Coming as it is from missionary secondary and higher secondary back ground of schooling I neither had the opportunity nor the inclination to indulge in student politics. Yet after joining the Dhaka University I was convinced by a very senior leftist leader of those days that when I am hungry and aren’t able to satiate my hunger would naturally give desperate cry for food. And that is politics. This impressed me and some of us were inducted in to the left leaning student politics of the Dhaka University. I distinctly recall our induction was through a book called ‘Ten Days that Shook the World’. These ten days referred to the Russian revolution of November 1917 that founded the Soviet Government under the leadership of Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov Lenin. We were so overwhelmed by all these that we took to communism as duck takes to water. There was another stream that was flowing along side the left and was to the farthest right. That stream was an admix of a few rounded off youth living on the crumbs from the prosperity’s table and were forever dreaming for the distant shore of the newly emerging affluence of the west. Those of us who were pursuing the left leaning student politics obviously were very critical of this right wing student group. At that time there was another group that pursued left of the centre politics and avoided direct confrontation with the leftists. However, rightists were despised by both. There were more reasons than one for this. Firstly, the rightists were supporting the anti Bengali regime of Ayub Khan. And, secondly, they were the local lackeys of the imperialist west that supported the war in Vietnam after being beaten hands down in Korea. In retrospect I see one problem with us, the left leaning students. To the best of my knowledge they did not take into account what the common people of Bangladesh really wanted. They were very well read and their knowledge dictated that in a certain situation people acted or should act in a given manner. That this knowledge could be vastly different from the ground realities of the society they were working in is what they were not taught to contemplate upon. What was even more devoid of reality is the fact that anybody who differed with their opinion was considered a decadent bourgeois opposed to the right of the ‘downtrodden’. To the leftists Sheikh Mujib was a representative of the bourgeois class interest. Sheikh Mujib, later to be known as Bangabondhu knew exactly what his people needed and more importantly, wanted. Therefore, we see that by the time the leftists were trying to figure out their course of action in an anti-Bengali scenario and the rightists were thinking of how to contain the rising tide of Bengali nationalism, Bangabondhu in his natural flare and dexterity took over the leadership. His undisputed leadership could not be questioned by anybody, not even the staunchest communist. He had the acumen of seeing and choosing the right issue at the right time. The six-point programme he had proclaimed in 1966 literally charted out the plan of eventual independence of Bangladesh. At the same time, it was impossible to call him a secessionist at that point. Each one of his six points spoke of redressing the discrepancies meted out to the then East Pakistan within the confines of Pakistan. The Pakistanis could not withstand such audacity and came down with a heavy hand. This conclusively proved that Sheikh Mujib’s assertion that the six-point programme on autonomy for us was indeed a very practical step. When the general elections of 1970 approached, everybody living within Bangladesh came forward to unanimously vote Awami League to power. Though the election was held within the confines of Pakistani constitution for the Pakistani parliament, we had already started getting the taste of freedom. We had seen how the people of Bangladesh acted as he dictated when the Pakistani authorities were trying to delay the process of transfer of power to the elected representatives. How he dealt with ease the insolence of the Pakistani military junta. How he, with the assistance from his able compatriots, was refusing to compromise on any issues affecting the interests of the Bangalis with the Pakistanis. I was then a young man, just out of the university, trying to build a career and had hardly any chance of knowing this illustrious Bangali. My admiration for him grew over a period of, at least, ten years. Within this time he emerged from almost a non-entity to become the undisputed leader of a nation that was languishing under the colonial dictates of Pakistan. Sheikh Mujib knew exactly how to strike a common chord with the people of our nation, the common man. I remember that when the political situation in ’71 was heating up and al means of distant communication were giving in, we went to Rangpur to bring back Sanjida Khatoon (exponent of Rabindra Sangeet) from the Carmichael College hostel where she used to teach and was stranded. On our way we stopped by in a road side tea shop. There was this very old man wearing thick glasses with stick in his hand merrily relishing his cup of tea. By and by I asked him if he had voted in the recently held election. He enthusiastically said of course he did. We asked him which party he voted for. He said Sheikh Mujib, who else? I asked him why he voted for Sheikh Mujib. What he said was quite unexpected. He said that Sheikh Mujib during his election campaign was driving in a motorcade. Thousands of people were lining up on either side of the road to have a glimpse of him. The old man was also there. When his car came near the old man the motorcade stopped. Sheikh Mujib came down from his car. Held the old man’s had and said, “Baba, please be with me”. The old man was so moved that he organized a whole host of people to consolidate the position for Sheikh Mujib. This demonstrates Bangabondhu’s far site in terms of zeroing in on people who could lead.
After his land slide victory in the election I was dying to see this most sought after legendary Bangali. I had senior friend who was quite close to Bangabondhu. He took me to the Awami League office at Purana Paltan. My friend was overtly complimentary about me. Introducing me as a promising writer and all that he put me to such a shame and I was so embarrassed that I wished I had never gone to meet this great man. Surprisingly, Bangabondhu believed it all. He told me that if he could come to power he’d introduce a dedicated department to locate all old public libraries in the country, where ever they were and restore them to their old glory. He asked me if I would be willing to join such an undertaking. I was so overwhelmed that I did not naturally have an answer. I could never imagine the would be Prime Minister of a country could treat a young brat with such importance.
Subsequently, I have had the privilege of witnessing him in a number of situations where he dealt with every situation with equal deftness. Once a friend of ours who was a junior bureaucrat had to seek permission from Bangabondhu to go abroad to pursue higher studies. A staunch believer in ultra-left politics, he thought that Bangabondhu would never put his sign of approval on his file. He left our evening adda with considerable cynicism only to return with a smiling face and predictable embarrassment. Later he told us that Bangabondhu knew all about his politics and told him that whatever his politics he must come back home and serve the country after completing his higher studies. If he did not, he would be sorted out. There are innumerable other occasions when Bangabondhu treated people well not because of their political beliefs but because of their competence. This included his strongest critics. His level of confidence in his people was astounding. He believed that his people would never let him down. Once, barely a week before he was brutally murdered together with many of his family members, a fellow cultural activist went to pay his respects to him and seeing the lax security arrangements in his house at road number 32 in Dhanmondi, cautioned him about the lack of security of the President. Bangabondhu told him, “Who would kill me, you? Do you think that to avoid my possible death I should stop you from coming to see me? If I did how can I trust any of my people?
Author : Aly Zaker