March 17, 1920 was the birthday of Bangladesh. It is quite obvious now that had there been no Sheikh Mujib, there would have been no Bangladesh. In that sense the birth of Sheikh Mujib is the birth of Bangladesh. The man who fought throughout his life for the emancipation of the Bengalis living in East Bengal since Pakistan was created in 1947. He was reluctant to accept the division of India and especially the division of Bangla due to the partition of India. He was thoroughly a non-communal Muslim. He had great faith in Islam and even he did not forget to mention Insha’Allah while delivering his historic 7th March speech in 1971. He told, `we would liberate our people this time Insha’Allah,’ in the speech on 7th March 1971. It indicates that even in a very bad time, he did not forget to remember the mercy of Allah, the Almighty. He came to Pakistan in 1947 and later joined the politics of the country. He became a member of parliament in Pakistan parliament. Even in 1948, he started talking about regional autonomy. He started talking about Bengali language. In 1948 when the governor general of Pakistan Mr. Jinnah declared on the soil of East Bengal that Urdu should be the only state language of Pakistan, many people under the leadership of Bangabandhu primarily protested shouting 'No, No'. Then in Pakistan parliament he used to speak in Bengali mostly and he pressurized the speaker of the assembly to send the proceedings in Bangla and requested the members of Bangladesh to speak in Bangla in the parliament.
In 1949, Student League was formed under his leadership and he infused in them the sense of Bengali nationalism and motivated them to take part in language movement until Bangla Bhasha became the state language of Pakistan. In 1948, he started a movement and by 1952 the Students Action Council was formed and he gave leadership both within jail and outside. Most of the leaders were then in jail. Sheikh Mujib played the most vital role here. He was in jail at that time but he did not remain silent. He even staged hunger strike while he was in Faridpur jail. He was brought for treatment at Dhaka Medical College Hospital. But he maintain contact with the demonstrators of language movement and gave directions to continue it. It was in 1952 that the demonstrators broke the 144 and the police fired bullets on them. Several students including Jabbar, Salam, Barkat were killed and Pakistan government was forced to accept Bangla as the second state language of Pakistan. This was the first victory of the Bengalis. Their mother language becomes the state language. But the movement did not stop there. Sheikh Mujib tactfully transformed the language based nationalist movement into a movement for regional autonomy and then for independence. He strongly spoke in favour of regional autonomy. The dreams which Bangabandhu wove around the idea of independence for the people of Bangladesh had caused him to spend as much as a decade and a half in incarceration. He had to struggle for a long period of 23 years against the exploitation and colonialism of the state of Pakistan. It was his leadership, his role in the forefront of all the struggles waged in defence of the people all the way from 1948 and right up to the War of Liberation in 1971 that was paramount. In order to strengthen the demand for autonomy, he came forth with his Six Points. It was the Six Points which energized the people of Bengal in their struggle for self-expression in Pakistan and brought them together in steely unity. The Six Points and the Eleven Points were to lead to the success of the Mass Upsurge of 1969, resulting in the fall of Ayub Khan and the rise to power by Yeahya Khan. It was after the Mass Upsurge that Bangabandhu compelled Yahya Khan to call general elections in the country. As part of Bangabandhu’s movement for democracy, the Awami League took part in the general election of December 1970 under his leadership. The verdict at the polling booths was clear: the people delivered a mandate for the Six Points. It was a reason why, immediately after the election, Bangabandhu pressed upon the ruling classes the need for a constitution to be enacted on the basis of the Six Points. As for the Pakistani ruling circles, they attempted to have Bangabandhu de-emphasise his Six Points by tempting him with the office of the country’s prime minister. Bangabandhu’s response was categorical: he did not want the position of prime minister. It was the rights of the people of the country that he wanted to be asserted. Naturally, such determination on his part led to the ruling classes initiating a process of conspiracy. They postponed indefinitely the National Assembly session earlier called for March 3, 1971. That was followed by the dispatch of military forces from West Pakistan. Bangabandhu was fully aware of the conspiracy that was being hatched. On 3rd March Bangabandhu called for non-cooperation movement. On 7th March in his historic speech he declared that “The struggle this time is the struggle for our emancipation. The struggle this time is the struggle for independence. Joi Bangla”. On that day at Suhrawardy Udyan, these concluding lines in Bangabandhu’s address lit a spark among the people, convincing them that freedom was on the way, electrifying them with energy that could only propel them towards achieving their objective of liberation. The entire area reverberated with slogans of ‘Joi Bangla’ and ‘Joi Bangabandhu’. In the sentence quoted above, Bangabandhu spoke first of emancipation and then of independence. It was his goal to free the people from the exploitation and repression to which they had been subjected by Pakistani colonialism. By emancipation he meant a deliverance of the nation in the political, social and cultural sense. He comprehended the truth that if the Bengalis were to be freed of Pakistani colonialism, the only way open to them was to go for independence. It was the laughter, the tears, the sadness of his people that consistently moved Bangabandhu. And therefore it was his objective to bring about sovereignty for his people.
It was then that he resolved to strengthen the people’s movement for democracy, a movement that went on for 25 days. It was an unprecedented movement in the history of the world. Here was a political leader who based his struggle on the collective strength and unity of his people, who had been elected by them to his exalted position and was bringing all that energy into his programme of resistance to the ruling classes. It would be well to recall that in those 25 days, Pakistan did not exist in Bangladesh. All across the land the flags of a nascent Bangladesh fluttered on rooftops as a powerful sign of support for Bangabandhu and his political programme. The taste of freedom was beginning to be felt by Bengalis. It was through that movement that Bangabandhu made it clear that the Pakistani ruling circles and Pakistan’s central government no more had any right to rule East Bengal. By not letting the National Assembly convene in session, the ruling circles had only hastened the process of independence for the Bengali nation. It was only a matter of time before the nation would achieve freedom. It was thus that before the nation could achieve independence, its elected leader was already exercising the powers of a politician governing a sovereign state.
The people of Bangladesh refused Pakistan. The brutal force came out of cantonment and started killing on the midnight of 25th March, in the name of Operation Search Light they killed over 25000 people in one night. Then Sheikh Mujib declared the independence of Bangladesh in the early hours of 26th March calling upon the people to drive out the last occupational army from it’s soil. Since then we are in independent. The war continued for nine months. The parliament members crossed the border went to India and formed a revolutionary government called Mujibnagar Sarkar. The government of India recognised it and helped in all possible ways. It were the Indian forces that joined the Mukti Bahini as Mitra Bahini that liberated the country on 16th December 1971. Bangladesh became independent.
It was Sheikh Mujib whose untiring efforts and absolute commitment made East Pakistan into Bangladesh and we are free people in a free country because of him. Sheikh Mujib is deemed to be the greatest Bengali of all ages. He is the Father of The nation. He is the hero of the revolution and he is all that Bangladesh means.
Dr S A Malek is former political adviser to the Prime Minister and Member of Parliament, President of Bangabandhu Parishad and columnist