BANGABANDHU: THE BORN-COMMANDANT

Dr M Shahinoor Rahman

Today is the birthday of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation. While Bangabandhu is no longer physically present, his spirit lives on. Today, let us pray for Bangabandhu’s eternal peace. Bangabandhu’s birthday serves as a reminder of his struggle to establish an independent Bangladesh. On this day of his birth, let us pay the highest tribute to the Father of the Nation. The precise answer would be his fighting spirit if asked what defined Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He was a man who fought his entire life for his people’s rights and justice. A cursory examination of his tumultuous life demonstrates the validity of this assertion.

Bangabandhu is the most charismatic leader in the subcontinent’s second half-century history for organizing rebellions against Britain’s colonial rulers in India. He led the Bengalis of East Pakistan in their resistance to the post-colonial Pakistani government’s unjust actions, ultimately establishing Bangladesh as an independent country on the World Map. Apart from these watershed moments in our nation’s history, numerous other instances demonstrate his inherent fighting spirit, honed by national and political consciousness and patriotic zeal.

Bangabandhu’s tenacity was evident from his young age. He was unafraid to oppose his Father on behalf of his people—his village’s impoverished, hungry peasants. He demonstrated the seeds of his future revolutionary leadership by distributing rice from his Father’s stockpile to famine-stricken peasants in his area, much to the chagrin of his Father, Sheikh Lutfar Rahman, a small landowner, and court records keeper. Bangabandhu Sheik Mujibur Rahman was born in Tungipara village on March 17, 1920, in the Gopalganj subdivision (now a district) of Faridpur district in British India’s eastern province Bengal. Bangabandhu was an extroverted, sports-obsessed young man who was well-liked by his teachers and peers, even though he never achieved academic distinction. He had eye surgery to correct an optical problem that had kept him out of school for four years. He regained normal vision following the operation and resumed his studies, gaining a farsighted perspective on the world around him. During this period of his life, his fight for Bengali justice and leadership abilities became apparent. Bangabandhu has always been a pioneer in the struggle for human rights as a charismatic leader. He exemplified Third World anti-colonial leadership by organizing dissent and rebellions against the British Raj and rising against the injustice and exploitation meted out to East Pakistan’s Bengali population by power holders in West Pakistan (modern-day Pakistan) (present Bangladesh). Before leading the independence movement against Pakistan, Sheikh Mujib fought a long battle for justice for his Bengali people. In 1952, he led a student movement that demanded that Bangla—Bangalees’ mother tongue—be made East Pakistan’s official language. Pakistan’s government eventually gave public pressure and conceded the demand, but not before police killed several Bengali students. He was the driving force behind our decades-long struggle for autonomy and independence. He lobbied the Pakistan National Assembly and popular uprisings on the streets for the justice and rights of Bangalees. The Mujibs’ United Front won a landslide victory in Pakistan’s first general election, held on March 10, 1954, over the Muslim League, which was instrumental in establishing Pakistan and was frequently equated with Pakistan itself. He was appointed Minister of Agriculture and Forests when the new provincial government was formed. However, within a few days, the central government arbitrarily dismissed the United Front Ministry. Mujib was apprehended for the second time. The 1954 incident confirmed Mujib’s suspicions—that Bengalees would not be granted their rights easily.
Mujib was elected undisputed leader of the Awami League in 1957, following a struggle against party hegemony. He defeated Ataur Rahman in the party’s presidential election following Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani’s death. Mujib’s position on the language issue and subsequent open defiance of specific martial law orders portrayed him as a courageous human rights defender. Mujib was attempting to organize another large-scale demonstration. In 1958, he was arrested on a spurious corruption charge for refusing to comply with a new law (Elective Bodies Disqualifications Order of 1958) requiring all Pakistani politicians to abstain from political activity for six years. By this time, Mujib had developed a second home in Dhaka jail, where he spent several years during the pre-and post-independence periods. Mujib conducted extensive grass-roots tours of East Pakistan between 1960 and 1962, defying the martial law-era prohibition on political activity.

The people of Bangladesh admired him for his unwavering commitment to equality and justice. Mujib was imprisoned for six months again in 1962 due to his increased visibility as a Bengali nationalist and his defiance of the military. Mujib was released from prison following General Ayub Khan’s promulgation of Pakistan’s second constitution. He immediately began organizing a popular uprising against the Ayub regime and awaited the right moment to launch it. The opportunity arose following the 1965 Indo-Pak war, during which the central government virtually abandoned East Pakistan’s Bengali majority. In November 1965, Mujib devised a six-point program to enable his party to achieve political and economic justice within a federal system.

Additionally, the program emphasized developing and maintaining a distinct military for East Pakistan to contribute to national security. Pakistan Democratic Movement leaders rejected Mujib’s program at an all-party meeting in Lahore in February 1966. (composed of the combined opposition parties’ leaders who had unsuccessfully challenged Ayub in the 1964 election). Undaunted, Mujib quickly organised a mass movement around his program. He was arrested again in 1966, and in the Agartala Treason Case of 1967, the central government charged him with treason. However, the Ayub regime dropped the conspiracy charge against Mujib and others in response to a widespread popular uprising. On March 2, 1969, Mujib was unconditionally released, and Ayub resigned from power after the 1969 uprising. Yahya Khan, who succeeded Ayub Khan as Pakistan’s military ruler, established national and provincial elections dates.

At the time, one of the country’s worst natural disasters struck the country’s coastal areas. It was dubbed the November 1970 cyclone and killed half a million people while displacing three million. On the other hand, Yahya’s government remained mainly indifferent to the cyclone victims that altered the course of Pakistan’s political history. The Bangladeshi people rejected pro-Pakistan parties and candidates by a wide margin, and Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League won a landslide victory, securing an absolute majority in the Assembly. This was unacceptable to West Pakistan’s military and political elites. As a result, on March 1, 1971, two days before the Assembly’s first session was scheduled to begin, President Khan adjourned the Assembly indefinitely.

This infuriated the Bangalees, who spontaneously organized a mass anti-military movement. Mujib attempted to channel growing widespread outrage into a nonviolent civil disobedience movement. For three weeks, Mujib ruled East Pakistan as de facto head of government. Bangabandhu delivered the historic freedom speech on March 7, 1971, which best exemplifies the great leader’s prudent fighting spirit. This speech instilled an overwhelming sense of patriotism in Bengalis, and millions of Bengalis inherited the great leader’s fighting spirit. On March 23, a final attempt at resolving the conflict peacefully failed. At midnight on March 25, 1971, the military began repressing the Bengali autonomy movement, arresting Mujib, rounding up suspected nationalists, and disarming Bengali police and members of Pakistan’s armed forces.The crackdown, accompanied by senseless killings of Bengali police officers, soldiers, and civilians, bolstered Bengalis’ determination to fight Pakistan’s military to the death.

Although Mujib remained imprisoned in West Pakistan, awaiting execution for alleged treason, his name became an inspiration and source of strength for Bengalis worldwide. On December 16, 1971, Mujib was released after an alliance of Bangladeshi freedom fighters and Indian armed forces defeated Pakistan’s army in East Pakistan. The military junta ceded power to civilian leaders led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. On January 10, 1972, he returned to Bangladesh as a hero. He quickly rose to prominence as the new nation’s leader and rallied the populace to rebuild their war-torn homeland. His initial success as an inspirer, integrator, and consensus builder was demonstrated in 1973 when his Awami League Party won another landslide victory. Bangabandhu (friend of Bengal), had previously drafted Bangladesh’s first constitution in 1972. Bangabandhu appeared founded on four fundamental state policy principles: democracy, socialism, secularism, and nationalism. Mujib’s first economic stimulus measure was to nationalize all banks and major industries, most of which were owned by West Pakistanis. Bangabandhu attempted to fundamentally alter Bangladesh’s political, economic, and administrative structures through political centralization and administrative decentralization. However, before he could see his dream of a “golden Bengal” realized, he and the majority of his family were assassinated on August 15, 1975, in a pre-dawn coup staged by a few stray Bangladesh army junior officers. Bangabandhu was the type of person who would instead break than submit, and he has consistently considered and stated openly that death is preferable to subjugation.
He remained steadfastly faithful to his word until he took his final breath. When the assassins raised their guns at him, he did not pause to inform them directly, with his famous index finger, that what they were doing was wrong and that they would face the consequences in due course. Naturally, the foresighted leader’s concluding words came true. The government of his illustrious daughter, current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has sentenced the majority of the killers to death. Bangabandhu was a fighter who never used real arms or weapons. Sheikh Hasina, meanwhile, continues to lead the country with the same tenacity in pursuit of her Father’s dream of ‘Sonar Bangla’ or ‘Golden Bengal.’

(The author is a columnist, author, academic, folklorist, and former Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Islamic University in Kushtia)

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