In Memoriam of the 100th Birthday of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman - Farid Talukder
It happened 15 years after the anti-partition movement of Bengal. It was 3 years after the great Bolshevik revolution in Russia. It was 2 years after the end of first world war turmoil. And it was on 17th March of 1920 a baby boy first saw the light of this planet earth. This baby boy named Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, came into the lap of mother Sayera Khatun. And his father was Sheikh Lutfar Rahman of village Tungipara, Gopalganj. This baby boy, later in his life, even surpassed his own given name and became known to the world as Bangabandhu ( Friend of Bengal ), also revered as The Father of a new born nation named Bangladesh, after it gained its independence in 1971 from the Pakistan regime.
If this great leader was still alive, he would have reached the milestone of 100 years of his glorious life on this year. A life which was mostly dedicated for the liberation of 70 million freedom hungry people from a very partial, imbalanced and tyrannical regime. But unfortunately, like the lives of many other great people, his life was cut short very early. How much did his death matter to the world and specially for the people of Bangladesh? Time is answering that question. Truth is, he still lives in the heart of millions. Still their hearts are in grief for his untimely death. In the page of history his name will remain beside all other great leaders the world has seen. This article is in memoriam to honor his 100th birth day and to pay my heartfelt regards to this great leader.
There are possibly hundreds of books and articles which have already been written about our great leader's life, his biography, his work, his dedication and greatness and of course about the roadway of our nation's great independence which has always been cemented with his life . I am positive more and more will be written for the days to come. In this article I have not much intention to repeat all those things, rather will try to look at his life episode from a different window.
Long after we have achieved our great independence, while living in North America, one of my Pakistani colleagues asked me a question. Do I support our independence war against the then West Pakistan? I replied to his question with a counter question. I asked him, can you please tell me why these two lands merged as one country in the first place? He replied, 'I got my answer'. Possibly this was the only example in history that two lands separated by 1200 miles of Indian territory merged as one country only because majority of the people between the two lands are followers of same religion. According to a legal study by THE SECRETARIAT OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION OF JURISTS , Geneva, 1972, here are few key informations about these two lands. “West Pakistan, with an area of 310,000 square miles, contained large areas of desert and barren mountainous regions. The people are tall, lighter skinned, active and energetic, and in many ways closer in spirit to the countries of Middle East than to Asia. Their language is Urdu, their staple crop wheat. East Pakistan, with an area of only 55,000 square miles, is a densely populated fertile area, much of which is flooded annually by the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers and their numerous tributaries ( into whose delta flows 5 times the quantity of water flowing through the delta of Mississippi). The people are short, dark skinned, easy going and, no doubt, influenced by the hot humid climate, less energetic than the West Pakistanis. Their staple crop is rice. Their language is Bengali, with a rich literature and culture of its own”. So, this picture clearly indicates that, other than the religion, the people of these two regions barely had any other similarity in their everyday life, culture and costumes. But unfortunately, it happened that they moved under one flag. It happened because after that serious communal riots which also accompanied the provincial elections in 1937, Mohammad Ali Jinnah devised this plan. Though from Bengal region, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Sarat Chandra Bosh, Abul Hashim were against this partition rule. Rather they were demanding for a united and independent state of Bengal. But both Jawaharlal Nehru and the colonial authority refused their proposal as we see ( though there were some voting process that were held which also gone in favor of partitioning the East and West Bengal). We should remember that, this polarization for independence happened just after the end of 2nd World War. British Empire just started losing their colonies but colonial mentality all over the world was very much alive. So, merging Pakistan and then East Bengal as one country, to me was another reflection of colonial sentiment in one way or other. East Bengal then became East Pakistan. Seeds of the East Pakistan independence movement was basically sleeping within the formation of these two lands as one country. In 21st February of 1952, that seed soaked completely with Language Martyrs Blood to get its fertility. To me Salam, Rafiq, Barkat, Jobbar are not only the Language Martyrs, they are the first soldiers who dedicated their lives towards the pathway of our great independence. In 1947 and the days before and after that, though Bangabandhu was a quite young leader, I do believe he could visualize the future picture. That is why he followed the path of Abul Hashim and Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy. It seems, he basically considered the 1947 independence as the first step to fulfil the dream of an Independent Bangladesh. Steps he took after 14th August, 1947 clearly dictates his vision towards our freedom.
Though the freedom of then East Pakistan was inevitable and the only question was when it will happen and how? The roadway from 1947 to 1971 was not an easy one. Specially for the native betrayers like Razakars, Al-Shams and Al- Badars. Hundreds of thousands had to sacrifice their lives to hoist this green-red flag on our beloved land. And it was Bangabandhu, who was the main architect along with few other great leaders to make it happen. Below I would like to provide few statistical information which will tell us again that there was no other choice than our well deserved independence.
According to 1951 census, in dominion of former Pakistan, 42 million people were living in East Pakistan whereas 33.7 million people were living in West Pakistan.
In 1948 when Mr. Jinnah declared that 'Urdu and only Urdu' would be the state language of Pakistan, at that time in the Dominion of Pakistan well over 30% people were Bengali spoken, this number was well above the Urdu spoken people (because in West Pakistan different provinces have different languages). Which is a clear view of suppressing the culture of then East Pakistan.
Although East Pakistan had a larger population, there was a huge disparity on spending in two zones. According to one statistics from 1950 to 1955 we see they spend 11,290 millions of Pakistan rupees for West side whereas only 5,240 millions for the East side.
In the armed forces of Pakistan, Bengalis were also very much under represented. Only 5% officers of different armed wings were from Bengali region.
In terms of political power the picture was no different either. And the conflict rose to the peak after the 1970 national assembly election ( the first national election after merging two regions together in 1947 ). Amidst of all different strategies and conspiracy adopted by West Block, in that election the party Bangladesh Awami League, led by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman won a landslide victory. Out of 300 seats of National Assembly Awami League won 160 and in provincial assembly they won 298 out of 310 seats. In national assembly their nearest counter part was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's Pakistan People Party and they won in 81 seats. By percent of vote Awami League got the mandate of 39.2% and PPP had only 18.6% of the total votes casted. But as it was assumed, even after this huge victory the west side was not willing to recognize Bangabandhu as the new leader of Pakistan.
Given below is a snap shot of Bangabandhu's Education and Political Career:
** In 1942 passed his Matriculation from Gopalganj Missionary School
** He got his Intermediate of Arts from Islamia College ( Now Maulana Azad College) in 1944
** In 1947 he secured his BA degree from the same college and
** After the partition of India, in 1949 he got admitted into University of Dhaka to study Law.
** Sheikh Mujib first active involvement with politics happened in 1940 when he joined All India Muslim Students Federation
** In 1943 he joined with Bengal Muslim League
** In 1946 he became the General Secretary of the Islamia College Students Union
At this phase he emerged as a powerful politician because of his close tie with Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy. He also worked with him during 1946 communal riot that broke out in Calcutta. Basically he took Suhrawardy as his political mentor. After 1947 partition, while he continued his political and student carrer in a new country and a new University, the whole atmosphere was changed to a new direction. At this point of his life I assume, he embraced two new things. One is the independence of then East Pakistan and the next one he got inclined towards the socialist philosophy which still could be the key pathway to eliminate mass poverty. On March 21, 1948, when Mr. Jinnah declared that East Bengal people would have to adopt Urdu as the state language, Sheikh Mujib immediately decided to start movement against this one sided unfair decision. The subsequent steps he took and the way he mobilized the movements were the clear indication of his future dream. On the other hand the movement he organized to secure the legitimate rights of fourth class employees of Dhaka University is a reflection of his socialist mentality. Later we also see that, when he included Socialism as one of four main principles of our first scripted constitution ( other three were Nationalism, Secularism and Democracy ). And all we know now that in January 1975, forming of BAKSAL ( Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League ) was his final step to take Bangladesh to follow Socialist path.
To mention a few of his many key political decisions I would like to highlight:
** On June 23, 1949, when Suhrawardy and Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani formed East Pakistan Awami Muslim League, he left Muslim League and joined with this new party and was elected Joint General Secretary of the East Bengal Unit. In 1953 he became General Secretary of the party and in 1954 he was elected to the East Bengal Legislative Assembly on a United Front coalition ticket.
** In January 1952 when Khawaja Nazimuddin announced that Urdu would be the only state language of Pakistan, Sheikh Mujib was in jail. But even being imprisoned, he played an important role to guide the State Language Movement by issuing instructions to his fellow comrades. Hope we all know now what 21st February mean to our nation and to the world as well. He also observed fasting at that period, which started on 14th February and lasted for 13 days.
** In 1963, after the death of Suhrawardy Sheikh Mujib became the leader of Awami League, also eliminated the word “Muslim” from party's name to portrait secularism on party's name face and shift it’s characteristic towards that way too.
** In 1966 he started the Six Point Movement to achieve the autonomy of then East Pakistan and of course nobody can forget his famous 7th March Speech in 1971.
** The Pakistan ( West ) military junta annulled the results of 1970 elections and on March 26, 1971, they arrested Bangabandhu, Prime Minster-elect, and took him to a solitary confinement in West Pakistan. While the night before, on March 25, all of a sudden the junta started Operation Searchlight against the mass protest and killed unarmed civilians, students, intellectuals and politicians as part of their 1971 Bangladesh Genocide. During this pathway from 1947 to 1971, Bangabandhu was arrested so many times that we can say jail was his 2nd sleeping place after home!
He was a very charismatic political leader and forceful orator. Slowly and certainly he won a permanent place in the hearts of the people with his natural love and being the greatest fighter ever born to this soil to uphold the flag of Bengali Nationalism. He permeated his voice and dream directly into one voice and dream of more than 70 million people of a nation. Yes, there was still an unpatriotic opposition bench but that number was almost insignificant compared to his popularity. Young to old, professionals to peasant, singer to poet/novelist, student to teacher/intellectuals, he mobilized all under one banner, one pathway and that was the freedom of this beautiful delta land. So, the birth of a new independent nation then was just only a matter of time. And it came even sooner than it was anticipated with the help of our neighbor nation India, who, on December 3rd, 1971 directly deployed their soldiers into this land to aid our liberation war. It did not take long. It was the 16th December, 1971, that long cherished, well deserved sun rose over the horizon of our beloved land. 16th December is our victory day. The day for which millions of patriotic martyrs dedicated their lives. The day Lt-Gen A.A.K Niazi of Pakistan Army Eastern Command surrendered to Lt. Gen. Jagjit Singh Aurora Goc-in C of Indian Eastern Command (?). I am using a question mark here because, as we see in the picture below in that surrender ceremony there was not a single representative from Bangladesh side. Well, we know that even then, Bangabandhu was in the West Pakistan jail, but why was Bangobir M. A. G. Osmani, who served as the Commander in Chief of Bangladesh forces during liberation war, not present there? This question I always carry in my mind.
After his release from jail, on 10 January 1972, Bangabandhu was repatriated to newly born Bangladesh. And as it was presumed, he reached to the pinnacle of power of a nation which was just starting to crawl. To climb this uphill road, there were struggles, there were rapes and bloods, betrayers and brokers for Pakistan army were tracking every step of our freedom fighters, their families and friends, but not much twist and turn, not much puzzle. Our destination milepost was certainly defined, and that was, the ship had to reach the independent land shore and Bangabandhu is the captain of that ship to lead its dream pathway. There were no other single or secondary thought about it to anybody's mind, I can tell. That is why, when an enormously popular figure like him ( I doubt the world has ever seen a second one in political arena ), was assassinated in less than four years of his rule, too many questions come in mind with very few answers.
We know, after independence the unemployment rate of this newborn land climbed up to the roof. And that was very assumable. But how about that rampant corruption and the poverty in mass people eclipsed all new hopes? We know from his own words, his regrets verbalized “ everybody gets mine of gold but I got mine of thieves “. So, he was aware of everything but looks like it got beyond his control! Then it came that monster flood of 1974 and as a aftermath of that the country experienced that disastrous famine in the same year! Not much aid landed from the outside world. Whatever the lump-sum we got, could not reach to real sufferers because of poor distribution and corruption by the dishonest ministers and leaders around him! Even nationalization of all industries failed to bring any tangible progress in the economy. The country almost went bankrupt. In the Far Eastern Economic Review, journalist Lawrence Lifscultz wrote in 1974 that “the corruption and malpractices and plunder of national wealth” in Bangladesh were “unprecedented”.
Now, is that mismatch management and shattered economical hope in very short time ( which is not very unusual for a new born country like Bangladesh ) the only reasons for which a sector of young ambitious army personnel ( who were also freedom fighters under his supreme command ) made a successful coup to erase his and his whole family's lives? Or there were far more reasons behind it? Was it just few army personnel who did not want him to live in power or there were more leaders who apparently seemed to be in close tie with him but in reality they were also the betrayer? And finally and obviously, was this coup plan outlined within the country or from outside influences by a big shadow power? To find our answer let us try to look back to few major steps taken by Bangabandhu after he was throned to the top chair of Bangladesh.
** Forming of Jatiya Rakkhi Bahini: An elite para-military force which was formed on 8 February 1972. I am not quite sure what objectives Bangabandhu wanted to achieve with this group. But I have a feeling the army at that time did not take it in fair eye. Rather possibly they felt undermined by Bangabandhu's action. It’s not only the army, a lot of great freedom fighters did not like it either. From what I have seen and heard that, a significant number of non-freedom fighters and even anti independence sentiment people had been doped into this para-militia group. That could be one more reason why we see a number of great freedom fighters joined the newly formed political party called Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal ( JSD ). They moved because soon after the independence, they found their dreams had been shaded away. Not sure Bangabandhu could read these great soldiers' mind. Lastly, so far I can recall my memory, this Rakkhi Bahini did not do anything great that could uphold Bangabandhu's image. Rather they were involved in various unlawful activities including robbery of innocent villagers' homes. Which I have seen at least couple of instances! Furthermore, that very Rakkhi Bahini commander in our area, later made his life settled in Pakistan as far I know.
** The very unsuccessful Collaborators Act of 1972 and General Amnesty: The genocide, rapes and brutality that took place in this small land from 25th March to 16th December of 1971, needs generations to heal that wound from the nation's heart. The local perpetrators who helped Pakistani junta to do this should never be forgiven. On his arrival in January 1972, Bangabandhu mentioned that, these culprits have to face the trial along with their Pakistani masters. He advised people not to take the justice in their own hand, rather give government the responsibility to bring them into the justice. And in view of this , on 24 January, 1972, The Bangladesh Collaborators ( Special Tribunals ) Order came in effect. He ordered the Awami League leaders to gather the proof of their acts. But the mess started right from there. In a short period of time after its first implementation on 15 February, 1972, the collaborators act had to be amended three times. Anyway, almost 50,000 collaborators were arrested under this act but among them only 752 were found guilty and only one of them was sentenced to capital punishment. The rest were punished in very minor levels compared to their crimes. 2000 got acquitted after the trial. In a cross examination, pro-Awami League researcher Shahriar Kabir confessed that, the trial which occurred under this act were never accepted by the martyrs' families. For example, Khaleque Mazumder, who killed Shahidullah Kaiser, was sentenced to only 7 years. So, this collaborators act started facing a lot of criticism. Even Bangabandhu himself was beginning to feel embarrassed. In another statement, prominent writer, Dhaka University teacher Ahmed Sharif and also again Shariar Kabir mentioned that collaborators act 1972 basically worked as a safeguard to the collaborators and war criminals. The failure of this act seems to have influenced Bangabandhu to take the decision of General Amnesty. So, on 1st December, 1973, he called for the General Amnesty of 36,400 alleged collaborators! Though the pardon did not include those prisoners who had already been charged for war crimes, rapes and arson. But still, it was enough to give a clear indication that the new born nation again fall into its back foot! It was a clear indication that, he might be at the pinnacle of power but in reality, majority of Awami League leaders were not following his instructions and he barely had any control on them. I have no clear statistical data, among the freedom fighters what percentage were from then active Awami Leaguers? We know most of their leaders were then busy to secure a portfolio when first Provincial Government of Bangladesh was formed on 10th April, 1971. I don't know in his administration, why Bangabandhu did not include more freedom fighters who put their life on risk in battle ground, rather than trusting his flatterers among Awami Leaguers? Only answer that I can think of is, if he had the opportunity to work at ground level, could see with his own eye what actually happened during that nine months, possibly then he may have had better knowledge about the characters of his party leaders.
** Forming of BAKSAL (Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League): On February 24, 1975, Bangabandhu announced the formation of the only legal political party of Bangladesh called BAKSAL. A fourth amendment was adopted in our constitution to validate this decision. This 4th amendment includes major reforms in Administrative, Judiciary and Legislative system of the state. Someone regarded this plan as the Second Revolution of the country. We had a touch of feeling that, Bangabandhu possibly was inclined towards a socialist philosophy in his inner core. But no doubt this decision gave the birth of a big question. Was it a right decision at a right time and with the right people by whom he was surrounded with? Poverty in mass people life, country is plundered with corruption by his own inner circle, general people were already in massive despair, lot more other major issues to be solved, amidst of all these horrendous chaotic situation, I could not find any legitimate reason to support this type of turn around decision. Even the statement Bangabandhu made ( pasted below ) after forming BAKSAL has the same echo. First and foremost reason not to support it, he wanted to move the country from democratic pathway towards a one party socialist pathway rule putting it on the shoulder of a party name Awami League!! And wanted it by banning independent press freedom and so on so on. The characteristic of Awami League as a party is fully cosmopolitan. It was then and it is still now. Party members include from capitalist to socialist mentality, secular mentality to radicalistic mentality. Moreover, most of these leaders had already proved themselves as corruption masters in every sector of a country with GDP then less than 2% whereas the population growth was way above 3%. I cannot even think about it how he came up with this idea. Well, he may have thought to include some members from other leftist party like Communist Party of Bangladesh and few others like that. But was it enough? How could it be ensured that those leaders will be honest and integrated with the system? Along with all other key factors, how will be the land reformation system? Surely land lords will not accept it gladly but how about the general mass of the country? Do they have any idea what BAKSAL is? Bottom line, he and his advisor committee possibly had not studied or had any knowledge actually what is required to establish a one party socialist rule in a country where more than 95% of the people are very much religiously motivated. So easy to misguide them against a system like this. It’s a system that cannot start from a tree branch. It has to start from the root. To establish and imply this, a fresh, untrained and motivated militant comrade needs to be grown up from ground level. The process needs a leader to be fully characterized as a socialist. And that needs years. Lenin, Mao, even Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua understood that. And they were the leaders who themselves were directly involved in battle fields.
Another side of this, if we look at the history, at the same time Bangabandhu was eagerly wanting to be the member of United Nations Organization. Having a good tie with Pakistan, China already applied their veto power on that. So, it was needing strong politicizing along with western block support. Also he was trying to build a good relationship with middle eastern countries to have some emergency aid. Forming BAKSAL obviously contradicts this effort too. Lot more to say but I think it’s enough to take a snap picture of the situation. When the ship was plagued with multiple problems, as a captain of the ship and seemingly only a few trust worthy crew on his side, Bangabandhu possibly thought, forming BAKSAL was the only and last dive to make to salvage the ship. But unfortunately that did not workout! Time was not on his side and the ship lost its captain, and its destiny! That new born nation is now 48 years old, but losing its captain, still searching for the pathway to escape out from a dark deep sea, where she was thrown after that horrific crime that happened on 15th August, 1975 night.
I have not much intention to dig in depth to find out from where and who first sketched that 15th August dark night plan. At least in this article. Though it’s not very difficult to imagine. Most important thing is, a land called Bangladesh, lost her best son too soon after she gave birth to him. . Pakistan period, and before that British period, and before that Mughal period, and before that for thousand and thousand years, what we are carrying in our blood? Yes, climate made us very emotional no question about it. But when it comes in terms of Sovereignty, there are signs of betrayal everywhere! Given below is the first paragraph of the declaration of our independence, broadcasted from Chittagong Radio station by Ziaur Rahman on 27th March, 1971.
“The Government of the Sovereign State of Bangladesh, on behalf of our great leader, the Supreme Commander of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, We hereby Proclaim the independence of Bangladesh and that the Government headed by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has already been formed”.
Now, what happened on that night 15th August, 1975, just gave us the proof of our untrustworthy blood once again! Knowingly or unknowingly we don't know, but Bangabandhu trusted that blood. And he paid for it big time. A nation of millions still mourns for that and will be mourning for years to come. Generations passed, but yet we did not find anyone ( at least in my consideration ) who can convert that grief into a positive patriotic force. We know, possibly there will be no one to replace that best son born in our thousand year history. But it is nothing wrong to keep hope and dream that someone will emerge to pull this hopeless nation into light once again. And before that, surely and certainly, as a nation, we need to know and define our own identity on a crystal clear graph.
A Poet, Columnist & Story Teller
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