Bangabandhu’s 7th March Speech:
Poetry of the Heart
Professor Dr. M. Shahinoor Rahmsan
Islamic University, Kushtia
Sections in this Paper
– Style is the Man
– Orator of all time
– The Prequel
– The Climax: The Moment of Spark
– The Sequel
– After Independence
– The Second Pilot
STYLE IS THE MAN
I will begin with an excerpt from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s own 2011 7th March commemoration Seminar speech at Osmani Smriti Auditorium: ”তিনি বলেন, যতদিন বাংলাদেশ থাকবে ততদিন এ ভাষনের চেতনা ও আদর্শ আমাদের সকলের কাছে প্রেরণার উৎস্য হয়ে থাকবে। তিনি বলেন, এপর্যন্ত অনেকেই ভাষণটির ভিন্ন ভিন্ন দিক ব্যাখা করেছেন, তবে কাব্যিক ছন্দের এই ভাষণের গুরূত্ব ও মাহাত্ম্য জাতীয় ইতিহাসের বিগত ৪০ বছরেও হারায়নি।” Her insight is amazing, as she points to a hitherto relatively unexplored aspect of the celebrated address. It is its inner aesthetic beauty. She means to say that Bangabandhu’s 7th March speech has since been searchingly dissected and analyzed by lots of intellectuals from political or strategic points of view but its worth is not limited to its cerebral qualities. Its perennial appeal to the heart will remain ever fresh and engaging. She wants us to understand that it is not a mere prosaic exposion of a situation or a program of action but a unique blend of the qualities of head and heart leaving a haunting fascination that compels us to return to it again and again. It is like Nazrul’s war poem ÕPj Pj PjÕ that both goads us to action and touches our heart. We never know how much of it is order and how much jingle. Yeats is also at a loss:
“O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?“
(‘Among School Children’)
It is a situation in which the message cannot be separated from the medium, bearing testimony to the tenet “Medium is the message”, meaning ‘the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived’ (definition from Wikipedia). So is the case with Bangabandhu’s 7th March speech.
When Bangabandhu stood on the dais on 7th March 1971 he was standing on the peak of a thousand years of history, the moment of spark, with the whole responsibility of the nation on his head. It was the staggering height of his life and career. We cannot guess what his psychological condition was like. He spoke hardly 20 minutes, point by point, without mincing words. His voice was confident and thunderous. The Kvwe¨K Q›` refers to the rhythm and cadence that issued from his unalloyed emotion. He used the common man’s language and dialect, almost Wordsworthian. His words came out in a ‘spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings’, or as the old ‘Pearl’ poet said ‘as wallande water got out of welle’. The vibrant words ring in our ears every time we remember them. It is not without reason that the international periodical ‘Newsweek’ described Bangabandhu as a ‘Poet of Politics’ in the cover story of their 5 April 1971 issue. The magazine wrote: “Tall for a Bengali (he stands 5 feet 11 inches), with a touch of graying hair, a bushy moustache and alter black eyes, Mujib can attract a crowd of million people to his rallies and hold them spellbound with great rolling waves of emotional rhetoric. He is a poet of politics. So his style may be just what was needed to unite all the classes and ideologies of the region.” Nothing could be a more revealing observation. While reading the passage I was exhilarated by the use of the word ‘style’. In fact ‘style’ is not a mere word. It is a significant term in the study of composition which is eponymously called stylistics. It is the manner that characterizes and distinguishes a writer or speaker. Therefore a person’s style is all his own, inalienable and inimitable. It is the hallmark of his personality. Count de Buffon first said “the style is the man himself” (le style est l’homme même). The Bible says: ‘A tree is known by its fruit’ (Luke 6:44). But literary critics know that a man is known by his style. Students of literature are well acquainted with the individual styles of Bacon, Lamb, Dr. Johnson, Newman, Matthew Arnold, Carlyle, Ruskin, Walter Pater, etc. by which we can recognize them. J. H. Fowler in his Introduction to ‘British Orators’ (Macmillan & Co., 1928) enumerates the qualities of effective oration, which we can invoke to validate Bangabandhu’s 7th March speech: (i) intellectual and moral sincerity; (ii) truth of substance matched to truth of style; (iii) no eloquence or persuasion ‘to make the worse reason appear the better’; (iv) an inspiring call that finds a voice for a people’s aspirations; (v) no confused thinking; (vi) distinct articulation and clarity of expression; (vii) no circumlocution ‘the words will say what they mean and mean what they say’. An example is relevant to our purpose. In The Atlantic magazine dated 2 April 2012 Clive James writes of Dwight Macdonald: “As with all great essayists, his writing had a poetic component, but it was a poetry cleansed of poeticism. No modern American prose writer of consequence ever postured less. At his best, Macdonald made modern American English seem like the ideal prose medium: transparent in its meaning, fun when colloquial, commanding when dignified, and always suavely rhythmic even when most committed to the demotic.” (‘demotic’ means colloquial). This is the style of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman that conjured up the miracle that charmed his audience to dance to his tunes. The Ancient Mariner held the wedding-guest by his eyes. But Bangabandhu held his hearers by his style. The Newsweek reporter rightly observes that it was Sheikh Mujib’s style that united all the classes and ideologies of the population.
Many a dishonest schemer with an empty gift of the gab can manage to deliver a long and tedious harangue. But Bangabandhu’s sincerity of passion and unadorned simplicity carried an electrical thrill in his hearers. His self-confidence was of a type that rocks mountains. It swayed the gathering. They discovered their own hopes and aspirations in his words. They identified themselves with him. Herein lies his difference from a demagogue like Cleon, Alcibiades, Glenn Beck, Joseph McCarthy or Mark Antony in ‘Julius Caesar’. A demagogue is an opportunist rabble-rouser seeking to whip up the emotions, passions and prejudices of the unsuspecting masses in order to gain power or to promote his self-intetrest. But he is spurned as soon as his tendentious motives are exposed. On the other hand, Bangabandhu’s popularity, respect and homage have stood the test of time. Question does not arise. He had no selfish agenda. He could talk effortlessly and without premeditation because he did not distance himself from ‘the other’. He took himself for a man among men and shared their common feelings and aspirations. He empathized with them. He befriended the marginalized common man and bound him to his soul with ‘hoops of steel’, to use Shakespeare’s phrase in ‘Hamlet’. He observed him and found “reason to lament what man has made of man”. If Arthur Clutton-Brock the well-known essayist of ‘On Popularity’ would evaluate Bangabandhu, he would class him with those gifted with ‘intimate popularity’ that issues from ‘instinctive liking’. That is why Bangabandhu’s talk was so affective. We will see below that his life and the emergence of Bangladesh are co-eval and inextricably intertwined. The one is integral part of the other. In a sense he is more of a nation-builder than many others who go by that name. He laid down his life for his vision and mission. He is a martyr to his cause.
In another seminar organized by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Memorial Trust at the Institution of Engineers, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina repeated her conviction that “Bangabandhu’s words will never become archaic or obsolete. We renew our patriotism every time we hear them”. “She urged all concerned to project significance of the historic March 7 speech of Father of the Nation to the new generation”. Describing the speech as an important event of our national history, she said the young generation will be inspired with patriotism after learning the history of Bangladesh’s independence through Bangabandhu’s great speech of 7th March. She said the appeal of the speech that inspired and united the Bengali nation to fight for achieving the country’s independence is everlasting. “How many times we hear the speech, we discover ourselves anew and feel our own identity every time,” she added. She said the Bengali nation gets strength when they learn the country’s true history from the speech in which Bangabandhu gave directives to the nation to get ready for war in order to achieve independence. It is an epitome of the concept and ideal of Bangladesh and hence its relevance is co-equal with the very existence of Bangladesh through all time to come. That is why she says it will go down in history as a perpetual source of inspiration and vitality for generations to come. Hasina wants to emphasize that Bangabandhu’s 7th March speech is not a period-piece. It has not lost its importance and relevance after the 7th March 1971 Race Course event has passed. Its value is enduring. It may be mentioned that she repeated the same sentiment in her 2013 7th March Seminar speech and that again at the Osmani Smriti Auditorium. The news story: “She said the March 7 is an outstanding day for the nation as Bangabandhu delivered his historic speech on the day that determined the history of the nation.The spirit of the speech will never fizzle out, she said.”
Professor AMS Arefin Siddique in his admirable ‘Analysing The Greatest Speech Of The Greatest Bangali’ has appreciated Bangabandhu’s oratory in these words: “Although the historic 7 March speech was an extempore one, what was noticeable about it was that annoying repetitions and hesitations in framing words as observed in such speeches were totally absent. It was possible for Bangabandhu alone to deliver such an unostentatious, direction-giving, poetic speech without any break and without taking any help from notes while standing in the middle of a sea of people. This speech was literally a revolution – which culminated in our liberation war and freedom. Such spectacular application of words was truly an amazing event.”
ORATOR OF ALL TIME
Last year (2014) the 7th March anniversity seminar was organized by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Memorial Trust and held at Krishibid Institution, Khamarbari, under the banner “জাতির জনক বঙ্গবন্ধু শেখ মুজিবুর রহমানের ঐতিহাসিক ৭ই মার্চ ১৯৭১-এর ভাষণের উপর সেমিনার। ”৭ই মার্চের ভাষণ ঃ বিশ্ব-ইতিহাসে স্বাধীনতার শ্রেষ্ঠ ভাষণ” which, translated into English, stands “Speech of 7 March: Greatest Speech for Liberation in World History”. The organizers conceivably did not have any valid document to prove their assertion that it was the “greatest speech”, but in any case it shows their presentiment that the speech deserved more worldwide recognition which it did not get as yet. The assertion was more wishful than definitive. Likewise, here is another news item: ‘The Prime Minister’s message said Bangabandhu’s March 7 speech was one of the greatest political speeches of all time according to international political analysts’. To some political analysts the speech raised him to the height of a statesman, and clearly brought together various strands of thought that Bengalis happened to experience at that time. The speech touched the sentiment of the common people of the country so much that it is still heard throughout the country on 7th March every year.
However, our speakers were not aware at the moment (and naturally, because of communication gap, until August, see below) that actually only three months back in December 2013 had been published in London a sensational book to axe their disquiet. It is an anthology entitled ‘We Shall Fight on the Beaches: The Speeches That Inspired History’ written by Dr. Jacob F. Field of Oxford and Cambridge fame. Moinul Hoque Chowdhury first brought to us these glad tidings at bdnews24.com 2014-08-18: Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s historic March 7, 1971 speech that effectively declared Bangladesh’s independence has been selected as one of the most rousing and inspirational wartime speeches over the last 2500 years. The speech delivered at the Race Course Ground (currently Suhrawardy Udyan) encouraged the Bengalis to start their nine-month long struggle for freedom. ‘Ebarer Sangram Amader Muktir Sangram, Ebarer Sangram Swadhinatar Sangram’ (This time the struggle is for our freedom) is what the architect of the nation’s independence famously pronounced. The much-talked-about inspirational speech is considered by many to be one of the world’s best. “It is a matter of great pride,” an elated Bangla Academy Director General Shamsuzzaman Khan told bdnews24.com. “Finally Bangabandhu’s speech has been internationally recognised as one of the best speeches in the world,” he said. The Bangla Academy Director General, Khan says there is no doubt that Bangabandhu’s historic speech is one of the best in the world. But it was not included before in any internationally published books on world speeches. “It is the first time the March 7 speech has been included
among the internationally recognised speeches.” (http://bdnews24.com/ bangladesh/
The book, ‘We Shall Fight on the Beaches: The Speeches That Inspired History’ by Jacob F Field, is a collection of the most consequential wartime speeches that impacted the destinies of nations over the last 2500 years. Amazon’s blurb: ‘Prefaced by brief historical and biographical introductions, the examples of incredible war speeches in this book show how words can be used to inspire, to comfort, to move, or to enthuse even the most seemingly hard-bitten of listeners. From rallying cries such as the Italian eneral Garibaldi’s “To arms, then, all of you!” and Premier of the People’s Republic of China Chou En-lai’s “We must hold aloft the great red banner” to somber statements such as Bengali nationalist leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s “This time the struggle is for our freedom,” each extract gives readers an insight into the hardships of war and the fight for courage. Spanning more than two millennia and with speeches from across the globe, this is a book to inspire and inflame the reader’.
Dr. Jacob F. Field in his own Introduction throws light on his selections. Here are some portions: “Times of conflict have inspired some of the most memorable speeches in history. In turn, rhetoric has launched wars, acting as a prelude to violence. Pope Urban II’s address at Clermont in 1095 initiated the Crusades. The power of speech has driven people to fight for glory, victory, or survival; it has shaped the outcome of wars and framed how they are viewed by posterity. Words as captivating as Dragutin Gavrilović’s can make soldiers braver even when the odds against them are overwhelming.
We Shall Fight on the Beaches is a collection of history’s most influential wartime speeches, with an exploration of their context and consequences. The speeches in this book were delivered by some of history’s greatest generals and most revered heroes, as well as some of its most reviled figures. Covering every inhabited continent, these exemplary pieces of oratory range from the Athenian general Pericles’s plea to his city to remember its glorious fallen warriors during the Peloponnesian War to President Ronald Reagan’s exhortation to the Communists to ‘Tear Down this Wall’ in Berlin in 1987, during the closing years of the Cold War.
This book is named after a line from a Winston Churchill speech given in 1940, when he had just become Prime Minister and it appeared that the United Kingdom and the Allies were powerless to stop the Nazi tide. Churchill’s defiant words are iconic because they show how words can galvanize a nation behind an inspirational leader. We Shall Fight on the Beaches reveals the undeniable power of the spoken word to rouse and console, to celebrate and eulogize. In victory or defeat, words in wartime have left an indelible mark on not only the history of warfare, but on the history of the world itself.”
This is how Dr. Field describes the results of Bangabandhu’s speech:
Mujibur’s exhortation for a mass uprising led to swift, violent repercussions.
He declared East Pakistan to be independent and the new state was called Bangladesh. To regain control of the country, Khan unleashed Operation Searchlight. Martial Law was declared and Awami League was outlawed. Mujibur was arrested and transported to West Pakistan. In their effort to subjugate the Bangladeshi bid for independence, the Pakistani Army killed half a million people. Millions more Bangladeshis fled across the border to India.
Supported by the Indian government, a resistance army called the Mukti Bahini battled against the Pakistani army in Bangladesh. As a result, war also broke out between Pakistan and India, and there was fighting on the border of these countries as well. On 16 December 1971 the overwhelmed Pakistani forces surrendered. Nearly 100,000 of these troops were captured. They were returned home in 1972 as part of the peace treaty between India and Pakistan, which saw the latter power recognize Bangladesh as an independent nation.”
Let us recall Churchill’s 4 June 1940 speech at the House of Commons: “Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous states have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” How resonant are these words with Bangabandhu’s 7th March utterances! How similar are the words although under contrasting circumstances! Churchill was working for the preservation and security of independence, whereas Bangabandhu to recover lost independence. The British were fearing that their country would pass under German domination while Bangabandhu was trying to free his country from foreign yoke.
The speeches in the anthology have been arranged chronologically, with no pretense to ranking. In all there are 41 extracts. Bangabandhu’s signature speech comes under the caption: ‘The Struggle This Time Is The Struggle For Independence’. Indeed, Dr. Field has caught the essential spirit and thrust of Bangabandhu’s address as shown in the caption. Following list of 30 samples from the Contents Page of the book shows how Bangabandhu’s name appears alongside of 41 cherry-picked orators in the whole history of mankind.
431 BC Pericles
326 BC Alexander the Great
218 BC Hannibal
48 BC Julius Caesar
1066 William the Conqueror
1095 Pope Urban II
1453 Emperor Constantine XI
1588 Elizabeth I
1653 Oliver Cromwell
1783 George Washington
1805 Napoleon Bonaparte
1865 Abraham Lincoln
1917 Lloyd George
1917 Woodrow Wilson
1936 Emperor Haile Selassie
1940 de Gaulle
1945 Ho Chi Minh
1948 Golda Meir
1971 Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
1987 Ronald Reagan
Why did Rabindranath Tagore get the Nobel Prize? The Nobel Committee’s citation as documented by Wikipedia is: “because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Nobel_laureates_in_Literature). The core of the citation is that Rabindranath carried his poetry out of the boundaries of Bengal and ranked it with mainstream Western literature, thereby making himself an acknowledged বিশ্বকবি| In the same way it is now established that the thunderous voice of the 1971 Race Course Maidan has overflowed the national boundaries and resonates in the history and heritage of the whole world. Could we speculate a Nobel Prize for Bangabandhu as well? Only grouse is that it is not given posthumously. Incidentally, and by way of a parallel, Churchill also got a Nobel Prize for his speech. Anyway, our only satisfaction is that this year (2015) we will for the first time be able to include and celebrate this piece of news in our 7th March celebration programs.
What is the genesis? How was it possible that a secular People’s Republic of Bangladesh could be conceived and given birth to from within a communal, bigoted and militarily panoplied Islamic Republic of Pakistan? Incredible as though it may seem it is factually true that the story is the same as the story of one man’s life and toil, and he is none other than Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It seems he was the saviour sent by destiny to save a people groaning under alien despotism. Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury (London, 20.12.1994) quotes Journalist Cyril Dunn as saying: “In the thousand year history of Bengal, Sheikh Mujib is her only leader who has, in terms of blood, race, language, culture and birth, been a full blooded Bengali.”
In Europe, the outcome of democratic national aspirations has been the rise of modern nationalism and the national state. Those who have provided leadership in the task of the creation of nations or nation-states have fondly been called by their peoples as founding fathers. Such is the reason why Kamal Ataturk is the creator of modern Turkey. And thus it is that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is the founder of the Bengali nation-state and father of the nation of Bengalis. But as a matter of fact Sheikh Mujib is more remarkable than either Ataturk or Gandhi. Turkey existed even during the period of the Ottoman Empire. Once the empire fell, Ataturk took control of Turkey and had it veer away from western exploitation through giving shape to a democratic nation-state. In Gandhi’s case, India and Indians did not lose their national status either before or after him.
But when the British left the subcontinent in 1947, the very existence of the Bengali nation as a cultural entity faced a calculated threat of extinction. The new rulers of the new state of Pakistan of which East Bengal was a wing started calling the wing “East Pakistan” and the inhabitants “Pakistanis”. Uttering the word “Bengalis” amounted to sedition. By pushing a thousand-year history into the shadows, the term “Bengali” was obliterated. This was officially adopted by proclaiming Pakistan as One Unit with two provinces – West Pakistan and East Pakistan, The first man to rise in defense of the Bengalis, their history and their heritage, was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. On 25 August 1955, he said in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly at Karachi, “Mr. Speaker, You will see that they want to place the word ‘East Pakistan’ instead of ‘East Bengal’. We have demanded so many times that you should use Bengal instead of Pakistan. The word ‘Bengal’ has a history, has a tradition of tis own. You can change it only after the people have been consulted. If you want to change it, then we have to go back to Bengal and ask them whether they accept it. So far as the question of One Unit is concerned it can come in the Constitution. Why do you want it to be taken up just now? What about the State Language, Bengali? We will be prepared to consider One-Unit with all these things. So, I appeal to my friends on that side to allow the people to give their verdict in any way, in the form of referendum or in the form of plebicite.” Sheikh Mujib’s demand was ignored, as a matter of course, and the chronicle of exploitation, discrimination and deprivation continued. With time an agitation for parity gained momentum.
Meanwhile, the foundation of the independence struggle was laid in the Language Movement that began in 1948 in which Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, a councilor of the Muslim League since 1943, actively engaged himself. On the creation of the East Pakistan Awami Muslim League in 1949 he became its Joint Secretary. The word ‘Muslim’ was later dropped from the party name, making it secularized and more populist. Sheikh Mujib steered the party rising to be its General Scretary and finally President. He was increasingly involved in the Language Movement and the demand for provincial autonomy. The ongoing movement evolved through shaping of political demands for inclusion and equal access to opportunities and against all forms of perceived exploitation of the Bangalee people by the West Pakistani rulers. The grievances crystallized into the 6-point Demands put forward by Bangabandhu for emancipation of Bangalees. Wikipedia writes: The 6-Point Movement was a Bengali nationalist movement in East Pakistan spearheaded by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, which eventually led to the liberation of Bangladesh. Titled ‘Our Charter of Survival’ it was proclaimed at a national conference of opposition political parties at Lahore in 1966.
The Six points were:
1. The constitution should be revised to establish a Federation of Pakistan in accordance with the Lahore Resolution of 1940. (The Lahore Resolution indicated two ‘states’, which was ignored during partition in 1947.)
2. The federal government should have only two subjects: Defence and Foreign Affairs, and all others should go to the federating states.
3. The two wings should have two separate, but freely convertible currencies.
4. Power of taxation and revenue collection should be vested in the federating units.
5. The two wings should have two separate accounts for their foreign exchange earnings.
6. East Pakistan should have a separate militia or paramilitary force
From hindsight today we can recall an episode in his life in 1949 when he was rusticated from Dacca University and his student life came to an end. The UGC Quarterly Bulletin Vol. 10. No.3 (2010) has published the episode: “DU withdraws expulsion against Bangabandhu. The Dhaka University Syndicate at an emergency meeting on August 14, 2010 withdrew the expulsion order issued 61 years ago against one of its best-known students, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who spearheaded a movement of the Class IV employees of DU. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib, then a student of LL.B second year of Dhaka University lost his studentship along with four other students. The four others later regained their places on signing good conduct bond but Bangabandhu defied the orders and never bent.” So Dhaka University was after all ashamed of their deed. This reminds me of the well-known Galileo case. Galileo scientifically confirmed the Copernican theory that the earth was not the centre of the universe. The Pope of Rome arrested and imprisoned him for propagating opinions heretical and contrary to Holy Scripture. Galileo was in prison for eight years till death, meanwhile becoming blind and crippled with arthritis. Milton visited him: “There I found and visited the famous Galileo, grown old, a prisoner to the Inquisition” (‘Areopagitica’). The sequel is that on the occasion of Galileo’s 350th death anniversary the Vatican withdrew the case and officially admitted that ‘Galileo had been right all along’ (Wikipedia).
To return to our story. Immediately after Field Marshal Ayub Khan promulgated martial law in 1958 Bangabandhu determined that the country must be liberated. He was harassed and imprisoned time and again in the name of the Public Safety law. The formidable Agartala Conspiracy case, which was earlier instituted on the charge of waging war against the state, was withdrawn in the face of mass upsurge in 1969. He was the hero of the hour. The Central Students Action Council at a mammoth reception in his honour at the Race Course Ground publicly conferred on him the moniker Bangabandhu (Friend of Bengal). Sheikh Mujib’s step was toward recovery of Bengali identity. On 5 December 1969 he declared at Shaheed Suhrawardy’s death anniversary meeting: “There was a time when all efforts were made to wipe out the word ‘Bangla’ from this land and its map. Except in the ‘Bay of Bengal’, the word Bengal was nowhere to be found. I, on behalf of Pakistan, announce today that henceforth this land will be called ‘Bangladesh’ instead of ‘East Pakistan ‘.”
His overwhelming popularity in 1970 was perhaps unparalled anywhere in the world. In the General election of 1970, which he fought on the 6-Point Manifesto, his traction counted 167 out of 169 seats in the National Assembly and 305 out of 310 seats in the Provincial Assembly (East Pakistan). It is unthinkable how the whole nation of 75 million souls stood behind his back as one man. His leadership was monolithic. From the point of majority he found himself in a position to be the Prime Minister of the whole of Pakistan. The West Pakistani rulers were befuddled and saw red and did not know what to do.
The crisis came immediately at the turn of the year on the issue of transfer of power. Negotiations collapsed and time passed by. On 13 February, President Yahya Khan announced that the National Assembly would sit in Dhaka on 3 March. But abruptly on 1 March, he declared that the National Assembly session was postponed sine die. This led to the climax in the nation’s life – Bangabandhu’s 7th March landmark address to the nation from the Race Course ground.
THE CLIMAX: THE MOMENT OF SPARK
This was the speech that created a nation. In the afternoon of 7 March 1971 Sheikh Mujibur Rahman addressed a historic congregation of several lakhs of people at the then Race Course ground (now Suhrawardy Udayan) at a key point of Bangladesh’s history. In his 20-minute speech, Bangabandhu announced: “Ebarer sangram amader muktir sangram, Ebarer sangram, swadhinatar sangram” (The struggle this time is a struggle for emancipation, the struggle this time is one for independece.)
Bangabandhu began his address with a preface highlighting the character of the conspiratorial regime of Pakistan during 1947-71. He described it as a period of treachery, exploitation and bloodshed. He referred to the shedding of blood in 1952, the treachery of dismissing the results of the 1954 election, imposition of martial law in 1958 and various attempts at suppression of the Bengali nationalist movement. He mocked the conspiracies then afoot to deprive Bengalis of political power as shown by the mysterious postponement of the Pakistan National Assembly session scheduled for 3 March 1971 that necessitated this public address. He clearly stated that he was bitterly disappointed by the repeated betrayals and treacheries of Pakistan government and there was absolutely no point in continuing the link with that state any further.
Following is a condensed translated version of the speech:
Bhayera amar (Brothers mine) !
I have come before you today with a heavy heart. All of you know how hard we have tried. But it is a matter of sadness that the streets of Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, Rangpur and Rajshahi are today being splattered with the blood of my brothers, and the cry we hear from the Bengali people is a cry for freedom, a cry for survival, a cry for our rights.
You are the ones who brought about an Awami League victory with the hope to see a constitutional government restored. The hope was that the elected representatives of the people, sitting in the National Assembly, would formulate a constitution that would ensure their economic, political and cultural emancipation. But now, with great sadness in my heart, I look back on the past 23 years of our history and see nothing but a history of shedding of blood of the Bengali people. Ours has been a history of continual lamentation, repeated bloodshed and innocent tears. We gave blood in 1952, we won a mandate in 1954, but we were not allowed to take up the reins of this country. In 1958, Ayub Khan clamped Martial Law on our people and enslaved us for the next 10 years. In 1966, our people fought for the Six points but the lives of our our young men and women were stilled by government bullets.
After the downfall of Ayub, Yahya Khan took over with the promise that he would restore constitutional rule, that he would restore democracy and return power to the people. We agreed. But you all know of the events that took place after that. I ask you, are we the ones to blame? As you know, I have been in contact with President Yahya Khan. As leader of the majority party in the National Assembly, I asked him to set February 15 as the day for its opening session. He did not accede to the request. Instead, he went along with the delay requested by the minority leader Mr. Bhutto and announced that the Assembly would be convened on the 3rd of March.
We accepted that and agreed to join the deliberations. But Mr. Bhutto put up counter-proposals to which Yahya Khan yielded. Things got muddled. However, I made it clear that I could not agree to any deviation from the Six Points. That right rested with the people. Come, I said, let us sit down and resolve matters. This infuriated Mr. Bhutto and the stalemate is the result.
Then suddenly, on March I, the session was declared cancelled. There was an immediate outcry against this move by our people. I called for a hartal as a peaceful form of protest and the masses readily took to the streets in response. And what did we get in return? He turned his guns on my helpless people, a people with no arms to defend themselves. These were the same arms that had been purchased with our own money to protect us from external enemies. But it is my own people who are being fired upon today. In the past, too, each time we the numerically larger segment of Pakistan’s population tried to assert our rights and control our destiny, they conspired against us and pounced upon us. I had said, Mr. Yahya Khan, you are the President of this country. Come to Dhaka, come and see how our poor Bengali people have been mown down by your bullets, how the laps of our mothers and sisters have been robbed and left empty and bereft, how my helpless people have been slaughtered. Come, I said, come and see for yourself and then be the judge and decide.
On the 3rd, at the Paltan, I called for a non-cooperation movement and the shutdown of offices, courts and revenue collection. You gave me full support.
The deadlock was created by Bhutto, yet the Bengalis are the ones facing the bullets! We face their guns, as if it were our fault. So, the struggle this time is a struggle for emancipation, the struggle this time is a struggle for independence!
Brothers, they have now called the National Assembly session on March 25, with the streets not yet dry of the blood of my brothers. You have called the Assembly, but you must first agree to meet my demands. Martial Law must be withdrawn; the soldiers must return to their barracks; the murders of my people must be redressed. And power must be handed over to the elected representatives of the people.
Only then will we consider if we can take part in the National Assembly or not! Before these demands are met, there can be no question of our participating in this session of the Assembly. My mandate from the masses prevents me from doing that. As I told them earlier, Mujibur Rahman refuses to walk to the Assembly treading upon the fresh stains of his brothers’ blood!
Do you, my brothers, have complete faith in me? Let me tell you that the Prime Ministership is not what I seek. What I want is justice, the rights of the people of this land. They 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 infamous (Agratala) conspiracy case.
That day, right here at this racecourse, 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 fulfill that promise!
I now declare the closure of all the courts, offices, and educational institutions for an indefinite period of time. No one will report to their offices. That is my order to you. So that the poor are not inconvenienced, rickshaws, trains and other transport will ply normally, except serving any needs of the armed forces. If the army does not respect this, I shall not be responsible for the consequences. The Secretariat, Supreme Court, High Court, Judge’s Courts, and government and semi-government offices shall remain shut. Only banks may open for two hours daily for business transactions. But no money shall be transmitted from East to West Pakistan. The Bengali people must stay calm during these times. Telegraph and telephone communications will be confined within Bangladesh. We will bring everything to a total standstill.
Collect your salaries on time. If the salaries are held up, if a single bullet is fired upon us henceforth, if the murder of my people does not cease, I call upon you to turn every home into a fortress against their onslaught. Use whatever you get at hand to confront this enemy. Every road to the last must be blocked. We will deprive them of food, we will deprive them of water. Even if I am not around to give you the orders, and if my associates are also not to be found, I order you to continue your fighting unabated.
The seven million people of this land will not be cowed down by you or accept suppression any more. The Bengali people have learned how to die for a cause and you will not be able to bring them under your yoke of suppression!
For now, I have just one thing to ask of you: Give up any thoughts of enslaving this country under military rule again!”
To assist the families of the martyred and the injured, the Awami League has set up committees that will do all they can. Please donate whatever you can. Also, employers must give full pay to the workers who participated in the seven days of hartal or were not able to work because of curfews.
To all government employees, I say that my directives must be followed. I had better not see any of you attending your offices. From today, until this land has been freed, no taxes will be paid to the government any more. As of now, the stop. Leave everything to me. I know how to organize movement.
But be very careful. Keep in mind that the enemy has infiltrated our ranks to engage in the work of provocateurs. Whether Bengali or non-Bengali, Hindu or Muslim, all are our brothers and it is our responsibility to ensure their safety.
I also ask you to stop listening to radio, television and the press if these media do not report news of our movement.
I ask my people to immediately set up committees under the leadership of the Awami League to carry on our struggle in every neighborhood, village, union and subdivision of this land. You must prepare yourselves now with what little you have for the struggle ahead. We have already shed blood, lots of blood, we shall shed more blood, but we will free the people of this land, insha-Allah (God willing).
The struggle this time is for our freedom; the struggle this time is for our independence.
By way of a review, we can see that Bangabandhu placed four conditions before the Government to fulfill before holding the National Assembly meeting then newly scheduled for 25 March, namely
1. Immediate lifting of martial law.
2. Immediate return of all military personnel to their barracks.
3. An inquiry into the loss of life.
4. Transfer of power to the elected representatives in the 1970 elections.
He knew full that such a demand was going to nothing but a cry in the wilderness. The ruling junta would never pay heed to it. That was the fruit of his long experience of working with them. So he took the hard line and decreed a program of civil disobedience measures, including:
1. No taxes to be paid to Government.
2. Government servants shall not cooperate with Pakistani rulers but shall take orders only from him.
3. The secretariat, government and semi-government offices, High court and other courts throughout East Bangla will observe Hartals. Appropriate exemptions will be announced from time to time.
4. Railway and ports may function, but railway and port workers will not cooperate if railway or ports are used for mobilizing of forces for the purpose of repression against the people of East Bangla.
5. Radio, television and newspapers shall give complete versions of Bangabandhu’s statement and shall not suppress news about the people’s movement.
6. Only local and inter-district telephone communication shall function.
7. All educational institutions in the country shall remain closed.
8. Banks shall not send remittances to the Western wing either through the State Bank or otherwise.
9. Black flags shall be hoisted on all buildings everyday.
10. A ‘Sangram Parishad’ should be organized in each union, mohallah,
thana, sub-division – under the leadership of local Awami League units.
With these words, Bangabandhu essentially declared independence in diplomatic language without uttering it openly. Therein lies his sagacity. An outright declaration of independence could label him as a secessionist and derail the whole freedom movement. That would precipitate a bloodbath and alienate international sympathy. So he took a cautious step that points to his coolness of mind in the face of a provocative national demand and expectation. But anyway we were irretrievably set on the road to freedom. He urged the nation to break the shackles of subjugation for good and all.
The very caption of the 2011 7th March commemoration Seminar at Osmani Smriti Auditorium is revealing of the whole consequence of Bangabandhu’s great speech: ”একটি ভাষণের বিনির্মাণ ঃ নির্দেশ থেকে দেশ”| The caption is a most appropriate and inventive punch-line. It is a succinct statement of what the address was and what it resulted in. The beauty of the phraseology rests on the alliteration of the Bangla words নির্দেশ and দেশ but the alliterative nuance will be lost in English translation. In plain English the phrase means that the address was a set of directives the carrying out of which resulted in the birth of a nation.
The March 7 speech which united the nation and ignited the non-cooperation movement against the government of Yahya Khan that sustained a parallel government for 18 days before it glided into an armed conflict on formal declaration of independence should be viewed as the de facto beginning of the Liberation War. All government and non-government offices, the Secretariat, autonomous bodies, the High Court, the police, radio and television, banks and insurance companies and transport authorities – everything was running as per the directives of Bangabandhu from his Road 32 residence.. There were ineffectual orders from Yahya Khan on the one hand, while the nation, on the other hand, received directives from Bangabandhu which were ungrudgingly carried out. The response was spectacular.
This was enough to strike panic and consternation into the heart of the Pakistani ruling junta and the cowardly crackdown was their response.
On the midnight of March 25, 1971, the army started killing the unarmed Bengalis at Dhaka University, the Peelkhana (Headquarters of East Pakistan Rifles) and the Rajarbagh Police Headquarters. During the early hours of 26 March, Bangabandhu had declared independence just before he was arrested by the Pakistan army. The wording of the Declaration of Independence documented by Wikipedia runs: “This may be my last message. From today Bangladesh is independent. I call upon the people of Bangladesh wherever you are and with whatever you have, to resist the occupation army. Our fight will go on till the last soldier of the Pakistan Occupation Army is expelled from the soil
of independent Bangladesh. Final victory is ours. Joy Bangla!”
(http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/ Sheikh_ Mujibur_Rahman)
The Pakistan army arrested him from his Dhanmandi residence at 1:10 a.m. and whisked him away to Dhaka cantonment. On 26 March he was flown to Pakistan as a prisoner. The same day, General Yahya Khan, in a broadcast banned the Awami League and called Bangabandhu a traitor. Later the Pakistani junta held a secret trial of Bangabandhu inside Lyallpur jail and gave him death-sentence. But under international pressure he was released and came back to his homeland on 10 January 1972.
Meanwhile on 10 April, 1971 the Provisional Revolutionary Government of Bangladesh was formed with Bangabandhu as President (in absentia) with Syed Nazrul Islam as Acting President and Tazuddin Ahmed as Prime Minister. The liberation war ended on 16 December when the Pakistani occupation forces surrendered at the historic Race Course ground and left the land for ever.
Thus was the sovereign state of Bangladesh carved out of Pakistan giving testimony to the veracity and ingenuity of the caption ”নির্দেশ থেকে দেশ”|
On completion of the Liberation war the Pakistan authorities under mounting international pressure released Bangabandhu from captivity and he came back to his homeland on 10 January 1972. Sheikh Mujib’s revolution was not merely directed at the achievement of political freedom. Once the Bengali nation-state came into being it became his goal to carry through programs geared to the achievement of national economic welfare. The eradication of exploitation was central to his program, which he called the Second Revolution the aim of which was “Sonar Bangla” – Golden Bengal.
While there are many who admit today that Gandhi was the founder of the non-violent non-cooperation movement, they believe it was an effective use of that principle which enabled Sheikh Mujib to create history. Mujib’s politics was a natural follow-up to the struggle and movements of Bengal’s mystics, its religious preachers, Titumir’s crusade, the Indigo Revolt, Gandhiji’s non-cooperation, and Subhash Chandra Bose’s armed attempt for freedom. The secularism of Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, the liberal democratic politics of Sher-e-Bangla A. K. Fazlul Haque and Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy contributed to the molding of Mujib character. Emerging free of the limitations of western democracy, he wished to see democracy sustain Bengali nationalism. It was this dream that led to the rise of his ideology. On 24 September 1974 he addressed the United Nations in Bangla. This was the first time that the language in its history of thousand years got this dignity. The language was, in that swift stroke of politics, recognized by the global community. They heard for the first time the words spoken in the World forum in original Bangla. Even Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel Prize poems before him were read or heard by the western world in English translation.
Bangabandhu pursued a non-aligned foreign policy. He supported the concept of a “Zone of Peace” in the Indian Ocean. In 1974, he was awarded the Julio Curie Prize for his devotion to the cause of peace.
His Second Revolution aimed to make independence meaningful and ensure food, clothing, shelter, medicare, education and work for the people. The steps taken by him were: reorganization of the administrative system, framing of constitution, rehabilitation of one crore people, restoration and development of communication system, expansion of education, supply of free books to students upto class V, establishment of Islamic Foundation, reorganization of Madrasa Board, establishment of 11,000 primary schools, nationalization of 40,000 primary schools, establishment of women’s rehabilitation centre for the welfare of distressed women, Freedom Fighters Welfare Trust, waiving tax upto 25 bighas of land, distribution of agricultural inputs among farmers free of cost or at nominal price, nationalization of banks and insurance companies abandoned by the Pakistanis and 580 industrial nits, reduction of unemployment, construction of Ghorasal fertilizer factory, primary work of Ashuganj complex, reopening closed industries and establishment of new ones. Thus Bangabandhu successfully built an infrastructure for the economy to lead the country towards progress and prosperity.
But the tempo of national reconstruction did not last long. In the pre-dawn hours of 15 August, the noblest and the greatest of Bengalees in a thousand years, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the architect of Bangladesh and the Father of the Nation, was assassinated by a handful of ambitious and treacherous military officers. Along with him his wife Begum Fajilatunnesa, his eldest son Sheikh Kamal, second son Lt. Sheikh Jamal, youngest son Sheikh Russel, two daughters-in-law Sultana Kamal and Rosy Jamal, Bangabandhu’s brother Sheikh Nasser, brother-in-law Abdur Rab Serniabat and his daughter Baby Serniabat, Bangabandhu’s nephew Sheikh Fajlul Huq Moni and his wife Arju Moni, Bangabandhu’s security officer Brig. Jamil and a 14-year-old boy Rintoo were killed. In all, the killers slaughtered 16 members and relatives of Bangabandhu’s family. The only survivors were Sheikh Hasina and her younger sister Sheikh Rehana, who were on a trip to Germany.
Martial law was imposed after the killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Democracy and basic rights were trampled upon. Consequently, the ideals for which Bangladesh sacrificed three million of her sons and daughters vanished and the days of selfish politicians scrambling for power and money came back. The enemies of the 1971 Bangladesh concept were rehabilitated and the killers of Bangabandhu were rewarded with lucrative positions in the country and jobs in Bangladesh diplomatic missions abroad. The country passed through years of turmoil, only returning to democracy in the 1990s.
THE SECOND PILOT
Facing the toughest odds Bangabandhu’s able daughter Sheikh Hasina came up to hold the reins of government in an array of three successful Premierships. Stepping into her first Premiership in 1996 she quickly repealed the Indemnity Ordinance and determined to bring the killers to justice. She has dedicated herself to complete the unfinished task of her father and to fulfill his dreams. Looking forward to the Golden Jubilee year of the country’s independence 2021 she already declared in her December 2008 election manifesto a vow to build “Digital Bangladesh” by 2021. It envisaged a “knowledge-based society” with ICT and global connectivity at an affordable cost. A comprehensive policy on electricity and energy has been adopted. Economic usage of oil, gas, coal, hydro power, wind power and solar energy will also be ensured. The “Digital Bangladesh” program has been further bolstered in her present premiership by augmenting it to ‘Vision 2021 through 2041’ to materialize Bangabandhu’s ‘Golden Bangla’ when Bangladesh will be classed as a poverty-free, hunger-free, and illiteracy-free middle income country by 2021 rising to the position of a prosperous developed country by 2041. Bangladesh is now one of the economically emerging nations of the world. It has become a role-model for its success in the sectors like health and family welfare, education, women empowerment and Power and Energy. But top of all the nation is indebted to her for ridding the country of the menace of fanaticism, communalism and terrorism and reorienting it to the high ideals of nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism as envisaged in Bangabandhu’s 1972 Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Both Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League Party are untiringly working towards a democratic socialist country, a society in which the rule of law, fundamental human rights and freedom, equality and justice, political, economic and social, will be secured for all citizens. It is a divine blessing for the nation that we have got such a charismatic leader in the line of Bangabandhu. The grateful nation has conferred upon her the sobriquet “Deshratna”.