Subcontinent can learn from Bangabandhu's idea of secularism: Amartya Sen


Published on January 28, 2021
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The best way to honour Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is building an egalitarian and secular Bangladesh where all will have equal access to opportunities, and religion will not be used for political purposes, two leading economists said yesterday.

Nobel Laurate Prof Amartya Sen said the idea of secularism that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman held is that people will have freedom of practising religions, but its political use will be prevented -- which is quite different from the western concept of secularism that speaks against religion.

"The countries in the Indian subcontinent can learn from Bangabandhu's idea of secularism," the Indian economist said at the Bangabandhu Birth Centenary Talk on "Bangabandhu and Visions of Bangladesh" organised by the Bangladesh High Commission in UK and the South Asia Centre of the London School of Economics (LSE).

Amartya Sen said Bangabandhu was a great political leader and most admired by the people in Bengal. His ideas of secularism, equality and leadership emanated from his love for the people who faced repression during the Pakistani regime since 1947 when India and Pakistan were separated on the basis of religion.

"Bangabandhu was clear in his mind that political use of religion can mean favouring certain religious groups," the Bengali economist and philosopher said.

Bangabandhu, through his struggles, sought to build a society that will have freedom and equal rights for all, he said.

He, however, said religions are still being used for political purposes in some parts of the Indian subcontinent.

Prof Rehman Sobhan, a freedom fighter and member of Bangladesh's first planning commission, said Bangabandhu had a seminal role in creating Bangladesh in the face of the bad governance of the Pakistani regime and cultural dominance.

Bangabandhu, however, was wrongfully interpreted by his successors who thought he refused the majority population's religion. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation, strongly believed in an inclusive society where opportunities are democratised, he said.

Rehman Sobhan said Bangabandhu was against the ruling elitism and privileged groups that catalysed the repression of the Bangalee population during the Pakistani regime.

"If we want to honour Bangabandhu and the people of Bangladesh, the most effective way is to resurrect his ideas of egalitarian society," he said at the virtual event.

He lamented that though today Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina maintains the similar ideas of secularism, the society has not become more secular. There is a tendency not only in Bangladesh but around the world that societies are becoming more sectarian.

Rehman Sobhan, also chair of Centre for Policy Dialogue, said inequality in Bangladesh is a major challenge as powerful vested interest groups have become influential.

Baroness Minouche Shafik, director at the LSE, chaired the event, while LSE South Asia Centre Director Prof Alnoor Bhimani and Bangladesh High Commissioner to the UK, Saida Muna Tasneem also spoke.