by Nadeem Qadir in Dhaka;
We Bangladeshis have gone used to our new identity in the world community and as has been the practice, we forget who and how those were achieved to make this nation proud. This ungrateful mind-set resulted in the brutal assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, without whose sacrifices and leadership, Bangladesh would not have become a reality.
As I did a research on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangabandhu’s worthy daughter, I came to a conclusion she has emerged as an “Iron Lady” like few other women leaders of the world.
They include Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, India’s assassinated Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and late Golda Meir of Israel, besides German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Their traits were very common: honest, devoted to their basic principles in running of the state, dignified, tough in their dealings and powerful to run a nation that is faced with many challenges.
In fact, many believe that running a country like Bangladesh is a huge challenge, but Sheikh Hasina has manoeuvred many dangerous incidents both nationally and internationally with firmness, and came out successful.
She has taken Bangladesh to newer heights with a firm hand and has made this South Asian country a “role model” in many sectors and boosted the economy that has amazed her critics. Our green passport is now respected worldwide and many ask new immigrants to foreign land that why they were doing so as Bangladesh has become a land of opportunities.
She has been listed by Forbes as one of the “most powerful women in politics” along with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Britain’s ex-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth 11 years back.
The Forbes magazine wrote about Sheikh Hasina that she is the longest serving prime minister of Bangladesh and also first two complete her five=year terms and won her fourth polls with a landslide. “An ongoing struggle of Hasina has been establishing a firm democracy in Bangladesh.”
Only a few days ago, the prestigious magazine placed her in the list of “most successful women leadership” in containing COVID-19. “Bangladesh, a country of 161 million people, led by Sheikh Hasina, is no stranger to crises. She was quick off her feet standing up to this one, with a response to the World Economic Forum called “admirable.”
Sheikh Hasina is also among “top 100 Global Thinkers” of the present decade, while the TIME magazine included her as one of the 100 “Most Influential People in the World of 2018,” besides many others.
She has been showered with many prestigious awards including the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize (UNESCO), Pearl S. Buck Award, Indira Gandhi Prize and many more.
Her balancing diplomacy regarding India and China is a topic of discussion in international affairs, besides how she snubbed those who tried to pressure her against executing 1971 war criminals.
Her latest move on finding a solution for the Teesta river has impressed her critics who have lost words to be critical about her! After waiting for nearly 10 years to ink an agreement with India on sharing the Teesta river water, Sheikh Hasina has moved to consider a Chinese option for a solution ignoring New Delhi’s concerns as she deems the option beneficial for Bangladesh.
Looking at the national political scene, it is clear she has again used her manoeuvring talent that has left her arch-rival Khaleda Zia as well as her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in total disarray. Khaleda Zia is out on parole at her luxury home after the premier considered her health concerns on humanitarian grounds or just mercy! A near demise of a pro-Pakistani political group in Bangladesh, strangely!
The other is the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami has lost its status as a political party to contest elections and is no more than an organisation preaching its very own “Moududi Islam” which is considered a man-made one and not what the holy Koran preaches. It has been listed as a terrorist organisation by many countries or organisations! And, indeed it is since 1971 when it killed its own Bengali brethren as cohorts of the Pakistani army.
The Jatiyo Party of late General Ershad has survived, but had to bow its head to her for mercy. The party this year for the first time organised a memorial meet for “Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.” The party’s acceptance of an historical truth is Sheikh Hasina’s politics that has also united the nation on the very basic issue that the BNP tried to destroy.
When BNP complains of not getting space to do politics and that democracy is at risk, I remember two answers I always give to outsiders who want to know what the opposition party was trying to say;
One, BNP has lost its support base as it was made of opportunists and so-called politicians as well as supporters of killers of Bangabandhu, and the other every country has its own model of democracy as American President Donald Trumph has made it clear by his actions. For Bangladesh, democracies two square meals a day, employment opportunities and social security. Sheikh Hasina has delivered those and continues to work to strengthen these three every day. Are we not better off than any time before in history? That is how the Iron Lady works.
Taking from two examples to which I am a witness, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina can win hearts of her toughest critics and also impress people by the stint of charismatic leadership.
A Pakistani lady journalist had come to Dhaka to cover the 1996 elections and had a set mind-set against everything Sheikh Hasina is as a person. I introduced her to the then opposition Awami League chief and was invite to join her polls campaign. The Pakistani journalist came back charmed and impressed. “She is so wonderful, so different,” the journalist told me and became her instant fan.
When I was posted to our London mission by the premier in 2015, I sent Guardian’s senior Foreign Editor to interview her just three months into my diplomatic stint. I briefed them, yet I worried how it would go. The confidence was Sheikh Hasina has been doing the right things so why worry.
He came back with words of respect for Sheikh Hasina and said “she is in full control of everything happening in Bangladesh.” The Guardian ran her interview for three consecutive days. On one of her foreign tours, the prime minister made brief stop-over at the Heathrow Airport VVIP terminal.
“Tell me first what is negative that he has written about me,” she asked me when I presented the days Guardian newspaper with her life-size photo. There were two soft quotes against her by two of her foremost critics. She then smiled and said “Oh! That is all … Good job.” My day was made.
The world or even Bangladeshis did not notice that we have a leader now who is no less than an “Iron Lady.”
We should celebrate our “Iron Lady’s” 74th birthday today by committing ourselves to the work she is doing to change the fate of our country — OUR FATE.
Salute Iron Lady Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and wish you many golden years ahead.
Happy Birthday, Sir!