On the 45th martyrdom anniversary of the great man of history, the greatest Bengali of all time, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, I humbly pay my respects to all of those who lost their lives to the ruthless bullets of the assassins, including the family members of the Father of the Nation that night.
This day of grief is celebrated every year as a day of mourning in the country and abroad with due respect and in a solemn atmosphere. But this year, Bangladesh is affected by the coronavirus pandemic, along with the whole world.
State and party programmes such as celebration of the Birth Centenary of Father of the Nation or Mujib Year, Genocide Day, Independence Day, Bengali New Year, Mujibnagar Day, Sheikh Hasina's Homecoming Day, Six Point Day, Founding Anniversary of Awami League, Birthdays of Sheikh Kamal and Bangamata have been restricted or postponed as a precautionary measure to protect public health.
I hope that it would be possible to overcome the catastrophe through word-by-word implementation of the Prime Minister and government's directives with proper coordination and responsible attitude of the people at all level.
On 15th of August, the month of mourning, we have lost the Father of the Nation, the greatest friend of the wretched and oppressed people of the world- without whose birth this country would not have been independent and we would still be enslaved by Pakistan. This year, this day of mourning has returned to our national life in a different way.
As a result of the steps taken on the occasion of Bangabandhu's birth centenary or 'Mujib Year', many aspects of the life and work of the Father of the Nation have been revealed with glory.
After August 15, 1975 to 1996, dictators enforced a culture of fear in the country and blocked the way for the trial of Bangabandhu's assassination. All those injustices have been swept away by the truth of history. Today, it is clear to everybody that the history of the establishment of independent Bangladesh is deeply related and synonymous with the 'Awami League', 'Bangabandhu' and 'Bangladesh'. Two books of Bangabandhu- 'Unfinished Autobiography' and 'Prison Diary'- are one of the most important documents of national history. We are grateful to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, daughter of Bangabandhu, for publishing these two invaluable books. We have learned many unknown things about history from these two books.
Bangabandhu said, "I have felt it with my heart after the establishment of Pakistan that this Pakistan is not for the Bengalis. One day, the Bengalis must be the captain of their own fate." He established Chatra League on January 4, 1948 and Awami League on June 23, 1949 to achieve that goal. He led the great Language Movement in 1948 and 1952. He led the United Front in 1954, Constitution Movement in 1956, Education Movement in 1962 and Anti-Sectarian Movement in 1964. He organised extensive movements across the country to establish self-autonomy and self-determination based on the six points demand, the testimony of Bengali's freedom.
Later, this movement enforced mass-movement and mass-uprising in 1969 on the basis of the 11 points demand, which helped the collective mass of student-general people free the Father of the Nation from imprisonment. He was awarded the title of 'Bangabandhu', soaked in the love of millions of people. Thus, with great nationalist movements, he united the whole nation and achieved a landslide victory in the historical election of 1970 and proved to the whole world that he is the only legitimate political leader of the Bengalis.
After the election, the military ruling class started delaying the transfer of power and Awami League with its public representatives started preparation for the upcoming struggle. As a part of this, on January 3, 1971, Bangabandhu led the oath taking ceremony of the public representatives in front of more than a million people. On February 18, the parliamentary party with the elected public representatives of the party in the provincial and national council was formed. And, on the midnight of February 21, standing on the holy altar of the Shahid Minar, Bangabandhu directed the people to resist the conspiracies and to prepare for the upcoming struggle.
On March 1, the parliamentary party of Awami League sat for a meeting at Hotel Purbani to participate in the session of National Council to be held on March 3. During the meeting, while they were discussing the question of formulating the constitution, Yahya Khan, the president of Pakistan, suddenly postponed the session of the National Council in a unilateral decision. After that, Bangabandhu started the total non-cooperation movement.
Then came the historical 7th of March, the day when he delivered the world famous historical speech. Today that speech has achieved a dignified position in the world. After that, the country was being directed by the leadership of Bangabandhu and he placed the unarmed Bengalis at the estuary of freedom by transforming them to an armed nation. On March 25, the Pakistan military started genocide based on the blueprint of the Operation Searchlight and on the first hour of March 26, Bangabandhu said, declaring the independence, "May be, this is my last message. Bangladesh is independent from today."
Taking arms in our own hands at the direction of Bangabandhu, after nine months of bloody struggle, we achieved the great victory on December 16 with the sacrifice of a sea of blood. On January 10, 1972, Bangabandhu returned to the country after being released from the prison in Pakistan and focused on rebuilding the war-torn country. He was questioned by foreign journalists at a press conference before returning to the country via London, "Your country has been destructed." Bangabandhu answered, "If there are people in the country, if there is any soil left, then one day a golden Bengal, with pure water, fertile land and green crops will arise from the debris of the destruction."
Bangabandhu did his politics with two goals - one, the independence of Bangladesh; two, transform Bangladesh into a golden Bengal. He used to say with pride, "My Bengal will be beautiful Bengal, my Bangladesh will be golden and my Bangladesh will be the Switzerland of the East." Today he is lying in the grave at Tungipara. He will never return again. He will never call the nation with his compassionate voice- 'O brothers of mine'.
I was close to Bangabandhu. I always say that I am a fortunate man. Being blessed by the touch, love and affection of a leader without whose birth there would have been no independent Bangladesh is the greatest gift for me in this world. I can remember the electoral visit to Barishal, Patuakhali, and Bhola area in 1970. On February 24, there was an electoral meeting in Bhola. It was the largest public gathering in the history of Bhola and Bangabandhu praised me in his speech and portrayed me as a person with more qualities than I actually had.
Bangabandhu used to addressed leaders and activists like that. He could portray the small as big. Wherever he visited, he attributed powerful qualities to local leaders and activists. He became the Father of the Nation and Bangabandhu by transforming a union level Awami Leage leader to a thana level leader, thana leader to district leader and district leader to national level leader. He could embrace his enemies as friends easily. Those who were opposed to him, he drew them closer with heart melting behaviour.
People believed him when he said, "I do not want the premiership." He never did politics for power, or to be the prime minister. The goals of his politics were to save the motherland from exploitation and oppression, to make the Bengalis master of their own fate, and of Bangladesh. He wanted to sacrifice his life for these. He endured lifelong imprisonment, oppression and torture. He passed 12 years of his life in prison. He never bowed his head.
I can remember the day of March 17, 1971. It was the 52th birth anniversary of Bangabandhu. After a meeting with Yahya Khan at noon, a journalist questioned him during a discussion at his Dhanmondi residence, "What is the biggest desire for you on your 52th birthday?" Answering the question, the incomparable leader of the deprived Bengalis said, "The overall liberty of people." After that, when the journalists conveyed their birthday greetings, he said with grief, "I do not celebrate my birthday, I do not light a candle or cut a cake. There is no security for people in the country. You know the situation of the people of the country. Anyone could die anytime on someone else's wishes. I am just another one of the people. What is the meaning of my birthday or the day of my death? My birth and death is only for my people."
After the independence, world famous journalist David Frost asked Bangabandhu, "And when you see them digging a grave and you think of everything you will have to leave behind, do you think of your country or, for instance, of your wife and children first?" He answered, "I feel for my country and my people and then my family. I love my people more. I suffered for my people and you have seen how my people love me." You can fathom the depths of the oceans, but you cannot fathom the love of Bangabandhu for the people of his country.
Bangabandhu started his journey with an empty hand after the independence. There were no roofs in the granaries, no money in the banks and no foreign exchanges. There were no roads, port, pull, culverts; no rail, plane, steamer, nothing. The whole communication system was destroyed. But he reestablished the whole communication system very fast. He rebuilt the Bhairab Bridge, Hardinge Bridge, which had been destroyed. The Indian military left the country on March 12, 1972 through his sole effort. On April 7-8, 1972, he was reelected as the President of Awami League and Zillur Rahman as the general secretary at a colourful event arranged in the Suhrawardi Udyan. On November 4, 1972, he formulated one of the best constitutions of the world only in seven months.
Bangabandhu formed the government with huge public support after a successful parliamentary election. The Bangabandhu-1 satellite that has been launched into the space, Bangabandhu had laid the foundation of this with the establishment of the Betbunia satellite earth station in 1975. I was a travel companion of Bangabandhu on that day.
Bangabandhu got only three and a half years to rebuild the war-torn Bangladesh. His government directed the economic activities in two parts - first, rehabilitation and reconstruction and second, socio-economic development. In the boro season of 1974-75, the rice production was around 22 lakh 49,000 tonnes, which was 29,000 tonnes more than the previous year. Bangabandhu decided to declare Bangladesh self-dependent on food in December. The moment he stabilised the war-torn country, declared programmes for a second revolution to achieve economic freedom, the defeated forces of '71, the unfaithful Mir Zafars of Bengal, murdered Bangabandhu along with his family, with the ruthless bullets of the assassins. Only his two daughters, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, escaped the hands of the murderers as they had been abroad at that time.
Bangladesh got recognition from most of the countries of the world during the reign of Bangabandhu. He held a respected position in the assembly of the world. During that period, Bangladesh got membership of many international organisations, including - Commonwealth of Nations, Non-Aligned Movement, Organisation of Islamic Conference, and United Nations. I had the privilege to be a travel companion of Bangabandhu in these four organisations' conferences. Bangabandhu was the centre of attraction of all the conferences and sessions of these organisations.
His inaugural foreign trip was on February 6, 1972. He gave a speech in India, the great friend of our struggle for freedom, at Kolkata's Brigade Maydan, in front of more than two million people. The people of Kolkata came to the event leaving behind their houses. During the bilateral discussion after the public event, Bangabandhu invited Indira Gandhi to a Bangladesh visit. He said, "My birthday is on March 17. You will come to Bangladesh on that day. But, honorable prime minister, I want you to bring back your military from Bangladesh before your visit." Indira Gandhi agreed to the proposal.
On March 1 of the same year, Bangabandhu visited Soviet Union, another friend of our freedom struggle. This country provided overall help during the war. It exercised its veto power in favour of an independent Bangladesh in the security council of the United Nations. The Prime Minister of Soviet Union Alexei Kosygin welcomed Bangabandhu at the airport and the President of Soviet Union Nikolai Podgorni, Secretary General of Soviet Communist Party General Leonid Brezhnev and Foreign Minister Andrei Gromiko welcomed him at the Kremlin. It was a rare phenomenon.
On August 3, 1973, the Commonwealth Conference was held at Ottawa, the capital of Canada, with participation of the leaders of the states and governments of more than 32 countries. Bangabandhu, the architect of the newly-independent Bangladesh, was the focus of attention among all the leaders. Pierre Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada presided over the conference. Bangabandhu in his speech to the world leaders said, "When elephant plays, grass suffers." Everyone was fascinated by his speech. Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, British Prime Minister Edward Heath, Prime Minister of Australia Edward Whitlam, President of Tanzania Julius Nyerere, President of Zambia Kenneth Kaunda, President of Singapore Lee Kwan, and the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Srimavo Bandaranaike participated at the conference, among others.
On September 9, 1973, Bangabandhu declared at the conference of Non-Aligned Movement held in Algeria, "The world is now divided into two parts. The oppressor and the oppressed. I am on the side of the oppressed." On February 22, 1974, he joined the Islamic Conference a day after Pakistan's recognition of Bangladesh. Pakistan's President Fazal Ilahi Chaudhury and Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto welcomed him at the Lahore airport. I saw on that day that the people of the country which murdered more than 30 lakh people of Bangladesh during the war, was singing the slogan gathering on the sides of the roads- "Jiye Mujib, Jiye Mujib", which means long live Mujib. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib was the main focus of the conference. Even, the conference did not start before his arrival. The conference was postponed for a day for the arrival of Bangabandhu.
When the heads of the states and governments of the participant countries were given mass reception at Shalimar Garden, Bangabandhu was again the centre of attention. He was such a leader with such self-dignity that he told the King of Saudi Arabia, "Your majesty, although you have not recognised my country, I thank you because you have given permission for our people to participate in Hajj in your country."
I went to Yugoslavia with Bangabandhu in a state visit. Marshal Tito, the president of Yugoslavia and the prime minister gave him a heroic welcome at the airport. The scene is still bright in my memory. In Japan, the then Prime Minister of the country Kakui Tanaka welcomed Bangabandhu at the airport. Emperor Hirohito welcomed Bangabandhu especially at the palace. Anwar Sadat, the president of Egypt, welcomed Bangabandhu at the airport.
I can especially remember September 25, 1974, the day when Bangabandhu set a great example in the international arena by giving a speech at the United Nations in Bengali. Bangabandhu was requested to give his speech in English. But he said, "I want to give my speech in Bengali." When the name of Bangabandhu was announced, there was a harmony of sound from the hand-clapping of world leaders sitting in the hall. Standing on the stage, at first, Bangabandhu looked around in his natural posture and then started his speech mentioning the United Nations, the highest organisation of world politics, as "the great parliament of human race".
Bangabandhu is the first head of the state who addressed the United Nations in Bengali. He, in that speech, said, "Bangladesh is firmly committed to create a new world order which will reflect peace, justice and hope of the global population. Millions of people have made supreme sacrifices in our country for the ideals mentioned in the UN resolutions."
He delivered his 45-minute speech to pin-drop silence. The world leaders had deep respect for Bangabandhu. He was an Everest-like figure in the international political arena.
"You really have made a leader who is not only a figure for Bangladesh, but also for Asia. He is certainly one of the great leaders for the oppressed around the globe," delegates from numerous countries told me at the UN.
In a non-aligned conference in Algiers, Fidel Castro remarked, "I have not seen the Himalayas. But I have seen Sheikh Mujib."
Politician with his personality and foresight is rare. He stood tall wherever he went.
I saw him for the last time on 14 August, 1975. As usual, I went to Dhanmondi 32 and then to Ganabhaban with Bangabandhu. We had our lunch together on that day. Bangabandhu's meals used to go to Ganabhaban from his residence.
Bangamata Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib, who accompanied Bangabandhu in grief, happiness or in danger, used to prepare the meals for her husband. After lunch, Bangabandhu took rest and then entered his office.
He used to discuss political issues with his colleagues in the afternoon and have tea with them. He would return home around 9:00pm and I used to return home after leaving him at Dhanmondi 32. I would go together and return together too.
On that night, Bangabandhu told me, "Come to my home tomorrow morning, we will go to Dhaka University together." But that did not happen; I could not go there with my beloved leader.
Tofail Ahmed, is a veteran Awami League leader, Member of Parliament and Member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Commerce. Email: email@example.com