Why Bangladesh’s Padma Bridge is more than just an infrastructure feat for Sheikh Hasina’s government

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“The world is amazingly beautiful; well done!
What have we done, Bangladesh!
damaged, broken,
but will not back down!

Sukanta Bhattacharya, quoted by Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

The inauguration of Bangladesh’s longest bridge over the Padma River marks a milestone in the country’s development journey. The $3.86 billion worth of the Padma Bridge will connect the capital Dhaka to the 21 relatively underdeveloped districts in the southwest of the country. The bridge is poised to revolutionize trade and connectivity between the capital city of Dhaka and the southwestern districts by transforming the country’s economic landscape.

It is estimated that the expansion of trade and commerce through the rapid movement of raw materials and the proliferation of many small industries will increase the gross state domestic product (GSDP) of the southern districts by 2%, and the domestic product overall national gross. product (GDP) of 1%. Moreover, reports on several media platforms suggest that it would also lead to improved connectivity with India, thereby intensifying trade across the border.

Given these expected socio-economic benefits, the fanfare associated with this mega infrastructure makes sense. However, a key dimension of this euphoria is how the Padma Bridge is increasingly linked to Bangladesh’s global standing and national identity. At the inauguration, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, said: “The Padma Bridge is not just a concrete infrastructure of brick, cement, steel and iron, but a symbol of pride , honor and capacity of the nation. In other words, the Padma Bridge has become a source of national pride/prestige for Bangladesh.

As Gilpin notes, “prestige is a currency of power in international relations; if your strength is recognized, you can usually accomplish your goals without having to use it. Although observed in the context of great powers, the concept of prestige-seeking offers an interesting perspective to understand the prestige-seeking behavior of small states/budding emerging powers like Bangladesh by engaging in projects outstanding infrastructure such as the Padma multipurpose bridge. .

In the context of the Padma Bridge, it is essential to note that organizations like the World Bank withdrew from it due to financial irregularities/corruption. Following controversy and criticism, Bangladesh decided to execute it with its own resources. A political decision to go ahead with mega infrastructure project like Padma Multipurpose Bridge following external and domestic objections underscores the aspirations of the ruling classes to make Bangladesh visible and considered among its peers as well as in the international hierarchy. This was evident in the admiration expressed by different embassies and high commissions.

The embassies of the European Union and the United States congratulated Bangladesh on this monumental achievement. Asian powers like China, India and Japan were quick to appreciate the historic moment in Bangladesh’s development journey. The Chinese ambassador hailed Bangladesh’s indigenous ability to execute and finance large-scale infrastructure projects. The Japanese Ambassador to Bangladesh praised Padma’s contribution to the country’s economy and overall development, calling her a “dream and national pride”.

Similarly, the Indian High Commissioner attributed the success of the Padma Bridge to “the continuous and consistent courageous decision-making of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina”, making it an occasion of pride not only for ordinary Bangladeshis but also for Indian Bengalis. The Korean Embassy, ​​whose Korean Expressway participated in the construction of the Padma Bridge, also expressed its admiration and appreciation for Bangladesh’s technical capability. These congratulatory messages testify to a general admiration for the technical prowess displayed by Bangladesh.

While this may seem like a diplomatic formality to a geopolitical observer, it matters a great deal to the pride of Bangladesh – a country once labeled a “basket case” of development. From being touted as a basket case to executing capital and technology intensive projects like the Padma Multipurpose Bridge, Bangladesh is trying to mark its presence as an achievement of self-reliance and pride. Explaining this behavior, Lilach Gilady argues that consumption should not be purely for inner desire, but a demonstration of one’s ability and willingness to afford. Therefore, investing in mega-infrastructures like the Padma Bridge should be seen as a “social signal communication act from Bangladesh”.

In addition to the international signaling, there is also a domestic aspect. Given allegations of a lack of transparency in the 2014 and 2018 general elections, there is a shadow of doubt in the western capital about the legitimacy of the Awami League government. The execution of the Padma Bridge complex and the subsequent praise of Sheikh Hasina’s decisive leadership by several embassies is also beneficial to the global reputation of his government. These global accolades and accolades could be interpreted as lending greater credibility to the Awami League government.

Furthermore, the current euphoria of national pride following the inauguration of the Padma Bridge could be capitalized for the electoral success of the Awami League leadership in the 2023 general elections, consolidating its legitimacy and standing in the sphere. national.

From this point of view, the Padma Bridge is more than a superstructure aimed at stimulating growth and development; instead, it is a tool for enhancing prestige and legitimacy both for Bangladesh (at the global level) and for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her party at the national level.

Paras Ratna is a PhD candidate at the National University of Singapore. Anurag Mishra is a PhD candidate at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The opinions expressed are personal.

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