Our analysis of historical examples shows us that it is the job of leaders in every nation to inspire their citizens to sacrifice their lives for the protection of their homeland and the common good. While some politicians may be able to sway their voters with persuasive speeches, others may struggle to motivate their followers to take action. Simultaneously, few political leaders have the diverse qualities necessary to convince citizens to follow them. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a visionary who mobilised the people of Bangladesh to overthrow Pakistan's military dictator.
A name that is profoundly ingrained in the hearts and minds of millions of Bangladeshis is Bangabandhu. He was the type of leader that sparked an interest in independence in his followers. Ever since he was a youngster, he has had a strong interest in political affairs. He was a born leader who developed into a terrific leader over many years. In light of this, it is a challenging endeavor to summarise his significance to the formation of the Bangladeshi state with only a few words of gratitude.
On March 7, 1971, most of the country's population sat in the front rows and roared enthusiastically as he took the stage. As Bangabandhu took on the nation's responsibility, he stood at the pinnacle of a thousand years of history. That was his most crucial time, as any inconsequential mistake might have destroyed the campaign's momentum just as it reached its zenith. He had to make the right decision. Even though there was no official script, he made sure to include every conceivable detail in his speech. Even though it was not an official statement of independence, it was an unofficial declaration of independence when he proclaimed that "Ebarer sangram aamader muktir sangram, ebarer sangram swadhinatar sangram (This struggle is for our freedom, this struggle is for our independence)" at Racecourse Maidan (now Suhrawardy Udyan) in Dhaka with a loud tone at a huge protest.
The ambience at the Racecourse Maidan was electric due to the muffling effect that his voice had on the dialogue. Instinctively, he revealed his actual feelings to his fellow citizens using the language and dialect of ordinary people to encourage them to fight against the Pakistani tyrant. In light of the significance of his speech, the international magazine "Newsweek" bestowed upon him the title of "Poet of Politics" on the cover story of its issue of April 5, 1971. He was able to persuade millions of his fellow people, through the medium of his lyrical poetry, to continue to stand together in support of the movement for the nation's independence.
His oratory was so eloquent that it gave listeners a sense of emotional elevation. After half a century, his voice still can create the same emotion among the people. The same level of excitement might still be generated by his words. Many have likened the message's brazenness to that of Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" address.
The language and emotional components of the March 7 address have been discussed above. One could ponder how the speech influenced the political battle for independence in the country.
The speech was broadcast right when tensions were at their highest between East Pakistan's demand for autonomy and West Pakistan's strong political-military Government. He prudently began preparing his fellow citizens for the province's civil disobedience movement at this time, given the deceit of West Pakistani control. With the West Pakistani Government's domination plot in mind, he sent out the correct message to his compatriots at the right moment to prepare them for the civil revolt movement in the province. As a result, he could influence his countrymen by stating, "protteck ghore ghore durgo gore tolo" (prepare every house as a fortress).
Inspired by his fervor, the crowds began shouting, with many repeating the phrases "Sab Kother Shesh Kotha, Bangladesher Swadhinata" (The final word is the independence of Bangladesh) and "Bir Bangalee Ostro Dhoro, Bangladesh Swadhin Koro" (Brave Bangalee, Take Up Arms to Make Bangladesh Free). He painted a picture of freedom for his fellow people in his speech. As a result, he said, "Rokto Jokhon Dyechhi, Rokto Aro Debo, Kintu Edesher Manuske Mukto Kore Chharbo Insha'Allah," before ending his speech (Since we have shed blood, we shall shed much until, by the grace of the Almighty, we make people free).
On March 7, Bangabandhu spoke like an experienced politician and astute diplomat. Instead of delivering a formal proclamation of independence, he instead employed diplomatic language. Using a diplomatic tack, he sought to accomplish two things. His initial effort was to mobilise the support of his compatriots against a military campaign. Secondly, he attempted to buy time for the Pakistani ruler to reflect on the plight of the people of East Pakistan and decide how to proceed.
The true fallout from Bangabandhu's speech on March 7 was that President Yahya Khan felt obligated to travel to East Pakistan to meet with him and discuss the future of East Pakistan's political struggle. Unfortunately, the discussion didn't prevent Yahya from preparing his forces to commit genocide in East Pakistan. Under the name "Operation Searchlight," this happened at midnight on March 25, killing hundreds of innocent Bangalis and ending any chance of further talks. The atrocities by the Pakistani army prompted Bangabandhu to officially declare Bangladesh's independence in the early hours of March 26.
Politically, the speech was a stunner, with many parties and lobbying groups putting pressure on him to make a fast decision about the ongoing demonstrations. His timing was impeccable, reaching the peak of public outrage over a perceived wrong. Sheikh Mujib won the 1970 election with a landslide, but the Pakistani Government still refused to give him any real power. Any blunder may have seriously jeopardised the forward movement; therefore, extreme caution was required. That's why, in his March 7 address Bangabandhu used very basic language out of an abundance of caution while announcing an unofficial proclamation of independence. The audience was moved by his commitment and candor.
Eventually, the March 7 speech changed the course of Bangladesh by galvanising the country to fight the Pakistani ruler and achieve the country's long-sought goal of independence.
This speech is so pivotal that it was included as one of the world's preeminent addresses in the book "We Shall Fight on the Beaches: The Speeches That Inspired History" by famous historian Jacob F. A. Field. The speech is just as influential now as it was back then. So, in 2017, UNESCO recognised Bangabnshu's March 7 speech as part of the world documentary heritage. The impact of the speech has gone far beyond Bangladesh, serving as an inspiration to people all across the globe.
Dr. Pranab Kumar Panday is a Professor at the Department of Public Administration,
University of Rajshahi