Sheikh Mujib and Bangladesh
He used to say, “My strength is that, I love human beings. My weakness is that, I love them too much”, writes Muntasir Mamun
The people of Bangladesh had dreamt of a free land for long. Many individuals had sought to materialise this dream in the past. Many had spoken about it during the first forty years of the last century. That plan was once again drawn during the partition of India. Moulana Bhashani had spoken about an independent territory for the Bangalis during the 1960s. But none could give complete shape to that dream. That dream was finally realized on 16 December 1971 under the leadership of a dedicated Bangali – Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It was he who could erect the geographic boundaries of a free state for the Bangalis. Bangabandhu’s - or Father of the Nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman – however we refer to him – iconic figure looms large whenever we talk about Bangladesh. That is why; his name has become ingrained in our history. That is why we repeatedly reminisce about him. There are numerous claimants to the Bangladesh dream. Many may have dreamt it, many had talked about it through signs and gestures, but Sheikh Mujibur Rahman completed the task like an architect. Like many others, he also thought for Bangladesh, but preparations for the purpose continued up to 1971.
Moulana Bhashani had also spoken about Bangladesh in open forums. But his role was negligible in this field. However, all those dreams and speeches had prepared the people. Journalist Abdul Matin had written in his autobiography, “He met Mujib one day at noon during the military rule of Ayub Khan. Sheikh Saheb said that he did not care about Ayub Khan. He knew the minds of the people. After remaining silent for a few moments, he talked about using the Agartala case in the anti-Ayub movement”. It can be said in this context that the Agartala conspiracy case might not have been fully cooked up.
Bangabandhu had emerged from the very midst of our rural paddy culture. His heart was vast like nature itself, and he wanted to bring to the Bangalis a free country, Bangladesh. The Bangalis had repaid that gesture as long as he lived. It took a long time to awaken the Bangalis in 1971, and it was Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who succeeded in doing that. Consequently, whether one likes it or not, he became the ‘architect of our freedom’ for many of us. And he did not become ‘Bangabandhu’ overnight in 1970 or the ‘Father of the Nation all of a sudden in 1972. It took him three decades to become an icon for Bangladeshis. If we consider the period between 1940 and 1974, we can see that Sheikh Mujib became Bangabandhu and Father of the Nation for several reasons. His generosity, humanism and tolerance, his appearance and language – it all had demonstrated his intention to maintain everlasting bonds with the Bangali population.
From the 1960s, Bangabandhu had two objectives. While one was quite clear, the other was a bit ambiguous. The first objective was to build up the Awami League, spread the organization throughout the country and establish a civil society by assuming power on the Awami League platform. There were fights within the Awami League, which was natural for a big party. But Sheikh Mujib’s organizational capacity was unique. He was extremely tolerant and flexible, two qualities which were needed for making the party bigger. I have even seen old people in remote rural areas, whose only possession was a tea-stall, who never got anything from the party, but never left it after coming to the fold of Awami League at the behest of Sheikh Mujib. There are many more self sacrificing Awami League members in the nooks and corners of Bangladesh, who did not leave the party despite becoming destitute. The leaders, however, do not keep track of them. Besides, Sheikh Mujib had such individuals as his companions, without whose help he might not have achieved his cherished goal. As a result, the Awami League became bigger, expanded after the 6- point movement and simultaneously Sheikh Mujib became the undisputed leader of the masses.
He also had tremendous self-confidence and courage. The blossoming of the party had raised his confidence in himself and in his people. That was why he could transform the 6-points into a 1-point. And this was his unclear vision. That he was unwavering on the question of this objective and had the necessary courage and confidence for materializing this dream were highlighted during the Agartala conspiracy trial. Fayez Ahmed had written about an incident during this trial. He was sitting next to Sheikh Mujib. They were not allowed to talk inside the court. Sheikh Mujib tried to draw the attention of Fayez Ahmed a number of times in order to say something. Fayez Ahmed said, “Mujib Bhai, conversations are not allowed. I can’t turn my head. They will throw me out.” There was a reply forthwith, “Fayez, one has to talk to Sheikh Mujib if he wants to stay in Bangladesh.” He did not know then that this symbolic utterance by Sheikh Mujib was not meant for any individual person; it was a message for the entire people of a country, which could ignite fire.
Sheikh Mujib returned to the Bangladesh of his dreams in 1972. Now his role was not that of a wager of movements. Rather, he played his part in materialising the dream of a Shonar Bangla. He worked tirelessly with that objective in mind until 15 August 1975. Reconstruction of the country was in full swing and the Constitution was already framed by that time. The biggest achievement of Bangabandhu and the then Awami League government was to endow the country with a Constitution. I do not know of any other country where it was possible to provide a Constitution so swiftly in the aftermath of such a bloody war. The four core principles of the state were proclaimed through this Constitution, which could have been termed as radical in the context of the then realities. These were: Democracy, Socialism, Secularism and Nationalism. These principles in fact contained those very ideals for which the liberation war was fought. This was especially true of secularism. That is why the military generals had at the very outset struck at these core principles, especially secularism. Besides, the Constitution described the social, economic and political rights of citizens and the philosophy of the state. In other words, it indicated that the liberation war was waged for establishing a civil society in place of a military-dominated one.
The 1972 Constitution had incorporated the necessary institutions for a civil society; it firmly strived to lay the foundation for a vibrant civil society in Bangladesh. In this context, Bangabandhu had said in one of his speeches, “I do not know whether democracy was initiated immediately after a bloody revolution in any country of the world. Elections have been organised. The right of vote has been expanded in scope by lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. Bangladesh’s own airplanes are now flying in the skies of different countries; a fleet of commercial ships has also been launched. The BDR is now guarding the borders. The ground forces are ready to repel any attack on the motherland. Our own navy and air-force are now operational. The police force and thanas have been rebuilt, 70 percent of which were destroyed by the Pakistanis. A ‘National Rakkhi Bahini’ has been raised. You are now the owners of 60 percent of mills and factories. Taxes for up to 25 bighas of land have been exempted. We do not believe in the policy of vengeance and revenge. Therefore, general amnesty has been declared for those who were accused and convicted under the Collaborators’ Act for opposing the liberation war.”
But the people were not inclined to appreciate the framing of Constitution, its principles, and the successes of Sheikh Mujib due to rising price of essentials and the law and order situation. Not only was Bangabandhu killed along with his family, the husband of his sister Abdur Rab Serniabat and his nephew Sheikh Moni were also killed along with their family members. It was quite apparent that intense hatred had worked behind this; otherwise this kind of brutality could not have been carried out. The assumption that if any of the family members survived, then he would come forward to provide leadership was also at work. That this assumption was not unfounded has been proved subsequently. Bangabandhu’s two daughters Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana survived as they were abroad. Later, Sheikh Hasina became the leader of the Awami League and is now once again waging a struggle to reinforce the civil society. It is clear from the manner in which the Bangabandhu family was assassinated that there were local and international conspiracies and a long time was spent planning it. The conspirators took risks and it paid off for them. A faction of the Awami League led by Khandakar Mostaque was involved in it. It can be cited as evidence that it was during Mostaque’s rule that the four Awami League and national leaders Tajuddin Ahmed, Syed Nazrul Islam, Mansur Ali and Kamruzzaman were killed inside the central jail on 3 November 1975. Saudi Arabia and China recognized Bangladesh immediately after Khandakar Mostaque came to power. Relationships with Pakistan and the USA also improved. Consequently, the theory that foreign powers had a hand in the killings cannot be dismissed outright. Almost three decades after Sheikh Mujib’s killing, the people can once again feel what Sheikh Mujib really was and why he was awarded the title ‘Bangabandhu’. People realize today that he wanted to raise the stature of the Bangalis, and one way of doing that was to give back the honour to the unarmed people. Whichever parties and persons might have ruled Bangladesh after his murder, his name could not be erased from the minds of the people. That effort still continues. That is because it is evident today that we got that honour only once, that path was opened for us only once in 1971, when Bangladesh succeeded in ousting a fully armed army, under the leadership of an unarmed Bangali called Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Despite the many flaws and heaps of criticisms leveled against Sheikh Mujib, we should note, just as an opponent of Sheikh Mujib and Awami League – Moudud Ahmed – had written (translator’s translation from Bengali), “The appearance of Sheikh Mujib was the biggest event in the national history of Bangladesh. His burial did not take place through his death. More pragmatic, efficient, capable and dynamic political personalities than Sheikh Mujib might have emerged or may emerge, but it will be very difficult to find someone who has contributed more to the independence movement of Bangladesh and the shaping of its national identity.” He had endeavored to uphold the interests of the Bangalis throughout his life and had never compromised until his objectives were attained. The Bangalis gave him the title ‘Bangabandhu’ and ‘Father of the Nation’ out of sheer love and respect. His lifestyle was like that of an ordinary Bangali of eternal Bengal; that is why he could so intensely connect with the ordinary people and their communities. He possessed all the attributes of an ordinary Bangali.
But his love for his people and country was extraordinary, almost blind. He used to say, “My strength is that, I love human beings. My weakness is that, I love them too much.” The position of Bangabandhu vis-à-vis other individuals in the civil society of Bangladesh will become clear if the events of 1971 and 1971-75 are analysed. The names of two great Bangalis will remain forever shining in the minds of the Bangalis: Rabindranath Thakur and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. While one shaped the Bengali language and wrote the national anthem of Bangladesh, the other materialised the age-old dream of the Bangalis by helping create an independent territory called Bangladesh for an entire nation. The spirit of ‘Bangali’ and ‘Bangladesh’ will continue to live on. And that is why Anandashankar Ray had written:
“As long as the Padma, Meghna, Gouri, Jamuna flows on,
Your accomplishment will also live on, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.”
The writer is an award winning Bangladeshi author, historian, researcher and professor at Dhaka University.
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