When you are talking about the man whose personality was comparable to the Himalayas, who was a man of unquestionable moral rectitude and whose heart beats skipped only for the people of his country, you will very naturally fall short of epithets, as mere words aren't enough to define a man of such magnanimity. This treatise is a humble endeavour to throw some light on different attributes of Bangabandhu, including the charismatic personality traits as well as the hamartia that he developed unconsciously over the years.
Two things differentiate Bangabandhu from all other political leaders of his time. First, Bangabandhu sacrificed his whole life to emancipate this nation from the shackles of despotism wrought upon us by the despotic rulers of West Pakistan. He was incarcerated many times and spent so many years in jail that even his own child forgot his face. An anecdote adduced from the book Oshomapto Attojiboni (The Unfinished Memoirs) by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman published in 2012 by The University Press Limited will clarify the point further.
The father of the nation writes, "Once my wife and I were gossiping while Hasu (Hasina) and Kamal were playing on the floor. Hasu came to me in the middle of the game and addressed me as 'Abba' (father). Kamal used to keep looking at me, but would not say anything. Suddenly Kamal said to Hasu, 'Apu (sister), can I call your father Abba (father)?' Then, I went to Kamal and took him in my lap and said, 'I am your father too.' It is astonishing that your own children forget your face if you stay away from them for a long time."
Second, it can be said without a shadow of a doubt that Bangabandhu was a man of the people. When 'Jukta Front' declared that the leaders would be selected on the basis of formal elections arranged in their respective districts, Sheikh Mujib came to his own district to participate in the election. He did not have the financial ability to conduct an election campaign, but he had enormous popularity and love of the people belonging to all the rungs of the social ladder.
Bangabandhu, in his autobiography, remembered those days of elections in the following way: "One day a very poor old woman, hearing that I would travel along the road by her house for my election campaign, had been waiting for me for several hours. When she saw me, she took me to her house clasping my hand and said -- 'Baba (son), you have to sit for a while under my thatch'.
Setting a mat before me on the floor of her veranda, she offered me a pot of milk and a betel-leaf, and gave me a few coins and said -- 'Baba (Son), sit here to have the milk. And take these coins. I have nothing else to give you other than these things.' With tears rolling down my eyes, I sipped a little from the pot. Then, I said to her, 'Mother, your blessings are quite enough for me.' That day, realising the mass people's love for me, I made up my mind that I will never deceive my people."
This was the extent of love people had for Bangabandhu. The architect of our liberation war held on to his promise till the last breath of his life, but alas, his own people failed him. This is also true to some extent that such uncompromising love for his people turned out to be fatal for him, as Bangabandhu developed a mindset that no matter what, his people would never stab him in the back.
Bangabandhu indeed had a 'tragic flaw' - the hamartia was his perennial love for his countrymen, confidants and his stalwart supporters. Bangabandu was a great leader and did many great deeds, but he developed some kind of 'cognitive closure' in the tail-end years of his life. Because of such closure, he was not in an emotional state to believe that a sword of Damocles was hanging over his head and any Bangalee could hatch a plot against him with an intent to annihilate his whole family.
'Cognitive closure' is a state of mind when we fail to flip the script and see the other side of a situation. Coined first by the social psychologist Arie Kruglanski, he defined it as an individual's desire for a firm answer to a question and an aversion toward ambiguity. In 1994, Kruglanski along with Donna Webster introduced some parameters to measure the extent of closure having five separate motivational facets.
One of those was closed-mindedness, a situation when someone is not willing to consider opinions that are antithetical to his own. Someone suffering from such closure tends to form judgments based on early cues (impressional primacy). Bangabandhu's impressional primacy was that Bangalees could never think of harming him, let alone kill him. And owing to the closed-mindedness, he paid no heed to the repeated warnings he received from different quarters about the possibility of a coup to oust his government and eventually kill him.
Despite the fact that the conspiracy to kill Bangabandhu by some conniving people was hatched in a furtive way, some quarters, both domestic and foreign, could catch wind of it and tried to inform Bangabandhu beforehand. RK Yadav, a former R&AW Officer of India, wrote in his book Mission R&AW: "R&AW received advance information of the conspiracy against Sheikh Mujibur Rahman which was hatched by some disgruntled junior army officers."
RN Kao (the then chief of R&AW) personally informed the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and he came to Dhaka in December 1974 as well to meet Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the Bangabhaban. While taking a little stroll in the garden, Kao conveyed to him the information which R&AW had received about the imminent threat to his life. In response, Sheikh Mujib said, waving his arms: "These are my own children, they will not harm me." Bangabandhu remained unfazed by such a threat and ruled out any such possibility.
And the consequent events are known to all and were a pure incarnation of evil. Well, it is this particular quality that has made Bangabandhu immortal in the history of Bangladesh – he loved his people and counted on them till the last breath of his life.
However, it is an abomination for us that Bangabandhu, the greatest Bangalee of a thousand years and the supreme leader who spearheaded our liberation war, was brutally assassinated along with most of his family members on 15 August 1975. Nothing could be more disgraceful than this that the man who liberated us was killed by his own people.
The past cannot be undone, but the future can definitely be made better. The best way to truly pay tribute to anyone is to cherish and practice his ideals. We should also do so. If we really want to pay homage to Bangabandhu in this month of mourning in the truest sense, we (the politicians to be more precise) should try to emulate the ideals he lived by and died for.
Md Morshedul Alam Mohabat is a philomath who likes to delve deeper into the human psyche with a view to exploring the factors that influence it.