History and rhetoric aside, for this writer one does not need to choose a date for the birthday of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It is not only 17 March. It is his birthday every day, even on the day he was assassinated on 15 August 1975.
That was his physical annihilation, but his spirit and visions live on 45 years after bullets fired by cowardly anti-state elements ripped through his towering figure.
The blood flowed into the soil of his Bangladesh, making his life and vision to live eternally alive in the hearts of millions of Bengalis as well as the freedom loving people of the world.
Learned historians and biographers have given him many labels and written extensively about the man he was. The man who envisioned a separate entity for the Bengalis even before the partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947.
Let me quote journalist and researcher Afsan Chowdhury, who recently published a book entitled "Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Bangladesh: The quest for a State (1937-1971)." He told me recently that it was best to remember Bangabandhu just as another human being, but an extraordinary one, and not like a God.
I was listening to a song by a young man who broke into tears as he performed on the stage as he had did not have the chance to meet Bangabandhu. A loosely translated lyric is "Why was I not born any earlier/ I feel happy to sing a song on Bangabandhu, but my pain of not being able to see him in person never ends/Why did I not have the luck to see Bangabandhu."
Freedom Fighter Jahiruddin of Naogaon district has not had a haircut or a shave for the past 45 years because all those who killed Bangabandhu are yet to be executed. He also has never used a comb, but allowed his hair to grow on its free will.
These are typical of the love of those who truly uphold his vision, ideology and patriotism. To the two men, Bangbandhu was like a God, but again because he was a human being, the song speaks about the young man's pain of not being born before the great leader was assassinated.
True, to many he was like a God and I do not blame those who hold him at that level, but it would be prudent to remember him as a man with extraordinary qualities and intellect who eventually become our father, Bangladesh's father. God is above everything, but a human being who gives his people the gift of an independent country means much more. It means his thoughts, his visions and his extraordinary politics have slowly brought about the birth of Bangladesh.
His 7 March 1971 historic speech was included by UNESCO in its "Memory of the World International Register" because it was one that a normal human being could not have put together in a 19-minute extempore address not only to the millions at the Race Course Maidan, but the world beyond. Bangabandhu in his fiery voice, tinged with words of regret, against the Pakistani junta, and the cautious words of stepping towards the fight for an independent Bangladesh, laid out the reality at hand. It spoke of his understanding of the world, observing the developments, the fate of his vision and people, and how diplomatically he placed his final call for independence.
Bangabandhu made it clear in his speech that he wanted a peaceful solution to a crisis created by General Yahya Khan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was later hanged by his own military rulers. The greatest Bengali of all time gave the two men time to avoid a conflict, as it meant bloodshed. He knew his people were ready along with him to sacrifice their lives for their democratic rights.
A large part of his speech detailed his efforts to convince the Pakistanis to avert any wrongful move to help end the crisis peacefully and without any bloodshed. That spoke of Bangabandhu's great worries about his people who were out on the streets demonstrating for their democratic rights and that if peace failed, blood would flow. By this he had established himself as a man of peace, defender of human rights and one who valued democratic norms.
"The struggle this time is the struggle for emancipation. The struggle this time is the struggle for independence," Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman thundered and alerted the Bengalis as well as the world community to the fact that a conflict was inevitable. The conflict can never be labelled as a "civil war" or "separatist movement" ---because his diplomacy was at work and he stopped short of saying "I declare the independence of Bangladesh" on 7 March 1971.
"What I want is justice, the rights of the people of this land. They (Pakistanis) tempted me with the Prime Ministership, but they failed to buy me over. Nor did they succeed in hanging me on the gallows, for you rescued me with your blood from the so-called (Agartala) conspiracy case. That day, right here at this Race Course, I had pledged to you that I would pay for this blood debt with my own blood. Do you remember? I am ready today to fulfil that promise!" – words that triggered choked emotions and worked like gunpowder in the war itself.
Afsan Chowdhury writes in his book "Long before he (Bangabandhu) met Suhrawardy and Fazlul Haq in 1939 at Gopalganj, which kicked off a historic partnership that facilitated a state production, Sheikh Mujib was in conflict with the local administration. He admired Subhash Bose, C.R. Das and few others, but not the Congress party. He thought they were pro-landlord."
"His identity was framed by his residential address in the Margin and his encounter with the establishment. He also could speak both to the peasant and the elite, which made his position strong ... His entry into Kolkata politics was a militant from the Margin, not loyal to any elite aspirations."
"Sheikh Mujib represented the Margin; the coalition of identities of all oppressed people, particularly the villagers who became the bastion of the Bangladesh War in 1971."
The lines above tell us that Bangabandhu was a born "militant" from the farming class disturbed from his childhood by being suppressed by rulers or landlords, Muslims or Hindus. That was and is Bangabandhu.
To end, let me quote a recent book in Bangla entitled "Sheikh Mujibur Rahmaner Bhasha Sangram" by Tariqul Islam Masoom, a journalist who was himself once an Awami League activist, "it was only Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who fought and won the fight against the British, the fight to establish Bengali as a state language of Pakistan and the fight for an independent Bangladesh. He was also the first Bengali ever to become the president or head of government of any entity."
Thus a man of such heights, legend, unwavering commitment to his vision and patriotism, cannot die. The physical presence lies in Tungipara, Gopalganj, but in spirit Bangabandhu is born daily when a Bengali baby is born, a new generation that starts to walk and the day when Bangladesh achieves a new standard in the world comity, it is his birthday.
No man is immortal, but death does not mean the death of the spirit or what he leaves behind ceases to exist. He gave us Bangladesh and as long as Bangladesh lives, it is his birthday every day.
It is a celebration of life. The life of Bangabandhu. Our eternal celebration.
The writer is a senior journalist and UN Dag Hammarskjold Scholar in journalism