As the nation goes from strength to strength, Dr Rashid Askari extols the achievements of Bangladesh’s celebrated founding father
‘Father of the Nation’ is an honorific bestowed on individuals who are considered the most significant in establishing their countries – the men who have been instrumental in the birth of their nations, particularly by way of liberating them from colonial occupation.
Celebrated national fathers include George Washington (the United States), Peter I of Russia, and Australia’s Sir Henry Parkes. Africa has, among others, Sam Nujoma of Namibia and Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, while European founding fathers includeWilliam the Silent of the Netherlands, Einar Gerhardsm of Norway and Turkey’s renowned Mustafa Kemal. Asia, too, has its share: China’s Sun Yat-sen, Sukarno of Indonesia, Tunku Abdul Rahman of Malaysia, Don Stephen Senanayake of Sri Lanka, and India’s revered Mahatma Gandhi.
For Bangladesh, one man is theundisputed father and architect of the nation: Sheikh Mujibur ‘Mujib’ Rahman (1920-1975), also known as Bangabandhu.
The country we now call Bangladesh was never independent in the truest sense of the term before 1971. It was Mujibwho gave it its first real taste of autonomy, taking an active lead in the long, arduoustrek towardsfreedom. He was a fearless fighter in the Language Movement of 1952, and was in the vanguard of the 1962 democratic movement. The originator of the historic Six-Point Programme of 1966, he was also the life force behind the Mass Movement of 1969, the enviable victor of the 1970 election and, above all, the greatest hero of the Liberation War of 1971.
Bangabandhu thus holds an unrivalled position in the history of Bangladesh independence. On 7 March, the whole nation was prepared to listen to no-one else’s speech, and on 25 March the occupation army arrested no-one else. The world’s conscience pressurised the then Pakistan government into releasing no-one else, while no-one else was made the founding president of new-born Bangladesh. On 10 January, 1971, only Mujib was given a hugely rousing reception and only he was entrusted with the responsibility of reconstructing the war-ravaged country. It was Mujib and only Mujib who was the key protagonist of the drama.
If prime credit for the Liberation War had depended only on the reading of a declaration note, the people of Bangladesh would have given Ziaur Rahman (1936-1981)– commonly known as Zia – all they had given Mujib. Academic and poet Professor Humayun Azad (1947-2004) quite rightly made the comparison between Mujib and his political peers, with an implied reference to one-time president Zia, whose importance pales beside Mujib’s. As Azad put it: ‘Compared to Mujib, his predecessors are mediocre and hissuccessors are insignificant and laughable.’The professor’s opinion carries weight for he was not like the intellectuals of his generation, corrupted by the ugly process of politicisation.
Parallels between Mujib and Zia not only make us feel distinctly uneasy, but also become the angst of history. In fact, all histories are contemporary, so the contribution of Mujib should be evaluated on the basis of contemporary facts, not posthumous fabrication. If we look back through our history since independence, we will see Mujib was the supreme leader of our liberation struggle who bears comparison to no-one else in the country. The only parallels that might stand up are with great leaders such as Abraham Lincoln andWinston Churchill, Mao-Tse-Tung, Ho Chi Minh and Ahmed Sukarno, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.
This is history based on the bare bones of real events. Examining one’s own past and culture and searching for a national identity have become imperative in these post-colonial days. Ours is not a poor socio-political and cultural legacy. We valiantly fought a war of independence under the leadership of Bangabandhu, andwith this political birthrightand sense of our history, we can assert ourselves more, upholding the ideals of Bangabandhu and those of the 1971 Liberation War to rebuild our nation.
Bangabandhu, ‘friend of Bengal’, was able to utter: ‘Standing on the gallows, I will tell, I am a Bengali, Bangla is my country, Bangla is my language’. On the black night of March 25, when he was requested by his well-wishers to go into hiding, he flatly refused, retorting, ‘I must share the sufferings of my people… I cannot leave them in the face of fire.’He did not flee to safety from the war-torn country. Rather, he willingly became the marauding occupation force’s first prey. Love of the motherland prompted him to risk his neck.
Later, over nine long months in the dark cell of his dungeon, he longed for the freedom of his country. The unbearable suffering of the prison camp could not sap the strength of his patriotism. On his return home on 10 January 1972, addressing a huge gathering in Suhrawardy Uddyan, Bangabandhu declared: ‘Bangladesh has earned independence. Now, if anybody wants to seize it, Mujib would be the first man to sacrifice his life for the protection of that independence.’ His country was all-important to him and he believed it was his calling to defend it without seeking anything in return, often quoting President John F. Kennedy’s famous words: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.’
Bangabandhu was a great man, the undisputed Father of the Bengali Nation, the architect of sovereign Bangladesh. To be unaware of this is inexcusable ignorance, and to deny it an offence against history.