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Bangabandhu, the liberator
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, also known as Bangabandhu, will live forever in Bangladesh — the country he founded. One can kill a man but one cannot kill a spirit. Bangabandhu instilled in the hearts of millions, the spirit of Bengali nationalism that inspired them to fight against all odds for freedom and emancipation. Bangladesh is a sovereign and independent country today, primarily due to his bold and courageous leadership. All efforts of reactionary elements, to undermine him in the past, have failed. One cannot draw a circle without a centre nor can one write the history of Bangladesh’s independence struggle without acknowledging Bangabandhu’s pivotal role. He is at the heart of Bangladesh and will always remain there.
The emergence of Bangladesh as a sovereign and independent state is one of the remarkable developments of the 20th century. It is an epic tale of how an unarmed but determined people defeated a well-armed repressive machinery. Three million people were killed, 10 million took shelter in India, and countless others were subjected to worst forms of persecution in the hands of the occupation Army. This genocide had little parallel in history. Finally, justice and truth triumphed over injustice and falsehood.
Bangladesh’s armed struggle lasted for nine months but the movement for freedom and independence had been going on for more than two decades. It passed through various phases, movements for protecting the country’s language and ethnic identity, for the grant of autonomy on the basis of six-points, mass upsurge of 1969, elections of 1970 and finally, the glorious war of independence. Bangabandhu played a central role in all these phases. Some elaboration is needed to put Bangladesh’s movement for independence in its correct order.
Historical perspective: The Muslims of Bengal had passionately supported the Pakistan movement as they believed that the creation of a separate Muslim homeland would emancipate them from British colonial rule as well as economic domination. Unfortunately, the ruling Pakistani clique turned out to be the new exploiters which had no interest in the welfare of the Bengalis. Their only interest was to economically exploit the Bengalis who constituted majority in Pakistan and to obliterate their linguistic and cultural identity.
Soon after the creation of Pakistan, Urdu, the language of the minority in the western wing, was declared as the sole state language over Bangla — the language of the majority who lived in the eastern wing. In the historic language movement, Bangabandhu played a central role to protect Bangladesh’s mother tongue, Bangla. Bengalis are the only ones in recorded history who had laid down their lives to protect their language. Pakistani authorities had to bow down to public demand and restore Bangla’s due national status. The conspiracy, however, continued.
The Pakistani ruling clique dissolved four western Provinces and created an amalgamated west Pakistan and renamed east Bengal as east Pakistan with a strong Central Government. Bangabandhu, as the elected representative of the people to the Constituent Assembly, protested against the Pakistani design to wipe out Bangladesh’s ethnic identity. He demanded that Bengal’s ethnic identity must be respected and that a referendum or a plebiscite should be held to seek public mandate to this change of name.
Bangabandhu fought against the military regime of Ayub Khan and continued to press for grant of full autonomy to east Bengal. His historic six points demand for autonomy provided the “charter of survival” for Bengalis. The Pakistani ruling clique opposed it and even tried to intimidate Bangabandhu by starting the Agartala conspiracy case against him. He was undeterred. In the face of mass upsurge of 1969, the Ayub regime caved in and release Bangbandhu unconditionally. They invited him to a political dialogue to extract a concession from him on the question of autonomy, but he flatly refused.
On December 5, 1969, at a public meeting, Bangabandhu underlined that “there was a time when all efforts were made to erase the word Bengal from this land and map. The existence of the word Bengal was found nowhere except in the term Bay of Bengal.” He announced at that meeting that “east Pakistan” henceforth would be called “Bangladesh.” From that movement, creation of Bangladesh became the Bengalis’ cherished goal and they never look back.
Bangabandhu’s charismatic and bold leadership inspired millions and they gave him and his party, the Awami League, absolute majority at the National Assembly election in November 1970. The new Pakistani military ruler, Yahya Khan, tried to entice him with all kinds of offers, including the prime ministership of Pakistan, but he refused to betray the trust and confidence reposed in him by his people.
When Yahya postponed the national Assembly session at the behest of west Pakistani leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Bangabandhu, in his historic March 7 speech categorically told his people: “The struggle this time is the struggle for emancipation; the struggle this time is the struggle for our independence. Since we have given blood we will give more blood. God willing, the people of this country would be liberated. Turn every house into fort; face the enemy with whatever you have…. victory shall be ours. Joy Bangla!” The people responded to this clarion call wholeheartedly.
Before the occupation Army arrested him and started the genocide, Bangabandhu sent a message to the nation: “This may be my last message; from today Bangladesh is independent. I call upon you, the people of Bangladesh, wherever you might be and whatever you have, to resist the Army of occupation to the last. Your fight must go on until the last soldier of the Pakistan occupation Army is expelled from the soil of Bangladesh. Final victory is ours.” This call was carried by Reuters and was published in the international Press too.
People fought bravely against all odds and Bengalis paid the heaviest price for freedom and independence. Bangladesh was born and soon thereafter, Bangabandhu returned after nine months of captivity. Dhaka went delirious and millions were on the streets to receive him. Before landing, the British comet, which brought him from London circled for 45 minutes over the countryside, in deference to Bangabandhu’s desire to see his ‘sonar Bangla.’
As a freedom fighter diplomat posted in Washington, DC, in 1971, I recall here with deep appreciation and gratitude, the wholehearted support and cooperation that we had received from the Government and people of India during the critical period of our nationhood. The emotion bond that was established in 1971 remain a dominant factor in the country’s political, cultural and social wave and guide us in establishing close and cooperative ties with our largest neighbour, India.
Bangabandhu suffered more than anybody in the hands of Pakistanis and their cohorts and yet, in his first speech, he asked his people to exercise restraint and not to take revenge against them. If Bangabandhu had not returned, many feared that there would have been a bloodbath in Bangladesh. Alas, these reactionary forces were behind his killings three years later.
At the international level, Bangabandhu had a unique position. It is largely due to his personal appeal that nearly hundred countries, including most of the major powers, recognised Bangladesh within a few months. Again, due to his personal interceding with the Indian leadership, India withdrew its troops within three months from Bangladesh. This is an unprecedented event in contemporary history. The United Nations, even before Bangladesh was admitted as a member, set up United Nations Register of Damage (subsequently United Nations Relief Operations in Bangladesh after Bangladesh's admission) — the largest international relief and reconstruction efforts under its aegis.
On the basis of Bangabandhu’s foreign policy based on peaceful coexistence and “friendship to all and malice towards none,” Bangladesh was able to establish close and cooperative ties with all the countries of the world, and Bangladesh joined the Non-Aligned Movement, the commonwealth, the Organisation of Islamic Conference, and finally the United Nations. At his speech at the UN he announced that “peace is an imperative for the survival of mankind. It represents the deepest aspirations of men and women throughout the world. Peace to endure, however, must be based on justice.”
At home, the country was able to restore its totally devastated economic infrastructure; millions of refugees returned home from India and thousands of stranded Bangladeshis returned from Pakistan. The country adopted its first constitution providing the basic guideline of the newly independent state. The country's first five-year plan was adopted which inter alia, gave primary emphasis on education, health, agriculture, and rural development. The basic aim of the plan was to alleviate poverty and build ‘sonar Bangla.’
On August 15, 1975, Bangabandhu and members of his family were murdered. His two daughters, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, survived as they were abroad at that time. Bangabandhu may have been killed by the assassins, but his indomitable spirit still inspires his countrymen to build ‘sonab Bangla’. It is matter of great satisfaction that Bangladesh, under the dynamic leadership of his able daughter, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has made giant strides during the recent years and the country aspires to reach the middle income level status within a matter of years.
Bangladesh today is not a ‘bottomless basket’ but it is one of the fastest economy in the world. That day is not too far when Bangabandhu’s dream of ‘sonar Bangla’ will be fulfilled. Long live Bangabandhu.
A powerful orator
Excerpts from Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s March 7 speech
The March 7 speech given by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has been one of the most rousing and inspirational wartime speeches ever since. Delivered on March 7, 1971, at the Ramna Race Course Maidan in Dhaka, to a gathering of over two million people, it was given during a period of increasing tensions between east Pakistan and the powerful political and military establishment of west Pakistan. The Bengali people were inspired to prepare for a potential war of independence amid widespread reports of armed mobilisation by west Pakistan.
During the speech, Sheikh Mujib proclaimed, “Ebarer sangram amader muktir sangram, ebarer sangram swadhinatar sangram” (our struggle is for our freedom. Our struggle is for our independence). He also announced the civil
disobedience movement in the Province, calling for “every house to turn into a fortress”. The war eventually began 18 days later, when the Pakistan Army launched Operation Searchlight against Bengali civilians, intelligentsia, students, politicians and armed personnel.
He said, “My dear brothers and sister, all of your know how hard we have tried. But it is a matter of sadness that the streets of Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, Rangpur and Rajshahi are today being spattered with the blood of my brothers, and the cry we hear from the Bengali people is a cry for freedom a cry for survival, a cry for our rights.”
“You are the ones who brought about an Awami League victory so you could see a constitutional Government restored. The hope was that the elected representatives of the people, sitting in the National Assembly, would formulate a Constitution that would assure that people of their economic, political and cultural emancipation.”
“But now, with great sadness in my heart, I look back on the past 23 years of our history and see nothing but a history of the shedding of the blood of the Bengali people. Ours has been a history of continual lamentation, repeated bloodshed and innocent tears.”
“Do you, my brothers, have complete faith in me….?”
“…. Let me the tell you that the prime ministership is not what I seek. What I want is justice, the rights of the people of this land. They tempted me with the prime ministership but the failed to buy me over. Nor did the succeed in hanging me on the gallows, for your rescued me with your blood from the so-called conspiracy case.”
“The people of this land are facing elimination, so be on guard. If need be, we will bring everything to a total standstill…….”
“Since we have given blood, we will give more of it. But, Insha'Allah, we will free the people of this land! The struggle this time is for emancipation! The struggle this time is for independence!”
“Be ready. We cannot afford to lose our momentum. Keep the movement and the struggle alive because if we fall back the will come down hard upon us. Be disciplined. No nation's movement can be victorious without discipline.”
“The struggle this time is for emancipation! The struggle this time is for independence!”
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