BANGLADESH IS OFTEN DESCRIBED as the "largest poorest" nation in the world, and the title of a book on Bangladeshi political development refers to the country as "the least developed nation." 1 According to World Bank data, Bangladesh ranks thirteenth from the bottom in the usual measure of wealth or poverty: The gross national product (GNP) per capita was only US$1,380 in 1995 on the purchasing power parity basis. 2 In this chapter, we shall look at the economic and social aspects of political development--an especially problematic concern in Bangladesh if the soaring and geometrically compounding pressure of population on resources is not abated, and very soon.
The two principal goals of Bangladesh, as propounded by Zia, Ershad, and the parliamentary governments that followed, have been the achievement of self-sufficiency in food grains and a sharp decrease in the rate of population growth. The two are intimately related. The amount of land available for cultivation is basically constant, changing favorably only to the extent that it can be double- or triple-cropped through better water management, including irrigation. Hence, as the population increases, the amount of land per capita decreases. The challenge is to increase production per unit of land at a faster rate than the population growth rate.
In 1984 Ershad introduced a new land reform program under which no family may own more than twenty acres of land, reduced from the earlier limit of thirty-three acres. It will mean little, however, to the majority of Bangladeshis. According to the 1977 agricultural census, only 0.4 percent