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.

The untruths around Bangabandhu

A retired deputy head of the BBC’s Bengali Service last week gave a new twist to Bangladesh’s history through a letter to The Guardian newspaper in London. He was responding to an article by Ian Jack on Bangladesh, which article we will, if we so wish, deal with later. At this point, note what this Bengali gentleman had to say about Bangabandhu’s arrival in London on January 8, 1972 following his release from Pakistani detention by the government of President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

On his arrival at Heathrow, said this long-time BBC broadcaster, Bangladesh’s founding father was received by Apa Panth, the Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. When Panth addressed Bangabandhu as “His Excellency,” Sheikh Mujibur Rahman appeared surprised. To all intents and purposes, he had thought that he had been freed by the Pakistan government after full regional autonomy had been granted to East Pakistan. He had absolutely no idea, implied the veteran broadcaster, that Bangladesh had become a free country. And that was not all. This journalist also peddled the untruth that he was the first Bengali to meet Bangabandhu once the latter had checked in at London’s Claridge’s Hotel.

That letter in The Guardian is proof once again of the persistence with which Bangabandhu’s detractors –and sometimes his followers — have been trying to undermine his place in history through their imaginary tales and concocted stories. Let the record of Bangabandhu’s arrival in London in January 1972 be set straight.

At Heathrow, the Father of the Nation, accompanied by his constitutional advisor Kamal Hossain and Hossain’s family, was received by John Sutherland, a senior official at Britain’s Foreign Office. Also on hand was the senior-most Bengali diplomat in London at the time, M.M. Rezaul Karim. In his account of the day’s events, Karim, now deceased, left behind a clear narrative that no one has questioned till now.

Bangabandhu hopped into Karim’s car (and Karim himself was at the wheels) rather than take the limousine the British government had placed at his disposal and on the way pelted the diplomat with endless questions about the just-concluded War of Liberation. Crowds of Bengalis began to gather before Claridge’s once word began to get around that Mujib had arrived there. Our veteran journalist happened to be one of many who turned up there.

Hours later, Bangladesh’s leader spoke at a crowded news conference at the hotel on the matter of his imprisonment in Pakistan and the manner of his release by the Bhutto administration. Prior to the news conference, he had spoken to Prime Minister Edward Heath and Opposition Leader Harold Wilson, both of whom motored down to Claridge’s to greet Bangladesh’s founder-president. Bangabandhu had also spoken to Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed and his family as well as Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi soon after stepping into Claridge’s.

His performance at the news conference was a clear demonstration of his command of the situation. Besides, his meetings with Bhutto between the end of December 1971 and his release on January 8, 1972 were crucial: Mujib was informed by Bhutto of the new realities in the subcontinent, of the fact that there was a government at work in Bangladesh. The Pakistani leader wanted, though, guarantees from Bangabandhu that Bangladesh would maintain some kind of link, even a loose one, with Pakistan. Bangabandhu made no response.

And that is the story of January 1972. But when you seriously reflect on the many ways in which certain individuals have endlessly tried running Bangabandhu down, you cannot but be appalled at the depths to which they have gone to denigrate him. There are yet Bengalis whose sense of history and understanding of Bangabandhu’s political career come across as pitiably poor. They will raise the question of why Bangabandhu “surrendered” to the Pakistan army in March 1971. It is then that you are compelled to remind them that Bangabandhu’s politics had always been based on constitutionalism, that fear was never a part of his character, that he did not have it in him to run for his life.

In this country, we have had men, some of them well-known freedom fighters, who have gone around screaming their refusal to honour Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as Bangabandhu. When they do that, you ask them a couple of questions: If you do not honour Bangabandhu, why did you join a war that was waged in his name? And, more significantly, when an entire nation calls him Bangabandhu, who gave you the right to deny him his place in our consciousness and in our history?

There are then a few others who have sought to profit through alleged association with Bangabandhu. A veteran journalist, now living overseas, penned a book on his dealings with the Father of the Nation more than two decades ago. You would think, as you go through the work, that this newsman was the only individual in Bangladesh to proffer words of wisdom to Bangladesh’s founder.

He informs us, to our disbelief, that in the late hours of the night and buffeted by crises, Bangabandhu would seek his advice, call him and ask him to come over to 32, Dhanmondi. Of course, nothing of the sort happened. There is then the story of another individual (and he too lives abroad) who has tried convincing people that in the heady days of March 1971, he was press secretary to Bangabandhu. He was not. No one recalls him in that position.

Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do!

Author : Syed Badrul Ahsan / Daily Star

The writer is Editor, Current Affairs, The Daily Star. E-mail: bahsantareq@yahoo.co.uk

‘Why did they kill Bangabandhu?’

“Why did they kill Bangabandhu? I’m feeling very bad [about it],” a six-year old Suha asked his father while visiting the Bangabandhu Memorial Museum in the city on Monday.

The house at Dhanmondi Road 32, where the country’s founding president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and most of his family members were killed by a handful of renegade army officers on Aug 15, 1975, is now known as Bangabandhu Memorial Museum.

Mujib, who led the country’s independence struggle, has been nick-named Bangabandhu, or friend of Bengal.

His body was found lying in a pool of blood on the stairs of the second floor of the house on the fateful night.

There were signs of shots almost everywhere on the wall of the second floor. The body of his wife, Begum Fazilatunnesa, sons Sheikh Kamal, Sheikh Jamal and Sheikh Russel, daughters-in-law Sultana Kamal Khuki and Parveen Jamal Rosy were found in his bedroom.

Mujib’s daughters, incumbent prime minister Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, were in Belgium, and thus escaped the massacre.

There are signs of blood in the room where Hasina used to live. A photograph hung outside the room shows that Bangabandhu is looking at some pigeons.

The house was the centre point of the 1969 mass-uprising, 1970 general elections and non-cooperation movement of March 1971.

Curator of the memorial museum Syed Siddiqur Rahman said over 1,000 people visit the historical house every day.

Physician Mahbubur Rahman, who came from Jessore district to pay respect to Mujib, said: “Until I come here, I did not know what a simple life he (Mujib) led despite being such a great man.”

“How such a man of great mind and his family were so brutally killed?” he asked.

The people coming to pay their respect to the great leader demanded that his fugitive killers be brought back home through diplomatic efforts or otherwise and be hanged.
A government official, Shafiqur Rahman, who came to the museum along with his family said: “The nation won’t be free from disgrace if the killers are not hanged. And those who are opposing it should be punished too.”

“We should remember that those who are involved in the killing are not actually human beings…,” he contended.

Awami League general secretary and local government minister Syed Ashraful Islam has already said that the government has taken initiatives to bring the killers back.

Author : Mamunur Rashid /  Source : bdnews24