Bangabandhu's leadership, enchanting as it was, merits conceptual analysis from the theoretical perspective of leadership. Leadership, as generally understood, is the ability of an individual or individuals to influence and guide followers. Great leaders know how to both inspire people and get followers to complete the task that achieves the leader's goal. An oft–quoted definition of leadership by the former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower sounds relevant in such a context. He said, "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it." But a more comprehensive definition of leadership covering the leader – follower nexus is given by Gary Wills as he says, "Leaders have a vision. Followers respond to it. Leaders organize a plan. Followers get sorted out to fit the plan. Leaders have willpower. Followers let that will replace their own. . . . . the leader is one who mobilizes others toward a goal shared by a leader and followers."1 A generalized definition highlighting the entire gamut of leadership phenomenon is contained in the ancient Chinese tradition; and as per which
Leadership is a matter of intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage, and discipline. . . . reliance on intelligence alone results in rebelliousness. Exercise of humaneness alone results in weakness. Fixation on trust results in folly. Dependence on the strength of courage results in violence. Excessive discipline and sternness in command result in cruelty. When one has all five virtues together, each appropriate to its function, then one can be a leader.2
Taken all these postulations together, and applied to Bangabandhu, the resultant conclusion is ineluctably positive. In this exercise, however, visionariness and charisma, as the two attributes of Bangabandhu leadership, are analysed in an applied context.
Divided into three core sections, the opening one concentrates on piecing together theoretical postulations vis-à-vis visionariness and charisma. The two sections thereafter give empirical discussions on Bangabandhu's visionariness and charisma.
Visionary and Charismatic Leadership Explained
Defined broadly, a visionary is one who can envision the future. A visionary is thus a person with a clear, distinctive, and specific (in some details) vision of the future. To be more specific, a visionary leader creates a vision around solving a problem in an innovative way and then uses that vision to connect to the hearts of people in a way that inspires them to action.
As many as 15 traits have been suggested for a visionary leader;3 and these are: 1. Detail oriented and aware; 2. Innovative; 3. Conviction; 4. Determined; 5. Persistent; 6. Excellent communicator; 7. Strategic; 8. Dedicated; 9. Humble; 10. Empowering (team work); 11. Service oriented; 12. Growth oriented; 13. Ethical; 14. Caring; and 15. Inspiring.
Charisma is a concept of leadership developed by the German sociologist Max Weber.4 Charismatic leadership is basically the method of encouraging particular behaviours in others by way of eloquent communication, persuasion and force of personality. Charismatic leaders motivate followers to get things done. This is accomplished by conjuring up eagerness in others to achieve a stated goal or vision. Charismatic leaders are found to be essentially good communicators. Such leaders are very eloquent verbally and they have ability to communicate with the people and lead on a profound emotional level. The communication level is successful as this type of leaders articulate a captivating or compelling vision. They have the capacity to evoke strong emotions in their followers.
In 1988, Jay Conger and Rabindra Kanungo published Charismatic Leadership, which outlined the key characteristics of a charismatic leader. The findings have been repeatedly shown to be accurate in a number of other similar studies, such as Robert House and Jane Howell's 1992 paper "Personality and Charismatic Leadership."5
The qualities of a charismatic leader may be the following: 1. Visionary; 2. Articulate; 3. Sensitive; 4. Risk – taker; 5. Creative; 6. Self – confidence; and 7. Positive body language.
As we proceed on to analyse Bangabandhu's leadership typology, we find that he fits in well with the definitions and characteristics outlined above.
Bangabandhu: The Visionary
That Bangabandhu was a leader with a clear vision is borne out by the historical facts from 1947 through 1971; a period coinciding with the painful process of the emergence of Bangladesh.
In August 1947, immediately after the birth of Pakistan, Bangabandhu had a meeting with some associates in his room no 24 at the Baker hostel. He shared two specific points in that meeting. First, he was the first to be disillusioned with the way Pakistan was shaped, and having been so, mentioned that this Pakistan would not help the Bangali people, also that a movement had to be started anew after getting back to Dhaka for redressing the woes of these people. Second, in his mundane language, he categorically said that the Bangali people would not be able to stay long with the non – Bangalis. With hindsight, it may be said that both the comments were prophetic in foreshadowing the birth of Bangladesh through a relentless struggles. In 1972, Anyada Shankar Roy, the famous Indian litterateur, asked Bangabandhu as to when he had conceived the idea of independent Bangladesh; Bangabandhu rightly replied that it was in 1947. Moreover, at about the same time he, in the editorial office of the pro-Muslim periodical Saptahik Millat (Weekly Millat), made a statement to the effect that Bangla should be the state language of Pakistan as this language was used to be spoken by the majority citizens of the state. Thus, by saying so, he also foreshadowed the Language Movement (1947-1952); this movement was the earliest attempt at autonomy assertion by the Bangali people. This was also a movement in which Bangabandhu, although then incarcerated, had a decisive behind-the-scene role.
In 1961, although the General Secretary of the Awami League (AL), a party for safeguarding Bangali interests, Bangabandhu had his personal project of Purba-Banga Mukti Front for emancipating his people. It is on record that he had leaflets printed under this title at his own cost and he himself distributed these leaflets riding his own bike. The subsequent history bears testimony to his success in freeing Bangalis from Pakistani internal colonialism.
Sometime in 1961, Tofazzal Hossain Manik Mia, the editor of The Daily Ittefaq, was instrumental in arranging a secret meeting for Bangabandhu with two left leaders – comrades Moni Singh and Khoka Roy. Bangabandhu, in that meeting, argued that nothing short of independence would help the Bangalis. The two comrades, while agreeing with the imperative, cautioned Bangabandhu not to speak of independence in public as that would land him in trouble, because there had been the military rule of Ayub Khan. Bangabandhu rounded off the meeting by saying that he would heed the caution of the comrades, but would always remain unflinching to his goal of independence.
The 1966 Six Point formula was, indeed, a cumulative expression of Bangabandhu, the visionary. Rightly dubbed the liberation document of the Bangalis, it encapsulated their hopes and aspirations under the most adverse of the circumstances.
One day in 1968, Bangabandhu along with other accused of the Agartala Conspiracy Case were being driven to the secret military tribunal. Col (retd.) Shawkat Ali, himself an accused, asked Bangabandhu as to what future awaited them. In reply, Bangabandhu gave him almost a graphic picture of the future as envisaged by him: the trial would end soon because of a public outburst; there would be an election with the AL winning a thumping victory; power would not be handed over to them with consequences to follow.6 This was exactly what happened in the subsequent days. That Bangabandhu was not an astrologer is certain; but this incident, along with many others, confirms that he was endowed with the quality of extra – sensory perception (ESP).7
On 5 December 1969, at a public discussion arranged on the occasion of the sixth death anniversary of Suhrawardy, Bangabandhu declared, on behalf of the people, that the province of East Pakistan be renamed as 'Bangladesh'. The proposal was greeted with cheers by the crowd present on the occasion. On the following day, Maulana Bhasani and Ataur Rahman Khan, the two elderly Bangali politicians, endorsed the proposal in separate press statements. That a leader could rename his homeland, and which was readily accepted by the people demonstrated the extent of his visionary ability.
Yahya Khan, the military dictator, who had replaced Ayub Khan, another military dictator, on 25 March 1969, declared early in 1970 the schedule of general elections by the end of the year. Immediately after this welcome declaration, he shared a disquieting feeler through issuing the Legal Framework Order (LFO). By the provisions 25 and 27, any attempt to change the constitutional status quo was not to be mulled by the establishment. It may be mentioned that the AL had been campaigning for constitutional changes as per the Six and Eleven points. Under the circumstances, it became evident that the LFO had the ulterior motive to thwart such AL move. Against such a backdrop, many in the AL higher echelons became diffident about participating in the forthcoming elections. But, Bangabandhu appeared as resolute and determined as always and blurted out, "My goal is independence of Bangladesh. I will tear the LFO into shreds once the election is over."8
Again, doubts were raised about the elections in the wake of severe damage to life and property wrought by a tornado in the coastal areas of the then East Pakistan. As the central government appeared quite oblivious to the plight of the tornado-hit people, many politicians doubted the desirability of elections in such circumstances. Maulana Bhasani's National Awami Party (NAP) boycotted the elections. There was dithering in the AL as well; Bangabandhu remained firm in his decision to participate in the elections. Subsequent history proved him right in his farsightedness.
Immediately before the elections, Bangabandhu faced a question from a foreign journalist as to how many seats the AL would get at the center. Giving a prompt reply, Bangabandhu said 167 out of the allotted 169 seats. He also mentioned that of the two seats, one would go to the independent candidate RajaTridiv Roy from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT); while the other one to Nurul Amin from Mymensingh. Despite the Pakistan military intelligence report that the AL seats would not be more than 60, the result was exactly what had been predicted by Bangabandhu. Once again, Bangabandhu proved his sagacity.
The vision of a free Bangladesh that Bangabandhu had since 1947, came out in a cumulative shape in his path – breaking and defining speech of 7 March. It was more than a speech; it was an oration, and the speaker an orator. Although a short and an unwritten one, this was the best that Bangabandhu had ever delivered both in oral and body languages. His words changed brains of the ones who listened to him; and a confused Bangali nation had a clear vision before them as Bangabandhu roared in his thunderous voice: "The struggle this time is for our emancipation; the struggle this time is for independence." It was thus a vision of independence coupled with emancipation, to be achieved through a guerilla – type people's war. Thus this oration remains recorded in history as the one which had transformed a people-centric leader into a sagacious statesman.
After having spent 290 days in the Pakistani jail, Bangabandhu was freed to travel to London on 8 January 1972, where, on the same day, he addressed a press conference at the Claridges Hotel. While speaking, Bangabandhu was accosted by a foreign journalist saying, "what would you do getting back to Bangladesh? The country is totally war – devastated." Bangabandhu's reply was as visionary as ever: "If I have my people and the land, we will rise again." Indeed, he had both, and he envisaged a phoenix – like resurrection of Bangladesh, a vision he sought to actualize during the short time he had been at the helm in the totally devastated Bangladesh.
On 10 January 1972, Bangabandhu's homecoming address was delivered unwritten and impromptu at the same Race Course. In Bangabandhu's words, Bangladesh was envisioned as an "ideal state, the basis of which will not be religion. The bases of which will be democracy, secularism and socialism (subsequently, at the time of writing the constitution, nationalism was added as the fourth fundamental principle of the state). The new state was envisioned as an abode wherein the people would live in a free environment; they would get food and clothes, and unemployed youths would get jobs. Such a state was later dubbed Sonar Bangla (Golden Bengal), which was, in fact, a visionary state with a promise for people's better future.
Between 10 January 1972 and 15 August 1975, Bangabandhu had, in total, 1,314 days to redeem the visionary promises he had made. This tumultuous period was divided into two phases: upto January 1975; and since 25 January through 15 August 1975. During the first phase, "the bottomless basket," as per Henry Kissinger's prognostication, was fitted with a substantial bottom, and the basket itself was filled to a large extent. But the US made famine of 1974, and the machinations of the political detractors had the going got tough for the beleaguered leader Bangabandhu. Under the circumstances, a short-term solution called Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BKSAL) was launched as a common national platform, not certainly as a single party. Were it successful, the system would have revolutionized the society, economy, polity and bureaucracy. During the 233 days the system was in operation, all the indications showed upward trend. The BKSAL was, in essence, a long shot in the right direction, and with a clear vision. But it had a premature death like its author's.
Bangabandhu: The Charismatic
In 1966, shortly after the Six-Point plan was made public, Sirajul Alam Khan, a front-ranking Chhatra League leader, and also the head of the Nucleus, a youth front clandestinely working for independence, made a comment bearing on the charisma of Bangabandhu. He said, "Independence has to be achieved under Sheikh Mujib's [he was not yet Bangabandhu] leadership, for people listen to him." Indeed, this was a commentary on how Bangabandhu could captivate and enthrall his audience through his oratorical skill – a sure charismatic trait.
This charisma was not a sudden and overnight phenomenon, it had a long gestation period through the volatile political career of Bangabandhu. He earned this charisma through his life-long devotion to people's cause. In 1954, for example, while campaigning as the United Front candidate for the upcoming provincial assembly election, Bangabandhu was blessed by an elderly lady of the locality with the words: "The prayers of the poor will be with you." A young man of 34, Bangabandhu was moved and subsequently wrote in his memoirs, "when I left her hut my eyes were moist with tears. On that day, I promised myself that I would do nothing to betray my people."9
How much of Bangabandhu's charisma impacted on the youth psyche was demonstrated after Bangabandhu, along with 34 others, were jailed under the Agartala Conspiracy Case. In view of a ban on open politics, political parties were barred from any demonstration; as such, the youths were found on the streets in thousands protesting against the conspiratorial case and chanting the slogan: "We will break the lock of jail, and free Sheikh Mujib." As the subsequent events showed, the enormous strength of the youth force compelled the establishment to withdraw the case and free Sheikh Mujib. The weight of the youth force was further felt as power changed hands from Ayub Khan to Yahya Khan; although, in reality, it was from martial law to martial law.
A new height of Sheikh Mujib's charisma was reached on 23 February 1969, the day after his release from jail, when a mammoth civic reception at the Race Course, gave him the honorific "Bangabandhu" (friend of Bengal). This was perhaps the only occasion in the history of the world when a peoplecentric leader was ceremonially crowned with an honorific. This was, in fact, a people's return to a leader who had contributed so much to their cause.
On 1 March 1971, when a Pakistan radio broadcast on behalf of Yahya Khan, deferred indefinitely the National Assembly session scheduled in Dhaka on 3 March, the confused people had to rush to Bangabandhu to take the lead on the future course of action; and they got what they needed. Bangabandhu commanded that there be strike from 2 through 6 March; and also that the next directive be given on 7 March at the Race Course. During these days, things turned out as exactly Bangabandhu directed.
The 7 March speech was indeed the finest oral delivery by a leader who had grown to be the sole Bangali spokesman since the heady days of the 1966 Six-Point movement. Despite the rumoured declaration of independence in this speech, Bangabandhu said something in jugglery of words which amounted, in implied meaning, to such a declaration, but he did stop short of directly declaring so, and the crowd accepted the speech in the required spirit. Bangabandhu could do what he did in this speech as he had already had people's mandate for doing so. At one stage of the speech, he sought the mandate as he said, "Do you have faith in me?" The crowd responded in the affirmative as they gestured with their both hands in the air. Reciprocating the people's endorsement of his leadership, Bangabandhu made the frank confessional statement: "I do not want premiership. I want people's right." The speech was indeed a fine specimen of symmetry between the leader's charisma and people's acceptance of it. As the people listened to this speech,they, in the words of Andrew Newberg and Robert Waldman,10had their brain changed. No wonder that the entire non-cooperation movement was directed and shaped by Bangabandhu.
Bangabandhu was the leader of the Liberation War in absentia. He was the president of the Mujibnagar government; Syed Nazrul Islam, the Vice president, was acting president. That Bangabandhu could lead even in absentia and that the first capital (Baidyanathtola) could be named after him were certainly testimonies to the charismatic appeal Bangabandhu held for his followers.
That Bangabandhu's charisma extended beyond the borders of Bangladesh is initially attested to by the Indian premier Indira Gandhi's lobbying with 67 heads of government/state for sparing the life of Bangabandhu when it had been reported that Pakistan would hang him for treason. On 10 January 1972, on Bangabandhu's home-coming day. The Guardian of London carried front-page news with the heading:
"As soon as Sheikh Mujib walks out of the Dhaka airport the republic of Bangladesh becomes a reality." We knew that without Bangabandhu Bangladesh was meaningless; but that the foreign press also realized the fact, was something related to Bangabandhu's worldwide charisma.
How much foreigners were attracted to Bangabandhu comes out in the words of Archer K. Blood, American Deputy Consul General in Dhaka in 1971. He draws a pen-picture of Bangabandhu in his succinct words.
Mujib's very appearance suggested raw power, a power drawn from the masses and from his strong personality. He was taller and broader than most Bengalis, with ruggedly handsome features and intense eyes. A non-nonsense moustache gave added strength to his face, as did the heavy rimmed dark glasses he invariably wore. . . his dress was that of a native politician.11
Moreover, "poet of Politics" was the epithet given to Bangabandhu not by his own people, but by the American media, a country the government of which had been anti-Bangabandhu and anti-Bangladesh ab initio; and which was certainly a proof of Bangabandhu's charisma transcending the borders of his own country and spreading across the world. It may be noted that of all politicians of all ages and countries, Bangabandhu was the one to be honored with such an epithet. On 5 April 1971, the Newsweek ran a cover-story on Bangabandhu wherein occured the following words.
Tall for a Bengali (he stands 5 feet 11 inches), with a stock of graying hair, a bushy mustache and alert black eyes, Mujib can attract a crowd of a million people to his rallies and hold them spellbound with great rolling waves of emotional rhetoric. "Even when you are talking alone with him," says a diplomat, "he talks like he's addressing 60,000 people." Eloquent in Urdu, Bengali and English, three languages of Pakistan, Mujib does not pretend to bean original thinker, he is a poet of politics, not an engineer, but the Bengalis tend to be more artistic than technical, anyhow, and so his style may be just what was needed to unite all the classes and ideologies of the region.
At the Algiers Non-Aligned Summit (5-9 September 1973), Bangabandhu had a 35-minute meeting on the sideline with Libya's leader Muammar al-Qadhafi, who had been known for his staunch anti-Bangladesh stance. After the meeting, while facing the waiting journalists, he raised hands in prayer for Bangladesh. There must have been chemistry emanating from Bangabandhu's charismatic personality which melted down Qadhafi's anti-Bangladesh psyche. During the same summit, Fidel Castro's meeting with Bangabandhu evoked a comment from the former which is oft-quoted:"I have not seen the Himalayas, but I have seen Sheikh Mujib. In personality and courage, he is like the Himalayas. I have experienced seeing the Himalayas."
During the 1973 Arab-Israel war, Bangladesh's total and active commitment to the Palestinian cause created a positive image of the country in the Muslim World; and an Arab journalist confided in his Bangladeshi counterpart: "Your Prime Minister has won half of Africa including Arab world in a big battle without firing a single shot."12
That Bangabandhu was a visionary as well as the one who toiled to turn his vision into a reality is attested to by the gradual and cruel birth of Bangladesh. A supplementary part of this vision was to turn the war-devastated Bangladesh into a Golden Bengal (Sonar Bangla). But this part of the vision remained incomplete as his life was cruelly cut short. Bangabandhu's charisma drew him close to the hearts of not only his own people, but those of the ones across the world. He was thus a visionary and charismatic leader par excellence. In closing, the words of Churchill on Hindenburg (German president 1925-34) may be pertinent for Bangabandhu as well, if not the comparison.
Hindenburg! The name itself is massive. It harmonizes with the tall, thick-set personage with beetling brows, strong features, and heavy jowl, familiar to the modern world. It is a face that you could magnify tenfold, a hundredfold, a thousand-fold, and it would gain in dignity, nay even in majesty; a face most impressive when gigantic.13
The author is Bangabandhu Chair Professor at Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP)