Hasina, Sheikh Prime Minister of Bangladesh (1996-2001, 2009- ) and the president of Bangladesh Awami League. Sheikh Hasina was born on 28 September 1947 at her parental home of Tungipara in Gopalganj district. She is the eldest among the five children of Bangabandhu sheikh mujibur rahman, the Founding father of Bangladesh.
After her schooling at Azimpur Girls' High School (1965), she completed her higher secondary education at Government Intermediate College (now Badrunnesa Government Girls' College) in 1967. While at Government Intermediate College, she was elected vice president of the College Students Union for the term 1966-67. Hasina got married to Dr. ma wazed miah, a nuclear scientist, in 1968. She graduated from the Dhaka University in 1973. Sheikh Hasina was a member of the Dhaka University unit of Chhatra League and secretary of its Rokeya Hall unit. Though she took active interest in politics and political movements throughout her student life, Hasina formally joined the Awami League as its leader following the tragic assassination of her father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and other members of his family on 15 August 1975.
While living in self-exile with her husband in New Delhi, Sheikh Hasina was elected the president of Bangladesh Awami League in 1981, and since then she has been the president of the party. Ending six years in exile, she returned home finally on 17 May 1981. In 1983, Hasina formed the 15-party alliance to launch a movement for ousting the military dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad from power. In the parliamentary elections of 1986, she was elected from 3 constituencies, and became the Leader of the Opposition in the Third Jatiya Sangsad.
In 1990, Sheikh Hasina’s 8-party alliance joined hands with other opposition alliances in organizing a mass movement that dislodged President Ershad from power. Ershad was forced to hand over power to a neutral Caretaker Government in accordance with the formula imposed on him by the alliances. In the election that followed in February 1991, the Awami League emerged as the second largest political party in the Fifth Jatiya Sangsad and Sheikh Hasina was duly elected the Leader of the Opposition.She played a significant role in forging a parliamentary consensus for the 12th Amendment to the Constitution in August 1991, thereby reintroducing parliamentary system of government in the country.
In 1994, Sheikh Hasina organized her party to launch a movement with a view to persuading the then government to introduce a constitutionally mandated non-party caretaker government, so as to ensure free and fair parliamentary elections. She could impress upon other opposition parties, including the Jatiya Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh to join the movement. In the long run, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) government was persuaded to accept the concept and bring the 13th amendment to the Constitution in the Sixth Jatiya Sangsad (March 1996), which provided for a non-party caretaker government during parliamentary polls.
The parliamentary elections of 12 June 1996 were held under the caretaker government headed by Justice Muhammad Habibur Rahman. In the elections, the Awami League emerged as the single majority party, and Sheikh Hasina became the Prime Minister of Bangladesh on 23 June 1996. Her government was formed with the support of a few other parties.
Notable successes of Sheikh Hasina's 1996-2001 administration included the signing of the 30-year ganges water sharing treaty with India in November 1996, signing of the chittagong hill tracts peace accord in December 1997, achieving considerable success in increasing food-grain production, improving bilateral relations with many countries including the neighbouring ones, completing the Jamuna Multipurpose Bridge which her government re-named as Bangabandhu Bridge, and so on.'
In the eighth parliamentary elections held on 1 October 2001, the Awami League won 62 seats as against two-third majority of the BNP-led 4-party alliance. Sheikh Hasina was again duly elected the Leader of the Opposition.
Sheikh Hasina narrowly escaped death but was seriously injured by a grenade attack of terrorists at a public meeting she was addressing at Bangabandhu Avenue, Dhaka, on 21 August 2004. She formed the 14-party electoral alliance in 2005, and then a grand alliance in 2006 to confront the BNP-led alliance in the upcoming parliamentary election. A number of corruption cases were instituted against her and she was held prisoner for almost one year during the caretaker rule of 2007-08. Then in the Ninth Jatiya Sangsad election held under the caretaker government on 29 December 2008, the grand alliance led by Sheikh Hasina won an astounding 262 seats (Awami League 230) through a revolution of ballots. Sheikh Hasina took oath as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh for a second term on 6 January 2009.
Sheikh Hasina has been accorded numerous honours by many institutions and countries of the world in recognition of her successes as a highly esteemed public leader and her contributions toward socio-political achievements of Bangladesh. These included the Houphouet-Boigny Peace Award of UNESCO in 1998, Mother Teresa Award in 1998, MK Gandhi Award in 1998, CERES Medal of FAO in 1999, Pearl S. Buck Award in 1999, award of Doctor of Law by the Boston University of USA in February 1997, Honorary Doctor of Law by the Waseda University of Japan in July 1997, Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy in Liberal Arts by the University of Abertay, Dundee, UK in October 1997, Desikottama Award (along with Honorary DLit. degree) by the Viswa Bharati University of India in January 1999, Honorary Doctor of Laws by the Australian National University in October 1999, Honorary Doctor of Laws by Dhaka University in December 1999 and Honorary Doctor of Laws by the Catholic University of Brussels in February 2000. She was conferred the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters for her contribution to world peace and development by the University of Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA, on 5 September 2000.
Sheikh Hasina has authored a number of books, which include Ora Tokai Keno (Why are they Street Children) (1988), Bangladeshey Svairatantrer Janma (The Origin of Autocracy in Bangladesh) (1993), Samarik-tantra Banam Ganatantra (1994), People and Democracy (1997), Amar Swapna Amar Sangram (My Dream My Struggle) (1997), Bangladesh Jatiya Sangsadey Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (1998), Miles to Go (1998), Elimination of Poverty and Some Thoughts, Bipanna Ganatantra Lanchhita Manabata (2002), and Development for the Masses. She has also written many articles on socio-economic and political issues of the country. She has been involved with many cultural organisations and was a founding member of the country's leading sports club Abahani Krira Chakra.
Sheikh Hasina has been conferred the title of 'Jana Netri' (people's leader) by her avid followers.
Governance successes The task confronting the Awami League government led by Sheikh Hasina after it was voted to power in June 1996 was quite daunting in the backdrop of the politico-economic scenario it inherited from the previous governments. But from the very outset, it strove to put democracy, rule of law and socio-economic advancement on a solid and lasting plinth. The government was pledge-bound to rebuild the democratic system in the country and institutionalise democracy.
The President is the highest constitutional post of the country. To keep this post above all types of controversy, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina nominated Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, an eminent jurist and a neutral personality acceptable to all, instead of a party-insider to this coveted post. Her government made the parliamentary standing committees stronger than ever before, because the committee system was not only a significant safety valve to make the government transparent and accountable, it was also an instrument to uphold the interest of the masses. The MPs belonging to both the treasury and the opposition, instead of the ministers, were made chairmen of a record 35 parliamentary committees, which was something unprecedented in Bangladesh. For good governance, necessary changes were brought about in the Rules of Business suiting the needs of the hour. The Administrative and Law Reforms Commission were also constituted. Steps were taken to strengthen the democratic institutions in a gradual and phase-wise manner. Resolute measures were taken to alleviate poverty, empower women and develop human resources. Social safety net programmes throughout the country were expanded. Education and Health Policies were formulated with an eye for the next millennium. Due to the initiatives taken by the government, the UNESCO declared the Language Martyrs' Day of Bangladesh (21 February) as the 'International Mother Language Day' on 17 November 1999.
The Ganges Water Sharing Treaty with India and the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Peace Accord with the Parbatya Chattagram Jana- Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) were signed by the Hasina government in 1996 and 1997 respectively. These created an environment of peace and development in Bangladesh. The signing and implementation of the CHT Peace Treaty without the mediation of a third party earned the country accolade both at home and abroad. The award of UNESCO Peace Prize to Sheikh Hasina was an international recognition to her outstanding success in bringing peace to the hills. By trying the assassins of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman through the normal process of law, Sheikh Hasina not only showed her commitment to truth, justice and fair-play, but she also laid to rest the doubts which conscientious citizens were raising about actual holding of the trial. The completion of the construction of Bangabandhu Bridge over the river Jamuna during her tenure was a milestone in the development of infrastructure in this region.
After assuming office in 1996, Sheikh Hasina's government continued its efforts on a sustained basis to reform different sectors of the economy. The average GDP growth rate during her 1996-2001 tenure remained above 5.5 percent, which was quite an achievement. The growth rate during 1998-99 was a remarkable success in view of the fact that a catastrophic flood hit the country between July-September 1998 and devastated the entire agro-based economy. Whereas the rise in consumer price index in developing economies during 1996-98 was around 10 percent, the index rose by only around 5 percent during the period in Bangladesh. This trend was maintained during the following three years as well. Thus, both in terms of economic growth rate and the rate of inflation, economic stability was maintained by the Hasina government.
In accordance with her party's election pledge, poverty alleviation was accorded the highest priority by Sheikh Hasina's government. Poverty reduction policies and strategies along with programs based on providing credit and imparting training to the unemployed youths and women were given maximum emphasis in the Fifth Five-year Plan (1997-2002) drawn up by her government. Due to pro-peasant programmes focused on the agriculture sector, Bangladesh could achieve self-sufficiency in food-grain production by the year 2000. Compared to 19 million tons in 1995-96, food-grain production rose to 26.5 million tons in 2000-2001 within a span of five years. Population living below the poverty line also went down to 44 percent from 48 percent in 1996.
Sheikh Hasina's government attempted to put in place an elaborate social safety net for the disadvantaged sections of the population. These were in addition to the erstwhile programs like Food for Work, Gratuitous Relief, Test Relief, Vulnerable Group Development and Vulnerable Group Feeding. She launched an allowance scheme for the elderly from 1997-98, under which over 400,000 elderly people were given monthly allowances. A similar program for providing allowances to the widowed, distressed and deserted women was started during 1999-2000. A National Foundation for rehabilitation and training of the handicapped was also set up by the government with an initial grant of Taka 100 million. The government also undertook a 5-year project (1997-2002) titled 'Asrayan' for providing shelter and employment opportunities to the homeless. A Housing Fund was created by the government in 1997-98 for assisting people rendered homeless due to river erosion. An Employment Bank was set up in 1998 for employment generation of the youth community. Another project titled 'Ekti Bari Ekti Khamar' (one house one farm) was launched by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for enhancing the income of poorer segments of society through household farming and kitchen gardening.
The Hasina government of 1996-2001 pursued an effective, forward-looking and time-befitting foreign policy in consonance with the country's economic objectives. In her very first year in office during 1996-97, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina participated in the World Micro-credit Summit in Washington DC, World Food Summit held in Rome, the Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference in India, the special OIC Summit in Pakistan, the 9th SAARC Summit in Maldives, the inaugural D-8 Summit in Turkey, 5th World Conference for the Aged in Germany, Commonwealth Summit in the UK and the OIC Summit in Iran. In addition, her visits to the USA, Saudi Arabia, Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia brought rare honours for Bangladesh.
The longstanding dispute with India on sharing the Ganges water was finally resolved with the signing of the historic 30-year water-sharing treaty on 12 December 1996. Other outstanding issues with India were also gradually addressed by the Hasina government. An accord was signed with India in February 1999 which provided for direct bus service between Dhaka and Kolkata. Successes in the field of foreign relations by the Hasina government brightened the image of Bangladesh as a democratic and peace-loving nation.
The scope for regional cooperation was further widened when Bangladesh joined the BIMSTEC (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand) and D-8 (Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey) economic groupings during Sheikh Hasina's first tenure as Prime Minister. The Second D-8 Summit was held in Dhaka in March 1999 and concluded with the adoption of the Dhaka Declaration. Preparatory conference and talks on investment and trade cooperation was also held in Dhaka in November 1999. Bangladesh was also accepted as a member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation in 1999. Progress was also made by the Hasina government in promoting sub-regional cooperation between Bangladesh, India, Bhutan and Nepal through enhanced connectivity and other measures. Sheikh Hasina's keen interest resulted in the signature by Bangladesh of the Statute for the International Criminal Court (ICC) and ratification of the Landmines Treaty, being the first country in South Asia to do so. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's initiative resulted in the hosting of the first-ever conference of the Asian parliamentarians devoted to peace and cooperation in Dhaka in September 1999, which elected her as the first President of the Association of Asian Parliaments for peace.
The Hasina government adopted a New Industrial Policy (NIP) in 1999 with the goals of strengthening the private sector and attracting foreign direct investment for expediting the industrialisation process. It aimed at raising the contribution of the industries sector to 25 percent of GDP and the industrial work-force to 20 percent of the total labour force within the next decade. It encouraged setting up of small, cottage and labour-intensive industries, skill development of women for employment generation, development of indigenous technology and industries based on local raw materials. The NIP opened up all sectors for private and foreign investments except four and allowed foreign investors to own up to 100 percent equity share without prior approval of the government.
Sheikh Hasina attempted to raise the profile of Jatiya Sangsad at the national level and introduced 'Prime Minister's Question-Answer Time' in the Jatiya Sangsad to ensure accountability of the head of government. The Jatiya Sangsad repealed the infamous Indemnity Ordinance in 1996, which was promulgated in 1975 to protect the killers of Bangabandhu and his family members. As a result, legal proceedings could be started against those killers. The Hasina government also took initial steps for installing a four-tier local government system through passage of the Gram Parishad (village council) Act, Upazila Parishad (upazila council) Act and Zila Parishad (district council) Act.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina opened up the telecommunication sector to private sector investors during 1996-97. Four private companies were awarded licences for providing cellular mobile telephone services to the consumers. As a result, the monopoly that was previously in vogue in the area was terminated. Consequently, prices began to fall and the availability of such services became widespread throughout the country. The government also took initiatives for setting up a telecommunication regulatory commission through passage of a bill in Jatiya Sangsad.
The historic 30-year treaty with India on sharing the waters of the river Ganges was a milestone in removing obstacles to the country's water resources development. It demonstrated the farsightedness and political acumen of Sheikh Hasina and opened up a new horizon in the field of improved water management and construction of the Ganges Barrage. It resulted in enhanced irrigation facilities, reduction of salinity and desertification of the soil and increase in crop-yield.
The National Policy for Women's Advancement framed by the Hasina government was also widely acclaimed. It sought to ensure equality of men and women in all spheres of national life, improve the lot of the neglected womenfolk in the country, ensure their security and empowerment, groom them up as educated and skilled workforce, eliminate discriminations and repression against women, establish their human rights and alleviate their poverty, and ensure their participation in the mainstream of socioeconomic development process. With the objective of women's empowerment, females were elected to 3 reserved seats in all unions during the Union Parishad local government elections in December 1997. The Hasina cabinet also approved a National Plan of Action for Children in 1999 to ensure their rights and sound upbringing.
The electoral triumph of the Awami League in the Ninth Parliamentary election held in December 2008 was based on an elaborate election manifesto which was termed by Sheikh Hasina as a charter for change having a Vision-2021. It incorporated a vision for the progress to be made in various areas of the country by the year 2021. The five priority areas in the manifesto comprised of: urgent measures to reduce price hike and keep it within purchasing power of the people; multi-pronged measures to fight corruption including strengthening of an independent anti-corruption commission and submission of annual wealth statements by the powerful people; adoption of a comprehensive and long-term policy on power and energy and raising the power generation to 7000 megawatt by the year 2013; bringing vibrancy to the agriculture sector and rural life and extension of social safety net to the ultra poor as the main strategy for poverty reduction and elimination of inequity; establishment of good governance by brining terrorism and religious extremism under control, holding trial of the war criminals of 1971, ensuring the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, reforms of the electoral system, strengthening of the human rights commission, and ridding the administration of politicisation.
Other important programmes mentioned in the manifesto of the Awami League included strengthening of the union, upazila and district councils through decentralisation of administration, ensuring 'food for all' by making Bangladesh self-sufficient in food-grain production by 2013, measures for reclaiming land in the coastal areas, formulation of integrated policies and plans for protecting the country from the adverse effects of global warming, implementation of the Ganges barrage project to expand irrigation facilities, transformation of the political culture, development of IT industries, strengthening of RMG and textiles sectors and expansion of other industries including food processing and pharmaceuticals, sanctioning highest budgetary allocations for human resource development, promoting women's empowerment and ensuring their equal rights in society.
The manifesto also provided some specific timelines for achievement of targets. These included: 100 percent net student enrolment at primary level by 2010; supply of pure drinking water for the entire population by 2011; self-sufficiency in food by 2012; hygienic sanitation in each house by 2013; attaining 8 percent annual GDP growth rate by 2013; free tuition up to degree level by 2013; and attainment of full literacy in the country by the year 2014.
The successes of the Hasina government in relation to the electoral pledges made, have been mixed up to the middle of 2010. Her government was seriously rattled within two months of assumption of office, when 74 persons including 57 army officers were killed in an abortive mutiny led by lower ranked troops of Bangladesh Rifles at its Dhaka headquarters. Sheikh Hasina, however, managed to overcome the crisis gradually through patient and prudent measures. One of the most widely acclaimed successes in the very first year of her current tenure has been the completion of the trial process of the killers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. The nation could at last rid itself of a stigma it had been carrying for long by hanging the killers who were in jail following the upholding of their death sentences by the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. However, some of the killers are still at large outside the country and efforts are being made to bring them home for execution of the Supreme Court verdict.
Notable measures taken by the Sheikh Hasina government during the first year of her second tenure included giving permanent shape to complete separation of the judiciary from the executive through the unanimous passage of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Bill 2009 in the Jatiya Sangsad; announcement of a new pay scale for the country's government employees; granting of permission by the Securities and Exchange Commission for the launching of 50 merchant banks in order to boost up the country's stock market; approval of a decentralised structure for the' Anti-Corruption Commission in the light of its organisational chart; passage of' numerous ordinances enacted during the caretaker government in the Jatiya Sangsad in order to maintain continuity in governance; revival of the Asrayan project at an expenditure of taka 3 billion in order to provide shelter and employment to the homeless, destitute and hardcore poor; approval of the second 'Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper' in the Jatiya Sangsad for bringing down poverty to a tolerable level through achievement of higher economic growth rate; launching of a taka 150 crore project during 2009-10 for making the country self-sufficient or surplus in food-grain production by the year 2013.
The number of VGF (vulnerable group feeding) cards has been increased to 70 lakh 67 thousand 5 hundred by the Hasina government from 56 lakh 70 thousand with the goal of expanding the coverage of social safety net for the hardcore poor; the Local Government (Union Parishad) Act-2009 was passed by the Jatiya Sangsad; the project 'One Home, One Farm' has been taken up again for strengthening food security, promoting women's empowerment and raising the quality of life; around 500 megawatt of electricity was added to the national grid in 2009; the design for the 6.15 kilometre long Padma Bridge has been finalised, which is expected to be completed and opened for traffic movement in the year 2013; course completion examination for primary school students was conducted for the first time in Bangladesh with the participation of 18,23,465 students; over 10 thousand community clinics which were built during the tenure of the previous Awami League government have been put back into operation and a project has been undertaken for setting up 18 thousand community clinics throughout the country between 2009 and 2014; various measures were taken for improving law and order, which included arrests of criminals and terrorists, both locals and foreigners, recovery of illegal arms, curbing extortions and hijackings, crackdown against mobile and cyber crimes and special drives all over the country including Dhaka city by the law enforcement agencies; the prices of essentials have been maintained at a stable level; an incentive package was announced for the country's businessmen for overcoming the effects of global recession and for ensuring the sustenance of local industries, trade and commerce, which included cash incentives as well as policy supports; a 5-year long self-employment generation and poverty alleviation project has been undertaken for providing employment to at least one member of each family in the country; an Information and Communication Technology Policy 2009 has been framed for the flourishing and development of information technology in the country and various projects are being implemented for establishing a digital Bangladesh, especially through imparting training to the poorer segments of the population; the position of Bangladesh has been strengthened with regard to food security, combating climate change and protection of overseas labour market in the backdrop of global recession due to participation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in various multilateral and international forums.
Pragmatic initiatives have been taken by the Hasina government for exploring new labour markets, and new labour wings have been opened in the Bangladesh Missions of Italy, Japan, Jordan, Sudan and Iraq. Steps have been taken to reopen the closed jute mills in the country as due importance is being attached by the government to jute and jute goods as an environment-friendly agricultural commodity; steps have also been taken to explore new buyers for jute and jute goods in the global market in order to enhance its exports; an Information Commission has been constituted for implementing the Right to Information Act 2009 passed in Jatiya Sangsad and different follow-up measures have been taken in this regard; steps have been taken to double the number of beneficiaries receiving allowances for the aged and distressed women in order to expand the social safety net coverage of the hardcore poor; the retirement age of serving freedom fighters employed by the republic has been raised by 2 years, and around 14 thousand freedom fighter officers and employees were benefited by this decision; preparation of the Sixth Five-Year Plan for the period 2010-15 has also been taken up by the government; a new industrial policy has been announced which put emphasis on private sector development, making the state-owned enterprises sustainable through improvements in their management and greater application of public-private partnerships (PPP) especially in the energy and infrastructure sectors. A number of new incentives and facilities have been added in the new industrial policy in order to attract foreign investments in greater volume. Due to proper economic management by the government, the country's foreign exchange reserve crossed the US dollar 5 billion mark during 2009-10 financial year. Similarly, the country's export earnings and remittances sent by overseas Bangladeshi workers also set all-time records by crossing 14 billion and 10 billion US dollar marks respectively during the fiscal year.
Soon after assumption of office for the second time, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina appointed an Education Commission for framing a New Education Policy. The commission has already submitted its report and its recommendations have been approved by the government in the form of 'National Education Policy 2010'. The policy aims to make the education system work-oriented and technology-centred and seeks to uphold the fundamental values of the nation and spirit of the liberation war. Countrywide primary school completion examination has already been held for the first time in the country, and similar examination is also being held for class eight students, which has been termed as junior certificate examination. Free distribution of text books up to the secondary level has also been initiated and the text-books have been put on the internet website for making them easily available. The Private Universities Act, 2009 has been passed by the Jatiya Sangsad for streamlining the operations of private universities and ensuring their proper management.
Since assuming office for the second time, Sheikh Hasina has made some notable breakthroughs in external relations. She has succeeded in strengthening the relationships with neighbouring countries and projecting the image of Bangladesh as a moderate, secular and democratic country. Her visits to India, China, Bhutan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Sweden upheld the interests of Bangladesh in various fronts. She took effective initiatives to reach the fruits of development to the doorsteps of the common people of Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Bhutan through sub-regional cooperation and strove to expand the sphere of this regional cooperation to include China and Myanmar. The specific measures undertaken for the purpose include removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers in trade, opening up new land-ports and development of existing ones, launching of border markets on an experimental basis, declaration of Bangladesh's Ashuganj and Indian Tripura state's Shilaghat as ports of call, establishment of Akhaura-Agartala railway link, development of Chittagong and Mongla Ports for allowing India, Nepal, Bhutan and China to use these facilities, agreement on supply of 250 megawatt electricity from India to Bangladesh, setting up of joint-venture coal-fired power-generation projects by the state power authorities of India and Bangladesh, and suppliers' credit from India to develop infrastructure and water-ways in Bangladesh. It is expected that providing transit and transhipment facilities to India, Nepal, Bhutan and China will bring huge economic dividends for Bangladesh economy and its people.
In addition to the economic front, Sheikh Hasina's current government has also sought to strengthen security cooperation with the neighbouring countries of South Asia and has adopted a zero-tolerance attitude towards the presence of foreign insurgents and terrorists on Bangladeshi soil. She ordered the law enforcers to carry out an all-out crackdown on people involved in such activities in the country. Besides, local extremists and terrorists both on the left and right of the political spectrum are also being dealt with an iron hand by the security forces. [Helal Uddin Ahmed]