Dr. Rashid Askari
If I am asked to describe Sheikh Hasina in one short sentence, it’s impossible though, I may fall back upon the well-known proverb—’the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world’. This is not a proverb as such. As a matter of fact, these are the concluding lines of a poem by a mid-19th century American poet called William Ross Wallace, which have gained wide currencyas a proverb for its significance in the society especially in terms of a mother’s influence on her children and the society. The woman who raises her children, can also determine their characters and influence the creation of a society and even a world for the next generation. All what is suggested by the proverb is best epitomized by Sheikh Hasina in the context of Bangladesh and therefore, I would like to apply this to none but to her-our honourable Prime Minister and the paramount leader of 160 million people of Bangladesh.
Sheikh Hasina is easily the quintessence of the woman who literally rocked the cradle and is ‘ruling the world’ in many senses of the term. She is the proud mother of two children—a son (Sajeeb Wazed Joy) and a daughter (Saima Wazed Putul), who were brought up by Sheikh Hasina herself against overwhelming odds. She is so good at motivating them that both the son and the daughter have earned for themselves a reputation in the society for rendering services to people in their respective capacities. Hasina is the worthy mother of two worthy children.
Joy is groomed as a leader of his generation. By his innovative ideas and entrepreneur skills he has brought to Bangladesh the Silicon Valley spirit—high technology, innovation, venture capital and social media. The idea of Digital Bangladesh which aims to transform Bangladesh into a technologically advanced country by 2021 is his brainchild. He is very good at motivating the youth to make the most of their ability and pursue their career a little more out of the ordinary way. He has been recognized by the World Economic Forum as one of the ‘Young Global Leaders’.
Putul is an international autism champion and the Goodwill Ambassador of the World Health Organization for autism in South-East Asia and was given WHO’s South-East Asia Region Award and International Champion Award for her outstanding contribution to the field of autism in particular and public health in general. She is a member of WHO’s Expert Advisory Panel on mental health, which is upholding the honour of Bangladesh. That both Joy and Putul are serving humanity through their professions is the fruit of good parenting ensured by Sheikh Hasina who by doing so becomes an emblem of a cradle-rocking and world-ruling woman.
Sheikh Hasina is also a shining example of Kabiguru’s popular saying—je radhe se chulo badhe (She, who cooks, also ties up her hair). Though metaphorical, it well applies to Hasina both literally and metaphorically. We have seen her cooking food like a traditional Bengali woman wearing Tangail handloom saree wrapping its edge around her waist and grinding spices on the grinding stone with her own hands in the kitchen. All what Sheikh Hasina does become an admirable Bengali woman. The way she talks, the way she walks, smiles, behaves, dresses—everything amounts to her being a quintessential Bengali woman. Dr. Humayun Azad, the noted writer and critic, in one of his popular sayings compares Sheikh Hasina with Khaleda Zia based, perhaps, on his experience of meeting them. As he puts it, “While I talk to Sheikh Hasina, it seems as if I were talking to the next-door girl, but while talking to Khaleda Zia, it sounds as though she was a distant arrogant lady.” This could be the reason why people address Sheikh Hasina as ‘Aapa’, and Khaleda Zia as ‘Madam’. The word ‘Aapa’ sure strikes a chord with the people much more than the word ‘Madam’ does. Hasina’s maintaining this traditional Bengali demeanour throughout is perhaps the secret of her immense popularity in the country.
How this typical Bengali woman is ruling the world can be exemplified by her position in national, regional and global politics. She has appeared on our political scene as the saviour of Bangladesh deceased with the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975. She rescued the nation from two decades of misrule by the ghosts of the defeated forces in the Liberation War and the beneficiaries of Bangabandhu killing. She came back to Bangladesh, cleaned the post-1975 corrosion and saved the country.
She has also developed a voice of her own and is making it heard in the regional and global geopolitics. She is making her presence felt in the world and the world leaders also hold her in high esteem. She had the guts to defy the World Bank’s cancellation of the Padma Bridge project credit and fight legal battle against the big boys. Not only that, she made the impossible possible by having started, quite independently, the country’s longest multipurpose bridge which is easily the most challenging construction project in the history of Bangladesh. The Padma Bridge has now become a tangible reality which is a bold move on the part of Sheikh Hasina’s government and a proud symbol of the country’s economic independence.
In Bangladesh’s relations with the subcontinental, Southeast Asian and Asian countries, Hasina is showing great courage and diplomatic acumen. She has established herself as a key factor in the South and South-East Asian geopolitics. In a world of fierce rivalry for supremacy, Hasina can very well strike a balance between Bangladesh and the rest of the world and fight to protect its interest. Sheikh Hasina is a visionary leader and one of the most far-sighted politicians in the world. She has taken Bangladesh from the so-called basket case to the status of a development model.
Hasina is born in rural Bangladesh, was nourished by traditional Bengali cultural values, progressive nationalist ideologies, global humanistic values, the liberation war spirit and, above all, Bangabandhu’s credos. She saw the ravages of the Liberation war in 1971 and the horrors of Bangabandhu assassination in 1975 and was a victim of both. In 1971 she feared for her father and in 1975 she lost him and nearly all her family. In 1981 she came back to Bangladesh, took up the reins of her party and heralded a new era of hope—an era of social, political, cultural and economic regeneration. And her action earned her the same old enmity. She herself survived 19 attempts on her life. She was nearly destroyed but not defeated. She rose like a phoenix from the ashes and managed to survive the situation. She knows when to be tough and when to be soft. The 1971 war criminals and 1975 Bangabandhu killers could realize it very well how tough Hasina could be when the need arises. On the contrary, her approach to the most persecuted minority in the present world—the Rohingya people–is the best example of a premier’s sense of humanity and courage. She was globally recognized as ‘the Mother of Humanity’ for this.
Monday is Sheikh Hasina’s 74th birthday. Although she is 74 in chronological age, she does not seem to feel her age. Except for 5 hours sleep a day, she spends rest of the time thinking of the good of her country and her people and putting it into action. Hasina could have easily died with her parents on that fateful August night, but she did not. May be, in the political relay race of Bangladesh, nature wanted the baton to be passed on to her as Bangabandhu’s political heir. Fortune smiled upon Bangladesh and we had her as the worthy heir to Bangabandhu’s blood and politics. Long live Bangladesh. Long live Sheikh Hasina.
(Dr. Rashid Askari is a Bengali-English author, fictionist, columnist, translator, educationist, media personality and the former vice chancellor of Islamic University Bangladesh. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)