The 10th of January 1972 is a red-letter day in the history of Bangladesh as Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the undisputed leader of the nation, returned to the sacred soil of the country after years of incarceration in Pakistani jail via London and New Delhi. Before his return to Bangladesh, he had been exposed to horrific cruelty in the Pakistani prison, where he had counted moments in a ridiculous prosecution designed to execute his death sentence.
It is a difficult task to assess Bangabandhu's contribution to Bangladesh's independence and its path to becoming a sovereign nation in the map of the world. The citizens of the then East Pakistan envisioned becoming a citizen of sovereign Bangladesh through the eyes of Bangabandhu.
He thus stimulated his fellow-countrymen to stand up against the oppression of the Pakistani Junta and engage in the liberation war. After feeling the heat in the battle, the Pakistani Junta staged a fraudulent trial to sentence Bangabandhu with a death penalty.
However, because of the opposition of world leaders and the strain of global opinion, they could not materialise their to plan to execute the capital punishment.
The history of struggle of the people of East Pakistan was changed through the declaration of independence by Bangabandhu on the 7th of March 1971 who uttered "Ebarer Sangram Aamader Muktir Sangram, Ebarer Sangram Swadhinatar Sangram (This struggle is for our freedom, this struggle is for our independence)".
This speech changed the trajectory of the independence struggle, bringing together the people of East Pakistan who sacrificed their lives for the nation. The Pakistani Junta were fearful of Sheikh Mujib because of his ability to influence the people.
When the country attained independence on the 16th of December 1971, the Pakistani rulers were afraid of enforcing Bangabandhu's death penalty and agreed to release him from prison.
On his release from the Pakistani prison after nine months, Bangabandhu did not even want to spend one day abroad. He returned to Bangladesh via London and New Delhi on January 10.
On his return, over a half million people gathered to meet him at the RaceCourse Ground. He was filled with passion and his eyes were filled with tears as he began to speak to his compatriots. After a few minutes, he overcame his feelings and started his speech.
The entire nation embraced him chanting 'Joy Bangla'. The significance of 10th January 1972 in Bangladesh's history is as immenseas 7th March, 1971.
If the 7th March of 1971 is viewed as the prequel to the independence war, the epilogue will be 10 January. It was a matter of great joy for the people of Bangladesh that Bangabandhu was involved in both the incidents of history. Through the historic speech of the 7th March, Bangabandhu offered a clear direction to the struggle for independence. On the other hand, he instructed the countrymen to work collectively for materialising the goal of the War of Liberation, upholding the spirit of nationalism and bravery, through the speech on the 10th January.
The magnitude of this day is tremendous in Bangladesh's history, as the Awami League, in the early days of our independence, could have split into various sections in his absence. Therefore, it was apprehended by many that several politically ambitious people could capitalise on his absence to push the country into further trouble. These groups could not materialise their dreams due to the active role of leaders like Tajuddin Ahmed, Captain (Rtd.) Mansur Ali, A H M Qamaruzzamn, and Syed Nazrul Islam who worked hard to keep unity in the party espousing Bangabandhu's philosophy. But, at the same time, the brute reality is that these leaders might not have been able to keep the party unified had Bangabandhu not returned home on the 10th of January.
Bangabandhu, after returning home, stayed in office of the Prime Minister and President for three and a half years. After assuming the responsibility of the newly emerged country, he paid attention to the reconstruction of a war-ravaged economy, restoring law and order, recovering illegal weapons, rehabilitation of freedom fighters, and restoration of the country's community system. Moreover, he had an obligation to frame the constitution of the country. And Bangabandhu was very successful in framing the constitution within the shortest possible time, as compared to other newly emerged countries. Among many, it was one of the most significant achievements of Bangabandhu during his short stay in office.
Bangabandhu was successful in persuading the then Indian Prime Minister Srimati Indira Gandhi to take their army back within three months of independence. It was quite a rare incident in the context of a newly emerged country as we have seen the prolonged stay of the allied forces in other independent countries. Of course, it was not an easy task to accomplish. It happened because of the visionary leadership of Bangabandhu. It was a clear warning for those who felt that Bangladesh would not be able to continue independently without the support of the Indian government.
Within a year, due to the mature diplomacy of Bangabandhu, whose principal foundation was "friendship with all", 140 countries of the world recognised Bangladesh as an independent state despite the opposition of the USA, Pakistan, and some other countries.
Recognising "secularism" as one of the four pillars of the constitution he could manage to transmute a Muslim majority country into a secular country. It was a bold decision on his part. This illustrates the depth of his secular thinking.
Along with secularism, he chose nationalism, democracy, and socialism (referring to economic and social justice for all) as three other state principles in the Constitution. He made valiant attempts to establish "Sonar Bangla", to ensure stability and prosperity for all during his short stay in office. Deplorably, those who did not want Bangladesh separated from Pakistan killed him with most of his family members on the 15th of August 1975.
In Bangladesh's political history, the importance of a dazzling star's homecoming day is massive. Through his return from a Pakistani prison, the people of the newly independent nation experienced the absolute taste of independence and democracy. The stability and growth of the country would have collapsed, had he not managed to get home on January 10.
Though Bangabandhu established a solid base for Bangladesh, he did not get a chance to take the country to its height. After his death, several evil powers attempted at various times to disrupt Bangladesh's growth and undermine Bangabandhu's contribution and its homecoming day in the country's history. Yet, they failed to do so as Bangabandhu and Bangladesh are indistinguishable from each other.
We are very happy to see Bangladesh's daughter Sheikh Hasina work hard for materialising Bangabandhu's dream of building a 'Sonar Bangla'. On Bangladendhu's homecoming day, we all should take an oath to extend our cooperation to the government for taking Bangladesh to the next level of development which was a dream of Bangabandhu.
The writer is a Professor of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.