It is generally agreed upon that, post-coronavirus, things won’t just return to as they were before.
This opinion is divided. The optimists think, “Through this pandemic, we will perceive the importance of universal social security, institutional capacity, pluralism and environment-friendly development.”
The pessimists think, “Before the coronavirus outbreak, the economy was going downwards, diversified economic structures were breaking down, environmental safety was weakening and disparity was increasing. These negative downward trends will intensify further. The world will turn into a system controlled by the influential. Aggressive attitudes will be valued above cooperation.”
Coronavirus has exposed the vulnerabilities in the socio-economy of Bangladesh. The government’s spending capacity is limited due to inadequate revenue collection, weakness in the banking sector and capital market, siphoning off black money and the inflated costs of big projects. The capacity of government institutions and coordination among them are weak due to lack of reforms. The local government is seriously lacking in capacity.
In proportion of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), we allocated little to our education and health sectors. So the fragile health sector is of no help. It is visible how much the lower middle class is helpless as there is no social safety for them. A political vacuum has also been revealed in absence of competitive and accountable politics. There is a fear that the country may turn into a surveillance-based and controlled society. The authority of the state may increase further. Besides, a new source and force of power may emerge.
In recent times, we have seen certain strengths in the country. For example, the sincerity and commitment of the chief executive of the state, the efforts of the non-government organisations at the grassroots level, the benefits of increased digital literacy and the spontaneous empathy of the public.
Now the question is, in which direction will Bangladesh move after tackling the internal and global situation? I see four possible scenarios.
Firstly, a system may emerge where the clout of the prevailing powerful people and organisations will be further consolidated. Secondly, Bangladesh will gradually turn into an autocratic state. Thirdly, we may see an everlasting autocratic state. Fourthly, the state may be run on the basis of political unity of the flourishing socio-economic force.
Of the four, naturally it is hoped that the fourth scenario materialises for the country. In recent times, the flourishing middle class has been a big achievement of the country. This class is hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
Bangladesh is going through a process which is part of the global context where scenarios and actors of many countries may change. But it is to be seen how this process emerges and is manifest in the national context of Bangladesh in the days to come.
Debapriya Bhattacharya is a distinguished fellow, Centre for Policy Dialogue.
*This article, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.