In this sad month of August, as the rains of Sravana pelt us with intimations of tragedy, it is time to remember the Liberator. He was our Bangabandhu — “Friend of Bengal”. It is time to celebrate him, that moment in life when past glory and old causes re-energise the collective spirit of the Bengali nation.
It is the courage of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman you miss. And yet it is something more, something about values, that you associate with any remembrance of him. He embodied some of the finest traditions that self-respecting people anywhere have, throughout history, upheld in their lives. And among those values is the refusal to compromise, to undermine yourself through a convenient jettisoning of the ideals that you have always held dear. Even as the roundtable conference went on in Rawalpindi in 1969, President Ayub Khan suggested to Mujib that he take charge as Pakistan’s prime minister. The Bengali leader spurned the offer. It was a natural gesture on the part of a man who had defied the winds and the trends to come forth with the Six Points in 1966. It was Bengal that mattered to him. Nothing else did, or would.
Bangabandhu never flinched from doing or saying anything he thought was right. In December 1969, as Bengalis remembered Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy on his death anniversary, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman let them and by extension the world outside know that thenceforth East Pakistan would be known as Bangladesh. One hardly needed proof that Mujib had come a long way. Back in 1957, he had caused not a little distress to Suhrawardy, then Pakistan’s prime minister, by asking him bluntly if Bengalis could not opt out of the state Jinnah had cobbled into shape. Suhrawardy had reprimanded him. Mujib then bided his time. He knew the task he needed to perform. His disillusionment with Pakistan having taken a firm shape by the early 1960s, he knew which path he needed to take. And he took it resolutely.
Bangabandhu was the troubadour who moved through the hamlets and villages of Bengal, disseminating the message that freedom from colonial rule and emancipation from economic exploitation were of the essence. In the remote regions of the country you will chance upon men who still recall their “Muzibor” and everything he stood for. And what he stood for came alive assertively in 1971 when 75 million Bengalis prayed for him, even as he languished in solitary confinement in Pakistan. All politics, all religion in that year of tragedy and decision focused on Bangabandhu. An entire war of national liberation was shaped and waged in his name.
It was no mean feat, one that Fidel Castro remarked on when he met Bangladesh’s founder at the Algiers non-aligned summit in 1973. That Bangabandhu was a tall man, and not just literally, continued…