Bangabandhu’s finest hour . . .

IT was his finest hour. As Bangaban-dhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman rose to speak before the million people gathered at the Race Course in Dhaka, indeed before the seventy five million people of Bangladesh on March 7, 1971, something of the electric was in the air. Over the preceding few days, reports and rumours had been making the rounds about an impending declaration of independence by the man whose party, the Awami League, had secured a clear majority of seats (167 out of a total of 313) in Pakistan’s national assembly at the general elections of December 1970.

What should have been a journey to power as Pakistan’s prime minister on Mujib’s part had by early March 1971 been transformed into a movement for Pakistan’s eastern province to prise itself out of the state created through the division of India in 1947. The reasons were all out there. They had to do with the intrigues which had already been set in motion to thwart the assumption of power at the centre by the Awami League.

In the event, the speech Bangabandhu delivered at the Race Course served the very crucial purpose of bringing home the truth that Bangladesh was on its way to political freedom. At an intellectual level, the speech was a masterpiece. Within its parameters, Mujib deftly negotiated his way out of a bind, one in which he had found himself since President Yahya Khan had injudiciously deferred the scheduled March 3 meeting of the new national assembly in a broadcast on the first day of the month. Almost immediately, the fiery student leaders allied to the Awami League cause moved miles ahead to demand that Mujib declare Bangladesh free of Pakistan.

Over the next few days, such demands began to be echoed in other areas, eventually persuading everyone that the Bengali leader was actually about to give in to the pressure for an independence declaration. His rejection of an invitation to a round table conference called by General Yahya Khan for March 10 was seen as evidence of his intended action. Besides, there had been no perceptible move by him to restrain the students of Dhaka University when they decided to hoist the flag of what they believed would be an independent Bangladesh.

And yet those who stayed in touch with Bangabandhu, or watched the way he handled the situation in those tumultuous times, knew of the difficulties he had been pushed into. Caught between a rock and a hard place, he needed to find an acceptable, dignified way out of the crisis. On the one hand, a unilateral declaration of independence would leave him facing the charge of secessionism not only from the Pakistan authorities but also from nations around the world. He knew that as the leader of the majority party, he could not have his reputation destroyed in such cavalier manner. There were before him the poor instances of Rhodesia’s Ian Smith and Biafra’s Odumegwu Ojukwu, images he was not enthused by. Besides, any UDI would swiftly invite the retribution of the Pakistan military, at that point steadily reinforcing itself in East Pakistan.

On the other hand, Mujib realised that as undisputed spokesman of the Bengalis he was expected to provide his people with a sense of direction, one that would reassure them about the future. A recurring image is of Bangabandhu taking slow, ponderous steps as he went up to the dais on that March afternoon. It was the picture of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. There is every reason to believe that he was still shaping his ideas, those he would soon give expression to before that crowd of expectant Bengalis.

And then he began to speak, in oratory that was to prove once more the reality of why he had over the years scaled the heights in the politics of Bengal, of Pakistan. In that one speech he painted the entire history of why Pakistan had failed as a state. Even as he did so, he laid out his arguments in defence of what the Bengali nation needed to do. He mocked the conspiracies then afoot to deprive Bengalis of political power. With prescience, he told his people that even if he were not around, not amidst them, they should move on to protect the land, its history, from those who would trifle with it. Every moment bubbled with excitement. Bangabandhu soared, and we with him, as he defined our path to the future. The man who only minutes earlier had seemed wracked by deep worry now offered us a clear path out of the woods and into a very bright blue yonder.

“The struggle this time is the struggle for our emancipation. The struggle this time is for independence,” declaimed Bangabandhu. We cheered. We whooped for joy. We knew that he had not declared independence, but we were made aware that he had set us on the path to freedom. He had refused to be a secessionist; and he had abjured all ideas of a UDI. He had told us, in precise, unambiguous terms, that liberation was down the road, that it was a mere matter of time. We were content. As we went back home, with loud refrains of Joi Bangla around us and in our souls, we told ourselves that life for us had changed forever.

On March 7, 1971, Bangabandhu gave us reason to believe in ourselves once again. Because of him, we remembered our heritage. Because of him, we were Bengalis again. And because of him, we reached out to one another, to the world outside the one we inhabited, to build our own brave new world.

Author : Syed Badrul Ahsan, The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star. E-mail: bahsantareq@yahoo.co.uk

Bangabandhu stands tall like the Himalayas

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He struggled hard and made great sacrifices to rise to fame and become the Father of the Nation of the newly created state of Bangladesh in 1971. The story of his life, the triumphs and the tragedies thus intermingle with that of the creation of Bangladesh.

As he grew up from childhood, he saw the tribulations of the poor in rural Bengal, the horror of World War II, the dying faces of millions of Bengalis during the famine of 1943, the sectarian riots in Kolkata and the creation of Pakistan in 1947 with its two parts, East Pakistan (formerly East Bengal) and West Pakistan, 1,200 miles apart and having nothing in common except religion. These events greatly influenced his thoughts and ideas in his early life and inspired him to champion the causes of the ordinary people.

Sheikh Mujib got involved in politics while studying at Islamia College (now Maulana Azad College) in Kolkata. After the partition of India, he came to Dhaka and enrolled as a student of law at the University of Dhaka. He could not complete the course as he was expelled for his support for the strike of class IV employees of the university in 1949. Interestingly enough, the order of expulsion was withdrawn last June, more than six decades later, by the University of Dhaka.

In 1948, Sheikh Mujib founded the Students’ League that gave him his first political platform. When the Awami League (AL) was formed by Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani in 1949, he became its joint secretary. Sheikh Mujib took a leading role in the historic language movement. He was put behind the bar several times for his involvement in the language movement and other political activities.

Sheikh Mujib soon came to limelight for his superb oratory and charismatic leadership. In 1953, he became the general secretary of the Awami League. A year later, he was elected a member of the East Bengal Legislative Assembly. He served as a minister of the provincial government of East Bengal twice for brief periods. He was a member of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan from 1955 till 1958 when Ayub Khan imposed martial law and installed himself as the president of Pakistan. Sheikh Mujib was arrested for his opposition to the military rule. After his release, he supported Fatima Jinnah against Ayub Khan in the presidential election of 1964.

Sheikh Mujib became the president of the Awami League in 1966. Being inspired by Bengali nationalism, he realised that time had come to fight for the political rights and economic emancipation of East Bengal. He put forward his historic 6-point demands in 1966 to make East Bengal a fully autonomous province. His six-point movement was, in reality, the first step in a political process to achieve the independence of East Bengal. Ayub Khan realised this and put him and other AL leaders behind the bar.

Ayub Khan brought charges of sedition against Sheikh Mujib and others in what is known as the Agartala Conspiracy case. During the trial, there was a huge uprising by the people of East Bengal in favour of Sheikh Mujib. Ultimately, he was freed from prison. The people of East Bengal bestowed on him the title of Bangabandhu, the friend of Bengal.

The political upheaval soon engulfed the whole of Pakistan. Ayub Khan was subsequently toppled and replaced by Yahya Khan, another West Pakistani military dictator. Yahya Khan held a general election in 1970 but was shocked by the result. Bangabandhu’s Awami League obtained an absolute majority in the Pakistan National Assembly.

Yahya Khan refused to transfer power to Bangabandhu and postponed the first scheduled session of the National Assembly on March 1, 1971. The Bengalis revolted against this postponement. Many Bengalis were killed when Yahya Khan tried to suppress the agitation by force.

Bangabandhu called a public meeting at the Ramna Race Course (now Suhrawardy Uddyan) on March 7, 1971 and declared: “The struggle this time is for our freedom; the struggle this time is for independence. Joy Bangla (Victory to Bangladesh).” Implicitly, it was a declaration of independence. His speech of March 7 was a rare example of superb oratory that transformed a sleeping nation into a fighting force. He called for a peaceful non-cooperation movement. All civilian government offices in Bangladesh started to operate under his instructions. Bangabandhu thus became the de facto ruler of Bangladesh.

Yahya Khan came to Dhaka apparently to negotiate with Bangabandhu. He cooperated with Yahya Khan in order to find a political solution to the crisis. Yahya Khan deceived him and secretly left Dhaka on March 25, allowing the army to crack down on the Bengalis. The Pakistan army soon started to kill unarmed Bengalis indiscriminately. The Bengalis in the armed forces, police and para-military forces together with civilian volunteers revolted against the Pakistan army.

Bangabandhu was left with only one option. During the early hours of March 26, 1971, he declared the independence of Bangladesh. He was immediately arrested and flown to Pakistan.

The rest of the leaders of the Awami League, including the elected members of the National Assembly and the provincial Legislative Assembly, fled to India and formed the Government of Bangladesh in exile on April 10, 1971. The new government with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as president, Syed Nazrul Islam as acting president in absence of Bangabandhu and Tajuddin Ahmed as prime minister took oath on April 17, 1971 at Mujibnagar in Bangladesh.

Tajuddin Ahmed formed the armed wing of the government in exile, known as the Mukti Bahini (Freedom Fighters). With assistance from the Indian army, they fought a guerilla type war, in the name of Bangabandhu, against the Pakistan army. During the war, three million Bengalis were martyred, two hundred thousand women lost their honour and ten million Bengalis took shelter in India as refugees.

Finally on Decenber 16, 1971, the Pakistan army surrendered to the joint command of the Mukti Bahini and the Indian army. Bangladesh thus emerged as an independent state in less than nine months after the declaration of independence. The government in exile returned to Dhaka and took over the administration of Bangladesh.

Under international pressure, Bangabandhu was released from Pakistani custody. He returned to Bangladesh triumphantly on January 10, 1972. He formed a new government with himself as the prime minister on January 12. He successfully rehabilitated ten million refugees who returned to Bangladesh and re-built the infrastructures damaged during the war.

On Bangabandhu’s request, Indira Gandhi withdrew all her armed forces from Bangladesh by March, 1972. The withdrawal of the Indian forces soon after the surrender of the Pakistan army was a triumph for Bangabandhu’s diplomacy and a display of great statesmanship on the part of Indira Gandhi. Bangladesh adopted a new constitution, based on the British parliamentary system of democracy. It came into effect on December 16, 1972, the first anniversary of the Victory Day.

It is the greatest tragedy in our history that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, to whom we owe so much for the independence of Bangladesh, was brutally killed along with other members of his family on August 15, 1975. Some misguided army personnel were involved in the gruesome killings.

Bangabandhu had a heart large enough to love and shower affection on all whom he knew. I had the honour of personally knowing Bangabandhu through my brother Abdul Momin, a former minister in Bangabandhu’s cabinet. Bangabandhu treated me with extreme kindness and affection every time I met him.

Bangabandhu had great respect for men of letters. I recall with pleasure his visit to my house in Karachi in August, 1969 along with other Awami League leaders. Prof. Abdul Matin Chowdhury, who later became the vice-chancellor of the University of Dhaka, and a few of my friends were present on the occasion. Bangabandhu sat beside Prof. Chowdhury, addressed him as “Sir” and treated him with great respect and courtesy, even though Prof. Chowdhury was not his teacher.

At one stage Bangabandhu came to my bedroom to see my five-month old daughter, Usha. He spent quite some time with her, fondling her and pushing her swing. This is just one example of Bangabandhu’s love for children. No wonder Bangabandhu’s birthday is celebrated as the National Children’s Day in Bangladesh.

The best compliment to Bangabandhu was perhaps paid by Fidel Castro of Cuba at the Non-Aligned Summit in Algiers in 1973. Embracing Bangabandhu he remarked: “I have not seen the Himalayas. But I have seen Sheikh Mujib. In personality and in courage, this man is the Himalayas. I have thus had the experience of witnessing the Himalayas.”

Alive or not, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman indeed stands tall like the Himalayas along with other great world leaders who created history.

Author : Abdul Matin, The writer is a former chief engineer of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission.

Hopes lost with death of Bangabandhu

About to step into the 41st year of the country’s independence, “Birangonas” (war heroines) are yet to be properly recognised and paid the due honour and respect for their sacrifices, said speakers at a programme yesterday.

Though Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took a step for the rehabilitation of Birangonas, all activities stalled after his death on August 15, 1975, they added.

The programme was organised by Sammilita Sangskritik Jote at Liberation War Museum in the city to present 21 Birangonas from Sirajganj with clothes and financial assistance to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr from a fund of the film Guerrilla.

Talking to this correspondent, these Birangonas spoke of their suffering and ordeals through the years. Most of them said neither their family members nor the society takes care of them rather they are bound to work as domestic helps for a living.

“We were given all-out assistance from the state during the Sheikh Mujib government, but it is our bad luck that he was murdered and we were deprived of all assistance from the state,” said Rahima Khatun, a war heroine.

With tears rolling down her eyes, another war heroine Shamsun Nahar said, “People of our village, even my own sons, have no respect for me and do not take care of me. Sometimes I think it was better to die.

“Our greatest grief is that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, being the daughter of Sheikh Mujib, does not take care of us.

“We always think she will take pity on us and take steps so that we can live with our heads held up high, but nothing happens.”

The country’s constitution too has not acknowledged these Birangonas though many freedom fighters are receiving benefits from the state, said the speakers.

“The government does not acknowledge us for our sacrifice,” said Rahima.

“We want the government to give constitutional recognition to Birangonas and provide them state allowance regularly like that to freedom fighters,” said the jote President Nasiruddin Yusuf.

Sirajganj Uttaran Mahila Sangstha Director Shafina Lohani, working for the state recognition of these Birangonas for the last 31 years, said neither the government nor Muktijoddha Sangsad took any steps for Birangonas.

Arif Hasan, Golam Kuddus, TV actress Joya Ahsan and Esha Yusuf were present at the programme.

Source : Daily Star

As we remember Bangabandhu …

As we remember Bangabandhu …
Let us build on his legacy

Remembering Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is fundamentally a recalling of some of the most glorious moments in the history of Bangladesh. For it was under his leadership and on his watch that we waged a long, tortuous struggle for democratic rights and national liberty. It was through his inspiration that this nation emerged into freedom and took its place on the global stage. In Bangabandhu was personified the most articulate spokesperson of Bengali aspirations, the most visible and vibrant face this nation could present to the world.

As we observe National Mourning Day, we remember with profound distress the calamity which befell us on this day in 1975 when a sinister alliance of conspiracy and darkness put an end to the lives of the Father of the Nation and nearly his entire family. If the attainment of liberty under Bangabandhu’s leadership was our finest moment, his assassination and all that followed in the immediate aftermath of it were our darkest hour. Bangabandhu’s murder was to set off a chain of tragedy — of coups, counter-coups, murder and intrigue — which was to keep this nation shackled to instability and uncertainty for years. It was not until measures were initiated against his murderers, not until the wheel of justice began to turn slowly and yet surely, that we rested easy.

This morning, it must be for us to recall the spirited, long struggle Bangabandhu waged in our name and try understanding the nature of that struggle in our interest and in the interest of generations to come. Bangabandhu’s ideal was the shaping of Shonar Bangla, Golden Bengal, where his people would weave a rainbow pattern of dreams to live by. His faith in his people never wavered, as our conviction in the strength of his leadership was never shaken. He envisaged smiles on the faces of his countrymen; he envisioned a society where collectively we could put the forces of exploitation to flight and reclaim our country for ourselves.

Our best tribute to Bangabandhu will be to recall his dream of a democratic, secular and economically viable Bangladesh and translate it into reality. That is how we can uphold his legacy, for all time.

Bangabandhu dreamt of secular Bangladesh

Speakers at a meeting yesterday recalled Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with deep gratitude for his relentless efforts to turn South Asian region into a model of secularism.

“Bangabandhu wanted to establish peace across the world using humanity, tolerance, and beauty of Islam,” said Vice Chancellor of Dhaka University Prof Dr AAMS Arefin Siddique.

Addressing the discussion as the chief guest, he said establishment of Islamic Foundation in the war-ravaged Bangladesh amply proved love and passion of Bangabandhu, the architect of modern Bangladesh, for Islam, a religion of peace and harmony.

Islamic Foundation organised the view-exchange meeting on “Contribution of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman for Spreading Islam” at the Jatiya Press Club in the city.

Chaired by Director General of Islamic Foundation Shamim Mohammad Afzal, the meeting was addressed, among others, by eminent journalist ABM Musa, Advisory Editor of the Daily Ittefaq and Chairman of Press Institute of Bangladesh (PIB) Habibur Rahman Milon, and President of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ) Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury and Secretary General Abdul Jalil Bhuiyan also took part in the discussion.

Joint Secretary General of BFUJ and special correspondent of the Daily Amader Samoy Saiful Islam Talukder presented the keynote paper in the function.

Recalling his personal relation with Bangabandhu, journalist ABM Musa said it was Bangabandhu who bought a ship “Hizbul Bahar” to carry the hajj pilgrims soon after the country’s independence. But, he regretted that the ship was later used for smuggling, taking liquors and pleasure trips.

Journalist Habibur Rahman Milon,BFUJ President Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury and Secretary General Abdul Jalil Bhuiyan also spoke.

Source : BSS