2020: Year of immense significance to South Asian history

The year 2020 would go down in history as one of the worst in human history but it will also be remembered as the centenary of one of South Asia’s tallest leaders who changed the course of fate of his nation through relentless struggle.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was not only a leader for his people but an icon for revolutionaries worldwide who stood up against oppression of military rule. Bangabandhu’s memoirs written in jail have now been published. His books ‘Unfinished Memoirs’, ‘Prison Diaries’ and ‘The New China as I Saw’ should be essential reads for the children of our new generation.

The renowned British journalist David Frost had taken a long interview of Bangabandhu in Dhaka in January 1972. At one stage, Frost asked, “In the early hours of 26 March 1971 As you left your home at 32, Dhanmondi, did you think you would ever see it again?” In reply, Bangabandhu had said, “I didn’t, I thought this was the last, but if I die as a leader with my head up, at least they will not be ashamed; but if I surrender to them, my nation, the people of my country could not show their face to the world. It is better that I die keeping the prestige of my people.”

In reply to another question by David Frost, Bangabandhu had said, “A man who is ready to die, nobody can kill him. You can kill a man physically, but can you kill a man’s soul? You can’t. It’s my faith.”

To another of Frost’s question, Bangabandhu responded by saying, “I love my people first. I know that a human being has to die one day, either today, tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow. Therefore, every human should die like a courageous man.”

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Bangabandhu was a dear friend of India and therefore it is only appropriate that his daughter and current the PM of Bangladesh and the Modi government in Delhi are jointly celebrating his birth centenary.

In the preface to the book ‘Unfinished Memoirs’, PM Sheikh Hasina has written, “My father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s most precious times were spent as a prisoner. Those intolerable and secluded prison-days came up when he waged movements for realizing the rights of the masses. But he never compromised. Neither did he fear the gallows. The people were the inner driving-force of his life. The joys and sorrows of the masses made him cry. His lone vow in life was to bring smiles to the sad faces of Bangla’s inhabitants by building a Golden Bangla. The only perennial concern in his mind was to endow the people with a prosperous life by ensuring their fundamental rights of food, clothing, shelter, education and health, and freeing them from the clutches of poverty. For that reason, he had continued his lifelong struggles as an idealistic and self-sacrificing leader in order to realize people’s rights by shunning all happiness, comforts and luxuries in his own life, ultimately bestowing the Bangali nation with independence.”

Recently in a piece titled ‘Bangabandhu inspiring India-Bangladesh relations’ Joyeeta Bhattacharjee (Scholar at ORF) wrote, “Bangabandhu, the undisputed leader of Bangladesh’s freedom struggle and one of the greatest South Asian leaders of the last century, always emphasised on the special bond shared between India and Bangladesh, a bond of the common culture, language and heritage. He valued India’s friendship and as a goodwill gesture, Bangabandhu took a halt at New Delhi on his way while returning to Bangladesh following his release from Pakistan’s prison after the Liberation War of 1971. The present bonhomie between India and Bangladesh is a legacy and the foundation laid by Bangabandhu.”

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“In his struggle for justice for his countrymen, he sought support from India and India stood by his side for his needs. During the liberation struggle of Bangladesh India not only provided shelter to the millions of refugees who fled their homes to escape inhumane torture by the Pakistani forces and their conduit but also had boots on the ground. India also helped by providing financial and man-power assistance to Bangladesh for the post-war reconstruction of the country,” Bhattacharjee wrote.

While attending the 20th Commonwealth Summit a few months before his death in Kingston of Jamaica on 2 May 1975, Bangabandhu expressed optimism during his speech, “The Commonwealth states will work for a new international economic order based on justice and inter-dependence before it is too late.” While addressing the general assembly of the United Nations on 25 September 1974, Bangabandhu presented the then global reality in this manner, “Our humanistic sense of unity and the reawakening of our brotherhood can change this situation. The present challenge is to utilise the power of logic for building a just international economic order. This should entail the assurance of sovereign rights for all countries over their own natural resources.”

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib’s assertion of a secular Bengali cultural and linguistic identity over a theocratic identity for a Muslim majority independent Bangladesh need to reemphasised as forces close to Pakistan and anti-liberation movement make relentless attempt to derail character of Bangladesh.

He deeply valued the peace dividend of secular politics and inclusive society, and assessed both sides of the ‘communal’ coin much before a Bengali ‘East Bengal’ was cosmetically converted into an ‘Islamic East Pakistani’ Province in 1947. His post-colonial secular resolve grew even stronger during the Communal riots of Kolkata in 1946, during which Muslim student leader Sheikh Mujib was found working day and night to maintain communal harmony in Kolkata city, saving many Hindu and Muslim lives alike at the risk of his own life.

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Bangabandhu’s vision for a secular Republic of Bangladesh was vindicated unequivocally in his 1972 Constitution that championed, apart from ‘Democracy’ and ‘Socialism’, ‘Bengali Nationalism’ and ‘Secularism’ as Fundamental Principles of State Policy. His secular and inclusive Bengali spirit can never be silenced with mere bullets.



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