10 January 1972 is a red-letter day in the history of Bangladesh as Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the undisputed leader of the nation and supreme leader of the war of liberation, returned to consecrated soil of the country after years of imprisonment in Pakistani jail via London and New Delhi. Prior to his return to Bangladesh, he had been exposed to horrific cruelty at the Pakistani prison, where he had counted moments in a ridiculous prosecution to execute his death sentence.
It is a difficult task for us to attempt to assess Bangabandhu's contribution to Bangladesh's independence as a sovereign nation on the map of the world. The citizens of the then East Pakistan envisioned being a citizen of sovereign Bangladesh through the eyes of Bangabandhu. Owing to his sensible, committed, and transformational leadership quality, he could foresee that we could establish an independent state. He thus stimulated fellow citizens to step up against the oppression of the Pakistani Junta and engage in the liberation war. After feeling the derailment of battle, the Pakistani Junta held a fraudulent prosecution to offer Bangabandhu a death penalty. However, because of the opposition and the strain of the world leaders, they could not materialise their dream of enforcing capital punishment. Had the Pakistani government executed Bangabandhu, they could have won the war? However, they could not achieve their dream.
One may try to understand the Pakistani government's overarching intent for executing Bangabandhu in a fraudulent trial. The most plausible interpretation is that they were fearful that Bangabandhu could motivate and lead the people of Bangladesh into a war against the government of Pakistan. The whole course of the struggle of history of the people of East Pakistan was changed through the diplomatic declaration of independence by Bangabandhu on 7 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 war, putting together the people of East Pakistan who sacrificed their lives for the nation. The Pakistani Junta was quite anxious over Sheikh Mujib because of his strength in influencing the people.
Then, when the country attained its independence on 16 December 1971, the Pakistani ruler was afraid of enforcing Bangabandhu's death penalty and thus agreed to release him from prison. Transcending the painful experience of 9 months in the Pakistani jail, Bangabandhu did not even want to spend one day abroad. He was very passionate about returning to its loving homeland. He then returned to Bangladesh via London and New Delhi on 10 January. Listening to the news of the return of Bangabandhu to Bangladesh, over a half million people met for the first time in a winter evening since March 1971, at the Red Course Maidan, on 10 January to listen to the voice of their hero. He was filled with passion, and his eyes were filled with tears as he began to speak to his compatriots. In a few minutes, he overcame his feeling and started his speech with screaming emotion.
The entire nation embraced him with 'Joy Bangla' chanting when he began speaking. The significance of the 10 January 1972 is immense in Bangladesh's history, as the 7 March of 1971. If the 7 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 to think that he was involved in both the incidents of history. Through the historic speech of the 7 March, Bangabandhu offered a clear direction about 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 of 10 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 riven into various sections in his absence. Therefore, many apprehended 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 trusted followers (Tajuddin Ahmed, Captain (Rtd.) Mansur Ali, A H M Qamaruzzamn, and Syed Nazrul Islam) of Bagbandhu who could manage to keep people united upholding his philosophy. But, at the same time, the brute reality is that these leaders might not be able to retain the party unified had Bangabandhu not returned home on 10 January.
Bangabandhu, after returning home, stayed in the 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, incarcerating illegal weapons, rehabilitation of Mukhtijoddhas and restoration of the country's community system. Moreover, he had an obligation to frame the Constitution of the country. And Bangabandhu was found very successful in finalising the Constitution within the shortest possible time compared to other newly emerged countries. Among many, it was one of the most significant achievements of Bangabandhu during his brief stay in office.
Bangabandhu successfully persuaded 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 was so happened due to 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 matured 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 nation. 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 (to refer to economic and social justice for all) as three other state principles in the Constitution. He made his memorable attempts to establish a "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 15 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 their absolute tastes of independence and democracy. The stability and growth of the country could have been distraught had he not managed to get home on 10 January. Though Bangabandhu established a solid base for Bangladesh, he did not have the opportunity to take the country at its height. After his death, several evil powers attempted to disrupt Bangladesh'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 Bangaladesh's daughter Sheikh Hasina work hard to materialise 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.