Although Bangladesh gained independence under the leadership of Bangabandhu on December 16 1971, he was still imprisoned in Pakistan. In a mockery case, the Pakistani military ruler tried hard to get Bangabandhu hanged. They did not, however, dare to carry out that plan. On January 8, 1972, the Pakistani army dictator was compelled to release Bangabandhu from prison. He returned to Bangladesh on January 10 after being freed from a Pakistani jail through London and New Delhi.
As soon as Bangabandhu returned to Bangladesh, he got to work rebuilding the country's shattered economy, infrastructure, and social order. He started taking all the necessary steps to build his long-cherished Sonar Bangla (Golden Bengal) in a very short time. He had no choice but to deal with the myriad issues that a newly independent nation faced. Exactly three and a half years after his return, on the black night of August 15 1975, Bangabandhu was brutally assassinated with most family members by some Bengali politicians and evil military members who were allied with the Pakistani aggressors. Bangabandhu's two daughters - Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana - survived that day as they stayed out of the country.
After the assassination of Bangabandhu, Khandaker Mushtaq took over the power, but the military forces acted from behind. In the successive shifts in power, Army Chief General Ziaur Rahman declared himself president. He tried to justify power by holding a Yes/No vote. The military government took all the necessary steps to prevent the Awami League (AL) and other opposition parties from playing an active role in politics. Attempts were made to divide the AL into different factions.
It was not easy to organise the AL as a political party. A situation was created in which the existence of AL as a political party almost disappeared. Ignoring all the bloody eyes of the military ruler, on May 17 1981, Bangabandhu's daughter- Sheikh Hasina- returned to Bangladesh and took the helm of the fragile AL. Besides, she was very young in politics. She continued her efforts to organise the party by combining different factions and was successful.
After organising the party, she started fighting against military rule to restore democracy. Amid the political upheaval, General Ershad replaced Ziaur Rahman with power and declared himself the possessor of omnipotent force in the state. He also took various steps to prolong his power through farce elections. Later, the AL, led by Sheikh Hasina, launched a simultaneous movement with other political parties against the dictator Ershad. The second journey of democracy in Bangladesh started with the 1991 elections by removing Ershad from power through the mass uprising of 1990.
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Considering the political reality of 1981, the significance of May 17 is immense in the political history of Bangladesh. If Bangabandhu's daughter-Sheikh Hasina- had not returned to the country on that day and taken the helm of the AL, the very existence of the AL as a political party could have been threatened. Moreover, the AL had become so weak that it couldn't play a substantial role in the movement against the military government. There was a leadership conflict within the party. As the daughter of Bangabandhu, she was elected unopposed as the party's president and could gain the support of all. She continued to unify the party consisting of young and old. After the fall of the Ershad government, her main goal was to bring AL to power and establish Bangabandhu's Sonar Bangla. But in the 1991 elections, the party failed to get a majority. She did not leave the hope, and therefore she started again to win the voters' trust, making her party stronger. As a result of her efforts, the AL won the 1996 elections and came to power under her leadership.
After forming the government in 1996, she started working on the trail of the murderers of Bangabandhu and his four national leaders in the same way that she started working on building a golden Bengal. But she could not finish her cherished desires with the change of power in 2001. Therefore, all her activities came to a halt. Towards the end of 2006, various misdeeds of the then government created a kind of instability in the political spectrum of Bangladesh, primarily centering on the formation of the caretaker government.
Intending to manipulate the formation of the caretaker government, the then BNP government extended the age of retirement of judges from 65 to 67 years, and subsequently, various controversial activities of the then President Iajuddin Ahmed introduced an exceptional military-backed system in the government. That military-backed government later tried to implement a depoliticisation policy in the country. When Sheikh Hasina went to the United States in early 2007 to visit her ailing daughter-in-law, she was prevented from returning home in various ways. Ignoring all the bloodshed, she returned to the country on May 7, 2007, organised the AL and expressed her views in favor of the demand for elections.
Later, after winning the 2008 elections, the AL formed a government in January 2009 under her leadership. The AL government has been running the country until today. 13 years ago, no one could have imagined the place where Bangladesh is now. She not only organised the AL but also became the center of confidence of the people of Bangladesh through her work. Those who once called Bangladesh a bottomless basket are now calling Bangladesh an Asian Tiger or a role model for development. The unprecedented growth that Bangladesh has achieved in the last 13 years has surprised other countries. However, the attainment of such development was not relatively easy. This has been possible only due to the efficient and capable leadership of Hon'ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
No creation on earth is perfect. Therefore, it is not desirable that everyone would welcome all the activities and decisions of Sheikh Hasina. She may have made some mistakes on the way to administering the country. But finding such a mistake is not so easy. She has been working relentlessly with the dream of establishing Sonar Bangla, cherished by his father, in her heart. If she had not returned to the country on May 17, 1981, the history of Bangladesh might have been written differently. Still, the people of Bangladesh might have been crushed by the military, and the democratic journey might have been more protracted. She returned to the country that day, strengthened the party, and took it to the helm of power, just as she was soaked in the love of the people. She has become the center of confidence of all the people of Bangladesh. Therefore, considering the reality of the present time, we expect that Bangladesh will become a developed country in 2041 under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina.
The author is a Professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi.