Bangladesh defied expectations to bring the coronavirus under control, maintain growth, and celebrate the Mujib Year while the Covid-19 pandemic rampaged across the globe in 2021.
The government tactfully handled vaccination drives against Covid-19, balanced geopolitical ties, and faced international pressure over alleged democracy and human right abuses.
Major progress was made in mega projects such as the Padma Bridge and the Metro Rail. The government was also able to shift a good number of Rohingya from Cox’s Bazar to Bhasan Char Island, after proving to the international community that their concerns over the conditions on the island were unfounded.
Some of the major obstacles faced by the ruling Awami League over the course of the year include protests against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the road safety movement, murder of Rohingya leader Mohib Ullah, and violence in a series of local government elections.
Awami league also lost some veteran party leaders, including H T Emam and Abdul Matin Khasru, who had served at the party’s policy making level for a long time.
BNP staged several demonstrations calling for the release of party Chairperson Khaleda Zia so that she may receive treatment abroad, but the government turned a deaf ear to the major opposition party’s demands.
On account of the pandemic, Awami League could not organize many physical programs in 2021, but the ruling party arranged numerous virtual events. A large chunk of the events centred on the Mujib Year, which includes celebrations for the Golden Jubilee of Independence and the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
2021 was also the first year the government faced information leaks on digital platforms, resulting in the removal of a state minister and two mayors.
The removal of former state minister of broadcast and information Dr Murad Hasan from his portfolio after a defamatory and vulgar phone conversation with a female film star was leaked online was one of the most talked about incidents of the year.
Jahangir Alam, who was the mayor of Gazipur City Corporation, also lost his post after a derogatory conversation on Bangabandhu and the Liberation War of Bangladesh was leaked. Abbas Ali, mayor of Katakhali municipality in Paba upazila of Rajshahi, was removed from his post on similar grounds.
Furthermore, Awami League suspended and took legal action against several party leaders, including Helena Jahangir, over their involvement in unlawful activities.
US sanctions on RAB
In the last part of the year, the US government slapped seven former and current senior officials of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) with sanctions over allegations of human rights abuses.
The officials include former RAB director general (DG) and incumbent Inspector General of Police Benazir Ahmed and incumbent RAB DG Chowdhury Abdullah Al-Mamun, according to a press release issued by the US Department of Treasury.
Bangladesh brought in the US Ambassador Earl R Miller to express its displeasure with the sanctions, which government officials have described as unwarranted and confusing.
Electoral violence and infighting
The government conducted hundreds of local government elections across the country, and many of them were plagued by violence and allegations of vote rigging.
According to Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), a total 87 people died in 442 incidents of electoral violence in 2021.
The elections also shone the spotlight on infighting within the ruling party, as rebel Awami League candidates contested candidates with party tickets while BNP abstained.
The international stage
The prime minister and the president of India both visited Bangladesh to attend the Mujib Year events on March 26 and December 16, respectively.
Indian President Ram Nath Kovind’s visit was peaceful, but Prime Minister and BJP leader Narendra Modi’s visit was plagued by controversy as a section of people staged violent protests that led to the death of at least five people.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina received global praise for her bold leadership and speeches at the COP 26 summit this year. The government also called for action in many world forums to repatriate the Rohingya to their homes in Myanmar.