Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman would feel proud of being a secular leader. The main characteristics of a secular man are his love and respect for people regardless of their cast, creed and ethnicity.
There should not be any discrimination on the basis of religion. During his political life, Bangabandhu fought against the racial, social, political, and religious discrimination by the ruling clique.
If we read about Bangabandhu’s lifestyle and see how he lived and worked, how he met success and failure, how he influenced his age and how his age influenced him, we will clearly understand what Bangabandhu was and what he believed in.
He was not only a secular leader in the true sense; he was a champion of secularism. Bangabandhu’s position was clear in his famous speech on the Parade Ground in Kolkata at a gathering with then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the chair.
On that august occasion, Bangabandhu proudly announced that “first I am a human being, then a Bengali, and after that a Muslim.” He referred to the phrase “Cowards die many times before their deaths” and said a brave human being does not die many times.
The then Pakistani rulers, who unleashed unprecedented atrocities against Bengalis, were trying to subdue Sheikh Mujib and prevent him from the movement he waged against the military rulers. They were also threatening to kill him, if necessary. In reply to the threat, Bangabandhu gave a message to the Pakistani rulers that the threat would not work in the case of Sheikh Mujib.
Referring to the relationship with Indira Gandhi, Bangabandhu said, “Srimoti Indira Gandhi believes in democratic secular ideology and I myself also believe in that. So the likeness between us is on the basis of the ideology we believe in.”
Imbued with the secular ideology, Bangabandhu loved all the people of Bangladesh regardless of their cast, creed, religion and ethnicity and the people reciprocated by loving him unconditionally.
Secularism was not being practised even by the Communist and the Swadeshi, who were engaged in fighting to drive out the British from India. The organisers of Swadeshi movement against the British rule in India had a sort of reservation about the participation of Muslims in the movement. It was Maulana Abul Kalam Azad who first convinced the Swadeshi leaders that the Muslims, who were the vast majority in India, should not be left out of the movement.
In organising the Azad Hind Fauj, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose maintained secularism. Quite a good number of Muslim leaders and commanders were placed in the highest positions of the Azad Hind Fauj. When Subhash was leaving for Germany in disguise, Muslim activists played a crucial role in helping him to be transported outside the Indian and Afghan borders.
Bangabandhu was greatly inspired by the secular ideology of CR Das, Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq, Mahatma Gandhi and Netaji Subhash Candra Bose.
It was sometime towards the end of 1973; some senior leaders from NAP, Communist Party and other progressive parties went to Bangabhaban to meet him immediately after the declaration of general amnesty. In gossiping they were discussing that there should not be a Muslim or Hindu Communist.
It is a bit difficult to be a secular in true sense. Pretending to be declassed is very easy for anyone, but being really declassed is bit tough. The very lifestyle shows that Bangabandhu, being a nationalist leader, was really declassed.
There were so many leaders in the Indian sub-continent, who dedicated themselves to the cause of the people and the nation, and their lifestyle was like a real patriot and they were declassed despite being born in affluent families.
From his boyhood, his love for the people regardless of their religious identity was one of the characteristics of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib. The country went through an ideological change for several decades after the tragic incident of 15 August 1975, when Father of the Nation Bangabandhu was assassinated along with most members of his family by the forces who were defeated in the War of Liberation.
The country was taken back to the era of rogue state like Pakistan. Because of their influence, our young women and girls, who are in collage and universities, are increasingly tilting towards the fundamentalist attitude and taking attire of keeping themselves in the world of darkness. The most dangerous aspects of these are that their thoughts are going increasingly to medievalism.
When the world has reached the pinnacle of development in science and technology, these people are going back to the wrong trajectory and upholding the backdated ideology of fundamentalism.
They do not find any use of being in the world. They are running after heaven. They believe that the worldly life is nothing; all luxury and beautiful women are waiting for them in the heaven and they should not forget it even for a minute.
These impractical people are not insignificant in number. A very big portion of the total population is in that illusion. And this unhealthy mentality is gradually taking the society back to the darkness of medievalism. This force is creating hindrance in the path of social and economic progress.
Bangabandhu’s daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has created unique harmony in the society taking her father’s footprint. During her tenure in office there is no discrimination. The Hindus and Muslims are working together to serve the republic. But during the Jamaat-BNP era, there was no such practice in the administration.
Not a single officer from the minority community was given the responsibility of secretary or similar high position in the government. Bangladesh appointed a chief justice from the minority community during Sheikh Hasina’s rule. However, none has yet been appointed president from the minority community.
In course of time and with the progress of our society from the existing fundamentalism, we will be able to go up to that. Sampriti Bangladesh, a citizen platform that works to promote secularism in the country, has started a nationwide campaign to re-establish the ideology upon which the independent Bangladesh was founded.
It brings together representatives from various religious backgrounds and eminent members of civil society under a single banner.
A question might arise as to why any initiative to re-establish that ideology is needed. Yes, of course, there is a great reason why Sampriti Bangladesh has taken that endeavour. We have not forgotten that a Karbala-like tragedy took place in the life of the people of Bangladesh on August 15, 1975.
With the assassination of Bangabandhu, the politics of Bangladesh changed upside down. The ideology and spirits that led Bengalis to the Liberation War were changed overnight. An informal ban was put on uttering our national slogan Joy Bangla that we achieved through a long struggle against the Pakistani military rulers.
Joy Bangla was the main spirit in our freedom fighters, who shouted this slogan even before taking bullets of enemies to sacrifice their lives for the independence of Bangladesh at the war field.
The assassination of Bangabandhu was amounted to be the defeat in the Liberation War. The enemies of Bangladesh did the same thing that they would have done if we were defeated in the war. Our four national leaders were killed in custody in the Dhaka central jail after the August 15 tragedy.
The assassination of the Father of the Nation and the killing of the four national leaders, who led the War of Independence at the instructions of Bangabandhu, was a defeat of pro-liberation and secular people.
Bangladesh entered the first phase of independence through the declaration of independence by Bangabandhu on March 26, 1971, and after nine months of war we defeated the Pakistani Army on December 16, 1971. That was our victory in the first round. But the assassination of Bangabandhu was our defeat in the second round.
After a long struggle for democracy, a government was formed by Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina, which was our win in the third round.
We were defeated again in the fourth round when Khaleda Zia, the widow of General Zia, captured state power and started nationwide killing and oppression on the leaders and activists of opposition Awami League the same way the Pakistani army did during the Liberation War. Women of the minority community across the country were subject to rape and torture during the Khaleda regime.
However, we secured the victory in the fifth round through the win in the 2008 election. Since then, the enemies of secular and independent Bangladesh got active again to inflict another defeat on us.
Because of long propaganda against the spirit of the Liberation War by the defeated forces after the capture of state power, now we need to spread the secular ideology and instil it in the mind of our posterity so that they can uphold the ideology and lead the country, being imbued with it.
Sharif Shahab Uddin is Editor-in-Chief, Bangladesh Post.