Bangladesh's 47th independence anniversary may be a little more special than we might ordinarily deduce. At least that number carries meanings which, when fed into any analysis, suggest far more than we may reckon. After all, it was in the 47th year of the 20th Century that we Bangalees got our first taste of independence. Though Pakistan turned out to be a bitter pill, the 47th anniversary of its 1971 rupture is also the year when Bangladesh entered a middle-income category globally. That should get lots of juices flowing within us: not only can we put an even more ambivalently positioned Pakistan at bay, never once regretting the break, but also discard the 'basket-case' and 'bottomless pit' epithets hurled at us in those trying first years of our independence.
It is a gigantic spine-building moment. Also in this year we plunge deeper into something that was a pipe-dream before: building infrastructures to suit the 21st Century living and survival. Considering how the infrastructures we will be replacing were British-built (the only major highways and border-controls we had, as well as Hardinge and Meghna bridges), we are essentially laying the foundations of what will see us through much of the rest of the 21st Century, the spine to keep the maturing country functioning near the forefront of economic and political life.
Doreen Virtue's Angels Number 101 posits 47 is a number associated with being on the right track. How angelic that forecast turns out to be is left for others to see, but even beyond entering the low middle-income category and plunging into big-time infrastructure-building, Bangladesh is scheduled to hold an election of epic proportions before it hits 48. Staging it peacefully and inclusively would be the strongest affirmation we are on the right-track politically and ideologically: we reaffirm our democratic commitments, give the country the reprieve it needs to charge ahead for its 50th birthday anniversary, and show to the entire world that the Awami League-Bangladesh Nationalist Party, or Sheikh Hasina-Khaleda Zia, feud died a natural death, so those born after the 1971 liberation war would not have to halt their strides.
Celebrating the 50th birthday anniversary is auspicious enough to pave the way for respect from all at every walk of life. That paving begins now, since at least the prime minister and those left with 1971 memories, have already gotten mobilised to make it memorable. Sadly it will also remind us of the departure, ultimately fully, of those with 1971 memories and contributions. As the emerging new generations slowly fill the evaporating blanks, there must otherwise it will be a long wait for us to assert our identity collectively.
Angelic voices and interpretations, then, can only convey the critical messages, since we human beings have become far more individualised and self-centred today than ever before that we have not paid enough heed to fore-warnings and recommendations to push certain future directions, and not others.
As retirement year in Bangladesh approaches the unofficial global counterpart, of 65, we also must be able to give our own citizens with 30-years of employment to retire with pensions and other full benefits. The remaining 17 is just about how much time we typically need to grow up and enter the last high-school year. In many ways, these 17 years supply us the most hard-core of our beliefs, interpretations, and exposures which we then test as a citizen for the next 17-odd years. In other words, long before our new retirement norm of 65, we will have entered the golden phase of our lives, when and where the bulk of our accomplishments fall behind us, and we begin to savour those golden moments of retreat, meditating, and finalizing those other finishing touches of life.
Like the children we groom into adulthood, the country too shapes our identity: without the symmetrical development of both, neither can fully bloom. If that is an independence message on this 47th occasion, it is holy enough for us to use as an election-year yardstick: how we choose and who we choose may mean a lot less than the very fact that we are choosing. We were not too good at it on our 42nd and 43rd birthdays, and indeed have struggled much since those epochal elections of the past three in the last century.
The last of those 20th Century elections was in 1996, when innovating the caretaker government bailed us out. It followed the equally path-breaking 1991 election, when we put an end to the brewing military and authoritarian rule. Both of these were made possible by that pivotal 1970 election that demonstrated our capacity to vote fairly and squarely, then identified ourselves to ourselves in such a way that that learning spilled over into independence the next year. Though not by choice, some angelic intervention helped us emerge successfully.
A similar 2008 intervention helped us eliminate the caretaking electoral intermediary, with both pros and cons: caretaking is not a democracy signal, but crucial to keeping peace in divided societies. Unfortunately, since we were not divided significantly among ourselves, then, and even before, since a vast majority belong to the same stock, speak roughly the same language, and put faith in an Almighty collectively, it makes for painful installation: it helped in 1996 and until 2008, but to depend upon an albatross to find out peace subtracts conspicuously from that peace itself. It is not a necessary 2018-9 institution or instrument, even though we are so much more divided today than ever before. Yet, it may be the very Rubicon into our future.
That is what is most at stake on our 47th: we have done plenty to get where we are, and deserve the rightful congratulations, even if we have to convey them to ourselves. That said, how we leave our 47th for posterity is what will ultimately define us: did we care enough for it to withdraw when our blood boils over, so that future generations can find that elusive peace; or did we end up wrecking that future window by letting our passions discriminately flow? Our first test-results will come before our 48th, then the second on our 50th, and ultimately all the rest will be largely a product of these two. We dare not upset our angels.
Dr. Imtiaz A. Hussain is Professor & Head of the newly-built Department of Global Studies & Governance at Independent