Professor Nurul Islam is a prominent figure among the few economists who played a leading role during the Bangladesh liberation war and rebuilding the nation.
Be it as a university teacher, the head of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) or the deputy chairman of first ever planning commission, his work and dedication revolved around Bangladesh’s economic development and the prosperity of the general people.
Even when he held top positions of various international organisations abroad, he still thought about the country.
Economist Nurul Islam was born in Chattoram’s Patiya in 1929. After receiving his PhD degree from Harvard University in mid 50s, he joined Dhaka University as an associate professor of economics.
After 10 years of teaching, he moved to Karachi in 1965 as the head of PIDE. As a university teacher he played a special role in developing the economics curriculum.
Meanwhile, as the head of PIDE Nurul Islam highlighted the issue of economic disparity between the two parts of Pakistan in different forums.
He also headed the panel of economists, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman formed to prepare an economic plan based on the six-point movement, after winning the election in 1970.
While preparing this plan, they used to have regular meetings with Bangabandhu and the then Awami League general secretary Tajuddin Ahmad.
At one point, Nurul Islam asked Bangabandhu, preparing an economic plan based on the six-point movement means the partition of Pakistan. Bangabandhu in response to that said, “The plan must be prepared based on the six-point movement.”
When the liberation war broke out in March 1971, Nurul Islam traveled to USA via India and played a significant role there, in shaping opinion on Bangladesh’s favour.
Following independence, Nurul Islam served as the deputy chairman of Bangladesh’s first ever planning commission, where he worked together with Professor Rehman Sobhan, Anisur Rahman and Musharraf Hussain.
Towards March-April in 1975, Nurul Islam went abroad on leave. When Bangabandhu along with his family was assassinated on 15 August, he stayed behind.
During this time, he worked in organisations like the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
He worked as emeritus fellow of IFPRI till his death. However, he did visit the country now and then on invitation of his friends and relatives.
Despite spending a long time abroad because of profession and research, he used to always think of the country; his researches, speeches-statements made in meetings and seminars as well as his interviews bear witness to that.
Prothom Alo wasn’t deprived of his acquaintance either. Joining several seminars of Prothom Alo Nurul Islam spoke of his aspirations and concerns about the country.
Alongside development of infrastructure, communication, transport and energy, he emphasised on political stability and rule of law for the overall advancement of the country.
Some of his notable books are, ‘Making of a Nation, Bangladesh’, ‘An Odyssey: The Journey of My Life’, ‘India, Pakistan, Bangladesh: A Primer on Political History’, ‘Development Planning in Bangladesh’ and ‘Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: Kach Theke Dekha’.
Professor Nurul Islam was a complete economist. He worked on economics all his life, both in the country and abroad. In his own words, “All my life, I have been deeply immersed in so many different projects. I didn’t spend time with my family and friends. Coming towards the end of life, I find it sad that it is only a journey forward and there’s no way of returning.”
Economist Nurul Islam will live on through his work and dedication. We pay deep respect to him.