Published in The Asian Age on Friday, 15 July 2016
Prof Rehman Sobhan’s two economies to 2 nations
Another book of Prof Rehman Sobhan “From Two Economies to Two Nations: My Journey to Bangladesh,” was unveiled on 5 September 2015 at a program at The Daily Star Centre in Dhaka. This is a collection of essays focusing on records the long intellectual journey of one of the most distinguished Bangalees.
The articles in the book date back to 1961 and extend up to December 1971. The writings include academic papers, articles for newspapers and other written inputs which were designed to both inform and influence public opinion in support of self-rule for Bangladesh. These were published in the Daily Observer and Weekly Forum, an illustrious weekly published by him. Prof Sobhan wrote against exploitation, communalism, corruption and politics. The articles initially in the decade (61-71) were focusing on economy keeping politics in mind but in the articles published in the subsequent years the subject matter changed to politics and finally to the mainstream liberation struggle of 1971.
There are five parts in the book on two economies, the democratic struggle for self rule then to two nations. The other parts are: A vision for Bangladesh and the idea of Bangladesh. The two dominant part of the book is Nationalism and Bangabandhu – which would come in handy to those working on current politics and history. It has a chapter on liberation war, when Rehman Sobhan was campaigning for Bangladesh during the Liberation War.
He is a selective of Khawaja Nazimuddin, the ex-PM of Pakistan from Muslim League but he had left political ideology. At one stage he focused on Bangalee national ideology and worked for development of the ideology from his economic and political points of view. The write-ups focused on deprivation and inequality in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, inflicted by the West Pakistani military rulers. The book says it was widely believed in East Pakistan that the growth of disparity between the east and west originated in the inequitable policies and wrong decisions of the central government. West Pakistan had a population density of 140 per square mile compared to the East’s 930. This called for considerable variations in the techniques of production, both agricultural and industrial between the two wings, and these very strategic factors had to be taken into consideration during planning. Perhaps more important, the book says, was the issue of disparity in living standards of the people of the two wings. At the end long time of state-directed economic development in Pakistan under autocratic rule, economic disparities were seen to have nearly trebled from 21.9 percent of per capita income in 1949-50 to 61.5 percent in 1969-70. Perhaps more important, the book says, was the issue of disparity in living standards of the people of the two wings.
In 1961 Prof Sobhan, the young lecturer of Dhaka University, with others, attended a seminar on the economic disparities between West and East Pakistan. He presented a paper namely “Indivisibility of the National Economy of Pakistan”, which for the first time spelled out his views on the issue of the deprivation inflicted on East Pakistan and the necessity of complete regional autonomy as a response to the injustice. Second paper on Beyond Parity, moves beyond the issue of regional disparity to address the social injustice within East Pakistan, and the need for a more egalitarian development strategy, an issue which has ever since been a common theme of his work. In the debates on what was then defined as the two economies dividing Pakistan and the consequential economic deprivation of the Bengalees. In the meeting he made the remark-which was not original-that Pakistan consisted of two economies. Ayub Khan happened to be in Dhaka at that time. While he was leaving the Dhaka Airport, reporters asked him about that. Ayub Khan said, “What is all this? Pakistan has one economy and who is Rehman Sobhan.”
The next day when the Pakistan Observer brought out its front page-on one side, it had Ayub Khan saying Pakistan has one economy and on the parallel headline Rehman Sobhan saying Pakistan has two economies. “Now what was ridiculous about that was the fact that Ayub Khan was then the President of Pakistan during Martial Law and Prof Sobhan was a 26-year-old Senior Lecturer at the University of Dhaka. Later that year, in Lahore, he made a presentation on the two economies of Pakistan-this time through a full-fledged paper which again made headlines in the Pakistan Observer.” Sobhan was one of the first Bengalis to have irked the former West Pakistan rulers by pointing fingers at the regional economic disparity existing then between the two wings.
The book also provides reportage on the historic political struggles which were proved by the denial of democratic rights to the Bengalis, and its culmination in the war of national liberation. Rashed Khan Menon, minister for civil aviation and tourism and one of Sobhan’s students, said the issue of economic disparity contributed to the shaping of the six-point demand in 1966. Menon had a dream to be a CSP officer but due to influence of his teacher, the then young Senior Lecturer he got interest in politics. On the first observance of 21st February, the Shaheed Minar was decorated to project the two economies in Pakistan (East and West Pakistan) with inspiration from Prof Sohban. The writings of Prof Sobhan have something different that has put him on a different level as an economist. Unlike theorists who often drift too far from the actual world, he believes that theory, to be of use, must keep its feet on the ground.
The most important write up is “The Mujib Phenomenon” published in Weekly Forum on 7 November 1971, starting with opinion “any real understanding of the current (during 1961-71) political scene is East Pakistan must come to terms with the Mujib phenomenon. He described “Shiekh Mujibur Rahman has transcending conventional political reckoning and threatening to become nothing less than a phenomenon”. Mujib’s charisma had such influence on common people that voters of one Kushtia used to vote for “Mujibuddin”. After the 7 December 1970 election victory of Bangabandhu, the 6 points, “looked at the cold light of reality after 7 December, should not look too indigestible to any one whose reason is not blinded by ignorance or prejudice”. Prof Sobhan believed that Mr Bhutto’s party had reason for come to terms with 6 points.
But Bhutto’s party could not accept and finally 6 points led the nation to the independence movement. These writings of his were influential in shaping political debates and the accelerated the movement for independence.
The article was concluded with the opinion that “History has singled him out to lead Bengal’s struggle to fulfillment. If he fails this trust history may simply pass him by”.
The “two economies theory”, provided the theoretical basis underpinning the political demands eventually led to the struggle for justice and the creation of an independent Bangladesh. The book is full of economic data and arguments and history of a decade from 1961 to 1971 with rapid political change and transformations.