History teaches us that a politician's primary responsibility is to encourage citizens to fight for their motherland and their welfare, even at the risk of their lives. However, it is also true that not all politicians can move their constituents into action with exhilarating and appealing monologues. In fact, very few political leaders can command civilians' loyalty with multifaceted capabilities. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was one of those leaders.
Bangabandhu is a name deeply rooted in the emotions of millions of Bangladeshis. He was the kind of leader who could harness a spontaneous enthusiasm among the people to fight for their freedom. He could move millions with the words in his speech, and the passion and determination in his voice. The most memorable of those was definitely his historic 7th of March address.
It was probably a warm day in early Spring. The citizen's sitting on the front and the whole country waited boisterously for him as he stepped on to the dais on March 7, 1971. Bangabandhu was at the height of thousand years of history, taking on the burden of the nation. It was his most crucial moment, as any frivolous choice might have shattered the campaign's momentum that had hit its pinnacle.
Although not a formal script, in his speech, he integrated all conceivable details. Even though not an official statement of independence, it was an unofficial declaration of independence when he pronounced "Ebarer sangram aamader muktir sangram, ebarer sangram swadhinatar sangram (This struggle is for our freedom, this struggle is for our independence) at Racecourse Maidan (now Suhrawardy Udyan) in Dhaka in a loud tone, at a huge protest.
His tone was so determined that it created a dynamic environment at the Racecourse Maidan. Instinctively, he expressed his genuine emotions using ordinary people's language and dialect, to spur his compatriots to combat the Pakistani dictatorship.
Considering the prominence of this address, the international periodical 'Newsweek' titled him a 'Poet of Politics' in its cover story published on April 5, 1971. Through his lyrical poetry, he successfully influenced millions of countrymen to remain united for the cause of independence of the country.
His rhetorical style was so orchestral that it generated an emotional boost among the countrymen. His voice can still make people tremble even after 50 years. His speech can still create the same amount of enthusiasm among the people. Considering the message's potence, many compared it to two other great speeches of the world: the 'Gettysburg Address' of Abraham Lincoln and the 'I have a dream' speech of Martin Luther King Junior.
One may wonder about the impact of the speech on the country's political struggle for independence. The speech's timing was so exact that this was transmitted at the height of the tension of the struggle over East Pakistan's autonomy with West Pakistan's strong political-military government.
Considering the deception of West Pakistani rule, he chose to offer the countrymen the right time to train for the provincial civil rebellion movement and delivered a succinct guideline before the countrymen so that they could prepare themselves for it. Consequently, he pierced the hearts of compatriots by uttering the words "protteck ghore ghore durgo gore tolo" (prepare every house as a fortress).
Influenced by his spirit, the audience started chanting the slogans "Sab Kother Shesh Kotha, Bangladesher Swadhinata" (The final word is the independence of Bangladesh), and "Bir Bangalee Ostro Dhoro, Bangladesh Swadhin Koro" (Brave Bangali, Take Up Arms to Free Bangladesh). Through his speech, he presented an image of independence before the countrymen. Therefore, he concluded his speech by saying, "Rokto Jokhon Dyechhi, Rokto Aro Debo, Kintu Edesher Manuske Mukto Kore Chharbo Insha-Allah'' (Since we have shed blood, we shall shed much until, by the grace of the Almighty, we make people free).
Bangabandhu delivered his March 7 address as a veteran political leader and as a mature diplomat. Therefore, instead of issuing an official declaration, he used diplomatic jargon to proclaim independence. He tried to achieve two goals by the adoption of a diplomatic approach. First, he sought to encourage compatriots to prepare for the war. Second, he tried to allow the Pakistani ruler some time to understand the severity of the situation and consider the demands of the citizens of East Pakistan.
The real consequence of the March 7 speech was that President Yahya Khan was compelled to come to East Pakistan to discuss with Bangabandhu to find ways to determine East Pakistan's continued political struggle. Unfortunately, the meeting did not produce a good outcome, as Yahya followed the tactic of preparing his army for genocide in East Pakistan that eventually took place at midnight of March 25 in the name of 'Operation Searchlight' and killed thousands of innocent Bangalis, which finally shut the doors for further negotiation. Such atrocities compelled Bangabandhu to make the formal declaration of Bangladesh's independence in the early hours of March 26 before being arrested by the Pakistani army.
This speech's political impact was dazzling, as different parties and lobbies pressured him to arrive at a conclusive decision on the ongoing protests. He thus picked the moment when the people's feeling of injustice was sky high. Besides, the Pakistani Government had refused to delegate state power to Sheikh Mujib, despite an overwhelming win in the 1970 election. The gravity of the situation was thus very sensitive, as any slip may have endangered the momentum. That is why, with simple language, Bangabandhu was cautious in proclaiming an informal declaration of independence through the March 7 speech. His dedication and honesty inspired listeners.
Finally, the 7th March speech altered Bangladesh's trajectory by uniting the whole nation to combat the Pakistani ruler and to fulfil the long-awaited desire to become an independent country. The importance of this speech is so vital that a renowned historian Jacob F. Field documented it as one of the world's eminent addresses in his book entitled 'We Shall Fight on the Beaches: The Speeches That Inspired History'. The speech continues to have the same influence till today. That is why, in 2017, UNESCO recognised Bangabandhu's 7th March speech as part of the world's documentary heritage. The admiration has extended beyond Bangladesh and left the whole world inspired.
Pranab Kumar Panday, PhD, is a Professor of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.