She’s done it!
"I have done it as you [the people of Bangladesh] have supported me and stood beside me. I believe that the power of the people is the supreme strength."
"We will not bow to anybody."
A little over a decade ago, Sheikh Hasina said this defiantly while making a promise to the nation: building the Padma Bridge, the country's greatest infrastructure venture, with own funds.
The prime minister was addressing a parliament session on July 8, 2012, barely nine days after the World Bank pulled out of the project, citing a corruption conspiracy that was never proven.
She also sketched out how her government would arrange the money for the project from various sources.
Critics began to cast doubt on her promise terming it too audacious to materialise. There were also innumerable hurdles from the beginning that Hasina had to face.
But it was her firm conviction and steadfastness to go ahead with the monumental task that made it possible, defying the sceptics' prophecies filled with gloom and doom.
She finally delivered on her promise: the bridge of pride now stands tall.
The glorious moment came at 11:58am yesterday when she inaugurated the bridge, which connects south-western Bangladesh with the capital and other parts, to fulfil the dream of millions.
The inauguration of the 6.15km road-rail bridge on one of the world's mightiest rivers yesterday gave the world a message about what Bangladesh is capable of.
"Ignoring many obstacles and breaking the web of conspiracy, today the much-desired bridge stands on the turbulent Padma river…. This bridge is a symbol of our pride, our honour and ability," the prime minister said at a gathering of dignitaries at the Mawa end, marking the grand opening of the Padma Bridge.
"Today, I am happy, proud and overwhelmed along with millions of people of the country," she said, adding the bridge belongs to the people of Bangladesh and it involves passion, creativity, courage, endurance and perseverance of all.
The ceremony created a festive atmosphere at both ends of the bridge with thousands of people from across the country flocking to be a part of the momentous occasion. Millions also glued to television sets to eagerly see the live broadcast of the grand event.
Since morning, the venue was ready to receive the PM and other dignitaries.
"My mother died at Kathalbari while waiting for a ferry on her way to a hospital in Dhaka. We had to wait for three hours for the ferry. But she didn't make it. She might have survived if travelling across the river hadn't taken that long."
The place was adorned with placards bearing photos of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, President Abdul Hamid, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina along with the photographs of different stages of the project works.
High-profile invitees, including ministers, lawmakers, judges, diplomats and political leaders, started to gather there from the morning amid tight security. By 9:00am, the venue was almost filled up with guests who were waiting for the prime minister to arrive.
Hasina appeared on the stage at 10:03am amid a huge applause from the audience. Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader, Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam and Padma Bridge Project Director Md Shafiqul Islam shared the stage with the PM.
The programme started with the theme song on the Padma Bridge. The cabinet secretary, in his introductory speech, said the PM's steadfast leadership made the bridge a reality. "Otherwise, it would have taken 20 years and $15 billion."
The bridge was built at a cost of over Tk 30,000 crore ($3.868 billion). Its construction began in November 2014 and the last span was installed only in six years, on December 10, 2020, linking the two sides of the mighty river and making the bridge visible.
After the cabinet secretary's speech, a documentary on the bridge was screened, showing the glimpses of construction work from the very beginning till the end.
Obaidul Quader delivered in his speech said the Padma Bridge is the symbol of the nation's capability and Sheikh Hasina will be remembered with respect as long as the bridge will exist.
Then came the most auspicious moment when Hasina took the podium.
Touching upon almost every aspect relating to the project, she said the people's power was the supreme strength that had driven her to construct the Padma Bridge. She reiterated her promise to work for the welfare of the nation alongside ensuring a better life for the next generation even by risking her life if necessary.
"As you [the countrymen] have been by my side, I have the courage to make this impossible possible. And my father, the Father of the Bangalee Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and my mother Begum Fazilatun Nessa gave me courage and blessings from heaven," she said.
The premier released commemorative postage stamps to mark the historic moment. She also had a photo session with various local and foreign teams involved in the project.
Then, along with cabinet ministers, diplomats and some other dignitaries, she went to the place where the inauguration plaque was located near the main bridge at the Mawa end.
A munajat led by the cabinet secretary was offered at the inauguration site.
After this, the PM unveiled the plaque by pushing a button. The murals of Bangabandhu and Hasina were also unveiled amid huge cheers and applause.
PM's daughter Saima Wazed Putul took selfies with her mother after the inauguration. Jatiya Sangsad Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury also accompanied Hasina.
Former communications minister Syed Abul Hossain, former Bridges Division secretary Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan and her ex-economic affairs adviser Mashiur Rahman were with Hasina at the programme.
The presence of the three apparently bore significance in that they were among those who were subjected to the allegation of corruption conspiracy involving the project.
Abul Hossain had to step down after the World Bank backed out of the mega project, cancelling its $1.2 billion credit as other international agencies followed suit.
Mosharraf was sent to jail in this connection and the World Bank even pointed fingers at Mashiur Rahman.
But the allegation was later found to be untrue. A Canada court in 2017 dismissed a case over bribery conspiracy linked to the Padma Bridge construction.
After the unveiling of the plaque, a motorcade took the premier to the main bridge by crossing the toll plaza. Being the first person to get on the bridge, she paid the total toll of her motorcade.
As her motorcade was slowly moving down the bridge, it stopped in the middle for an air show exhibited by an Airforce team. The PM got off from her vehicle and enjoyed the show with five choppers carrying the national flag and flags representing Bangabandhu and Hasina, the Padma Bridge and national slogan "Joy Bangla".
A number of fighter jets displayed a colourful fly-past and aerobatics show to mark the historic event. In addition, leaflets were dropped from a helicopter for the guests attending the ceremony.
The PM's motorcade drove to the Zanjira end where she unveiled another inaugural plaque before joining a public rally, organised by the ruling Awami League. Thousands of people, especially leaders and workers of AL from 21 districts, chanted slogans "Joy Bangla", "Joy Bangabandhu", reverberating the area.
The occasion was more befitting for the people of these districts who have been facing untold miseries while crossing the mighty river by ferries, launches and boats.
The primer responded to the audience by waving.
Men and women attired in colourful dresses and bearing large portraits of Bangabandhu and Hasina, placards, festoons and banners came to the rally.
The venue and its adjacent areas were decorated with festoons, placards and digital banners. Large screens were installed at different points to broadcast the rally proceedings.
A large spectacular stage was built in the style of Padma Bridge at the rally venue and a boat was floating on the water right in front of the stage.
Addressing the mammoth gathering, Hasina recalled her announcement in parliament: "Bangladesh will not sit idle, rather it will construct the Padma Bridge with self-finance" after the WB suspended its funding.
Many people had tried to create obstructions and thought it was impossible to build the Padma Bridge with own funds, she said. "But I had confidence in the power of the masses. The people of the country had come forward, which inspired me to construct the bridge."
After the inaugural ceremony was over, thousands of enthusiastic people headed to the bridge at the Mawa end to have a glimpse of the mega structure. Many of them reached the main bridge and took selfies. At one point, law enforcers pushed them back.
Rabi Babu came all the way from his Jashore home a few days ago to see the inauguration of the bridge. He stayed in his relative's home in Mawa.
"I had to endure suffering to cross the river when I arrived here in Mawa a few days back. But from now on, we will not have to face such a problem as we can cross the river using this dream bridge," said Rabi, who came with her granddaughter.
The bridge, which is expected to unlock huge economic potentials for the 21 south-western districts in particular and the nation in general, will be opened to the public today.