what was appearing as a partisan position in the party dialectics where ministers would feel that the PM’s authority rested behind the Commission. This optimistic scenario projected by the PM could not be sustained. The Commission, as a whole, did not meet the PM more than three or four times in the first year of his chairmanship and not at all after that. The deputy chairman met more often with the PM to secure administrative decisions or when he was summoned by the PM seeking his advice on some issue. The PM left the Commission to fend for itself as did any other minister in relation to the operational agencies under their jurisdiction. This meant that the deputy chairman enjoyed the responsibilities of 64

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being a minister without the power or political authority which goes with elective office. During this period, the PM began building up his own secretariat to deal with the growing workload that was being passed on to him by those ministers who were disinclined to bear the risk of taking important decisions. As a result, proposals submitted by the Commission to the PM were initially scrutinized by his secretariat. This was somewhat anomalous since the Commission had been designated as the secretariat on economic affairs to the PM in his capacity as the minister for planning. It was perceived by us that on all economic policy issues emanating from the ministries or from his own directives, he would use the Planning Commission for advice and guidance. In practice, the Commission found that its proposals received equal time by the PM as was the case with other ministries. All proposals submitted to his attention were filtered through his secretariat who then took over the responsibilities presumed to be vested with the Commission. The PM’s secretariat included an economic section, then headed by Dr A. Sattar, who had been assigned this position after the Planning Commission had refused to accept him as secretary, Planning. Satter’s presence at the PMO meant, in practice, that any proposal emanating from the Planning Commission may have had to be scrutinized by an official who was hardly well disposed towards us. This meant that the Planning Commission was, in effect, without any ministerial direction after March 1973 and, hence, was in a somewhat more depreciated position than when Tajuddin presided over us. Here, at least, Tajuddin was often moved to stir himself on behalf of the Commission and fight its political battles in the Cabinet or with other ministries. Now, the PM merely presided over these contests at Cabinet meetings giving his impartial judgement on policies which were supposed to come before the Cabinet with his approval as chairman of the Planning Commission. When some problem acquired serious proportions and was brought to his notice by the deputy chairman, the PM did occasionally intervene to support our recommendations. The Political Leadership of the Planning Commission


But this again was the result of Nurul Islam’s private initiative rather than any institutionalized arrangement.

Responding to Policy Directions from PM The PM persisted with a practice set in motion virtually for the first day of his regime of speaking out publicly on his various policies. A number of these public declarations related to the economy. But such declarations could only be made effective through the painstaking process of policy preparation, in house consultations and the discussion of the final policy proposals presented by the relevant Ministry to the PM for his approval before it was formalized through a Cabinet decision. The Planning Commission was invested with the responsibility of giving substance to the PM’s public pronouncements on economic issues. The PM rarely advised us on which of his pronouncements should be presented before the Cabinet for policy discussion or decision. It was left to the Planning Commission to seek his guidance on his policy priorities. This transition from public declaration to policy became more problematic as time went by. From the PM’s side the basic problem arose from the fact that he was far too overburdened to involve himself in the specifics of economic policymaking. Due to constraints of time, he could read few of the documents presented before him on economic policy. This was to some extent a reflection of his priorities which were largely to maintain his political authority and to control the instruments of law and order necessary to maintain this authority. This meant that policy proposals from the Commission were usually discussed by the PM in the Cabinet rather than preparatory to it emerging as a Cabinet paper. As contact with the PM became more infrequent, policy proposals from the Commission were passed on to him through the formal channels of files and demi-official letters without any face-to-face contact where we could explain the importance of our proposals. The PM mostly took no action or communicated a 66

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negative response. On these occasions, it is likely that his secretariat vetted Commission papers and advised him on his actions. Apart from the more time-intensive issue of policymaking, many other issues related to governance or the need for executive action that required the PM’s attention. Initially, the deputy chairman took up important issues demanding urgent address with the PM, if such an issue had been left unaddressed or even when we had received an initial negative response. On such occasions, the PM would take a definite decision sought by us and sometimes even reverse his original negative response. However, as contact became more distant, occasions for the Commission to meet him became fewer and at least for issues emanating from particular members, formal communications became the order of the day. In my own case, I have indicated in later chapters that issues which were put before Bangabandhu by me for policy decision or executive action usually received no clear response. In the case of the nationalized industries, a range of policy recommendations for policy or action prepared by me on issues ranging from the finalization of their Rules of Business to guidance on pricing policy and ensuring the use of available productive capacity in public enterprises were forwarded by me through Nurul Islam for Bangabandhu’s attention and orders. In the case of the Rules of Business, Bangabandhu supported the position of the Planning Commission but the finalization of the policy was entrusted to a Cabinet subcommittee involving bureaucrats from the PMO, Nationalized Industries Division (NID) and officials from the Planning Commission which frustrated the operationalization of Bangabandhu’s decision. In other areas like housing policy, my detailed notes addressed to Bangabandhu on the malfeasance of the housing ministry in implementing the low-cost housing project initiated by the Planning Commission elicited no response up to the time I left the government in September 1974. As a consequence, the Commission was, in the eyes of the Cabinet, largely, disassociated from the PM and, to some extent, even from the Cabinet. It was, thus, left open to criticism, not The Political Leadership of the Planning Commission


only from the outside but even within the government. Without the political cover of a regular minister or the public support of the PM, the Commission was left without any political medium to either express or defend itself against the rising tide of criticism at the performance of the economy.

PM’s Style of Governance Having said this about the formal relationship between the PM and the Planning Commission, it was worth reiterating that the personal relationship between him and the members remained intact throughout our sojourn in the administration. Throughout the three years of this relationship, the PM accorded each of us a degree of personal confidence, respect and support which was not necessarily reflected in his commitment to the Commission as an institution. This distinction is important because it reflected the PM’s own unique style of work and politics which was built around his bilateral relations with a variety of individuals. This phenomenon needs to be discussed separately but in the context of our discussion, it is worth noting that the PM sought to establish personal working relationships in all areas and at all levels of the administration. The rise and fall of people, the authority and position they enjoyed, all stemmed in no small measure from the equation they enjoyed with the PM. Sooner or later, most figures within the administration, in the party and even in opposition to the regime came to the PM for personal, material and political favours. In this way, the PM built a relationship of personal goodwill and dependency even though at a formal or institutional level, the relationship may be quite the contrary. For the Planning Commission, the PM’s style of work presented serious practical problems. To the extent that he could establish a bilateral line with individual members or even with staff members of the Commission, he could devalue the collective authority of the Commission and subvert the working discipline of the organization. Many agencies of government, including ministers, found it difficult to maintain their authority within 68

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the ministry because elements lower down in the hierarchy had a bilateral line to the PM which enabled them to neutralize the authority of their superiors. With the passage of time and events, virtually, every minister found their authority weakened by the PM’s inclination to operate over their head within the ministry. Their capacity to make an issue of it depended on their personal credibility and political authority with the PM. Over the years this, in virtually all cases, tended to decline to the point where ministerial authority in policymaking and even administration was progressively eroded. This devaluation of ministerial authority was reflected in a decline in the self-confidence of the ministers to initiate policies or effectively run their ministries. As time went by, there was a progressive increase in the number of policy and administrative decisions either referred upwards to the PM or taken over by him at his own initiative. In this situation, the Planning Commission, in its initial years, managed to survive by maintaining a degree of collective solidarity in our relations both with the PM and the rest of the government, whatever may have been our inner differences. At no stage was it possible for the PM to breach this unity within the original four members by establishing a bilateral line with any of us where any individual felt he could elevate himself through personal access to the source of power. To the extent that none of us sought personal or material favours from the PM for ourselves or our friends and relations, it became difficult for him to establish a relationship of personal dependency on him for any of us. This meant that during the Commission’s high tide, all four of us presented a collective personality to him on all issues. This enabled us to then take a firm position with the PM that he should not operate over our heads with individual officers within the Commission. After a number of such instances of bilateral contact between the PM and staff members in the Commission came to our notice in the early life of the Commission, we took a collective position with the PM that at a personal level, he should only deal with the deputy chairman. If any issues relating to sectoral problems or even individuals came to his notice, then he should The Political Leadership of the Planning Commission


take this up with the deputy chairman who would then be responsible for taking up the problem within the Commission. It must be said to the credit of the PM that this all-powerful personality accepted the rules of the game relating to the Commission as defined by four politically inconsequential academics. Whilst I am sure he kept himself informed of the inner affairs of the Commission through his line with individual staff members, this factor was never once permitted to impinge on the inner workings of the Commission. There was, thus, no single case, till the inner composition of the Commission was changed, when particular staff members sought to flout the authority or discipline of the Commission on the strength of their political/ personal ties with the PM. In retrospect, this unique privilege accorded by the PM to the Commission could owe itself to our ostensible unity and our unwillingness to seek personal favours from the PM. This gave us the authority to confront and disagree with the PM and to put our jobs on the line when more fundamental issues were involved. This particular characteristic and working relations of the Commission came to an end the day this solidarity in the membership of the Commission was breached by the induction of a senior civil servant. The civil servant immediately set up his bilateral line with the PM which subverted the discipline of the Commission and in effect not only transformed its internal character but its relationship with the rest of the government. This distinctive working relationship established between the Commission and the PM meant that in the first two years, the PM paid us the compliment of not making, let alone imposing, a single request to extend patronage or employment to any person for political or other reasons. It may not be an exaggeration to say that the Planning Commission was in the first two years the only agency of government which did not accommodate such requests from above. The willingness of the PM to respect our authority enabled the Commission to withstand pressures from ministers and party functionaries to extend patronage of one form or another to their candidates and left us free to decide issues on 70

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their merits. Whilst there may be an element of self-congratulation in such a statement, it must be reiterated that our pretensions at independence of judgement and action had their authority in the scrupulous determination of the PM to give us the protection and authority to maintain this posture within the administration. To the extent that we were generating antagonism to us within the government, both on political and personal grounds, where we could not oblige the requests of ministers, the protection and goodwill of the PM were indispensable to our functioning and even survival. Whilst I have pointed out the growing disinclination of the PM to institutionally identify with the Planning Commission, it must be reiterated that all policies conceived and piloted by the Planning Commission through the turbulent shoals of Cabinet politics invariably had his backing. It was his weight behind us which tilted the balance in the scales since at no stage, did we command the political resources within the Cabinet to push through any policies. In my recollection, no single policy decision of importance, including decisions like the nationalization policy, was taken during our association with the Bangabandhu government, which was not carefully considered by the PM and did not have his full support. It would be an affront to the memory and extraordinary authority of this great leader to suggest that any policy recommendation, least of all any policies emanating from four politically inexperienced academics which may have significant political consequence for his regime, could be approved without his full political evaluation. Some of these initiatives at policymaking and the role of the PM in their fortunes are discussed later in this book and elsewhere. This support for us in the Cabinet and in relation to his colleagues was critical, particularly, when we came into direct contention with specific ministers on issues of policy or in accommodating their resource needs from the development budget for particular projects. The PM received a number of such complaints from his ministers which he scotched, sometimes even without reference to us. On a number of occasions, even within the Cabinet, when a The Political Leadership of the Planning Commission


particular minister allowed his aversion to the Commission’s position to carry him beyond the bounds of Cabinet etiquette, the PM reprimanded his lifelong political colleague in defence of the four professors.

Political Implications of Our Relationship with THE PM The political benediction of the PM was, in this sense, a doubleedged sword. It gave us a degree of authority and confidence which enabled us to not only survive in a hostile world but take strong positions which may have gone against the tide of opinion within the administration. Given our own beliefs and style of work, we may have in any case taken up such positions but the chances of our survival within the administration would, in such circumstances, have been drastically abridged. For the price of our survival, we perforce became dependent on the PM to invest his political authority behind us in every policy initiative emanating from the Commission. As a result, direct politicking by the Commission within the party or administration, with a view to building up factional support behind policies, was seen as counterproductive to support forthcoming from the PM since it was presumed that he may resent such lateral initiatives by his planners. This sense of reticence did not even include elementary public relations by us which could at least keep the press and key social groups informed about what the Commission was doing. The basic premise for this approach was itself questionable. Whilst the PM had a great personal regard for his planners which was subsequently strengthened by his knowledge of our integrity and unwillingness to seek personal favours from him, he was far from committed to the specifics of our political vision or even our judgement on policies. Whilst his influence on policymaking will be elaborated elsewhere, here it is sufficient to say that for him socialism was a broad philosophical commitment which he could proclaim to his planners, radical allies and even the public 72

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without any commitment to the specific components of a socialist policy. Here, his approach was entirely pragmatic with each policy being evaluated in terms of its short-term political impact and cost. In calculating this cost, he drew freely on the judgement of his political colleagues, civil servants, businessmen and a variety of other less structured groups and individuals. As his workload expanded, he became progressively less able to invest the time needed to discuss, in depth, any set of proposals. As a result, he relied much more on intuition and casual sources of information offered to him so that constant access rather than the intrinsic worth of a policy was more relevant for him. Whilst this particular approach to decision-making acquired certain unique dimensions on account of the PM’s personality and style, they are by no means unique to the decision-making process in a pluralist system where the leadership has to be sensitive to a variety of forces which make up their political base. In this situation, the planners would have had to demonstrate not just the worth of their policies but their political viability and support. To do this, we would have had to use our existing political capital to ensure that our access to the PM was not only in good repair but frequent. The support for our policies should have been articulated by Cabinet members, Members of Parliament and other relevant social groups. Instead, we presented our papers to the PM or the Cabinet, argued our case if given an audience with him or in the Cabinet and declined to traffic in the murky byways of party politics. This may have kept our personal relations in good repair with the PM but did little to enhance political support for our policy proposals. Each rebuff merely drove us further into our shells and a philosophy of ‘take it or leave it’ permeated the Commission. Such an exclusive posture exacted a heavy price not just on the policy initiatives of the Commission but our personal credibility. Within the first year of office, significant segments of the political leadership and bureaucracy had been alienated. They were both united in their fear that the Commission was giving a radical The Political Leadership of the Planning Commission


thrust to policies which they neither believed in nor felt committed to. To the extent that such policies were inimical to their material interests, this was even more objectionable. A personal element sharpened their resentment. The politicos, in particular, resented the personal esteem and access to the PM enjoyed by us. Our refusal to accommodate them in the way of patronage was a source of permanent irritation, particularly for ministers whose candidates for jobs had been turned down or henchmen seeking some material gain were not even given entrée by the Commission. Since the planners were themselves immune from such practices and could create a crisis every time they came under pressure, our presumptions constituted an intolerable affront to elements in the political leadership. Bureaucrats also had their own contradictions with the planners at a personal level and resented our ability to talk back to ministers as much as our rather pious air generated from our sense of invulnerability to political pressures to which the bureaucrats were subject almost daily. Our self-confidence and articulate posture in conferences were particularly resented by senior bureaucrats who saw themselves silenced in argument by their juniors in years and experience. In this context, the degree of confidence vested in us by the PM came to represent a critical barometer of our fortunes within the administration. This came to be measured in terms of our declining capacity to push through policy initiatives and secure the PM’s executive support for administrative decisions sought by the Commission. As this trend became more apparent within the Secretariat, our effectiveness correspondingly declined.

Exit Strategies The PM, in his personal dealings with us, in no way made this decline in his confidence in the Commission apparent to us and took refuge in a strategy of attrition in dealing with our initiatives or suggested deferment of the issue to a more propitious occasion. When we began to respond to this decline in our effectiveness by 74

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pressing him to release us from the Commission, he, however, remained adamant that we should not desert him in these critical moments. All of us had seen the publication of the First Five-year Plan (FFYP) as our watershed in the government. After its approval by the Cabinet, we collectively sought our release from the government. It, however, became evident to us that within the PM’s rather personalized style of administration, people did not leave him but could only be dismissed by him. I have discussed the specific context of our respective departures from the Commission elsewhere. Here, it is only relevant to indicate the delicacy of our situation which demanded that we leave the Commission but without antagonising the PM. Apart from the political hazards of such a step which could suddenly find our names headlined in a local paper as being removed on unspecified charges of incompetence or corruption, we felt a sufficient obligation to him for his treatment of us during our sojourn in government to see the need to soften the blow to his self-esteem. The issue of our exit, thus, became a recurring theme in our transient dialogues with the PM and within ourselves, as we pondered the fact that to date no person had left the administration without being dismissed or disgraced. As it transpired, an element of deus ex machina had to be introduced into the situation to facilitate the exit of Nurul, Mosharraf and myself. Anis managed his by stages. Nurul left by the backdoor, resorting to the expedient of taking a six-month leave of absence to spend time at Oxford. He was, however, under great pressure to return as finance minister and may have found it difficult to resist the blandishments of Bangabandhu if assassin’s bullets had not severed his links with our leader. Even after we left the Commission uniquely unscathed, the PM sought to bring back Mosharraf into his now presidential system as an appointed minister or as deputy chairman of the Planning Commission. It took all of Mosharraf’s not inconsiderable diplomatic skills to evade this new involvement. The PM had initially been keen to elevate Nurul to full ministerial status by persuading him to seek election during the 1973 elections and The Political Leadership of the Planning Commission


even in a subsequent by-election whence Bangabandhu assured him a seat in the Parliament. At the time of changeover to a presidential system, Bangabandhu again renewed his effort to get Nurul into the Cabinet as his finance minister. Under the BAKSAL dispensation, he had already inducted two senior academics, Professor Muzaffar Ahmed Chowdhury and Professor A. R. Mallick, into his government as ministers. Nurul was, however, chary of becoming directly engaged in the political process, thereby extending his stay in government and managed to resist these pressures. In my own case, even though the PM pressed me to remain in the Commission, he felt I was too clearly identified with the radical tendencies within the polity to actively seek my political commitment. I am not sure how seriously he took my ‘socialist’ positions but to the extent that I had come to be identified with the nationalization policies and as a protagonist of the public sector against the private sector, I was positively anathema to significant sections of the party and bourgeoisie and, thus, less saleable to his colleagues. This did not discourage the PM from putting on his radical cap in discussions with me in order to establish that we were ideologically ad idem but may differ on political tactics. Since he had a rather low opinion of our political sagacity as a group, this perspective was perhaps the more relevant one in our relationships. Political differences had, however, never discouraged Bangabandhu from retaining his bilateral ties so that after my exit from the Commission in September 1974, I decided to keep a low profile and avoid any contact with him whence he could deploy his personal charisma to induce me back into the government. This rather extended essay on our relations with Bangabandhu is of some importance in understanding not just the formal aspects of the relationship but also providing an insight both into his style of government and the chemistry injected by his unique personality, which must be seen as critical variables not just in the role of the Planning Commission but also in the fortunes of the regime.


Untranquil Recollections

The Workings of the Planning Commission


Working Relations within the Planning Commission Informal Styles of Work The Commission as represented by the deputy chairman and three members had in its first two years maintained a high degree of informality in its work. This arose out of the fact that all the four members had personally known each other and had also worked as professional colleagues over the last 20 years. It has been seen that we all came from a shared academic and disciplinary background, while some of us had also been engaged in a common political enterprise. These close ties inevitably contributed towards an informal environment for work in the Commission. As a result of this inherited relationship, any particular problem, whether of an administrative or policy nature, could be immediately discussed without waiting upon the routine of file movements. Policy proposals could, thus, be formalized on the file but, more likely, the decision had already been taken as a result of informal discussions. The procedure had the advantage of permitting full and frank discussions of all issues and facilitated expeditious decisionmaking within the Commission. It, however, created its own problems by failing to establish a formal record of deliberations and decisions where the collective personality of the Commission could be put on the record as the institutional position of the Commission. A number of formal meetings of the Commission

were held where the discussions were recorded, and the decisions noted. But this arrangement was neither made regular nor institutionalized and the very decision to put the meeting on the record became an ad hoc one. This arrangement aroused, after some time, some resentment in Anisur Rahman who was feeling his frustrations of working in the government even more sharply than the other members. His frustrations stemmed from a feeling that the government was not giving the lead in mobilizing the spirit of the liberation war for the process of social transformation. This feeling of his was translated by him into a number of notes which sought to etch out the general direction of state policy. His other source of frustration, however, lay in the details of development administration, which he found tedious and unproductive and this, in turn, made him less inclined to develop his broad spectrum position papers into concrete policy proposals which could then be presented to the Cabinet for taking specific decisions. Most of the sentiments and the general thrust of Anis’ ideas were shared by the Commission. Some of these were put up by the deputy chairman to the chairman as policy papers. Other ideas were discussed in meetings with the PM, finance minister and occasionally at the Cabinet. At this rarefied level, it was found that the political leaders themselves had no problem in sharing broad philosophical commitments to socialism, self-reliance and austerity. It was only when the general was concretized into the specifics of policy action that they discovered a variety of considerations dictated, as they said, by pragmatism rather than ideology, to shelve these proposals. In these circumstances, differences emerged between Anis and other members as to how to tackle the problem. Anis was of the view that these generalized statements of intent should always be put up to the PM and the Cabinet even though we saw that they were unresponsive. The other members wanted such proposals to be detailed into full-fledged policy proposals so that the Cabinet would have to declare itself on specific issues involving allocative, institutional and administrative decisions. 78

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Had this difference in approach rather than belief been documented in discussions and decisions of the Commission, it is much more likely that a coherent strategy and perspective to policymaking in the Commission might have emerged and Anis would have felt less alienated if not from the administration as a whole, then from his longstanding friends and colleagues. It was perhaps this inability to find any specific point of difference as to policy or ideology which kept Anisur Rahman on as a part-time member after February 1973 until FFYP was completed and presented to the Cabinet. The absence of any formal record of the work of the Commission in the final analysis worked against the interests of the Commission. Its failure to establish a formal personality for the Commission left it open to the charge of eclecticism. This enabled all its critics to attribute every policy failure or administrative lapse of the regime to the policies propagated by the Commission. Spectacular policy fiascos like the decision to set up a consumer supply corporation with shops in every union, which were adopted by the Cabinet, over the protest of the Commission, as to its manageability, were attributed to the Commission. Had all policy proposals emanating within or without been discussed for the record at the Commission, this would have clearly defined the Commission’s position both in the Cabinet and for posterity. At the same time, it would have given a philosophical base and a sense of perspective to the various divisions within the Commission whose work would have reflected the collective personality and direction of the Commission. At the same time, the informal approach failed to bring genuine differences within the Commission to the surface whereby fulldress discussion could then establish a consensus or a clear-cut articulation of the differences. This, for the record, may have been particularly relevant to the position of the deputy chairman who may have had genuine differences on policy with his colleagues but these were subsumed in the informal discussions which tended to inhibit bringing any issue to a head. The Workings of the Planning Commission


A perhaps more serious consequence of this was found in the erosion of the internal cohesion of the Commission whereby each member tended to function autonomously and take their own policy initiatives. This meant that in the absence of a regular forum for discussion of sectoral strategy and policy, the members tended to fall out of touch with work in each other’s divisions. In specific cases, this occasionally led to contradictions in approach which were rectified when they came to the surface through the usual mechanism of ad hoc discussion. However, this did not compensate for the need for a fuller mutual understanding among the members about what was going on in other divisions. This meant that each member’s perspective was narrowed to his own area and a coherent philosophy informing all decisions could not emerge sharply enough in terms of concrete policies. For example, agricultural strategy could have been more closely integrated with industrial investment planning and policy as well as developments in the power and transport sector. Rural institutions policy could have been more closely tied in with physical planning and public health engineering. All these policies could have been more closely integrated with the design of fiscal and monetary policy.

The Role of Deputy Chairman This cohesion in the Commission’s vision, in the final analysis, could have been provided by the deputy chairman. If he had a clear-cut ideological position and a definite perspective for the development of the economy, he could have brought together the ideas of the members and integrated them into a coherent set of policies. This was very important because whilst the members broadly shared a commitment to socialistic policies, this identity was not necessarily reflected in the details of policy and administration. It was at this stage that a deputy chairman sharing the vision of the members could have brought these disparate strands together and woven them into a coherent pattern. To do this, he could have used the dialectical method in the formal discussions 80

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of the Commission but at the same time maintaining a discipline on such discussions through an understanding of the shared vision and philosophy of the Commission. Nurul Islam, the deputy chairman, was at that phase an essentially non-ideological person. His world view was inclined towards being a democrat, liberal and progressive, all in small casings, but he proclaimed no hard and fast conceptualization of these positions. He largely saw himself as a technocrat and tended to feel uneasy in ideological debate. If he had ideological positions, then he did not hold them strongly enough to press the issue to a conclusion. His rather flexible position accentuated his inability to discipline his colleagues. Since his own rather eclectic philosophy reflected the style of the PM, he could not invoke the guidance of his chairman in giving direction to policymaking. This meant that for any policy proposal emanating from a member, he had to react empirically. Since he did not then have a clearly defined political premise of his own nor did one emerge out of the Commission in a sufficiently clear-cut direction, such policies were discussed from first principles. Here, the pragmatism of the deputy chairman was matched against the determination of the member to push through a particular policy. Since the concerned member invariably felt more strongly about his policy, backed by both an ideological premise to sustain his position and a fuller understanding of the compulsions behind such a policy, the deputy chairman went along with most proposals without necessarily sharing the conviction of the members. In the Cabinet, where normally the onus of piloting a policy fell on the deputy chairman, he may have found himself advocating a policy over which he may have entertained reservations. In such cases, he occasionally left the talking to the more committed advocacy of the concerned member. However, in my own case, since my combination of poor Bangla and higher quality English made presentations by me a rather bewildering proposition for the Cabinet, I remained dependent on Nurul to clarify my more incomprehensible observations. The Workings of the Planning Commission


It must, however, be said here that whilst the deputy chairman’s rather pragmatic view made him oppose some policies, he rarely ever vetoed or frustrated the putting through of any proposal. His incisive intelligence and professional competence, as much as his rather sceptical view of the possibility of achieving change, made him an excellent critic of policies and helped to tighten up a number of such proposals. The deputy chairman’s sceptical view of the scene along with his rather pragmatic world view meant that in his three years of office very few policy proposals in effect originated from him for social or institutional change. He was always reacting to proposals from the members. Rarely did he ever feel the compulsion to conceptualize policy issues and to take the initiative in having them worked out. He in turn got no guidance from above so the locus of policymaking relating to social change or institutional reform really devolved on the members. This detachment from social policy was without prejudice to Nurul’s extensive presentations to the PM and the Cabinet on the more mundane issues of macroeconomic policy and the general state of health of the economy where he was well supported by the talented staff of the General Economics Division led by A. R. Khan. On aid-related issues, Nurul was again the lead spokesman in collaboration with Syeduzzaman as secretary, Economic Relations Division (ERD). To the extent that the members shared a philosophy and could see this reflected in specific policy issues, the deputy chairman could reflect the collective personality of the Commission. Where, however, the policy initiatives emerged not out of debate in the Commission but from a member’s own initiative, the deputy chairman emerged as the spokesman for the member.

The Role of the Members While the deputy chairman remained our point of contact with the PM and the Cabinet, it was the members who in practice provided interface of the Commission with the various ministries 82

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and operational echelons of the administration. At an operational level, the division chiefs found that they were not exercising the authority vested in them to directly deal with the various ministries largely because the secretaries to the ministries did not accept them as equals and would, therefore, simply refuse to participate in inter-ministerial consultations with them. Lower-level functionaries who attended their meetings were rarely authorized to commit their ministries to positions agreed upon in such meetings. As a result, the process of consultation with the ministries had perforce to be upgraded to the members level if it had to have any prospect of securing inter-ministerial support. As it emerged, even a secretary’s commitment was not sufficient in all cases and needed to be referred up to his minister. Whilst circumstances extraneous to the structure of the Commission contributed to the activist role of the members, their pivotal role was, to some extent, also determined by their diverse personalities. All the three members had strong views sustained by their own ideological beliefs about the course of policy. Their own activist personalities made them determined to push through policy proposals which reflected their political views or to take initiatives to confront problems arising out of the working of relevant sectors of the economy. Whilst the members shared a certain commitment as well as the determination to push policies through, they differed in their approach to their job. These differences reflected again their differences in personality and their own assumptions about the state of the polity.

Anisur Rahman: The Idealist Anisur Rahman was in many ways the most emotionally involved with the idea of social change and was perhaps the most idealistic of his colleagues. He came into the Commission with misgivings since he was not fully convinced that the ruling party really wanted change. However, once inside, he believed that they could be educated to take up the most radical positions. The Workings of the Planning Commission


He strongly believed in the importance of our leaders practising austerity in their lifestyles to set an example for the people who were themselves facing hardships. Among other suggestions, Anis proposed that the PM and his colleagues, including the members of the Planning Commission, should ride to office on bicycles. We did not believe such an idea would be too well received by the Cabinet but Anis was rather disappointed that we did not support him on this. Anis argued that the Planning Commission should present the Cabinet with broad policy guidelines and secure their commitment to these positions. To the extent that the ministers were rarely inclined to put themselves into confrontations with their rhetorical radicalism, it was rarely possible for Anis to secure categorical responses from the Cabinet or the PM to such generalized proposals. Anis, however, lacked the inclination to work out these policies in detail. He found the process of studying the files or holding inter-ministerial consultations profoundly tedious. In the first six months, he involved himself in much of this detailed work including the preparation of the First Annual Plan. His disenchantment with the details of administration compounded by the lack of response to his policy guidelines and, finally, his own growing unease at being involved in a regime which he believed to be indifferent to the compulsion for social change led to his progressively withdrawing from the day-to-day work of the Commission. From February 1973, Anis returned to his job as professor of economics at Dhaka University but continued to remain a parttime member of the Planning Commission. In this position, he attended meetings of the Commission, Cabinet meetings and meetings with the PM who was now chairman of the Commission. Anis eventually took to writing a series of policy papers designed for the eyes of the PM. In this task, he had the concurrence of the Commission. In these papers, Anis gave expression to his philosophy and expectations for promoting change through the government. Whenever he prepared one of his visionary 84

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papers for giving direction to the economy and society, Nurul passed this on to the PM. Anis occasionally sought bilateral meeting with the PM to persuade him to move on his proposals. It is not clear to what extent the PM responded to these ideas but from the revealed decisions of the PM and action of his regime it would appear that little was done on Anis’ recommendations. Anis had put all his missives to the PM on record in a volume published by him about his days in government titled The Lost Moment. Frustrated by the lack of response from the regime to his ideas, Anis had begun to involve himself with a move to get students involved in village uplift work, and this took up more of his time. When he eventually resigned from the Commission in November 1973, he had for some time before virtually ceased to be a member. He, however, did associate himself with the First Plan. Though he did not participate in its formulation, he made a number of useful comments on various sections which were incorporated into the Plan. The document which was, thus, presented to the Cabinet had his approval and carried his signature.

Mosharraf Hossain: The Pragmatist In these circumstances, the image of the Commission with the government was more visibly projected by Mosharraf Hossain and me. However, our respective approaches differed sharply. Mosharraf carried his scepticism of the capabilities of the ruling party into office and at no stage believed they would commit themselves to any significant reforms. This belief infected his association with the Commission throughout, led to his initial unwillingness to join the Commission and very soon after, a recurring urge to quit the Commission. On the other hand, Mosharraf took to the details of planning and administration with great facility. In appreciating the nuances of secretariat work, in securing inter-ministerial cooperation, even in interacting with the ministers, he was the most accomplished member. This enabled him to acquire a grasp of the The Workings of the Planning Commission


problems and workings of sectors of the economy under his jurisdiction and the impact of development efforts more comprehensively than any of the members. Indeed, in subjects where he was particularly interested, he demonstrated a grasp of the subject matter as to policy and administration which was without its equal in the whole government. He was persuasive and could get on with people so that his viability as a member was clearly established. These skills he directed towards the problems of project preparation and evaluation, plan preparation and the actual utilization of development funds. From September 1972, Mosharraf fully immersed himself in the preparation of the FFYP. The back story of preparing the First Plan merits retelling since Mosharraf was again involved. Around August 1972, I had a call from Peter Cargill, the vice-president of the World Bank, who was visiting Dhaka. He had been a regular contact for me at the Bank in 1971, during our campaign to stop aid to Pakistan, and had indeed been quite supportive of our cause. I recollect, he twice debriefed me after the Pakistan Aid Consortium meeting, first in June 1971 and then in November, over magnificent breakfasts at the five-star Royal Monceau Hotel on Avenue George V in Paris. Cargill sought to draw on the social capital he built up with me in 1971 and sometime around August 1972 invited me to lunch with him at the Intercontinental Hotel where he was staying. I was reluctant to meet him on my own as his guest, so I invited him to lunch at my Gulshan home where I also invited Nurul Islam and Mosharraf Hossain. As I recollect, Salma provided us with an excellent meal, but the experience turned out to be rather uncomfortable for Cargill who was a large man, about 6′5″ in height and weighing over 18st. He had to accommodate himself on Salma’s low-slung seating arrangements, designed for rather smaller, more supple people, which was a real challenge for him. Perhaps it was this sense of discomfort which provoked Cargill to observe that it would take the Planning Commission a long time to prepare the FYP as they were inexperienced and underequipped


Untranquil Recollections

for the task. Mosharraf, to Nurul’s consternation, was provoked into responding that we could prepare the plan in one year, a proposition which Cargill was disinclined to take seriously. When he departed, Mosharraf urged us to respond to the challenge and suggested we begin work from the next working day. As it transpired, we fully responded to the challenge and delivered the FFYP within one year which was then discussed and approved by the Cabinet in September 1973. It was typical of Mosharraf that he took the preparation of our first plan as a personal challenge though it involved the entire Commission. As a result, the preparation of the FFYP took up most of his remaining time at the Commission where he demonstrated his commitment to this enterprise by the fact that his sectors of the plan—agriculture, water resources, health, family planning and education—were the most meticulous in their preparation as to detailing projects and implementation procedures. In addition to his sectoral responsibilities, working closely with the commission secretary, M. Syeduzzaman, he supervised the collation of the plan and its publication which involved a massive mobilization, coordination and administrative effort. In the running of the Commission, the deputy chairman rested heavily on Mosharraf so that for all practical purposes, he was the administrative head who sorted out all personal and interpersonal problems, worked to set up the office and logistical base of the Commission and interacted with the other ministries of the government to resolve the administrative problems of the Commission. Whilst Mosharraf fully shared the views of his colleagues as to the need for social change, he never believed this regime would or could bring this about and saw his work as seeking to secure the more efficient workings of the system with some moves towards equity to be made at the margin. He was even sceptical about any developments in this direction and really saw himself as an advisor doing his work for the record to identify the possibilities for the system so that history would not record that he failed to

The Workings of the Planning Commission


understand its workings and could not plan for the realities of the moment. This meant that he did little to push through policies involving institutional change which had been worked out in his divisions. In the first year of our tenure, after discussion in the Commission, Mosharraf set up a committee to examine the prospects of land reform and worked closely with the Committee in the preparation of the report. This was an excellent, pragmatic document which suggested ceilings for landholdings and distribution of surplus land above the ceiling to the landless along with reforms in the tenurial system. However, when the report was prepared, he did no more than circulate it to the Cabinet and did not even solicit a debate on the subject. He assumed correctly, as events showed, that the ministers would find land reform anathema and was, thus, concerned to let the report stand on the record. This reticence to press for change was carried over to a refusal to even publicize the document in order to generate public debate, however academic its contents were. This faith in the propriety of the Commission was to cost the Commission dearly as the days went by. Mosharraf, where he could, tried to resolve issues at interministerial meetings. He, however, rarely pushed such decisions further to secure Cabinet support. As a result, very few papers went to the Cabinet or even to the PM from his desk. He was content to discuss specific issues in his meetings, put the recommendations on record and then expected the ministers to carry out such decisions. Where they did not or procrastinated, he never felt it his duty to push the issue. This pragmatic attitude meant that in his sector, he, in fact, made limited impact in either effecting the course of policy or improving the workings of the sector. Where he had an impact, it stemmed from the commitment and compulsions of the minister and/or secretary. This, however, did not prevent Mosharraf from getting into confrontation with a variety of ministers who seemed to find his initiatives in discussing problems and institutions in their sector subversive to their authority. They also 88

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clashed with him on problems of patronage or on allocations for projects where his unwillingness to oblige particular ministers aggravated their tensions. During his tenure, there were two ministers of agriculture, both of whom had occasion to clash with him. He clashed with the ministers for water resources and for rural development. He also clashed with the health minister and even with the education minister. These differences need to be evaluated in context but suffice to show that even within the system itself, there was considerable scope for contestation with the ministers, and one did not have to be an agent of change to precipitate these differences. Mosharraf was, perhaps, the most successful in getting on with the bureaucracy and the technocrats from the ministries in his sectors and used his personal contacts to win them over and to establish close working relationships. There were always some officers who remained impervious to his personality, but, by and large, he was the most acceptable of the members within the Secretariat.

From Incurable Optimist to Frustrated Activist Areas of Activism I was regarded as the incurable optimist of the Commission. I genuinely believed that the objective conditions dictated that a process of social transformation could be carried through. The assumptions underlying this belief and their implications will be discussed separately. Here, it is sufficient to say that this approach made me an activist from the day of my joining in February 1972 to the day of my departure in September 1974. As a consequence, 75 per cent of the papers emanating from the Planning Commission to the PM, the Cabinet and individual ministers came from divisions under my jurisdiction. These initiatives fall into two categories. The first dealt with policy proposals. The first major initiatives for institutional change emanated from the Industry Division under me. These The Workings of the Planning Commission


concerned the nationalization proposals for industry and the policy for worker’s participation in management. The subsequent policies for investment in the industrial sector were also conceived and detailed in the Industry Division. Here too were developed policy proposals for pricing policy for nationalized industries, financing of nationalized industries and management of nationalized industries. In addition to these proposals, policy initiatives by me were made for nationalization of insurance and inland water transport (IWT), democratization in the process of import indenting and regulation of private sector distribution. In the transport sector, the policy proposals for transport coordination, the setting up of a trucking corporation and cooperatives for autorickshaws emerged from the Commission. Policy proposals for the mobilization of surplus labour for local road constructions also emerged from this division. In the housing sector, the policy for cooperative housing and the setting up of a Physical Planning Division came from this sector. From the above policy initiatives, our proposal for an autorickshaw cooperative was the only one to be operationalized and this was largely due to the cooperation of Obaidullah Khan (Shentu) who was at that time secretary, Rural Development, which also included oversight of cooperatives. Apart from these policy initiatives, a whole range of position papers requiring decision by the Cabinet, the PM or the individual ministers emanated from the various divisions under me. These usually arose out of the poor implementation of specific policies or particular problems afflicting the efficient working of particular sectors of the economy. The deficiencies in the working of the nationalization policy were documented in a number of reports and specific actions to be taken were put up by me to the minister or the PM for decision and action. The specific problems of particular industries were studied, discussed in inter-ministerial meetings and specific actions required were put up to the PM, minister or the Cabinet. This preoccupation with the workings of policy and the solution 90

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to problems also led to a spate of memoranda to the decisionmakers in the sectors for power, natural resources, scientific research, housing, telecommunications, public health engineering, water pollution and the municipalities. The initiative and sequence of actions emerged in a variety of ways. In many cases, I was concerned with the workings of specific policies like the nationalization of industries or the policy to set up a trucking corporation. This led to specifically commissioned reviews of policy implementation by the staff of the divisions overseen by me, which, in turn, led to identification of the problems. These were embodied in reports or position papers which were discussed in meetings convened by me with the administrative heads of the concerned ministries and agencies. On many occasions such fora for discussion of identified problems led to action being taken by the executive involved. Where, however, secretaries or chief executives were unwilling or unable to take action on problems requiring solution, then the actions required were put up by me to the minister or the PM for decision. Such a sequence of events could also originate from the ministry or agency either formally communicating a problem to me or doing it over the phone. I, in turn, could either use my influence to settle the matter with the concerned agencies over the phone or through inter-ministerial meetings convened for this purpose. It was observed that my services were invoked where there were problems of aid programming or release of foreign and domestic funds within the ADP. However, ministers, Secretaries and, more particularly, corporate heads were not averse to inviting the Member’s mediation in resolving inter-ministerial confrontations. It became quite commonplace for corporate heads to informally alert me about bottlenecks created in their own ministries over policy implementation. Converse to this, I was myself always interested in keeping in touch with secretaries and corporation heads over the follow-up on various decisions taken at our meetings or to discuss published reports made available to me on the performance or problems of their sectors or even specific information informally communicated to me about problems The Workings of the Planning Commission


faced by the sector. Initiatives from the division staff, who were encouraged by me to take a more than routine interest in the affairs of the sector, were a regular source of information. Such an approach kept me and the divisions under me constantly busy in monitoring and trying to identify operational problems and their solutions. This approach found ready support with the agencies or corporations on the ground who were the immediate victims of failures in policy implementation and beneficiaries of any initiatives initiated by me to resolve their problems. On rare occasions, where the gross failures or inadequacies of a field agency were brought to light by the Commission, this aroused some resentments against the Commission. But since the focus of the Commission was not on apportioning blame but solving problems, such resentments were rarely sustained.

Frustrated Activism My interventionist approach was more often than not fully supported by secretaries as well as by ministers who were themselves interested in breaking bottlenecks and were happy to secure the aid of the Commission to do this. However, on a number of occasions, the secretaries took exception to my initiatives. This reflected itself, in rare cases, in questioning the jurisdiction and authority of the Commission. Occasionally, the minister’s intervention was invoked to challenge my initiatives. This sometimes led to formal communications from the minister or even complaints to the deputy chairman or the PM, at what was presumed to be my usurpation of their authority. The deputy chairman invariably stood by the member in these matters so that if the matter was not settled there, it went for arbitration to the PM. On these occasions, the PM would either resolve the issue in favour of the Commission or advise the Commission to temper their position. As often as not, the issue was left in limbo. In the early days, as for example in my efforts to improve the operational efficiency of the railways, I would put in time on the phone pressuring the secretary, Railways, for action and even 92

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calling up Mansur Ali, the minister for his action. As I point out later in this volume, some positive results did emerge from my initiatives. However, as time went by, most such contentious issue tended to remain unresolved. As the Commission’s inability to influence the course of events, even to a limited extent, became apparent, I became more disinclined to push through decisions by force of personality or suasion. At a later stage of our tenure, there was a conspicuous increase in the notes put up from my divisions to the concerned minister, the PM and the Cabinet for decision. These put the problems and the options to resolve them on record and placed the initiative on taking action on the political leadership. At the conclusion of my tenure, divisions under me had put together about 30–40 memos recording the articulation and discussion of various problems in the sectors under my jurisdiction and the outstanding decisions which needed to be taken. These were all placed before the PM for information and action as a sort of valedictory gesture on my part. A number of areas where I prepared notes requiring action by either the concerned minister or the PM are spelt out in Chapters 8 and 9. Such an approach originated in the decision-making structure of the government. In the final analysis, the members had no decision-making powers outside the Commission. In getting ministers or corporations to improve their performance, the member could only deploy his personality or use exhortation or persuasion. In my own experience, I found that I could play a catalytic role in resolving such issues by focusing attention on particular problems by using my elevated office to bring together the contending parties concerned to collectively seek a solution. In those days, it seemed that the Commission provided one of the few such fora in the government for inter-ministerial consultation where the authority and interests of one ministry did not impinge on another. The PM was himself the only exception but his enormous and diverse workload limited his capacity to periodically intervene to resolve inter-minister problems. Since the Commission had the ability to use its aid resources to lubricate the decisionmaking process and the professional capability to undertake the The Workings of the Planning Commission


staff work for such inter-ministerial consultations, it was particularly well-placed to discharge this function. The role of catalyst and convenor does not guarantee decisions. As the inertia of the regime intensified, such meetings convened by me became progressively more infructuous. It was found that decisions reached in such meetings would either be repudiated, ignored or hopelessly delayed in their execution. My ability to influence decisions waned with the declining authority of the Commission and the growing inertia as well as inability of the ministers to act. In these circumstances, discussions and decisions which previously may have precipitated action by the secretaries were now left on the shelf. Once this happened, I found myself powerless. This, in effect, underlined the obvious fact that there was a world of difference between the ability to influence decisions and the power to make and implement them. It was a confession of my impotence when I was reduced to passing on the minutes and memos embodying these paper decisions to the deputy chairman with a draft covering letter in the deputy chairman’s name, addressed to the PM and/or the concerned minister. This drew their attention to the discussion and decisions of the meeting convened by me and invoked the executive power of the concerned authority to see that action was taken. Most of these memos no doubt gathered dust in some obscure recess of the Secretariat and have long since been incinerated. Occasionally, some memo invoked a response from the concerned minister and even the PM. The latter, in fact, responded more often largely because his Secretariat staff read these memos and may have given him some packaged briefing on the issues and options. The replies which came back indicated that the issues involved had not been clearly evaluated, and this was reflected in the often perfunctory and off-centre decisions which were returned to us.

Lessons Learnt The lesson learnt by me from my tenure as a member of the first Planning Commission is that there is no substitute for executive 94

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power in the implementation of a policy. The exercise of power through influence is a nebulous business which can never really ensure the effective implementation of decisions. Even where influence can be exercised to get certain decisions taken at a particular meeting, these same decisions can be undone over time in a 100 ways. Since accountability for executive actions lies with the ministers, they are the only ones in the system to monitor and enforce sanctions behind the implementation of decisions. To this end, the follow-up on decisions required close liaison with ministers who needed to be themselves educated about the problems under discussion and their authority mobilized behind the consequential decisions. This required both political dialogue with the ministers and political support to give weight to the planners in their dialogues with the ministers. To seek this support from the PM, as the planners tended to do, was counterproductive because it ensured that such a decision could be taken only at a given moment in time. Beyond this, the ministers retained the scope for undoing any decision imposed upon them. This course of action open to the member was rarely taken by me. In fact, as with the general style of the Commission, I became more uxorious in my approach to problems, seeking solutions by force of argument and the weight of the facts. This obviously appeared as an apparently arrogant or bullying air to more sensitive bureaucrats which may have heightened their resistance to particular policies. A sharp tongue in conference cuts more deeply than a smooth one. These traits did not, however, preclude the emergence of satisfactory working relations with most secretaries who may have shared the urge of the members to get things done. Some of them operated under genuine constraints imposed by their ministers or vested interests and were themselves frustrated. However, being older and perhaps more experienced in the affairs of government and as career officials with their futures ahead of them, they were less willing to force issues. They would, however, often encourage me while confessing their own inability to guarantee action. Sometimes, they too resented this quixotic trait, which made me rush in on issues The Workings of the Planning Commission


which they too would have liked to espouse had they been less vulnerable. In the final analysis where genuine difference existed based on differences with detail and on fundamentals, the sharpness of the discussion must have generated considerable animus which was fed back to the Commission through the hostile responses of the minister. This often happened when I went over the heads of secretaries to the corporations under their jurisdiction to discuss specific problems and to work out solutions in consultation with the working executives. Since they knew where the shoe pinched, they were more receptive to such initiatives. As a result, throughout my tenure at the Commission, there was a regular traffic of chief executives of various operational agencies of the government into my office to seek my intervention to solve a problem or to lend a sympathetic ear to their woes. Most such encounters took place without the knowledge of the concerned secretaries which was a departure from the official chain of authority. Over the years, these numerous interactions built a constituency for me among most working field-level executives at the expense of sharpening the conflicts with secretaries and ministers. In retrospect, the wisdom of this approach was manifestly questionable as the Secretariat was a fact of life. By making accord with the executives, I was guilty of making guerrilla warfare against the administrative structure which was perhaps fundamentally inimical to effective and sustainable action. This, too, needs fuller discussion elsewhere. Suffice to say at this stage that this refusal to accept the constraints of the system certainly accentuated my alienation from it. In the final analysis, as we were not staying on to do battle over the long run, this aroused hopes and, in some cases, exposed executives to retaliatory action from the hierarchy above them when we departed. The short-run gains attained through such initiatives by me may, thus, have been counterproductive. These initiatives were, however, not without value. They put me in touch with a new world where, in fact, decisions actually 96

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were made and implemented. I was educated as to the worth of various executives and the constraints under which they worked. It enabled me to appreciate the enormous unrealized potential within the system and the latent talents which stand to be harnessed. It was instructive to see how big increments in performance and output could be realized from the system by modest changes of policy and limited expenditure. Where such efforts were supported by motivation and recognition extended to the high achievers from those in positions of leadership, exceptional results were possible. At the same time, it became obvious to me that even these marginal changes were constrained by the forces of social and bureaucratic reaction which had a vested interest in frustrating even modest changes. The inertia of the system was institutionalized and needed more than just administrative action to break out of the innumerable bureaucratic constraints constricting the productive sectors of the state. In Chapter 9, I discuss some specific cases like the issue of the monopoly over distribution of cement produced by Chhatak Cement Factory, exercised by the Ministry of Commerce. In this context, the Commission’s pursuit of solutions outside the Secretariat framework were perhaps inimical to their own objectives. The fight was always political and had to be carried into the Cabinet, ruling party and finally to the people. This could only have been done by persuasion, political conscientization and mobilization of opinion behind all issues requiring urgent decision. In the final analysis, my interminable meetings and copious memos contributed only to the alienation of the Commission from the system, the frustration of its policy initiatives and the inevitable loss of public credibility as even failures to implement policies were identified with the Commission.

The Workings of the Planning Commission


Discovering the Political Economy of Policymaking


Policymaking: The Political Context The terms of reference governing the role of the Planning Commission invested us with the responsibility of rendering policy advice on economic issues to the Cabinet. Economic issues facing Bangladesh covered a wide canvas, so the limits of our domain remained rather imprecise. The Planning Commission interpreted this to mean that we could offer policy advice on any issue we deemed important or where policy advice was specifically solicited by the PM or the Cabinet. In my earlier discussion of the role of the PM and that of Tajuddin Ahmad in giving direction to the Planning Commission, I have observed that over the course of my tenure at the Commission, no clear direction emanated from the PM or finance minister seeking policy proposals on any specific issue. We had expected that since the PM had spoken publicly on a variety of issues enunciating his social vision, he would periodically instruct us on aspects of his vision that he wished to prioritize for incorporation into full-fledged policy proposals which could be placed before the Cabinet. Thus, for example, when Bangabandhu moved into the BAKSAL phase of his regime at the beginning of 1975, he could have requested the Planning Commission to design a comprehensive policy proposal for agrarian reform which would incorporate his policy agenda for compulsory cooperatives and distributive justice through crop sharing arrangements between the owner,

tenant and government. But during our tenure, no such clearly articulated policy agenda was suggested to us by PM on issues of building a more equitable society or to give substance to his progressive vision. Bangabandhu left the onus of interpreting and incorporating his social vision into national policy on the Planning Commission. Here, we drew upon AL’s election manifesto of 1970 to guide us. The manifesto, prepared by Kamal Hossain, Nurul Islam, Anisur Rahman and me, had been intensively discussed with Bangabandhu and Tajuddin. The final document carried Bangabandhu’s seal of approval manifested by his decision to personally present the document before the AL Council meeting of July 1970 to seek their approval. Bangabandhu brooked no challenge to any document, he chose to pilot through the Council meeting; those of us who had prepared the document could not, therefore, gauge whether the more radical proposals commanded universal support in the AL Council. There was a strong, if not numerically large, business constituency represented in the AL Council with some well-known figures such as M. R. Siddiqui from Chittagong and Matiur Rahman from Rangpur at their vanguard, who were expected to challenge particular aspects of the manifesto. However, Bangabandhu did not encourage debate on the manifesto at the Council which was passed unanimously through a show of hands. Radical proposals for nationalizing a range of industries such as jute and textiles, banks and insurance companies, promoting worker ownership and agrarian reform including compulsory cooperatives, remained undiscussed. A number of senior members at the AL Council may have had strong reservations about such policies but preferred to remain silent once Bangabandhu had declared his unqualified support for the manifesto. In the post-liberation period, the socio-economic circumstances prevailing in Bangladesh had been significantly transformed. The sociopolitical forces which had dominated the public life


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of the Bengalis for 24 years—the West Pakistan-centred ruling elite, drawn from the armed forces, bureaucracy, landed and business elite—had disappeared overnight from Bangladesh. The social forces which had both fought and suffered in the liberation war—the peasantry, the workers, the students, the political activists and the Bengalis in the armed forces—had high expectations that their aspirations would be recognized. In contrast, a small group of first-generation Bengali entrepreneurs, who had emerged in the 1960s under the patronage of the Ayub regime, felt diminished and vulnerable. They had looked to the AL leadership to back them in filling the vacuum created by the departure of the Pakistani business elite. But the AL of 17 December 1971 and 26 March 1971 were hardly the same party and no one more than Bangabandhu was conscious of this transformation both within Bangladesh society and in the circumstance of his own party. The changed circumstances of post-liberation Bangladesh did not prevent elements in the ruling AL, who were engaged in business or aspired to enter business now that the AL was in power, from reviving their expectations for state patronage to enhance their business fortunes. Within the Cabinet and upper echelons of the AL, these forces looked to political leaders such as Khondaker Mostaq and others with their own business interests to support a pro-business policy agenda. These same forces also argued in the Cabinet against more radical policy proposals placed before the Cabinet. But once it became evident that Bangabandhu was the principal spokesman for a radical direction to policy in the Cabinet, all such challenges subsided. This incapacity to influence policy at the highest level did not necessarily end the struggle over policy, it merely shifted the arena of struggle. Policies once approved by the Cabinet and legislated could always be frustrated in their implementation, both through delays in implementation and misdirection in the modes of implementation.

Discovering the Political Economy of Policymaking


Planning Commission’s Involvement in Policymaking In the remainder of this chapter, I will discuss the contribution of the Planning Commission towards policymaking in a selected number of areas. What, however, has to be kept in mind is the limited number of areas where the Commission was given the opportunity to influence policy as in the case of the nationalization of industries. In these areas, we were educated as to the political economy underlying policymaking. But the most relevant lessons we learnt applied to the political economy of policy implementation. We discovered that merely having a policy approved by the Cabinet, even one directly piloted by Bangabandhu, was far removed from its operationalization. The struggle over policy implementation within my own direct experience emerged as a far more difficult challenge than the preparation of the policy. That is why the subsequent chapters of this volume relate to my experience with attempting to operationalize policies already approved by the Cabinet. In this chapter, I have focused on only a limited number of areas where I was either directly or indirectly involved in policy formulation. This related to the nationalization policies, policies related to distribution and pricing of public goods and agrarian reform. My colleagues, Nurul Islam, Mosharraf Hossain and Anisur Rahman did, in their own spheres, attempt to influence policy. But I cannot recollect which of their initiatives were actually placed before the Cabinet for formal approval. The closest of these initiatives emanated from the enterprise of Mosharraf Hossain, who directed the work on agrarian reform, prepared by a committee of experts set up by him. The report of the committee was circulated to the Cabinet members but was never placed before the Cabinet in the form of a policy proposal seeking their approval. Other policy interventions in the realm of macroeconomic policy originating from the domain of Nurul Islam were mostly presented for decision by Bangabandhu rather than for Cabinet 102

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approval. These initiatives have been discussed by Nurul Islam in his first volume, Development Policy in Bangladesh (1977). In looking back, it is noticeable that our contribution to policymaking was rather modest. More of the energies of the Planning Commission and indeed the Bangabandhu government were invested in the actual establishment of the institutions of governance which could then be put to work in rehabilitating and reviving a war-devasted economy so that it could get back to the levels prevailing in the eve of the liberation war. By the time the institutions had been put in place, consolidated and had revived the economy sufficiently to enable this government to look ahead for promoting both economic growth and social change, assassination and regime change had put Bangladesh on a new path, far removed from the aspirations of the liberation war.

The Nationalization Policies Ideological Background to Nationalization The one area in which the Planning Commission did play a critical role both in policymaking and involvement in improving the performance of the sector was in the case of the nationalized industries. The sociopolitical context of the nationalization policies, the specifics of policymaking and the constraints on the performance of the sector have been discussed at length by me in another study I co-authored with Muzaffar Ahmad, Public Enterprise in an Intermediate Regime: A Study in the Political Economy of Bangladesh, which was published by BIDS in 1980. It provided a definitive study on the political economy of both policymaking and its implementation prepared by us on the basis of our first-hand involvement in the process and our access to primary data. I have always regarded our work on public enterprise as one of the highlights of my professional career. Henk Roosmalen, a scholar at International Institute of Social Studies, Hague, reviewed this work in the Journal of Social Studies where he referred to it as a Discovering the Political Economy of Policymaking


unique insight, supported by empirical evidence, on the discipline of political economy. Sadly, only few people have read this volume. Its 600-page size may have been rather forbidding for readers. The work would have put to rest much of the uninformed, tendentious and politically inspired criticisms on the subject of nationalization but such public discussion on our painstaking research has never taken place. After all these years, I do not intend to revisit this issue and respond to the ancient debates related to the subject of nationalization. In my present work, I do no more than highlight the specific contribution of the Planning Commission to the various stages of policymaking and our efforts to evaluate as well as encourage the effective implementation of these policies. My views on the need for radical social change were not exactly unknown to the leadership. Apart from our contribution to the AL manifesto, some of my writings, mostly in the weekly Forum, during the 1969–1971 period, had explicitly addressed the possibilities of using the nationalist movement to challenge the dominance of the non-Bengali bourgeoisie over the Bangladesh economy through a large-scale extension of public ownership. It was periodically asserted in my writings during this period that the forces unleashed by the movement should not degenerate into an instrument to fulfil the aspirations of the nascent Bengali bourgeoisie but must be directed to realizing the expectations of the masses. Whilst much of these writings may be dismissed as the rhetoric of intellectuals removed from the centres of power, there was no reason for the AL party leadership, party members or public to believe that any of us had substantially changed our views merely because of our elevation to high office. What was more generally believed was that once we were placed in positions of influence, we would abandon our more radical positions and accommodate ourselves to the realities of power. This was precisely what the Pakistani power elite expected from Bangabandhu after he won the elections of December 1970. Few people expected that he would stand by his commitment to the Six Points in framing the constitution or that 104

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he would stand by the more radical contents of his party’s 1970 elections manifesto. His steadfastness in remaining loyal to the Six-point agenda surprised many in his own party. His commitment to the more radical components of the AL election manifesto in an independent Bangladesh was no less unexpected to those of his party and class who expected to benefit from the exit of the Pakistani business elite. Among the four members of the Commission, my own views on the nature of the state were quite explicit and had been elaborated by me at a conference organized by the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industry in Dhaka in 1970, perhaps the last collective gathering of the business elite of the two wings before Pakistan broke up. In my address, I had warned the Bengali bourgeoisie not to expect the same privileged treatment extended by the Pakistan state to their West-wing counterparts but to be prepared to cope with some of the policy outcomes from a radical nationalist movement. Anis’ views were perhaps less specific, but their thrust was known. Mosharraf’s views, whilst less publicized, were similar to those of Anis and mine. Nurul Islam’s views were less categorical in their ideological orientation but in his research works at PIDE in the 1960s, he had been highly critical of the process of sponsored industrialization which had characterized the policies of the Ayub regime.

The Political Context Our views were put to the test virtually at the outset of our setting up the Planning Commission on 1 February 1972. The first occasion for the government to give some focus to policy for the economy had come with the need to do something about the massive assets abandoned by the departing Pakistanis as liberation approached. The ad hoc measures of the post-liberation government were clearly proving inadequate. The abandoned enterprises were lying unattended at the time of liberation and provided a free-for-all for anyone interested in helping themselves to any of its moveable assets. Discovering the Political Economy of Policymaking


To contain this anarchic assault on such valuable productive assets, the post-liberation government under Tajuddin had placed the enterprises under the authority of the Ministry of Industries. The ministry had appointed ad hoc administrators to oversee the assets of the public enterprises. Unfortunately, the ministry could invest little time or thought in the appointment of large numbers of administrators to oversee the plethora of enterprises, of all shapes and sizes, placed under its control. Nor could the ministry exercise adequate supervision over these enterprises so that the administrators of these enterprises were given a free hand. It was observed that a number of these administrators were misappropriating the moveable assets and liquid resources of the enterprise directly or in collaboration with trade union leaders or even some workers. Since these abandoned enterprises provided the overwhelming manufacturing capacity available to Bangladesh, their non-functional status not only served as a heavy loss to the economy but severely impacted the need for consumption goods for the people as well as our capacity to earn much needed foreign exchange.

Bangabandhu’s Position on Nationalization Once Bangabandhu assumed the premiership, he deemed it imperative to rescue and revive the abandoned enterprises through locating their management within a formal policy framework. The main issue which had come up during discussions among the policymakers was the political premise for policymaking. The government needed to decide whether the post-liberation regime intended to build up the fledgling Bengali capitalist class by disinvesting a good part of the Pakistani holdings into their hands and to aid them in this task by extending state patronage to them through large-scale loan finance and/or through some form of public–private partnership. Such a policy of state-sponsored industrialization had been adopted by the Pakistani regime which had used the state-owned Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation and the state 106

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financial institutions to build up a Pakistani industrial elite. During the 1960s, the regime of Ayub Khan had used EPIDC and some state-owned financial institutions to create a class of Bengali industrialists in the jute and textile sector. In postliberation Bangladesh, much larger public resources would have been involved, in the way of patronage, if a major segment of abandoned private enterprises was to be divested to Bengali entrepreneurs. At that stage, this class did not have the capital resources, expertise or experience to run the larger enterprises abandoned by the departing Pakistanis. In discussing the political premise for determining the direction of industrial policy, the key question was to understand how firmly the political leadership in the ruling party remained committed to the election manifesto of 1970 for constructing a ‘socialist’ society. Since the ruling AL had never held office at the national level, there was no precedent to indicate the extent to which their policy interventions would move beyond electoral rhetoric to public action. In those early days, everyone looked towards Bangabandhu to more categorically spell out the policy directions of his government. As it transpired, Bangabandhu, at an early date, indicated the political direction of his regime through a public statement that stated: I assure our workers that a basic goal of the socialist economy which we are committed to establish will be securing the just rights of workers and ensuring their welfare. A plan is being prepared whereby measures of nationalization would be combined with new arrangements for the role of workers in industries. Indeed they would themselves share in the fruits of increased production. (Bangladesh Times, 10 February 1972) In subsequent public addresses during the course of his regime, Bangabandhu regularly renewed his commitment to socialism which he associated with the building of an exploitation-free Discovering the Political Economy of Policymaking


society. The planners sought political inspiration from these declarations and expected to discover, at first hand, how far the PM was willing to go to translate these statements of intent into concrete policy measures. In our preliminary discussions with the PM, he advised us to move ahead and bring these enterprises under public ownership through a policy of nationalization.

The Policymaking Process In extended discussions on the policy paper prepared by the Planning Commission for the nationalization of industries between the Commission and the PM, we were joined by the minister for planning, Tajuddin Ahmad; the minister for industries, Syed Nazrul Islam and the minister for law, Dr Kamal Hossain. Tajuddin and Kamal had both been closely associated with Nurul Islam and me when the AL manifesto was being prepared in 1970. In these discussions, we had been informed by the PM that he was determined to build a socialist economy, but that some pragmatism must be exercised since he did not want to alienate his entire middle-class support. We found him to be basically contemptuous of this class and conscious of the need to build a more egalitarian society which fully recognized not just the commitment but also the enormous suffering borne by the masses in the struggle for an independent Bangladesh. Whilst the PM did not see policy in purely ideological terms, his political experience made him highly sensitive to the mood of militant expectancy in the masses and the pressure of the more radical elements within his own party. The key issue in the discussions with Bangabandhu revolved around the fate of the Bengali industrialists. In the discussions it emerged that both the PM and Tajuddin had strong views against sponsored private enterprise of the variety which had flourished in Pakistan and ruled out the concept of state–private enterprise partnership as a thinly veiled attempt to capture state resources for private profit. He was, however, more uneasy about taking over established Bengali-owned enterprises in the jute and textile sector, notwithstanding their sponsored origins. 108

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Nurul and I pointed out the need for consistency in establishing the frontiers of the nationalized sector and drew attention to the 1970 manifesto where Bangabandhu and his party had committed themselves to the nationalization of the jute and textile industry, jute trade, banking and insurance. These commitments originated in the then broader political objective of capturing the commanding heights of the regional economy from the dominance of the non-Bengali bourgeoisie who dominated these key sectors of the economy. The two largest industries in the then East Pakistan were jute and textile, both of which were predominantly under the ownership of non-Bengalis. AL’s commitment to nationalize these two major industries would have relocated a major part of the ownership of the industrial sector from non-Bengali private ownership to the Bengali-owned and controlled state sector. Similarly, banking, insurance and trade were dominated by non-Bengalis. During our discussion on the 1970 AL manifesto, the issue of what to do with the small segment of the jute and textile industries that had in recent years come under Bengali ownership came up. It was pointed out to Bangabandhu that a policy decision taken by a prospective AL government, which nationalized a major share of the two industries owned by non-Bengalis but left only a small fraction of the productive capacity in Bengali private hands, would be considered ethnically discriminatory and open to legal action. Such a contradiction in policymaking could only be avoided by a comprehensive nationalization of the two industries. In our current discussion on nationalization policies, the planners pointed out that the underlying rationale for such a holistic nationalization policy did not change merely because Bangladesh was now an independent country. An independent Bangladesh state needed to make a consistent policy choice to either nationalize the entire jute and textile industry or to privatize the large number of abandoned non-Bengali enterprises to prospective Bengali entrepreneurs or even foreign investors from India or any other country but Pakistan. Since the Bengalis lacked Discovering the Political Economy of Policymaking


the resources to buy the abandoned enterprises, the Bangladesh state would have to initially step in with public financial resources to underwrite the disinvestment process and the operationalization of the enterprises. The debate on the nationalization of jute and textiles was eventually decided on political grounds by Bangabandhu, who was strongly supported by Syed Nazrul Islam as minister of industries and Tajuddin Ahmad as finance minister. Bangabandhu had from Pakistan days been strongly averse to the idea of state-sponsored capitalism and was no less averse to such a policy in the wake of a bloody liberation war where the principal sacrifices had been made by the common people. The suggestion voiced among some business circles and even among some of the contemporary leaders of the AL that Bangabandhu was led down the garden path on the issue of nationalization by the professors in the Planning Commission remains a grievous insult to the memory of an all-powerful political leader. To assume that he would be beguiled by four professors to make a policy decision of such far-reaching political implications for his regime remains even today an affront to a leader of great political sagacity. Bangabandhu was keen that the nationalization policies be announced as part of his address to the nation on the occasion of the first anniversary of the declaration of independence, 26 March 1972. In this historic declaration, he was determined to lay out not just the contours of his economic agenda but the political agenda and direction of his regime.

Forces behind Nationalization In making his final decision on nationalization, he was moved by the historic compulsion of the moment and wanted his first major policy pronouncement to catch the imagination of the masses and identify his policies as being directed away from the Pakistani inheritance of patronizing the bourgeois elites and demonstrating his commitment to the masses. At the same time, his aim at 110

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reconciling all classes to his national goals was to be resolved by persuading the nationalized mill owners to stay on as chief executives in the jute and textile corporations. Bangabandhu may have also been influenced outside the Cabinet by the student/worker militants in the party. Such a fraction in the party was visible in the period of the 1969–1970 election campaign to the Pakistan National Assembly. Among the large following of the AL drawn from the students and workers, a sizeable segment may have once been close to some of the Left factions once brought together within the National Awami Party (NAP). The NAP was in the process of disintegrating into ideologically contesting factions which had marginalized it as a force in electoral politics. How far the faction of the AL which broke away to form the Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) embodied this radical wing of the party needs to be further investigated by political historians. One of the founders of the JSD, Sirajul Alam Khan, popularly known as Kapalik Siraj on account of his uncut hair and beard, was a young leader with strong, if rather unorthodox, radical views. He was particularly close to Bangabandhu and was one of his most important conduits to the student supporters of the AL. He was reportedly instrumental in linking the students’ movement with that of the workers in the popular uprising of 1969–1970 and was active in moves to push the AL in a more radical direction, beyond its Six-point nationalist agenda. Kapalik was possibly instrumental in getting the AL leadership to commit itself to the Eleven-point agenda which was propagated by the Left-wing students’ movement in 1969–1970, so the political instrument for mobilization came to be known as the Six-point/Eleven-point programme. When Bangabandhu was released from jail in February 1969, he endorsed the Sixpoint/Eleven-point agenda which combined provisions for nationalization and agrarian reform with the primary goal of selfrule for the Bengalis. The nationalization of banking and jute trade was inspired by more long-standing commitments of the AL not just in the 1970 Discovering the Political Economy of Policymaking


election manifesto but as far back as the Twenty-one-point programme of the Jukta Front in the provincial election of 1954. As in the case of jute and textiles, the fate of a small fraction of these two sectors, owned by Bengalis, came up for debate where, once again, the logic which was applied to the fate of jute and textile mills was applied to these two sectors. This argument again prevailed with Bangabandhu. The Planning Commission’s involvement in the policy decisions affecting these sectors was, thus, more peripheral. The finance and law ministry undertook part of the preparatory work for the nationalization decrees for banking. The Commission was tangentially involved in policies for extension of public ownership in the IWT sector which had again been dominated by non-Bengalis in the pre-1971 period. But this was limited to discussions on the charter of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC) between Abdul Qayyum, chairman of BIWTC, and me. Here, I advised the chairman to establish an objective basis for working out the respective spheres of operation between BIWTC and the private sector in the area of IWT. Otherwise, BIWTC’s domain would be subject to creeping encroachment from the private sector. The failure to institutionalize the coverage by public enterprise in the IWT sector plagued the sector in later years when the demarcation was withdrawn in stages to the point where private and public enterprises, today, remain in direct but unequal competition with each other and where BIWTC remains the neglected stepchild of the state.

Outcomes from Nationalization It has been argued in later years that this significant extension of the domain of the state sector in the 1972–1975 period possibly accounted for the poor performance of the economy in this period. Few, if any, critics of those policies have attempted to provide concrete evidence about the so-called ‘poor’ performance. In point of fact, the economy performed quite well both in 112

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macroeconomic terms and in the specific realm of the nationalized industries which were believed to be the root cause of our economic decline. Our research on the subject, published in our work Public Enterprise in an Intermediate Regime, demonstrated considerable improvement in performance in most of the nationalized industries in spite of the adverse circumstances in which they operated. I provide more specific evidence on the economic performance in Chapter 9 of this volume. It could be argued from the available evidence that the state’s takeover of these industries and their management by trained professionals rescued the economy from a potentially serious breakdown leading to both production shortfall and unemployment. Unfortunately, since then, no serious political debate on the logic and outcome of the nationalization process, drawing on empirical evidence, has taken place. Few, if any, people have bothered to read the extensively researched work by Muzaffar Ahmad and me on the nationalization experience or have attempted to challenge our findings. As a result, to this day, it has become part of our folklore that nationalization was a disaster and that socialism was inappropriate for those times. In actual practice, nationalization at that time had little to do with socialism even though both Bangabandhu and the Planning Commission might have projected the policy as a manifestation of the regime’s socialistic intentions. Nationalization was a compelling necessity for the government due to the overnight abandonment by their non-Bengali owners of the bulk of not just the modern industrial sector but most of the other areas of the modern economy. The absence of a mature Bengali entrepreneurial class with accumulated investible resources to invest in taking over the abandoned industries left the government with no option but to extend the state domain. The real challenge for the regime was, thus, not about policy choices but about implementing these policies efficiently and with honesty. It was the importance of effectively making nationalization work that engaged much of my time during my days in the Planning Commission and is discussed more fully in later chapters. Discovering the Political Economy of Policymaking


Challenging the Briefcase Capitalists The Role of Indentors One of the by-products of the extension of the public sector was the emergence of a new class of ‘briefcase capitalists’ trafficking in patronage to serve as intermediaries for foreign suppliers to the public sector and distributors of the products of public enterprise. The Commission took the view that policy measures must be taken to challenge the growing influence of intermediaries or indentors as they were locally known. While the Commission, as an institution, backed these initiatives, the issue of challenging the intermediaries was largely my own hobby horse, drawing on the services of the division working with me. In the case of indenting, the Commission had been under pressure from the public sector corporations to initiate steps to protect them from the pressures of this class. The Commission had itself been exposed to the unscrupulous machinations of this class. On one occasion, a whole set of files was stolen from the office of ERD by a prominent local indentor and was found in his office by the police along with photocopies of minutes written on Commission files. In this case, the indentor had been interested in certain initiatives I had taken to frustrate the commission awarded to this firm for sale of electrical towers being supplied under a USSR credit. The Commission took the view that the private indentor had provided no service to the seller or customer. If, however, a commission was to be earned, it should be diverted to a public organization. The Commission, therefore, advised the ministry to appoint the Freedom Fighter Welfare Trust (FFWT) as the agent for the transaction. In the same way, I had attempted to induct FFWT into a transaction between the Rumanian government and the railway ministry, where a $10 million credit was being used to finance the supply of wagons. The transaction had been greatly delayed because rival agencies were fighting over the commission and mobilizing contending political influences within the ministry. 114

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Neither had made any material contribution to the transaction beyond delaying it, so I had advised the transport minister that the two intermediaries should be bypassed and the commission for the transaction offered by the supplier should be assigned to FFWT. A similar proposal to induct FFWT as agents for supply of equipment to the Chittagong Earth Satellite project under a Canadian credit, in lieu of the private indentor, was also initiated by me. I had initiated these as ad hoc measures to contain the role of the indentors. I wanted to support the government effort to build up FFWT which had been set up to rehabilitate freedom fighters by providing employment and material assistance to those crippled during the course of the war and the dependents of those fighters killed in the war. To this end, I had persuaded the Ministry of Industries to surrender to FFWT a miscellany of the smaller abandoned enterprises which were to be disinvested to private buyers. A similar initiative by me on behalf of the Sena Kalyan Sangstha (SKS), a trust for assisting retired personnel of the armed forces, had led to a number of abandoned enterprises being vested with SKS.

Bureaucratic Dialectics Such episodic initiatives to induct FFWT into indenting originated largely as reactions to particular issues being brought to the direct notice of the Commission. In the normal course of administration, the role and share of particular indentors remained the concern of particular executive agencies of government. The Planning Commission, however, perceived the problem in its wider context by drawing attention to how this class was delaying the procurement programmes of the corporations through exercising influence on behalf of competing suppliers over various purchases. They were also serving as an instrument for corrupting both public sector executives and policymakers. Rather than engaging myself in these occasional struggles involving sundry indentors, I took the decision that the issue Discovering the Political Economy of Policymaking


should be addressed through a national policy. To this end, I instructed the Industries Division of the Commission to prepare a policy paper for consideration by the Cabinet for curbing the role of the indentors. My initiative inevitably aroused much debate within the government and within the indenting community during its preparation. Indenting had emerged through the decade of the 1960s as a low-investment route for an aspirant Bengali middle class to make some quick, risk-free money. All it needed was accumulated social capital which provided access to decision-making bureaucrats both in the Secretariat and the stateowned enterprises (SOE). This domain had from the emergence of Pakistan been dominated by non-Bengalis even for transactions in what was then East Pakistan where the senior ranks of the bureaucracy were also occupied by non-Bengalis. In the 1960s, Bengali bureaucrats had begun moving up the ladder to positions of secretary in the provincial government, chairman of the public corporations and eventually secretaries of the less important ministries in the central government. Their rise opened up opportunities for a rising Bengali bourgeoisie who initially used the route of indenting to make some money. By the mid-1960s, this class was using its Bengali connections in the government to move into industry. Any move to curb the aspirations of an emergent indentor class in post-liberation Bangladesh had political ramification in the post-liberation period. Many AL supporters with strong connections with the government strongly resisted the build-up of the state sector. In their opposition to the nationalized sector, the aspirant bourgeoisie were joined by the senior bureaucracy, some of whom had business links to some of the indentor class. In an attempt to reconcile these conflicting positions on the role of the indentor class, I convened a meeting of concerned stakeholders, included the secretary of the commerce ministry, a senior CSP officer. Rather than resolving differences, the meeting brought these differences to the surface. In the meeting, the secretary argued that the issue of the indentor’s commission was a matter of the commerce ministry and was no business of the 116

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Planning Commission to address such policy issues. I do not recollect if the secretary was at all persuaded by our argument or supported any alternative arrangement for dealing with the issue of indenting. The Commission took cognizance of the commerce secretary’s concerns and eventually presented the final policy paper directly to the Cabinet for discussion and decision. The policy proposals suggested by the Commission were supported by Bangabandhu who was no less concerned over the rampant rent-seeking associated with the indenting business. As an outcome of the Cabinet meeting, Bangabandhu issued executive orders that no public agency was to entertain indentors for goods supplied under barter or credit arrangements with countries with state-trading monopolies. This was one of many suggestions incorporated in the Planning Commission’s Cabinet paper. For reasons I cannot recollect at this distance in time, most of the other issues while discussed at the Cabinet meeting did not elicit any decision from Bangabandhu.

Socialist Values and Business Interests The PM’s policy directive elicited a strong protest addressed to the foreign minister, Kamal Hossain, from the embassies of the socialist countries on the grounds that the move was discriminatory against them since they undertook most of their business with Bangladesh through state economic entities. The economic agencies of the socialist states then active in Bangladesh argued that they needed to preserve their links with local indentors in order to use them to move their products marketed under various barter or credit programmes. It had been pointed out to the socialist embassies that their products did not need indentors since the Planning Commission was committed to programme their products for mandatory use of various public sector agencies. Kamal was taken aback when the ambassadors in their collective protest to him suggested that the author of this policy (me) was hostile to the idea of building close links with the socialist Discovering the Political Economy of Policymaking


countries. Since Kamal knew that I was one of the strongest advocates for building close relations and had gone out of my way to support such efforts, including travelling to six Eastern European countries, he was much amused by this misdirected accusation against me. The order of the PM was eventually withdrawn, aided no doubt by the local agents from these countries. As we learnt then and later from further research, the socialist countries used indentors as points of connection to the government agencies. Some of these indentors were from the so-called Left parties who were partly financed by some socialist countries through the intermediation of such local indentors. The original Commission paper itself was consigned to the limbo of a Cabinet subcommittee, chaired by the minister of commerce, where it gently expired from neglect. In the final analysis, the problem with constraining indenting was not one of insufficient ideas on what to do about it but lay in the political influence of the indentors and the role the system itself played in the political process. Initiatives by the Commission which sought to cut across the dialectic merely became part of the dialectic and aroused the ire of the indentors, their political patrons and beneficiaries, against the Commission. The public corporations, thus, remained victims of the system and continued to incur the disrepute of the system without necessarily participating in the benefits.

The Planning Commission and Land Reform The Land Reforms Committee: Lessons in Political Economy The other area where the Planning Commission was involved in promoting reforms was land reform. On this issue, all four members of the Commission were fully supportive of the idea. Three of us—Nurul Islam, Anisur Rahman and me—had participated in the preparation of the 1970 election manifesto of the AL 118

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which had included proposals on land reform with the full backing of Bangabandhu and Tajuddin Ahmad. The idea of land reform which had been included in the Twenty-one-point agenda of Jukta Front in the 1954 provincial elections in East Pakistan had also been addressed by the Planning Board in Mujibnagar, which had proposed a policy to appropriate the holdings of the collaborators and to redistribute this among cooperatives of the rural poor. Mosharraf Hossain, the then chair of the board, was a prime mover of this initiative. However, this was no more than an idea which needed to be elaborated as a viable policy proposal. Given this historical background, one of the first acts of the Planning Commission was to set up a land reform committee in mid-1972 to discuss the scope, need and nature of land reform in Bangladesh. The report was to provide the basis on which the Commission proposed to present a legislative proposal for land reform for consideration by the Cabinet. Mosharraf Hossain took the lead in this initiative as chair of the committee where he was aided by an experienced team, including senior officials with long experience on issues related to land. The essence of the committee’s conclusions was to propose a first-stage land reform which brought down the land ceiling set by the new government on 25 March 1972 from 100 bighas to 30 bighas. The surplus land was to be farmed by cooperatives of landless labourers rather than redistributed. Based on the experience culled from this first-stage reform, more radical measures could be contemplated. The reforms recommended by the Committee did not gain traction. One of the first lessons about the prevailing nature of state power learnt by the Commission related to the question of land reform. It was made clear from the outset to the planners by the PM that at this stage of the regime’s life, any discussion of land reform was politically fraught. The PM was quite candid about the issue. He argued that he had already gone out on a limb in committing himself to the nationalization policies. This had in effect alienated some of the AL’s traditional support base in the Discovering the Political Economy of Policymaking


business community. It was far too early for him to take on the rural power base of his party. It was this same class of rich farmers who not only provided constituency support for the party but whose sons constituted the vanguard of the student base of his party. He pointed out that no other party, even the soi-disant revolutionaries, was pressing for more radical land reforms with any degree of conviction. He was, thus, not at all inclined to jeopardize an important support base of his party particularly when the economy was still far from recovered from the dislocations of the liberation war. He insisted that the Commission bury the report at this stage but promised that at a more appropriate time, he would himself take the lead in initiating a far more radical reform than could even be contemplated by the planners. The final report of the Committee was circulated only to Cabinet members and not discussed at all in the Cabinet. The report became one of the forgotten secrets of the Commission’s early days and led, over the years, to criticisms in progressive circles that the Commission was uninterested in agrarian reform. Hindsight suggests that the Commission should have taken its chances and either initiated a public debate on the report or even leaked it. This was indeed suggested by Anis and me. But at that stage, we were firmly anchored in the proprieties of government protocol and mindful of the goodwill of the PM whose displeasure we were reluctant to incur by publicizing the report. The Commission, however, did not relent from its attempt to curb the power and influence of the rich farmers. Its continuing fight to reduce subsidies was designed to augment the revenues of the government but was also explicitly designed to make the rich farmers contribute to the costs of a development process for the sector where they were the principal beneficiaries. In the 1973–1974 budget, the Commission introduced proposals for substituting the narrowly based land revenue system with a progressive land tax. This was to be supplemented by a system of agricultural taxation. In this way, some of the massive surpluses accruing to the rich farmers as a result of rapidly rising prices of 120

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agricultural commodities would be creamed off to the state. In all these debates which were recurrently brought before the Cabinet by the Commission, the political leadership remained reluctant to touch the rich farmers. The Commission did, however, make marginal gains in reducing subsidies but got no support on the question of land tax or agricultural taxation. The Commission’s experience with land reform at the outset of its existence did not deflect us from our aim of reopening the issue at a more propitious time. The framing of FFYP was seen as an appropriate opportunity to do so. In the first draft of the plan presented to the Cabinet in August 1973, the main features of the Land Reform Committee’s recommendations were incorporated as part of the institutional changes needed to realize the goals of the plan’s rural development programme. The rationale for this was spelt out as a preamble. Once again, the Commission came up against the firm resolve of the Cabinet to postpone any discussion of the subject. Whilst most other policy proposals, some with fairly far-reaching social implications, were cursorily treated, on the issue of land reform there appeared to be a clear consensus that the entire reference to the subject be excised from the plan. Those from the Cabinet, like Tajuddin, who may have been sympathetic to the Commission’s views were silent in these discussions where the Commission appeared as the sole advocate within the government for any form of land reform. Indeed, at times, we appeared to be the sole advocates even within the political spectrum since no other opposition party over or underground was making an issue of land reform. The Commission’s attempts to bilaterally persuade the PM met with a similar response to that earlier articulated by him at our earlier discussions of the Land Reform Committee’s report. The Commission eventually decided to smuggle the basic arguments for land reform into the final plan document. But it genuflected to the wishes of the leadership by excising the specific proposals and quantitative dimensions relating to land reform contained in the first draft. Discovering the Political Economy of Policymaking


Bangabandhu’s Initiatives on Agrarian Reform Given this adamant opposition to any discussion of land reform, it was even more significant that Bangabandhu should himself have initiated his own, more radical agenda for agrarian reform as part of his social agenda for BAKSAL. In his programme, he proposed a policy for compulsory cooperatives as part of his agrarian reform agenda. He wanted to initially introduce this much more widely on the basis of a village cooperative in each of the 413 thanas but was persuaded to modify this to a first-stage reform to introduce one co-op in each of the 62 districts. He also introduced the revolutionary proposal for the socialization of the distribution of the product of the land based on the Tebhaga principle. This proposed that produce from the land be trifurcated with only one-third to be distributed on the basis of ownership rights, a third for the tiller of the land and a third for the state. Such a plan had far-reaching implications for the pattern of rural economic life and the dispensation of power. The experience with the famine of 1974 and the role of the USA in using food aid as an instrument of political pressure on Bangladesh may have convinced Bangabandhu of the need for radical solutions. But this again remains in the realm of speculation and beyond the vision or the compass of this volume. Since the contents of the FFYP and its underlying socio-economic implications have been long forgotten, so has our brief adventure in introducing the new nation to the issue and need for agrarian reform.

The Burial of the Agrarian Reform Agenda The issue of land reform made a brief reappearance in the early days of the Ershad martial law regime, when Obaidullah Khan (Shentu), appointed as minister for agriculture and rural development, set up a committee to review the scope for reform. The report of the committee was buried by the Ershad regime. The subject of land reform has never again surfaced in state and even civil society discourse for the next three decades.


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I had never given up on my own belief in the importance of agrarian reform. When I was invited by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to prepare a report on the need for further agrarian reform in the Philippines in 1982, I had spent some time visiting the country and holding extensive discussions with various stakeholders. My report aimed to further improve upon an already existing agrarian reform legislated by the regime of President Marcos. I recommended more radical institutional measures for promoting collective action among land reform beneficiaries and enabling workers to share the ownership of the plantations which were left untouched by the land reforms. My report, for obvious reasons, did not find favour with the government. It was, however, much appreciated by radical constituencies in the Philippines, and Renato Constantino, the godfather of progressive intellectuals in Southeast Asia, even showed an interest in publishing my report. Towards the end of the 1980s, I was again invited by International Labour Organization to prepare a report on agrarian reform, which was eventually published by Zed Press under the title Agrarian Reform and Social Transformation. This turned out to be one of my best academic works where my friend, Anisur Rahman, in a spirit of excessive generosity, suggested that I deserved a Nobel Prize for the work. Sadly, the work had no impact on policymakers anywhere nor was it widely read in the academic community. Early in 2009, shortly after Sheikh Hasina returned to power through a massive electoral victory for the AL-led alliance, I encouraged Abul Barkat, who has always been a strong advocate of land reform and had built upon close access to the PM, to encourage her to revive policy interest in reform. We accordingly assembled a group of like-minded progressives which included Professor Anisur Rahman, Khushi Kabir and M. M. Akash to call on Sheikh Hasina and encourage her to set up a commission to examine the need and the scope for agrarian reform. The PM showed some interest in the idea, but our mission was never recalled and the enterprise died of inattention.

Discovering the Political Economy of Policymaking


Following this infructuous meeting with the PM, I attempted to revisit the issue of agrarian reform by attempting to initiate debate on reform agendas arising out of my work Challenging the Injustice of Poverty: Agendas for Inclusive Development in South Asia, published by SAGE in 2010. This volume contained a chapter on agrarian reform where I proposed that each South Asian country set up a citizen’s commission to explore the scope for reforms relevant to the present times. Today, the issue of agrarian reform is no longer mentioned among policymakers or even discussed at the level of political society. Land hunger and poverty originating in landlessness still remain endemic not just in Bangladesh but across South Asia. At this stage in my life, I do not expect to take any further initiatives to promote the idea of agrarian reform but occasionally agitate the mind of young progressives and aging Left party leaders to revisit this issue.


Untranquil Recollections

The Challenge of Delivering the Five-year Plan


The Background to the Plan The Perspective of the Planners The analytical framework for the FFYP, its use in the plan and the assumptions and issues related to the plan have been very adequately discussed by Professor Nurul Islam in his book Development Planning in Bangladesh and in his later work Making of a Nation, Bangladesh: An Economist’s Tale. Therefore, the focus of this chapter is on the political and personal dimensions of the plan exercise, which should be read in conjunction with Islam’s books to get a fuller perspective on the Planning Commission’s involvement in the preparation of the first plan. In the Pakistan/Indian context, the Planning Commission is normally associated in the public mind with the preparation of FYPs which traditionally embody the development perspective of the regime. Eliminate the plan and the Commission loses its raison d’être. The continuing task of annual development budgeting has in practice been carried out within the Ministry of Finance. Even aid negotiations in India and off and on in Pakistan were undertaken by a division in the respective finance ministries. BPC was under no compulsion to revert to the traditional exercise in long-term planning since it had not only been invested with significant executive functions but could be fully employed simply in short-term planning exercises. Indeed, the need to identify problems and policy changes to resolve the current economic crisis was seen by some as the most immediate compulsion for the Commission.

In his first volume, Development Planning in Bangladesh, Nurul Islam has discussed the relevant arguments for and against being involved in the planning exercise. He had highlighted the inherited data constraints and the fact that the economy was still having difficulty in getting back to its pre-liberation benchmark position. It is not certain that the data position would have appreciably improved in the next few years. Indeed, the only area where a major review of the position, problems and options before the sector was underway was in the transport sector, where the Economist Intelligence Unit transport survey was due to present its final report by the end of 1974. The energy survey was also likely to materialize by the end of 1975. The availability of these two surveys would have given greater confidence and a sharper focus to the planning exercise in these sectors had they been available to the planners. Beyond these surveys, a planning exercise would not have had much more data to draw upon in 1975 than it had in 1972–1973 to make a qualitative difference to the planning effort. Anisur Rahman, in his initial objection to involvement in the plan exercise, took a more fundamentalist position that the planners should spend their time in the field, educating themselves about the economy and society prior to involvement in a planning exercise. In retrospect, such a process may have been valuable for our personal education and given us more authority to play an overtly political role once we had touched base with the masses. In practice, however, the involvement in day-to-day executive policy formulation and planning exercises may have made such an exercise rather eclectic where our prospective fieldwork was expected to be squeezed out of our normal office routine. In such circumstances, it would perhaps have been better for us to withdraw from the administration altogether and go into a retreat in the countryside whence we could emerge equipped to undertake the political responsibility of plan preparation. This perspective was ruled out as much for personal reasons as anything else. It is not clear how many of us were committed at this stage in life to change our lifestyles to the point where we 126

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would be able to immerse ourselves in the masses for any sustained period of time. The gap between conception and realization may have led us to the gentle slumming which passes for involvement with the masses among the Bangladeshi middle classes with radical pretensions. Sooner or later, the compulsions of work, family and the creature comforts of our class would have driven us back to Dhaka with field excursions getting progressively less frequent. More relevant perhaps to our attitudes was the disinclination to commit ourselves to a long-term role in government. All of us had in our working lives enjoyed the freedom and absence of pressure associated with academic life. None of us in coming into government had visualized a long-term sojourn in this setting. All of us had come in with accumulated foreboding that our efforts to radicalize the direction of economic policy would come to grief in the context of the prevailing political parameters and we would have to retire discredited either for our naivety in expecting anything different or for our incompetence at being unable to produce any visible results for our involvement. The course of events since we joined did little to allay our misgivings about the shape of things to come so that the compulsion to get out of government was with us throughout our sojourn in the Commission. Given the perspective that we were only in government for a finite period, there was a compulsion to leave behind a durable testament of our ideas on the nature of the problems facing the country, the philosophical framework within which these problems could be tackled and the strategy, policy and institutional changes demanded to effect these changes. Our ad hoc involvement in policymaking or annual plan formulation remained unstructured and needed to be fitted into a wider social perspective in order to provide coherence and direction to our work. This required a framework within which investment plans, policies and institutional changes could be incorporated within a wholistic document to spell out a clear-cut sense of direction to the people of Bangladesh. In a society which was in flux, having The Challenge of Delivering the Five-year Plan


jettisoned the support structures of the colonial rule, the inherited social parameters within society had all fatally weakened. As a result, the post-liberation order cried out in its every fibre for a full-scale process of social transformation. We believed that a longer term plan would at least provide the signposts on the path of change as opposed to serving as an instrument for change. This distinction between the plan as a signpost to change and as an instrument for social transformation is of some importance in understanding the contents of the plan. None of us had any serious expectations that the plan could be implemented as it was conceived nor did we expect to be around to see its implementation or lack of it through to its conclusion. We, however, felt that within the range of the social parameters in Bangladesh, over the next five years, the goals set by the plan could be realized by a government with integrity and political commitment to initiate a process of social transformation. This did not demand in the time frame of the plan a major social upheaval, but a continuum of the social forces unleashed by the liberation war. The plan was to be the catalyst which would bring these forces to the surface.

Assumptions Underlying the Planning Exercise This particular perspective to the planning exercise carried within it certain unresolved ambiguities. It was argued, with some justification by the perennial agnostics among us, that the present character of the regime and prevailing balance of power in society held out little prospect for improvement in the operation of the system let alone any prospects for social transformation. To plan on these assumptions was, thus, an exercise in fantasy. The logic of taking the system, as we saw it in the autumn of 1972, as given provided no basis for either planning or even any involvement in the government at all. On this premise, economic performance would continue to deteriorate or stagnate, problems would become endemic and the economy and society would progressively move towards disaster, being resuscitated by short-run 128

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injections of foreign aid. In concrete terms, it meant no additional taxes could be mobilized, no appreciable gains could be made in productivity and profits in public enterprise, infrastructure assets such as power, transport and irrigation would continue to be used with declining efficiency and priorities in health, education and housing would remain misallocated away from the masses to the privileged elites. Meanwhile, surplus extraction and external dependence would remain inherent in the nature of the system. As a riposte to those who believed that Bangladesh was a chronic basket case doomed to perpetual external dependency, we felt it important to demonstrate that a viable strategy for self-reliance was possible. This would need to be based on an appropriate investment strategy and a major effort at internal resource mobilization based on improving the performance of the economy by more efficient capacity utilization through changes in policies and institutions, through fiscal and monetary reforms, changes in property relations on land and through mobilization of the underutilized energies of the masses. Furthermore, an incomes policy which established guidelines for reducing inequalities in income and consumption between various social groups was essential. It would perhaps have been more relevant for us to debate whether the ills of the system were rooted in the prevailing alignment of class forces within the polity or unique to the character of the regime. Obviously, at that stage, we must have felt that the regime itself was undergoing a crisis of character which could be reversed by the leadership if it could be persuaded to realize the impending crisis inherent in the present course of events. Corrective leadership could thus be expected to re-educate and restructure the party to mobilize the masses to accomplish the tasks of social transformation. Our intensive soul searching and heated debates over the issue of the planning exercise were partly eased by the positive support for the early preparation of the FFYP from Bangabandhu. At this early stage, he was disinclined to invest too much time on The Challenge of Delivering the Five-year Plan


the existential issues which informed the debates among the planners. What he did want from his planners at that time was a document which could spell out his own longer-term vision for a socialistic society, free of exploitation, based on egalitarian principles. He had so far not been able to concretize his vision for a socialistic society into specific policies and programmes though he periodically reiterated his commitment for an exploitation-free society in his public declarations. This challenge he hoped would be taken up by the Planning Commission and projected through the plan document. Bangabandhu’s perspective on the plan established him as a major stakeholder in the plan’s content and outcome. To this end, the planners hoped he would invest enough time with us to clarify his own vision and give us feedback in our attempt to incorporate this into the plan. Unfortunately, he could never spare the time for such intensive discussions, so we were left on our own to interpret and incorporate his vision into the plan. In engaging Bangabandhu in the preliminary consultations on the plan, we had hoped we would also persuade his Cabinet colleagues to join the discussion. This too was not possible. Notwithstanding this lack of engagement with the senior political leaders, we had nonetheless aspired to make the plan preparation process as inclusive as possible. To this end, we had initially contemplated an incremental strategy and built upon extended discussion, within and without the government, for each component of the plan. This process was to be started off with a discussion of the plan frame and strategy. In practice, the time constraint we had, at the outset, set ourselves compelled us to expedite the preparation of a draft plan document which would elaborate on the philosophy, strategy, policies and institutional changes demanded during the coming five years. The intellectual ferment aroused by the plan could then serve as a catalyst for political mobilization inspired by Bangabandhu to realize the goals of the plan. The plan would provide a clear focus for political debate around the basic social goals of the polity where contending parties could be expected to define their positions and 130

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the precise balance of power relating to the dialectic of social change could emerge. Our goal of convening intensive discussions within and outside the government on the social vision underlying the plan could not materialize until we could hold prior discussions with the political leaders who may otherwise have taken objection to being bypassed on such an important issue. Unfortunately, the Cabinet members could not spare the time for such a discussion which many viewed as a largely academic exercise. As a result, we were denied the benefit of eliciting both political and public opinion in preparing the plan. At that stage, our principal source of encouragement to move ahead with the planning exercise remained Bangabandhu. Without his support we may have reconsidered our rather quixotic response to the challenge from Cargill, the World Bank’s vice-president, to prepare the FFYP within a year. Our commitment to respond to the challenge of the World Bank demanded that the plan be ready for presentation to the Cabinet in a finished form for discussion and possible approval by September 1973. To meet this target required the full mobilization of all the professional resources available to the Commission. Such a schedule meant that our plan exercise could not afford to be a protracted effort if we were to first have a draft document discussed and then revised for acceptance as a programme of action by the regime. We, therefore, sought to complete the draft by March 1973 so that a three-month public debate would then give us time for revision and be ready for adoption during the financial year 1973–1974. At that stage, we believed that our failure to engage in public consultation during the plan preparation stage could be compensated by exposing the draft plan to public discussion. In practice, our schedule of work was not far out as the draft plan was ready by June. This, in effect, meant that the draft was prepared in nine months, a rather heroic achievement, given the eventual size and comprehensive coverage of the document and considering that the Planning Commission was still in a formative stage. The draft was put before the Cabinet in July 1973. The Challenge of Delivering the Five-year Plan


We hoped that after intensive discussion of the draft in the Cabinet, it could be released for further public discussion before the final document could be again submitted to the Cabinet for approval. Our strategy for discussion and debate on the plan was frustrated by the unanticipated need for the PM to go abroad for medical treatment. In consequence, the Cabinet discussion on the draft plan was put off till October 1973. On the PM’s return, the plan was discussed in the Cabinet and approved for release in November 1973 as the formally approved FFYP of Bangladesh. Therein, perhaps, lies the crisis of confidence which grew around the Planning Commission in relation to the plan.

The Perspectives of the Political Leadership As it transpired, the central assumption around which our plan preparation strategy had been built was sunk by the Cabinet’s refusal to expose the document to public discussion. The draft put before the Cabinet in July was intended by us to be formally approved not as a final plan but as a draft for public discussion. This was frustrated by the insistence that the Cabinet wanted enough time to read the draft before it could be put out for public discussion. During the PM’s absence, the plan remained on ice. It is not clear if it was read comprehensively by any member of the Cabinet though relevant sections affecting particular ministries were obviously studied. When discussion was resumed in October following the PM’s return, there was no reference to the philosophical assumptions and broad strategy of the plan or around the policy package relating to plan implementation. What was discussed related to jurisdictional disputes between ministries such as the locus of the family planning programme, the control over derelict water tanks in the villages and the coordination machinery for rural development. Critical questions in the first chapter on the social goals of the regime, political economy of self-reliance, major restructuring of institutions and detailed remedial measures to 132

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improve operational performance were all either ignored or shelved. The only policy issue which generated any concerted flack was over the draft plan’s specific proposal to reduce the land ceiling from 100 bighas to 30 bighas which I have discussed elsewhere. When it became apparent to us that the Cabinet was uninterested in encouraging a public discussion on the plan and preferred to have it published as early as possible, the Commission decided to go along with this. We apprehended that persuading the Cabinet to release the draft for public discussion would be too time-consuming and may eventually frustrate the final publication of the plan. Since Bangabandhu was also keen to have his vision for Bangladesh projected through the plan, he eventually invested his authority behind its early publication. The planners accordingly accepted the Cabinet’s view that the plan should be approved and made public as fast as possible and with as few deletions in the document as possible. Once the plan was approved and presented before the public for discussion, this would then constitute our testament to the nation and would involve a public commitment by the regime to the goals and strategy of the plan which would generate its own compulsions to implement the plan. We believed that even if the quantitative goals of the plan may be made redundant by the changes in the external economic environment which had precipitated a major increase in global commodity prices, the regime would still be publicly committed to the policies and institutional changes articulated in the plan. We apprehended that detailed discussion in the Cabinet on the specifics of the plan could bring to the surface the contradictions within the Cabinet as well as against the Planning Commission and the socialistic orientation to state policy. This could either lead to the shelving of the whole plan or to substantial dilutions in its reformist agenda before it was sanitized for public release. In these circumstances, the Commission chose to leave the raising of controversial issues to the Cabinet members themselves rather than to take the initiative in focusing attention on the critical policy and strategic issues in the plan. When the Cabinet showed The Challenge of Delivering the Five-year Plan


itself disinclined to enter into any discussion on the more contestable aspects of the plan and diverted itself on peripheral sectional issues, we saw this as a tactical victory which was realized through the publication of the plan substantially as we had drafted it. Our objective of getting the plan published with only minimal causalities was realized. Whilst the excision of the quantitative goals of the land reform proposal was a setback, we managed to retain both the argument for land reforms and a statement that such reforms were needed. The excision of explicit targets for land reform, at the specific request of Bangabandhu, had occasioned much soul searching within ourselves. At one stage, we contemplated making an issue of this by offering our resignations and the scrapping of the whole plan if our provisions on land reform were not fully retained. I am not sure who among us brought us back to earth, possibly it was Nurul Islam, but we decided to accept the excisions suggested by Bangabandhu. In the final analysis, we opted for letting the document become public in the hope that the discussion on land reform contained in the document would itself focus public attention on the concrete dimensions of such a reform. As it transpired, we were strategically outflanked by the determination of the Cabinet to put the plan out as a final document rather than a draft for discussion. The Cabinet appeared to be prepared to accept the plan as a ritual achievement rather than as a binding charter of the economic goals of the regime. An openended debate on the draft would have politicized the plan and the issues contained within it, which the Cabinet seemed reluctant to face. This would have involved them in committing themselves to the philosophy and strategy of the plan, which some of them may have been reluctant or even totally against of accepting. Rather than bringing their objections to the surface in the Cabinet, they preferred to let the plan survive, orphaned of support, to die of eventual neglect. Eventually, the plan was only cursorily discussed in the Parliament. The Commission presided over one press conference 134

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to roll out the plan and some discussions on radio and television were organized at our request. Even here, the social goals of the plan, highlighted by Mosharraf Hossain in debate with more radical critics, were played down on the orders of the then state minister for information, Taheruddin Thakur. Beyond this rather routine projection of the plan, it virtually disappeared from public consciousness. References to the plan on any political platform of the regime were rare and usually forthcoming only from the PM. Even he only referred to the plan as an achievement of the regime as if the production of a plan within two years of liberation was a goal in itself. No attempt was made to educate the people on the assumptions, strategy and goals of the plan. Even today, PM Sheikh Hasina, Bangabandhu’s heir, cites the preparation of the FFYP in such a short time as one of the signal achievements of her father’s regime. Sadly, no mention is made, even today, of the singular contents of the first plan, which even today are appreciated by the few who have read it as a landmark document for an agenda for moving the country towards realizing the foundational aspirations of the constitution.

The Perspective of the Economists About the only occasion where the plan received any public attention was during a conference convened by the Bangladesh Economic Association in March 1974. This had been long overdue but acquired a specific political dimension. Some members of the Cabinet, led by Khondaker Mostaq, saw this as an opportunity to discredit the Planning Commission before the PM. If they could be exposed to criticism and even ridiculed before their own erstwhile colleagues in the profession, where they were hitherto supposed to be held in some regard, it was hoped that the radical ideas and tendencies associated with them would be on the way to being exorcized from within the regime. To this end, the concerned ministers planned out the strategy with certain senior members of the profession who had once upon a time served the Ayub regime. The Challenge of Delivering the Five-year Plan


The conference itself became an occasion for an attack on the regime and its economic and political record rather than on the plan itself. The planners were made into the ritual scapegoats for the state of the economy but were not in a position to defend themselves because very few attempts were made to focus criticism either on policies with which they had been associated or even on the specific strategic and policy aspects of the plan. The one occasion where nationalization policies ostensibly associated with the Planning Commission came under direct attack emanated from an erstwhile raw jute trader who had been personally affected by the nationalization of the jute trade. The focus of criticism on the plan related to the fact that the rise in the world price regime after the Sinai War in November 1973 had made the cost and financing assumptions of the plan redundant. This, however, did not preclude discussion on whether our diagnosis of the economy, the sociopolitical assumptions underlying the plan, the strategy itself and the detailed discussion of the policies and institutions were themselves redundant or inappropriate. But very little of the critique was focused on such mundane issues so the planners found themselves in the dock without having anything to defend themselves about unless it was to be in full-scale defence of the record of the regime. Since the Cabinet ministers themselves were not making any undue effort to do this and some had specifically sought to use the conference to expose the regime to such criticism and to discredit an agency of the government, the planners were reluctant to be drawn into such a debate. As a result, all of us who had for the best part of our working lives sat across the table in the role of critics of the establishment, now faced the chastening experience of being in the firing line of erstwhile colleagues and even our own students without really being given the occasion to explain ourselves. Desultory efforts to do so were largely submerged in the wider cacophony of general criticism of the economy and, by a process of osmosis, the Planning Commission who were made surrogates for the regime. 136

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The fate of the Commission occasioned considerable satisfaction within the conservative and business sections of the regime and in the bureaucracy. The PM himself made soothing noises to us about the hazards of public life but the Commission’s credibility with him did not emerge unscathed so the game plan of his Cabinet colleagues was largely successful. As it transpired, the discrediting of the Commission itself was just one part of their strategy in the struggle for power within the regime where their end game had much larger and more sinister objectives.

The Preparation of the Plan The Modalities of Plan Preparation The ambiguities in the perspective of the planners were reflected in the task of plan preparation within the Commission. The planning task itself was from the outset polarized between different sections of the Commission. On the one hand, within the General Economics Division under the leadership of the division chief, Dr A. R. Khan, the plan model was being constructed and around this the macroeconomic dimensions of the plan were put together. On the other, in his own domain, Mosharraf Hossain involved himself in the preparation of the sector plans for agriculture, education, health and population planning. In my own area, I was involved in the work for industry, power and natural resources, transport and communications, PP&H. In the initial phase, each exercise went on virtually independently of each other. The General Economics Division attempted to set certain aggregative limits to the sectoral plan size based on their macro model and attempted, in turn, to incorporate specific sector programmes or projects as exogenous variables. The degree of harmonization between these respective sectoral exercises was more notional than real. The deputy chairman who could have coordinated these exercises from the outset was himself more absorbed with the macro exercise in the General Economics Division and, thus, did not really seek to unify the plan exercise at each successive stage. The Challenge of Delivering the Five-year Plan


Within the very broad financial guidelines set by the model, each member remained free to define their own strategy as well as emphasize on policy and institutional changes without reference to the rest of the Commission. As a result, different degrees of tension were generated within particular sectors. The components of the plan under Mosharraf were far more successful in involving the relevant components of the government in the sector plan exercises. He was careful to involve all the concerned ministries and agencies at all stages of the plan preparation. As a result, the plans for agriculture, water resources, health, population and education were all very much reflections of an interministerial consensus, both in terms of strategy and allocative priorities. The conflicts which later surfaced in the Cabinet were in essence inter-ministerial jurisdictional conflicts and not over issues of substance. Mosharraf was in that sense the most pragmatic of the planners and the most committed to producing a highly professional and technically competent document. In this, he sought to lay down realizable targets based on a detailed formulation of the required resources and the policy and institutional instruments needed to realize the plan goals.

Contradictions between the Commission and the Ministries In my areas of the plan, the exercises for both power and natural resources and transport could be no more than provisional because of the ongoing transport and energy surveys. In the energy sector we, therefore, limited ourselves to completing ongoing projects and limiting resource commitments for new projects to build up transmission and distribution lines for the energy sector. Our interim strategy did, however, bring us into considerable conflict with the transport ministry. The ministry had a variety of programmes which it wanted to have instantly included in the plan. The suggestion that these expensive new projects could 138

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only be accommodated within a wider transport strategy which sought to move goods and people on the most cost-effective basis aroused strong antagonism to the allocative proposals of the Commission, particularly at the ministerial level. In the final analysis, the plan’s targets and projects for the sector were accepted after doing considerable damage to the Commission’s relations with the concerned minister on the basis of keeping options open for taking up projects once the transport plan was approved.

Contradictions with the Industries Ministry The critical debates in my area related to industry and housing. In the industry sector, the conflict again related less to the project priorities than to the institutions and policies related to the sector. Having spent the last year attempting to focus on keeping the nationalized sector viable, we felt it important to use the plan to initiate public discussion on the circumstances of the sector and the role it was to play. The operating efficiency of the sector was also an important factor for contributing revenue for the realization of the plan’s self-reliance targets. In order to realize the goals set for the industrial sector in the plan, the Commission was determined to use the document to bring before the public the operational constraints facing the corporations and the remedial measures needed to improve performance. The highlighting of the sector’s problems immediately brought it into contention with NID, which was, in fact, seen by the Commission and sector corporations as one of the problems affecting the performance of the sector. In contrast to NID, the corporations were fully behind the Commission’s objective of publicizing their plight. Substantive dialogues during the plan preparation took place between the Industries Division of the Commission and the corporations, with NID entering an appearance but reserving their position. The issue of engaging NID in our discussions on the sector plan was raised by me in several discussions with the industries The Challenge of Delivering the Five-year Plan


minister to secure his support for the plan’s policy proposals. As a result of our exchanges, tentative approval was committed by the industries minister to the policy components of the plan. Without engaging itself in the series of discussion on the suggested reforms, after the plan document was ready for presentation to the Cabinet, NID persuaded the minister to seek deletion of the critique of the problems facing the sector during the Cabinet debate of the draft. The final version of the plan, thus, watered down the critique in the draft placed before the Cabinet. After the Cabinet discussions, the Industries Division still managed to smuggle a fuller reference to the problems facing the sector into the final document, concealed within a discussion of the assumptions underlying the remedial policies and institutional changes demanded of the sector. The discussion of policy measures related to the nationalized sector emerged as one of the key elements in the plan for the industries sector. Here, the plan spelt out the implications of constraints on the employment, marketing and operational autonomy of the corporations and the need for an effective mechanism of incentives. Using this as its predicate, it spelt out the basic principles governing the revised Rules of Business for the sector, including a clear delimitation of the reduced functions of NID and the need for a direct relationship between the minister and corporations. The outlines of a management development programme, labour policy, wage policy, streamlining of the financial regime, pricing policy and policy for geographical dispersal were all spelt out. In this way, issues which had till then been the subject of acrimonious and protracted debate within the administration were now brought before the public for understanding and discussion. Apart from this, the plan discussed policies for foreign and private investments, these included measures to streamline the credit regime for the private sector, policies for geographical dispersal, promotional and support measures by state institutions, relations with and within the public enterprises and decentralization of decision-making. A detailed outline of the organization, strategy 140

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and policies for small and cottage industries was also spelt out. In both these areas, the unresolved debate on these issues within the administration was brought to the surface. The industry sector plan reflected the ongoing dialectic relating to the nationalization policies rather than a consensus between the contending parties. Having failed to secure support within the administration to improve the performance of the sector, the Commission sought to mobilize political support from the public to sustain the viability of the sector.

Contradictions with the Works Ministry In the same way, the conflicts within the PP&H sector were even more severe. I have already discussed the differences between the Commission and ministry over strategy and policy for the sector. The plan document merely brought these issues before the public without resolving them. The ministry was already severely put out by the drastic cuts imposed on the sector’s investment plan. The participation of the ministry in the preparation of the policy component of the sector plan had been largely negligible. Having clashed with the ministry on most of the issues articulated in the plan, the Commission unilaterally went ahead with its task through consultations with some of the professional staff within the ministry. Within the housing sector plan, we spelt out the need for and the organization of a physical planning division which was to be located within the Ministry of Local Government. This was resisted tooth and nail by the works ministry, whose commitment to physical planning remained notional but was reluctant to surrender power and resources to another ministry. The plan, thus, had to delete reference to the ministerial locus of the division. The plan further sought to redefine the basis for implementing the village tube well programme then under the Public Health Engineering Authority within the works ministry. The plan stressed the importance of decentralizing decision-making for The Challenge of Delivering the Five-year Plan


installation of tube wells to the local governments and the need for mobilizing local labour power as a resource input for the programme. The Commission brought in its proposal for cooperative housing, which was based on the Cabinet paper it had earlier prepared on the same subject. It further spelt out proposals for public sector intervention in the construction industry, restraints on luxury house building, taxation of windfall profits of housing and land rentiers, placing a ceiling on urban land and property ownership, land betterment levies and programmes for urban squatter settlement. In none of these areas did the works ministry concur with the proposals of the plan. Only when the Commission conceded to the ministry’s insistence that the institutional location of the Physical Planning Division be assigned to the works ministry did they let the other more substantive proposals for the sector go through undiscussed. The Commission, thus, won notional Cabinet support for issues which were fundamentally inimical to the concerns of the exploiting classes in the housing and land sector but the problem of converting this theoretical support into a Cabinet-approved policy of operational significance was left open. Again, the plan document was used as a forum to highlight the regime of exploitation within the sector and focus public attention on the need to reorder housing strategy towards the disadvantaged.

Macroeconomic Debates The macro components of the plan remained limited to debates within the Commission. The traditional differences over the revenue resource projections of the plan emerged between the Commission and the finance ministry. The finance ministry was disinclined to make an issue of this since they realized that the substantive debate on financial policy took place around the annual plan where real resources were dispensed. The central macroeconomic issue within the Commission inevitably revolved around the issue of self-reliance. The initial projection exercises 142

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within the Commission visualized a much higher degree of external dependence. This was found to be politically intolerable and was seen as a measure to relax the pressures for domestic resource mobilization. The debate over whether projections should be made on current trends or over realizable improvements in economic performance was most acutely focused over the question of financing the plan. The Commission had been through an intense debate with the finance ministry over the 1973–1974 ADP, where it had seen its proposals for a progressive land revenue, agricultural income tax, reduced subsidies, taxation of the scarcity premium through tariffs or exchange rate adjustment, all shot down or modified by the Cabinet. These measures all touched upon entrenched vested interests and any future attempt to enforce them involved a major political battle within the regime itself. The Commission had the option of taking its recent experience with ADP as given or once again bringing the ongoing debate on self-reliance and the need for domestic resource mobilization before the public. After much debate within the Commission, the manifestly political decision to build a major domestic mobilization effort into the plan was taken. This, as we had seen, inter alia, required a significant improvement in the operational performance and profitably of public enterprise. It also sought to raise an additional Tk. 6,250 million in taxes which would have raised the share of tax revenue from 4.75 per cent of GDP in 1972–1973 to around 10 per cent by 1977–1978. This increase in tax revenue was built around all those fiscal measures proposed by us during the 1973–1974 budget. The plan, therefore, assumed that the necessary political transformation within the ruling party would be forthcoming to realize the need for fiscal reforms if the plan’s proclaimed goal of greater self-reliance was to be realized. The plan’s self-reliance targets in the balance of payments budget were even more optimistic since they depended on the implementation of a number of major import substitution projects ranging from self-reliance in food production to reduction in The Challenge of Delivering the Five-year Plan


imports of cement, fertilizer, cloth, fibres and steel. The change in the price of the import bill because of the world commodity inflation had, however, made this particular projection redundant even as the plan was being published. The elephantine progress in implementing import substitution projects did little to reduce external dependence. This aspect of the plan was eventually overtaken by events largely outside the control of the regime.

The Political Assumptions of the Plan The self-reliance target which sought to progressively reduce external dependence during the course of the plan was, thus, largely a rhetorical gesture. Had the external economic regime itself not radically changed, the goal of implementing the plan would have demanded focus on major policy, institutional and political changes within the regime. It could, therefore, be argued that a plan which did not take the prevailing political parameters and institutions as given was an exercise in speculation and the quantitative targets built into the plan were foredoomed even before the world price escalations. As with other components of the plan, we finally took the decision that the plan document must play the political role of focusing public attention on the social assumptions and political costs of a self-reliance strategy. Since such a policy would hit the elite and exploiting classes, mass support would need to be mobilized behind this strategy. Since Bangabandhu was regularly articulating his radical social vision before the public and, along with Tajuddin, was reiterating the need for a self-reliant strategy, the planners believed that our proposed assumptions did have backing in the highest quarters of the regime. The Commission further assumed that within the regime itself there was a radical constituency which would be willing to stand behind Bangabandhu to mobilize support for such policies and could use the public debate as a political instrument to push through policies designed to improve performance, increase self-reliance and reduce the strength of the exploitative 144

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forces within the society. How far such a contradiction existed within the regime or was limited to the perspective of the PM alone or was reflected only in the periphery of the regime within the Planning Commission is open to debate. The Commission sought to bring this contradiction to the surface through the instrument of the plan and accordingly built the plan around these critical political assumptions. With this political perspective in mind, the Commission had sought to use the plan to focus the country’s attention on the future direction for Bangladesh. The first chapter was seen by many as an extraneous component of the plan but was, in fact, a central element of the plan preparation strategy. During the course of plan preparation, emerging changes in the balance of power within the regime, away from the radical trends which had informed the early stages of policymaking and towards the use of the instruments of state power for surplus extraction by particular classes, could be observed. The plan was, thus, intended by us to be viewed as a Cassandra cry to focus attention on the state of the nation and the need to redefine our goals in terms of our national aspirations and where we were heading. The call to cut through the rhetoric of socialism and focus attention on the implications of building a socialist society was a critical element in the first chapter. Here, we sought to highlight the class dialectics of building socialism in Bangladesh and the demands this made on the character and role of the leadership and ruling party. Without explicitly saying so, we sought to present a mirror to the leadership on what was happening within the regime. The exhortatory components of the plan, built around policy and institutional changes in every sector and even including a detailed programme for mobilizing the masses as a critical resource input, followed logically from the political assumptions and goals which prefaced the plan. It became obvious from a careful study of the plan that both the quantitative targets and the policy component demanded a quantum political change within the character of the regime. To build such an assumption into a plan document made the plan itself a part of the ongoing dialectic The Challenge of Delivering the Five-year Plan


within the regime and not just a technical exercise in resource projection and expenditure allocation. It was, therefore, as important to focus on the political logic of the plan preparation exercise as it was to focus on the contents of the plan itself. Perhaps the real criticism of the planners lies in the fact that they committed themselves to a manifestly political task by investing a positive political role on the plan. However, nowhere in their scheme of things was there a defined role for the planners themselves. This implied a degree of political irresponsibility in facing up to the consequences of their own political beliefs and strategy. If they were to really see the plan as a political instrument in the prevailing dialectic, then they would have had to directly join the battle on the side of those forces who were supposed to identify with the plan. We would either have had to seek them out or discover for ourselves that no such forces existed in a politically relevant form. Once we were so engaged, we would have had to abandon our role as technocratic advisers and face the hazards of involving ourselves in the political struggle. To the extent that we sought political status without political engagement, our authority as advocates for the plan and its agenda for reform remained ineffective.


Untranquil Recollections

Making the State Effective


The Challenge of Policy Implementation I came to understand from the early stage of my tenure that while formulating sensible policies was crucial to the direction and eventual fate of a regime, the outcome of such policies greatly depended on how effectively they were implemented. In the longer period over which the impact of a policy works itself out, the credibility of the regime depended less on the new policies and more on the quality of governance over those sectors of the economy targeted by the policy. In the normal course of governance, it is the responsibility of the government to ensure the effective implementation of policies enacted by its legislation. This is mandated as the responsibility of the officials of the ministry concerned but it is the minister who is eventually accountable to both Parliament and the public for implementing a policy. The Commission had been mandated by its charter to monitor progress in the implementation of all development projects along with its responsibility of monitoring the performance of particular sectors of the economy. This responsibility remains vested in the planning ministry to this day and is discharged by a dedicated division known as the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) which prepares periodic reports on the extent of public expenditure in particular project areas. These reports are placed before the minister and eventually ECNEC.

In our time, each division had its own IMED which was both mandated to monitor performance in their area and to offer suggestions on ways to improve performance. My growing sensibility on the need for ensuring effective performance in areas like the nationalized industries encouraged me to become particularly active, occasionally over and above the call of duty, in reviewing the performance of sectors within my area of responsibility. The nationalized industries, physical infrastructure, power, transport and communications were particularly project intensive and appropriated a large component of the ADP and aid budget. The impact of development expenditure and its contribution towards stimulating economic performance, thus, depended on the quality of performance of these sectors. I interpreted my mandate to move beyond just monitoring progress in particular sectors through preparing performance reports and moved to actively engage my division in exploring the reasons for poor performance. We aspired to offer suggestions for remedial action to the concerned ministries or even to the PM. In practice, during my tenure, much of what we did under our mandate went beyond our terms of reference frequently intruding into the domain of the ministers responsible for project implementation. My experiences provided me some valuable insights into how governments function and better understanding of the political economy of governance. I discuss further some of the initiatives originating from the divisions in my charge.

Transport Sector: Capacity without Performance In the early years of the Commission, there was little scope for introducing both policy changes and a long-term strategic vision for the transport sector. Our primary task was to rehabilitate and reactivate the sector which had been devasted during the liberation war, particularly by the departing Pakistani army which sought to make life as difficult as possible for the post-liberation regime. Their destruction of the Hardinge Bridge over the Jamuna 148

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and the King George VI Bridge over the Meghna were some of their devastating parting gifts to the prospective development of the newly liberated country. With limited resources at our disposal, our goal was to at least restore the transport sector to pre-liberation levels of performance as early as possible. Fortunately, for us, one of the most important and early contributions made by the Indian government to our economic reconstruction was the prompt repair of these two historic bridges. I accordingly viewed my mandate for the sector as one of enhancing the carrying capacity of the sector since this significantly impacted the performance of other sectors of the economy. The traditional approach of the transport sector had been to lay claims to increased development funding in order to enhance their capacity. The Commission did what they could to respond to these investment needs, particularly, for reconstructing the war-damaged infrastructure. In those early years, where resources were severely constrained, I also engaged the division in exploring ways to improve the operational capability of the sector. I provide a few examples further of particular initiatives emanating from the Transport Division.

The Railway Sector: Reactivating Capacity Bangladesh Railways had been anxious to obtain aid funds for import of wagons to entrance their carrying capacity. A good number of wagons had been imported under a Romanian credit in semi-knocked down (SKD) form and were being assembled at a snail’s pace in the Chittagong railway workshop. This posed serious problems for the economy as import cargo continued to pile up at the ports. When I questioned Nurul Huq, section chief in the transport section of the Commission who once worked in the railway sector, about the nature of the bottleneck at the railway workshop, he advised me, after further consultation with the Railway Board, that it originated because of the decline in its efficiency due to the withdrawal of its Bihari workforce at the time of liberation. Making the State Effective


My immediate concern was to address this problem by exploring additional available assembly facilities for the imported wagons. The Industries Division informed me that the Progoti car assembly plant at Chittagong, a public sector enterprise under the Bangladesh Shipbuilding and Engineering Corporation (BSEC), was at that stage lying idle. I knew its general manager, Habibullah Khan, who was a highly competent CEO when Progoti was a private sector enterprise prior to liberation engaged in assembling Opel automobiles. As a Pakistani enterprise, the plant had been nationalized in 1972 and renamed as Progoti. Khan had been invited to stay on as the manager of Progoti. Khan informed me that after liberation, Progoti’s capacity was underused since few cars were being assembled. I, therefore, requested Khan to explore whether its capacity could be used to take up the assembly of some of the SKD wagon components lying with the railway workshop. Progoti was a project under BSEC so I had to persuade its chairman, Dr Rafiquddin Ahmed, to give the authority to Khan to go ahead. There was in those days some tension between Ahmed and Khan over delegation of authority which I managed to resolve. Unfortunately, neither the Railway Board nor its parent ministry was willing to surrender any of their responsibility to Progoti in spite of my best efforts to persuade the transport minister to do so. Protection of one’s turf remained a deeply ingrained inheritance from the Pakistani Raj. Attempts to find further means of improving the offtake of food grains of the railways from the Chittagong port were yet another way of addressing the capacity problem at low cost. Offtake of imported cargo had declined drastically after the sabotage of the George VI Bridge by the departing Pakistanis. However, even after the bridge was repaired and commissioned, the offtake of the railways had not significantly improved. Indeed, in the period after the repairs were completed, the offtake of cargo by the railways from Chittagong Port declined from 40,084 tons a month to 33,123 tons. By comparison, in 1969–1970, 102,571 tons were offloaded from the Chittagong Port. The declining efficiency of the railways was a matter of much concern to the 150

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government since its distribution of food grains throughout the country was heavily dependent on the railways. I remember participating in an inter-ministerial discussion convened by Bangabandhu on the issue of poor offtake of the railways and sarcastically suggested that since the offtake had declined after the Bhairab Bridge had been repaired, perhaps, the Bangladesh Air Force could be instructed to once again bomb the bridge and make it unserviceable so that the higher pre-bridge levels of offtake could be restored. I suspect that since I conveyed my provocative commitment in my largely incomprehensible Bangla, not everyone, except Bangabandhu and Nurul, appreciated the sardonic nature of the observation. In my quest for improving the operational efficiency of the railways, I managed to get hold of a series of working papers written by a Canadian consultant to the railways, named Livingstone. He was obviously a person of considerable experience and practical knowledge in the operation of railways but found his services unutilized by the railway ministry. He had taken to writing memos to the secretary, Transport, copies of which were forwarded to ostensibly concerned people in the government like the member in charge of transport in the Planning Commission. In the normal course of events, Livingstone would have felt that he had done his job by putting his recommendations on paper and then departed leaving his memos to gather dust. Having been exposed to the declining efficiency of the railways, I had remained preoccupied with some way of improving performance. Since I read quite a few of the memos which landed on my desk, which partly explains my late working hours, I glanced through Livingstone’s memos which seemed to be full of sound common sense even to a layman like me. I, therefore, went through the extraordinary expedient of convening a meeting where the transport ministry and the Railway Board were introduced to their own consultant, in order to discuss some of the more urgent and useful parts of Livingstone’s memos. Out of our discussions, the proposal for starting a Unit Train linking the Chittagong Port to the Ashuganj Silo actually took Making the State Effective


effect under the direction of Livingstone. But again, I had to directly involve himself in pushing the secretary to go ahead with the plan. The Unit Train was highly successful in improving the offtake of food grains from Chittagong, thereby increasing the carrying and earning capacity of the railways. Beyond the effort to introduce the Unit Train, the Commission used the expertise of the Bangladesh Transport Survey (BTS) to identify constraints on the efficiency of the railways. The BTS came up with a series of short- and long-term remedial measures which I brought to the notice of the ministry in a series of memos and inter-ministerial meetings but little progress was made in getting the railways to seriously pursue the recommendations of BTS. I was seen as exceeding my jurisdiction and ended up by passing on my recommendations to the then minister, Mansur Ali, and to the PM as part of the record.

Road Transport: The Transport Graveyard My efforts to address the problems and improve performance in the road transport sector were as vigorous and infructuous as they were with the railways. This sector was serviced by the Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) which had a fleet of trucks and buses which coexisted with a large private sector. BRTC had been a running sore in the side of past administrations. It had for years operated at a loss. After liberation, the transport section informed me that a large part of BRTC’s fleet of buses was out of commission. The war had done further damage to transport capacity both with BRTC and among private operators. The transport scene in Dhaka appeared almost Dantesque. Buses moving along the streets resembled human beehives with as many people travelling outside or on top of the bus as inside it, clinging to every crevice available. The big influx of population into Dhaka after liberation aggravated the shortage of capacity. As a result, long queues assembled at every bus stop with extended waits for these irregular services. I recollect that for a while when 152

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I rode to office at the Secretariat every morning on my Land Rover ‘truck’, I gave a ride to a few of those waiting in the bus queue at Banani who may be going in the direction of the Secretariat. BRTC’s solution to the problem was, inevitably, to demand cash foreign exchange or foreign aid to import buses. They were less inclined to seek funds to commission their inactive buses or to improve the abysmal operational performance of their fleet. My approach to the transport crisis, at least in the short run, was to look for ways to improve utilization of available capacity in BRTC and to utilize the assembly capacity of Progoti Industries. I again approached Habibullah Khan with a request that Progoti assemble a large component of vehicles, imported in SKD form. I promised to divert aid resources to Progoti to finance SKD imports for assembly rather than to BRTC for importing the finished vehicles. My strategy was accepted in principle by the ministry, under pressure from Bangabandhu, but resisted in practice on the ground. Different agencies in the transport sector had their own interests to protect through importing the finished product. In view of the limited progress made by BRTC, I once again put my recommendations for the improving performance of the road transport sector on record in a report to the Cabinet spelling out the problems of BRTC and urging immediate action. I advised the Cabinet to decide whether BRTC was to function as a social service or a commercial venture. If it was to be kept viable, then a major overhaul of its organizational structure was imperative. In the final analysis, my involvement with road transport was much greater than with other sectors of transport because this was in many ways the weakest sector. I could take these initiatives because, in the final analysis, the Secretary, Abdus Samad, who had been elevated to the top position because of his involvement with the Mujibnagar government, was not unreceptive to my efforts even though he may have occasionally resented our interference. The very modest returns from our efforts reflected the weakness at the executive level in BRTC and the impossibility of pursuing operational objectives without executive authority. Making the State Effective


A General as CEO In contrast to the road and rail sectors, the Commission could make very little impact on shipping, aviation and IWT. Some initiatives by the Commission for expanding the BIWTC fleet had been taken forward because Abdul Qayyum, the chair of the corporation, a former senior executive in the Joint Steamer Company prior to liberation, had come to me to support his request to ERD for external funding to expand his depleted fleet. However, in this area, General Osmani, the minister, was himself functioning as the de facto chief executive of the various operational agencies within his domain and took a very firm stand against any attempt at outside interference, particularly from the Planning Commission, within his ministry. He issued written orders to all operational agencies that they could only communicate with other ministries through their parent ministry. This was probably provoked by the tendency of public enterprise chief executives to directly contact me at the Planning Commission to seek solutions for particular problems. Within a system of representative government, the minister was entirely within his rights to lay down the protocol for his agencies. The minister himself was scrupulously honest and worked to the point of endangering his health. He took great pains to study the problems of his agencies and sought to involve himself in the details of day-to-day decision-making at the operational level. Because he was himself honest, he was determined to preserve his agencies from corruption and nepotism. He thought he could do this by looking into the details of every expenditure or employment decision and retaining to himself the power to approve each decision. Whilst his sincerity and integrity remained exemplary, his style of work inevitably created problems for his agencies. In the positions of the Chairman of BIWTC, Abdul Qayyum and the Chair of the Shipping Corporation, Q. M. S. Zaman, we had two of the most able and experienced chief executives in the country with long experience and proven achievement in their own fields of 154

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work. They had previously functioned in the private sector within a framework of executive autonomy directed to commercial profitability. To now have their smallest appointments and expenditure subject to ministerial scrutiny, cramped their style and seriously inhibited their pursuit of commercial viability. Similar constraints were imposed on the national airline, Biman Bangladesh Airlines. The secretary of the IWT ministry, Sultan-uz Zaman Khan, a senior civil servant, was the brother-in-law of my friend Zeaul Huq, and well known to me. He was quite willing to concede autonomy to the corporate chief executives in his domain and functioned as a bemused bystander at his minister’s compulsion to function as his own secretary and chief executive of the operational agencies under him. Whilst his philosophical approach insulated him from the choler and dynamism of his minister in dealing with the operation agencies under him, three out of four chief executives of these agencies eventually sought release from their positions. Over the years, BIWTC’s performance has declined rather than improving. Figures for capacity utilization in Biman also showed a decline. Both agencies made regular operating losses. The shipping corporation had a somewhat better performance record, though it did show a decline in capacity utilization in 1974–1975.

Roads and Highways: Ministerial Tokenism The Commission took a number of other initiatives in the transport sector which merit review. In the road sector, it sought to decentralize decision-making and encourage local mobilization of resources. From an early stage, I was faced with unending requests by MPs for allocation of funds to build roads in their constituency. It appeared to be a time-honoured staple of parliamentary politics in Bengal for MPs to prove their worth to their constituents by securing construction of a metalled road and a government-financed school in their constituency. As it was, the sector inherited road-building schemes in varying degrees of completion, some of which went back a decade. It seemed to have Making the State Effective


been the practice to accommodate these constituency pressures by incorporating most requests in the budget and releasing token funds so that the scheme perpetuated itself without actually producing a usable road in the area. The minister, Mansur Ali, being a senior and wily politician, informally let it out that the Commission was the bottleneck and that potential road builders should go and make the Commission’s life difficult rather than disturb the minister. I soon began to face the fall out of this tactic when even senior ministers began sending road projects for their constituency to me for immediate funding. At one stage, a politically backed executive engineer in the Roads and Highways Directorate, who came from Faridpur, initiated an ambitious project to build a road linking Dhaka with Khulna which went through Faridpur. He assumed that since this road serviced the PM’s home district, Gopalganj, this could be pushed through his own ministry and approved by the Planning Commission without much scrutiny. His effort received short shrift by the Project Evaluation Committee of the Planning Commission, chaired by me, when we discovered that the scheme did not have the full backing of the ministry and had not even been based on engineering and hydraulic studies, which were deemed essential since the road cut across the gravitational flow of the river regime in the area. Other such schemes were equally ill-conceived and sought to build roads in riverine areas at prohibitive cost without exploring the most cost-effective way to provide transport services to the area. Thus, when the Commission asked for such schemes to go through the normal discipline of project evaluation, it incurred widespread wrath from MPs who saw this as an example of bureaucratic obstruction and political insensitivity by the Commission. The transport minister, who had a sense of humour, derived much amusement at the Commission’s discomfiture but sought to console me as the concerned member with the thought that it was easier for me to play the heavy than for a politically engaged minister to deny his colleagues. 156

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I was naturally reluctant to play scapegoat in this ongoing charade. We had withstood such pressures largely because the PM had backed us in imposing some discipline over funding allocations, but I found that such refusals were putting the Commission into confrontation with virtually every minister in the Cabinet not to mention a more numerous phalanx of MPs. I, therefore, sought to revise the rules of the game by putting aside a small fund annually to be allocated at the discretion of the transport minister for new road schemes. He was, thus, left to work out inter se political priorities. Since the allocation had to be parcelled around, it meant that no serious road project could be taken up, but a large number of schemes could be initiated and accommodated in the budget. This gave MPs the opportunity to then inaugurate the road project in their constituency by putting up a signboard and cutting the first sod of earth. The road itself could be completed during the next generation but the gesture to their constituents would have been registered. I took the view that fundamental rather than cosmetic solutions were needed in terms of the locus of decision-making and the use of resources for road building. The transport section, therefore, put together a project which sought to limit the national government to the construction of arterial or trunk routes which could be funded through the national budget. For district and local-level roads, we proposed that these could be constructed under the Works Programme. Decision-making should be made locally where priorities and resources should be mobilized. For such locally approved road schemes, land and labour were to be locally mobilized, so that only material inputs such as cement and iron rods would be funded from the national budget.

Promoting Cooperative Entrepreneurship Another area where I took some initiative was in the field of transport cooperatives. During 1972, I learned that 1,500 autorickshaw chassis were to be imported by the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) from India under their aid programme for sale Making the State Effective


to private operators. Traditionally, such rickshaws were bought by small businessmen and individuals as a capital investment. They hired drivers at low wages or rented out the vehicle and extracted high rents from the drivers. I took the view that where direct state ownership was inappropriate, the workers or operatives should be encouraged to form cooperatives among themselves to assume ownership of the autorickshaws driven by them. To this end, as the concerned member, I contacted the then secretary, Ministry of Cooperatives, Obaidullah Khan (Shentu) and proposed that a cooperative scheme be formulated by his ministry which could take delivery of the rickshaw chassis and distribute them among prospective driver-owners. Shentu, once a strong believer in Akhter Hameed Khan’s enthusiasm for cooperatives, was fully supportive of my ideas. I convened a number of meetings with him, where TCB and the nationalized banks were also involved to set up the financing of the project. These initiatives by me paid off. The autorickshaws were distributed through a cooperative in Dhaka and another in Comilla, set up by the cooperatives ministry under the Kotwali Thana Central Co-operative Association. To launch the scheme, Obaidullah and I were symbolically driven through the streets of Dhaka by the proud new owners from the cooperative. The black and yellow autorickshaws seen on the streets of Dhaka for many years were the visible symbols of our initiative. As with many cooperative ventures, the scheme carried the seeds of subversion within it. The cooperative ministry appeared to lose interest once Obaidullah was transferred to another ministry. The manager of the cooperative was reported to have defalcated funds, whilst many of the drivers degenerated into rentier capitalists themselves preferring to hire out their rickshaw or use hired labour. I received occasional news of the project from the Transport Section and kept pursuing the ministry and TCB to see that meters could be fixed so that consumers could at least get some relief and that the concept of the cooperative was kept alive. But these initiatives by the Commission declined with the pressure of work within our division and the passage of time. 158

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Apart from autorickshaws, I was keen to encourage cooperatives of truck and bus drivers and even for launch workers. A truck drivers’ cooperative was supported by the Commission and BRTC was encouraged to release some of their trucks to them. Two bus cooperatives had already been functioning in Comilla, with some success. The Transport Section also attempted to promote cooperatives of launch workers in the IWT sector. Launch workers had traditionally been subject to ruthless exploitation by profiteering owners who overloaded vessels to the point where they could sink with passengers and crew. Workers’ cooperatives as opposed to extending BIWTC ownership were seen by me as a partial solution to the problems of the sector. This initiative by me did not progress far.

Frustrated Enterprise My quixotic ventures into institution building and programme execution with a view to improving the performance of one of the most inefficient sectors of the government ultimately came to little. Our efforts secured mixed responses from the concerned agencies and sectors but unlike the nationalized industries sector, an ideologically grounded axis could not be forged so my interventions remained largely exhortatory. Where our efforts yielded results, they came more from persistent pressure of the Commission rather than a response to felt needs from the concerned operational agency, so the gains were dissipated away by the ministries who remained sovereign in their domain. The transport sector, for many years, remained heavily dependent on foreign aid to augment its carrying capacity and had little interest in improving its performance. Various aid donors invested millions of dollars in commissioning studies and consultancies to provide advice to the transport ministry and frequently used conditionalities to leverage better performance if aid was to continue. Such efforts did not yield too many positive results. The transport sector remained a happy hunting ground, patronized Making the State Effective


by the politically influential hoping to get some aid diverted to their favoured suppliers. One of my earliest experience with this tribe was in my first month in the Commission. I had a phone call from Nurul Islam that he was sending over Group Captain Towab to discuss the possible allocation of West German aid for import of short take-off and landing (STOL) aircraft from Germany. Towab was one of the stars of the Pakistan Air Force and possibly senior to Air Marshall Khondkar. In 1971, he had been on leave in Germany when the liberation war began. Tajuddin and Khondkar sent repeated messages to Towab to come back and join the liberation war where his seniority and expertise would have been of great value in our struggle. Towab steadfastly declined their appeals to join the war and sat it out in Germany. He had now turned up in liberated Bangladesh as a business commission agent for some West German companies and sought to use his reputation, even with Bangabandhu, to seek his patronage. Bangabandhu sent Towab to Nurul without any recommendation of his own who passed him on to me as the concerned member. I was unimpressed by Towab, who I recollected for his dereliction of responsibility in 1971. Enquiries by me from Nurul Quader Khan, secretary for civil aviation, informed me that STOLs being marketed by Towab were not suitable to our needs. I advised Towab accordingly who then complained to Bangabandhu who gave him short shrift. Towab, aggrieved, returned to Germany and only returned after the murder of Bangabandhu to be appointed as chief of air staff by Mostaq in replacement of Khondkar.

Housing: Dealing with a Misgoverned Sector Dialectics of Housing Policy The PP&H sector was perceived as one of the least important sectors of the Planning Commission. This was dictated as much by necessity as by choice. The Commission began its life with a 160

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prejudice against the investment needs of this sector. It was viewed that in the current resource-starved state of the economy, few resources should be tied up in bricks and mortar in comparison to more ‘productive’ sectors. In the ADP for 1972–1973, the Commission decided to commit only limited resources to new construction projects on a highly selective basis. Such a decision had far-reaching implications for the system of patronage which had characterized the sector. The sector was dominated by the works ministry which was itself a transmutation of the Construction and Building (C&B) Department of the East Pakistan Provincial Government. This department had a long tradition of mismanagement and corruption and sizeable parts of Dhanmandi and Gulshan had been built up from the ill-gotten gains of the public employees of this department. All actual construction work was done through private contractors who colluded with the officials of this sector to make the exchequer pay the price for over budget expenditure, and slow and defective work. It was no surprise that the affluence of its officials should go hand in hand with the growth of a contractor class which emerged as one of the leading instruments of primitive accumulation within the Bengali bourgeoisie. Captains of industry like Zahurul Islam graduated from serving as employees of the C&B Department to become contractors whence they graduated to the role of industrialist. The Commission’s investment priorities were, thus, likely to cut into a major source of accumulation for this class and its factors in the ministry and were bound to engage the Commission in contention with the ministry. As with other sectors, the Commission took the view that all construction expenditure should be directed towards meeting the housing needs of the less-privileged groups. As part of this strategy, I decided that in the construction sector, the only significant new investment was to be allocated for a programme of low-income housing. In the case of ongoing projects, priority was given by me to completing construction work for lower-level government employees. As a corollary to this approach, we decided that public resources for further investment for ministers, senior government Making the State Effective


servants and for land development for building nuclear houses for the middle class would be drastically cut down. For new urban construction, all land development plans were to be directed to a programme of multi-storey housing cooperatives. To accommodate the housing needs of public servants who had not been privileged enough to build homes in publicly provided lands in Dhaka, prior to 1971, the Commission took the line that the houses abandoned by non-Bengalis in 1971 should be recaptured by the government from its illegal occupants. To this end, I had commissioned a study by the PP&H section on the state of the abandoned houses, which exposed the fact that a sizeable proportion of these houses had been forcibly and illegally occupied. Some of these illegal acts of force majeure had been regularized through use of political influence but a large number still remained under illegal occupation. These acts of social piracy were being condoned because the occupants in many cases commanded political access. Of these, some may have been deserving of accommodation as a government official, though others were themselves quite affluent and adding to their affluence through non-payment or payment of sub-market rents. The Commission took the view that apart from war victims who were to be treated as a special case, the government should get its priorities straight and decide that if government housing was a priority need, it should then get these houses vacated. The government made only piecemeal efforts to recover its property and preferred to allocate funds for new construction to accommodate senior officials. Since the rise in the size and calibre of accommodation disproportionately increases expenditures per unit, one joint secretary’s gain meant accommodation denied to 10 peons or 5 clerks. The Commission’s attempt to limit investments in government housing and within this to give preference to junior officials won it few friends in the senior ranks of the administration. Pressure on the political leadership to forego its patronage to its political clients and to pressurize them to evacuate abandoned houses was no more attractive. The last straw was when the Commission 162

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refused to allocate funds for ministerial housing and drastically cut down the parameters for new ministerial housing in the FFYP. The view was again taken by the Commission that ministers should take the lead in abjuring attempts to improve their living conditions. Thus, when a proposal came before the Project Evaluation Committee, where I was chairman, for a circuit house in Tungipara, the village home of the PM, to accommodate his entourage when he visited home, we had no hesitation in rejecting the proposal on grounds of policy. We pointed out that for the PM all of Bangladesh was his home. It is a tribute to the vision and magnanimity of the PM that he accepted this discipline without demur. However, in other sectors, it remained more difficult to enforce this policy. Thus, extra-budgetary allocations were made over the head of the Planning Commission to finance construction of flats for senior officials and even extension and renovation of ministers’ housing.

Setting Investment Priorities As part of the programme to redirect investment away from middle-class housing, the Commission stopped further investments in development of housing estates in Baridhara and on the outskirts of Dhaka. The Dhaka Improvement Trust had made out detailed plans to develop these areas and allocate plots for nuclear houses for the middle classes on the same lines as in Dhanmandi and Gulshan. I advised the works ministry to develop a housing estate on the outskirts of Dhaka, beyond the new Kurmitola Airport, today known as Uttara, for multi-storey housing cooperatives to cater to different tiers of income groups. This policy reflected the investment biases of the Commission but also rested on the geographical compulsions of Bangladesh. Pressure on land in the urban centres made the traditional nuclear houses a luxury. It was felt that if even a beginning was to be made to decently house the masses and cater to non-residential land needs, construction must be verticalized. It was, thus, suggested that apart from redesigning of new land development Making the State Effective


plans, existing official housing, particularly in the Ramna area, should be modified and the vast tracts of lawn in the official houses should be cut up and used for multi-storey buildings. In the plan document, proposals were made to put a ceiling on privately owned urban land and for all plots larger than the permissible ceiling, the surplus land should be subdivided and reallocated. It was further suggested that in the urban areas, house ownership should be limited to one per nuclear family. Finally, since land speculation had been enhanced by government development expenditures in the adjacent areas, scarcity rents extracted by current property owners were to be heavily taxed. As part of the plan for cooperative housing, I commissioned the PP&H section of the Planning Commission to prepare a comprehensive policy paper, involving both the cooperative and works ministries. This was designed to spell out the organization and financing of housing cooperatives which were to be seen as the new institutional format for private house ownership. The nationalized banks and insurance companies were also brought into the scheme. Government servants were also to be brought into this scheme which would serve as a substitute both for investments in public housing and for private housing. The works ministry was to develop a site outside Dhaka, in what is now Uttara, for the first such cooperative housing community. The Cabinet paper prepared by the PP&H section was made ready after much discussion and planning but remained stillborn in the womb of the works ministry which was selected to present it to the Cabinet.

Housing for the Deprived: Misadventures in Social Engineering Planning Commission Initiatives At the lowest level where dwelt the majority of the population, the Commission again took the initiative in proposing a two-tier strategy. Realizing the impossibility of substituting the bustees with pucca multi-storey housing in the short run, it proposed an 164

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immediate strategy for a site and service development plan for renovating the bustees. This was designed to provide basic amenities to bustee dwellers within a planned environment. Within selected sites, plots were to be laid out with access to communal water and sanitation facilities. Possibly, plinth-level site development could be undertaken along with financing provision to help dwellers to improve their own dwellings. In order to keep such bustee-renovation projects viable, the plan proposed that cooperative organizations be set up to preserve community facilities and services. Possibilities of marketing centres, schools and medical facilities on community lines were to be also explored for the bustees. It was further suggested by the Commission in all its proposals for low-cost housing or other housing schemes that the only way in which bustees or low-cost housing developments could preserve a tolerable pattern of life was through community organization and planning where the communities were directly involved in the maintenance and organization of their facilities. Left to themselves, assisted at most by the works ministry, the physical and social manifestations of the urban slum could soon appear in unplanned public residential construction projects, as had always been the case in the past. Very little was done by the works ministry to follow up on the site and services scheme. Repeated discussions convened by the Commission with the ministry on the need to initiate such a programme proved fruitless. The dramatic and socially insensitive bustee clearance programme of 1975 was the ultimate perversion of this scheme. Here, at short notice, the bustees and pavement dwellers of Dhaka were swept out of Dhaka to hastily improvised sites in Tongi, which became unsanitary slums from the very outset. Without any attempt at community organization, removed from their place of work and devoid of minimal communal facilities, the bustees became concentration camps. The underlying assumption behind the move was to ease the apprehension and apparent aesthetic sensibilities of the middle classes who found slums socially dangerous and physically repulsive. Making the State Effective


Such bustee clearance and beggar eradication programmes are a standard instrument of policy of the soft ‘hard’ states which see the physical elimination of these manifestations of the prevailing social condition as a substitute for the social engineering needed to eradicate these tumours on their social conscience. Such concentrations of the urban poor in the heart of urban affluence were also seen to be a social and psychological threat to the ostentatious middle classes. In Dhaka, these bustees had, in fact, become political recruiting grounds for all political parties. Indeed, the local political ‘boss’ of the AL, Gazi Golam Mostafa, had perhaps the strongest hold in these bustees whence he fed the meetings and processions in support of the party. One suggestion was that the bustee clearance plan was designed to weaken his political base and was prompted by an inner party struggle. At a more concrete level, I had already pushed the works ministry to initiate a construction programme for low-income housing. The works ministry had itself taken up a programme to house bustee dwellers in the early aftermath of liberation. Bustee dwellers had been one of the first victims of the Pak Army in March 1971. They had been seen as a major support base of Bangabandhu and were indeed the first foot soldiers of the nationalist movement who resisted the army, in 1969 and in 1971, with their lives. After 25 March 1971, the army razed such bustees to the ground and massacred their inhabitants. The political leadership was under an immediate obligation to house surviving victims. In the Mirpur area and around, villagers and members of the urban poor had also fallen victim to communal assaults by local non-Bengali settlers under protection of the military occupation in 1971. All these direct victims of the war needed to be rehoused. A small part of these victims was relocated in houses abandoned by the local non-Bengali settlements in Mirpur and Mohammadpur. Indeed, poor non-Bengalis now changed places with poor Bengalis, moving from their homes into urban bustees or refugee camps in Mohammadpur where they awaited evacuation to Pakistan. However, this exchange of settlements could 166

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only accommodate a small fraction of the victims and the needy. So, the works ministry, on orders of the PM, initiated a programme for building 2,000 single-unit dwellings in Mirpur. This project in mass housing was poorly conceived, with deficient social planning and infrastructure amenities, which threatened to convert it, ab initio, into an urban slum. The young Planning Commission PP&H section professionals such as Tanveer Nawaz and Mustafa Kamal Khan, who had visited the Mirpur project at my request, were greatly exercised by its poor conception and design. They accordingly took me to the site to explore ways to salvage the settlement and create a more liveable community by persuading the works ministry to modify its programme. I made several visits to the site with works ministry officials to see if anything could be done. We took the view that the only way in which the primitive conception in design and layout planning could be compensated was by creating a cooperative infrastructure where the future inhabitants could assume responsibility for creating a community and looking after the upkeep of the settlement. This involved making communal provision for schools, markets, transport to and from the commercial centres, sanitation and maintenance of common facilities. For this, the Commission felt that a housing cooperative should be created from among the designated allottees and preparatory work initiated to set up some of the common facilities. To this end, I managed to again involve the Ministry of Cooperatives. In further meetings on the project, I involved the concerned secretaries and their officials to obtain agreement, in principle, to set up such a cooperative under the aegis of the cooperative ministry. A visit to the site with the secretary of works had also secured a commitment to augment water supply and sanitation facilities. In practice, nothing came of these initiatives since the works ministry did little to maintain its liaison with the cooperatives ministry in spite of repeated but futile efforts by me to pursue both parties. No great effort was made to improve facilities nor was there any organized allotment of houses to slum dwellers Making the State Effective


within a cooperative framework. When the Mirpur houses were ready, under the direction of Gazi Golam Mostafa, some of the inhabitants of one of the bigger bustees in Dhaka occupied the houses. These, as predicted, without any organization or community effort, rapidly degenerated into one of Dhaka’s more noisome slums.

Cooperatives for the Deprived: The Mirpur Fiasco This experience in making post facto attempts to salvage the works ministry’s lack of social planning made the Commission conscious of the need to plan future low-income housing programmes more carefully. The one new investment in this sector, apart from the memorials to the liberation war, was designated for low-income multi-storey housing. A project conceived by the PP&H section of the Planning Commission, involving a large budgetary commitment to construct a sizeable settlement of dwelling units, was taken up in the 1972–1973 ADP by the works ministry. The programme, as envisaged by the Commission, was to be located in Mirpur and involved, on completion, the creation of a community of 10,000 people. The programme involved not just the construction of buildings but planning out an entire new community. The works ministry, in its traditional style, moved with some lethargy and after a year, could do no more than produce engineering plans for the first phase of the project. The Commission pointed out to the ministry that a programme of this dimension could not depend on a set of rather primitive engineering drawings but should be presaged by a plan for the whole community. This involved plans for schools, medical services, markets, community facilities and transport to the work centres. Apart from the town planning aspects of the task, such a plan envisaged the need for working out the social assumptions of the community, which indicated the need for cooperative/communal institutions to sustain these common services. The dwelling units also needed 168

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to be designed to economize on space and resources and should again explore the scope for communal spaces within each structure. Given the sheer incapacity of the ministry’s officials to even think in such terms, I set up a committee, involving both officials and outside experts embracing relevant disciplines, to work out the details of such a programme. Again, this initiative lay stillborn in the ministry. At the end of two years, I had occasion to review the lack of progress on this project. I discovered from the review that the entire allocations for this project over three ADPs had gone for payment of compensation to one landowner. The remarkable aspect of this expenditure lay in the fact that the land thus paid for had originally been government-owned land. This land had, around the mid-1960s, been acquired by the government from local villagers at a pittance, been developed and handed over at sub-market prices to a private land development company masquerading as a cooperative. This company was controlled by none other than one of Bangladesh’s leading entrepreneurs. This company had merely prepared lay out plans and demarcated sites for construction which were to be sold to potential houseowners. There was little evidence of cooperative housing which, in effect, became a programme of land speculation on governmentacquired land by the private company. After liberation, with the initiation of the low-cost housing programme, the works ministry reacquired this land from the private company at compensation based on the much higher prevailing market rate for land. This, in effect, meant that the private company stood to make capital gains of about Tk. 30 million for purchase of land which had originally belonged to the government. The land had not been used for its intended purposes of cooperative housing but was being resold to the government by the allottee at a substantial profit. This collusion may not have been unrelated to the fact that the secretary, Works, had been involved in the original transaction when he was in the provincial C&B Department. He had since been dismissed from service in 1969 for corruption. After liberation, he had been Making the State Effective


re-employed on contract in the works ministry whence he initiated the policy of repurchasing the land from the company originally allotted the land. In the normal course of events, the whole land purchase could have been consummated without the Commission knowing of the prehistory of the transaction. All that could have been known was that ADP allocation went on land purchases, since it is hardly the business of the Commission to determine from whom, how or why particular land is purchased. Shortly before I left the Commission, I enquired about this flagship project. The Commission’s staff after further investigation, informed me that in three years nothing had been done beyond paying land compensation to the company from which the land was acquired. I was enraged by this news and sent for the papers which turned out to be a massive, dust-covered, file which I studied in depth and, thus, initiated enquiries about the antecedents of the transaction. I could do no more than hold up further allocations for this project, but this was tantamount to the door being shut after the horse had bolted. As a parting gesture, just before I exited the Planning Commission in September 1974, I prepared a detailed factual memorandum on this melancholy and sordid affair which I sent via the deputy chairman, with a strong cover letter from me to the PM and works minister, since the affair lay outside the executive authority of the Commission. As usual, I was berated by Nurul Islam for my naivety that I had learnt nothing from my three years of experience, but he duly passed on my missive to Bangabandhu as he had done for so many other such missives from me over the years. As Nurul predicted, nothing much came of my parting message to enable the low-cost housing project to materialize. At some point in the near future, after the murder of Bangabandhu and the resultant regime change, the land in Mirpur once again ended up under the control of the company who had hired the concerned Work’s secretary as an advisor immediately after he retired from government service.


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The Challenge of Improving the Performance of the Nationalized Sector


Making Nationalization Work Political Assumptions In the previous chapter, I have discussed my direct involvement in not just monitoring but addressing ways to improve the performance of those segments of the economy that fell within my domain of responsibility in the Commission. Throughout my tenure in the Commission, I remained obsessed with the importance of making the nationalization project work. I had been closely involved with my division, led by Muzaffar Ahmad, in contributing to the shaping of nationalization policy. We, therefore, felt obligated to track its fortunes and address its problems. Our perspective towards the nationalized sector is more clearly articulated in the following quotes from the Planning Commission documentation prepared by us at different stages during our tenure in government which were incorporated in the FFYP and other papers related to the sector prepared for the Cabinet: 1. ‘It has imposed a major responsibility on the Government to run these enterprises [sic public] at least as efficiently as they were under private ownership. This implies a radical transformation in the attitudes of the government away from bureaucratic controls towards commercially oriented management.’

2. ‘The success or failure of the nationalized sector is not only of vital significance to the performance of the economy but constitutes a vital political interest of the government. Failure here will bring into question not just the political credibility of the government but even its constitutional commitment to socialism.’ Such a degree of engagement in the operational side of policy outcomes was way outside the mandate of the Planning Commission. It should normally have been the responsibility of the political leadership to ensure that the performance of this sector emerged as a showcase for their commitment towards change. My stepping out of line to remind the leadership and ministry of their responsibilities was not a case of misplaced zeal but was inspired by concern at their casual approach to the sector and underappreciation of its importance. The main areas of initiatives taken by me, during my tenure as member, in relation to the nationalized industries have been discussed more fully in the volume co-authored with Muzaffar Ahmad titled Public Enterprises in an Intermediate Regime. I will, therefore, only highlight the main areas of my involvement which may be covered under the following heads: • • • • • • • •

Political struggles on behalf of the nationalized sector Autonomy for the nationalized enterprises Keeping track of industrial performance Capacity utilization and self-reliance Distribution of the surplus generated by the sector Incentivizing public sector executives Motivating the workers Relations with the private sector

Political Struggles on Behalf of the Nationalized Sector The covert resistance to the nationalization policy proposals from within the administration had convinced us that the battle for 172

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making the sector viable was likely to be an uphill struggle. Within the ruling party, the AL, Bangabandhu, Tajuddin and Nazrul Islam may have strongly supported the nationalization agenda but the attitudes within the party ranged from indifference to hostility. When an important element of the progressive faction of the AL broke from the party and eventually re-emerged as a major opposition party, the JSD, the political context within which the nationalized sector had to survive became much more challenging and merits fuller discussion in the political history of that period. Here, it is simply worth pointing out that for a long period, the Planning Commission walked a lonely path trying to secure political support within the government for keeping the sector viable. Under normal circumstances, it should have been the responsibility of the ministry concerned to give political protection and administrative support to the public enterprises under their control. In this respect, the minister for industries was, in principle, a supporter of the nationalized sector both during the debates on nationalization and the years after. He was, however, by temperament not an activist in his approach to governance and at no stage was inclined to take any policymaking or remedial initiatives to back up the sector. In the policymaking phase, he had largely left it to the Commission to do the staff work and pilot the legislation in the Cabinet. However, when the corporations were set up, he became captive to the secretariat of his ministry. From this source, he was fed on the idea that my hyperactivity to improve the performance of nationalized enterprises indicated that I was trying to usurp his ministerial functions. What thus began as an excellent working relationship to the point where the minister even left it to the Commission to coordinate the framing of the Rules of Business for the nationalized industries sector, degenerated into a relationship of suspicion, hostility and finally confrontation. This transformation in relations with the minister is owed in some measures to changes in the secretariat after mid-1972 when the essentially professional component of the NID secretariat was replaced by permanent civil servants. In the immediate aftermath The Challenge of Improving the Performance


of nationalization, the minister had been persuaded to appoint some experienced professionals to serve as his secretariat. Once career bureaucrats took over the secretariat, all attempts by the Commission to identify problems of the sector and seek remedies were presented to the minister by his officials as an aspersion on his competence to run his ministry. This state of tension between the minister and the Commission continued up to the presentation of the FFYP draft to the Cabinet in August 1973. In the discussions on the draft plan which inter alia discussed the various problems faced by the nationalized sector and what may be done to correct these, the minster’s frustrations came to the surface. A major Cabinet crisis was only averted by the intervention of the PM. Paradoxically, after that confrontation, relations were restored to a much more amicable level and the minister once more began to make use of the Commission in a problem-solving capacity. He appeared to accept the fact that I was keen to improve the performance of the sector and not to undermine his authority. On the critical issue of autonomy for the sector, he came round to the Commission’s view of devolving the executive and secretariat functions to the corporations. Faced with the relentless efforts of NID to assert their administrative hegemony over the corporations, the chief executive of the corporations came to look on me as their refuge of last resort. This unique relationship originated in my early engagement in making suggestions to Bangabandhu and the industries minister to appoint the best available private and public sector professionals, in preference to senior bureaucrats, to chair the various sector corporations. Once all the chairs were in place, I invited all the chairmen, along with the top officials of NID, to a meeting to conscientize them on the wider institutional ramifications of the mandate of the chairmen which not only put their personal– professional reputation at stake but the transformational policy decisions of the regime depended on their performance. Since our early exchanges, the chairmen gradually began to appreciate that I was willing to invest the authority of the 174

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Commission to support them. As a result, various chairmen gradually began bringing a variety of problems to the attention of the Industries Division of the Commission, frequently bypassing NID to invoke our support. The chairmen periodically invoked my intervention with their own minister to deal with NID. In the Cabinet and other reaches of government, the corporations banked on the Commission to protect them from constriction of their autonomy and to promote their interests. Within the administration, the Commission came to be seen as the champion of the professionals who mostly ran the corporations, particularly in their fight for autonomy and the attempt to cut them loose from bureaucratic red tape.

The Struggle over Bringing Professionalism into Management My perspective on an extended state sector had, from the outset, been premised on the need for autonomy, professionalism and commercial viability in order to make the public sector more effective. We believed that professionally competent mangers, if given complete operational autonomy, could outperform the familycontrolled enterprises which had their origin in the patronage politics of the Ayub regime. The original policy paper on nationalization prepared by the Commission for the Cabinet emphasized the need to select professionally experienced executives and ensure maximum operational autonomy with decentralized and clearly defined areas of responsibility and authority. Its operations were to be based primarily on commercial considerations. During this phase, when the policy for nationalization was being shaped, the Commission had to cope with the conventional critique originating from bureaucrats and private sector supporters in the Cabinet against bureaucratically managed, inefficient nationalized industries. We were, therefore, determined to create an institutional framework which could invest a handpicked group of the best professionals with the conditions to make nationalization successful. The Challenge of Improving the Performance


At the policy-formulating stage, the primary protagonist of autonomy for the sector corporations was the PM himself. It was he who argued against any sort of secretariat intermediating relations between the minister and corporation chairmen. It was at that stage inconceivable to us that for the next two-and-a-half years we would be engaged in a ceaseless struggle to institutionalize these very principles which had been so readily accepted by the leadership in March 1972. As part of our search for available professionals to head the corporation’s top executive posts, the Commission prepared a list of candidates who were deemed to be the best available managerial talent in Bangladesh. To prepare such a list, I personally discussed the names of possible candidates with senior members of the business community like our premier industrialist, A. K. Khan. The list of names forwarded by us to the PM mostly drew upon senior executives from both the private and public sectors. It may be noted that 6 out of the 10 corporation chairmen selected by the PM drew upon the list we had prepared for him though not necessarily for the specific slots indicated by us on the list. Of the four chairmen outside of our list chosen personally by the PM, the chairmen of the Jute Mills Corporation and the Chemical and Fertilizer Corporation were highly regarded and experienced senior executives. The civil servants chosen by the PM to head the Sugar and Forest Industries Corporations were again inspirational choices who made a big success not only out of their sectors but proved to be dynamic executives. This preference for professionalism was also manifested in the selection of top executives in the nationalized banks, insurance, IWT and shipping sectors where professionals with long experience in their areas of work were chosen. It would, therefore, appear that our attempt to induct professionals into the public sector had at the outset met with positive support from the leadership. This pattern was even apparent for the subordinate executive posts in each corporation. At the enterprise level, choices were dictated by paucity of personnel but the emphasis on professional preferment was made apparent. 176

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The suggestion that the nationalized sector was staffed by unqualified patronage appointees of the ruling party was an oft repeated canard which acquired the currency of fact not just on political platforms but even in ostensibly scholarly writing. In fact, in the entire period of 1972–1975, only three ruling party candidates were appointed to senior executive positions in the public sector. Out of a list which runs in excess of a hundred appointments, this is a fair record. The Commission’s success in persuading the PM of the importance of choosing the best professionals was something of a pyrrhic victory for us. Since the inception of EPIDC in the Eastern Wing at the beginning of the 1960s, 9 out of 10 chairmen had been career civil servants. The initiatives at the Planning Commission to not only ensure that professionals would head those corporations but also to see that even the first secretary of NID was a senior banking executive were an unprecedented challenge to the traditional monopoly of the civil service over the public sector. It was not surprising that the civil servants became active critics of the public sector professionals whilst working overtime to frustrate the concomitant concession of operational autonomy to the sector.

The Struggle over Autonomy for the Public Enterprise Sector Throughout our tenure in the Commission, we were engaged in an unending struggle with the senior bureaucrats for the shaping of the Rules of Business which would determine the division of responsibilities between the secretariat and corporations. This struggle continued right up to the end of our stay in the Commission. At the end of our tenure in the Commission, the deputy chairman and I fought a bitter battle in the high-level Cabinet committee set up by the PM to once and for all frame Rules of Business. Here, one of our principal antagonists was a colleague of ours, A. K. M. Ahsan, a senior civil servant, who had replaced Mosharraf as a member of the Commission. Ahsan The Challenge of Improving the Performance


chose to line up with his erstwhile civil service colleagues to establish the principle of secretariat control over the corporations. Nurul Islam and I eventually argued in the committee for the total elimination of NID and for making the corporation coterminous with a division of the government with its chairman performing the functions of a secretary, reporting directly to the minister. As it transpired, this battle was won by us more by attrition than any willing acceptance of our position by the bureaucrats. First, the chairman of the Jute Mills Corporation, Khurshid Anwar, himself a senior bureaucrat, was made secretary to the jute minister. Then the chairman of the Steel Mills Corporation, Major General (Retd) Majeedul Haq, who was also serving as chairman of Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC) was given secretary status. Finally, the chair of Petrobangla, Dr Habibur Rahman, who had been one of our strongest protagonists in the struggle for autonomy, was elevated to secretary status. Here, Kamal Hossain, then foreign minister who had been invited by Bangabandhu to assume the additional portfolio of minister of petroleum affairs, strongly advocated Habibur Rahman’s case. In his final phase in office, under BAKSAL, Bangabandhu took the historic decision of making all corporation chairmen coterminous with the position of secretary to their respective ministries. This applied not only to the remaining industries corporations but also in areas such as Biman Bangladesh, the Shipping Corporation, the Railway Board, IWT, and power and water resources. NID had already begun to wind up its establishment when the bureaucrats returned to power after 15 August 1975. One of Khondaker Mostaq’s first acts, as a martial law president, was to bring back Shafiul Azam, the senior most CSP officer into the government and appoint him as principal secretary to the president. Azam immediately moved to undo Bangabandhu’s orders and re-established the primacy of the secretariat over all public corporations. For good measure, most of the remaining


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professional chairmen running the corporations were progressively replaced by civil servants even where they had excellent records of executive performance. The struggle for autonomy for the nationalized sector did not stop at the Rules of Business but was carried over by the Commission to various other fronts. One of the key areas of conflict related to the market pricing of their products. Here, the Commission was keen to ensure that the corporations retained the freedom to buy and sell their products at market prices. Procurement constraints on the corporation had made it impossible to focus responsibility on the corporation for production performance or profitability since they passed on the blame to other agencies which limited their freedom to buy at prices and markets of their choice. One of my earlier initiatives to promote autonomy had been to liberate the corporations from the monopoly of TCB. This already overburdened agency was buying cotton for the Textile Mills Corporation, pig iron for the Steel Corporation and other such key inputs for the sector. After intensive lobbying by the Commission, it was conceded that corporations handle all procurement in their respective sectors. We were conspicuously less successful in freeing the corporations from the Cabinet subcommittee for purchases. In regular reports, in reviews, in the Cabinet meetings and bilateral discussions with the PM, we stressed the importance of commercial autonomy. We argued that neither could corruption be curbed nor accountability established unless the corporations could be judged by their results rather than on their individual transactions. The present system provided a breeding ground for intermediaries, known as indentors, thereby accentuating conflicts within the Cabinet where competing clients were patronized by their political sponsors. The Commission remained incorrigibly naïve in the belief that such a critical political resource as control over tenders could be surrendered to the corporations on the grounds of improving their commercial profitability.

The Challenge of Improving the Performance


Monitoring the Nationalized Sector Keeping Abreast of Industrial Performance Questions of operational efficiency and commercial viability remained a major preoccupation for me. There was no built-in mechanism within the system to regularly monitor the performance of the sector and to react to its deficiencies or identify its problems. At the policymaking level, responses were dictated by the intensity of criticism in the press and political platform for specific shortcomings of the sector or in response to particular interest groups bringing a problem to the notice of the PM or one of his concerned ministers. There appeared to be no evidence that any minister or secretary regularly reviewed the performance of enterprises under their ministry and initiated remedial action. Sector review exercises remained infrequent and tended to be ad hoc exercises. To this end, the Planning Commission was perhaps the only agency of government which regularly took stock of the operational performance of the public sector enterprises and progress in project implementation. For example, I had, in the early days of nationalization, a policy introduced whereby each corporation prepared a monthly information report (MIR) on the performance of all enterprises within their corporate jurisdiction. The MIR was shared with the PMO, the industries minister, the Planning Commission and other relevant government departments who were expected to study the reports and react where needed. In practice, few of the designated recipients read or reacted to the MIR. Regrettably, as I discovered in due course, me and my colleagues in the Industries Division were the only people in the government to regularly study the MIR put out by the various nationalized corporations and react to them. I would periodically contact the various chairmen to seek explanations for any downward trend in output or conspicuous deviations from their performance trend. Where performance was consistently poor, I would 180

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convene meetings with the corporation and even initiate studies of the problem by the Industries Division. These initiatives by me were entirely outside the executive jurisdiction of the Commission and could have been curtly rejected by the chairmen. In practice, the chairmen were surprised and even flattered that someone was bothered by their performance and problems. Whilst they may have resented my enquires about the causes of poor performance, they always knew that I was willing to sit with them to seek solutions for their problems. This was a rather poor substitute for a system of review and accountability by the industries ministry but was the best we could do under the prevailing circumstances. I would try and supplement such initiatives by the Commission by field visits, accompanied by the chairmen or even on my own, to some of their major projects to study the problems on the ground and identify solutions in consultation with enterprise managers who were directly facing particular problems. These field visits were more educational for me than remedial. To do more, one had to step outside my area of jurisdiction.

Overstepping My Jurisdiction This issue may be illustrated from my field trip to visit the Chhatak Cement Factory in Sylhet. On my visit to Chhatak, then headed by a highly competent manager who had restored production to pre-liberation levels, I observed that large inventories of cement were stockpiled in the factory, awaiting collection by various permit holders. The delays inherent in a system of centralized allocation of cement through permits issued by the commerce ministry in Dhaka to a large number of mostly politically patronized distributors had created a serious bottleneck for the cement factory which had already slowed down production. Across the river from the cement factory, I visited the site of the Sylhet Pulp Mill being set up by the Bangladesh Paper and Board Corporation under a German credit. There I saw construction work at a standstill, with German engineers underemployed and large The Challenge of Improving the Performance


quantities of machinery, under temporary shelters, facing exposure to the imminent monsoon. The problem appeared to be a chronic shortage of cement holding up the project’s construction programme. The dual problem witnessed by me in two public sector projects, separated by a small river, struck me as the reductio ad absurdum of a crazy system. I, therefore, on my own responsibility, issued written orders to the Chhatak manager to reduce some of their stockpile by instantly marketing an adequate quantity of cement across the river to meet the building needs of the Sylhet Paper Mill so it could resume construction the next day. Plant managers at both ends were enormously relieved by my decision and happy that I had assumed personal responsibility for such a simple and obvious solution to their problems. In their service experience, none of these managers could remember such a high official from Dhaka being so proactive on their behalf. On my return to Dhaka, I immediately sent a memo to the PM and the chairman of the Cement Allocation Committee, the Commerce Secretary, Mafizur Rahman, one of the senior most civil servants, explaining my extracurricular intervention and soliciting its regularization. I copied the memo for the PM’s attention since he was minister for planning. This action did not secure me any kudos from the commerce secretary who sent a formal complaint against my high-handed conduct to the PM. Fortunately, Bangabandhu did little more than send a reminder to me, through Nurul Islam, to keep within the rules of business but when we next met face to face, he commended me for my initiative. As a more institutionalized response to such absurd examples of red tape, I initiated a review by the Industries Division of the prevailing distributive regime for the nationalized industries and placed our recommendations before the Commerce minister and the PM for streamlining the system. I do not recollect if any action was taken on our report.

Learning from First-hand Experience I made further field trips to visit the Khulna Newsprint Factory, shipyards in Narayanganj and Khulna, the Ghorasal Urea Fertilizer 182

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Factory, the Machine Tool and Cable Factory in Joydebpur, the Chittagong Steel Mill, the Karnaphuli Paper Mill and a sugar mill at Ishwardi, among other such field trips. These field trips educated me on the specific problems of a particular enterprise. Following virtually every field trip by me or by my division chief, Muzzafar Ahmad, we could identify readily soluble problems which could be corrected. We accordingly initiated moves towards remedial action by bringing together concerned agencies of government to resolve particular problems encountered by us. Such field visits and follow-up initiatives were non-existent at the level of the ministry. Where occasional action was taken by the ministry, it stemmed from corporation chairmen bringing problems directly to the attention of the minister and seeking his intervention to solve problems. I repeatedly pressed the ministry for institutionalizing a review and accountability mechanism for the nationalized industries but no positive action followed. One such proposal by me, addressed to the minister and the PM, suggested that any enterprise where production declined over two months should be visited by the chairman of the corporation, over three months by the minister and over six months by the PM himself. This would demonstrate the concern and seriousness with which production performance in the sector was regarded by the government and the willingness to mobilize political authority in solving problems on the ground. Such proposals smacked of drama but were designed to highlight the political commitment involved in keeping the sector viable. I involved the Commission in virtually every sector to undertake both sectoral and enterprise reviews of operational performance and problems. The crisis in the Tanneries Corporation and the Paper and Board Corporation, the problems of the Chittagong Steel Mill and, above all, the critical position of the jute industry were some of the more challenging problems which engaged my special attention. In the case of the jute industry, we were prime movers in initiating a major review of the deteriorating state of the industry and subsidy policy during 1973. I held repeated meetings, initially The Challenge of Improving the Performance


with Rasheed Ahmad, the first chairman of Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation and then more frequently with M. K. Anwar, his successor. We explored together a variety of policy options and operational changes for this sector which was particularly targeted for criticism because of the nationalization of the Bengali-owned jute mills which had accounted for less than 5 per cent of the capacity of the whole industry. We deployed the services of a numbers of specialized consultants, brought in by PA Consulting, one of the UK’s top management consultancy firms, to address the problems of the industry. We eventually involved ourselves in a review of the specific problems of the Adamjee Jute Mill after the PM had dramatically led a posse of the Cabinet ministers to the mill premises to review its critical condition on the ground.

Capacity Utilization and Self-reliance Challenging the Culture of Aid Dependence In most sectors, the critical problem appeared to be to improve capacity utilization. This strategy presented the most readily available and cost-effective way to improve the condition of the economy in the short run. Part of the problem lay in technical and management bottlenecks. The Industries Division of the Planning Commission tried to understand and resolve such problems within the limits of our capability and authority. However, a more pervasive problem tended to relate to demand constraints within the sector. This paradox stemmed from the aid narcotic which held most government agencies captive. In most sectors, we came across agencies of government soliciting aid as a substitute for improving operational performance or using capacity available elsewhere within the economy. In the course of my oversight over the sectors within my domain, I found that every power distribution programme sought to build in a demand for assistance to import electric cables when the Chittagong Cable Factory under BSEC operated at low capacity. Public transport agencies sought to import river craft 184

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when shipyards were idle, steel plate when the plate mill at the Chittagong Steel Mill was idle, scooters when the Atlas Honda factory was idle, bicycles when the BSEC plant was idle, cars when the Progoti car assembly plant was idle, electric motors when the Joydebpur Diesel Factory was underused, power pumps when engineering workshops were underused, tea and road building machinery when Ispahani Marshall under BSEC was underused, railway sleepers when the timber processing plants under Bangladesh Forest Industries Development Corporation (BFIDC) were underused and so on. The Planning Commission inevitably involved itself in trying to frustrate such requests for aid or foreign exchange to underwrite imports. Our goal was to save extremely scarce foreign exchange, utilize idle capacity and improve the profitability of public enterprises. Our initiatives were heavily biased towards the steel and engineering sector where the tendency from within user agencies of the government to prefer capital imports was most apparent. But we also involved ourselves in other sectors. In all these cases, we had at our disposal more effective sanctions for executive intervention than in other areas of the economy. Since the concerned user agencies were dependent on the Planning Commission for aid programming to fund their imports, we could hold up allocations and push the agency to more fully use domestic capacity. Such initiatives could be lubricated by release of funds to finance the import of components of the concerned public enterprises needed to meet its marketing obligations. On various occasions, as in the case of a BIWTC boat order with BSEC or the supply of irrigation pump sets to Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation by BSEC, the Industries Division of the Commission had to put together the collaboration programme between the two agencies and even monitor its execution. The Commission obtained blanket orders from the PM to ensure that no imports were made if underutilized local capacity existed. But this order was constantly being evaded so that the Commission had to be vigilant on its own accord or receptive to a corporation’s request for intervention. The Challenge of Improving the Performance


My obsession with capacity utilization certainly had its political overtones. I tended to see the compulsion to import as a manifestation of the pressure of the intermediary interests seeking to frustrate the viability of the nationalized sector. To this end, my struggles to limit import dependence may not always have been justified by the criteria of economics but were seen as essential to promote the principle of self-reliance and to keep the nationalized sector viable. The profitability of BSEC during 1973–1974 and 1974–1975 and its subsequent descent into the red, in no small measure, were because of the Commission’s market interventions on its behalf. Once Muzaffar Ahmad and I left the Planning Commission, the fortunes of the importers appeared brighter but at the expense of public enterprise.

Distributing the Surplus Pricing Policy Debates It soon became apparent to the Planning Commission that it was not enough to improve the operating performance of public enterprise by enhancing capacity utilization or through other remedial measures if the critical question of distributing the surplus from SOE was not addressed. The disposition of the surplus was seen by the Commission to be of major importance not just for the viability of the nationalized sector but was of considerable importance to the character and fate of the regime. Public enterprise was, following the nationalization decisions, a primary source for generating surpluses to expand the productive forces and increase selfreliance. Failure to generate and reinvest the surplus would lead to external dependence, enhance budget deficits and contribute to maldistribution of public resources away from the state sector to the intermediaries within the system. In practice, this problem crystallized around the questions of pricing policy and the incentive structure for public enterprises. It had become apparent to me, virtually from the early days of the corporations, when we were drawn into coordinating discussions on pricing policy for sugar, that such issues were not 186

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merely questions of maximizing profits but critical to the political economy of the regime. Contending interest groups sought to use the price mechanism to appropriate surpluses generated by public enterprise. Workers wanted higher earnings and a share of the profits. Executives wanted higher salaries and bonuses and the right to retain the surplus for reinvestment within the enterprises. The political leadership wanted public enterprises to keep down prices as a counter-inflationary measure and to subsidize consumers who were also voters. This latter objective overlapped with the interest of trading intermediaries to keep down ex-factory prices so that they could appropriate the surplus between the much higher market price and the controlled ex-factory price. Civil servants and political leaders wanted price controls to keep goods within their own purchasing power. On a more generalized level, the Commission from the first budget discussions in mid-1972 attempted to persuade the Cabinet not to use subsidies to placate their constituents. This approach would and did lead to mounting budgetary deficits, which contributed to external dependence and inflation. The constituents eventually gained little, the public sector generated no surpluses and intermediaries appropriated the rents. This discussion, we observed, was resumed in every successive budget debate over the question of subsidies for food grains and agricultural inputs. The Commission attempted to rationalize pricing policy by initiating a comprehensive review of the pricing mechanism of public enterprise. A protracted and prolific exercise was initiated by the Commission where a variety of ministries, agencies and even the nationalized commercial banks were involved. The Commission’s report, in principle, sought to widen the area of autonomy for the corporations to raise their product prices within a limit of 10 per cent but sought to institutionalize the process through a constituted price commission to review such cases post facto and approve increases above 10 per cent. Its activities were to be presided over by a Cabinet subcommittee. The final policy draft of the proposal was the result of a compromise by the Commission rather than a victory for surplus The Challenge of Improving the Performance


maximization within the public sector. This owed to the fierce resistance of the Ministry of Commerce which till then exercised responsibility for administering the prices of a selected list of essential commodities. The list included exotica such as television sets and bicycles. The ministry sought to protect the class interests of the salaried middle class who would be hard put to buy television sets, bicycles or even vegetable oil at the market price. The subsidy to this class was administered through a system of permits dispensed by the civil servants, so an element of patronage power accompanied the regime of controls. This patronage was shared in uneasy balance by the bureaucrats and political elite. Thus, the Commission’s attempts to increase the surpluses of the public sector at the expense of the power and material interests of the bureaucratic class were hardly likely to receive a positive response.

Incentivizing Public Sector Executives In the belief that public enterprises should retain a larger share of the surplus, the Commission was caught up in the classical contradictions which seek to equate the gains of the public sector with the extension of ‘socialism’. The possibility of the public enterprise executives acquiring the lifestyles and social aspirations of the bourgeoisie in the private sector has been a recurring theme not just in other intermediate regimes but even in some socialist countries. In the case of Bangladesh, where public enterprise executives rarely had any ideological commitment to public enterprise, an accretion of power and resources in their hands could quite easily have accentuated class differentiation not just within the society but even within the enterprise. As it was, in the state sector, class divisions of executives in contradiction to the working class were sharp enough. The possibility of narrowing differentials within public enterprises by appointing managers with political commitment and leadership qualities rather than technical skills had been discussed within the Commission. We failed to pursue this issue because the 188

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general climate within the society for surplus extraction for private gain was so manifest that the possibility of providing a different basis of motivation, built around a social ethic unique to the sector, appeared unviable. To create a socialist cadre within a socialist island located in a bourgeois ocean, threatened to hold the state sector captive within a system which offered few material incentives while the regime they served lacked political commitment to their own ideology. We had all come across public enterprise managers in isolated factories working a 12 hours a day for less than Tk. 2,000 per month. Their products were being marketed by traders at 100 per cent premium so that a 20-year sibling with political access could earn Tk. 25,000 per month. To talk of sacrifice and commitment to public sector executives in such an environment was to expect the qualities of a saint rather than a political cadre. We were perpetually impressed that within the prevailing social milieu, so many people in public service had remained honest and dedicated to their work. I vividly remember an occasion where Dr Rafiquddin Ahmed, an eminent engineer and chair of BSEC, who was one of the most dedicated, honest and competent among the corporation chairmen, sought an interview with me after office hours when few people would be around. He entered my office late in the evening, began to speak and then put his head on my desk and began to silently weep. After a while, he recovered and in a choked voice apologized but said that by the 15th of every month, his wife could not afford to buy milk for their children. Yet he and other chairmen were being accused in the press and even parliament of being corrupt and incompetent. I knew that Rafiq and other dedicated chairmen worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week at the absurd salary of Tk. 2,000 per month yet had significantly improved performance in their sector and responded to most of my challenges. There was little I could do to console Rafiq beyond promising him that I would bring his heroic achievements and concerns directly to the attention of the PM and industries minister. The Challenge of Improving the Performance


Motivating the Workers The Role of the Kamruddin Commission The Planning Commission was not entirely innocent of the issues of class in our perception of the role and problems of public enterprise. Concurrent with our deliberations on nationalization policy within the Commission, we set up a committee on worker’s participation in management of public enterprises. I persuaded Kamruddin Ahmed, a senior lawyer with strong ties to the AL leadership, who had a long association with the trade union movement in Bangladesh, to chair the committee. He had written a valuable history of the labour movement and was generally respected by all tendencies within it. Others selected to serve on the committee in their individual capacities were chosen to reflect a pro-labour persuasion, though some were institutionally associated such as the labour and industries secretaries. We had hoped to associate trade unionists with the committee but found it difficult to choose appropriate candidates. Given the politically divided character of the trade union movement, we feared that selection of one or two would alienate other groups to the point where they rejected the whole report as partisan. Our efforts at consensus building within the labour movement were largely frustrated by Abdul Mannan, the president of the Sramik League, the AL’s labour front, and one of the four stalwarts of the Mujib Bahini which gave him extra political clout. Mannan took the view that the Sramik League was the only union which should be involved in the committee as they were the true repositories of the spirit of the liberation war. It was our first exposure to policymaking for a divided labour movement. We chose to elide over the problem by suggesting that the committee would consult with all the concerned factions of the labour movement and seek to distil a consensus out of their contending viewpoints. The report of the Kamruddin Commission which suggested, inter alia, the need and modalities of worker participation in the nationalized sector, along with recommendations on worker 190

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ownership and participation in management, initially satisfied neither the public sector employers nor the unions. When we presented the Kamruddin Commission report to the PM, I suggested to him that he was the only political figure with the necessary political authority to undertake the delicate task of securing the involvement of the workers in the operationalization of the nationalization policies. He should, therefore, treat the issue of workers’ participation as a major political priority and should invest his time and authority behind its realization. If he failed to capitalize on the political tide of the moment, dissensions within the labour movement would frustrate the enactment of a labour policy and workers would move into an antagonistic position with public sector management which could undermine the whole nationalization policy. I suggested, rather more picturesquely, to the PM that he lock himself into a room with all the major union leaders and throw away the key till they emerged with a consensus for the policy.

Costs and Consequences of a Policy Vacuum The PM appeared to accept the spirit behind my suggestion but was merely amused by its proposed modality. Once the report was completed, a large meeting of all the union leaders with the Kamruddin Committee and a variety of political leaders was convened in an auditorium. This gathering was addressed by Bangabandhu, who regrettably did not stay on till a consensus could be hammered out by him between the contentious labour factions. As a result, the meeting inevitably degenerated into pandemonium without any consensus behind a clear policy endorsing workers’ participation in the nationalized sector. My prophetic perspective on the urgency of securing acceptance for the policy was either not taken seriously or was too fraught with problems of reconciling the conflicting positions among the union leaders. As a consequence, the workers remained an alienated element in contention with the management and government. Their deteriorating living standards, in the face of The Challenge of Improving the Performance


rising prices, were made all the more intolerable by the spectacle of high life within the dominant groups who were appropriating the surpluses generated by their labour. The widening gulf between workers and management was not only manifest in the indices of labour unrest but also on the ground. On various visits by me to different enterprises, I had evidence of this deteriorating situation. On a visit by me to a vegetable oil mill in Postagola with Delawar Hossain, chairman, Bangladesh Food and Allied Industries Corporation (BFAIC), one of the most enlightened chairmen, we were ‘gheraoed’ by workers determined to exploit the presence of the chairman to press their grievances. In consultations with pro-Moscow Communist Party leaders, I was invited to visit Ahmed Bawany Jute Mills, Demra, where the Trade Union Centre (TUC), the labour front of the party, was the dominant force, then under the leadership of its general secretary, Shahidullah Chowdhury, who is today regarded as one of the veterans of the labour movement. I persuaded Nurul Islam, the deputy chairman of the Commission, to accompany me to explore whether we could establish a dialogue with the workers of the enterprise. This was a unique experience. Whilst TUC was the dominant presence in the mill and Shahidullah was their recognized leader, workers affiliated to other unions also wanted to talk to us. When we managed to finally ensconce ourselves with Shahidullah and his associates in the mill office, workers representing contradictory interests, wanted to secure a seat at the dialogue. The room itself was surrounded by workers monitoring the statements of their leaders to see that all their grievances were adequately ventilated. The discussion itself turned into an indictment of the incompetence and venality of the management. The managers, in private, accused the union leaders of corruption and frustrating attempts to improve productivity.

Lessons from the Field: The Adamjee Jute Mill Safari Nowhere was the mood of the workers given more dramatic expression than in the PM’s visit to Adamjee Jute Mill. The PM 192

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had obviously been primed by his political workers on the rot which had beset the enterprise. He always maintained his bilateral lines with the workers through the Sramik League. In a discussion in the Cabinet on the problems afflicting the jute industry, the PM suddenly suggested that all present should see the situation on the ground rather than indulge in academic discussion in the air-conditioned cabinet room. Therefore, all the present ministers, some officials and those of us from the Commission who were at the meeting, piled into our cars and followed the PM, in a posse, to Demra. The visit was obviously unscheduled but the arrival of the PM was seen as a second coming by the 30,000 workers in the mill who converged on this concourse of VIPs determined to voice their grievances. The possibility of the Cabinet being decimated by asphyxiation was providentially averted while the PM was given mass exposure to the mood of the workers. Their pent-up grievances were brought before their leader who was still seen by them as a saviour to rescue them and the nation from the malaise which had infested their lives and extinguished their hopes. I had once accompanied the PM on an election campaign visit to Demra in 1970 and witnessed the hysterical adulation which his visit had aroused among the working class. To see this spectacle of the same workers venting their frustrations on his regime, for him must have been a bitter commentary on the passage of events. The problems of the mill were too deep rooted to provide panaceas administered by a charismatic leader. Indeed, the problems of the mill were a microcosm of the problems of the entire nationalized sector and these, in turn, mirrored the contradictions within the polity. The PM’s rhetorical gesture of suspending the manager of Adamjee Jute Mill on the spot, as a ritual sacrifice to the workers, did little to placate the workers but made heavy inroads into the morale of the executives, the authority of the Jute Mills Corporation, chairman, and the political credibility of the jute minister. As with all such high-level gestures, the problem was sidetracked to a committee and any solution may have been consigned to The Challenge of Improving the Performance


oblivion. Since I had already been actively engaged in addressing the problems of the mill’s parent corporation, Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC), I once again requested PA Consulting to bring in an experienced management expert to service the committee and follow up on operationalizing its recommendation. Our efforts rescued the efforts of the committee from burial by eventually bringing together the experts, corporation and mill management to work out a timetable of action to implement the remedial proposals for Adamjee Jute Mill. Whilst this initiative went some way in improving the management and performance of the enterprise, the workers were excluded from the exercise and remained an alienated element, held captive to every labour agitator and gangster who chose to mobilize their frustrations behind their particular political or personal ambitions.

Outcomes of Our Efforts to Improve Performance This short account in the preceding chapter on some of the initiatives of the Planning Commission in trying to improve the performance of the nationalized sector through a variety of ad hoc initiatives taken by me and my colleagues in the Industries Division hardly provide a solution to the deep-seated political and structural problems plaguing the sector. Attempts to move beyond ad hoc attempts to resolve specific problem of particular corporations yielded little more than a series of Cabinet papers initiated by me. Our papers were occasionally discussed at the Cabinet level but largely remained unattended so the problems of the nationalized sector remained a festering sore on the body politic of the regime. I prepared a report on the nationalized industries with the Industries Division which I presented to the Cabinet at the end of 1972. The report spelt out most of the key problems and our proposed remedies for the sector. Little action was taken so most


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of the problems identified in our report festered over the years, eventually leading to the devaluation of the nationalization experience.

Looking at the Evidence At the end of the day, did all my efforts and struggles with the bureaucracy contribute in any way to improving the performance of the nationalized sector? Conventional wisdom, political rhetoric and even some official pronouncements during the tenure of subsequent regimes have given currency to the view that nationalization of industry was an unmitigated disaster not just for industry but the entire economy of Bangladesh. But a review of the actual evidence tells us quite a different story. I cannot establish any direct casualty between my personal interventions and their immediate contribution to specific outcomes in particular industries. What I can draw upon are some of the results from my extended research work in collaboration with Muzaffar Ahmad, published under the title Public Enterprise in an Intermediate Regime, as far back as 1980, evaluating the actual performance of the sector in the 1972–1975 period which points to significant improvements realized within these three and a half years. The evidence emerging from our data demonstrates significant progress in the nationalized sector. This owes to a variety of factors, particularly the dedicated and heroic efforts of the managers and workers of the sector. Our own efforts from the Planning Commission made, at best, a modest contribution to the performance in the sector. But it serves to indicate that at least in this sector, our efforts did not go in vain.

Revival of Production Improvement in performance can be measured through the growth of value added in constant prices for various industries

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under the sector corporations. Value added is a useful proxy for output growth in the sector. Between July 1972 and June 1975, significant improvement in performance was registered across most of the nationalized industries. By 1973–1974, within two years of nationalization, all sectors except tanneries and oil and gas recorded significant increases in value added. The upward trend across the nationalized sector reflected the improved organization within the sector following the problems of transition during 1972–1973. Performance trends were, however, constrained by shortage of external resources in the first half of 1974 which limited the delivery of imported inputs needed to sustain production in a number of sectors. It may be recollected that after the sharp escalation in energy prices at the end of 1973, there was a general inflation in global prices leading to a global recession. The consequential fall in global demand for our jute exports along with rising import costs severely impacted Bangladesh’s balance of payments. The trend for 1974–1975 should, in fact, have marked a continuity in the improving trend identified in 1973–1974. However, significant setbacks occurred in jute and fertilizer. In the case of jute, the world recession severely cut into sales so that inventory accumulation led to cutbacks in production. In the case of Bangladesh Fertilizer, Chemical and Pharmaceutical Corporation (BFCPC), the parent corporation overseeing fertilizer enterprises, the critical variable constraining its performance was the explosion in the Ghorasal Fertilizer Factory. We never discovered whether this owed to an act of sabotage or was the outcome of deus ex machina. The end result was the shutdown of the factory for the most part of 1974–1975 and a reduced production of 69,000 tons, compared to 279,000 tons produced in the factory in 1973–1974. The fact that production revived to around 300,000 tons in 1975–1976 gives some idea of the opportunity cost of the explosion which not only affected the performance of BFCPC but, in fact, accounted for a significant part of the slowdown in the revival of industrial output. The shortage of fertilizer also impacted the revival of farm production after the floods of 1974. 196

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Improvement in the Commercial Viability of the Sector: Trends in Sales and Profits Whilst sales are useful as a measure of cash generation for the enterprise, it is more meaningful to look at profits. Here, we see that three sectors—jute, paper and tanneries—made consistent losses. Their losses reflect their weak record of production and capacity utilization. However, again apart from tanneries whose performance was unbelievably poor, the losses incurred by jute and paper were due to the impact of exogenous policy constraints. Both sectors suffered from a quantum change in their cost structure—jute, because of the rise in the cost of raw jute after liberation and paper, because of the astronomic rise in the cost of its imported inputs which are critical elements in its cost structure. In contrast, an artificially low external exchange rate prevented the jute industry from deriving a market price for its exports, whilst domestic price controls imposed on newsprint enforced similar constraints for paper. The devaluation of the taka served to reduce the operating losses of the jute industry slightly in 1974–1975, but this came too late in the year to have any real impact or to outweigh the impact of the continuing recession in world demand for jute and jute goods. For the other sectors, the performance is more impressive. All sectors showed high and rising profitability. The one exception to this trend was again BFCPC where its production losses in 1974–1975 were as spectacular as its profit gains in 1973–74. This only goes to show the importance of the Ghorasal plant in determining the performance of the sector. Textiles, whilst continuing to earn impressive profits in 1974–1975, suffered an absolute and relative decline in its profits in that year compared to the last year due to mounting inventories. This reflected, as noted earlier, institutional constraints in marketing and some element of demand recession due to the impact of high food grain prices. Sectors such as steel and sugar, which had been chronic loss makers, now moved into a much more profitable situation as did all other sectors. However, in corporations such as sugar, The Challenge of Improving the Performance


textiles, BFCPC, BSEC and BFAIC, much higher profits could have been earned but for imposed price controls for textiles, sugar, fertilizer, soap, consumer durables, edible oils and flour products. These controls provided little gain to the consumer and merely permitted the private middlemen to extract the real surplus which was being generated by this sector.

Production Performance in Perspective Comparing the real value of production in the nationalized sector in relation to the pre-liberation performance is not very meaningful because it is premised on the spurious notion that any relevant conclusion can be drawn by comparing figures for 1969–1970 with those of the post-liberation period. The change in the social and political environments caused by liberation, along with the completely changed position of the external economy, would indicate the absurdity of such a comparison. However, such a measure is attempted largely because 1969–1970, on the eve of liberation war, has been projected as some sort of golden age for Bangladesh industry. Both liberation and, more particularly, nationalization had, within this mythology, driven industry to ‘collapse’ compared to those happier days. In putting these myths into perspective, therefore, it should be kept in mind that 1969–1970 was itself a record year for industry in the then East Pakistan in virtually every sector due to the massive inflow of resources into the region through redirections in national policy in order to contain the mounting pressures of Bengali nationalism. We have already seen how this last desperate effort by the Yahya regime to build up the stake of the Bengali bourgeoisie in the old order was timed to influence the course of the elections in December 1970. It is, therefore, less apparent how far these trends manifested in 1969–1970 could have sustained themselves in more normal times. If we look at the weighted average for the whole sector, we see that by 1973–1974, production had, in fact, surpassed figures for 1972–1973 and had gone well beyond the 1969–1970 benchmark 198

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and by 1974–1975 had moved well beyond pre-liberation production. This trend had manifested itself in spite of the explosion at Ghorasal. Indeed, if we could even assume an equivalent figure for 1973–1974 for BFCPC, rather than the increase which normally might have been expected for 1974–1975, the growth over 1969–1970 might have been even greater. Whatever, therefore, appear to have been the constraints faced by the industries sector in the post-nationalization phase, it appears to have, in overall terms, not only enabled it to record impressive growth but to surpass the ‘golden age’ of 1969–1970. If we look at the record sectorally, we again see that except for jute, paper and tanneries, all the sectors had by 1974–1975 moved beyond production levels in 1969–1970. Indeed, in steel, engineering, BFCPC and BFIDC, they had already achieved this by 1972–1973. Whilst in most sectors this reflected capacity utilization, for BFCPC, this was also contributed by additional capacity. We may conclude this section with a cautionary note that the performance record of the sector was achieved in spite of the numerous societal, operational and policy constraints confronting the nationalized sector. The real issue relating to the sector was, therefore, one of lost opportunities rather than any conspicuous deterioration of performance. It was a legitimate expectation when the nationalization policy was framed that apart from the dialectical premise of policy, a dedicated and able group of professionals and workers could perform immeasurably better than a regime of surplus extractors and colonialists. Within this perspective, the nationalized sector should have dynamized the economy and generated investible surpluses for the further growth and self-reliance of the economy. My own perspective on the sector can be seen more as a lament on what might have been than on what happened. The more I confronted these problems during my tenure, the more I appreciated the need for more substantive powers being vested upon me to deal with the issues I faced. This was never offered and could only have materialized had I been appointed as The Challenge of Improving the Performance


a minister with exclusive responsibility for the nationalized sector. Even in those difficult days, I was firmly convinced, in my early years of optimism, that I could take on the challenge of transforming the fortunes of the sector if I was invested with the power to do so. I believed I understood the problems, had found solutions to address them, had earned the confidence of the industry executives and firmly retained both the commitment and competence to initiate a turn round in the fortunes of the nationalized sector. In retrospect, my expectations bore little relation to the realities of the day so no such power could ever be vested in me. Nor could I have effectively resolved the deep structural problems which constrained the performance of the nationalized sector. Thus, all I could achieve from my hyperactivity was to incur the irritation of the industries minister and the wrath of the senior bureaucrats who eventually ruled Bangladesh in partnership with the army for the next 15 years, whilst Bangabandhu and Nazrul Islam, the industries minister, languished in their graves in Tungipara and Banani.


Untranquil Recollections

My Return to Aid Diplomacy


Adventures in the International Arena I had written in the volume of my memoirs, Untranquil Recollections: The Years of Fulfilment, about my entry into the alien world of aid diplomacy. As envoy extraordinaire in charge of economic affairs of the Bangladesh government in 1971, I had travelled to the capitals of the world with the mission to stop aid to Pakistan until they ceased their genocide on the people of Bangladesh. I had in this role visited Washington DC, New York, Ottawa, London, Paris and Rome, met major political figures in each country including global luminaries such as Robert McNamara, the president of the World Bank, and literary icon, Andre Malraux, campaigned extensively in the Houses of Congress in Washington DC and periodically addressed the print and electronic media. These encounters as an inexperienced, rather undiplomatic academic, had given me considerable exposure to the world of aid diplomacy, albeit from the wrong side of the fence. Now, as a member of the Planning Commission, I was part of an agency committed to bring aid into Bangladesh to support the reconstruction and resuscitation of our war-devastated, resource-starved economy. I have written extensively on the aid-related part of my experience in the Planning Commission in my work The Crisis of External Dependence, published in 1982. Furthermore, Nurul Islam, Just Faaland and Jack Parkinson have also discussed Bangladesh’s relations with our aid donors in the period 1972–1975 in their

excellent work, Aid and Influence. In this volume, I will, therefore, briefly address the Commission’s attempts to cope with the political consequences of the years of heavy aid dependence, particularly on the USA and the World Bank. Our inheritance had been greatly aggravated by the devastation and damage to our economy so that aid dependence was inevitable from day one. The Commission’s approach towards this inherited tradition of dependence was to stand firm against donor attempts to exercise influence over our policy agendas as they had done in Pakistan. As part of this strategy, we aspired to diversify Bangladesh’s external economic relations. I will discuss a few areas where I was involved in coping with the policy influence of aid donors and my more proactive engagement in attempts at diversifying our external relations.

Containing Donor Policy Influence A Blighted Encounter with the World Bank Bangladesh’s heavy dependence on foreign aid in those early years made us vulnerable to pressure from aid donors. This was particularly uncomfortable for those of us in the Commission who had for many years criticized the hegemonic influence of the USA and the World Bank in the politics and policy agendas of the Pakistan state through the 1960s. In the immediate aftermath of liberation, we discovered that Tajuddin Ahmad was even more strongly inimical to restoring any form of aid dependence on the USA and the World Bank. His position was largely influenced by the malign role played by the Nixon administration in 1971 to subvert Bangladesh’s liberation struggle. I too had been directly involved during 1971 in the campaign in the USA to contain the damaging consequences of the Nixon–Kissinger tilt towards Pakistan. We had campaigned extensively inside the USA to influence both Congressional and public opinions towards Bangladesh. The campaign had some positive results through the passage of the Saxby Church amendment in 202

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the Senate which stopped further commitment of US foreign aid to Pakistan and also limited its military aid programme. In contrast to the USA, the World Bank had played a more positive role in frustrating Pakistan’s efforts to mobilize new aid commitments from the Pakistan Aid Consortium during 1971. Here, I had also been actively involved in reaching out to the Bank. I had met with its President Robert McNamara and with Peter Cargill, the vice-president of the Bank in charge of South Asia. My encounters with Cargill on the mornings after the Paris Consortium meeting over breakfast at the Royal Monceau hotel, first in June and finally in November 1971, provided me with an inside briefing on the debates and outcome of the meeting which I could share with the Mujibnagar government. In both these meetings, Cargill had taken a position which was more favourable to Bangladesh by advising other members that conditions in both Bangladesh and Pakistan were far from conducive towards pledging new aid. In spite of the US efforts to provide some support to Pakistan, the Consortium members, throughout 1971, withheld pledging new aid. When Bangladesh was liberated on 16 December 1971, the World Bank had every expectation of capitalizing on the positive position it assumed during the war and hoped to establish ready access to the political leadership and decision-makers in Bangladesh. In early February 1972, Nurul Islam received a message from Cargill that the Bank president, Robert McNamara, was keen to use his official visit to India to visit Bangladesh. He offered to fly from Kolkata to Dhaka by helicopter to discuss the Bank’s possible contribution to reconstructing the war-devastated economy. The mood in post-liberation Bangladesh was, however, far from receptive to the imperial benevolence of the World Bank. The political mood at that stage was highly nationalistic and animated by suspicion towards the USA. The Bank’s president was regarded as a card-carrying member of the Washington power elite even though he was no longer serving the government. Furthermore, the Bank had as yet not formally recognized the My Return to Aid Diplomacy


sovereignty of Bangladesh by accepting us as a member. There was some suggestion led by Tajuddin Ahmad, who was then minister of finance and planning and was particularly hostile to any idea of restoring Western influence over Bangladesh, that we have nothing to do with the Bank or the USA. Bangabandhu, however, took the position that this would be a gratuitous discourtesy but that no great event should be made of McNamara’s visit. The one day spent by Robert B. McNamara in war-devastated Bangladesh must rank as one of the more uncomfortable events of his distinguished career. He, the president of one of the most powerful international institutions in the world, was coming personally to this destitute, war-shattered country as an angel of mercy anxious to put Bangladesh under the Bank’s bounty. He expected the overwhelmed government to lay down a red carpet for him and his Bank. In their long-standing relations with Pakistan, Cargill as vice-president of the Bank had always been received on arrival by none other than the deputy chairman of the Commission and was royally feted by him. The Bank, at the least, expected similar treatment by Nurul. Cargill hoped to renew relations with me on as cordial terms as when he had hosted me at the Royal Monceau hotel in Paris in 1971. Sadly for the Bank, we were both advised to avoid any direct contact with the Bank. In lieu of the deputy chairman, McNamara was met at the airport by the governor of the Bangladesh Bank, Hameedullah, a former commercial banker. Not even a member, let alone the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission or minister of finance, was there to greet him. Cargill had sent an advance intimation to the government that McNamara hoped to have lunch with the Planning Commission to revive old contacts and discuss the future entente between the Bank and Bangladesh. This was also overruled by Bangabandhu and Tajuddin so that McNamara had to lunch with the governor of the Bangladesh Bank as his host but Nurul Islam was permitted to participate at the lunch as a guest. McNamara’s official meeting with the government in the afternoon was restricted to a two-hour session with Bangabandhu 204

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where Tajuddin and Nurul Islam were also in attendance. Here, his offers of support were received correctly but coolly with no great effort being made to solicit massive Bank largesse. When asked by McNamara what the Bank could do for Bangladesh, Tajuddin Ahmad, with tongue in cheek and trying succinctly to put their offer in perspective said, ‘We need bullocks, I wonder if the Bank can supply that’. The main message to the Bank president was that Bangladesh would appreciate assistance, but first demanded sovereign recognition from them and was not overwhelmed with the need to establish the Bank’s presence in Bangladesh. Whilst the encounter was a major blow to McNamara’s ego and reflected poorly on the public relations skills of the new regime, it certainly conveyed to the Bank the political mood in Bangladesh and the awareness that Bangladesh at that stage was unwilling to open itself up as a pasture to donor influence. Notwithstanding this rather blighted inaugural to the future entente between the Bank and Bangladesh, the mood of the international community strongly favoured extending massive assistance to Bangladesh. Their position was driven by strong humanitarian overtones as a result of the globally popular sympathy and awareness of the sufferings of the people of Bangladesh. This perspective was underwritten by political concern over the implications of the new society proving unviable and descending into pervasive anarchy. It was not only Kissinger who apprehended that post-liberation Bangladesh would be a basket case. The Bank swallowed its annoyance and set about attempting to recoup its fortunes in Bangladesh the hard way. The Bank, shortly after McNamara’s blighted visit to Bangladesh, moved to get its foot in the door by extending a formal invitation to us to become a member, thereby extending us sovereign recognition. They immediately set about appointing their first resident representative who could open the Bank’s office in Bangladesh and initiate discussion on a possible loan programme. The Bank made a further conciliatory gesture, possibly unique in its history, by inviting the government to suggest who we would like to have My Return to Aid Diplomacy


appointed to the important office of resident representative and indicated that he/she need not be a Bank official. Nurul, as deputy chairman of the Commission, was primarily responsible for dealing with the prospective aid donors. He took the Bank at its word and suggested they offer the position to Just Faaland, director of the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), Bergen, an eminent development economist from Norway. Faaland had earlier served in the 1960s in Pakistan as a member of the Harvard Advisory Group, advising the Planning Commission whence he had come to know something of Bangladesh’s problems. Just’s most positive attraction to us was that he came from a small country with no history of attempting to exercise political or policy influence in our part of the world. Just proved an excellent choice from Bangladesh’s point of view, though far less so from the Bank’s perspective.

Balancing Donor Influence Diversification of Our External Relations Notwithstanding Bangladesh’s initial cool approach to aid our immediate economic compulsions made the need for extensive aid imperative. Our capacity for domestic resource mobilization was severely constrained by the narrow structural base of the economy, its weak income-generating base and now its severely depleted capacity to augment production and exports. Aid was needed at that stage merely to revive economic activity drawing on our narrow economic base. This need for aid had, in the first year, been largely met by India but this was unsustainable. More substantial and sustainable aid flows were needed in the years ahead from more diversified sources. This need, in the immediate future, could only be met by the traditional donors from the developed world and the international financial institutions. Faced with this reality, the best available option for the new government was to try to contain the tendency of our principal aid donors to leverage their aid towards influencing our policy agendas. The USA and the World Bank had 206

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been particularly active in this area in Pakistan in the 1960s, and it was their larger-than-life role in exercising policy influence that had conditioned the thinking of some of us economists as also political leaders like Tajuddin. The other approach to moderating the influence of the Western donors was to diversify our sources of aid and external economic relations. In the short run, the only available options before us were the Socialist Bloc and in the broader areas of economic relations, India. After the energy price rise in 1973, some of the oil-exporting countries from the Middle East, now flush with surplus capital, emerged as another option, but this was not on the cards in the early years after liberation. In the sections to follow, I will discuss my involvement in enhancing economic relations with the Socialist Bloc and the oil-exporting countries. I will also make a few observations about my attempts to deal with donor attempts to exercise policy influence which has been more fully addressed elsewhere in books authored by me (The Crisis of External Dependence) and Nurul Islam, Just Faaland and Jack Parkinson (Aid and Influence). In a separate chapter, I will discuss our initiatives from the Planning Commission, where I was more actively involved in constructing a more balanced pattern of economic relations with India.

Cultivating the Socialist Bloc Inherited Relations with the Socialist World The Planning Commission took the lead in the initial phase in initiating moves to improve our economic links with the Socialist Bloc. Nurul Islam, always the pragmatist, pointed out the limited capacity of the Socialist Bloc to emerge as an option to the West. As the incurable romantic who still had faith in the solidarity of the Socialist Bloc with its Third World brothers, I was the principal advocate in the Commission for developing this relationship. What I then did not appreciate until later was that across the administration, I would remain one of the few believers in strengthening the socialist link. My Return to Aid Diplomacy


Fortunately for me, in my mission to develop stronger links with the Socialist Bloc, I was initially fully supported by Tajuddin and the foreign minister, Abdus Samad Azad, who had taken over as foreign minister in the last months of the liberation war and had remained in this position after liberation. Both of them had greatly appreciated the support of the USSR and its allies in our liberation struggle which, in the final stages, had been a crucial source of help to our cause. Bangabandhu was equally determined to assert Bangladesh’s independence in dealing with the donors but was less ideologically driven than Tajuddin and preferred a more pragmatic approach. Notwithstanding the cordiality in our external relations with the Socialist Bloc, we discovered that redirecting of economic ties towards the Bloc was, in practice, a much more challenging task. The pattern of external relations inherited by Bangladesh from the period of Pakistani rule had been overwhelmingly directed towards the West and Japan both in terms of aid and trade. The pattern of aid flows tended to determine the pattern of imports so that this trend was built into Bangladesh’s economic inheritance. This pattern of external alignment meant that the Bengali business community and, more specifically, the bureaucracy had built up close ties with the West both on a personal and working level. Many of this class were educated or trained in the West, had business ties with Western principals, had worked closely with Western advisors and donors and socially interacted with the Western community which was resident in Bangladesh as part of their commercial and aid links. To rebalance this long-standing pattern of relations not only had political implications but also affected the material interests of this emerging class. It became apparent from the first days that whilst the embassies of the Socialist countries might be hyperactive in building links with the administration, within the bureaucracy and operational agencies there was no corresponding enthusiasm for lining up Socialist assistance. All their attention was directed to the aid being negotiated by the Commission with the Western countries and the multilateral aid agencies. The Planning Commission, 208

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therefore, had to take a very positive policy decision to not only promote economic ties with the Socialist Bloc but to impose discipline in aid programming so that user agencies had to make use of Socialist aid or to go without aid. Bangabandhu himself took the lead in opening up relations with the USSR by making his first external visit outside South Asia in March 1972 to the USSR at the invitation of President Kosygin. It was a grand event, rich in ceremony and atmospherics, but yielded little immediate aid though much was promised in the future. Some of us were tantalized by the possibility that the USSR would treat us as a special beneficiary of their highly selective aid strategy as had been the case with Cuba and Chile under President Allende. One of the most positive outcomes of Bangabandhu’s visit had been a categorical commitment by the leadership of the USSR to send a special fleet of the Soviet Navy, under an admiral, to clear Chittagong Port of the mines left behind by the fleeing Pakistanis as a last act to cripple our external trade. This support was provided as a costless grant to us. The Soviet fleet did an excellent job clearing the ports within three months, thereby earning the gratitude of all Bangladeshis. Apart from this major gesture, the USSR sent out a large mission to discuss the scope for a large volume of economic aid. I was less involved in this process though I had identified a long list of infrastructure projects, including the revival of the Rooppur atomic energy project, as prospective areas for aid. Not a great deal of aid emerged from this initiative. I played a more active role in building up attempts to enhance economic relations with Eastern Europe where we hoped to explore opportunities for both foreign trade and inflow of aid.

Exploring the Socialist World As a demonstration of Bangladesh’s improved relationship with the Socialist states of Eastern Europe, the Bangladesh foreign minister, Abdus Samad Azad, was invited by six of these My Return to Aid Diplomacy


countries to make an official visit in October 1972. The Planning Commission viewed this invitation as a good opportunity to further diversify our external economic relation. As the resident advocate for such initiatives, I was included in the delegation to explore directly the scope for increasing the volume of assistance from these countries. Prior to independence, some East European countries had initiated a number of projects in Bangladesh, financed under various supplier’s credits, which had been carried over from the Pakistan period. These projects were largely located in the industries, transport and energy sectors which fell within my domain in the Planning Commission, so I already had a platform to strengthen this relationship. Ours was a small delegation. Samad Azad was accompanied by his wife and 11-year-old son. He was back stopped by Rezaul Karim, who was the director general for Eastern Europe in the foreign ministry, and Shafi Sami, who was Azad’s private secretary. Our mission covered Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Yugoslavia, Rumania and Bulgaria, so I viewed our mission as a good opportunity to see socialism at work. My only exposure to a Socialist country had been to Czechoslovakia in 1956, just after my graduation from the Cambridge University, which I had visited as part of a large group of students from the UK to attend an international youth congress. I have written about the visit in the first volume of my memoirs. Our trip commenced towards the middle of October, at a time when winter was already descending on Europe. I recollect we travelled to Delhi to take the Aeroflot flight to Moscow from where we connected to a flight to Warsaw. We had a resident ambassador in Poland, Bashirul Alam, who had organized our programme in consultation with the Polish foreign ministry. In those days, our relations with the Socialist Bloc were at a high level of comradeship so Azad was greeted at the airport by the Polish foreign minister. This was to be the level of our airport reception throughout our journey where either the foreign minister or some senior minister was there to receive us, accompanied 210

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by a large entourage. We were treated as honoured state guests in each country where we were housed either in their top-category state guest houses or at the best available hotels. As the person with the strongest commitment towards building relations with the Socialist Bloc, I had invested more time in not just exploring the history of our pre-Bangladesh economic links but the pattern of external economic relations of the various socialist countries and areas where they could have some competitive potential to meet our needs. In the opening sessions of our various meetings, Azad would concentrate on the broader aspects of bilateral and global relations, while I focused on the global political economy aspects of the relationship. I then used the more exclusive sessions with my counterparts to talk business about economic relations. In Poland, apart from our discussions with the foreign minister, we were invited to meet PM, Edward Gierek, who had a long tenure in power and other Cabinet ministers. Poland was hardly in a position to offer large-scale economic aid to anyone and at best could offer Bangladesh loans which were, in effect, supplier’s credits for various projects they were willing to establish or to finance imports of capital equipment like railway rolling stock or merchant ships that we may need. This was the pattern in all the six countries we visited where the various socialist countries remained largely interested in exporting projects and capital equipment to Bangladesh, often on quite hard terms. Their loans demanded considerable negotiating effort to secure small reductions in their rates of loan finance. Warsaw, the capital, was a rather bleak place and with winter imminent appeared grey and gloomy in aspect. We attended a high-level state banquet hosted by the foreign minister where Polish vodka flowed quite freely. Natwar Singh, later foreign minister of India, was the Indian ambassador in Warsaw and hosted a lavish dinner for us at his residence. I had known Natwar from our Cambridge days when he was an Indian foreign service probationer. He has since written a highly readable memoir of his life and career, One Life Is Not Enough. My Return to Aid Diplomacy


From Warsaw, we travelled to East Berlin, an even more drab city compared to Warsaw, where we were exposed to the same protocols as at Warsaw. I do not recollect if much in the way of assistance emerged but we did get to meet, Erich Honecker, the all-powerful general secretary of the Communist Party, who like Gierek became a casualty of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Honecker spent the period after his downfall in prison and eventually died of cancer in self-exile in Chile. From East Berlin, we moved to Budapest which was a rather more attractive city which had escaped the ravages of war which had destroyed much of Warsaw and Berlin. We met Janos Kadar, the long-standing general secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party, as well as the PM and foreign minister. The Hungarians reportedly practised a more market-oriented form of socialism. One of the by-products of this system was the commercialization of economic relations with the Third World countries. What the Hungarian’s classify as aid really comes in the form of hard loans underwritten occasionally by barter trade. Whilst our experience in dealing with Hungary on issues of aid was not very different to those with other socialist countries, our spirits were greatly elevated by the excellent quality of Hungarian cuisine. As state guests, we tasted nothing but the best cuisine. We did not have a resident ambassador in Hungary so the Indian ambassador, a lady, hosted a dinner in honour of the Bangladesh delegation. An interesting by-product of our visit was a day trip to Lake Balaton, the largest indoor lake in Europe, an exquisitely beautiful area, where much of the old Hungary still remained intact. This included a statue of Rabindranath Tagore, sculpted on the shores of the lake, to commemorate his visit to Hungary in October 1924, where he spent some time staying at small town of Balatonfüred on the north shore of the lake. Tagore might have composed some verses of his own to remember the occasion. From Budapest we moved to Belgrade, which was more open in its dealings with the outside world and less bleak than some of its neighbours. Our resident ambassador there was A. R. S. Doha. 212

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He had initially joined the Pakistan Army and won the Sword of Honour at the Staff College in Quetta. In Quetta, General Ershad had been one of Doha’s course mates and admirers. When Ershad eventually took over as president of Bangladesh, he appointed Doha as his foreign minister for a period of time before sending him off to London as our high commissioner to the UK. Doha had prematurely retired from the army and was editing an English language weekly from Islamabad. He had, after the fall of Ayub, joined the West Pakistan AL. This did not appear to do him any damage in West Pakistan at the time of Yahya’s declaration of war on the Bengalis, but it did earn him an ambassadorship from Bangabandhu. We noted that Doha was well connected in both political and business circles in Yugoslavia, so our delegation enjoyed the highest exposure. This included for me the historic opportunity to meet President Tito, a leader whom I greatly admired for his integration of nationalities into a single nation state and his courage to keep his country outside the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence. Tito had established himself as one of the founders of the ‘non-aligned’ bloc with Nasser, Nkrumah, Nehru and Sukarno. We met Tito and his handsome wife Jovanka at their palace on the island of Brioni which was itself a place of art and beauty. Tito was very gracious to us and subsequently visited Bangladesh as well as hosted Bangabandhu at a state visit to Yugoslavia. In Yugoslavia, we conducted our economic discussions with some of the autonomous companies, where their unique features included their model of worker ownership of enterprises where they worked. The so-called worker-owned companies functioned like private corporate entities carrying over all the flexibility as well as values associated with private enterprise. Some of these values spilled over to the Bangladeshi side where those officials dealing with the Yugoslav companies were occasionally invited to share some of the profits from such transactions. From Belgrade we travelled to Bucharest, where Doha was also accredited as ambassador. Romania was an extension of the My Return to Aid Diplomacy


economic model we had come across in Warsaw and Budapest. However, it was a rather less developed country and its president, Ceausescu, appeared to rule more in the style of an Asiatic potentate than the leader of a people’s republic. It was interesting that as GDP of the socialist republics visited by us declined, the quality of hospitality paradoxically improved. In Bucharest, we were not only able to meet President Ceausescu in his palace, but he then entertained us to an intimate lunch attended by Azad, Rezaul Karim and me with a few of his senior ministers in attendance. It was clear that in a socialist monarchy, the president called all the shots. Our intimacy with the president compelled the ministers and officials negotiating with us to be more accommodating to our concerns. Our last visit on our safari was to Sofia in Bulgaria, a city which had retained much of its pre-war Balkan charm. The economy was the least developed among the East European countries. But the people looked better fed and more enthusiastic about the positive impact of their socialist revolution. As part of the social model I had identified earlier, the best level of hospitality extended to us was in Sofia. We were joined in Sofia by Shamsur Rahman, Johnson to his friends, who had been, among others, charged with Bangabandhu in the Agartala Conspiracy case and shared his imprisonment. He was widely reputed for his deep learning and photographic memory. After liberation, Bangabandhu chose to send him to Moscow as ambassador to what was then perceived as one of our principal allies. I suspect that Johnson’s rather laid-back approach to work and laconic style of communication baffled his hosts in Moscow as it appeared to do in Bulgaria where he was concurrently accredited. It appeared that our mission to Sofia was the occasion for his own first visit there so he was not well known to our hosts and could contribute little to our mission except for educating us on the history of the country and the impact of its occupation for several centuries under Ottoman rule. This provided us with an opportunity to enjoy some excellent Turkish style kebabs. Johnson could also educate us about the fact that 214

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Bulgarian wines and liqueurs were of the highest order among Eastern European countries. During our visit, our hosts arranged for us to call on Todor Zhivkov, the general secretary of the Communist Party, a legendary figure in the Bulgarian Communist movement who held this key position for 35 years, from 1954 to 1989. For our official discussions, we met PM, Georgi Mikhaylov and other ministers. I do not recollect if much in the way of aid, loans or expansion in trade came out of this visit. Bulgaria’s economy was still at the level of a more developed Third World country, so they had little to offer us which was not available elsewhere in Eastern Europe. I recollect that on the last night of our mission following a splendid dinner in the state guest house, various members of our entourage were encouraged to demonstrate their musical talents. This fortunately excluded me but included some solo efforts by Azad’s young son, a clever young boy, exceedingly well mannered, but with limited vocal skills. I became quite friendly with Mrs Azad, a sweet, unpretentious lady, who did not let this elevation in her fortunes go to her head.

Caviar with Gromyko At the end of our stay in Sofia, Johnson accompanied us back to Moscow where we were scheduled to make a 3–4 hour stop at the international airport before we took the Aeroflot flight to Delhi. It was now the beginning of November and winter had already begun in Russia. When we landed in Moscow around midnight, it was snowing heavily. To our great surprise, when we descended on to the snow-covered tarmac, we found at the foot of the stairs none other than Andrei Gromyko, the Soviet foreign minister. He had personally come out at that ungodly hour, in freezing weather, to receive Azad, his counterpart. The Russians in those days took their political friendships seriously. Bangabandhu, on his first state visit abroad to the USSR, had made a strong impression on the Soviet leadership from which we now benefitted. My Return to Aid Diplomacy


Gromyko, escorted us out of the snow into a chandeliered, warm VVIP lounge where we were entertained, in the early hours of the morning, to a banquet of the best-quality Beluga caviar and the highest quality of vodka, as confirmed to us by Johnson. I cannot claim to have a taste for vodka, but I ate more caviar than was possibly good for my health along with other Russian specialties. Gromyko stayed with us long enough to see us off on our flight to Delhi. I cannot imagine that any other visiting foreign mission from Bangladesh was ever again received at the airport by the Soviet/Russian foreign minister over the next 45 years of our relationship.

Exposure to Capitalistic Socialism At the end of our six-country mission to the socialist heartland, I cannot claim to have been unduly impressed by the economic achievements of the socialist economies. What particularly struck me across my travels was the two-tiered world of political rhetoric at the level of the leadership and the quite contrasting reality of doing business with hard-nosed bureaucrats across Eastern Europe. In the opening session with Azad and his counterpart, much time was invariably invested in sharing platitudes about solidarity between the Socialist Bloc and the Third World and why we believed that our mutual transactions would be at a qualitatively different level from dialogues with the West. I do not know if Samad believed any of this though he was reputed to be left-oriented in his politics and had been a member of the National Awami Party founded by Maulana Bhashani in 1957, after they had broken away from the AL. Samad had rejoined the AL in 1969 and was chosen by Tajuddin Ahmad to take over as foreign minister in place of Khondaker Mostaq in the later part of the liberation war. I myself was a low-key believer in the mythology of socialist fraternity and was anxious to have my adolescent hopes vindicated in the real world of interstate relations. However, since all our communications at the level of the leadership were through 216

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interpreters, it was rarely possibly to capture the nuances in any of their remarks which would expose us to a clearer insight into their actual views towards our shared perspectives on the world. As always, at the level of generalities, much was promised but it was left to the bureaucrats to provide substance to the rhetoric. This was the world to which I had my first exposure. Here, I came across few, if any, references to socialist solidarity and most discussions were about actual projects, technical issues, their economic aspects and finally, when actual negotiations began, about dollars, cents and rates of interest. In this world, I found no socialists and my idealistic attempts to invoke notions of socialist fraternity in negotiating terms were contemptuously disregarded. We should have learnt from our experience, as we are learning today in our dealings with the Chinese version of socialism, that socialism as we understood it was largely a product of the romantic imagination of the Third World and Western intellectuals of a Left-wing persuasion. It was virtually impossible on visits to socialist countries to find anyone, apart from leaders of the Communist Party, who was at all inclined to discuss the issue of socialism as it applied to their country or as a general concept. The disintegration of socialism in Europe did not come as a great surprise to me though the speed and totality of the process were beyond my imagination. I imagine that quite a few of the officials who I negotiated with evolved into private entrepreneurs who appropriated control over the very public sector enterprises which were engaged in delivering projects, often of indifferent quality, to Bangladesh. In Dhaka, we had already noted how some officials from the economic sections of the various embassies from the socialist countries were making private business deals with Bangladeshi middlemen, usually with political connections, and accumulating small fortunes before they returned home. We noted that some of the principal suppliers to stores in Gulshan of duty-free canned provisions, stores and under-the-counter alcoholic drinks originated from the staff of these embassies. My Return to Aid Diplomacy


In those early days, those on the Left entertained the belief that because the West had colonized us and was the principal hegemonic force in the world, they must be challenged at all points. The corresponding notion that openings to the socialist world would provide us with compensatory benefits was founded on our imperfect reading of literature. It was only when we came to do business with them that we learnt of the gap between the imagined and the real world in these countries.

The Quest for Petrodollars On the Fast Track with a Future Emir Shortly after recognition of Bangladesh by Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Dubai early in 1974, Kamal Hossain as foreign minister had been invited to visit these states to explore possibilities of building relations. New opportunities had opened up in the wake of the sharp increase in energy prices, following the Ramadan War between Israel and Egypt around October 1973. In a rare moment of Islamic unity initiated by King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, the oil-exporting countries of the Middle East had been persuaded to impose an embargo on oil to the Western world as long as they continued their military support of Israel. In the weeks after the oil price hike, I recollect that I was spending a rare moment of relaxation at a family function where I was gossiping with my cousins, Kamal Hossain, then the Bangladesh foreign minister and Kaiser Morshed, a director general in the foreign ministry. I made a prediction, based more on inductive logic than empirical knowledge or spiritual insight, that Emir Faisal had challenged a major US and Israeli strategic interest by taking the lead in calling for an oil embargo. I had predicted that he would not be permitted to live long after this. A week later, in the middle of a meeting in the Planning Commission, I received a frantic phone call from Kaiser shouting, ‘Rehman you are a soothsayer’. News had just come in that Faisal had been assassinated!


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I was flattered by Kaiser’s invoking my prophetic qualities but did not aspire to move into the realm of foreign policy punditry. I did, however, make another forecast, not a particularly original one, that the rise in oil prices could be potentially beneficial to countries like Bangladesh and carried some potential for enhancing South–South cooperation. One of the by-products of the oil embargo had been an exponential rise in global energy prices which accrued to the oilexporting countries. The Gulf Arab monarchies, with miniscule populations, had very little capacity at that time to spend their huge windfall in oil revenues and were likely to accumulate substantial capital surpluses which were identified as a potential resource for investment in the Third World countries. When Kamal informed me of his prospective visit to these three countries, I pointed out the importance of tapping these petro-dollar surpluses. He suggested that I accompany him from the side of the Planning Commission to explore possibilities of attracting investment to Bangladesh. Nurul endorsed his request so I set out on my first visit to the world of petro-dollars. I did not then know that this would emerge as an important area of research for me in later years. These oil-rich, mini states were on the threshold of emerging as modern enclaves of affluence. Kuwait was our first stop. It was the largest and wealthiest of the Gulf Emirates but was still a long way from the advanced state of development that it has attained today. Kamal and I, accompanied by Mirza Rashid Ahmad, the Bangladesh ambassador to Iraq who was accredited to Kuwait and the Emirates, were given a handsome reception by the government where we were state guests. The foreign minister, Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the younger brother of the then Emir, whom he later succeeded as the Emir, had particularly bonded with Bangabandhu at the time of the first Islamic Summit and had played an important role in ensuring his participation at the summit in Lahore in January 1974. We were the immediate beneficiaries of this special relationship.

My Return to Aid Diplomacy


Al-Sabah invited us to lunch at his palace residence. It was a rare privilege he extended to us, where we shared the table with the foreign minister’s family, including his wife and daughters, who do not normally appear before non-family males. It was a splendid meal where the minister bonded with us in a spirit of informality. He was a jovial and open-hearted person and offered to drive Kamal and me around Kuwait where he pointed out the sites and spelt out before us the promising future which lay before his country. The minister personally chauffeured us in his red sports car, I think it was a Ferrari or Maserati, where Kamal sat in the front seat, while I squeezed into the small rear seat. The Emir drove his high-powered limo at life-threatening speed around the town so we felt fortunate to emerge with our limbs intact. This high-level encounter opened doors to us across the government, including an audience with his brother, the Emir, and promise of both foreign aid and job opportunities for Bangladeshis in the days ahead. On this occasion, I met Dr Abdal Latif al Hammad, then director general of the Kuwait Fund, which had been newly established to use some of Kuwait’s new-found wealth to support fraternal Muslim but mostly Arab countries. This was the first time I could raise the issue of the more far-reaching implications of the accumulation of capital surpluses within a group of energy-rich Third World countries and its potential of strengthening South– South relations. At that time, such ideas were deemed idealistic, but Abdel Latif was responsive and in later years when he was elevated to the position of finance minister of Kuwait, he was more supportive of South–South cooperation. Our paths crossed again at a later stage in our lives when we were both members of the UN Committee for Development Planning (CDP) in the first half of the 1980s. I recollect, during a meeting of CDP, convened in Geneva, sharing a long walk with Abdel Latif around Lake Geneva on a Sunday afternoon discussing the prospects of South–South cooperation and its underlying politics. Al-Sabah extended his hospitality to the point where he offered us the services of his private aircraft to fly us to our next 220

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destination, Dubai. This luxury was beyond our expectations but carried some risk because the aircraft was light in weight, intended for personal use, where the three of us squeezed in with the pilot with some difficulty. Inclement weather, en route, made the flight quite perilous so we banked heavily on Kamal’s piety in ensuring our safe landing into Dubai. Our visit to Kuwait was later followed up by a state visit by Bangabandhu where the Kuwaitis extended us a handsome loan of $50 million on easy terms. Among all the Arab countries, it was Kuwait which expressed publicly its displeasure at the assassination of Bangabandhu and suspended all further assistance to Bangladesh over the next few years. One of the unexpected bonuses of our visit to Kuwait was the opportunity for us to reconnect with Abu Mahmood, my colleague in the Economics Department at Dhaka University. We had been involved in the 1960s in challenging the Ayub dictatorship, Kamal had been one of Mahmood lawyers seeking justice for him at the court of Chief Justice Murshid for his unfair treatment by the Dhaka University administration. Following the murderous assault by the pro-government goons at Dhaka University in early 1966, in revenge for the judicial verdict in his favour by Justice Murshid, Mahmood had eventually been compelled to leave Dhaka University. He had ended up at a research institute in Kuwait after an intermediate stop at the UN in Bangkok. This was an unusual destination for Mahmood, a person of strongly held Marxist views, but he took it in good humour and even cooked a splendid lunch for us at his apartment.

Renewing Family Ties in the Emirates Our next destination Dubai was then still a rather sleepy trading outpost better known for its pearl fisheries. The Emir of Dubai, which had yet to be integrated into the United Arab Emirates, hosted a reception for Kamal, as the foreign minister of Bangladesh, where we met ministers, senior officials and diplomats. In the reception line at the Emir’s palace, Kamal and I came across our My Return to Aid Diplomacy


relation, Azharul Anwar Chowdhury, a second cousin, married to our boro chacha Fazle Haider’s daughter, Safia. Azhar was then the consul general for Pakistan in Dubai. He was one of the most able and dedicated of the Bengali officers serving in the Pakistan Foreign Service and had been a batchmate and a close friend of Enayet Karim, Bangladesh’s foreign secretary. Azhar had been a strong supporter of Bangladeshi nationalism and should have come over to Bangladesh, where he would have probably ended up serving as foreign secretary. Just after I returned to Dhaka at the end of 1971, I received a phone call, transmitted via the UK consulate in Dubai, from Azhar who urgently sought my advice on what he should do. I told him to immediately declare his loyalty for Bangladesh and get back to Dhaka as fast as he could. This advice was reaffirmed by S. A. Karim, the then Bangladesh foreign secretary. When I passed on this advice to Azhar, he informed me that he was apprehensive of his security as Dubai was full of Pakistanis and he was under close surveillance. None of these hazards were sufficient constraints on Azhar’s decision to opt for Bangladesh service as other Bengali officials in the Pakistan Foreign Service all over the world, including in Arab countries, had been committing themselves to Bangladesh. As we learnt later from Azhar and Safia, it was my boro chachi, Safia’s mother, who was the reigning matriarch of the Haider family living in Karachi, who insisted that Azhar remain loyal to Pakistan. All this information was conveyed to me by Safia and Azhar when Kamal and I insisted on visiting her at her residence after the Emir’s reception. Azhar was not comfortable at entertaining two senior Bangladesh’s at his residence and insisted that we do not get into his official car but follow him in our own limo to their residence. From Dubai, we drove to Abu Dhabi which was the Emirate with the oil wells and was better placed to emerge as a potential source of capital investment in Bangladesh. Abu Dhabi then


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appeared even less developed than Dubai. We came across the first signs of the Bangladeshi migrant workers who would eventually transform their lives and eventually bequeath Bangladesh with our $20 billion in foreign exchange remittances. We discovered that the splendid meals we consumed at the Abu Dhabi Hilton where we stayed were prepared by Magh cooks whose exodus to the Middle East would irrevocably impoverish the dinner tables of Bangladesh in the years to come. In official discussions in Abu Dhabi, we found that the state minister for foreign affairs, a highly intelligent, forward-looking non-royal, was particularly receptive to ideas for the potential deployment of the region’s capital surpluses to support greater South–South cooperation and towards restructuring the international economic order. Kamal and I were much saddened to learn that the minister had been assassinated a short while after our encounter, possibly by some extremist forces.

Dealing with Aid Conditionality After my visit to the Gulf States, I had the opportunity to travel to Manila to finalize negotiations over a big loan programme which had been under discussion with the Asian Development Bank (ADB). I was not normally engaged in direct aid negotiations which were the preserve of Nurul Islam and Syeduzzaman, so it was an interesting experience for me. I was hosted to a lunch by the Japanese president of the bank and became quite friendly with the vice-president, an Indian civil servant by the name of Krishnamurthy, who had once served as private secretary to Morarji Desai when he was finance minister of India. He narrated the story of Morarji’s austere eating habits and how he had to ensure that his inedible meals were specially prepared for him at official functions. On one occasion, Morarji had been quite dissatisfied with the culinary quality of his tasteless vegetarian meal and ordered Krishnamurthy to eat some of it himself by way of punishment.

My Return to Aid Diplomacy


In the negotiations at ADB which related to funding for a major energy study for the power sector in Bangladesh and loans for the railway sector, I was exposed to the concept of aid conditionality practised by international agencies such as the World Bank and ADB. In providing aid commitments on soft terms, the two banks and particular donors demanded policy reforms for the particular sector. I had been quite hostile to the idea of any donor imposing conditions on their loans to a sovereign Bangladesh and had argued strongly against the principle. In my early days in the Commission, the very idea of a donor proffering advice on any aspect of policy or governance aroused my hackles. I recall, in our first few months in office, a large UN delegation sent out to discuss a major programme of assistance for the reconstruction of the economy was holding discussions with the full Planning Commission. At the meeting, a possibly well-meaning expert had, at least for me, the temerity to offer advice on how we may improve performance in some sectors. I found myself seething with anger and prepared to make a provocative reply. Mosharraf, who was sitting next to me, observed after the event that I was trembling with rage and that he had to squeeze my hand to restrain me so I could cool down, which I did. However, this did not constrain me from engaging in a number of sharp exchanges with some of the experts. Over the years, I remained more abrasive in my interactions with the donors who crossed my path and I tended, at times, to be more aggressive than was warranted in dealing with particular donors who aspired to lecture me on the need for reforms, some of which were quite necessary. But I hated the idea of having this pointed out to me by a donor and preferred to advise them that I was even more committed to reform than they were so they should let us work out our own solutions. In the course of my interaction with many such visiting officials and experts, I had over the years become more contained in my communication skills. By the time I sat down for discussion at ADB on the occasion of my Manila visit, I was more persuasive in my interactions with their negotiators. In practice, the reforms requested by ADB were 224

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quite sensible and related to improving the operational efficiency of the Bangladesh Railways where I already had long exposure of its low standards during my periodic reviews of the sector. To reconcile principle with good sense, I suggested that we sign the loan agreement with ADB sans conditionality but would add a codicil to the loan covenants that the Bangladesh government agreed, on its own volition, to carry out a range of reforms, annexed to the loan agreement, which largely approximated to ADB’s suggestions. ADB accepted this for the railways project loan but I doubt that such an approach was retained as standard practice since conditionalities eventually became commonplace in all aid programmes from most donors to Bangladesh. As part of the mission, I also persuaded ADB to engage as the lead partner with the World Bank in extending a multi-million loan for financing the Ashuganj Fertilizer Factory. My experience with ADB was highly instructive and productive. My contribution to the discussions may have impressed ADB because, on my retirement a few months later, I received a warm letter of appreciation from Krishnamurthy for our collaboration. The short vignette provided above on my experience in dealing with specific instances of a major aid donor using aid conditionality to leverage necessary reforms could be repeated many times over. I have, however, discussed the issue of donor influence elsewhere so I will not further elaborate on this here. Suffice for me to point out that the Commission, throughout our tenure, remained engaged in resisting pressures from aid donors to influence our policy agendas. The country’s endemic economic problems were compounded by severe resource constraints which kept us extremely vulnerable to such pressures. It says much for the diplomatic and negotiating skills of the Commission, more specifically of Nurul Islam and Syeduzzaman who were directly engaged in aid negotiations, that we could preserve a high measure of autonomy in our external economic relations. The steadfast support of Tajuddin Ahmad and Bangabandhu, drawing on their fierce sense of nationalism, was a major source of strength in our dealings with the donors. My Return to Aid Diplomacy


Nurul and Syeduzzaman handled our relations with aid donors with considerable finesse. Their skills did not override a number of important differences between a regime committed to preserve its sovereignty with an aid community which traditionally preferred to call the shots in its dealing with dependent client states. Our endeavours to preserve our autonomy in our relations with donors were greatly facilitated by the presence of Just Faaland, the resident representative of the World Bank, a person of unequalled diplomatic skills and human decency. His intermediation between the Commission and the donor community averted many potentially explosive confrontations. Just could in such engagements draw on his mediating skills as well as his close personal connections with the senior members of the Commission.

Aid Diplomacy: The Last Round Heart to Hart My final phase of aid diplomacy involved a visit to the UK, Eastern Europe and West Germany. My visit to London was specifically targeted to meet Judith Hart, who had just taken over as minister for overseas development on 7 April 1974 in the recently formed Labour Government, headed by PM Harold Wilson. I was keen to meet her as I had first met her at her home in Richmond, outside London at the end of April 1971 when she was the shadow minister for overseas development in the Labour Opposition. I had then briefed her about the Pakistani genocide on the people of Bangladesh and sought her support in persuading the Labour Party to press for stoppage of aid to Pakistan in the House of Commons. I had also met separately with Dennis Healy, the shadow foreign minister on that occasion. Judith Hart had responded strongly to the Bangladesh cause and had persuaded the Labour Party to sponsor a resolution in the House of Commons for stoppage of the UK aid to Pakistan until they desisted from genocide and recognized the rights of the Bengalis. 226

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I had sent a reminder to Ms Hart via the UK High Commissioner in Dhaka of our earlier meeting in 1971 and hoped this would persuade her to meet me. Judith Hart this time met me in her office, which she had taken over two months ago, and recollected our original encounter. I attempted to update her on the critical challenges facing Bangladesh in the post-liberation period, particularly about the imminence of a prospective famine due to the stoppage of food aid by the USA due to our trade with Cuba. Judith was most sympathetic to our circumstances though I do not recollect if her concerns extended to provision of greater UK aid to Bangladesh.

Encounters with Socialism sans Socialists From London, I moved on to Budapest to finalize the details of a loan to Bangladesh from Hungary. The need for such a loan had been discussed by me with the relevant minister during my official visit in October 1972 to Eastern Europe with our then foreign minister, Abdus Samad Azad. After my initial visit in October 1972, official delegations from various Eastern Europe countries had visited Bangladesh to discuss the specifics of our development needs and to identify areas where particular countries could respond to our loan requirements. Out of these visits, a number of agreements had been negotiated. I was expected to finalize the terms and conditions of some agreements which were being signed with Hungary, Yugoslavia and Rumania. In each of these countries, the details of the agreement had been negotiated with the respective delegations in Dhaka by M. Syeduzzaman, the secretary and head of the External Resources Division of the Planning Commission. My mission was designed to improve on the terms of the loans, which were quite hard, through meetings with more senior figures in the respective governments. In Budapest, I was joined by Bashirul Alam, our ambassador to Poland who was concurrently accredited to Hungary. We had, in our initial mission to Eastern Europe, two years ago, stressed the My Return to Aid Diplomacy


political aspect of Bangladesh’s move to diversify our economic relations from its heavy dependence on Western countries through building up stronger ties with the socialist world. As we subsequently discovered, such discussions at the ministerial level and, particularly, at the level of PMs and presidents held out great hope for strengthened relations on more generous terms. However, translating such good intentions into the small print of loan agreements negotiated with business-minded bureaucrats was a totally different proposition. My arrival in Hungary was rather unpropitious. Even though I was billed as a visiting state minister and head of delegation, I descended from my British Airways flight rather late as I was travelling economy class, so the official delegation which was waiting to greet me at the foot of the stairs had a rather longer wait and appeared somewhat mystified by my late descent. I had been obliged to travel on an economy-class ticket because of our government’s policy to conserve foreign exchange so that only full ministers travelling abroad could enjoy the luxury and status of business-class travel. It appears that in those days we took our commitments to austerity rather seriously. In Hungary, my proposed goal, if I recollect, was to reduce the rates of interest incorporated in the agreements from the exorbitantly high rates of 5–6 per cent to a more affordable level for an economy facing our uniquely difficult challenges. I found the negotiations heavy going, where appeals to socialist solidarity with the Third World were met with a snort of derision from the steely eyed lady who led the Hungarian delegation and was possibly the equivalent of the head of the relevant ministry. I discovered from these and successive discussions across Eastern Europe that there was very little socialism visible in the thinking of officials who were, if anything, more profit minded than their counterparts in the capitalist world when it came to doing business and lending money. I did finally get the rates reduced by a few percentage points, but these were still hardly generous terms. One virtue of loans from the Socialist Bloc was the prospect of their accepting repayment in exports from the recipient country, 228

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but this too had to be negotiated on the product, quantities and price of the exported commodity. Also, since all such loans from the Socialist Bloc were tied to the specific country, the prices charged and quality of the product tended to be a speculative proposition. If I recollect, much of the Hungarian loan was invested in the purchase of rolling stock for the Bangladesh railways which Bangladesh Railways accepted into their inventory with some reluctance. From Budapest, I travelled to Belgrade where A. R. S. Doha remained our ambassador but had been joined by my brother Farooq as his first secretary. On this visit, I was not so privileged to be given an audience with Tito but had meetings at the ministerial level which helped to ease the terms of the loans which were eventually concluded with the concerned officials of the specific enterprises implementing projects in Bangladesh. My final visit behind the now more porous curtain was to Bucharest where I had the advantage of being accompanied by Farooq. As with any official or unofficial enterprise where Farooq is involved, all the spade work with their officials had been completed by him so some improvement in loan terms was already on the table when negotiations began. However, Romania, which was less well off than Hungary and Yugoslavia, still offered hard terms so when we met the concerned minister to sign off on the agreement, he suggested we seek the intervention of the president as a final court of appeal. Such a visit was not within my expectations though President Ceausescu had indeed received us when I had accompanied Abdus Samad Azad on our initial visit to Romania. On that occasion, Ceausescu had entertained a few of us to an intimate lunch at his palace so that relations between our governments were quite cordial. Farooq could, therefore, manage to secure an appointment for the two us with the president, which was arranged beyond the rules of protocol. Meeting with presidents of socialist countries is an exclusively political act where invocations to socialist solidarity carry much more weight than encounters with their bureaucracies. If I recollect, Ceausescu did not extend his solidarity to inviting us to stay My Return to Aid Diplomacy


for lunch, but he did order that interest rates on the Romanian loan to Bangladesh be reduced to around 2 per cent or thereof. Farooq possesses a rather embarrassing photo of the two of us with sheepish smiles on our face sitting with the president. Such a photograph would obviously not assure a visit for either of us to Romania today, where the once all-powerful president met a rather brutal end at the hands of the masses in whose name he ruled the country as an absolute monarch.

Journey to West Germany in the World Cup Year From Romania, I travelled to West Germany where I had been invited as an official guest of the government. This courtesy had been extended to me through the intervention of the then German ambassador to Bangladesh with whom I had established a good working as well as personal relationship. A number of our aid programmes involving West German funded projects lay within my domain in the Planning Commission. I had a number of exchanges with the ambassador and some visiting German delegations where we discussed the scope for enhancing Bangladesh’s economic relationship with Germany. Tragically, the ambassador was killed in a car crash in Germany shortly after he ended his tenure in Bangladesh. Any programme organized by the German government was likely to be most efficiently organized. I was from the beginning assigned an aide who accompanied me everywhere. His presence compensated for my deficiency in German, though I did impress my hosts with phrases I had picked up from my visit to Bad Ischl in Austria in 1954 during my student days in Cambridge. My companion was a rather large, bearded young man who was friendly, helpful and efficient. My visit to Bonn began with a courtesy call on our resident ambassador, Humayun Rashid Chowdhury, who invited me to his official residence in what looked like a small medieval chateau on the outskirts of the city. We had hoped to discuss my programme 230

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in Bonn but just before I visited him at his home, he had received the tragic news of the death of his revered mother, a lady with an exceptionally strong personality, who had once been a Member of Parliament in Pakistan. Humayun had to immediately fly back to Bangladesh so his planned social engagements for me had to be cancelled. Humayun later distinguished himself when he hosted Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana in Bonn at the moment when Bangabandhu was assassinated. For this humane gesture, he was sent off by the Zia government to a lesser posting. He was later rehabilitated by President H. M. Ershad, who appointed him foreign minister. Humayun somehow managed to graduate from Ershad’s service to membership of the AL, where he was elected to Parliament from Sylhet in the 1996 election and appointed as the Speaker of the Jatiyo Sangshad. He passed away during his tenure in office. My official engagement in Bonn was with the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Economic Affairs which dealt with aid relations with developing countries, a super-efficient lady by the name of Helga Steeg, who was well briefed on the state of the projects under discussion. The secretary was all business in her dealings with me and not prone to sympathetic or expansive gestures towards a country in the midst of an economic as well as nature-induced crisis. From Bonn, I moved into the more touristic phase of my visit, travelling to Hamburg, Munich, Heidelberg and concluded my visit in Frankfurt. In these places, I mostly met with the business sector in order to induce them to invest in Bangladesh. As a lifetime football fan, I had alerted the German ambassador that one of the preconditions of my visit to Germany was that they should arrange for me to see one of the ongoing World Cup football matches. This was my only opportunity to witness, in person, a World Cup match so my German hosts did their best to oblige me by arranging for me to attend a match between Poland and Yugoslavia in Frankfurt. This was not the most exciting of matches but was the best that could be arranged for me within the constraints of my programme. My Return to Aid Diplomacy


October 1972: Visiting Some Historical Sites in East Germany

October 1972: Bangladesh Foreign Minister and Family Being Received at Budapest Airport by Hungarian Foreign Minister 232

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Laying the Foundations of Indo-Bangladesh Economic Relations


Perspectives towards India during the Bangabandhu Regime In the immediate aftermath of liberation, it was believed within the leadership of both India and Bangladesh that mutual selfinterest originating in our shared struggle for national liberation would serve as the driving force of our relationship. This turned out to be a rather short-sighted perception of the shape of things to come. One year of close intimacy during the course of the liberation war could not obliterate attitudes and perceptions inherited over three decades of relations or the lack of them with India during the era of Pakistani rule where adversarial attitudes to India constituted one of the cornerstones of national politics. Fears of Indian domination had been ceaselessly embedded into the political consciousness of all Pakistanis, including the Bengalis. The armed forces were particularly susceptible to this propaganda. The Pakistani ruling elite used anti-Indianism as a critical element in their political strategy to deny Bengalis their democratic rights and deprive them of their due share of economic benefits. Those economists who challenged this dispensation were slandered by the deputy chairman of PPC as ‘mediocre minions of a foreign power’. No prizes for guessing who was designated as the foreign power. In post-liberation Bangladesh once the euphoria of liberation dissipated, some of these inherited attitudes to India resurfaced and persisted as an important contradiction within the Bangladesh

polity. Those political forces which identified with policies of friendship towards India and those who saw India as a hegemonic power exercising influence over Bangladesh contended for power over the next four decades. Part of the political rationale for the creation of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was to use it as a political instrument to mobilize anti-Indian elements in the country to isolate the AL. Just as protagonists of India have few illusions about Indian benevolence and are not averse to beating the anti-Indian drum so does the other side not necessarily believe all they say about India. Among these anti-Indian elements, there may be those from among the more paranoidally inclined, drawn from Right constituencies made up of Islamists and/or pro-Pakistan elements who actually believe what they say about India. But on the Left those reputed to be pro-China tended to be more cynical about the fantasies which they constructed as representing the nature of Indo-Bangladesh relations. The primary objective of the ‘Maoist’ left was to discredit the AL. To do this, they needed to create a hostile climate of public opinion in the country against India and the USSR who were identified as the principal external sponsors of the AL regime. This could best be done by ascribing the ‘misdeeds’ of the AL, mismanagement of the economy, economic problems and political repression to Indo-Soviet influence. In this tactic, there was a convergence between the Islamists and the so-called Maoists in Bangladesh but with the difference that the former would like to supplant Indo-Soviet influence with a Pak-American reascendance, while the latter favoured a Chinese paramountcy. In the phase of Sino-Pak friendship during the later part of the Ayub era, followed by the military regime of Yahya Khan which facilitated the then Sino-US detente, these foreign policy objectives also happily converged. In contrast, the AL in the Bangabandhu era remained much more eclectic in its foreign policy objectives. Unlike its minor ally, the pro-Moscow NAP, who were perhaps the only protagonists of Indo-USSR paramountcy in Bangladesh, the AL represented more 234

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contradictory tendencies. There was a small Rightist faction identified with Khondaker Mostaq who was strongly pro-American and anti-Soviet, whose position was indistinguishable from the antiIndian positions of the Islamists. A perhaps larger faction in the AL tended to be closer to the Moscow NAP in their views on India. The broad spectrum of opinion in the AL led by Bangabandhu aspired to close relations with India and the USSR but were equally keen to maintain strong ties with the US while also developing closer ties with China. Bangabandhu also aspired to cultivate the Islamic bloc in West Asia in the wake of the post-1973 oil bonanza which had exponentially augmented their capital surpluses and enhanced their demand for our immigrant labour. His interest in building ties with the Islamic world made him more responsive to pressures from Kuwait and Algeria to attend the first summit of Islamic countries convened by PM Bhutto in Lahore in January 1974. During the Bangabandhu regime, this middle ground was staked out as the best option. Whilst he extolled his commitment to Indo-Bangladesh amity, he privately remained critical of India and on a number of issues such as smuggling, Farakka and the sea-bed dispute, he reflected public sentiment even in summit negotiations with Indira Gandhi. At the same time, he created space for the Western aid donors in Bangladesh who emerged as the principal source of aid flows into the economy which was then heavily aid dependent. Bangabandhu tried to dilute the significance of our aid dependence on the West by cultivating the Soviet Bloc and the Arabs. The Soviet Bloc acknowledged his political gestures but made no attempt to match the West or substitute their influence on the economy as they had done in Cuba, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen and proposed to do in Chile before Allende was overthrown. In spite of repeated efforts to get the USSR to step up their stake in Bangladesh to match the West, they remained cautious and only marginally involved. The Arabs, with the exception of Saudi Arabia, responded to our gestures of friendship politically but their economic Laying the Foundations of Indo-Bangladesh Economic Relations


contribution at that stage remained minor. China, in spite of repeated overtures from Bangabandhu for diplomatic recognition, friendship and economic cooperation, remained at arm’s length and, in fact, Saudi Arabia and China were the only two countries to withhold recognition until the assassination of Bangabandhu on 15 August 1975. In the final analysis, Bangladesh’s external policies remained related to its economic compulsions. The diversification in its relations was reflected in its concession to necessity. A fuller review of Bangladesh’s foreign policy under Bangabandhu would articulate the details and logic of this eclecticism. The image of subservience to India created for Bangabandhu by his political enemies, thus, bears little resemblance to reality and relates to the domestic political goals of his opponents to discredit him and his party.

The Political Logic of Anti-Indianism It is significant that anti-Indianism should acquire such potency in the political campaign against Bangabandhu. It could only be used as a major weapon if it had the capacity to hurt the victim. The campaign to equate the problems of the country with the role of India was successful to the point where the AL itself found it occasionally advantageous to proclaim its anti-Indian credentials. The very party which should have confronted the more tendentious varieties of anti-Indian propaganda was, on occasion, driven to giving credence to these fantasies which became more and more surreal as time went by. If one examines the public proclamations of the regime after 1973, it is significant that apart from the PM’s ritual declarations of commitment to IndoBangladesh friendship, there is no evidence of any move at any level to actually confront the propaganda which had polluted the political climate. The extreme caution which came to govern Indian attitudes to Bangladesh in this period reflected this awareness of the inhibitions of the AL regime and made them progressively less 236

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responsive to making concessions on disputed issues. The temporary agreement on Farakka and the border agreement on Berubari were Bangabandhu’s last great concessions extracted from Indira Gandhi. The sea-bed dispute in the Bay of Bengal remained much more intractable though towards the end of the regime, foreign minister Kamal Hossain’s negotiations with his Indian counterpart held out promise for a settlement. The compulsion of the Rightist/Islamists and the Maoists to use anti-Indianism as the centrepiece of their campaign followed from the logic of the liberation war. In this struggle, the Islamists had directly identified themselves with Pakistan and stood politically destroyed on the emergence of Bangladesh. The Maoists remained lukewarm in their support and participation in the liberation war and were, thus, reduced to irrelevance in the course of the struggle. For them to now climb back into the political arena demanded the devaluation of the liberation struggle so that their own role during the war would be reinterpreted. According to the Left, the Indians now became the neo-colonial expansionists seeking to displace Pakistan by armed aggression. The AL was not the leader of the struggle but merely the instrument of Indian expansionism. In these circumstances, resistance to the AL during 1971, including the murder of those supposedly associated with its views, was deemed as resistance to Indian hegemonism in Bangladesh. For this reinterpretation of history to be accepted, an image had to be created of Bangladesh being a satellite of India, with the AL as a comprador regime whose every thought, word and deed was enunciated at the behest of India. To give economic substance to the image of Indian domination, the logic of their expansion into Bangladesh was seen in the plunder of its resources through outright post-war looting followed by the use of smuggling to channel goods out of Bangladesh to India. Inflation, production shortfalls, famine and economic dislocation were, thus, directly attributable to the insatiable appetite for plunder by India. Once this perfectly integrated perspective of history had been accepted in the public mind, Islamists could now be historically Laying the Foundations of Indo-Bangladesh Economic Relations


vindicated as the vanguard of the anti-Indian resistance and the supporters of the liberation struggle were, in fact, the traitors to the sovereignty of Bangladesh. The Maoist variation of this devaluation of the liberation struggle was propagated as the highjacked liberation war with the Indian military intervention designed to frustrate a famous Maoist victory. The Left could thus join hands with the fundamentalist Right to rescue Bangladesh’s sovereignty from Indian hegemonists and their AL/NAP ‘running dogs’. It is, thus, evident that anti-Indianism was inherent in the very nature and political consequences of the liberation war. The political revival of the defeated elements of 1971 in Bangladesh demanded not only that the AL be discredited but that their discredit relate to the events of 1971. Only then could the discards of history hope to re-establish their place in the politics of Bangladesh. In these circumstances, there could be no argument, programme or appeal to self-interest for cooperation with India which could transcend the political compulsions of the committed anti-Indians, to whom any form of association was anathema. It was only by projecting India as irremediably expansionist and rapacious that they could keep themselves alive in Bangladesh politics. The future of economic relations between India and Bangladesh, thus, came to depend not on the logic of mutual needs but on the political contradiction which runs through Bangladesh, which could only be resolved through a definitive outcome to the unfinished liberation struggle of 1971. The political divide in Bangladesh was, of course, a projection of the regional and international contradictions in the subcontinent. The Islamists ultimately served as a projection of the Pakistani stake in South Asia and identified themselves with a realignment between Pakistan and Bangladesh which would give Bangladesh the strength to resist Indian pressures. They hoped that the USA along with Arab gold would underwrite this realignment in the subcontinental balance. The Maoist hoped to see China as a major presence in Bangladesh, thereby resurrecting the Sino-Pak axis which proved an effective factor in the subcontinental balance. This only broke 238

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down when Bangladesh was broken away from this axis by India and a new balance of power emerged in the area under the overall hegemony of the USSR. The paramountcy which was traditionally enjoyed by the USA in Pakistan and Bangladesh had been eroded after the 1965 IndoPakistan war. It had been revived in 1971 in Pakistan through the US support for Pakistan but suffered a major reversal through the emergence of an independent Bangladesh. Economic compulsion, along with a positive search for superpower balance in Bangladesh by Bangabandhu, saw a recuperation of the US influence in Bangladesh. However, the pivotal US role in precipitating the famine of 1974 and its casual response to Bangabandhu during his visit there at the end of 1974, once again drew him towards the USSR. Bangabandhu’s gestures towards the USSR met with, at best, a limited response in their willingness to supplant US economic influence. However, his putative moves may well have set in motion the train of events which culminated in his assassination and the installation of an overtly pro-American and anti-Indian element in the AL as president. Thus, the events of the second half of 1975 not only set the stage for a major political realignment within Bangladesh but also effected the balance of forces in South Asia with the US, China and Pakistan gaining ground at the expense of India and the USSR.

Planning Commission’s Perspectives on Indo-Bangladesh Economic Relations The Early Phase: India as an Aid Donor At the Planning Commission, we were from the outset witnessing the inclement winds which were influencing Indo-Bangladesh relations. Some among the senior bureaucracy who stayed back in the Secretariat during 1971 fanned the winds with stories of India’s exploitative tendencies. Our first planning secretary, Laying the Foundations of Indo-Bangladesh Economic Relations


Dr Rabbani, used to say that all our trade and aid calculations should include estimates of a share to be smuggled out to India. At our level, we took such rhetoric in our stride and concluded transactions with our Indian counterparts on the assumption that we were the best of friends and could go on making demands on India for economic assistance. As one of our first such demands on India, we suggested to P. N. Haksar, then Indira Gandhi’s principal secretary, that they appoint our friend Arjun Sengupta, then a professor at the Delhi School of Economics, as economic minister in the Indian High Commission, Dhaka. Since Arjun was a highly competent economist and totally sympathetic to Bangladesh’s economic concerns, his appointment was an inspired choice rather than an exercise in nepotism. Haksar readily responded to our request. As it transpired, our move to extract Arjun from the realms of academe into public service had life-changing implications for him. Arjun never returned to academic life after his assignment in Dhaka was completed. He moved back to Delhi to first serve as economic advisor to the Ministry of Commerce and then moved on to become advisor to PM Indira Gandhi in her secretariat. After Indira’s assassination, he continued in public service in high-level assignments ending up as a member of the IPC and eventually as a member of the Rajya Sabha. This narcotic dependence on India, in those early years, for meeting our short-term economic needs was an unsustainable proposition within a long-term perspective. India was never viewed by us as a part of the aid/loan-giving community on the lines of Bangladesh’s Western and now socialist development partners. India was itself one of the largest recipients of aid in the developing world which was mediated through a World Bank convened India Aid Consortium on which the Pakistan Consortium had been modelled. In the first year of our liberation, India, by force of circumstances, emerged as Bangladesh’s largest aid donor. Other aid donors took time to reactivate their aid programmes, originally targeted to East Pakistan, to the upgraded needs of an independent 240

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Bangladesh. Furthermore, with Chittagong Port totally dysfunctional due to the mining of the harbour by the Pakistanis, the only way resources from abroad could reach us was across our borders through the land routes from India. Indira Gandhi identified the sustainability of Bangladesh as a political priority and opened up all stops to meet our immediate needs. As a result, in 1972, a large portion of our aid, both committed and disbursed, originated from India. Vital supplies of food grains, farm inputs, consumer goods and construction material came across the land boundary by trucks arriving in an unceasing stream. This assistance certainly averted a famine in the first six months of 1972 and greatly helped to revive economic activity. India, in 1971, was a net recipient of economic assistance. The notion that it could sustain a programme of such dimensions to Bangladesh was inconceivable within the resource constraints and unsatisfied needs of the Indian economy. In the initial phase when the bulk of the Indian assistance was made available to Bangladesh, it came in the form of grants or soft loans. After 1973, assistance tended to be offered on more commercial terms which led to a scaling down of both aid and trade with India.

Trade with India: Structural Constraints Whilst the high tide of the aid relationship was short lived, resumption of trading relations was expected to be the more important and sustainable part of the economic relationship. It had been assumed at the liberation of Bangladesh that there would be a big escalation in Indo-Bangladesh trade. It had been recognized that the artificial disruption of relations between Pakistan and India may have been advantageous to the development of the West Pakistani economy and business community but had both positive and negative implications for the Bangladesh economy. It had been an important plank in the autonomy programme of the AL to establish greater control over Bangladesh’s foreign trade so that an element of normalcy could be introduced into its disrupted trade relations with India. Laying the Foundations of Indo-Bangladesh Economic Relations


Revival of economic relations with India were, however, not merely a matter of political amity. The passage of years had created their own structural constraints in the development of economic relations. Prior to 1947, when Bengal was a single province, jute mills around Kolkata imported most of their raw jute from East Bengal, now Bangladesh. By 1971, due to policy-induced disruptions in India’s trade with East Pakistan, India had progressively moved to become self-sufficient in jute. A significant vested interest had grown up among growers and traders in India against any significant expansion of raw jute imports from Bangladesh. In contrast, Bangladesh was now India’s main competitor in the receding world market for jute manufactures. India was expected to be in a better position to respond to Bangladesh’s import needs. We needed to find substitutes for imports hitherto supplied from Pakistan. All these items were produced in sizeable quantities in India but were in all cases not necessarily available for export to Bangladesh. In the manufacturing sector, India was more readily positioned to supply yarn, cloth, cement, pharmaceuticals, iron and steel and engineering goods which constituted a big part of imports from West Pakistan. It could also supply coal which had, since the cessation of IndoPakistan trade in 1965, been imported into Bangladesh from Poland and China. With the pre-emption of our raw jute market in India during the period of Pakistani rule, there was no corresponding scope for an immediate expansion of Bangladesh exports to India. This pattern of trade created a built-in structural imbalance in the trading relations between the two countries. Until such time as Bangladesh could diversify and enhance its export capacity, we remained condemned to living with a permanent trade deficit with India.

Restoring Economic Relations First Steps The need for a conscious attempt to restructure the pattern of economic relationships was realized from the outset by the 242

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Planning Commission of Bangladesh. It was seen that unless Bangladesh could build up its capability to export to India and unless there was a qualitative change in the pattern of exports, the development of economic relations would carry within it the seeds of dependence and political crisis. We had occasion to discuss the future prospects of IndoBangladesh economic relations with Dr Manmohan Singh, my good friend and contemporary from Cambridge. In those early days, he was economic advisor to the Ministry of Finance so Haksar, knowing of Manmohan’s close links to some of us, sent him out to Dhaka for a preliminary discussion with the Planning Commission on the possible direction of our economic relations.

Indira Gandhi’s Visit to Dhaka: Laying the Foundations The issue of economic relations was further addressed at a higher level on the occasion of the first state visit by PM Indira Gandhi to Dhaka in March 1972. During that visit, economic relations were not high on the agenda of the two PMs. The visit was more in the nature of an epic encounter of two great leaders who had together changed the course of history in South Asia. Bangabandhu took great pride in welcoming Indira Gandhi to an independent Bangladesh where, notwithstanding the disparity in their economic and military circumstances, they could meet as political equals. To provide some public manifestation of Bangladesh’s assertion of an equitable relationship, Bangabandhu had insisted that the Indian Armed Forces which had entered Bangladesh with the Mukti Bahini and compelled the surrender of the Pakistanoccupied force on 16 December 1971 should leave Bangladesh before Indira Gandhi arrived in Dhaka. There was some risk in such an early withdrawal of the Indian forces, with Bangladesh’s own security force still in an early stage of development and insufficiently deployed across the country. Indira was, fortunately, politically sensitive to Bangabandhu’s request and obliged him without any debate. Laying the Foundations of Indo-Bangladesh Economic Relations


I was present at the Dhaka Stadium on 12 March 1971 when Bangabandhu took the salute of the march past by a section of the Indian forces deployed in Bangladesh and their commander ceremonially handed over the symbols of command to Bangabandhu. The sense of overwhelming national pride and fulfilment on that occasion within the Bangladeshis assembled at the stadium was overwhelming and many in that large crowd, including me, were moved to tears. Indira Gandhi’s first visit to a liberated Bangladesh later in March 1972 was a historic event which laid the foundation of relations between the two countries. In its aftermath, much was made of the signing of a friendship treaty which was publicized by the enemies of Bangabandhu as a document of bondage to India. It was supposed to contain secret clauses establishing India’s dominant status in the relations. As with most such politically motivated rumours enveloping Indo-Bangladesh relations, these too were quite nonsensical. No such secret clauses were unearthed during the tenures of Ziaur Rahman, Ershad and Khaleda Zia. In practice, the treaty was a rather innocuous document which was never invoked during its life and was allowed to lapse after its expiry in 1997 during the first tenure of Sheikh Hasina as PM. Of far greater relevance to the course of Indo-Bangladesh relations than the Indo-Bangladesh treaty was the understandings reached on strengthening and sustaining our relationship through resolving long-standing issues of enclaves, land and maritime boundaries which had more far-reaching implications. These issues had festered during the years of confrontation with Pakistan but now both sides agreed that discussions should be initiated to seek mutually satisfactory and sustainable solutions. In 1973, Kamal Hossain, as foreign minister, initiated a round of negotiations with his counterparts Sardar Swaran Singh and his successor Y. B. Chavan which laid the groundwork for reaching agreements. The killing of Bangabandhu left these issues on the backburner for the best part of a quarter of a century, leaving a legacy of frustration and division between the two neighbours. It took a quarter of a century and the return of the AL to power 244

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in 1996 under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina for satisfactory negotiations to be resumed on such issues and for agreements to be eventually concluded on some of these outstanding issues. Establishing mutually beneficial economic relations was deemed by the two leaders to be integral to the goal of building friendly relations but this was not placed high on the agenda of the two leaders. P. N. Haksar as the principal secretary to the PM had accompanied Indira Gandhi to Dhaka. He had discussed the issue of economic relations with me when I called on him during my visit to Delhi in mid-1971. We were aware and concerned that relationships between a more economically powerful India and a weaker independent Bangladesh could become politically problematic and would need to be worked out with some sensitivity on the Indian side. The Planning Commission, therefore, decided to use the occasion of the state visit to engage Haksar in discussions with Tajuddin and the members of the Planning Commission on how we may set about building a more sustainable pattern of economic relations. Opportunities for further discussion on economic cooperation were opened up on the occasion of a boat trip on the Shitalakshya towards the end of the summit. The idea was to provide some scope for relaxation for the Indian PM and opportunities for more informal discussions in this riverine setting. On the boat, Nurul and I discussed with Haksar the issue of operationalizing the decisions at the summit to develop a more institutionalized basis for economic cooperation. It was agreed by us that at an early date, a meeting of the two Planning Commissions be convened to discuss the parameters and strategy for economic cooperation. The utilization of our joint rivers was also recognized as of vital importance. The issue of the Farakka Barrage loomed before both leaders. Dr Abbas, one of Bangladesh’s leading experts on water, had in the 1960s been deeply involved in discussions between India and Pakistan on the Farakka Barrage. He was given the opportunity to raise the issue of cooperation over management of our joint rivers with Bangabandhu and Indira Gandhi on the Laying the Foundations of Indo-Bangladesh Economic Relations


occasion of the boat trip. Out of these initial contacts, the idea of the Joint Rivers Commission was brought to life. Since the cruise on the Mary Anderson was intended as a leisure moment, Mosharraf and I decided to corner Indira Gandhi with an idea of getting her away from business talk and encouraging her to engage in less serious conversation. Mosharraf mischievously asked her how she managed to look so young and trim. Indira was quite pleased to be so appreciated and somewhat shyly told us this is because of her practice of yoga every morning and her disciplined dietary habits. We exchanged such personalized banter until Bangabandhu noticed that we were monopolizing her and whisked her away with a wink at us, indicating that we were not the only game in town.

The Planning Commission Dialogues First Encounter in New Delhi: Friendly Persuasion As a follow-up to our discussion on the boat trip, a meeting of the two Planning Commissions was scheduled in New Delhi in June 1972. The relationship could move ahead so rapidly because the two Commissions were able to establish an excellent and easy working relationship. The IPC was then chaired by D. P. Dhar who was one of the strongest supporters of Bangladesh. He had been on particularly good terms with Tajuddin Ahmad from the days of the liberation war where he had been designated by Indira Gandhi to be the principal interlocutor on behalf of her government with the Mujibnagar government. Haksar remained, from within the PM’s secretariat, the strongest possible supporter for cooperation with Bangladesh. To have two such goods friends of Bangladesh located at the top echelons of political influence and economic management was particularly helpful in building this relationship. Our links were further strengthened since the IPC members included a good friend of Nurul and mine, Sukhamoy Chakravarty, one of India’s 246

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leading economists with a strong progressive orientation. The other member of IPC, M. M. Pathak, a distinguished engineer, was also sympathetic to the idea of cooperation so that exchanges between the two Commissions proceeded on a constructive note. The issue of building a sustainable relationship had already come up for discussion on the eve of the liberation of Bangladesh. Tajuddin had voiced his concerns to D. P. Dhar and Haksar that Bangladesh may become a happy hunting ground for carpetbaggers from India seeking to profit from the business vacuum created through the departure of the Pakistani entrepreneurs who had dominated the Bangladesh economy. Haksar and Dhar agreed with Tajuddin that some restraint should be imposed by India on an unrestricted flow of major Indian business houses turning up in Bangladesh to investigate business prospects. It was recognized on both sides that such improvised interventions with the market mechanism would needed to be institutionalized through policy actions and structural adjustment in the two economies to correct the imbalances in the relationship.

Presenting a Model for Restructuring Economic Relations I decided to use the occasion of the first meeting of the Commission in Delhi to explore how far the Indians were willing to explore the scope for a significant restructuring of our inherited relationship. In preparation for the meeting, I convened an extended meeting with the Industries Division of the Planning Commission and invited some of the sector corporation chairmen to discuss the opportunities for expanding and diversifying our exports to India. It turned out to be a highly educational exchange for me. The chairman of the Jute Mills Corporation, Rashid Ahmed, had for many years been engaged in the jute trade. He advised us that unless we could recapture our lost jute market in India, there was little scope for reviving exports now that India was our principal global competitor in the export of jute manufactures. We, therefore, needed to fundamentally review our relations with Laying the Foundations of Indo-Bangladesh Economic Relations


India in this area. He advised us to open up a dialogue with India to find ways to revive our raw jute exports and to also negotiate with India to cede further global market space for Bangladesh’s jute manufactures since this was, at the time, our principal export. My exchanges with other chairmen were even more productive. Dr Habibur Rahman, chief of the Bangladesh Oil, Gas and Minerals Corporation (BOGMC) advised me that whilst there was plenty of natural gas available for export, we should not squander this valuable resource but should add value to it before export. In response to this challenge, Dr A. Momen, chair of the Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation came up with the suggestion that we could use natural gas as the raw material for producing urea fertilizer, which was in high demand across India. Dr Alimullah Khan, the chair of BSMC, came up with the idea of setting up a large plant in Bangladesh to produce sponge iron, which was in large demand within India’s growing steel industry, through using our natural gas to process iron ore imported from India. The sponge iron could be marketed in India where it was in large demand and could also be used in the Chittagong Steel Mill to substitute use of imported pig iron. Out of these conversations with the chairmen, the Industries Division identified several areas of export potential to India. The most readily doable were the proposals for establishing a urea plant and a sponge iron project by the two respective corporations, dedicated for export to India. Dr Habibur Rahman further suggested that we should collaborate with India to set up another cement plant in Sylhet drawing upon the large deposits of limestone lying undeveloped in areas of Meghalaya accessible only to a market in Sylhet. I used the information generated by our consultations with the corporations to prepare for our forthcoming discussions with IPC. I concluded that if the export possibilities in these identified areas could be fully exploited, Bangladesh could not only affect a structural diversification of its exports to India but could also expect to substantially expand our overall volume of exports. In return, this big increment in exports to India would not only 248

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finance a larger volume of industrial imports from India but would also provide resources for increased imports of coal, iron ore and limestone to supplement Bangladesh’s meagre natural resource base. If such projects could materialize within an agreed programme of cooperation, then within a decade Indo-Bangladesh relations would not only have reached equilibrium at a much higher volume of exchange but a basically less developed country would be exchanging manufactured exports for imports of raw materials from a more developed country. Thus, a much more structurally balanced pattern of trade would prevail which would once and for all put at rest the feeling of domination and dependency which had come to haunt Indo-Bangladesh relations in those early days. The two Commissions had originally viewed the Delhi meeting more in the nature of an exploratory exchange. I, however, suggested to Tajuddin and Nurul that we should exploit the climate of goodwill to Bangladesh in India to see how far the Indian leadership and planners would countenance a significant realignment of our economic relationship. They agreed with my proposed strategy, so I went ahead with my homework and prepared a paper on the potential for expanding and diversifying our exports to India premised on the arguments cited earlier. In Delhi, the Indians were somewhat taken aback when, after the first session where we discussed the principals of the relationship, I opened up a substantive discussion on specific possibilities for restructuring the relationship. Dhar and Sukhamoy Chakravarty, politically astute, far-sighted persons with a progressive consciousness, were positively responsive to our approach.

Political Implications of Restructuring Relations At a less formal level, in discussions with D. P. Dhar and Sukhamoy, with no officials to take notes, I spelt out the political assumptions underlying our proposals. Here, it was pointed out by me that if Laying the Foundations of Indo-Bangladesh Economic Relations


proponents of Indo-Bangladesh friendship in India were serious about providing a firm anchor to such relations, they should not be founded on the shifting sands of momentary political amity but must be built upon mutual material self-interest. This could only be realized on a basis of equality arising not out of rhetorical protestations of respect for national sovereignty but out of genuine structural changes in the pattern of the relationship. This point was fully appreciated by both Dhar and Sukhamoy. We had the opportunity to again raise the political aspects of the relationship in our meeting with Indira Gandhi at the conclusion of our visit, with P. N. Haksar also in attendance. I remember the sense of pride I felt on entering the office of the PM as a senior representative of an independent government. Haksar had introduced me to her in her office in July 1971 when I had been a vagrant professor speaking for a country which was yet to emerge. Mrs Gandhi was no less sympathetic to our approach but suggested that the ideas needed to be given substance through more intensive exchanges between the two Commissions. After the meeting, D. P. Dhar advised us that all initiatives towards cooperation must emanate and be seen to emanate from the Bangladesh side lest Indian-owned initiatives give currency to those elements in Bangladesh seeking evidence of Indian influence over Bangladesh. They were fully aware that even within India, there would be both vested and bureaucratic interests opposed to such changes in the established pattern of economic relations. Dhar further advised us that even within the Indian political leadership, there were elements who would be far from enthusiastic at altering the pattern of dependence which could maintain Bangladesh in the position of a client state. At the conclusion of the meeting of the two Planning Commissions, it had been decided that Sukhamoy and I were to be jointly invested with the responsibility of overseeing the development of a more concrete agenda for economic cooperation. Since we both had the rank of state ministers, we could use this authority to coordinate and oversee activities in the respective ministries/agencies involved in developing programmes for 250

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economic cooperation. I did not then anticipate that Sukhamoy would largely remain as a sleeping partner in our relationship leaving it to me to do all the heavy lifting on both sides of the border. But whenever he was called upon by me to use his authority to stimulate activity among the concerned officials on the Indian side engaged with our projects, he readily stepped up to do what was needed. Tajuddin strongly supported our initiative. On our return to Dhaka, we met Bangabandhu where Tajuddin briefed him on the outcomes of the talks in Delhi and we secured his full political backing to go ahead. The onus of giving substance to this programme of cooperation devolved on the BPC and within it on me along with the divisions under me. When I set about the task of initiating discussion on the programme, we discovered that within the Bangladesh government itself, there was more concern about the political implications of promoting any concrete actions for Indo-Bangladesh economic cooperation than an appreciation of the need to build a secure basis for equality in interstate relations. Whilst much of this scepticism may have reflected concern over the politically inspired growth of anti-Indian feelings across the country at that time, there were, at all stages, elements within the administration and political leadership who were positively hostile to any attempts whatsoever at improving relations. For this element hostility to India had become the fulcrum for their political renaissance after their eclipse in 1971, and any attempt to give substance to this relationship was unacceptable.

Identifying Programmes for Economic Cooperation Challenges in Designing the Programmes In this rather unpropitious environment, I set about my task in collaboration with the concerned corporations. BCIC took an active interest in preparing a proposal for establishing a large urea Laying the Foundations of Indo-Bangladesh Economic Relations


plant based on export to India and closely collaborated with the Planning Commission in the preparatory work. In contrast, the Steel Mills Corporation remained distinctly lukewarm to the idea of preparing the proposal on the sponge iron plant once its original chairman, Dr Alimullah Khan, had resigned. It was Dr Khan who had conceived the sponge iron project. No immediate successor had been appointed to replace Dr Khan and the directors in charge of the corporation were timorous and without initiative in their approach to the project. It was not until retired Brigadier, later Major General, Majeedul Haq, on his repatriation from Pakistan, assumed the chairmanship of the corporation that they resumed an interest in initiating work on the project. Beyond the idea of the urea and sponge iron project lay other areas of cooperation. The principal of these, jute, will be discussed later. However, other projects and areas of significance identified by me and my colleagues in the Industries Division were in the industrial sector where Indian machine building capability could be used to set up cement, textile and other industries in Bangladesh. Such projects could be funded by Indian credits and set up with Indian technical know-how in the public sector. For the cement industry, India could supply limestone from its large reserves in Meghalaya which could only be effectively used in factories located in Bangladesh. Outside the industrial sector, we identified possibilities of exporting inland shipping services to India through BIWTC for carrying India’s transit trade between West Bengal and Assam and for carrying the heavy volume of cargo implicit in the three-way exchange of urea, iron ore and sponge iron. Thus, the logistics of the urea and sponge iron project acquired special significance for BIWTC and BSEC who hoped to build the barges which would carry this trade. I brought together the chairs of BSEC and BIWTC to explore these possibilities and received a very positive response. A full year went by before our more concrete proposals for cooperation could be discussed at the second meeting of the Indian and BPCs scheduled in Dhaka in July 1973. Prior to the meeting of the two Commissions, Nurul and I met Bangabandhu, 252

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who was now chairman of the Commission, along with Tajuddin and Nazrul Islam, the minister for industries, to appraise them of the wider assumptions underlying prospective projects we intended to put on the table for discussion and to get their clearance to put the issue on the agenda of talks between the two Commissions. It was well that such political backing was secured by us since by then the climate of euphoria which had informed the early phase of Indo-Bangladesh relations had worn thin and any move towards cooperation, however tentative, had to pick its way through a political mine field. Such a sensitive tread was not normally associated with the Planning Commission who preferred to rely on the guidance of the PM and his senior colleagues. As it transpired, the PM gave us the green signal but advised caution and desired to be kept informed of all developments. Presumably, he wanted to review his options at each stage of the process. The two Commissions met in Dhaka in July 1973. Since the Indian team was led by D. P. Dhar in his capacity as deputy chairman of IPC, our meeting aroused a frisson of political excitement among the anti-India lobby for whom Dhar was the eminence grise of the so-called Indian hegemonism over Bangladesh. Our meeting, therefore, gained much media attention and even notoriety. Bangabandhu met the two Commissions but reacted to Dhar with an element of guarded bonhomie. It was fascinating to view this interaction between two masters in the craft of interpersonal management. At the meeting, the two Commissions, in principle, endorsed the three projects proposed by the Bangladesh side for further study as to their feasibility: a urea manufacturing plant for export to India; a sponge iron plant also dedicated for export to India, based on import of iron ore from India and a cement plant in Chhatak, Sylhet, based on import of limestone from newly developed deposits from across the border in Meghalaya. Other contingent areas were also tentatively discussed but did not, at that stage, move to a more concrete stage of planning. The task for preparing detailed feasibility studies for the three projects was Laying the Foundations of Indo-Bangladesh Economic Relations


entrusted to the concerned public sector corporations on both sides. As and when the joint reports were forthcoming, the respective governments could review the viability of the projects as to their economic benefits as well as asses the degree of political commitment to be invested in reaching agreements to move ahead with the projects. Other issues which were taken up for discussion included cooperation in the jute sector. I had put forward a suggestion based on my earlier consultation with the sector corporations that India could take some policy initiatives to promote some structural adjustment in cropping pattern in West Bengal where a part of crop lands under jute would switch back to rice, opening up markets for Bangladesh’s raw jute exports to India. At the same time, India would concede greater market space in the global economy for further expansion of exports for our jute manufactures. The rationale for this was that raw jute and jute manufactures were at that time the only foreign exchange earning opportunities available to Bangladesh. In contrast, India had a much larger and more diversified economy which could more readily accommodate structural adjustments in its composition. My proposal was a rather preposterous idea in the cold light of reality so I was surprised that Nurul, ever the sceptic, would have agreed to put this on the table for discussion. Both Dhar and Sukhamoy, who shared my views on nudging market forces to realize socially appropriate agendas, signed on to our proposal and agreed to set up a high-powered joint committee to explore the idea. Dr Manmohan Singh who had, since his initial visit to Bangladesh, been elevated to the position of chief economic advisor to the Ministry of Finance came over to Dhaka to discuss the proposals on jute we had put forward, where he was joined by our mutual friend Arjun Sengupta, then the economic minister in the Indian High Commission in Dhaka. Our team was no less high powered and included Muzaffar Ahmad, the division chief of industries and Dr A. R. Khan, the chief of the General Economic Division. I don’t think anything came out of this rather 254

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imaginative initiative. Once Nurul and I withdrew from the Commission and Arjun relinquished his position as economic minister in Dhaka, there was no one on either side interested to follow up this controversial idea of cooperation over jute so it was dropped from the agenda and even from public memory. Other issues were also discussed but remained at a level of generality. The most important issue of sharing the Ganges waters was put off limits for discussion by the two Commissions at the intervention of the then minister for water resources, Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad.

Constraints and Initiatives for Promoting Cooperation Indian Inhibitions In the aftermath of our meeting, it became apparent that IPC had other preoccupations so within India, the responsibility percolated down to the consultancy groups of the concerned corporations in India to move ahead with their end of the feasibility studies. By that time, it had become apparent that the general body of officials in the Government of India was cautious in pushing any issues involving cooperation and regarded any such proposals with considerable scepticism as to their ever-reaching fruition. In this milieu if the projects were at all to materialize, they could only do so as a result of initiatives at the Bangladesh end. As I was the point person designate from Bangladesh, I found myself as the prime mover, on both sides, to take the proposed projects forward. I could persuade the two chairmen of the chemical corporation and the minerals corporation to immediately engage themselves with their contribution to the preparation of the feasibility studies. The steel corporation remained lukewarm and needed to be prodded by the Planning Commission to meet their responsibilities. Once Majeedul Huq took over as chairman, he played a proactive role to complete this work by BSMC. Laying the Foundations of Indo-Bangladesh Economic Relations


By now, the three Indian counterpart agencies of which two were from the public sector and a third, for the cement industry, was a reputed private consulting firm named DevCon were ready to initiate the joint studies so the first stage was ready for take-off.

Confronting the Political Challenges At this phase of our work, a political roadblock arose in the form of NID which was the secretariat to the minister for industries. NID now took upon itself to advise the minister of industries against pursuing these projects even as to their feasibility. It was again a sign of the times that the same minister who had at all stages been involved in discussions of the project and gave it his enthusiastic endorsement during our joint consultations with Bangabandhu felt inhibited about confronting his own secretariat. Instead, he passed on the objections of NID to me for comment. I responded to this note in a strongly worded reply to the minister, reiterating the assumptions underlying the project and the fact that the minister had fully supported the project during our consultations with Bangabandhu. I further reminded the minister that a joint feasibility study implied no commitment at this stage to the project. The minister phoned me to confirm his full support for the projects but when he passed on his approval to the secretary NID, he wrote no comment of his own but merely appended his signature as signifying his approval of the detailed note I had written in response to the objections of NID. The onus of responsibility for this initiative was, thus, placed entirely on my shoulders. At all stages, BPC was kept involved by the relevant decisionmakers as well as the concerned implementing agencies as a catalyst and political safety net. The corporations in Bangladesh took the position that if any political flack arose, they could always divert it to the Commission and within it to me personally. Such seems to also has been the strategy of the minister for industries. At various stages when I was pushing agencies on


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both sides of the border to get on with the work, it seemed that I alone was concerned with the longer term implications of the projects. Everyone else was keeping all their options open— quite ready to throw the Planning Commission, which fully supported the endeavour, and me to the wolves at the least sign of political controversy. Given the inclement climate governing the cooperation process, it was quite a remarkable achievement on the part of the concerned agencies involved that two feasibility studies for urea and cement were completed within nine months of the decision of the two Commissions to go ahead. Even the much delayed steel study was nearing completion by the time the projects were presented for decision by the two PMs in the Delhi summit of May 1974.

The Delhi Summit as a Landmark for Cooperation The summit in Delhi was another landmark in Indo-Bangladesh relations. As the point person of promoting economic relations, I led the official delegation which travelled to Delhi prior to the summit to finalize the agenda for the summit. The details of the final negotiations were carried through with his usual consummate skill by Syeduzzaman, secretary, ERD, who found an excellent negotiating partner in M. Narasimham, the finance secretary in the Indian government. However, when roadblocks emerged at various stages of the negotiations, I was able to reach out to Sukhamoy Chakarvarty who could use his higher political access to break the logjam. At the Delhi Summit, the two PMs gave their approval to set up the urea and cement projects, as well as the sponge iron project when the study was completed. To set up the cement project, the Government of India offered a loan of `50 million. In other areas of economic cooperation which were discussed at the official level, the issue of the Ganges waters was separately dealt with and culminated in an interim agreement.

Laying the Foundations of Indo-Bangladesh Economic Relations


The Balance Sheet of Economic Relations Bangladesh’s Trade Deficit: Official and Unofficial The projects designed for Bangladesh’s exports to India that had been approved were not expected to come on stream for some years. Further negotiations on the terms and conditions governing India’s possible investment in the projects were initiated but could not be formalized by the time of the regime change in August 1975. As a result, none of the three projects could be operationalized and could, therefore, make no contribution to enhance Bangladesh’s exports to India. As a consequence, the balance sheet of IndoBangladesh economic relations at the close of the Bangabandhu era remained largely unchanged. During the period from liberation to around mid-1973, a large volume of trade had taken place, mostly in the form of exports from India to Bangladesh. The imports were essential to the revival and sustainability of the Bangladesh economy and remained unrequited from our side. The resultant trade deficit was, thus, largely underwritten as a form of grant financing by India. After the initial period, ending in mid-1973, a progressive deterioration at the level of bilateral economic interactions set in on all fronts. By the end of the Bangabandhu regime, trade flows had progressively declined to the point where only 1 per cent of exports and 5 per cent of imports went to and came from India.

Smuggled Trade: Facts and Fantasies While trade at the official level remained constricted in those early years of Indo-Bangladesh relations, smuggling had remained prolific. In later years, smuggling was declining in significance as a result of the devaluation of the taka. We have observed that in the early years, it was widely believed within Bangladesh that it was Bangladesh which was running an export surplus with India on the unofficial trading account. This appeared illogical to us in 258

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the Planning Commission since the Bangladesh economy had little to export. But public perception even among some economists and bureaucrats perversely believed that through some mysterious urge for plunder, India was draining wealth out of Bangladesh. In order to introduce some objectivity and rationality into the discussion, Nurul Islam commissioned Professor W. B. Reddaway to undertake a study of the extent, nature and economics of smuggling. Reddaway was a widely reputed professor of applied economics at Cambridge where I had attended some of his lectures as an undergraduate. He had come over to Bangladesh to spend a year as a visiting scholar at BIDS and agreed to deploy his expertise to address the issue of smuggling. Reddaway initiated a study, ably assisted by a BIDS research economist, Mizanur Rahman, based on both field visits and study of available data. The Reddaway study confirmed that a certain amount of crossborder smuggling was indeed taking place but this was mostly incoming from India which had built up a large trade surplus in its illicit trade with Bangladesh. Such evidence was consistent with the sharp depreciation in the value of taka against the Indian rupee which provided another measure of Bangladesh’s growing trade deficit with India through both formal and informal trades. The evidence from the BIDS study did not fully persuade the government to address the issue of smuggling on a more realistic basis. The devaluation of the taka in 1974 did help to reduce some smuggling but such were the shortages in a number of areas of consumer demand within Bangladesh that it was difficult to substantively contain the smuggling of goods from India to meet this unsatisfied demand.

The Myth of Indian Dominance of the Economy During early years, India’s higher level of exports to Bangladesh had mostly been underwritten by grant financing. Once Indian Laying the Foundations of Indo-Bangladesh Economic Relations


financial assistance to Bangladesh began to contract from 1973, India’s commercial exports also began to decline. Given Bangladesh’s weak export earnings, there was little evidence that India would also be able to enhance its exports to Bangladesh. In these circumstances, the scope for any significant growth in economic relations between the two neighbours remained limited. While a certain amount of smuggled Indian goods was visible, mostly in the border markets, the official trade remained low. There were, thus, no visible signs of Indian goods flooding Bangladesh markets. Imports from India substituted only a small part of the volume of imports which had moved from West to East Pakistan in 1969–1970. Thus, India could not even begin to fill the vacuum created by the trade rupture with Pakistan even as late as 1975. In contrast to the visible domination of the Bangladesh economy by Pakistan up to 1971 in terms of control of assets, production and finance in the fields of industry, banking, insurance and foreign trade, the Indian share of control in 1974– 1975 in these areas remained zero. In all these areas, the public sector was overwhelmingly dominant in Bangladesh so the possibility of proxy control of various economic sectors by Indian capitalists through local agents was also ruled out. Such objective evidence on the limited scope for enhancing Indo-Bangladesh relations in the short run did little moderate the public discourse of India’s dominance over not just the Bangladesh economy but in formulation of policies. Thus, it was suggested that Bangladesh’s economic policies were vetted and/or vetoed by India. One wave of rumours reported that Bangladesh’s FFYP was written in India and/or was vetted in India before publication as was the case with its annual development budgets. Now, beyond reiterating that it was insulting and even laughable to even answer such ludicrous fantasies, certainly not one shred of evidence in support of such charges was ever produced. If one was inclined to dignify such charges with a documented rebuttal, no doubt the hundreds of officials and experts in the BPC, ministries and corporations involved in the annual and FYP exercises and the tons 260

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of documentation prepared by them which stand as testimony to their work could be produced in evidence. But the issue is only worth raising as a response to the deliberate falsehoods which were spread to discredit the government and poison the climate of interstate relations. Our friend Arjun Sengupta who was economic minister in the Indian High Commission in the first two years after the liberation war was reported to have drafted large sections of our FFYP. We used to tease Arjun that he should put in some work on our plan in order to validate these rumours. Arjun’s response was that we should be left to make our own mistakes without any help from him. Beyond such forms of ideological hegemony, it was suggested that industry was nationalized to deliberately ruin the economy at the behest of India. Jute policy was also devised accordingly whilst inflation was, of course, directly instigated by India flooding the market with forged notes. Implicit in this climate of opinion was the notion that Bangladesh could not even make its own mistakes of policy or that there were vested interests indigenous to the soil which may promote policies detrimental to the national interest to serve their own parochial interests. What then remains of the economic relationship between India and Bangladesh? Certainly not one of Indian benevolence and enlightened self-interest towards Bangladesh. We are left with a realization that as in all relations between big and small neighbours, except in the crucial aftermath of liberation when India had a strategic stake in Bangladesh’s viability, the big neighbour remains only marginally concerned with the small. A country of the size of India does not need Bangladesh’s impoverished market, its meagre resources or the profits from its infant industry. Apart from the fact that India’s own market is many times Bangladesh’s, its export turnover and import bill provided only a miniscule share to Bangladesh. India, thus, hardly needed our cooperation nor did it fear our competition for their economy. In practice, India only needed to react to the opportunities made available to it by contending social groups within Bangladesh. Laying the Foundations of Indo-Bangladesh Economic Relations


India would have preferred to operate within a framework of political goodwill but could live without it if they had to. If market conditions so dictated, they could market goods in Bangladesh to the point of becoming a dominant economic force in the land without having to even restructure their trading patterns. Thus, if India were to supply 50 per cent of Bangladesh’s import needs, this would still amount to only a fraction of India’s global exports. If goods from Bangladesh were offered to India illegally through smuggling, they would always provide a market. After all, India absorbed in those days a 10 times larger volume of smuggled imports into its Western region from the Gulf area so the most extravagant effort from Bangladesh would have only been marginal to their needs. Such economic realities were rarely permitted to intrude into any review of our economic relations with India. The belief that a large volume of Bangladesh’s economic wealth, including food grains, was being smuggled out to India persisted over the life of the Bangabandhu regime. This illicit extraction of our wealth was seen as part of the exploitative nature of the Indian state and the comprador regime put in office by them to facilitate this plunder. Such was the potency of this myth that Bangabandhu even deployed the army in 1974 to stop this ‘smuggling’ of rice out of Bangladesh even where famine conditions prevailed within our country. It is not clear if the Reddaway study commissioned by Nurul Islam reassured our leaders that smuggling was, if anything, more beneficial to Bangladesh because more Indian goods were flowing in rather than out of Bangladesh. But this issue continued to haunt the public imagination to the last days of the Bangabandhu regime. In the years of cantonment rule that followed the demise of the Bangabandhu regime, the attempt to purposefully restructure trade relations initiated by the two Planning Commissions was shelved and eventually disappeared from political and public discourse. Economic relations have since largely remained mediated by market forces which have perpetuated and exponentially enlarged Bangladesh’s trade deficit with India which today 262

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remains in the region of $10 billion, compared to our larger trade deficit with China of around $14 billion. It has taken all of 35 years for India to take another intergovernmental initiative to enhance Bangladesh’s export capacity to India. In 2010, Dr Manmohan Singh, as the PM of India, finally conceded to the long-standing demand of Bangladesh’s government and civil society for providing duty- and quota-free access to our exports to India. This has contributed to stimulating Bangladesh’s exports to India which in 2019–2020 crossed a billion dollars. This still leaves us with a substantial trade deficit with India.

Being received along with Dr Kamal Hossain, Bangladesh Foreign Minister, at Delhi Palam Airport by Sardar Swaran Singh, Indian Foreign Minister

Laying the Foundations of Indo-Bangladesh Economic Relations


16 May 1974: Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Signing the Summit Agreements (Author on the Far Left Standing behind Nurul Islam and Kamal Hossain)

Negotiations during the Summit on Trade Relation Issues


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The Gathering Storm


My Exit from the Planning Commission In early September 1974, shortly after my return from a trip abroad, I finally left the Planning Commission. Ever since we presented the FFYP to Bangabandhu and had it approved by the Cabinet in October 1973, each of us were planning our own exit. We each had our own occasion for calling time on a defining phase in our lives. Nurul and Anisur Rahman had provided their own explanations for their decisions. What was common to all of our thinking was the growing feeling of impotence about our capacity to influence the course of policy in the directions we had intended, or even to make a difference to the course of events. As I travelled home from Amman in August 1974, I reflected on the deteriorating political scenario and the changing direction of economic policy at home towards a somewhat friendlier opening towards the policy advise of the World Bank and its orientation towards the promotion of the private sector. This trend was dictated by the desperate economic circumstances that prevailed in the country and the need to mobilize more foreign aid. I appreciated the regime’s compulsions, but I felt that the time had come for me to leave. My presence would, if anything, be a potential constraint on moving to build a stronger relationship with the World Bank. Since none of us in the Planning Commission had aspired to make a career out of our presence in the government, I felt that

the time had come for me to move back to academic life. My two colleagues, Mosharraf Hossain and Anisur Rahman, had already returned to Dhaka University. Nurul Islam was also planning to move out, though his departure was likely to be more problematic as Bangabandhu had great confidence in him and appreciated his more pragmatic approach to policy and governance compared to his more ideologically inflexible colleagues. I discussed the issue with Salma, who felt that I would be more comfortable in returning to academic life. I was, for a while, in two minds. One part of me felt that I should not give up so easily, and that if I felt strongly enough to persuade the regime to move in a more radical direction, I should stay on and argue my case. Bangabandhu was not pushing me out, so I should bide my time and get on with my work of trying to improve the effectiveness of public institutions that was essential to the realization of a socialist society. I was given to understand that all those in the regime, but particularly many of those at the head of these corporate institutions, who looked to me to argue their case in their daily contestation with the bureaucrats, would feel deserted and more demoralized, particularly with the changing political climate that de-emphasized the public sector. Bangabandhu himself had been the original policy inspiration for the radical initiatives taken by the Planning Commission, but was politically realistic about the need for adjustments. Tajuddin, who was another source of strength for the radical tendency in the government, was himself in disfavour and was about to be removed from his position as finance minister around the time I left the government. Eventually, I made the decision to resign from the Commission and, on my return from abroad, I sought an appointment with Bangabandhu to inform him of my decision. Two of my colleagues had already left the Commission without any strong objection from Bangabandhu, so I did not anticipate any serious problem for myself. Bangabandhu made some pro forma attempts to convince me to stay, but I cannot claim he was too unhappy about my 266

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departure. He did, however, make some prophetic observations before I departed. He told me that it may appear to some progressives that he was responding to pressure from Western aid donors to open up more opportunities for the private sector. He was willing to give this a try but he personally did not believe that this would yield many positive results because the private sector was weak. When it was established from experience that such openings to the private sector were unproductive, he would then move Bangladesh in a more radical direction than anything the Planning Commission had so far proposed. I will never know whether Bangabandhu’s observations were intended to encourage me to remain in the Commission so that I would be at hand to participate in his prospective radical initiatives or he merely sought to soften the mutual discomfort over my departure. But as events transpired, aspects of the economic content of Bangabandhu’s subsequent BAKSAL initiative were quite radical and directly contrary to the policy perspectives of the World Bank.

Prelude to BAKSAL Degeneration in the Ruling Party Since I was out of the government, I had no direct knowledge of the compulsions that inspired Bangabandhu’s move towards more radical solutions that came to be associated with the so-called BAKSAL revolution, where he transformed the democratic character of the state into a system of one-party rule. During my last days in the Planning Commission, I had been given some hint of his possible move towards a more radical direction. Faced with the deteriorating law and order situation, sometime in 1974, Bangabandhu declared a state of emergency and brought in the military to enforce law and order, and take action against alleged malfeasance within and outside the administration. This involved tackling the rampant availability of arms in private hands, food hoarding and cross-border smuggling. The Gathering Storm


In those days, it was evident that Bangabandhu was particularly unhappy with the growing corruption and criminality originating in his own ruling party and he had instructed the army to sort out anyone caught in an act of malfeasance, whatever be their political identity. I was informed by some of my ex-students who were posted in the districts as deputy commissioners that they had also been given orders to crack down on criminal behaviour and ignore calls, even from ministers, to let off any of their henchmen found to be involved in such acts. It was reported that the army was being quite ruthless in the way they dealt with such criminals, even those with political backing. I had some direct evidence of the fallout from such army actions. On the occasion of a visit to the PMO, possibly to discuss my departure from the government, Bangabandhu had cleared the room to give me his exclusive attention and instructed his officials not to disturb us. In the middle of our conversation, we were rudely interrupted by the unannounced intrusion of a rather dishevelled student leader, one of the four caliphas and prominent among the young turks of the ruling party. As Bangabandhu rose from his seat to seek an explanation, the ‘leader’ fell at his feet, firmly grasping him around his knees, pleading that Bangabandhu should save his loyal party workers in the ‘leader’s’ home district, from harsh military treatment. I recollect that Bangabandhu was not only furious at the intrusion, but that this spectacle was taking place in my presence. He almost physically kicked the ‘leader’ out of his room, observing that if his boys had committed any crime, they had to face the full consequences. I was provided with some indication of Bangabandhu’s changing political strategy to deal with the crisis by Dr Habibur Rahman, then Chairman of Petrobangla, previously known as Bangladesh Oil, Gas and Minerals Corporation, who had been one of my most vocal partners in the struggle for public sector autonomy. Habib was quite politically oriented. Once the business aspect of our discussions had been concluded, we used to discuss the political situation and related matters. 268

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In this context, Habib informed me that he was being regularly consulted by the leaders of the JSD, particularly its mastermind, Serajul Alam Khan. The JSD had emerged out of the split in the CL in 1972, when the more radically committed and also more numerous segment of the CL, under the leadership of Serajul Alam, had broken away from the minority faction led by the nephew of Bangabandhu, Sheikh Fazlul Haque Moni. The radical wing included a variety of prominent CL activists, such as Abdur Rab, who later briefly served as leader of the opposition in Ershad’s voter-less parliament of 1988, Shajahan Siraj, a minister under Khaleda Zia, Hasanul Haq Inu and Shajahan Khan, both recent ministers in Sheikh Hasina’s government. This breakaway faction formed the nucleus of a new, more radical political party exclusively committed to building a socialist Bangladesh. These younger militants in the JSD had been reinforced by drawing in some radicalized army officers who had actively participated in the Liberation War, such as Major Jalil and Major Abu Taher. At that time, we had no idea that Taher, who had been injured in the Liberation War and walked with the support of a crutch, was building up the Gonobahini or people’s army. He aimed to mobilize those in the rank and file of the army. In the aftermath of liberation, he had been inspired by his experiences to recreate the army along the lines of the People’s Liberation Army in China, with its roots in the common people. Taher had been prematurely retired from the army for his attempts to radicalize the army. He was then assigned to head a small project in the IWT sector. In that capacity, he came to see me in the Planning Commission to seek support for his projects, where I was much impressed by his quiet dedication to his work. I discussed his contribution to the Liberation War and its aftermath, but he did not share his plans for political action with me. In a very short period of time, JSD emerged as the principal opposition challenge to the AL. They hoped to register their presence as a strong opposition party in the Parliament through the post-constitutional elections of March 1973. In the aftermath The Gathering Storm


of the election, they believed that their larger representation in the Parliament had been frustrated by the non-democratic interventions of the ruling party in particular constituencies and had decided to move towards a more activist phase in their politics. JSD had demonstrated a strong capacity for street mobilization across the country but found that their efforts were being frustrated by acts of state repression. As the political space for JSD narrowed, they increasingly resorted to armed resistance, culminating in acts of armed insurgency in various parts of Bangladesh. This included the killing of local AL leaders who reportedly had earned a bad reputation for corruption. In some areas of western Bangladesh, JSD insurgents, led by Commandant Maya, had established themselves as a serious terrorist threat to the regime. The JSD was not the only armed insurgency that threatened the regime. In particular areas, insurgents of a more explicitly Leftwing orientation, such as the Sarbahara Party led by Siraj Sikder, and particular fragments of the Maoist-oriented Communist Party, such as the faction led by Abdul Haq in Jessore, were also involved in the killing of ruling party representatives.

Counter-insurgency—Bangladesh Style The notorious Rakkhi Bahini (RB), a paramilitary organization, had been deployed during 1973 and 1974 in counter-insurgency operations against various insurgent groups and had begun to eliminate their activists by any means at hand. It was reported that the RB was becoming increasingly indiscriminate in the way it dealt with any armed group, including ruling party gunmen, and was extending its operations to deal harshly with even non-violent opponents of the regime. The RB was originally set up towards the end of 1972 to absorb the civilians of the Mukti Bahini, many of whom were drawn from the Mujib Bahini, who could not be absorbed into either the Bangladesh Army or the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), a border security force. The Mujib Bahini had been set up during the 270

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Liberation War by RAW, India’s premier intelligence agency, to train Chhatro (students) League (VL) cadres as a counter-insurgency force against possible threats to a post-liberation regime from the prospective Left-wing ‘revolutionaries’. From the outset, both the Army and the BDR had been quite reluctant to absorb the Mujib Bahini into their ranks in the post-liberation period. The RB had been trained partly by Indian instructors and equipped by India to serve as a counter-insurgency force so that the army would not be drawn into anti-insurgency operations as had been the case in the aftermath of liberation. For example, in early 1972, the Bangladeshi Army had been directly deployed in the Atrai region in northern Bangladesh to put down an insurgency involving one of the pro-Maoist factions led by peasant leaders Matin and Alauddin. An element of regime security was also involved in the setting up of the RB, where Bangabandhu looked to them as a second line of defence against possible coup-makers in the armed forces. For this reason, the RB was viewed with some disfavour within the regular armed forces. It is evident that in the last year of the Bangabandhu regime, the RB had established itself as a repressive force with a record of using force to deal with all those who challenged the regime. But we should also remember that a number of those anti-regime elements gunned down by the RB were not exactly boy scouts or peaceable liberal democrats, but were themselves engaged in acts of violence against the ruling party and elements of the administration.

Reaching Out to the JSD According to Dr Habibur Rahman, at a time of emerging anarchy, Bangabandhu was becoming increasingly concerned at the growing indiscipline and corruption within his own party, which was contributing to the deterioration in the political situation. The more blatant acts of malfeasance within the ruling party, and particularly within its student wing, the CL, were alarming the public and damaging the image of the government. The Gathering Storm


Growing malfeasance and indiscipline within the ruling party was further manifested in the opening up of divisions within the AL. The evidence of the struggle for power within the leadership of the students and youth wing of the AL had become more visible. Dhaka University was exposed to a horrendous incident when some activists of one faction of the CL, led by Fazlul Haque Moni, were openly gunned down on the campus by another armed group in the CL led by a student leader, Shafiul Alam Prodhan, reportedly loyal to Tofail Ahmed and Abdur Razzaq. Tofail was then political secretary to Bangabandhu, while Razzaq was the leader of the youth wing of the party. Sheikh Moni, a nephew of Bangabandhu, was also an important figure in the party and head of the Jubo League, another front organization of the AL. At that time, few people had any idea of such deep-seated divisions within the elements of the ruling party, where some of those closest to Bangabandhu were involved. These divisions indicated serious internal weaknesses within the party that had concerned Bangabandhu so much. As a result, he was contemplating major changes in the direction of the party. While Moni had been one of those gunned down by the majors who killed Bangabandhu on 15 August 1975, in later years both Tofail and Razzaq ended up as senior leaders of the AL and were appointed ministers in the cabinet of Bangabandhu’s daughter, Sheikh Hasina, in 1996 and later in 2012. Prodhan, their lieutenant, was convicted for the Dhaka University killing and sentenced to death during the last days of the BAKSAL regime.

Negotiations for an Inclusive BAKSAL As a political response to such divisiveness and signs of degeneration in the AL, Bangabandhu sought to rejuvenate the party by bringing JSD back into the fold. Serajul Alam had once been Bangabandhu’s most trusted young lieutenant, and he believed that he and his followers could once again work with him to rebuild the AL into the force it had been before and during the Liberation War. 272

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According to Habib, secret negotiations were underway between Bangabandhu and Siraj, which could even lead to the emergence of a new party which combining the AL with the JSD and other Left-wing parties, such as the NAP led by Professor Muzaffar Ahmad, the Communist Party led by Moni Singh and even elements of the pro-Beijing Left, such as the faction led by Rashed Khan Menon and Kazi Zafar. The goal of Bangabandhu was to build a new, more radicalized party that apparently provided one of the central assumptions underlying BAKSAL. It would appear that the negotiations with JSD and the Menon/ Zafar group proceeded too slowly to satisfy Bangabandhu’s sense of urgency over the deteriorating situation. Some reports from JSD sources, in later years, indicate that JSD leaders did not favour the move to a one-party system and advised Bangabandhu to form a coalition government that they were willing to join. This was possibly also the position of the Menon/Zafar group, which also held off joining BAKSAL. Frustrated by the delay, Bangabandhu eventually moved ahead and formed BAKSAL with the AL, NAP and Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) in the expectation that he would eventually persuade JSD and some elements of the Left to join him. According to Kamal Hossain, in a conversation with Bangabandhu, in the last month before his assassination, he informed him that he was close to a deal with JSD to bring them into BAKSAL.

The Revival of the Pro-Pakistan Elements A further premonition of the deteriorating political situation was provided through the visit of PM, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in June 1974, on a state visit after he had finally recognized Bangladesh as a sovereign state on the occasion of the first Islamic Summit convened in Lahore in February 1974. While much was not expected from Bhutto’s visit to Bangladesh, what was unexpected was the materialization of hundreds of pro-Pakistan supporters who lined the streets on both sides of the road from the airport to The Gathering Storm


greet Bhutto with slogans such as Bhutto zindabad and Pakistan zindabad. How much of this revealed the so far hidden face of pro-Pakistan elements that had remained alive and well in postliberation Bangladesh, and how much large sums of Pakistani rupees had been invested in advance to organize this shameful demonstration, merits investigation. Evidence of Bhutto’s attempts to buy political influence in Bangladesh during that period was provided some years later by Stanley Wolpert, who wrote a well-researched biography of Bhutto, Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan. Wolpert reports, in a footnote in the book, that in his exploration of Bhutto’s papers he came across a letter to Bhutto from Abdul Haq, who thought of himself as the leader of a Maoist insurgency based in Jessore, and continued to designate his party as the East Pakistan Communist Party (M/L) after the liberation of Bangladesh. Haq wrote to Bhutto, as cited by Wolpert, that he had not received his promised payments. From this message to Bhutto, we may deduce that if Bhutto was, in those days, funding even obscure Leftist factions in Bangladesh to trouble the regime, those political elements more in sympathy with the idea of Pakistan were being much more generously supported. Unfortunately, such evidence of Bhutto’s financial initiatives to buy political support in Bangladesh was not made available to the government, prior to his arrival, by our intelligence agencies. Nor did such evidence come in after the event. Thus, neither our intelligence agencies nor the regime’s political antennae were alert enough to anticipate the episode. But we were put on notice that the so-called defeated forces of 1971 remained embedded in the interstices of our society, and that they were biding their time to strike when the time was right, which manifested itself a year later.

The Exit of Tajuddin Ahmad The political landscape took a darker turn when Tajuddin Ahmad resigned or was dismissed (the sequence is not clear) as finance 274

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minister by Bangabandhu on his return from the annual World Bank/IMF meeting in Washington DC around October 1974. Such a scenario was unimaginable since Tajuddin was once Bangabandhu’s closest confidante. It was this unbreakable partnership in the final years of the struggle for independence that steered us towards our once-unattainable goal. There was no second person in the AL who could match Tajuddin’s loyalty to Bangabandhu or offer him such invaluable political advice that was totally honest, unmotivated and constructive. What had appeared as an unbreakable bond when we used to meet with both of them in the early years of the Planning Commission had begun to fray over the years. In our first meetings, Bangabandhu informed us that he wanted Tajuddin to have an office next to him in the Secretariat so that he was always accessible for consultation. But Bangabandhu continued to sit in the inner part of the Eden Building while Tajuddin and the Planning Commission sat in a separate six-storey building separate from the PM’s Secretariat. The PM’s Secretariat eventually moved further away and was relocated outside the centre of the town to Gonobhaban to widen the physical distance between these two intimate comrades, as did the political distance. Tajuddin had already advised us about the growing distance with Bangabandhu a month after his return from captivity in Pakistan. Tajuddin’s enemies had been poisoning Bangabandhu’s ear with tendentious rumours that Tajuddin was being propped up by India to serve as a challenge to him. Since Indira Gandhi had the closest possible political and working relations with Bangabandhu, such a story was outrageous for its implausibility. In the months prior to Tajuddin’s dismissal, during his encounters with the Planning Commission to discuss economic issues, he had demonstrated his growing sense of unease at the deteriorating political scenario and the growing distance between the ruling party and the people. In those last few months, Tajuddin had become more politically articulated about the political and economic crisis facing the country, so that his departure from the government did not come as a total surprise. The Gathering Storm


Politics of Food and Famine My own departure from the Commission coincided with such ominous political developments and the growing economic crisis that had an impact on the political fortunes of the regime. The famine, precipitated by the ‘food politics’ of the USA, was not only seen as an unimaginable human tragedy, but it was also affecting the political mood of the country where such a crisis had the potential for being politically destabilizing. I had published a paper on my interpretation of the causes of the famine in the Economic & Political Weekly, a highly prestigious journal published from Mumbai, under the title ‘Politics of Food and Famine in Bangladesh’ (1 December 1979). I had pointed out that the suspension of food aid by the then US government, on the plea that Bangladesh had contracted a small shipment of jute to Cuba, had played a critical role in disrupting the public food distribution system, which played a crucial role in feeding vulnerable sections of the population in those early years. At that time, Bangladesh was experiencing historically unprecedented floods, was exposed to a sharp escalation in global import prices and had negligible foreign exchange reserves to procure food from the global market. In my subsequent publication The Crisis of External Dependence: The Political Economy of Foreign Aid to Bangladesh (1981), I had written that in 1974 the USA appeared to have been inclined to demonstrate the power of food politics to both OPEC and the developing world. The extent to which the actions were motivated by a policy of destabilizing the government of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is again open to further investigation. Neither me nor, to my knowledge, others carried out further in-depth investigation on this issue, but it is accepted that the Nixon administration in the USA was not well disposed to the then AL regime.


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Encounters with a Prospective President The Listening Years I remember that after I left the Commission and joined BIDS, I could leave for home at the end of the official working day at around 5 p.m. At that hour, on my way home, I became aware that I had forgotten what Dhaka looked like at that time of day when the sun used to set and the evening approached. I had very rarely returned home for two and a half years before 7 or 8 p.m. when it was dark. The deputy chairman and other members all worked till late hours, but I tended to stay for longer durations. I remember, on one occasion, Brigadier Ziaur Rahman, later president of Bangladesh, sought a meeting with me. I suggested that he call me around 6 or 7 p.m. in my office when I hoped to be free of all engagements. When he came to see me, he walked through the empty, darkened corridors of the Secretariat, which were, by then, devoid of signs of life, except for the light from my office and the presence of one of the MLSS who worked for me, possibly asleep on his chair outside my office. I remember Zia making some caustic remarks about the emptiness of the building and asking me, in a tone of scepticism, if all this effort to work late was likely to yield any result. I am not sure if I provided him with a satisfactory reply. Zia had sought an exclusive meeting with me to discuss the allocation of funds from the development budget to construct roads in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). He had already met Nurul Islam to discuss this and had possibly been advised by him to meet me since I was the member in charge of the Physical Infrastructure Division. Zia, of course, knew me from our first encounter at the Skyroom Restaurant in Kolkata in 1971, and his later courtesy call on me with Khaled Mosharraf and their

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respective wives at Zia-ul-Haq’s Dhanmondi residence just after my return to Dhaka after liberation. During our Planning Commission days, I had run into Zia at some official functions. He subsequently invited Salma and me to dine with him and Khaleda Zia at his Cantonment residence, where he had also invited a senior civil servant Sultan-uz Zaman Khan and his wife, Feroza, sister of my friend Zia-ul-Haq. I had reciprocated by inviting Zia and Khaleda to dine with Salma and me at my Gulshan residence when the only other guests present were my cousin Sarwar and her husband, one of my closest friends, J. R. Khan, then secretary of the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation. On both these social occasions, Zia was more interested in discussing the broader political environment and the problems it was creating for those of us who were committed to both strengthening and reforming the economy. I was not the only senior person in the administration cultivated by Zia. Nurul Islam, among others, was socially visited by Zia, who appeared to be particularly interested in educating himself from diverse sources on the state of governance. What was remarkable about Zia from all those earlier encounters was that unlike the average Bangladeshi who prefers to talk more than to listen, he was then more anxious to hear what others had to say rather than to articulate his own views. This character trait apparently changed after he became the president of Bangladesh. By then, according to visitors such as Nurul Islam, who had met him in Bangabhaban on an official visit as Assistant Director General, FAO, Zia did all the talking while the visitor was compelled to listen. Khaleda Zia in those days must have taken her cue from her husband because she too had little to say. This may, in part, have been due to shyness in social encounters outside the Cantonment. She had married young, appeared to know little of the world outside the Cantonment and retained the interests and values of a typical middle-class Bengali housewife. At our encounters, both at the cantonment and at my home, she appeared exceedingly 278

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shy and hardly spoke. It has been reported by those who knew Zia and travelled with him on official visits abroad when he was president that he strongly discouraged Khaleda Zia from speaking in public so that, in his presence, she remained intimidated even on social occasions. Khaleda Zia, in later years, emerged as one of the most articulate political leaders, which suggests that she somehow reincarnated and empowered herself after the assassination of her spouse.

Responding to the Emerging Crisis in the CHT On the occasion of Zia’s visit to my office in the deserted Secretariat, he suggested that I should visit the CHT so I would see for myself the importance of road construction in that remote area. Zia was not merely interested in infrastructure development in backward areas, but viewed such roads for their importance for national security. He argued that the indigenous people of the CHT would become a disgruntled element that would one day pose a security threat to the country if more was not done to improve their economic situation. Such infrastructure investments in the CHT would serve the dual purpose of giving tribal/hill people a sense of being included in the development process while keeping them within the logistical ambit of our security forces. Later, Zia invited me to his office in the Cantonment, where all those arguments were more systematically advanced through the use of wall maps and pointers to enable me to visualize the problem. It was there that he invited me to join him on a trip into the CHT to which I agreed. On the day I was to travel to Chittagong for our shared adventure, my presence was required at an urgent Cabinet meeting so I sent Ahmed Farid, a civil servant, and Joint Secretary in the ERD, to represent me on the mission to the CHT. By some quirk of fate, the helicopter taking Farid, Zia and Brigade Commander in Chittagong, Mir Shawkat Ali, later Lt General and BNP MP, malfunctioned en route and was compelled to make a forced landing in some remote part of the CHT. The Gathering Storm


I missed out on this great adventure and a possible first-hand insight into the crisis to come. In later years, Zia, as president, faced an insurgency in the CHT and sought to crush it by changing the demography of the region through the resettlement of a large population of Bengalis mobilized from across Bangladesh. These outside settlers usurped tribal lands, thereby exposing the onceprotected tribal areas to years of insurgency and then to marginalization in their own lands. The dire consequences of Zia’s forced settlement plans still haunt us today. I had an earlier exposure to the crisis yet to come in the CHT when Bangabandhu sent Manabendra Larma, then an elected MP from the region, to visit me to discuss some of the economic concerns of the indigenous population. Larma appeared to be a most sensible and far-sighted young man who brought with him a paper on the development potential of the CHT and the need for government investment in the region. He anticipated Zia by identifying the importance of infrastructure investment, but also suggested a variety of development projects designed to add value to the natural wealth of the region, from investment in pig farming to tourism. I do not remember what development action we initiated in the CHT in response to the visit of Larma and Zia, but we did highlight the issue in the FFYP. Larma’s efforts to improve the conditions of the CHT and to gain recognition for greater autonomy for the region did not yield much. He eventually led elements of the indigenous community into a state of insurgency through establishing the Shanti Bahini, which based itself across the border in India for a long period, drawing on support from the Indian intelligence agencies. Sheikh Hasina, during her first tenure in office, finally managed to end this insurgency through signing a peace accord with the Shanti Bahani, brokered by India, early in 1997.

Final Encounter My last meeting with Zia occurred just after my departure from the Planning Commission. The day my resignation was announced 280

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by the media, I had a phone call from Zia, who sought a meeting with me. He arrived at my Gulshan residence the next morning, on Sunday, and his opening remark to me was that he expected me ‘to go out with a bang’. He did not add ‘not with a whimper’ to complete the phrase. I sought to explain my reasons, but I suspected that Zia was more interested in exploring how disgruntled I was with the situation as to seek some form of regime change. While I was unhappy over the unresolved problems and lost opportunities of the regime, I certainly did not seek regime change and advised him that whatever changes were needed would need to be led by Bangabandhu since he was the only person with political authority and credibility to bring about qualitative change. Zia did not challenge my views, but I am not sure if he agreed with me. I did not meet Zia again on a one-on-one basis for the rest of his eventful but not very long life. After 16 August 1975, but before he took over power in November 1975, he did send a message to me through Zia-ul-Haq, whom Zia had also cultivated socially, that I should not be unduly worried even though the murderous majors were still in control of Bangabhaban, and that very soon everything would be sorted out. I did not heed Zia’s advice, but left the country at the end of October 1975 and did not return for another four years at a time when Zia was president of Bangladesh. In his remaining two years in office, I chose not to renew my early relationship with Zia, now an all-powerful president, nor did he seek to revive his relationship with me.

Reviving BIDS Building Research Capacity Once I had exited the government, I could sense the changing political scenario with more detachment. I had initially returned to my position at the Economics Department at Dhaka University, but remained there for only a few weeks, as Nurul Islam expected me to take over as the acting president of BIDS. He had planned The Gathering Storm


to move to Nuffield College, Oxford, on leave of absence from the Planning Commission, but was unsure if and when he may return to Bangladesh. The BIDS, which I inherited in October 1974, was a shadow of the once world-famous development research center built by Nurul in the 1960s. Its two most senior Research Directors, Dr A. R. Khan and Dr Swadesh Bose had opted to work abroad and had severed their ties with BIDS. Other senior economists had also moved abroad, so all I was left with were a few mid-career economists such as Abdul Ghafur and Q. K. Ahmad and a younger generation of prospective stars, such as Muhiuddin Alamgir and Abu Abdullah, who had returned from abroad after completing their higher studies. They were all capable economists who had the potential to build up BIDS to a high standard, if not to its former glory. The generation after them—all excellent, talented economists—were completing their PhDs abroad so that, with some exceptions, there were few people left in BIDS to lead research and not many talented people for them to lead. My first task was to attract a new generation of young researchers who would build up the BIDS of the future. But this new generation needed to be supported by a few well-reputed economists from abroad. In those days, BIDS was still comfortably placed with the resources provided by the Ford Foundation, which had provided an unlimited source of funding for PIDE from its inception in 1957 to its transfer to Dhaka at the end of 1970. These funds had been used to bring in a steady stream of well-known economists from abroad to lead research until the generation of brilliant young economists recruited by PIDE and sent abroad to do their PhDs in the world’s best universities returned to take up the leadership of research. Ford funds were still available to bring in senior economists from abroad, but in Bangladesh’s rather unsettled post-liberation environment, few such economists were willing to come out for one or two years to provide the crucial research leadership that had built up PIDE in the 1960s. After much difficulty, we persuaded


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Brian Reddaway, to take leave of absence from Clare College, Cambridge, and spend a year as a visiting scholar at BIDS. In the year that I spent at BIDS prior to going abroad at the end of October 1975, I also reached out to our universities to bring in the best young talents on offer. A number of senior economists in Bangladesh of today began their careers in the economics profession through my initial recruitment initiatives for BIDS.

Research Initiatives for BIDS In those early years, I initiated three major research studies intending to engage the best available talent at BIDS. In response to the famine that had devastated Bangladesh, I decided that BIDS should demonstrate its social conscience by initiating a major investigation into the origin of the famine and the appropriate measures needed to ensure that such famines would never recur. This work was taken up by drawing exclusively on our own resources. A second project initiated by me in partnership with my colleague first at Dhaka University and later at the Planning Commission, Professor Muzaffar Ahmed, related to a study on the political economy underlying the governance of public enterprises in Bangladesh. This was taken up as part of a large regional project to evaluate the performance of public enterprises in Asia, sponsored by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Canada. Muzaffar and I planned to use the support of this project to initiate research on the policies and performance relating to public enterprise in post-liberation Bangladesh, drawing on our first-hand experience with the sector in our years in the Planning Commission. This work culminated in a 600-page research volume authored by Muzaffar and myself, Public Enterprise in an Intermediate Regime: A Study in the Political Economy of Bangladesh, which was published by BIDS in 1980. The third research project that I initiated sought to investigate the sources of poverty in Bangladesh so that we could lay down

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an agenda for its complete elimination. In the mid-1970s, research on poverty was an underexplored discipline and a long way from the growth industry that emerged in later years. Since our work was expected to be something of a pioneering effort, certainly for Bangladesh, I was keen to design a research programme drawing upon the advice of the best available academic talent, as well as on the guidance of those engaged in both policymaking and development work at the grassroots level. I spent some time seeking the approval of the BIDS Board and also in lining up external sources of funding for the project prior to initiating consultations for preparing the research design sometime towards the end of July 1975.

The Re-emergence of Chashi Under the BIDS Charter, one of the members of the board was the director of the Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development (BARD) based in Cumilla. BARD was once a world-famous institution in the 1960s, set up under the inspirational leadership of the legendary Akhtar Hameed Khan, which had been a place of pilgrimage for both policymakers and researchers from home and abroad. It was then much favoured by external funding agencies. Akhtar Hameed Khan and the Cumilla model for rural development had, perhaps undeservedly, fallen into some disrepute at the downfall of President Ayub Khan in 1969. Akhtar Hameed eventually moved to West Pakistan in the months prior to the outbreak of the Liberation War. After liberation, a number of well-known public figures had served as director of BARD. In 1975, its directorship was vested on Mahbub Alam Chashi. The title of Chashi had been vested on Alam in the years after he took premature retirement from the Pakistan Foreign Service and set himself up as a grassroots worker to promote development in his rural home base in Rangunia, Chittagong. In 1970, I had visited Chashi in Rangunia where he pointed out that his model of rural development was intended to be somewhat different from Akhtar Hameed Khan’s in Cumilla 284

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and was thus likely to be more sustainable. I did not have the competence to evaluate these distinctions, but, as was the case with many urban-based intellectuals, I was disinclined to argue with anyone who had sacrificed a promising career in the Foreign Service in order to work in rural areas. Akhtar Hameed Khan had also resigned from the famed Indian Civil Service (ICS) prior to dedicating his life to the rural masses of Cumilla, which had contributed to his reputation as a man of principle, totally committed to the service of the deprived. Chashi had joined the liberation struggle and served as foreign secretary to the Mujibnagar government when Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad was its foreign minister. I have written elsewhere about the so-called Park Circus conspiracy, where Mostaq, Chashi and some others attached to the then Bangladesh Foreign Ministry, had entered into negotiations with representatives of the US government to explore the scope for a settlement within the framework of a united Pakistan. Chashi’s presumed association with the infamous episode in our early history did not prejudice the fact that he was offered positions of responsibility by the post-liberation government, but he was kept at arm’s length and eventually sent off to head BARD, which was deemed to be more proximate to his areas of comparative advantage but far removed from the seat of government. I was unaware of Chashi’s precise role in the Park Circus conspiracy, but had retained a good opinion of him from his Rangunia days. I therefore took advantage of his presence on the BIDS Board to invite him to come over to Dhaka and join our planning sessions at BIDS for designing the poverty project. As he was a busy person based in Cumilla, I expected him to occasionally join us in our discussions. I was much impressed and not a little surprised when, around the beginning of August 1975, he told me that he was sufficiently interested in the importance of the BIDS poverty project that he would come over for a length of time from Cumilla to Dhaka to give his exclusive attention to shaping the project, which was to be one of the focal points of the BIDS research agenda. The Gathering Storm


In the first fortnight of August, Chashi dutifully turned up every morning at BIDS for our discussions. I registered my appreciation for the sensible advice offered by Chashi, drawing on his grassroots expertise, in designing our project and pointed out to my BIDS colleagues and others his seriousness of purpose in supporting what was an academic research exercise. Since it was then the month of Ramadan, we ended the office early so that I would, on my way home, drop Chashi off at the official Minto Road residence of Taheruddin Thakur, then the state minister for Information, where he was a house guest. I thought nothing more of Chashi’s presence in Dhaka beyond his dedication to research on poverty until I observed, on the fateful morning of 16 August, sitting with Salma in haunted silence before my television set, Chashi and Taheruddin Thakur appearing in positions of some intimacy by the side of Khondaker Mostaq during his swearing-in ceremony as president. We subsequently observed that Chashi took over the position of principal secretary to the president while Thakur was sworn in as cabinet minister. Their shared presence beside Mostaq and the killer majors resurrected memories of the rumoured Park Circus conspiracy. I remember pointing out to Salma that Chashi’s commitment to poverty research, which had so impressed me, was very likely a cover for his residency in Dhaka with Thakur while the final stages of the assassination of Bangabandhu and its consequent regime change were going through the final stages of planning. I was further reminded of Chashi’s role at the vortex of the conspiracy when Kamal Hossain reminded me of a conversation with Bangabandhu sometime during their last days together. Bangabandhu had quietly informed Kamal that few people were appreciative of how grave the situation was in Bangladesh when senior members of his Cabinet were reported to have met with army officers in Cumilla (presumably at BARD, courtesy of Chashi). The conspirators so identified were Khondaker Mostaq and Taheruddin, who were meeting with Majors Rasheed and Farooq. 286

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Global Travels My Quest for Research Partners In the final days of normalcy under the old order, I was provided an opportunity to travel abroad, this time as a private citizen. BIDS, with its depleted professional resources, remained in need of high-calibre research advisers, possibly from abroad, who were willing to commit themselves to work in Bangladesh. We decided to draw upon the yet available Ford funds to seek out development economists from reknowned universities abroad, willing to spend at least a year in Dhaka. Brian Reddaway’s presence at BIDS had been very helpful in advising us on research issues and providing occasional advice to Nurul at the Planning Commission, if requested. We had not been able to persuade any other senior economist to join Brian despite an extended correspondence initiated by me. The Board therefore decided that I should travel abroad to some of the better universities to reach out directly to PIDE alumni, as well as our own personal contacts, to encourage some established academics to spend time with us in Dhaka. I accordingly embarked on a rather extended safari in mid-summer of 1975, which took me to London, Cambridge, Oxford, Cambridge (USA), Washington DC, New York, Bergen, Warsaw, Belgrade and eventually to Tananarive in Malagasy, an island off Southern Africa. I do not recollect having made such an extended journey, in one go, then or ever since. I initially travelled to the UK, where I renewed my contacts at Oxford, Cambridge and the London School of Economics. When in the USA, I looked for prospective research advisers at Harvard, Yale and Columbia University in New York. In New York, I was joined by Mosharraf Hossain, a Board member of BIDS, who had been visiting the USA to attend another meeting. We held discussions with the Ford Foundation at their headquarters about their continued support for BIDS, which at that stage was indispensable in sustaining our programme for sending our professional staff abroad for their graduate studies and bringing in foreign scholars, as had been the case with PIDE in the 1960s. The Gathering Storm


Setting Up the CMI Connection From New York, Mosharraf and I flew over the North Pole to Bergen in Norway. We had been invited by Just Faaland, now back home from Bangladesh at his former position as Director of CMI, to discuss the prospect for long-term institutional collaboration with BIDS. Not only did Faaland remain a sincere friend of Bangladesh in easing our relationship with our aid donors, but he took his love for our country home with him to Norway and remained committed to our country for the rest of his life. On a personal level, he and his wife Judith had become family friends with Nurul Islam, Mosharraf Hossain and our families. As a further manifestation of his love for Bangladesh, Just had taken home to Bergen a Bengali baby girl for adoption by his son Jan. At the professional level, Just remained anxious to build on the knowledge he accumulated on the Bangladesh economy through his three-year stay there. He was keen to build on this experience a long-term relationship between the development wing of the CMI. It was intended that research scholars from Bangladesh and Norway would be able to travel and work in each other’s countries, while CMI and BIDS could also collaborate in undertaking research on Bangladesh. Just hoped to build up a body of Norwegian social science scholars who would engage themselves in Bangladesh and serve as a source of expertise which could be of service to Norway’s efforts to establish a stronger economic relationship with Bangladesh. Just envisaged that CMI would become the focal point for expertise on Bangladesh in the development studies community across Europe. As with Bangladesh, Just was active in building up academic links with some development research institutions in sub-Saharan Africa and also with Malaysia, where he established an equally intimate relationship with their policymaking establishment. When I landed in Bergen with Mosharraf, I was reminded of my first visit there 20 years earlier when I was still an undergraduate at Cambridge. On that occasion, Bergen was the first stop in a backpacking safari across Scandinavia in the company of my close 288

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friends, Amartya Sen, Dilip Adarkar and Suresh Pai. This adventure has also been narrated by me in the first volume of my memoir. On that occasion, as student backpackers, we had been housed in a student’s hostel at the top of a hill overlooking the town. This required a steep walk. On my return, I was relieved to note that a sentimental revisit to the hostel could be made on a cable lift. On my first visit to CMI, Just and I worked on preparing a longterm agreement for collaboration between BIDS and CMI, which was underwritten by funding from the Norwegian government. The agreement I signed with Just on behalf of our respective institutions kept the two institutions connected for around 15 years. The joint programme led to a regular stream of scholars from BIDS and a few other scholars from Bangladesh spending time at CMI as visiting scholars in residence, using their exceptional support facilities to do research in the tranquil environs of Bergen. CMI also sent a number of Norwegian scholars to take on research projects based in Bangladesh. Some of the researchers, such as Eirik Jensen, spent more extended periods of time in Bangladesh working for their doctorates on a Bangladesh-centred thesis.

In Quest of Socialists From Bergen, Mosharraf returned to Dhaka while I travelled to Warsaw and then to Belgrade. In those days, I entertained the illusion that in those ‘socialist’ countries, I would locate authentic socialist economists or at least those knowledgeable about socialism, who we could bring over to BIDS as visiting scholars. My aspiration was to diversify the intellectual thinking of our young economists, all of whom had been trained in Western academic institutions located in the ‘capitalist’ world. It took me some time to discover that there were possibly more socialist economists at Harvard than at any institution in Warsaw or Belgrade. I had travelled to Warsaw to search out disciples of the renowned Polish economist Michal Kalecki, who had developed theories close to that of J. M. Keynes on the nature of capitalism and was regarded as a ‘late’ Keynesian. Kalecki had, in recent The Gathering Storm


years, pioneered the concept of the intermediate regime, a society where neither a capitalist nor a feudal class were dominant, which I found particularly appropriate for interpreting the prevailing class structure in post-liberation Bangladesh. I used Kalecki’s theory to underwrite my own conceptualization of Bangladesh society in our forthcoming work on public enterprise. Kalecki had passed away in 1970. I learnt that his memory was revered among Polish economists, but I did not locate anyone who could qualify to be regarded as a disciple. In Warsaw, my friend and Dhaka University colleague, Sarwar Murshid, was the resident ambassador. He had been with Kamal, Nurul, Anisur Rahman and I in Bangabandhu’s Advisory Council prior to 1971 and had been a member of the Planning Cell in Kolkata with Mosharraf. Murshid was a professor of English at Dhaka University but, at liberation, he had been assigned by Bangabandhu to take over as vice chancellor of Rajshahi University. Our other colleague on Bangabandhu’s advisory group, Muzaffar Ahmed Chowdhury, had been appointed as vice chancellor of Dhaka University. Murshid had no diplomatic experience. This was less of a problem since Bangladesh did not have much going on with Poland. But he did follow up on some of the loan programmes we had negotiated with Poland in our Planning Commission days. He attempted to use his academic background to connect me with some of the research institutions in Warsaw to explore whether I could persuade some economists to visit BIDS. Unfortunately, I found no one with any enthusiasm for studying the Bangladesh economy. From Warsaw, I travelled to Belgrade, where my brother Farooq was still the first secretary and A. R. S. Doha the ambassador. My goal was to persuade a well-known Croatian economist, Branko Horvat, to come over to spend some time at BIDS. He had visited Dhaka earlier to attend an international conference organized by Austen Robinson and Keith Griffin on behalf of the International Economic Association (IEA) to discuss the development prospects of Bangladesh. The IEA had brought in a galaxy of well-known 290

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economists who were expected to provide constructive ideas on how Bangladesh might develop its economy on socialistic lines. Branko Horvat was expected to be an important contributor to our endeavours insofar as he had seen socialism at work and could speak with more authority on the subject. I do not recollect what he advised us in Dhaka, but he did educate us on some of the practical problems of applying socialist solutions to developing economies that I thought might be developed further in the context of Bangladesh if he could spend some time with us. I recollect that Branko was not immediately available to come to BIDS, but indicated that he may be available to come over a while later. All such promises of coming to BIDS that I had accumulated on my travels in the UK, the USA and now Yugoslavia were rendered infructuous with the regime change after 15 August 1975, not just in Bangladesh but also at BIDS.

Encounters with Third-World Socialists From Belgrade, I set out for a longer safari into an unknown terrain, at least for me. I had been invited to attend a gathering of Third-World economists held in Tananarive, the capital of the island state of Malagasy, once known as Madagascar, located off the southern part of Africa. It was a complicated journey involving, if I recollect, several flight changes, including one at Addis Ababa. Tananarive was a town at the level of development of Cumilla. The conference assembly brought together a conclave of Leftoriented economists of various shades of pink and red. The doyen of the event was clearly Samir Amin, an Egyptian based at a UN institution for planning and development in Dakar, Senegal. He was as far left as you go, and was then engaged in leading the ongoing debate on accumulation on a world scale. Samir brought with him a galaxy of left-oriented Arab economists, including Ismail Sabri Abdullah and Ahmed Mansoor from Egypt. It was reported that Samir had once been the teacher of Pol Pot at the Sorbonne and may have ideologically influenced him. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this information but, during The Gathering Storm


our conference, Samir did provide a defence of the actions by the Khmer Rouge, then in power in Cambodia, for moving large segments of the urban population into the villages. Other well-known theoreticians at the event associated with the debate on accumulation included Giovanni Arrighi from Italy, Immanuel Wallerstein then based at the State University of New York and Andre Gunder Frank, whom I came to know better when he was teaching at the University of East Anglia. Progressives from all over the world, including some of the West Bengal stalwarts such as Prabhat and Utsa Patnaik, Amiya Bagchi, Nirmal Chandra and Ranjit Sau, were also there. From Dhaka, my colleagues at BIDS, Abu Abdullah and Muhiuddin Alamgir had turned up. An odd man out at the event was my Cambridge contemporary, Richard Jolly, then director of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at Sussex. If I recollect, one of the reasons he had travelled there was that his wife, a well-known botanist, was engaged in some field research in Malagasy. For me, Tananarive served as a grand assembly of the left that rejuvenated my radical genes but sobered me into recognizing that, in such circles, I was barely accepted as being on the left, in spite of my reputation in Bangladesh, accumulated over my three years in office as the scourge of the private sector. I reconnected with this ‘Left’ constituency five years later in Havana, but again this is part of another story. One of the more enduring aspects of this gathering was the effort to develop a collective consciousness among Third-World economists for constructing a New International Economic Order (NIEO). This part of the Left agenda engaged my attention in my subsequent Oxford years and was incorporated into more mainstream thinking with a less radical orientation, which became an important issue for international debate over the rest of the decade. At Tananarive, economists from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe at the event found themselves outflanked by Maoistoriented Third-World economists who then could not anticipate that Maoism was enjoying its last days in China. Nor could 292

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anyone have imagined that just two years later, Vietnam, once one of the most inspirational of the socialist countries among the Left, would invade its neighbour, Cambodia, to overthrow the Khmer Rouge regime, then the darling of the extreme Left and engage in a short war with China, which was then the principal patron of the Pol Pot regime.

Last Days I returned from Tananarive to Dhaka in early July in the last days of the post-liberation order, though none could have imagined its bloody denouement. Those last days remain a haze in my mind, beyond my engagement with the design of the poverty project at BIDS that I mentioned earlier. There was a certain tension in the air, but it is, at this distance in time, difficult to remember if this recollection is superimposed on my memory after the passage of those historic events. I do recollect attending a party in a Dhanmondi residence where one of the killer majors, I forget which one, was ranting about the Indian takeover of Bangladesh. I found the atmosphere in that circle quite hostile to the regime in spite of its authoritarian aspect and was struck by the openly provocative nature of the discourse. The anti-Indian theme was ubiquitous across the country. I had become accustomed to this even in my last days in the Planning Commission. I recollect when I was attending the funeral rites of Sikander Khala, who had passed away through an unanticipated heart attack, Nawab Hasan Askari expressing himself quite aggressively on this theme. While many people may have been cautious about criticizing the AL regime, none of them exercised any inhibition about ventilating their hostility on India and its presumed hegemonic influence over the regime. This climate had infiltrated the administration, where I had often observed the reluctance of many bureaucrats to take programmes of cooperation with India forward.

The Gathering Storm


Darkness at Noon: The Last Days of the Bangabandhu Era


The BAKSAL Regime in Practice Silencing Dissent On 28 December 1974, Bangabandhu proclaimed a state of emergency which abrogated some of the constitutional safeguards against arbitrary actions of the government. A month later, on 25 January 1975, the Fourth Amendment to the constitution was passed by the Parliament transforming Bangladesh from a parliamentary to a presidential system and establishing a one-party state. By 24 February 1975, all political parties, including Bangabandhu’s own party, the AL, had been dissolved, and a single party, BAKSAL, was established. BAKSAL absorbed the members of AL, CPB, the pro-Moscow NAP and a few of the smaller parties. In the post-BAKSAL phase, the overall political situation appeared less disturbed. The move to one-party absolutist government suppressed the voice of the media, shut down all political activities and used the security agencies to ruthlessly suppress resistance using draconian methods. Siraj Sikdar, once the terror of the rural areas, was captured and then eliminated through, what has become commonplace in recent years, the system of ‘crossfire’ killings. It has established itself as a convenient euphemism for extrajudicial executions with a convenient accompanying narrative where it is reported by the police that the victim, once captured, is taken out of prison to locate his/her cache of arms. The police party is then intercepted by armed associates of the prisoner, seeking to rescue him/her from police custody.

In the resultant ‘crossfire’, the relevant prisoner tends to be the only person to be killed. His/her police escort remain unhurt and his/her putative rescuers also vanish into thin air. I am not sure if Sikdar’s elimination actually pioneered this measure, which, in India, is known as ‘encounter killings’, that was much in use by the Punjab Police in the 1980s in the suppression of the Khalistani insurgents. The end product of this extrajudicial mode of dealing with dissent provided an artificial appearance of tranquillity. Some well-known public personalities such as Moudud Ahmed and Enayetullah Khan were briefly detained. Moudud, a former student leader in Dhaka University and once a firebrand young lawyer practising law in Dhaka after he qualified as a barrister in the 1960s, had joined AL in the months prior to the 1970 election. He hoped to receive a nomination to contest the elections from his home area of Lakshmipur in Noakhali, while his friend and law partner, Amirul Islam, was nominated to contest from Kushtia. Moudud was denied a nomination in 1970. He had associated himself with the Mujibnagar Government in 1971 and, after liberation, he set himself up in a legal partnership with Amirul Islam where their practice prospered with some of the principal legal personalities such as Kamal Hossain and Ishtiaq Ahmed now engaged in public service. Moudud had again aspired to a nomination from the Awami League to contest the election in March 1973 and was much put out when he was again denied a ticket. It is reported that not long after Moudud’s detention, his wife Hasna, daughter of Bangladesh’s revered folk poet, Jasimuddin, was summoned to Gonobhaban for an audience with Bangabandhu whence a rather sheepish-looking Moudud was returned to her fond embrace. It is again reported that as he was departing with Hasna, Bangabandhu patted Moudud affectionately on his cheek and said in Bangla ‘do not be a naughty boy again.’ Enayetullah Khan’s weekly newspaper Holiday was, throughout the post-liberation period, a repository of some of the most trenchant criticism of the regime, including what we were supposed 296

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to be doing at the Planning Commission. My friend and comrade from the National Association for Social and Economic Progress days, Badruddin Umar, had been at the vanguard of these criticisms. Some of these criticisms were valid, some less so. One of the central themes of Holiday’s criticism was its anti-Indian posture where everything wrong in the country was deemed to be part of an Indian conspiracy. The regime was not even given credit for its own wrongdoings which were all attributed to the malign intent of the Indians. Enayetullah Khan is, up to a point, to be commended for the boldness of his paper and his own writings where his often imaginative use of the English language occasionally rendered his observations rather incomprehensible. Significantly, the Bangabandhu regime tolerated such aggressive, even tendentious, criticisms, including all of Badruddin Umer’s writings, which were often direct attacks on Bangabandhu himself. Unlike Enayetullah or Moudud, Umer never faced any threat to his security in that period. Holiday was not the only critic of the regime. Newspapers such as Ittefaq, Haq Katha set up by Maulana Bhashani and Gono Kontha, a JSD-sponsored newspaper among other newspapers, joined the chorus of criticisms of the regime. Whatever may be said of the Bangabandhu regime, it was not till the BAKSAL phase that any attempt was made to gag the press which enjoyed open season on all members and aspects of the regime. After the declaration of emergency which preceded BAKSAL, Enayetullah Khan was arrested for a while. He was eventually released after a month in detention and then mysteriously began writing pieces in Holiday which were sympathetic to the leadership of Bangabandhu through emergency rule but still remained critical of India. I recollect that when Bangabandhu amended the constitution transforming the polity from a parliamentary to a presidential system, there was much criticism in sections of the Indian media who perceived that this might be a trial run for a more authoritarian order which was then under contemplation by Indira Gandhi. Enayetullah had argued in his columns in Holiday that Bangabandhu’s move to a more authoritarian system Darkness at Noon: The Last Days of the Bangabandhu Era


was designed to re-establish the authority of the state and, in the process, recapture Bangladesh’s sovereignty from Indian hegemony. This move was, therefore, being exposed to criticism in India and was opposed by pro-Indian elements in Bangladesh. Once BAKSAL was proclaimed, Holiday, among other newspapers, was closed down, but Enayetullah was reincarnated as a press advisor to Bangabandhu. Interestingly, when an anthology of Enayetullah’s writings was published a year or so before his death, not a single piece written by him in Holiday, commending Bangabandhu’s authoritarian moves in 1975, was reproduced in that volume. After the murder of Bangabandhu by the majors and the assumption of the presidency by Mostaq, Enayetullah Khan was appointed editor of the government-owned English language daily, The Bangladesh Times. As an editor, he referred to Mostaq as a ‘man of all seasons’, perhaps equating him with the principled Thomas More, executed by Henry VIII, on whose life a famous play of the above title was written by the reputed English playwright Robert Bolt. Enayetullah went on to compliment the murderous majors, quoting Mostaq’s reference to them as ‘sons of the sun’ (shurjo santan).

The BAKSAL Model Signing up for One-party Rule The banning of all newspapers critical for the BAKSAL system was part of the political mission of establishing one-party rule through the formation of BAKSAL. In the tradition of the Soviet Union and also some of the post-colonial one-party states such as in Tanzania, Kenya and Ghana, the objective was to encourage all segments of society, from ordinary citizens to public servants, to members of the armed services, to join the single ruling party. This was the model followed by the then Communist-led states, where all elements were encouraged to join the Communist Party where membership was a precondition for career advancement. 298

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In the Central Committee of BAKSAL, the high command of AL was joined by the leadership of their political allies—Comrade Moni Singh, President of CPB; Professor Muzaffar Ahmed, President of NAP, and former AL Chief Minister of East Pakistan Ataur Rahman—among others. This multi-party collage failed to bring in its intended partner JSD on which the BAKSAL exercise had originally been premised. However, as I have mentioned earlier, Bangabandhu believed that JSD’s association was imminent as was that of a faction of the pro-Chinese left. In keeping with the original Soviet model, senior army officers such as the chiefs of the three armed services were included as the Central Committee members. Some senior civil servants of secretary rank, such as our Planning Commission colleague, M. Syeduzzaman, were also co-opted as members of the Central Committee. An orchestrated effort was initiated to persuade a broad range of citizens to become party members. In various public and even private institutions, the chief executive was encouraged to pressure their entire staff to enlist, en masse, in the ruling party. At Dhaka University, Professor Abdul Matin Chowdhury, who had succeeded the highly respected Professor Muzaffar Ahmed Chowdhury as vice chancellor, sent messages to all university teachers to become members of BAKSAL. He proposed to hand over the large collection of enrolment applications signed by his teachers to Bangabandhu on the occasion of his visit to Dhaka University on the fateful morning of 15 August to attend a special convocation convened to award him an honorary degree. A large number of teachers at Dhaka University signed on to this embarrassing project, not out of loyalty to Bangabandhu but to secure their career prospects. Among the few teachers who declined to sign up for membership were Professor Abdur Razzaq, Anisuzzaman, Mosharraf Hossain, Anisur Rahman, Rounaq Jahan, Inari Hossain, the then teacher in the English department and Salma Sobhan, still a teacher in the Faculty of Law. All the names indicated above could be considered as admirers and supporters Darkness at Noon: The Last Days of the Bangabandhu Era


of Bangabandhu. In contrast, many of the signatories of the vice chancellor’s mandated BAKSAL applications were either indifferent to the politics of BAKSAL or were, if anything, quite hostile to Bangabandhu and more so, the AL. One morning, when I was in my office at BIDS, I was approached by the secretary of the BIDS staff union who suggested that I should similarly encourage all BIDS staff members to sign on for BAKSAL and lead a procession to Gonobhaban to register our membership. I was quite appalled at the secretary’s temerity in believing that I would sign on to such a venture. I rather coldly advised him that I would not be a party to such an undignified exercise. However, if any individual BIDS staff member wished to join BAKSAL, he/she was at liberty to register his/her membership as an individual. I did not hear any more of this from the secretary or any other staff member. I do not know if any staff member eventually did anonymously join BAKSAL, but since the objective was to earn official recognition for a collective act, I doubt if anyone did seek membership. The end result of this degeneration into the political absurd was that, in a short while, lakhs of people from various walks of life were enrolled as party members. Since such a party had established no clear political identity or organizational structure in its short lifetime, it commanded little political weight beyond what was provided by its core members from the AL. Whether any of the service chiefs or senior secretaries, in spite of their elevated position in the party organization, had the least bit of commitment to the venture, remains improbable. As a result, the moment Bangabandhu was assassinated, the whole edifice of BAKSAL collapsed like a house of cards. The AL itself, which in effect was one of the principal victims of BAKSAL and had been seriously demoralized at having its once historic identity submerged in another party was, by 15 August 1975, reduced to a toothless tiger which did not even come out of their homes to organize a janaza (funeral prayers) for Bangabandhu or his family.


Untranquil Recollections

Questioning BAKSAL Over the years, some of us who remained loyal to the memory and the historic role of Bangabandhu as the founding father of Bangladesh have speculated over why a leader of his political maturity, who had invested his life fighting against autocratic rule, would move to set up BAKSAL. When BAKSAL was being incubated in the mind of Bangabandhu, a number of senior members of the AL, including cabinet ministers, invoked some of us members of the Planning Commission to discourage Bangabandhu from such a politically counter-productive venture. Interestingly, for a party with such a noble history as the AL, none of its senior members of cabinet rank had the courage to advise Bangabandhu against any action of his which they deemed unwise. In the last year of his life, the four professors were believed to be the only ones still willing to speak frankly to Bangabandhu since none of us was aspiring to make our career in his political or public service. Nurul Islam and also Kamal Hossain who did advise Bangabandhu against such a move have written about their efforts. On an earlier occasion, when we collectively advised Bangabandhu against some inappropriate political action, he advised us to limit our advice to the economic sphere because we were PhDs in economics (I was not), but he had a PhD in practical politics. In his insightful memoir An Economist’s Tale, Nurul had written of the occasion in Kuwait when he and Kamal accompanied Bangabandhu on his last state visit abroad; they raised the issue of the prospective move towards BAKSAL. Nurul writes that, Both of us took this opportunity of being alone with him (Bangabandhu) to raise the issue of the new political system. We expressed our great disappointment and frustration that a leader who had suffered so much for so many years for

Darkness at Noon: The Last Days of the Bangabandhu Era


political rights and democracy would now be responsible for their abrogation.1 For the first time in three years that I had worked with him. I saw him very irritated and annoyed. I had asked him in the past unpleasant questions and was critical on many issues. He was never angry or irritated. He would always listen patiently and try to explain … On that occasion he was angry at our inability or unwillingness to appreciate what he had said in his public speech about the economic crisis and political chaos gripping the country. The situation in his view required a drastic solution … He made it clear to both of us that we an economist and a barrister did not have an adequate understanding about what was fundamentality wrong with the state of the nation and what was the solution. Nurul left for Oxford, on a leave of absence on 8 January 1975, just before the Fourth Amendment to the constitution enacting BAKSAL was approved by the Parliament. When Nurul went to say goodbye to Bangabandhu, he told him that he was engaged in a last-ditch effort to save Bangladesh. He attempted all along to persuade Nurul to come back from Oxford and be sworn in as a minister, with complete freedom of action, unfettered by constraints. He promised him that the discipline of the Plan would be enforced, and he would tolerate no deviation. Nurul never did come back since this option was foreclosed on 15 August. I am not sure that if Bangabandhu had survived to persist with the BAKSAL project, Nurul would have been able to resist his blandishments to return and join him. Kamal Hossain managed to also remain in Oxford on a leave of absence, thereby avoiding the challenging responsibility of voting against BAKSAL. Unlike Nurul, Bangabandhu did persuade Kamal

1  Nurul Islam, Bangladesh-Making of a Nation: An Economist’s Tale, Dhaka, Bangladesh: The University Press Limited, 2003.


Untranquil Recollections

to come back and resume his position as foreign minister. Among the entire Parliament, only two members of the AL voted against BAKSAL—Mainul Hosein, editor of Ittefaq, and General Osmani, a minister who submitted his resignation from the Cabinet. Both also resigned from the Parliament as they refused to join BAKSAL. Over the years, some academics and politicians have speculated that BAKSAL was inspired by the Soviet Union and thus supported by the CPB, but we have not come across any evidence to support this view. Even less plausible sources of ideological inspiration have also been suggested. I recollect the paper presented to me by Dr Sattar, on his return from Pakistan in 1973, advocating that Bangabandhu should move to proclaim a oneparty state. Although Sattar served in Bangabandhu’s Secretariat, I have no evidence that his paper inspired Bangabandhu. In the absence of more credible evidence, it would be well to stand by what Bangabandhu himself communicated to Kamal and Nurul, along with his possible response of establishing a new, more progressive, party involving his old allies from JSD. All such interpretations remain speculative. The result of BAKSAL was a one-party state. Some of us feared and shared, exclusively among ourselves, the concern that Bangabandhu’s move away from the democratic path may be used against him by those who sought to eliminate him in order to reverse the process of history. Then, this vile act would be presented to the world as a move to restore democracy. As it transpired, neither the killers nor their military successors restored democracy, but they did condemn Bangladesh to 16 years of cantonment rule in the image of the Pakistan state which we thought we had left behind us.

Farewell to Bangabandhu In the post-BAKSAL phase, the situation eased somewhat, but one could never be sure if this was merely the calm before the storm. Bangabandhu’s father, Sheikh Lutfar Rahman, passed away on 30 March 1975. Both Salma and I felt that we should make a Darkness at Noon: The Last Days of the Bangabandhu Era


condolence visit to Gonobhaban. She recollected Bangabandhu’s deep loyalty and devotion to her mamu, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, and the genuine grief he expressed at the time of his burial in Dhaka. As we travelled to Gonobhaban, I remember telling Salma that after leaving the Planning Commission, I had consciously kept myself out of Bangabandhu’s line of vision. I had hoped, for a while, to fade from his memory and not be exposed to any recall in the way he sought to bring Nurul and even Mosharraf back into the fold. When we entered Bangabandhu’s living room, there were a largish number of people sitting around who were part of a long stream of people who had come to condole with him. He warmly greeted us and sat us down. He then began to reminisce aloud, to the general audience, about his father and how he had, on his modest salary, looked after Bangabandhu’s family while he was totally engaged in politics which involved spending many years in prison. He then observed, again to the audience but clearly addressed to me, ‘that intellectuals always have the option of opting out of the system and then going off to write about their experiences, but politicians have no such options but to stay on till death eventually ends their involvement in the political process.’ After a few such pointed exchanges when we got up to leave and were saying goodbye to him, he looked me in the eye and smilingly observed ‘I know why you have not kept in touch with me for so long. You believe that if you even contact me, the thread of forgetfulness will be broken, and I will reach out to you again.’ I was too dumbfounded to make a credible response, but when we rode home, I told Salma that either our car was bugged or Bangabandhu must be the most insightful person we have ever known. The answer is indeed obvious. Bangabandhu’s memory and his understanding of human motivation were exceptional. For a great leader who dealt with millions of people, it was his most unique quality that he understood people, treated them not as part of the mass but as individuals and could appreciate their strengths and weaknesses. This was his greatest asset, but it was also a source of 304

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his vulnerability. When you look into a person’s soul, you appreciate that both good and evil coexist inside that person. With such an understanding, when a person commits a conspicuous ‘wrong’, Bangabandhu was willing to take action against the person. But after a while, when that same person’s wife and three children came to him and fell at his feet, wailing copiously and pleading for forgiveness for their errant family member, Bangabandhu would dig up the memory of whatever good this person once did and, motivated by compassion, would relent and release the wrongdoer. This human quality was exploited by people and eventually led to the final acts of betrayal by some of those whom he trusted despite evidence to the contrary. This not only cost him his own life but that of so many he held so dear. My last encounter, at a distance, with Bangabandhu was when Mosharraf and I attended the wedding of his younger son Sheikh Jamal at Gonobhaban on 17 July 1975. As with the many lies and half-truths told about Bangabandhu after his death, lavish feasts had not been arranged for the thousands of invitees nor were gold and diamonds showered upon the couple as presents. When we went to the venue, which was not particularly lavishly decorated, we found that no food was to be served except paan and cold drinks, neither of which was easily accessible. As I recollect, guests were also embargoed, in the invitation card, from bringing gifts. After milling around, craving for something to eat, Mosharraf and I departed. We may have seen Bangabandhu at a distance attempting to reassure his famished guests, but now all that remains is his memory.

Darkness at Noon Night of the Assassins I had been invited by the Association of Development Institutes in the Pacific and Asia to attend a conference in Auckland, New Zealand, sometime in August where the committee had voted to elect me president of the organization. I felt honoured by this recognition for BIDS and looked forward to visiting New Zealand, Darkness at Noon: The Last Days of the Bangabandhu Era


which I had never visited. I was booked to fly to Bangkok on 15 August on the 2 pm Thai Airways flight and expected to spend a few days with my mother before setting out for Auckland. Dora, the wife of Anisur Rahman, had given me some letters and a package for delivery to Anis who was spending several months at the Asian Development Institute (ADI) in Bangkok working on designing a poverty-related project for the organization. Early in the morning of 15 August around 6 am, I was awakened by a phone call from Dora who cryptically informed me that I would not be flying to Bangkok that afternoon. When I pressed her about her premonition, she advised me to turn on my television set. I did so instantly to hear the fateful voice which has remained embedded in my memory over all these years, ‘This is Major Dalim speaking’! He went on to announce that the ‘tyrant’ Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was dead and that Khondaker Mostaq had taken over as president. I immediately awakened Salma, and we together heard this repeated announcement. I do not recollect its chilling details, but it obviously made no mention of the fact that they had not only murdered Bangabandhu but also massacred his entire family in residence at their home in Road 32 in Dhanmondi. The enormity of the event only gradually unfolded before us as we learnt details of the killings not just at Bangabandhu’s residence but of his nephew Sheikh Moni and his wife at their Dhanmondi residence as well as of Abdur Rab Serniabat, a brother-in-law of Bangabandhu at his ministerial residence on Minto Road. The devastating and gruesome details of that event have become part of our historical memory, but our own immediate reaction was one of shock and disbelief. I remember immediately calling up Mosharraf who had by then also heard the announcement. The event had not fully registered on our consciousness until we listened in to the swearing-in ceremony of Khondaker Mostaq as president, with the three service chiefs in attendance before a rather frightened audience made up of most of the members of Bangabandhu’s Cabinet. We did notice that Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin, Mansur Ali and Quamruzzaman were absent from this terror-stricken conclave. 306

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The juxtaposition of the AL Cabinet and the three service chiefs further puzzled us as we had immediately assumed that a military coup had taken place. I recollected such earlier pronouncements of regime change and the darkness ahead at the time of Ayub Khan’s assumption of power under Martial Law in October 1958 and Yahya Khan’s declaration of war on the Bengali people on the fateful night of 25 March 1971.

From Assassination to a Military Takeover When we look back on those epoch-making events of August 1975 with more detachment what still defies comprehension is the facility with which such a major enterprise was transacted by a handful of inconsequential officers. The killing of Bangabandhu was not a prelude to or part of a full-scale military coup as was the killing of President Allende of Chile which was led by General Augusto Pinochet, Chief of Army Staff (COAS), and his co-commanders of the air force and navy. The 15 August killings were initiated by two serving army majors supported by a selection of active and retired officers of the rank of major and below. Had Major General Shafiullah, COAS at that time, immediately responded to Bangabandhu’s call for help when the first bullets were fired at his residence on Road 32, Dhanmondi, and deployed the Brigade commanded by Brigadier Shafaat Jamil, located in the cantonment, the assassins could have been overwhelmed within a few hours. At the time of the killings, the air force, commanded by Air Marshal A. K. Khandker, could have also been deployed to take out the ancient Egyptian tanks deployed from the Lancer Battalion, then commanded by Major Faruque. Even if the Dhaka Brigade could not be deployed in time to save Bangabandhu, they could have destroyed the fighting capacity of the assassins and taken their leaders into custody to be tried for both mutiny and high treason. The demise of Bangabandhu did not create a constitutional vacuum since the then Vice President late Syed Nazrul Islam Darkness at Noon: The Last Days of the Bangabandhu Era


would have immediately assumed the office of president as did Vice President Sattar after the killing of Zia in May 1981. At that time, the elderly and sick vice president was in the Combined Military Hospital and was literally dragged from his hospital bed by Lt. General Ershad, the then COAS, to come to Bangababhan and take the oath of office for the president. The political game changer on 15 August 1975, when an act of assassination was transformed into a political coup, was provided by the presence of the three service chiefs at the swearing-in ceremony of Khondaker Mostaq as president who then saluted him when he was proclaimed president. His swearing in as president was without constitutional validity, and at that time, any citizen in the country could have taken up arms to challenge his legitimacy. That no one but Kader Siddique and his associates among 80 million Bangladeshis chose to do so was perhaps because of the presence of the service chiefs who, by their presence at the swearing-in ceremony, confirmed that the firepower of the armed forces, at least at that time, stood behind the throne. How long they would do so before taking over direct power for themselves was another question. This moment was still 11 weeks down the road. The relevant question which historians need to further investigate is why and under what circumstances the service chiefs chose to support Mostaq on 15 August rather than swear allegiance, as demanded under the constitution, to Syed Nazrul Islam. Some later narratives on those events attribute this to the restraining influence of Major General Ziaur Rahman, the Deputy COAS, who dissuaded Shafiullah from taking any action in response to Bangabandhu’s call. Other narratives imply that Shafiullah did not command sufficient authority to order his troops to take action against the killers. Whether a similar situation prevented Air Marshal Khondaker from deploying his strike aircraft still awaits clarification. Our political historians have, for these last 45 years, conspicuously failed to unravel these mysteries. Similar enquiries need to be made as to why the BDR, commanded by Major General Khalilur Rahman, was not mobilized in defence of the outgoing regime. 308

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The Impotence of AL What particularly concerned Salma and me and indeed all those who retained loyalty to Bangabandhu was the deafening silence from the once-powerful AL as well as its new cohort of allies in BAKSAL. Neither a whimper of protest was heard, nor any sign of protest was visible anywhere in the land. We later learnt that the only person who registered a protest was Kader Siddique who, along with some of his supporters from the Kader Bahini of Muktijuddha days, took up arms to challenge the coup makers. After a short skirmish with the army, Kader moved into the Madhupur forest area and then across the border with elements of his bahini. From his base in Meghalaya, he waged war first on the Mostaq and then the Zia regime, with modest logistical support from the Indira Gandhi regime. Kader’s low-key insurgency continued for several years against the then military regime of Ziaur Rahman but eventually came to an end when Morarji Desai replaced Indira Gandhi as prime minister after the 1977 election. Morarji’s regime withdrew its support for Kader’s insurgency and created space for the Bangladesh Army to attack Kader’s forces from the rear and destroy it as a fighting force. Kader Siddique himself, with some remnants of his bahini, remained in exile in India till the downfall of the Ershad regime and returned to Bangladesh only in early 1991 during the tenure of the Caretaker regime headed by Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed. We later learnt that all those of the Bangladesh Cabinet who were in Dhaka were rounded up at gunpoint and compelled to attend Mostaq’s swearing-in ceremony at the Bangabhaban. The presence of the three chiefs of staff at the ceremony suggested that the armed forces were behind the event, but subsequent details indicate that this was an adventure, planned and executed by a small group of junior officers, some in service such as Majors Rashid and Faruque and others who had been retired, like Major Dalim. We heard that Dalim, whose sister was married to Professor Razzaq’s nephew Abul Khair Litu, had turned up the Darkness at Noon: The Last Days of the Bangabandhu Era


next morning at Sir’s university residence to seek his blessings for what he believed was a historic act. Sir had coldly declined to extend any such benediction and had admonished him for his treacherous deed. I heard recently from our Planning Commission colleague M. Syeduzzaman, who had continued as secretary, Planning and ERD, after we had left the Planning Commission, that some weeks after the event, he had been summoned to the Bangabhaban to present some files for decision by President Mostaq. As he waited in the room of the president’s military secretary, General Wasiuddin joined him in the room and expressed his sadness and concern over the passage of events. Wasiuddin, who was then serving as ambassador to Kuwait, had been called back by General Osmani, who had been appointed as defence advisor to Mostaq, to offer his advice on what to do with the army. While Wasiuddin was chatting with Syed, some of the killer majors intruded into the room, saluted the general, boastfully proclaimed that they had committed the dark deeds of 15 August and sought his plaudits for what they had done. Wasiuddin very coldly told them to quote Syed ‘you should all be ashamed of yourselves for what you have done.’ The majors, much embarrassed, departed, duly deflated. Wasiuddin had reason to be unhappy with Bangabandhu’s treatment towards him, but he remained his great admirer till the end of his days and never, in any way, expressed his support for the events of August 1975. He never took up any assignment in Dhaka at that time but was eventually sent out in Zia’s tenure from Kuwait to Paris as an ambassador to France. Ershad eventually appointed him as the permanent representative in the United Nations from which post he retired and lived out his few remaining years in Dhaka. The failure of AL to inspire any response from its thousands of workers all over the country was a source of much surprises. At that time, the AL party faithful numbered several hundred thousand, with many of them in possession of arms. A call to action by the General Secretary of AL Zillur Rahman, would have 310

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had an impact, but he remained silent. Abdur Razzaq, the President of the Secha Sebak Bahini, a large force of young men with many holding arms and the Sramik League, headed by Abdul Mannan, also remained inert. Similarly, the large student front, Chhatra League, with Nurul Alam Siddiqui as president and Abdur Quddus Makhon as general secretary, again with many having arms at their disposal, remained inactive. All these forces associated with AL, who had benefited and perhaps prospered under the patronage of the regime, turned out to be a spent force when their leader lay dead and his regime was under an existential challenge. This experience may serve as a warning for any leader today who places too much faith on a vast mass of party cadres motivated by material gain rather than ideology. We also expected some reaction from the RB which we had heard was set up to respond to such an event. I enquired about this lack of response from Brigadier Nuruzzaman, the then Director General of RB, when I met him in 1977 on a visit to Washington DC. He had been removed from his command by Zia and was living in semi-exile at the home of his brother-in-law, Ambassador Humayun Kabir, who was then the deputy chief of mission in Washington DC. Zaman informed me that he had been out of the country on 15 August but had heard from his two deputy’s at the RB, Colonel Sabihuddin and Colonel Anwar Ul Alam that a day after the killing, Tofail Ahmed turned up at the headquarters of the force in Mirpur. Tofail had been designated as the political commissar of the RB by Bangabandhu so they sought his guidance on what they should do. The RB had a strong force, quite capable of taking on whatever military force was deployed in Dhaka and could have eliminated, with a few shells from their recoilless cannons, the ancient tanks of the Lancer Battalion which had been posted outside their gate by the conspirators, presumably to intimidate them. Tofail looked frightened and disinclined to invoke any action by the RB. He phoned up Shah Moazzem who had been a leader of CL in the early 1960s and was serving in Bangabandhu’s regime Darkness at Noon: The Last Days of the Bangabandhu Era


as a state minister. Moazzem, along with some minor AL leaders such as Taheruddin Thakur and Obaidur Rahman, had thrown in their lot with Mostaq and were presumed to be part of the ruling entourage. Tofail spoke for a long while with Moazzem and then informed the two RB commanders that he could not advise them on what to do. He then left the camp. Shortly after Tofail’s visit, they read in the newspapers that he had surrendered himself to the government and had been incarcerated. I have not checked this story with Tofail, who may have his own version on his encounter with the RB, but repeat it as narrated to me by Brigadier Nuruzzaman who is no more. The ongoing drama over the non-response of AL or anyone else to the coup was only revealed to us some days after the event. In the immediate aftermath of the assassination, most people moved around in a state of shock and apprehension as to what was to come. Most people believed that more killings would follow, but the precise sequence and victims of the bloodletting remained open to speculation.

Living through Those Dark Days It took more time for us to personally appreciate that this event would possibly change the course of the country and, in the process, the direction of our own lives. But all such truths unfolded over a period of days as we came out of our homes and began connecting with each other. I recollected Tulu’s warning that in March 1971, because of my unpreparedness, I had only narrowly escaped with my life from the Pakistan military. This time around, I may not be so lucky! The tension and uncertainty were such that recollection of this admonition by Tulu did give me some moments of concern. The country had been under curfew for a few days so I could only return to office after a day or so. Since I was expected to be in New Zealand, my presence occasioned some surprise from my colleagues at BIDS. In those dark days, my shell-shocked colleagues were in no mood to engage in research, spending most of the time 312

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wandering into my office in search of reassurance as much as information on the shape of things to come. One of my more immediate concerns was a young woman from the USA, Marianne Hill, who was spending a year at BIDS as a visiting researcher. Marianne had, during her brief stay, managed to become quite friendly with Sheikh Fazlul Haque Moni, Bangabandhu’s nephew, who had been gunned down with his wife at their Dhanmondi house on Road 27, shortly after the assault. Marianne, possibly coming from a sheltered mid-Western community in the USA, was traumatized at the violent end of a person who had befriended her during her stay in Dhaka and was concerned as to whether her friendship with Moni would attract the attention of the assassins. I advised Marianne that rather than live in a state of apprehension over the passage of events, she would be well advised to return home and register her experience as part of her research assignment in a politically unsettled ThirdWorld country. In those days, no one was inclined to linger at their workplace engaged in overtime work. Since little work was being done at BIDS, I usually joined the exodus of my colleagues and possibly most people in Dhaka who set out for home around 2 pm, the designated end of the working day during the then month of Ramzan. On my way home, I frequently stopped off at Mosharraf’s university apartment in Fuller Road to speculate over what was to come. Mosharraf remained confident that the assassin’s reign would not last and that a new upheaval was likely to follow but remained uncertain about its trajectory. He periodically believed, more out of optimism than evidence, that the next round would put down the assassins and restore Tajuddin and his imprisoned colleagues to office.

Exit Strategies At home, Salma was quite distraught over the passage of events and wanted us to get out of a country which could so cold-bloodedly kill its founder and let his killers go unpunished. She did not care Darkness at Noon: The Last Days of the Bangabandhu Era


where we went as long as it was out of the country. I suggested we should initially move to Bangkok to stay with my mother from where we could observe the course of events in Dhaka. I advised her to fly out with the boys ahead of me as I was not sure when I could follow her. Hameeda was still in Dhaka with Kamal’s mother and their two daughters. Kamal had been in Yugoslavia on an official visit when news came to him on the killings. Bangabandhu had recently been hosted by President Tito on the occasion of a state visit, and Tito had, in turn, been hosted by Bangabandhu in Dhaka. Tito held Bangabandhu in the highest regard so that he and his government were mightily displeased at the killings in Dhaka and had strongly condemned the event. When Kamal learnt that Hasina and Rehana were in Bonn at the residence of our Ambassador Humayun Rasheed, he immediately flew to Bonn to be of help to them in their darkest moment. Once arrangements had been made with the Indian government to provide political asylum to Hasina and her family, Kamal moved to London. The Indira government offered Hasina’s husband, Dr Wajed, a nuclear scientist, a professional appointment at the Indian Atomic Energy Commission and provided accommodation to their family in a modest government apartment on Pindara Road in New Delhi. In London, Kamal received frantic messages from Mostaq that he should return to Dhaka and resume his position as foreign minister. Kamal had no intention of having anything to do with the killer regime but needed to be cautious in his response since his primary goal was to get his family out of Dhaka. He, therefore, checked himself into a hospital in London, claiming serious illness and requested that his family be permitted to join him there. Mostaq was no fool and speculated over whether he should write off Kamal as a prospective recruit to his administration or should hold his family hostage to compel him to return to serve in his government. Mostaq eventually came to terms with Kamal’s decision to stay out of the government and appointed our former 314

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President Abu Sayeed Chowdhury as foreign minister. Chowdhury had been serving as permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva after he had stepped down from the Presidency midway through Bangabandhu’s regime. The departure of the Hossain family from Dhaka was not without some drama. Once the Biman flight to London was fully boarded, it was held up on the runway through the intervention of an army major concerned by the issue of Hameeda’s departure from the country. The plane was finally permitted to take off through the intervention of Towfiq Ali, a Foreign Service Officer, who had been Kamal Hossain’s private secretary when he was the foreign minister. Towfiq, who had come to see off the Hossain family, needed to make some crucial phone calls before the plane was permitted to take off. Salma and I were at the airport to see off Hameeda and her family, where we witnessed this brief drama over the delayed flight. I decided at that point that Salma should also depart Dhaka with the boys without further delay. Salma eventually took off for Bangkok around the end of September.

Exit Barriers I had received an invitation from the director of the ADI in Bangkok, Vinu Vichit Vadakan, a well-known Thai economist, to come over to spend a few weeks with the Institute as a visiting scholar. I used this invitation to seek permission from the government to let me leave for Bangkok as soon as possible. In those days, all those in the service of a public institution needed permission to travel abroad. In the best tradition of a system which would delay decisions while a government made up its mind, my request was kept on hold. After several weeks, I learnt that permission had been denied to me. At that stage, I sought a meeting with Mahbub Alam Chashi who was the principal secretary to the president. He invited me to come over to the Bangabhaban where he attempted to explain to me that I was denied permission because his government Darkness at Noon: The Last Days of the Bangabandhu Era


apprehended that the moment I went abroad, I would inspire a campaign against the Mostaq government. I expressed surprise as to why they had permitted several ministers from the Bangabandhu government, including Professor Muzaffer Ahmed Choudhury, to travel abroad and had presumed that I was the only Bangabandhu loyalist who held out a threat to their regime. Chashi complimented me by observing that he remembered my role in 1971 and realized that as an advocate for a cause I was several times more dangerous than all of the AL ministers then travelling abroad. I suggested to Chashi that much as I appreciated his esteem for my diplomatic prowess, I intended to spend a few weeks in Bangkok and would then return to Dhaka. I am not sure if Chashi was persuaded by my argument, but suggested I bide my time. A week later, Chashi personally turned up at my BIDS office and advised me that I had been permitted to travel to Bangkok. I eventually flew to Bangkok around the last week of October. Once in Bangkok, the head of ADI offered me a longer-term visiting fellowship which permitted more time for me to settle down to spend some relaxed moments with them working on any subject of my choice. In those early days at ADI, I could share the company of my erstwhile Dhaka University colleagues Anisur Rahman and Waheedul Haq who were at that time also engaged in research at ADI to discuss the situation back home and prospects for our return.

Coups and Countercoups We did not have much time to speculate together. Within 10 days of my arrival in Bangkok, on 3 November, we heard over the news channels that a coup had taken place in Bangladesh where elements of the armed forces had moved against the murderous majors and had taken over the president’s house, sacked President Mostaq and then declared Martial Law. We soon learnt that the prime mover behind the coup was Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf, a sector commander and hero of the Liberation War, who I had 316

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encountered on my way out of Dhaka at the end of March 1971 to join the liberation struggle. The action underwriting the coup had been initiated by Brigadier Shafaat Jamil, the commander of the 46th Brigade which was based in the Dhaka Cantonment and presided over the security of Dhaka city. We had, in the days that I was in Dhaka, heard rumours that the officers in the cantonment were angered by the exercise of civil and military power by the army majors, operating out of the Bangabhaban, who had masterminded the assassination. The officers, led reportedly by Shafaat Jamil, as reported in his own memoir, were determined to restore the chain of command in the army and bring the majors under the discipline of their superior officers. Jamil has written that the officers expected Zia, who had replaced Shafiullah as the new COAS, to take the lead in restoring the chain of command in cooperation with Khaled Mosharraf who was then the chief of the general staff, a position with no military command under him. However, Khaled’s main strength originated in the fact that Shafaat Jamil, who commanded troops on the ground, was his strong supporter from the days of the Liberation War. We learnt that Zia had declined to be a party to this countercoup. Reasons for this were not clear. It is speculated that he was aware of other plans underway in the army, possibly led by Colonel Taher, to capture the power and did not feel inclined to throw in his lot with Khaled and Shafaat Jamil. When he was told by them that the coup would go ahead without him, he reportedly requested that he be permitted to retire from the army. Mosharraf then had Zia placed under house arrest in the cantonment. The Mosharraf regime did not last long. In its brief life, it deposed the Mostaq regime, declared Martial Law and elevated Mosharraf from the rank of a brigadier to that of a major general. Mostaq was replaced by the then Chief Justice Sayem as president and chief martial law administrator (CMLA) with Mosharraf as the deputy chief martial law administrator (DCMLA) and de facto power behind the throne. Beyond evicting the killer Darkness at Noon: The Last Days of the Bangabandhu Era


majors from the Bangabhaban and dispatching them to Bangkok, his regime did little on the ground to consolidate its power. Mosharraf was shortly deposed in a countercoup initiated through a sepoy’s mutiny, ostensibly led by Colonel Taher and his Gonobahini. Mosharraf, one of the heroes of the Liberation War and two of his close mukti juddha colleagues, were gunned down by the sepoys. His killing set in motion the process of infighting where other sector commanders from the Mukti Bahini, such as Colonel Taher, Ziaur Rahman himself and General Manzoor all met violent ends. It was another case of the revolution devouring its own offspring. The ultimate beneficiary of these acts of selfannihilation was General Hussain Muhammad Ershad who had sat out the Liberation War in Pakistan. Once Ershad seized power in a coup which deposed the post-Zia BNP regime led by President Sattar in March 1982 and became the CMLA, he set about restoring the chain of command in the army as it prevailed before the Liberation War. Within a year of his takeover, all the senior positions in the armed forces were occupied by officers who had remained stranded in Pakistan in 1971 and had never participated in the Liberation War. Not one of the nine sector commanders who led the Mukti Bahini in 1971 remained in active service in the armed forces once Ershad took power.

Zia’s Ascent to Power Taher’s first act in the course of the sepoy’s mutiny was to liberate General Ziaur Rahman from his house arrest in the cantonment and encourage him to resume his position as COAS, a position he had never substantively relinquished. Once Zia established his command as COAS, he elevated himself to the then-vacant position of DCMLA, now that Khaled Mosharraf had been killed, thereby emerging as the effective ruler of Bangladesh. In the course of a series of coups and countercoups initiated by the killing of Bangabandhu and then his four colleagues, Zia finally attained to the position of absolute power to which he had secretly aspired. 318

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After all these years, it still remains unclear whether one or two countercoups against the short-lived Khaled Mosharraf regime were being planned in the cantonment, based on mobilizing the sepoys/jawans. Both prospective coups had an anti-Indian agenda and sought to project Mosharraf as an Indian agent out to resurrect the Bangabandhu regime by restoring the four jailed AL leaders to power. We are familiar, from the earlier writings of Lifschultz and the recent work of the ex-JSD activist Mohiuddin, with the Taher coup and its radical agenda. But there have been suggestions that a more right-wing force, with a pro-Pakistani agenda, drawing on anti-Indian sentiment, was also conspiring to use the breakdown of discipline in the armed forces to mobilize the jawans behind their cause. There were signs of such a force on the ground when we received reports that women, on their way to work, were being asked, even ordered by jawans doing duty on the streets, to cover their heads. A middle-aged lady was reported to have retorted to an insolent jawan ‘you should first go and tell your mother to cover her head’. Zia’s position, as with all his previous interactions with people he met, remained ambiguous. It has again been suggested, without hard evidence to support this, that Zia was in touch with both sides and was pragmatically awaiting, sitting at home in the cantonment, the final outcome of the parallel Biplobs to determine his final position. His response was similar to his invitation by Majors Rashid and Faruque to join them in the plot to assassinate Bangabandhu. In his TV interview with the journalist Anthony Mascarenhas, Faruque stated that Zia heard out their proposal to assassinate Bangabandhu and then sent them away saying he would have nothing to do with this. As the deputy COAS, he should have immediately reported such a treasonous contact to the COAS and Bangabandhu as the defence minister. The objective fact was that Zia kept silent, preferring to keep his options open, depending on the final outcome of the assassination plot. Zia’s silence lent more authority to the further narrative of the two majors that when they were leaving his house, Zia advised them that if their plot failed, he would disown them and may Darkness at Noon: The Last Days of the Bangabandhu Era


even put them before a firing squad. But if they did manage to assassinate Bangabandhu, he would ensure that no action would be taken against them. Again, I have no evidence to confirm this second narrative about Zia except to observe that Zia did keep his promise. When Bangabandhu contacted Shafiullah, the COAS, for taking action against the killers who were besieging his house on Road 32, Dhanmondi, the COAS consulted Zia on what action to take. Reportedly, Zia discouraged his COAS from taking action against the majors. Later as president and CMLA, Zia eventually offered most of the killers secure employment in the Bangladesh foreign service. For this tolerance, if not patronage of an act of regicide, Zia eventually paid with his life. He too was assassinated in May 1981 by mutinous officers who possibly believed that if Bangabandhu’s murderers could go unpunished that they too could get away with their act of regicide. He who lived by the sword died by the sword. Taher, for all his efforts to place Zia in power, was repaid by his beneficiary by being arrested and put on trial for mutiny. He was, in a mockery of due process, tried by a military court behind closed doors and then hanged. Some historians, led by Lifschultz, proclaimed Taher a noble revolutionary which he may have been in his intent. But he was not a very wise one if he believed that Zia would be his ally in his attempt to seize power through a sepoy’s mutiny and would then help him to carry through a people’s revolution. The objective result of Taher’s insurgency was far from a people’s revolution and condemned Bangladesh to 15 years of cantonment rule, which set Bangladesh on the path to an unbridled crony capitalist society.

The Jail Killings Reading about these fast-moving events in Dhaka in the Bangkok Post, we could make little sense of its antecedents and destination. The situation took a more tragic turn when we read that four leaders had been killed in Dhaka Central Jail. No names were 320

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initially given in the Bangkok media, but I immediately deduced that the victims must be Bangabandhu’s lieutenants who had refused to join Mostaq’s Cabinet. The uncertain state of the country and the weak authority exercised by Khaled Mosharraf and his colleagues over the armed forces were demonstrated by the fact that as their coup was underway, a killer squad led by Risalder Moslehuddin was sent out by the majors from Bangabhaban, backed by the full authority of President Khondaker Mostaq, with the mission of entering Dhaka Central Jail and assassinating the four AL leaders incarcerated there. The jail superintendent initially refused entry to the killers because entry by anyone with arms was prohibited under the jail code. Khondaker Mostaq was invoked to use his presidential authority to personally order the superintendent to permit entry to the jail premises for the killers. As we know, Muslehuddin and his killers murdered Syed Nazrul, the Vice President of Bangladesh, Quamruzzaman and Mansoor Ali, two senior ministers and finally Tajuddin Ahmad, the first Prime Minister of an independent Bangladesh and later the Finance Minister. These four leaders plus the person who ordered their killing, Khondaker Mostaq, were the five leaders who formed the first Cabinet of the government in exile in Mujibnagar in 1971. As Tajuddin lay dying, according to Khondkar Asaduzzaman, a senior bureaucrat recently deceased, who was incarcerated in the cell beside him, he lamented, ‘Bangabandhu, you should have been able to distinguish your friends from your enemies.’ According to his long-standing political ally Abdus Samad Azad, who was in another cell beside Tajuddin and narrowly escaped death, Tajuddin, to the end, cried out, ‘I want to live.’ Even at his death he aspired to serve Bangladesh and could imagine the dark days which lay ahead once they departed the world. After eliminating the four senior leaders who could have revitalized AL, the killers were given free air travel out of the country. Over the next 21 years, most of the killers were inducted into and served in the foreign service of Bangladesh during the governments of Zia, Ershad and Khaleda Zia. Darkness at Noon: The Last Days of the Bangabandhu Era


It was only when AL returned to power under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina that trial proceedings were initiated against the killers for mass murder. All the killers were convicted, and those who were captured and put on the trial in Dhaka were eventually hanged. But this denouement had to await a five years trial, conducted under strict due process of law, during the first Hasina regime in the years 1996–2001 which led to a conviction by the High Court but remained on appeal at the Appellate Division. The trial process stayed on hold for five years of the second Khaleda Zia regime between 2001 and 2006 and two further years of the Caretaker Government. The case was only closed in 2009, 34 years after the killings of the Father of the Nation and his family as well as four of his colleagues, when five of the killers, Colonel Faruque, Shahriar Rashid Khan, Bazlul Huda, A. K. M. Mohiuddin Ahmed and Mohiuddin Ahmed were finally hanged. Some of the remaining killers, under sentence of death, still remain uncaptured and have taken refuge in various countries. This fugitive cohort includes Khandaker Abdur Rashid, one of the lead conspirators, Shariful Haque Dalim, who announced the assassination with great pride on the morning of 15 August 1975, Risaldar Moslehuddin, Rashed Chowdhury and Noor Choudury. Khandaker Rashid, Dalim and Muslehuddin remain untraceable. Rashed is in the USA where he has sought political asylum. Noor, reportedly the person who actually gunned down Bangabandhu, is in Canada where he had been granted asylum—a strange system of jurisprudence where a self-confessed assassin can seek shelter! While this manuscript was being completed, we learnt that one of the fugitive killers of Bangabandhu, Captain Majed was captured in Kolkata where he had lived anonymously for many years and had been returned to Bangladesh. Since he had already been sentenced to death, he was executed shortly after his return.

Safe Exit for the Killers: The US Connection I was in Bangkok when we read that this planeload of killers from Dhaka had landed at the Don Mueang International Airport and, 322

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after some delay, were given entry. Major General Moinul Hossain Chowdhury, a freedom fighter, reported in his memoir that Khaled Mosharraf avoided any armed clash with the majors by accepting their request for safe conduct out of Bangladesh. It was uncertain as to where they would go but eventually around 17 of the killers and their families were permitted to fly to Bangkok on the night of 4 November. It was not clear who had provided the international leverage to persuade the Thai government to permit this incendiary cargo to land in Bangkok. It is reported that their exit from Dhaka and entry into Thailand were facilitated by the intervention of the US Ambassador in Bangladesh David Borster. If this is true, then what was the US interest in facilitating a safe exit for the killers? The narrative argued over many years by the progressive American journalist, Larry Lifschultz, that the USA was somehow in the know, if not involved in the coup, would appear to have some validity. As we all know from reading murder mysteries and spy thrillers, anyone who either provides the murder weapon or facilitates the escape of the murderer usually tends to be part of the plot and would be immediately interrogated by Hercules Poirot or Miss Marple. In the course of his research on the coup, Lifschultz had interviewed the then CIA Station Chief Philip Cherry in Dhaka and learnt that Major Rashid and Rahman had met him to solicit US support for a coup against the Bangabandhu regime. Cherry claimed that he advised the killers that the USA would have nothing to do with any such conspiracy. He informed Ambassador Borster of the encounter who further instructed Cherry not to maintain contact with the majors. However, according to Larry, Borster had informed him, in a subsequent round of interviews, that he was not sure if Cherry faithfully took his advice. What Larry failed to elicit from Cherry or Borster in his interviews with them was why neither the ambassador nor his CIA agent chose to pass on this lethal intelligence to the Bangladesh government which would be the normal action of a friendly government. Larry, for many years, attempted to investigate further Darkness at Noon: The Last Days of the Bangabandhu Era


details of a possible US involvement but never could produce a smoking gun to confirm such a possibility. Larry hoped in later years that the Hasina government would pursue this issue but remained disappointed at their inaction in this direction. Presumably, access to state department papers, through use of the US Freedom of Information Act, would have provided more definitive information on this critical historical event. Access to such confidential documents could also cast some light on whether the withholding of US Food Aid in 1974, which precipitated the Bangladesh famine, was part of a strategy of discrediting and thence destabilizing the Bangabandhu government. Kissinger always regarded the emergence of an independent Bangladesh as one of his foreign policy failures. He perceived post-liberation Bangladesh as the soft underbelly of the Indira Gandhi regime, which Nixon despised and looked out for opportunities to cut it down to size.

Finding a Refuge for the Killers It was reported that all the killers were now in residence at a local hotel in Bangkok. The drama did not end there. Three days later, we again read in the local newspapers that a countercoup had taken place in Dhaka through a sepoy’s revolution led by Colonel Taher and that Khaled Mosharraf and some of his colleagues had been killed by the sepoys. Out of this dark episode of murder and mayhem Major General Ziaur Rahman emerged, hair unruffled, wearing his aviator dark glasses, restored to power by Colonel Taher as COAS, ready to assume supreme power. Following the deposition of Mostaq, Chief Justice Sayem had been appointed president and CMLA but was neither martial nor an administrator so that real power lay with his self-proclaimed deputy CMLA, Ziaur Rahman. Within a few days of the arrival of the killers and the countercoup in Dhaka, we had a visit from Ambassador Khwaja Kaiser, a cousin of my mother, who was then serving as Bangladesh’s ambassador in Burma. Kaiser was perhaps one of the senior-most 324

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of the Bangladeshi diplomats and had previously served as Pakistan’s ambassador to China up to the liberation of Bangladesh. He informed us that he had been ordered by Zia to fly to Bangkok to sort out the problem of the killer’s by finding them a secure place of asylum. The Thai government had made it clear that the killers’ presence in Bangkok would only be tolerated for a short while. According to Kaiser, the first choice for asylum had been the USA, but this had been turned down by the Ford administration who were obviously not too discomforted by the turn of events in Bangladesh but preferred to keep the assassins at arms’ length. Another immediate beneficiary and possibly even a sponsor of the killers, Pakistan, had also refused asylum to the killers, again presumably, because it was never wise to publicize your darker deeds. Khwaja Kaiser was, thus, drawing on his extensive Rolodex of global contacts to find a resting place for his toxic charges. After a few weeks, Kaiser again descended upon my mother’s apartment to triumphantly announce that Colonel Gaddafi had been persuaded by Bhutto to give asylum to the killers. Libya remained the home of Faruque and Rashid for several years where their lethal skills were deployed by Gaddafi to supply arms and training to various insurgencies sponsored by Libya in the Philippines and elsewhere. Most of the other assassins were eventually provided with more permanent asylum in the Bangladesh foreign service where, over the next 21 years, they served in various comfortable postings around the world. Faruque and Rashid returned from Libya to Bangladesh within a year of their exit. It is not clear whether their return was negotiated with Zia or was a unilateral action on their part in order to remain politically relevant. Some indication of their interactions became apparent when the Lancer armoured battalion originally commanded by Colonel Faruque, at the time of the Bangabandhu killing, mutinied and set off from their base in Bogra to attack Dhaka. It appears that this action was inspired by the presence of Rashid and Faruque. The mutiny was crushed; many of its personnel were tried convicted and executed. For some mysterious Darkness at Noon: The Last Days of the Bangabandhu Era


reason, no action was taken against Faruque and Rashid who were permitted by Zia to safety return to Libya. Both Faruque and Rashid eventually returned home during Ershad’s tenure. During the Ershad regime, the two killers moved around Bangladesh quite freely and even set up a political party, the Freedom Party. In those days, they established themselves as a regular presence in Dhaka’s social landscape. Faruque was eventually sponsored by Ershad to contest him as the presidential candidate of the Freedom Party in the staged election of 1988. Faruque remained in Bangladesh long enough to be finally captured and tried by the first regime, led by Sheikh Hasina which came to power in 1996. Rashid had by then left the country and has remained a fugitive ever since.

The Road to Exile While we sat out this fast-moving carnival of bloodletting in Bangladesh, a stream of escapees from Dhaka turned up in Bangkok. Within a week of the countercoup, Inari Hossain flew into Bangkok with her sons, Zafar and Razak. She was escorted out by Just Faaland who had travelled back to Dhaka to see what he could do to help his friends. Inari informed us that Mosharraf had decided that he had seen enough mayhem and was now determined to leave Bangladesh for a while. He had been informed by another visiting scholar at BIDS, Ezra Bennathan, then a professor at Bristol University, that he and Professor Austen Robinson of Cambridge University had persuaded Ford Foundation to provide some temporary funds to enable a few Bangladeshi economists to move abroad and spend some time as visiting scholars at Oxford. Mosharraf had sent Inari and the boys out of Dhaka just before any new drama intervened and advised her to stay on in Bangkok until arrangements for his fellowship in Oxford had been finalized whence he would meet up with them in England. Inari spent a couple of weeks in Bangkok where our two families could spend time together, reflecting on yet another major upheaval in our 326

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lives. She finally left for Oxford with her sons around the end of November where Mosharraf joined her. In Bangkok, I had a pleasant enough stay at the ADI but realized, after the latest round of killings, that our departure from Dhaka was not likely to be a temporary excursion. Once we learnt that Mosharraf had also decided to take time off abroad, we made the fateful decision to go into exile. The prospect of returning to a country now passing under the control of the cantonment, where killings and counter killings were emerging as the order of the day, was totally abhorrent to Salma and me. We had no clear vision of the future ahead of us but decided that a few years of space in Oxford would give us time to review the situation at home. The Ford Foundation facility provided temporary accommodation for spending a year at Oxford where Paul Streeten had again come to our aid, offering me a visiting fellowship at Queen Elizabeth House where he was still serving as the Warden. Ezra Bennathan, a visiting scholar at BIDS, came out of Dhaka to Bangkok to advise us of these arrangements. I had also been offered a one year IDRC Fellowship which I could use in due course to stay on for a second year in Oxford so that I was assured of support for spending at least two years at Queen Elizabeth House. At that stage, Salma was prepared for a much longer exile, but we decided to see how events evolved in Bangladesh. Towards the end of December 1975, Salma and the boys travelled to Amman en route to London to spend some time with her sister Sarvath. I joined them at the end of December prior to setting out on yet another phase in our untranquil lives, returning to Oxford, our place of refuge in 1971. Once again, within a space of four years, we faced an uncertain future. What was different in this later phase was that in 1971, Oxford, for me, was a campaign base for continuing my struggle for realizing an independent Bangladesh. At no point in that phase of the struggle, did we believe that our dreams would not be fulfilled. Tragically, on this occasion, with Bangabandhu, his family and his prospective political heirs in their graves, no such expectation of returning to the Bangladesh we had fought for could elevate our hopes for the future. Darkness at Noon: The Last Days of the Bangabandhu Era


Recollections in Tranquillity


A Product of Our Times When we look back, after the passage of nearly half a century, on those event filled years of our life on the front line of a newly emerged nation, it is difficult to recapture the mood and tensions of those historic days. Today’s world and Bangladesh’s place within it are so far removed from the world of those days that it is almost impossible for the present generation to even imagine the circumstances in which policies were made and had to be implemented in those turbulent times. The social and economic transformation of Bangladesh over the last half-century is more easily understandable. No nation stands still in a fast-changing world, and Bangladesh has registered changes in its economic fortunes in a more transformational nature than many post-colonial societies. Some of these changes owe to changes in the direction of policy, but most of the changes originate in the emergence of new social forces which were not visible half a century ago and which have evolved through the liberating influence of Bangladesh’s emergence as an independent nation state. These emerging forces have, over the years, unleashed an unimaginable entrepreneurial dynamism within various echelons of society which could more fully respond to the no less transformative changes in the global economic order which opened up developmental possibilities which did not exist in our time. If we look at Bangladesh, as it is today, and take into account the new social forces which have evolved and strengthened over

the years, we may have done things somewhat differently in the post-liberation period. But we must also keep in mind that what motivated our policy actions in those early days was also inspired by our historical inheritance from Pakistani rule. Our leaders, particularly Bangabandhu and Tajuddin, were determined to repudiate the values and the inherited behavioural patterns of our rulers in order to construct a more just society. This compulsion to repudiate the past was strengthened beyond measure by the experience of the Liberation War where the cost in blood, destruction and displacement was asymmetrically borne by the working people of Bangladesh. It was firmly believed by Bangabandhu and Tajuddin that a monstrous injustice would be perpetuated at the birth of a newly independent Bangladesh if its democratically elected government were to move to recreate the privileged and hierarchical society which we had overthrown to liberate ourselves. I can speak from first-hand experience, derived from many encounters with Bangabandhu and Tajuddin, in the pre-liberation period from 1969 to 1971 and the two years and nine months I spent in their service that this determination to not recreate an unjust society was an abiding concern for them. Bangabandhu himself has given expression to his own vision of building a more egalitarian society which is free of exploitation and driven by a commitment to social justice in a variety of his early pre-liberation writings and subsequently in repeated declarations after he assumed state power. A careful reading of his public addresses in post-liberation Bangladesh, time and again, provides evidence of his egalitarian consciousness and his determination to build socialism which for Bangabandhu served as a metaphor for a more just society. Bangabandhu was a product of his time; captive to his historical inheritance as a political activist, he was engaged in a lifelong struggle against the domination of the Bengali people by a Pakistani ruling class. He was inspired by his lived experience with the common people of Bangladesh where he was exposed, at first hand, to the injustices they faced and the exploitative social 330

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order under which they lived. How far Bangabandhu’s vision of a more just society was shared by his cabinet colleagues or a significant segment of the ruling AL party remains open to question. From our early days in the Planning Commission, it was made apparent to me and my colleagues that senior echelons of the administration and those elements who had prospered during the last decade of Pakistani rule entertained different expectations from the AL regime about the nature of society in independent Bangladesh.

Post-liberation Challenges In this book, I have tracked the struggle between two conflicting visions for an independent Bangladesh—the construction of a more egalitarian society and the inequitable society, which we have fought against in Pakistan. I was a witness to these tensions through my own personal exposure to the contradictions emanating, in many instances from within the ruling party, which frustrated the realization of Bangabandhu’s vision. His move towards BAKSAL, however, mistimed, even flawed, may have been his last-ditch effort to transcend the contradictions within his support base. He may have eventually paid with his life for his struggle to build his vision of a just society. History has yet to unravel the inner story behind the conspiracy, which changed the trajectory of our history. My own story may be read as a subtext of the wider national drama which unfolded around the course of Bangabandhu’s struggle to transform Bangladesh and my modest role in this process. My years in the BPC should, thus, be perceived in the context of those times. But what I did cannot be delinked from my own beliefs, my assessment of the objective realities of those times, my association with Bangabandhu and my own limitations and contradictions in facing up to the challenges that I set myself. When I accepted Bangabandhu’s invitation to become a member of the Planning Commission, I did so in the expectation that he wanted to build a more just society in an independent Recollections in Tranquillity


Bangladesh. In those days, I identified such a society with socialism as Bangabandhu did. When I entered the portals of the Planning Commission in the early days of January 1972, the construction of a socialist society was not our most urgent concern. The immediate task was to resurrect Bangladesh from the rubble of the Liberation War, help the people avoid famine, rehabilitate millions of refugees in their homes, reconstruct a war-devastated infrastructure, revive a dying economy and construct the institutions needed to build a state which could take on these herculean challenges. When I review the record, it would appear that we responded reasonably well to these challenges. The macroeconomic recovery, the rehabilitation of the refugees, the rebuilding of the infrastructure were all remarkable achievements for those difficult days. We built the commission out of a small provincial entity into a national institution through recruiting the best available talents without resort to political patronage. The commission managed to present a strategic vision before the nation by preparing a fiveyear plan within one year, negotiated over a billion dollars of external resources without succumbing to policy dictation from our donors and worked to lay the foundations of a more balanced economic relationship with India. All this was accomplished with no whisper of corruption touching our person or infecting the commission during our tenure.

Interpreting Bangabandhu’s Vision These challenges, identified above, had immediately preoccupied Bangabandhu as well as his government. But at no stage, even in those early crisis-ridden days, did he lose sight of the nature of the society he aspired to build. Virtually, all his public declarations he spoke of constructing an exploitation free socialist society, built on egalitarian principles. His repeated reminders to the nation were also signals to the commission that whatever we did, 332

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however busy we were in rebuilding the economy, we should be guided by his vision of a just society. I cannot speak for my three colleagues as to how they interpreted Bangabandhu’s vision. There was some debate among us as to how we should respond to these signals. In my case, I believed we should attempt to lend some conceptual clarity to our proposed policy initiatives by spelling out what socialism might imply in the Bangladesh context. As I understood it, socialism meant democratizing the ownership of wealth through relocating the means of production from private into public hands. This was not an original perspective and had been put into practice across the socialist world and, indeed, in many democratic countries—both developed and the Third World. These countries pursued their socialist agendas by expanding social ownership through the takeover of the so-called commanding heights of the economy. These complex—and for many progressives, even debatable— theoretical and historically derived interpretations of socialism did not figure within our discussions either with Bangabandhu and Tajuddin or within the Planning Commission. In postliberation Bangladesh, the extent of public ownership was decided for the government not by the strength of our commitment to socialism but by the overnight flight of the non-Bengali bourgeoisie from Bangladesh at the time of liberation. In the process, they left behind, unattended, a large segment of what passed for modern industry, finance, commerce and the provision of services which covered much of the urban economy of Bangladesh. Their withdrawal brought the post-liberation economy to a standstill, and it was left to the government to take control of these enterprises to prevent a complete breakdown of civic life. The takeover by the government of this large swathe of the now-abandoned private sector of the Bangladesh economy effectively placed 44 per cent of the non-agricultural economy under public ownership or control. This exponential expansion of the state sector did not, in those early days, cause any noticeable political concern. Neither do I recollect much, if any, public Recollections in Tranquillity


debate that such an extension of the state sector was tantamount to moves towards building a socialist state. Bangladesh, by virtue of its independence rather than through class warfare, had witnessed a social revolution where a Pakistani ruling class had abdicated power, thereby significantly enhancing the power of the state. The nationalization legislation of 26 March 1972 merely formalized the extension of state power which had already taken place on 16 December 1971.

Retrospection In the light of my story, based on my own lived experience in the post-liberation government and what I have learnt as a direct witness to the seismic change which has transformed Bangladesh society over 45 years, would I have acted differently? The answer is very likely, yes. But, in January 1972, I did not have a crystal ball at my service so all I can explain is whether, in the prevailing circumstances of that time, I should have acted differently. My answer is ‘not very significantly.’ Bangladesh, on 16 December 1971, was a society crying out for a change from its every fibre. Long oppressed masses had been liberated, through enormous cost in blood and fire, not just from the military rule but from the socio-economic domination of an external elite. This alien domination of our economy had, over centuries, frustrated the emergence of an entrepreneurial class. When this class fled Bangladesh, they left behind an enormous social vacuum. The common people did not look to the emergence of another state-patronized elite to replicate the hierarchical Pakistan society, which we had left behind. When I came into the government with a set of ideological beliefs on how a society should be organized, I was persuaded that the prevailing objective conditions in post-liberation Bangladesh were much more conducive to change. What passed for an aspirant ruling class was of recent origin, with shallow social roots, conscious of the fact that it was the working masses of Bangladesh 334

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who had been the principal combatants and borne the heaviest costs of the war. However, all these assumptions on my part would have come to nothing if we did not have Bangabandhu to set the direction for this new society. On our own, the four professors were powerless and hence uninfluential in seeking a change in the direction of society. Once Bangabandhu proclaimed his commitment to the construction of a socialist society, we could always draw upon his support for policy initiatives to promote social change. He did not always agree with specific policies proposed by us like land reforms. But his disagreement with us was not about the principle but the timing for change. For example, when Bangabandhu moved into the BAKSAL phase, he himself put forward an agenda for agrarian reform. Whether BAKSAL would have added up to a holistic agenda for constructing an egalitarian society which limited the scope for exploitation or it would have been implementable in the prevailing circumstances, will remain unanswered. What Bangabandhu did leave behind was his vision for society. It could be argued that once he confirmed that he would not back away from his commitment to social change; he was marked for death by the very social forces who had aspired to create the inequitable, elite-centric society, which they had left behind in Pakistan. The day he was killed along with his family, and later his close colleagues joined him in their grave, Bangladesh set its course towards building a society of privilege through the patronage of an elite class whose aspirations had once been frustrated by Bangabandhu.

Responding to the Challenges: Romanticism and Reality In looking back at my own response to the objective conditions of those times and Bangabandhu’s commitment to change, I took Bangabandhu’s public statements at its face value. I drew upon his positions on social issues as a political resource whenever I was preparing policy proposals involving change. Recollections in Tranquillity


However, I was not content to merely prepare proposals for change, I also wanted to ensure that policies were implemented and actions involving change should be politically supported. I, therefore, assumed an activist role, which took me beyond my areas of official responsibility. Since I did not have the formal authority to do what I did, I needed to persuade those who were entrusted with these responsibilities to take action in response to my initiatives. Sometimes, this led to positive results. More often, my extracurricular actions were resented by those who may have been impacted by my proposals or those who resented my encroachment into their domain. Either my initiatives for policy change to improve governance were simply misconceived or the times were not propitious for taking my ideas forward. As far as I was concerned, I always believed that every policy proposal or proposal for improving performance I had prepared was doable. All it needed was the political support and commitment to make change happen. Would any of those ideas, if implemented, have changed anything? My own efforts covered only a small part of the canvas of governance. If support for change were not forthcoming from other parts of the regime, particularly from the top, my own efforts would have eventually been overtaken by the resistance to change from vested interests and the general deterioration in governance around me. To reverse this process, at the national level, it needed a change from the top. BAKSAL was Bangabandhu’s effort to signal his own commitment to both promoting social change and the entire approach to governance. I did not join him in this adventure because I was uncomfortable with its contra-democratic format. So we never discovered whether the changes proposed by Bangabandhu could have worked or even been realized. At a personal level, I was also caught up in my own contradictions. It did not take me long to discover that I needed political power to bring about change. What little we achieved required Bangabandhu’s political support. If I aspired to be a change agent of consequence, I would have needed to enter the political arena, build up support within the political 336

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system and invest much time in winning support for these ideas both within the political establishment as well as from prospective public constituencies. This involved risks, sustainable changes in lifestyle and commitment to stay on course come what may. Above all, such political engagement by me needed Bangabandhu’s blessings for such initiatives. But this would only have been forthcoming if I would agree to become a full-time party activist who would act with his direction and within the ground rules set by him for us. After all, party politics, anywhere, is not an exercise in private enterprise but is part of a process of collective action. In my case, I would have also needed to become fluent in Bangla. My failure to do so remains one of the most unforgivable mistakes in my life, and I have paid a heavy political price for my irresponsibility. At the end of the day, I remained the captain of my own destiny. I have only myself to blame for the lack of commitment to enter into the political arena, prepare myself for the task, accept its associated risks and be willing to pay a price, which could impinge on my personal and family life or may even have ended my life as it did Bangabandhu’s. As a requiem to those days, I end with a quote extracted from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.’

Contemporary Perspectives on Bangabandhu’s Vision Whatever I may or may not have accomplished half a century ago, it has become moot with the passage of time. The Bangladesh of today, with Bangabandhu’s daughter in office as PM for the last 12 years and the AL in unchallenged power, has in many ways evolved as a contradiction to Bangabandhu’s vision for society. We have realized both high growth and prosperity, but we have also perpetuated levels of inequality and social disparity, which would be quite irreconcilable with Bangabandhu’s conception of society. His vision of a socialistic society has now been replaced by a society built upon a form of capitalism where a privileged Recollections in Tranquillity


and politically patronized elite have attained first-world levels of affluence. This fully articulated social formation has now captured state power and is using it to ensure its perpetuation in power through the pursuit of policies explicitly tailored to serve its class interests. Ironically, this socio-political formation has realised its apotheosis at a time when the nation is commemorating the birth centenary of Bangabandhu and is about to celebrate Bangladesh’s 50th anniversary. It may be observed that during the tenure of Bangabandhu’s heirs, Bangladesh registered impressive levels of development and enhanced prosperity. This consequential high growth of GDP has graduated Bangladesh out of the least developed country ghetto and contributed to a considerable reduction in poverty and improved human development indicators. It can be argued that such progress could only be realized through a capitalist order with growing inequality as the price to be paid. This order and its resultant benefits may be seen as the dream of Bangabandhu’s daughter, who has chosen to honour her father’s memory in her own way. We need to come to terms with the fact that Sheikh Hasina’s vision for Bangladesh in the 21st century may be rather divergent from her father’s vision which was a product of its times. Today, Sheikh Hasina, as the PM of Bangladesh for the last 12 years, is in a position to move forward without ambiguity in her declarations and contradictions in her actions. The society which prevails in Bangladesh today may be consistent neither with Bangabandhu’s vision nor with my own. But Bangabandhu is long gone. I and a slowly receding generation, mostly in their 70s and 80s, who shared Bangabandhu’s vision, are no longer visible or even heard. It is for the present generation to now decide whether they are comfortable with trading off democracy and social justice for a fast-growing unequal society, and how far they are willing to distance themselves from the long-forgotten vision of Bangabandhu. In conclusion, I need to remind my readers and, indeed, myself that ruminations on things past or what might have been are 338

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essentially exercises in historical speculation. It tends to be favoured by those in the final decade of their life, but it is also an indulgence of those of a more contemporary generation who find it useful to romanticize the past. Both generations should do well to keep in mind that in the final analysis ‘the past is another country.’ It would, therefore, be appropriate to end this book by remembering Omar Khayyam’s timeless lines, The moving finger writes and having writ moves on; Not all your piety or wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.

Recollections in Tranquillity


About the Author

Rehman Sobhan has served as a professor of economics, Dhaka University; member, Bangladesh Planning Commission; and director general, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies. He is the founder and currently chairman of Centre for Policy Dialogue. In 1991, he was an advisor in charge of the planning ministry of the first caretaker government headed by President Shahabuddin. He has held a number of important professional positions, which include president, Bangladesh Economic Association; member, United Nations Committee for Development Planning; board member, United Nations University and United Nations Research Institute for Social Development; member, Executive Committee of the International Economic Association; member, Group of Eminent Persons appointed by the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation heads of state; and chairman of the board of Grameen Bank. He was actively associated with the Bengali nationalist movement in the 1960s and the Bangladesh liberation struggle in 1971 and has been awarded the Swadhinata Puroskar, the nation’s highest civilian award. He has published a large number of books, research monographs and articles, which include The Crisis of External Dependence (1981), Agrarian Reform and Social Transformation (1993), Challenging the Injustice of Poverty: Agendas for Inclusive Development in South Asia (SAGE, 2010), Untranquil Recollections: The Years of Fulfilment (SAGE, 2015) and From Two Economies to Two Nations: My Journey to Bangladesh (2016).


Adamjee Jute Mill Safari, 194 agrarian reform, 120, 124 Agrarian Reform and Social Transformation, 123 Aid and Influence, 202 aid diplomacy encounters with socialism, 230 West Germany, 231 Anisur Rahman, 2, 6, 24, 33, 40, 53, 83, 118, 123, 126, 265–66, 290 annual development plan (ADP), 45, 56, 91, 143, 161 anti-Indianism, 239 A. R. Khan, 56, 82, 137, 254, 282 Asian Development Bank (ADB), 223–25 Asian Development Institute (ADI), 306 Awami League (AL), 7, 29, 35, 36, 37, 111, 116, 166, 173, 216 failure, 310 importance, 312 juxtaposition, 307 Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, 6, 7, 8, 12, 14, 15, 18, 22–23, 27–30, 32–37, 39, 46, 50

decision of appointing members, 34 demise, 307 exposure to hierarchical community, 44 hierarchical tensions in admistration, 40 initiatives on agrarian reform, 122 joined Nurul Islam, 33 knows about Mosharraf Hossain, 35 meeting with members of Planning Commission, 33 new boys in office, 36 Nurul wants to meet, 31, 32 observations, 267 Prime minister of Bangladesh, 32 remembered event of 25 March with me, 34 return home, 31 Bangabandhu’s journey home, 28–30 Bangkok Post, 320 Bangabandhu’s vision, 334, 339 Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development (BARD), 284–86

Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC), 178, 251 Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC), 112, 154–55, 185, 252 Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), 6, 103, 259, 277, 281–86, 293, 313 building research capacity, 283 research initiatives, 284 Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BAKSAL), 54, 76, 99, 122, 178, 267, 272–73, 295, 297, 298–303 ruling party, degeneration, 270 signing up for one party rule, 300 Bangladesh Oil, Gas and Minerals Corporation (BOGMC), 248, 268 Bangladesh Paper and Board Corporation, 181 Bangladesh Planning Commission (BPC), 2, 46, 50, 51, 57, 125, 256, 260 Bangladesh politics challenge of policy implementation, 148 lessons learnt, 97 original conception of Planning Commission, 50 setting up the Planning Commission, 46 transport sector capacity without performance, 160 highways and roads, 157


Untranquil Recollections

promoting cooperative entrepreneurship, 159 railway, 152 road, 155 Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), 270, 271, 308 Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC), 152–53, 159 Bangladesh Shipbuilding and Engineering Corporation (BSEC), 150, 184–86, 189, 198, 252 Bangladesh Times, 298 Bangladesh Transport Survey (BTS), 152 briefcase capitalists bureaucratic dialectics, 117 role of the indentors, 115 socialist values and business interests, 118 caliphas, 12, 29, 268 Challenging the Injustice of Poverty Agendas for Inclusive Development in South Asia, 124 Chhatra League (CL) in 1972, 269 chief martial law administrator (CMLA), 317, 318, 320, 324 Chief of Army Staff (COAS), 307, 308, 317–20, 324 Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), 277, 279–280 Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), 206, 288–89 Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB), 273, 295, 299, 303 coups and counter-coups, 318 deputy chief martial law administrator (DCMLA), 317

deus ex machina, 75 Development Planning in Bangladesh, 125, 126 Development Policy in Bangladesh, 103 donor influence external relations, diversification, 207 East Pakistan Communist Party (M/L), 274 East Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation (EPIDC), 107 Economic & Political Weekly, 276 Economist Intelligence Unit, 126 Emir of Dubai, 221 Enayetullah Khan, 296–98 Energy survey, 126 Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC), 42, 147 exit strategies, 315 First Five-year Plan (FFYP), 125 assumptions underlying planning exercise, 132 back story, 87 challenge of delivering, 146 contradictions between Commission and ministries, 135 with the industries ministry, 141 with the works ministry, 142 macroeconomic debates, 144 modalities of plan preparation, 138 perspective economists, 137

planners, 128 political leadership, 135 political assumption, 146 preparation, 144 food and famine politics, 276 Ford Foundation, 327 Freedom Fighter Welfare Trust (FFWT), 114 General Economics Division, 137 Gonobahini, 269, 318 Gonobhaban, 275 Holiday, 298 housing for deprived, 168 housing for deprived Planning Commission initiatives, 168 Indian Atomic Energy Commission, 314 Indian Civil Service (ICS), 285 Indian Planning Commission (IPC), 44, 45, 46, 50, 51, 240, 246, 255 Indo-Bangladesh economic relations balance sheet, 259 Bangabandhu regime, 236 challenges, 255 D. P. Dhar, 246–47, 249–250, 253 early stages, 241 Indira Gandhi’s visit to Dhaka, 246 model for restructuring, 249 myth of dominance, 263 political challenges, 257 political implications, 251 smuggled trade, 259



structural constraints trade, 242 Sukhamoy Chakravarty, 246, 249 summit in Delhi, 257 trade deficit, 258 Indo-Pakistan war in 1965, 239 Industries Division of the Planning Commission, 184 Inland Water Transport (IWT), 90, 112, 155, 159 Institute of Development Studies (IDS), 292 International Development Research Centre (IDRC), 283, 327 International Economic Association (IEA), 290 International Institute of Social Studies, 103 Investment Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED, 147, 148 jail killings, 322 Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD), 173, 269, 272 Jukta Front, 119 Kader Siddique, 308, 309 Kalecki, 289 Kamal Hossain, 6, 22, 27, 100, 108, 117, 118, 218, 244, 263, 273, 286, 296, 302 Kamruddin Commission, 191 Khaleda Zia, 25, 244, 269, 278, 279, 321 regime, 322 Khaled Mosharraf, 21, 23, 24, 120, 277, 316–19, 321, 324 Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad, 11, 255, 285


Untranquil Recollections

Land Reforms Committee, 121–124 Lt General Wasiuddin, 19, 21, 310 Mahbub Alam Chashi, 284–86, 315–16 Man of All Seasons, 298 Martial Law, 317 Mosharraf Hossain, 1, 2, 9, 11, 34, 35, 40, 44, 52, 85, 102, 119, 135, 137, 266–99 M. Syeduzzaman, 55, 82, 87, 223–27, 257, 299, 310 Mujib Bahini (MB), 12, 13, 19, 21, 26, 31, 190, 270 Mukti Bahini, 24, 26 Mukti Bahini in 1971, 318 mukti juddha colleagues, 12, 21, 318 Muzaffar Ahmad, 56, 76, 103, 113, 171–72, 186, 195, 254, 273, 283, 290, 299 National Association for Social and Economic Progress (NASEP), 297 National Awami Party (NAP), 273 nationalization policies Bangabandhu’s position, 108 forces behind, 112 ideological background to nationalization, 105 policymaking process, 110 political context, 106 Nationalized Industries Division (NID), 139, 173, 174, 256 nationalized sector rules of business, 177 capacity utilization and selfreliance, 186 efforts to improve performance, 195

first-hand experience, 184 incentivizing public sector executives, 189 jurisdiction negligence, 182 monitoring, 184 monthly information report (MIR), 180 operational efficiency and commercial viability, 180 policy vacuum, costs and consequences, 192 political struggles, 175 pricing policy debates, 188 production performance, 200 professionalism into management, 177 public enterprise sector, struggle, 179 revival of production, 196 sales and profits, 198 workers’ motivation, 194 New International Economic Order (NIEO), 292 Development Planning in Bangladesh, 126 Making of a Nation, Bangladesh An Economist’s Tale, 3, 41, 125 Nurul Islam, 2, 3, 14, 33, 41, 51, 59, 81, 103, 125, 126, 192, 207, 226, 264, 288, 301 Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), 41, 105, 282, 287 Pakistan Planning Commission (PPC), 41, 45, 46, 51, 57, 233 petro-dollars fast track, 221 Planning Commission, 4, 5, 6, 25, 33–36, 40, 204, 266

appointing the secretary of ministry, 55 contestations over the Rules of Business, 50 contradictions and tensions, 49 deciding on chairman, 51 determining mission, 49 dialectics of housing policy, 163 dialogues, 247 documentation, 171 involvement in policymaking, 103 land reform, 124 organizational structure, 53 political leadership, 76 quest for model, 46 setting investment priorities, 164 staffing, 58 working relations within, 80 P. N. Haksar, 240, 243–47, 250 policymaking Planning Commission’s involvement, 103 political context, 101 political leadership of Planning Commission Tajuddin Ahmad as Chairman, 64 post-liberation challenges, 332 Pro-Moscow NAP, 234 Public Enterprise in an Intermediate Regime A Study in the Political Economy of Bangladesh, 103 Quest for Freedom and Justice, 27 Rakkhi Bahini (RB), 270, 311 Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), 271



Sarbahara Party, 270 Saxby Church amendment, 202 Secha Sebak Bahini, 311 Sena Kalyan Sangstha (SKS), 115 Sheikh Hasina Wajed, 7 Syed Nazrul Islam, 2, 3, 6, 14, 31, 33, 34, 40, 51, 52, 53, 59, 81, 86, 100, 105, 118 Tajuddin Ahmad appointed as finance minister, 34 chairman of Planning Commssion, 64 exit, 275 exposure to factionalism within the Cabinet, 64 laissez-faire chairmanship, 62 The Crisis of External Dependence, 201 The Political Economy of Foreign Aid to Bangladesh, 276


Untranquil Recollections

The Lost Moment, 85 Third-World Economists, 291 Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB), 158, 179 Transport survey, 126 Unit Train, 151 Untranquil Recollections, 8 The Years of Fulfilment, 1, 26 Years of Fulfilment, 10 working relations within Planning Commission incurable optimist to frustrated activist, 97 role of deputy chairman, 82 role of members, 89 Ziaur Rehman, 20–25, 39, 244, 277, 308, 309, 318, 324 Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan, 274