Well known as the former Governor of Bangladesh Bank, Professor Dr. Mohammed Farashuddin is the present chairman of the Board of Trustees, East West University and is also affiliated with governmental and educational institutions as well as research bodies.
Mohammed Farashuddin was born and brought up in the rural area of Habiganj, Sylhet until his 6th grade. He got his initial schooling in Ratanpur primary school, the village he was born in, and according to him, this schooling had the most stunning impact on his life. This impact came from seeing some people struggle hard for eking out an existence. Young Farashuddin had to commute a distance of 3.5 miles on foot from class III to VI to reach Jagadishpur J.C High School . Farashuddin was shifted to Sylhet town in 1954 for admission into Class VII into Raja G.C. High School. He did not plunge into mediocrity and in fact climbed to the top of the class from the word “go”.
It first happened in Head Master Mr. Suruj Ali’s English class. He was asking a series of questions on grammar. While all the other students were sitting befuddled, young Farashuddin raised his hand and answered all of them correctly. Surprised, Mr. Suruj Ali said, “I have never seen you here before.” So, young Farashuddin told him that he had joined recently from a village school. It was unusual for the students to see a village newcomer in the school surpassing city students in a subject like English. Farashuddin was thus shifted from the last to the first bench. While I am hearing this story from him, Dr. Farashuddin says, “That created such a positive vibe that I have carried it through my life till this day.”
Academically, Dr. Farashuddin has been extraordinary. He completed his B.A Honour’s in Economics from University of Dhaka as first class first. In Master’s also he became first in order of merit. He again did a Master’s in Political Economy from Boston University with a CGPA of 3.91 and completed his PhD from Boston University with a CGPA of 3.91. He was adjudged as the `Best Foreign Student` at Boston University in 1978.
When Mr. Farashuddin was in Sylhet Govt. High School, there was only one education board: East Pakistan Secondary Education Board (EPSEB). The public examination after class 10 was known in those days as the Matriculation Examination or Entrance Exam. In 1958, there were 40 thousand candidates under the EPSEB. 42 were from Sylhet Govt. School. The teachers of the Sylhet Governemnt school used to tell them that they had been their best batch. Mr. Farashuddin used to ask them, “Do you say this to every batch?” The teachers would then reply, “You will see what we mean.” That class of 42 students later produced 5 PhDs and 3 CSP PFS. In the Entrance Exam of 1958, out of the top ten places in the EPSEB, one secured the 3rd position and another, the 5th from this class. Dr. Farashuddin was the 5th position holder.
If we look at the lives of successful people, we often find wise mentors behind them. In Dr. Farashuddin’s case, Professor M. A. Hashim has been the person who recognized the kindle and fired it at the right time. He was a professor of physics in Sylhet Govt. College and a distant relative of Dr. Farashuddin. Professor Hashim resided with Dr. Farashuddin’s parents, while studying at the school. He took a fancy on Farashuddin’s merit, and determined that, Farashuddin should be taken care of for the full blossoming of his talent. Dr. Farashuddin says that Professor Hashim has been more than a guardian to him. He has been a guide, a friend, and a philosopher. He also acknowledges deep gratitude to Mrs. Suraiya Farashuddin for a major role in shaping what he is today.
After matriculation, at his advice, Professor Hashim arranged Farashuddin’s admission into ISc (Intermediate in Science). He went to MC College (Murari Chand University College) which was known as the Presidency of the East during those days. Initially, Farashuddin was doing quite well in science but slowly he realized that it was not his forte. Chemistry, especially, was not liked by him. He managed to secure a place in the board exam, but not as high as in the matriculation. Taking Professor Hashim’s advice, he switched to Economics when he got admitted into the University of Dhaka for his Honour’s. “What a wonderful switch it was for me!” says Dr. Farashuddin as I hear the story get more interesting. He had found his passion in economics and it is what he is working with till today.
With the mathematics proficiency from the ISc, Farashuddin found Economics easy and did very well in Honour’s and Master’s. After completing his Master’s in Economics, he joined as a lecturer of Economics with four increments due to his excellent results. However, becoming a civil servant or CSP official (Civil Service of Pakistan) was much more desired by the contemporary society. Erstwhile CSPs were the cream of the society. So, even though Mr. Farashuddin wanted to be an educationist, his family and relatives thought he would do better as a CSP officer. Driven by his family, he sat for the civil service exam and got in.
He worked as the Sub Divisional Officer (SDO) of Jamalpur at the age of 24. At that time, Jamalpur had 10 thanas and 2 million people. Civil administration, police, revenue, and development offices of the area all were under the SDO. So, it was quite a powerful post to hold at such a young age. It wasn’t that he had 100% of his enthusiasm while joining the civil service but he certainly does not regret that experience. Joining the service had brought him opportunities to work at the field level, make wider network among people, get training at Lahore, to go abroad for further training and het firsthand knowledge about the development issues of the country. During the 1969 anti-Ayub Movement, the young SDO of Jamalpur had to exercise courage, skills and public relations qualities to calm the agitators without using force.
Wherever Dr. Farashuddin has worked during his career, he has always remained in touch with education. Even when he went to work for the United Nations, he did not miss any opportunity to teach. In 1996, he returned from the UNDP service and founded East West University. It is one of the best private universities in Bangladesh with its own campus and has been doing very well.
As Sayeed R. Faruqui has said in his book, Wishful Thinking, “One should always remember his roots,” Dr. Farashuddin always remembers his roots. He feels gratified to have done considerable amount of social work in his area. He had been able to negotiate and get permission from Bangabandhu to make a common grazing land near the forest for the locals. Farashuddin arranged electricity in that area in the 70s and domestic gas connection in the 90s. He has been able to get from the government, a hanging bridge, a jatri chowni and an widening of a bridge.
In 1998, when he was the governor of Bangladesh Bank the Dhaka-Sylhet inter-district road was being reconstructed. There was a lot of land by the side of the rail lines and it was suggested that the highway be built in those lands beside the railways. But the railway authority did not allow that. When this option was dropped, Dr. Farashuddin suggested that the highway be diverted to on the paddy fields. This was the only alternative and people were initally angry with him for the suggestion because they lost land through government requisition.
After the construction was done, not only the road had been straight and shorter but also the price of the nearby lands went up hundred times. Several industrial groups like Pran, RFL, RAK etc. started buying lands alongside the highway. On one side of the highway, passenger shades were being built. There was a road crossing along the highway where frequent accidents took place. Dr. Farashuddin persuaded the authorities to build an overpass over the crossing. While he was taking projects for pure public service, the impediments posed by politicians and contemporary authorities have caused some frustration.
As Dr. Farashuddin talks about the economic condition of the country, he says that the country is undoubtedly progressing at a rapid pace but there is still a lot to do. For example, when the population was 75 million in 1972, the number of people under poverty was about 60 million. Now the number is 40m out of 160 million. However, only the top 10 percent of the people of the country are owners of 40 percent of income and asset while the bottom 10 percent would have only about 2 percent. The Boston Consultant Group, BCG says, there are 12.5 million Bangladeshis with a per capita income of US$5000 each on an average (appropriated taka four hundred thousand) which is above the taxable income level. And yet only 1.2 people i.e. less than 10 percent of the 12.5 or pay income tax.
Dr. Farashuddin also applauds that expansion of educational and health opportunities have been made at a desired pace but quality is not at the best level. The concentration of these facilities in the urban areas is another matter of concern. In his days, 6 out of 10 top positions in the matriculation exam were secured by students out of Dhaka. But now, everything is concentrated in Dhaka. All the good teachers and all the good students are centering in Dhaka. So, the balance of development had been disturbed. He reasons, if opportunities for quality education, effective healthcare, and generation of income are expanded to the rural areas at a higher pace, migration to urban areas would be less. As such, the population of Dhaka city grows at an annual rate of above 4% whereas the country’s annual population grows at 1.2% or so. Dr. Mohammed Farashuddin points to the plaudit by the global community about the spectacular socio-economic progress of Bangladesh and for the leadership of the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
While talking, Dr. Farashuddin expresses his opinion on two questions presented before him.
I. We know that quota system discourages merit and in our BCS exam there is about 55% in quota. Only 45% is left for the merit. As we see today, the meritorious ones are becoming more interested in private jobs and in the corporate sector rather than taking up civil service jobs that can be more beneficial for the country. What can be done to attract the meritorious lot into public service?
Dr. Farashuddin: “Quota system should be strictly revised and reduced. I passed my Master’s in 1964 and joined University of Dhaka as a lecturer. Later, I prepared for one year and took the Civil Service Exam in 1965. It took 1 year for the result to come out. It was a very competitive system because there were 5 provinces back then. But at that time, I think, there was a much bigger merit quota under which I could get in. Today, in Bangladesh merit is only 45%. And quota is 55%. This is not right.
How did the quota start? The Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu, thought of the quota primarily for the indigenous people as they were behind in education and employment. This is how it started. Now there are all kinds of quota and it stands at 55%. This is an injustice to those who have the merit. We never recommend it. There should be not more that 15-20% quota. At least 80% should be on merit in order for a high quality civil service.
Number two issue is that, MCQ is not the right type of questions for civil service exams. If you are recruiting your brighter people for sustentative responsibility in future, you should look into their interest & quality for higher capacity. Essays, analysis of contemporary issues, problems of the economy, climate change, urbanization, demographic dividends and awareness on the spirit and substance of our glorious war of independence should be the areas in which the candidates should asked to write short notes on. This is how we should test our people. ” [This interview was taken in October, 2016]
II. Give us some advice for the youth on how they should approach their lives, how they should plan and think, and what kind of persons they should grow up as.
Dr. Farashuddin: “I had a very interesting but challenging youth. I was a good student, I was loved by people, I had scholarships, I got a lot of opportunities in life but was not grown up in prosperity. To the young people, I would plead to utilize the time and resources at your disposal for preparing yourself for riding the social capillarity for the family and the country. Time is short but opportunities in Bangladesh are limitless, work hard, study attentively and get familiar with the socio-political-cultural aspects of the country. The quality of your leadership will help expedite the removal of tears from and bringing smile to the disadvantaged and form the establishment of the Sonar Bangla as dreamed by the Father of the Nation.
It is good to have better results not only for good grades but also because that would be your credential, your friend in getting a good job or maybe getting a better job over another. So, studies must be taken seriously. These days, it is very important that you undertake a lot of extracurricular activities alongside your studies. Debate, sports, drama, and music all these are important. A particular advice to the younger people would be that there is a much wider world beyond your curriculum. Because of the explosion of the internet, people do not want to go beyond the immediate environment. But the world is much larger. Internet proficiency is a must these days but it should also be used for gathering knowledge beyond the prescribed curricula.
For instance, if I ask a student, let us say, about the Lahore Resolution which is very important for the creation of Bangladesh or the Qudrat-e-Khuda Education Commission report or the student movement in 1961-62, they cannot answer because they just don’t know about these. But these are important. It’s the same situation even when I ask them about the Chittagong Revolt of Master da Surjosen, about the Six Point Programme, the Khilafat Movement, or the creation of Calcutta Madrasa in 1772. We lost our independence to the British in 1757 and they started Calcutta Mohameddan Madrasa in 1772; not for a generous reason but to create a cleavage between the Hindus and Muslims, to divide them, and to rule.
If I ask about George Barnard Shaw or French Revolution, the tenets of the “liberty, fraternity, equality” or industrial revolution, most of the students will say that they don’t know about these things. They have so many other things to do. You will see that all the internet providers have their cheapest rate at the time between 12 at midnight and 5 in the morning. They have ulterior motive, in diverting the attention of the youth to evil things. I tell you, and they are spoiling the younger people. There should be some kind of censorship but the moment you do that, there are various kinds of hue and cry. So, I advise the young people to be thoughtful of choosing what they do and how they shape their lives.”
That was Dr. Mohammed Farashuddin with a glimpse into his life and his opinion of life. Even though his illustrious career says all about his success, I would like to add my personal experience of it. I was lucky enough to get Dr. Farashuddin as my teacher for our economics course during my undergrad at IBA and his class, unlike those of many others and despite having no punitive measures for absence, always had almost perfect attendance even at 8:30 in the morning. The opportunity to sit and talk with him about his life and get his advice while working on this book has been an overwhelming experience for me like it had been for many other students whose lives he has touched.
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”
[Utmost dedication has been given to transcribe and write the interviews as flawlessly as possible . However, the information and events shared in this book might not be cent percent perfect and there can always be human error in collection and dissemination of information. It is thus requested to forgive any mistake, if found, in this book. At the same time, I request all readers and visitors not to copy the content of this book without the written consent of the author of this book, as these interviews are the author’s original work that has required a lot of hard work and patience. The full book can be purchased here.]