H M Munir
Today, 10 January, is the Homecoming Day of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. On this day forty seven years ago, the architect of the independent Bangladesh and the Father of the Nation came back to his beloved people, for whom he sacrificed his entire life, after 290 days in captivity in Pakistan jail.
Even though Bangabandhu was in prison for this long time, his people had successfully waged an epic struggle in his name to liberate the country from the clutches of the authoritarian West Pakistan regime. The nation achieved freedom from the marauding Pakistan occupation army on 16 December 1971 at the cost of three million lives, two hundred thousand women’s chastity and destruction of countless villages and towns after in the nine-month War of Liberation.
Yet the war was not over and the freedom was not complete without the presence of its architect. The Liberation War achieved its completeness and roundness on 10 January 1972, when Bangabandhu returned to the sovereign Bangladesh.
On this day in1972, Bangabandhu, who flew in from Rawalpindi to London in the early morning of January 8, 1972 on his release from captivity in West Pakistan, boarded a British Royal Air Force (RAF) jet, set for Tejgaon Airport, Dhaka via New Delhi. Amid his stopover in New Delhi, Sheikh Mujib attended a celebration programme hosted by Indian president Varahagiri Venkata Giri and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. While addressing a New Delhi crowd, Sheikh Mujib expressed his gratitude to the Indians on behalf of the Bangladeshis calling them the “best friends of my people”.
Meanwhile, the people of newly-born Bangladesh were preparing to welcome their beloved ‘Bangabandhu’. It was truly a moment of unbound emotion for the entire nation to see its liberator coming back home. People in thousands flocked to the airport to receive him and thousands others crowded both sides of the Airport-Shahbagh Road to have a glimpse of the great leader. The jubilant Bangalees were waving flags and shouting over and over, “Sheikh Mujib! Sheikh Mujib!” And, those, who could not come to Dhaka from around the different corners of the country, were glued to the radio for the running commentary to be a part of the historic moment in the nation’s history.
Promptly at 1.30 pm, a blue and silver British Royal Air Force Comet dropped out of a brilliant sunny sky and ground to an abrupt halt on the abridged war-dented runway of Tejgaon Airport. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was home at last! As the Comet’s door opened, the first gun of a 21-gun salute cracked through the air. Then Sheikh Mujibur Rahman stepped out to an earsplitting welcome. A sea of crowd shouted with the loudest of their voice ‘Joi Bangla, Joi Bangabandhu’.
Today, we remember how the grateful Bangalee nation welcomed its leader and an emotional Bangabandhu, while addressing a mammoth public gathering at the then Racecourse Maidan, now Suhrawardy Udyan, with an emotion-chalked voice said that all his dream came true.
On that emotional moment, he did not hesitate to challenge the Tagore who in one of his poems said, ‘Saat Koti Santanere, He Mughdho Janani, Rekhechho Bangalee Kare Manush Karoni’ (You pleased Mother Banga, you have reared your seven crore sons as Bangalees, not as human beings). Bangabandhu proudly uttered that his fellow Bangalees had become ‘human beings’.
The handsome leader had reduced by forty pounds in jail. He was a worried man there but not a frightened man. He thanked his people for freeing him and expressed his happiness that we were free at last. A man, a Bangalee and a Muslim die only once, he remarked. He had no fear of death.
We also remember how Bangabandhu, soon after returning home, embarked on reconstructing the war-torn country involving all. In just three and a half years he, through his visionary leadership, could take the nation on the track of prosperity. On this day, we remember with heavy heart how conspirators, who opposed the independence of Bangladesh and did not like the progress of the nation whose liberty they opposed, assassinated Bangabandhu along with most of his family members. We saw how the conspirators reintroduced communalism in politics and ran the country in the old Pakistani style for quite a long time.
This is gratifying the Awami League after returning to power under the enlightened leadership of Bangabandhu’s able daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been successful in pushing back such conspiratorial behaviour and that it has brought back the country on a path that Bangabandhu would have appreciated.
But, what we must not forget that the danger is not yet gone. The beneficiaries of Bangabandhu’s murder and the political turnaround thereafter are still there and have been trying to storm back to power. This is why a constant vigilance is yet very much a national need. Therefore, let it be our oath on this day that we will restore the philosophy of Bangabandhu and have it infused in all levels of consciousness in our society. Our remembrance of him will achieve meaning only when we can succeed in fulfilling this pledge.
H M Munir