We came to know Bangabandhu's name as a child. Slowly but surely we began to love him. That was in the early 1960s. We knew that no one championed the Bengali cause more than him or better than him. Our parents admiringly gave us a lot of information about him. The Agartala Conspiracy Case and the great 1969 movement for democracy found us school-going boys but very thoughtful, patriotic boys. Our respect and affection for him was sky-high then. On March 07, 1971, when his Suhrawardy Udyan (then Race Course) speech shaped our destiny and readied us for our war of independence, we were sixteen-year-old tenth graders. He was our undisputed leader. The magician, the Pied Piper of Hamelin whom our people adored. Seventy five million people loved him. Our people fought for our independence in his name. Our women prayed for his release from Pakistani jail and were ecstatic when he returned home in January, 1972. When he was assassinated on August 15, 1975 we were twenty-year-old sophomores at Dhaka University. We were very shocked and very sad. We felt that he didn't deserve a death like that. Our greatest patriot couldn't die like that. You couldn't wipe off a Mahatma Gandhi from the history of India! You simply could not do that.
How do we remember him now? A hundred years after his birth? Fifty years after the birth of Bangladesh? Five decades after our independence and forty six years after his death, what does Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman mean to our one hundred and sixty million people? What does he mean to our generation?
He to us is our best ever politician. He is our greatest patriot. He is the selfless leader who fought his whole life for an independent country for his Bangalee brothers and sisters. He finally achieved his goal although he had to leave tragically a few years later. His people love and respect him beyond description. He loved them to a fault and they loved him in return. As long as the Padma and the Meghna will flow, Bangabandhu will be fondly remembered by his people. He is our Nelson Mandela. When he gave his speech in Bangla at the UN in 1974, he could not start speaking for full five minutes! The thunderous applause didn't stop and didn't allow him to begin his speech! He went on nodding to his right, left and front! Such was the respect and love for him from world leaders. He and Bangladesh were synonyms to people around the world. He was not only the founding father of Bangladesh, the architect of its independence, but also a great third world leader. He was loved by Mandela, adored by Yasir Arafat and admired by suffering people around the world.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman founded independent Bangladesh after fighting for our rights for twenty-four long years. He was a successful student leader, a very capable youth leader. He was an organiser par excellence. He went to every village in Bangladesh. He met millions of people and remembered thousands by name. Such was his charisma and sincerity! He spent many years in jail. The half-educated Pakistani colonial rulers put him in jail at the slightest pretext. They knew whom to fear. He accomplished amazing feats which lesser leaders could not even dream of. He was a living legend. He was the first leader to make us clearly understand the oppression of the Pakistanis. Our people flocked to listen to him, to be inspired by him. He taught us to be proud of our Bengali identity. He taught us to live with honour and dignity. A true friend of Bengal, he had a heart proportionate to his tall, handsome physique. He had the voice of thunder. His oratory was matchless. His indomitable spirit, his bravery, his charm and his self-confidence was beyond the ordinary. His personality cast a magical spell on our people. They readily accepted his party's six-point program. Our students gave him heartfelt support. During the late nineteen sixties, still in his forties, he was our most popular leader. No wonder he was called the poet of politics. No wonder Fidel Castro compared him to the Himalayas.
As I told you before, the Bangalees of East Pakistan accepted the famous six-point program of the Awami League from the core of their heart. They wanted provincial autonomy and economic emancipation. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib fought against the autocratic Pakistani governments and organised mass movements. Slowly and surely he grew in stature. The Pakistani military regime was very frightened of him and committed the great mistake of taking him into custody for the so-called Agartala conspiracy case.
The Bangalees didn't fail to recognise their greatest nationalist leader and supported him whole-heartedly. The students and the common people took the 1969 movement for democracy to great heights and it achieved full success. The Pakistani rulers had to release Sheikh Mujib from jail. Ayub Khan had to leave, handing over power to the army chief Yahya Khan, who was quick to promise early elections.
Bangabandhu's Awami League won 167 out of 169 seats of East Pakistan. This made him the leader of the biggest party in the whole of Pakistan. But Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who won 80 plus seats in West Pakistan, conspired with Yahya and his generals to start the post-election unfair game. The West Pakistanis were in power for 24 years since Pakistan's birth. How could they give up power so easily? So, they very wrongfully decided to dishonour the clear popular verdict given to the charismatic Bangabandhu by his people. Yahya Khan cancelled the national assembly session he had called earlier. Something which never happened before in political history began to happen.
The people of East Pakistan were seething in anger. They went for a month-long peaceful non-cooperation movement under Bangabandhu's leadership. He was the de facto prime minister of the land. His political wisdom impressed his people as well as the international community. He could rightly feel the pulse of his people. Stalwarts like Syed Nazrul Islam and Tajuddin Ahmad assisted him during the most critical period of Bangladesh's history. But negotiations failed due to the treachery of Yahya Khan and his military junta. He was ill-advised by the clever and greedy Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. The Pakistani went for a military crackdown and its army killed thousands like birds on the night of March 25. It was a brutal genocide to tame the freedom-seeking Bangalees. But 'Pakistan lay buried under corpses' and a nine-month long all-out war of independence finally brought us freedom.
We fought our noble war of independence in the name of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, our best ever political leader, an orator of the highest order and 'a giant with the soft heart of a Bangalee mother'. Our people fought heroically for independence. The government-in-exile of Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, Mansur Ali, Qamruzzaman and others guided the nation in its crisis with wisdom, sincerity and sacrifice. The governments of India and the Soviet Union were our great friends in 1971. We Bengalees proved to the whole world that we were a heroic nation and the leader who turned us into a confident and united nation was none else than Bangabandhu himself. Our losses were great but we were a free nation. Our future generations would not be colonial citizens anymore!
As a ruler Bangabandhu had to build the war-ravaged country from zero. That was not an easy task. The most powerful nation in the world was against our independence and their government was yet to forgive Bangabandhu. They had planted men in politics, journalism, the civil service and the armed forces. So they successfully created a distance between Bangabandhu and some of his most trusted men. There were impediments here and there. Despite his best efforts, our great leader had failure as well as success. But he certainly did not deserve death for that. That was a period when great nationalist leaders were not allowed to survive. Bangabandhu, Salvador Allende and the likes had to embrace martyrdom and make way for military rulers, who served as yes-men to the mightiest nation. When we think of Bangabandhu's tragic death, we are engulfed with unbearable sorrow.
How do we remember Bangabandhu now? What is he to me? To men and women of our generation? To our one hundred and sixty million people? He is our best politician ever born. He is the selfless leader who fought his whole life for an independent country for his Bangalee brothers and sisters. He achieved his goal although he had to leave tragically after a few years like quite a few third-world nationalist leaders. His people love and respect him beyond description. He loved them to a fault and they love him in return. His achievement will never be wiped off from the hearts of Bangladeshis. He will shine as the best star in our political firmament. A hundred years after his birth, his image is the brightest ever. To quote the poet, he is the most beautiful rose in the garden of our politics.
Junaidul Haque writes fiction and essays. He also researches the history of Bangladesh