Bangabandhu’s finest hour

It is this writer’s view that the March 7th speech was Bangabandhu’s finest hour. He stood far taller than ever before and with him we too stood taller. He was always known for being a powerful speaker. But that day, 26 years ago, he outperformed himself a thousand times over, and a thousand times more empowered we felt that day. During that crucial March afternoon, and especially through the electrifying moments of the speech he stood towering above the nation, singly shouldering the burden of leading an unprepared people towards sell assertion.

However bravely we may talk today about those events so long ago, at that time we really did not know how things were to unfold. Yes, we all wanted our rights, and we wanted them right away. But how they were to come? Was freedom to come through negotiations or would it require us to wage an armed struggle? And what did we understand by armed struggle? We romanticised about it, but knew nothing of it.

Things were becoming increasingly obvious that to realise our legitimate demands we may have to seek independence. But how is one to start an independence movement? What would be the consequence of making a declaration for it? Though we all talked about it, and some may have even said so in public, yet it was for our elected leader to take us through that uncharted path. The man who should be the Prime Minister of whole of Pakistan by dint of his electoral victory had to take the right step at the right time. The critical question was when would the right time strike.

And this is where the specialty of the March 7th speech lies. It says everything without the elements that could be used to hold responsible for breaking up the legal Pakistan. For by then, the country had actually broken up in all other sense. To really appreciate the magnificence of this speech one has to understand the context in which it was delivered. Awami League had fought an election and won the majority of seats of the parliament of Pakistan. Following the results, Gen Yahya had declared that Sheikh Mujib would be the Prime Minister of Pakistan. It was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and some conniving army generals who did not want to transfer power to someone whose electoral programme was to realise the legitimate rights of the Bengali people enshrined in the now famous six points. There were lots of indications about the impending betrayal of the verdict of the December ’70 elections, yet it was not till the postponement of the session of the newly elected parliament that Bangabandhu could really give a call for an all out movement.

When the session of the parliament was postponed on March 1st, ’71, the fatal shot to the existence of united Pakistan was fired right into its chest. And it was on the night of March 25th, when Pakistani military cracked down on the civilian population of what was till then one country, that Pakistan was killed and buried. It was in the midst of this highly charged transition period — from the 1st to the 25th — when events were unfolding at a break-neck speed that Bangabandhu had to give this speech.

And here lies the beauty and the craftsmanship of this speech, which transforms it as a classic in political oratory.

The speech had to live up to the high expectation of the people who wanted their independence and yet there should be nothing in it that could give an outright excuse to the Pakistan army to start military action against the unarmed Bengali people. In fact, Tikka Khan’s band of killers would want nothing better than to be given a publicly announced excuse for a genocidal action. So Bangabandhu had to say everything, and yet not give the excuse that Pakistan military was looking for. He had to stand steadfast and yet keep open the doors for negotiations. Under no circumstances could he appear to be the one responsible for the breakdown of the talks. And yet he had to take his people forward and give them the right directions, maintain the militancy, ask them to take all the necessary preparatory steps, and clear people’s minds about the final goal. It was a political and intellectual challenge of the highest kind, and it could be tackled only by a speech of the type that Bangabandhu delivered that day.

Take for example the content of the speech. In it he gradually builds up the whole rationale for the movement that has been going on. He argues, cajoles, pleads, demands and finally warns, not to take lightly the demand of a people who have realised their strength through struggle. He talks of peace and yet gives clear signals that peace cannot come at the cost of capitulation. He talks of sacrifice, but not in terms of a helpless people who are suffering because they are weak, but in terms of a courageous and bold people who have knowingly taking upon a task which they know to be a arduous, and for which they are ready to face any consequence. There was superb cleverness in the construction of the speech by which he said all that he needed to and yet the enemy could not hold him responsible for having said anything which was illegal.

The voice in the speech is one of its most magnificent aspects. It was so bold that the whole nation could and in fact did, take strength from it. There was an unhesitant enunciation of everything that needed to be said. There was such appropriate modulation of voice that every word uttered seemed irreplaceable. Throughout it all the strength of the man came out and touched all those who heard him, drawing all close to him and making all trust and repose faith in him.

If ever a speech united, strengthened, enthused, inspired a people, and gave courage to them to become bolder and more determined than they usually are, it was Bangabandhu’s speech of March 7th, 1971. If ever one single speech became the most effective motivational weapon for a nation at war then this was it. If ever a speech of a leader became the constant companion for young freedom fighters facing an enemy known for their proficiency and ferocity and which acted to link us all in a spellbinding string of words and sounds, then this speech was so for all of us, the freedom fighters, spread throughout the nook and corner of what was then our enslaved motherland.

Author : Mahfuz Anam is Editor and Publisher, The Daily Star.

Historic 7th March and Parents of our Nation:

Today is 7th march, 2004. Exactly 33 years ago, on 7th March, 1971, the then President of Awami League, honoured with title of Bangabandhu, named Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, addressed a mammoth rally of the people of Bangladesh at Sahrawardy Uddyan in Dhaka, where he delivered the historic speech, popularly known as `Mujib’s speech of 7th March’.

I was a physical participant in that rally. Although 33 years of dust has spread on my memories, despite the bitter debate of expectations, frustrations, significance, message or contents of that speech those are being placed to the younger generation of today; for me and many more, the significant value of that speech will indeed remain, as one of the most memorable moments, till death.

To elaborate a little on the perspective and the background of the historic speech of `Bangabandhu’ delivered on 7th March of 1971, which gave the Nation the definite direction to prepare for an armed struggle against the then ruling Pak Military Junta, is undeniable. The words of the greatest orator, whom I heard on my own live being present at Sahrawardy Uddyan, shall stay in my life ringing in my years. “Build fortresses in every of your homesteads”, “Whatever whom possesses take up those to face the enemy”, because, “Henceforth the struggle is our struggle for liberation, and henceforth the struggle is struggle for independence”.

Western journalists present on that day at the historic rally termed the orator as, “The Poet of Politics”. No doubt that was poetry, and the poetry that evolved through long and bitter struggle of the orator and the people of our motherland from 1952 to 1971, long 19 years, in which the orator of that day had always been one of the most remarkable protagonist.

To make that long history of 19 years short. All that started in 1952, the historic Language Movement marking at present the accredited `International Mother Language day’, the 21st February, the pride of our Nation which we presented to the Peoples’ of the World earned by ourselves through the movement and the sacrifice of blood of proud sons of our soil. That movement to establish the right of the Mother Tongue, evolved further-on through the cultural movement of the National self identity, the movement against the autocratic education policy in 1962, the six point demand of Mujibur against economic disparity in 1966 that put him and a host of national leaders to prison; the 11 point movement against the national repression of autocratic rule of Field Marshall Ayub Khan achieving through mass upsurge, release of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and others from prison, fall of the dictator, the acknowledgment of the demand of adult franchise by the new dictator Yahya Khan, then the victory of Awami League securing majority of the seats in the Parliament of Pakistan in 1970, and then came the historic moment in March 1971 bringing the people of erstwhile East Pakistan face to face with the Military Junta of Pakistan those denied to handover power to the elected representatives of the people.

So, in March 1971, the leader of the nation declared all out non- violent, non –cooperation movement against the Pak Military Junta, and that was the perspective in which the speech of the 7th March was delivered.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was elected leader of the People of the country, emerged through the national election in Pakistan held under adult franchise, the right given through the Legal Frame-work Order promulgated by General Yahya Khan the then Military dictator of Pakistan. Therefore, side by side while giving the clarion call to the people to prepare for armed struggle, in his speech he also pressed the demands in re-enforced language to hand over power to the elected representatives of the people of Pakistan to form a civilian Government with army returned to the barracks.

This very later part of Mujib’s speech of that day became the root of all controversies, raised by the eager aspirators for launching the armed struggle following declaration of independence in advance; similarly, the anti-independence and anti-liberation elements in disguise with the end to undermine the role of Mujibur, even cursed him as traitor, because of the killing and suffering that fell upon the nation when Pak Army cracked down upon the unarmed civilians, Bengali members of Police & Army while they were totally unprepared for waging the fight for resistance and hence the one sided onslaught and genocide continued for few months till the resistance started to take shape.

However, on the same fateful night of 25th March, 1971, Pak Army captured Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from his residence and shifted him to a prison in the then West Pakistan, where he faced the trial against charges of treason brought against him by the then rulers of Pakistan.

Though it was initially delayed but in a month or so, armed resistance got organised and built up with strength of a forceful guerilla warfare by the freedom fighters constituting the members of the Army, Police, Para Military Forces, students, youths, members of intelligentsia, peasants, workers, professionals, from almost all walks of the nation. Nine months guerilla warfare followed by face to face battle waged by the joint liberation forces, as a result of sacrifice of three million martyrs, the Pak army surrendered in the afternoon of 16th December, 1971, giving the first taste of victory to the Bengalee Nation after centuries of foreign dominations.

Shahajahan Siraj M. P.; in 1971 who was leader of Students League the student wing of Awami League, but at present member of BNP and Minister for Environment of the current ruling alliance of Bangladesh, while talking in a discussion telecast of Channel-I titled `Third Dimension’ informed that, the underground movement led by Serajul Alam Khan organized under the name of `Bangladesh Liberation Force’ was already preparing for declaration and subsequent armed struggle for independence much ahead of 1971 or much ahead of Mujib’s, in his word, the `obscure’ call for preparation of armed struggle for independence made on 7th March 1971, which had been then already exposed and demonstrated at Paltan Maidan on 3rd March, 1971 staging militant march past, presentation of the new flag of independent Bangladesh as well as declaration of Manifesto of independent Bangladesh read out by him at the Bot-tala of Dhaka University.

The leadership of BNP goes further in claiming that the declaration of independence was made by Major Ziaur Rahman in Chittagong on 27th March, 1971, at a time when there was no sense of direction available from the National leaders, and when already the Pak Army had cracked down on 25th March, 1971 undertaking the operation of crushing down the movement, which was the definite chromosome of armed resistance against the Pak Army for the liberation and independence of Bangladesh.

Notwithstanding, all those claims and counter claims, the fact remains that, in 1967 the Pak Government of Ayub Khan arrested Sheikh Mujibur Rahman including few of the then officers of civil, army and navy services, framing charges against them for treason and hatching conspiracy to bring about independent Bangladesh alleged to have been masterminded by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman meeting at Agartala, which was widely known later as the alleged, `Agartala Conspiracy Case’. But the case lost its ground with the fall of Ayub Khan in the wake of mass upsurge in 1969, which was led by united front of the students of Dhaka University that claimed sacrifices of many martyrs including that of Sergeant Jahurul Haque, the names of those innumerous martyrs which the nation will always remember, including the unforgettable fiery speeches of Maulana Bhashani, those aroused the nation to challenge the dictatorial regime against the alleged charges of treason brought against Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and others.

Notwithstanding all those claims and counter claims, the fact remains that, Awami League under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman earned the confidence of the people expressed through the results of the national election held in Pakistan under the rule of Yahya Khan in 1970, which gave Sheikh Mujibur Rahman the legitimacy to lead the nation to preserve political democracy and to earn economic parity for the people of the then East Pakistan, and which shocked the seat of the power of the military junta of Pakistan, because they knew that, this was the same Sheikh whom they wanted to try for treason in 1969 but failed, so how they could dream to hand over Prime Ministership of Pakistan and handover power to him peacefully.

Notwithstanding all those claims and counter claims, the fact remains that, the pragmatism of the words so chosen and delivered by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in his speech on 7th March, 1971, and then the crackdown of the Pak army on the civilian population on 25th March, 1971, established beyond any doubt the legitimacy of the people of Bangladesh to declare and wage the war of independence, and hence could earn support and acknowledgment in favour of that from the international community, while the attempt to try the national leaders for treason and to justify the crackdown on the civilians by the Pak Military Junta could get no ground at all.

The pragmatism mixed with uncompromising characteristics of the leadership which brought Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the centre of the genesis of the independence of Bangladesh, when other national leaders like Maulana Bhashani or Professor Muzaffar Ahmed were also very much present and active in the movement for independent Bangladesh, could not be ignored just because of other centers of efforts not to be undermined even, because those had been the essential features and components which normally constitutes the unity of the people’s war, albeit the centre of political leadership could not be shifted but from him upon whom the ultimate confidence of the people was vested.

The role of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman before 10th January 1972 the date on which he returned to independent Bangladesh from the prisons of Pakistan, and the role of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman that was witnessed after the date of 10th January 1972, should be evaluated separately in the premises of two different perspectives. The attempt of taking over the results of one by the evaluation of the other part is disastrous for our nation, because in the former part lies the perception and spirit of the liberation and independence of Bangladesh, and in the later rests the perception of effort of reconstituting the unity of independent Bangladeshis divided due to their diverse background of socio-cultural-political-economical perceptions and interest from which his own party could not even become an exception.

Hence the effort to put to measure the failure, lapses and successes in the balance of the weighing machine, the legacy of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of his 23 years of bravery and sacrifices of enduring the repression of the successive Pakistani rulers and the pragmatic but uncompromising leadership which he gave to the nation for the liberation and independence of Bangladesh; with that of three and half years of Prime Ministership of independent Bangladesh, is an attempt so malicious which can be tried only by them who are either confused or motivated in favour of the enemies of independent Bangladesh. The persons who vie for that, undoubtedly their ultimate objective is to malign the true history, perception and spirit of the liberation and independence of Bangladesh.


Covering Bangabandhu’s 7 March speech

Only a few reporters get the rare opportunity of covering a historic event that reshapes history and leads a nation towards freedom and I am proud of being one of them. Because, I had the privilege of covering the 7 March address of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the then Race Course Ground in 1971.

Long 40 years have elapsed since 7 March 1971, but the whole scenario including the mammoth gathering of freedom loving people and the epoch-making address by the Bangabandhu, the poet of politics, are still fresh in my mind. I consider it as the most glorious success of my life as a journalist that I had the opportunity to cover Bangabandhu’s 7 March address which is compared by many with the Gettysburg address of Abraham Linkon.

I was then a senior staff reporter of the daily Ittefaq, attached to Bangabandhu for covering the political developments. As usual I was assigned to cover the 7 March speech of Bangabndhu. Much before his address was delivered, the whole Race Course, now Suhrawardy Udyan turned into a human sea. I still wonder, how about one million people of all ages and from all parts of the country, many carrying ‘lathis and baithas’ in hands and all chanting thunderous slogans of ‘Joy Bangla,’ and ‘Joy Bangabandhu’ had gathered in the Race Course Ground that day. It seemed to us that only a small number of people of Dhaka, then a small city, stayed back in their homes that day.

The historic rally at Race Course Ground was held in the backdrop of a volatile political situation. Awami League led by Bangabandhu won a landslide victory in the December polls to the Pakistan National Assembly. But soon it became clear that the military rulers led by General Yahya Khan and beefed up by Z. A. Bhutto were unwilling to transfer power. Yahya had convened the opening session of National Assembly in Dhaka on 3 March 1971. But in a sudden radio broadcast on 1 March he postponed the scheduled Assembly session sparking the eruption of vehement public protests across Bangladesh against his decision.

Amid angry slogans by people on the streets for independence, Bangabandhu gave a call for launching people’s movement. Students on 2 March hoisted the first flag of Independent Bangladesh on the Dhaka University campus. On the following day, Swadhin Bangla Chhatra Sangram Parishad read out the Manifesto of Independence at a Paltan meeting.

Then amid continued hartal and movement on the streets came the unforgettable 7 March 1971. I had the opportunity to cover about 150 public meetings of Bangabandhu across the country before and after the 1970 elections. But never before I had seen Bangabandhu in such a revolutionary appearance as on 7 March. In my opinion history allows a great leader to appear in such revolutionary image and with such decisive address only once in a lifetime. And for Bangabandhu the day was 7 March and the address was the one delivered on that day.

Bangabandhu in his address narrated the stories of deprivation of and repression on the People of Bangladesh and urged the people to turn every house into a fort and get ready with whatever is available to fight the enemy. He vowed, “As we have shed blood, we would give more blood, but must we liberate the people of Bangladesh”. As the elected leader of 75 million people Bangabandhu declared amid thunderous applauses of the people, “The struggle this time is for emancipation, the struggle this time is for liberation”.

Bangabandhu in his address tactfully stopped short of making unilateral declaration of independence in order to avert a possible massacre of the people starting from Race Course that very day. He took time and left the avenue open for eventual ‘talks’ only on strategic ground. This showed another aspect of Bangabandhu’s prudence, political sagacity and love for his people.

Bangabandhu’s 7 March address gave the nation the guideline for armed struggle for liberation. And from that point of view 7 March address was the informal declaration of independence which was given the final shape by him in the early hours of 26 March, 1971.

Author : Amir Hossain,. The writer is a Joint Editor, daily sun.

A short speech with a long and deep meaning

A short speech with a long and deep meaning

Lord Brabazon (1910-1974), British Conservative politician, once made the remark: “I take the view, .. that if you cannot say what you have to say in twenty minutes, you should go away and write a book about it”. It so happened that Bangabandhu, in his historic 7 March speech, said all he had to say in exactly 19 minutes; and he took less than one minute of Lord Brabazon’s prescribed time-slot for a perfect speech. Nevertheless, this was Bangabandhu’s finest speech under the most trying of the circumstances. This was also the most decisive speech this nation has ever heard; it decided, or to be more specific, indicated the future course of the nation at a time when such a decision/indication was critically important. This speech also marked a discernible transition in the political career of the speaker himself–– he graduated from a populist leader to a statesman. A political leader sees the present in the context of the past, but statesman, besides being aware of the pre-sent, also envisions the future for his people. We as a nation were given the right future direction by this speech at a time when we had been gripped by uncertainty as to our future. We heard what we wanted in a way that pleased us but did not provoke the adversary to immediately go for action against us. It seemed an impending disaster was averted strategically by this speech; and herein lay the master-stroke of statesmanship of the speaker.

What were the contents of the speech that had so many such messages, both apparent and underlying? The speech had two broad parts. The first part was exclusively for the Pakistani rulers; and the second as well as more meaningful one was entirely for us. As it was, the first part prefaced the second purely as a political stratagem.

As the speech was delivered against the gloomy background of a political stand-off, the first part laid out conditionalities for resolving the same. The conditionalities included inter alia trial of the killers, taking the army back to barrack and handing over power to the elected representatives, etc. It does not need any iota of imagination to suggest that Bangabandhu did not believe that these conditionalities would be met and the crisis resolved. The sole purpose of setting these conditionalities was to get across the message of sincerity on the part of Bangabandhu.

As Bangabandhu knew deep down in his heart any political accommodation with the Pakistani ruling junta was an impossibility; the course available for his people was to wrest independence through an armed struggle; and for which, his indications were aplenty. The message and indication were contained in the staccato sentence: “The struggle this time is for our liberation, the struggle this time is for independence”. The sentence immediately preceding this one had the assertion: “We shall liberate the people of Bengal, InshaAllah”. It is worth noting that the word ‘liberation’ was used twice; and ‘independence’ once; and the clearest message was that as independence was what we desired, more important was the aspiration for total liberation. Indeed, independence is a micro-concept, while liberation a macro one. The experience-hardened politician Bangabandhu appeared to have juxtaposed these words consciously and knowing full well the difference in connotation between these two words. At the time-distance of nearly four plus decades since this speech was delivered we squarely face the disturbing reality that, Bangladesh, although independent, is yet to be properly liberated from the constraints that stunt our full development as proper human beings.

The speech not only set the goal of the armed struggle for independence, the strategy for which was also clearly laid out–– it was to be a people’s war to be fought through guerilla strategy; and people were exhorted to turn their homes into fortresses where they would to ready themselves with whatever weapons they could gather. Bangabandhu, at one stage of this speech exuded confidence as he roared: “None can now keep down the people of Bengal”. Indeed, the armed struggle that ensued shortly demonstrated how the people of Bengal fought an unequal people’s war and emerged victorious. More than that, the war was fought exactly as what the speech had indicated. Again, as he shared his hunch and said: “Even if I cannot command you, be ready with whatever you have”. As it was, he had to spend the entire duration of the Liberation War in the Pakistani captivity, but his people did prove that they had the correct understanding of this message.

An opinion goes around that Bangabandhu was expected to declare independence outright on that day, but he did not. Was it so? A little in-depth reading of the core message of the speech is in order. True, it was not an outright declaration, but it was a clear indication of independence short of declaration. As an astute and experienced politician he knew that the unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) was contrary to the principles of international law. Moreover, such a declaration at that time would have put us against the will of the international community. On the contrary, as things turned out, when we started the Liberation War by resisting the crackdown by the Pakistani army, code-named “Operation Searchlight”, we had the blessing of the world public opinion. Above all, an outright declaration on that day would have resulted in massacre and bloodshed on the spot thereby ending our hopes and aspirations.

It was Shakespeare who put in the mouth of Julius Caeser the dialogue: “To stir men’s blood; I only speak right on”. Yes, as Bangabandhu finished his speech and departed we the members of the audience truly felt the blood flowing in our veins had been stirred by this speech.

Author : Prof. Dr Syed Anwar Husain is the Editor of daily sun.

Bangabandhu’s March 7 speech a framework of Independence

Historic 7th March and Parents of our Nation

Political critics and senior opposition leaders described Bangabandhu’s March 7 address a very “matured statement” with some of them calling it the “framework” of independence 41 years ago.

“It was a crucial statement at a crucial moment of the nation . . . He (Bangabandhu) had given the framework of our great independence through this address,” BNP’s standing committee member, highest decision making body, and former army chief Lt. Gen. (retd) Mahbubur Rahman told BSS as approached for his analysis of the speech.

He added that the “brief” address was “appropriate” for that time as it “largely fulfilled” peoples expectation at that time and it inspired the people to join the war for independence.

Rahman described the address as an “unforgettable” speech as he recalled that he listened to it on BBC Radio as he was posted in West Pakistan at that time being an army officer.

“He (Bangabandhu) depicted the picture of disparity towards the then East Pakistan by the Pakistani rulers and called for the war of independence in his address in his own way,” said Rahman, who was stranded in Pakistan in 1971.

His comments came as BSS approached a number of opposition leaders for their impersonal views of the historic address being non-Awami Leaguers.

Talking to BSS earlier Liberation War veteran and BNP vice president retired major Hafizuddin Ahmed said Bangabandhu’s March 7 address was the “most matured statement” as several of his party colleagues and politicians of other parties echoed him in analysing the historic speech.

“As a matured leader he rightly gave the appropriate message in his address at that moment . . . he gave all the signals in appropriate manner,” Ahmed said.

He said the proclamation of independence on that day in 1971 from that public rally could have proved counterproductive portraying the Bangladesh’s armed resistance against Pakistani troops as “secessionist movement, instead of independence war”.

He also argued that the students or other such radical elements could have done many things whimsically which “he (Bangabandhu) could not do as the top leader with huge responsibilities”.

Ahmed also rejected criticisms by a section of critics who disapproved Bangabandhu’s staying home at his Dhanmandi residence on March 25 black night when he was arrested by the Pakistani troops.

BNP leader Shahjahan Siraj, who played a crucial role in organising the student movements and the Liberation War in 1971, said “the brief address of Bangabandhu on that day contained a comprehensive guideline for the freedom of Bengalis from the clutches of Pakistan”.

“It was the actual reflection of the hopes and aspirations of Bengalis in true perspective at that time,” Siraj said.

Retired colonel Oli Ahmed, currently the chief of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), said “the March 7 speech was very crucial for taking the Bengali officers and soldiers to revolt against Pakistan”.

“For justified reasons, Bangabandhu could not openly call for independence in his speech, but it carried the directives for a total armed struggle . . . In line with the directives we staged the revolt at Eighth Bengal in Chittagong Cantonment under late president Ziaur Rahman,” said Ahmed, one of the founding leaders of BNP.