Dr Mohammad Tarikul Islam is an emerging political scientist with a research focus on South Asia. He is an Associate Professor of Government and Politics at the Jahangirnagar University in Bangladesh. Prior to joining the University in 2014, Dr Islam has worked with the United Nations Development Programme Bangladesh for a period of seven years in various managerial capacities. He is the author of three forthcoming books from the Routledge and Springer. Professor Islam is perhaps the rare academic with a PhD from Bangladesh who has been affiliated with the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge and School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London in different prestigious capacities (Visiting Scholar and Visiting Research Fellow). Referring to his current research undertaking, Dr Islam speaks with the Higher Education Digest Magazine about the essence of academic endeavor in influencing inclusive development in rural Bangladesh.
The scope of my current research work is based on the broader domain of local governance, grassroots political movements and sustainable development with a particular focus on social justice, participatory rural politics and equitable development in South Asia. Above all, I adopt holistic approaches to the understanding of decentralized authority and power to the participatory local governance. I am kind of fascinated in methods that go beyond perspectives to explain the social experiences of citizen participation lessening from individual perceptions, rural development context, or social inequalities.
I seek to locate the concepts and determinants of socioeconomic inclusion and injustices in a broader social and environmental context to help advance the current understanding of the dynamics of social interactions within and among various social groups, thereby meaningfully contributing to an inclusive and equitable rural development empowering local government institutions in South Asia.
My scholarly work has been greatly influenced by socioeconomic, environmental, and political events that shaped my personality and character.
To me, for development to be truly sustainable and inclusive, it is necessary to assume the political commitment of all the world’s states, as well as to the greater collaboration of state and non-state development actors in the economy, environmental protection, protection of human security and social development. Human security, focusing on the opportunities to make choices, presupposes that people have to influence the process that shapes their lives. In other words, people have to participate in different decision-making processes, implementing these decisions and monitoring them. Security, at any level, is about individuals.
The development of mankind cannot be achieved without ensuring human security. Security means that the benefits that people have reached in expanding their opportunities and improving their capabilities are protected by current social, economic, political arrangements. The approach to equitable development is based on a broad social acceptance of people’s rights and obligations, based on a sustainable system within the shadow of the national government. It is apparent that the link between human security and sustainable development is manifested in conceptual terms from the perspective of the four basic components of human development.
Equality in terms of fair access to opportunities; sustainability as regards responsibility for future generations as those of the present generation; productivity on human resource investigations and creating the macroeconomic environment that would allow people to reach their full potential; the sense of decision – in the sense that people have to achieve a level of individual development that would allow them to exercise options based on their own desires from a wider framework of the existing opportunity. And of course, sustainable development through people and for people highlights an important dimension of human security, that of citizens’ participation in the creation of a peaceful, stable and justifiable global system.
I believe, creating sense of ownership among the community for the local government will help bridge gap between the government and the rural people in Bangladesh. My research has tremendous impact on society. With my research undertaking, I perceive local government as social organization happens in everyday life. Apparently, because of the underlying characteristics of local government as social organization, people can monitor their everyday work and involvement in other activities that are controlled forms of human interaction. To have a sense of identity with the social organization, being closer to one another helps build a sense of community.
Bangladesh has been an advocate for empowered local governance, actively promoting it by utilizing the multi-stakeholder approach. Bangladesh has long-shared the importance of achieving equitable rural development. Rural community development in Bangladesh led to not only socioeconomic improvement but had implications for social, economic and environmental systems. The population of rural Bangladesh faces critical issues of social, economic and environmental sustainability such as a significant decrease in water supply caused by a significant loss of water resources (springs), recurrent natural disasters and the probable impact of climate change.
These issues lead to significant threats to agricultural and community livelihood. However, rural development in Bangladesh is found to be less progressive as most community-based organizations are reported to be inactive. Furthermore, increasing community dependency on outsiders’ help and the absence of community perceived development has contributed to the underdevelopment of rural Bangladesh, resulting in human insecurity, discrimination and poverty in rural Bangladesh.
I think that a genuine quest for sustainable development depends on prioritizing effective and inclusive participation in the development planning and enforcement. It also entails political elites’ willingness for allowing a platform where people irrespective of party affiliation, race, gender and profession will work for the betterment of society.
Citizen’s participation is widely used in the discourse of development for the last few decades. Meaningful participation has come to be recognized as an absolute imperative for development. Since rural development is a people’s program, it is essential that people should take an active part in rural development activities. As an essential pillar of a democratic and public service transformation, Local government is where solving the problems of democratic development has to start. One important way of strengthening democratic institutions without weakening the executive is to ensure the active participation of the citizen in the rural development process by the way of making the standing committee of the local government effective.
Standing committees allow the members to perform numerous functions that otherwise might not be conducted at all. They help organizations to reduce their workload and perform different functions more efficiently with the formulation of rational decisions and providing an important means of oversight on the function of governing bodies. For instance, Union Parishad is the lowest tier local government institution working for a long time for providing service to citizens at their doorstep. It is the only institution to ensure good governance, development planning, implementation, transparency, and accountability for rural areas in Bangladesh.
In the wake of the COVID pandemic, people-centered development is the core of discourse as this approach appeared in the cutting edge of international development discourse focusing on self-belief, self-reliance, and community living with the spirit of togetherness, social justice, and participatory decision-making. The government of South Asian countries is working hard to align its new course of action with the cutting edge of contemporary development discourse for regaining confidence in the implementation of SDGs amid the COVID pandemic. A clear institutional framework with reinforced management and planning capacities, participatory mechanisms and regular financial negotiations between all levels of government and local communities in the developing countries is crucial to define priorities within SDGs and plan of action accordingly.
The government of the developing countries including Bangladesh must strive to foster dialogue with all stakeholders mobilizing a multi-level stakeholder, which can accelerate the collective efforts while setting enabling national frameworks that empower local actors to develop and lead their strategies aligned with the SDGs. The government of the South Asian countries must strive to foster dialogue with all stakeholders mobilizing a multi-level stakeholder, which can accelerate the collective efforts while setting enabling national frameworks that empower local actors to develop and lead their strategies aligned with the SDGs.
The expansion of human security depends on sustainable development. The gap between poverty and the rich must be diminished. Creating equalities and social justice can contribute to reducing the conflicts between urban and rural areas in South Asia, I believe. Last but not least, a strong local government with adequate resources, a delegation of authorities and a positive mindset of the political leaders in the South Asian countries severely affected by the COVID pandemic is a must for localization of SDGs and improved governance at the grassroots level.
I am of the view that the local sphere of government is in the best position to facilitate the mobilization of local development stakeholders, notably the NGO and private sectors, local communities, and national and international organizations for attaining inclusive sustainable development within their respective localities. Participatory grassroots local government is indispensable for delivering SDGs, particularly in poor and marginalized areas.
We are in dire need of approaches and methodologies that will better examine sustainable rural development and local governance issues, as well as identify the interplay between civic engagement, grassroots political movements, social justice and the construction of social interactions among the social groups and communities within countries of origins and elsewhere. These include the examination of human rights, discrimination, poverty, and marginalization via lenses of social justice.
The perspective is chosen deliberately as the researcher’s interest is in the implication of public policies towards strengthening local government bodies. Research with this perspective has not yet been done, whereas there is extensive local governance, social justice and equitable development literature available that explains and benefits the viewpoints of the policy makers that is leaving a scope for improved policy formulation in South Asia. However, to create a more precise overall view of the whole public policy framework in this regard, the research should be continued and take the interplay of both policy makers and implementers. It is widely acknowledged that well-placed, high-level political commitment with relevant expertise and knowledge can play a major role in building commitment to the democratic governance at the grassroots level and it’s mainstreaming into broader development.