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Thursday, May 06, 2021

Who is Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, whose birth centenary Bangladesh is observing today

Despite this year being Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's centenary, all celebrations in Bangladesh have been postponed due to the global coronavirus outbreak.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: March 17, 2020 1:55:52 pm
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman birth centenary, East Pakistan, coronavirus, bangladesh, express explained, indian express Before joining politics, Rahman studied law and political science in Kolkata and Dhaka, and agitated for Indian independence. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

March 17 is the birth anniversary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (1920-1975), the founding leader of Bangladesh and the country’s first Prime Minister. He is referred to as Sheikh Mujib or simply Mujib, the title ‘Bangabandhu’ meaning ‘friend of Bengal’.

Despite this year being his birth centenary, all celebrations in Bangladesh have been postponed due to the global coronavirus outbreak. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was expected to attend the celebrations.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman

Before joining politics, Rahman studied law and political science in Kolkata and Dhaka, and agitated for Indian independence. In 1949, he joined the Awami League, a political party which advocated greater autonomy for East Pakistan.

A popular leader in East Pakistan, Rahman played an important role in the six-point movement and the Anti-Ayub movement. In 1970, his party secured an absolute majority in the Pakistani general elections, the country’s first, winning more seats than all parties in West Pakistan, including Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman introducing members of his cabinet to the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on her arrival in Dacca on March 17, 1972. (Express archive photo)

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The election results were not honoured, leading to a bloody civil war, and Sheikh Mujib declared Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan on March 26, 1971. The declaration coincided with a ruthless show of strength by the Pakistani military, in which tanks rolled out on the streets of Dhaka and several students and intellectuals were killed. Between 300,000 and 3,000,000 people were killed and around 200,000 to 400,000 women were raped.

India under then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi provided full support to Rahman and Bangladesh’s independence movement, resulting in the creation of a sovereign government at Dhaka in January 1971.

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Rahman, who had been arrested and taken to West Pakistan, returned to Bangladesh after being freed in January 1972. For the next three years, Rahman held the new country’s prime ministerial post, and became a celebrated icon in India as well, admired for his moving speeches and charismatic personality.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman President VV Giri receiving Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Prime Minister of Bangladesh when the latter called on him at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on May 14, 1974. Express archive photo

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On 15 August 1975, Rahman was killed in a military coup along with his wife and three sons, including 10-year-old Sheikh Russel. His daughters, the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her younger sister Sheikh Rehana, survived as they were abroad at the time.

In 2010, Bangladesh hanged five ex-Army officers convicted of assassinating Rahman, almost 35 years after he was killed.

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