The 7th, the 17th and the 26th of March are the red letter days of independent Bangladesh. It was on 17th March when the leader who dreamt of Bangladesh was born. It was on 7th March he delivered his world-famous historic speech. It was again on 26th he declared the independence of Bangladesh. The man concerned is Khoka who subsequently became Mujib Bhai, then Bangabandhu, then the Father of the Nation and finally the greatest son of Bengal of all time.
How was it possible that Khoka was mounted so high like the Himalayas? From the very beginning of his boyhood he was very sympathetic to others. He was very courageous. He was a good captain. When he was the student of class seven at Gopalgonj Mission School as captain he drew attention of the Labour Minister of undivided Bengal Hussain Shaheed Suhurawardy complaining about the crack rooftop of the school and demanded of repairing. Khoka was a good footballer and he was leader of his football team.
I have seen him swimming in the canal flowing beside his house. He took 18 years to matriculate due to beriberi. Concluding his education at Gopalgonj he went to Calcutta (now Kolkata) for higher education at Islamia College. As student he came in contact with great leaders like Sher-e-Bangla A K Fazlul Huq, Huseyn Shahid Suhurawardy, Desh Bandhu Chittaranjan and Netaji Subash Chandra Bose. It was Netaji who inspired him with revolution against British colonial rule. Mujib actively participated in the movement with Netaji to remove Holwell Monument from the centre of Calcutta.
He wanted Pakistan, but not divided Bengal. He could not accept the division of India following the formula of Lord Mount Batten that divides Bengal in line with two-nation theory. However, after division of India in 1947 he left Calcutta and came to Dhaka. He took admission in department of law at Dhaka University. He got involved in the movement of class IV employees of Dhaka University and was arrested. He was expelled from the university as he refused to accept conditions offered against his release.
All other students accepted, but not Mujib. It was in 1948 when he formed the Student League and motivated students with the idea of Bengali nationalism in spite of Pakistan. He used to tell East Bengal instead of East Pakistan. He actively participated in the language movement protesting the conspiracy of the West Pakistani ruler to make Urdu as the only state language of Pakistan in less than year following creation of Pakistan. It was Governor General of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah who declared `Urdu and Urdu shall be only state language of Pakistan in early of 1948. It was Sheikh Mujib who protested the declaration. It was he who broke 144 and brought out the procession on which bullets were fired the unfortunate deaths Salam, Jabbar, Rafiq, Barkat and others. The central government was compelled to accept the demand of the students. Naturally, the movement had to be slowed down. But the wise and intelligent Mujib transformed the language and cultural movement into a political one. Simultaneously, the movement for autonomy, a political movement was gaining ground.
Sheikh Mujib took up all issues created by language movement and transformed it into the movement of regional autonomy. He categorically raised the demand for regional autonomy in his six-point programme in a meeting at Lahore. General Ayub declared him as number one enemy and said this time Sheikh Mujib would not go unpunished. He instructed governor Monaem Khan to continue repression on him and kept him within jail. Series of false cases were lodged against Mujib. Ayub told that Sheikh Mujib would not be allowed to see the light of the day. He was taken from one district jail to another district jail. He was detained in Agaratala Conspiracy Case. It was declared that Mujib has to be hanged by Aagartala Conspiracy Case.
However, one day while taking to court he was fired upon, but the bullets killed Sergeant Zahurul Hoque. In the meantime, the six-point movement and 11 points of students united the Bengalis and the movement got ground momentum. In the face of strong mass movement, the government of Ayub Khan was compelled to release Sheikh Mujib. After being released from jail Sheikh Mujib was given the title Bangabandhu at a huge rally at Ramna Racecourse Maidan. Since Bangabandhu made no compromise he compelled President Yahya to declare the date of general election. It was in that in election in 1970 that Bangabandhu’s Awami League secured 167 seats out of 169. Bangbandhu became the absolute leader and virtual ruler of East Bengal.
The central government did not feel their existence in Bangladesh. If parliamentary practice is followed, Bangabandhu was to take oath as Prime Minister of Pakistan. But Bangabandhu said that he would not change a bit of his six-point programme as it get mandate of the people in 1970 election. On 1 March, when General Yahya Khan suddenly postpones the national assembly session earlier called for 3 March, protests break out in Dhaka and other regions of Bangladesh. A meeting of the Awami League executive committee, presided over by Bangabandhu, announces a hartal (general strike) on 3 March.
A general strike was observed all over Bangladesh. Bangabandhu wanted Yahya Khan to immediately hand over power to the Awami League. At a rally in the evening at Paltan Maidan, a declaration by the Chhatra League announces that henceforth Bangabandhu is the ‘Father of the Nation’ and ‘Supreme Commander of Sovereign Bangladesh’.
On 7 March, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman addresses a million-strong rally at the Race Course, where he presents a four-point demand before the Yahya regime. He rejects the regime’s invitation to a Round Table Conference and declaims, “The struggle this time is the struggle for our emancipation.
The struggle this time is the struggle for independence”. He announces a series of guidelines for the nation and asks the people to turn every house into a fortress. Essentially, Bangabandhu’s address on the day is the beginning of the struggle for freedom, with his announcement being acknowledged as a declaration of the road to sovereignty the country will take.
Effectively the province was administered under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who already announced a non-violent non-cooperation movement to compel the Yahya junta to transfer power to the elected representatives of the people. Till 25 March, Bangabandhu’s writ will run large all over Bangladesh.
It was on 25th of March the occupation army attacked on the unarmed Bengalis and killed 2500 people in one night. Moments before he was
arrested by the army, Bangabandhu
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared Bangladesh’s independence. The time is 12.20 am on 26 March.
Dr S A Malek is former Political adviser to the Prime Minister, Member of Parliament, General Secretary of Bangabandhu
Parishad and Columnist.