Today is historic March 7, a red letter day in the history of the Bangalee nation. On this day in 1971 the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, gave us the guidelines to our future, following which we did not look back despite the hardship and difficulties the nation was to be pushed into by the then authoritarian military regime. The great speech led the subjugated Bangalees of erstwhile East Pakistan on course for liberty.
It was a day of decision for Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The people of Bangladesh were making diverse speculations with regard to what Bangabandhu might say at his Race Course public meeting on the day. Many thought that he would offer the junta one last opportunity for a settlement of the crisis in East Pakistan, while millions others expected him to declare Bangladesh’s independence. However, none including the closest political associates of Bangabandhu did quite know what Bangabandhu, the undisputed leader of 70 million Bangalees, would be saying at the public meeting.
The world witnessed that the afternoon meeting at the Race Course Maidan appeared as the finest hour in Bangabandhu’s life. He did neither make a unilateral declaration nor he fail to inform the world that the objective before the people of then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, was political and territorial sovereignty. The key note of Bangabandhu’s arguments on March 7 lies in some crucial points he raised. He made a clarion call to the West Pakistan regime to withdraw martial law, conduct a full inquiry into the killings by the army would have to be instituted, withdraw all soldiers of the Pakistan army into their barracks and transfer power to the elected representatives of the people. And the final lines of his speech clinched the argument. He said, “The struggle this time,’ declared Bangabandhu, ‘is the struggle for emancipation. The struggle this time is the struggle for independence.”
Thus the March 7 address by Bangabandhu has turned out to be the great poetry of our emancipation. This time-tested speech still ignites people, flaming forth their unquenchable thirst for justice. It still makes every patriot Bangalee move in tune with the spirit of the Liberation War. American weekly magazine The Newsweek, sketching a similar emotive figure and an artistic altruism of Sheikh Mujib, termed him a ‘poet of politics’ in its April 5, 1971 issue.
We are very happy about the fact that the historic 7 March speech of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has been included in the Memory of the World by UNESCO and thus become a world’s documentary heritage. It is not that UNESCO’s this recognition is for the first time that Bangabandhu’s 7 March speech has got an international recognition. Jacob F Field in his book titled ‘We Shall Fight on the Beaches: The Speeches That Inspired History’ published in 2014, which is a collection of ‘extracts from the most rousing and inspirational wartime speeches of the last 2,500 years—Cicero to Churchill, Lincoln to Mao as one of the most inspirational speeches ever In 2014, his speech was included’, included Bangabandhu’s speech as one of the most inspirational speeches ever. But now, the oratory skills of Bangabandhu have been officially recognized by the UN body.
There is no doubt the speech that our great leader delivered on 7 March 1971 is the greatest political speech a Bengali has ever made. The absolute drama of the terse speech mesmerized the audience years back and even now when anyone hears the speech they can’t but be moved by it. The inclusion of this speech in the world’s documentary heritage for preservation and protection has now paved the way for all people who are fighting to establish human rights across the globe to take inspiration hearing it.
On this auspicious occasion we also feel it pertinent to reflect on the rise of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as one of the greatest leaders in world history. The Father of our Nation was born on March 17 in 1920 at Tungipara in Gopalganj district to a modest start of his life. Since his early age, Bangabandhu was a man of vision with strong sense of ethics and patriotism – and thus he became an eyesore of the then Pakistani rulers. As a student Bangabandhu played leading role in the 1952 Language Movement, made his mark as a student leader and young politician and past his youth. He enshrined himself as a fire-brand orator, proposer of the 6- and 11-point charters of demands in favour of independence of Bangladesh, and faced extreme wrath of the then rulers who framed him in the Agartala Conspiracy Case. But his admirers and followers freed him from jail through the biggest movement in East Pakistan, except for the 1971 independence struggle.
No one at his birth could imagine that this rural boy would once become a star in the world history, a leader revered by all leaders across the world and the man who led the Bengali nation to independence. Bangabandhu made supreme sacrifices for our independence, came back from the brink of death in hands of Pakistani rulers, and surprised the world by winning an unprecedented landslide victory in the 1970 national election in undivided Pakistan. He became the rightful claimant to the Premiership of then Pakistan. But he was denied that by Pakistani military ruler General Yahya Khan and PPP leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the majority leader in West Pakistan.
Bangabandhu did not give up; instead he revolted against Pakistan and virtually declared independence of East Pakistan in his historic March 7 speech at Suhrawardy Udyan that immediately drew the world’s attention and West Pakistani guns at him. On March 25, 1971, Bangabandhu was arrested by Pakistani military junta and flown to Rawalpindi, capital of West Pakistan. But this did not demoralise Mujib’s followers including top Awami League leaders. They, joined by the Bengali army, police, other security forces, and people from all walks of life including students, professionals, lawyers and others, fought the independence war imbued by Bangabandhu’s teachings and led the country to victory over the Pakistani military on December 16, 1971.
Bangabandhu was a larger than life individual. Being mesmerized by the fact that a nation had fought and won a war in his name even as he languished in prison, Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro compared him with the Himalaya. “I have not seen the Himalayas. But I have seen Sheikh Mujib. In personality and in courage, this man is the Himalayas. I have thus had the experience of witnessing the Himalayas,” Castro said in 1973.
Bangabandhu and Bangladesh go parallel in history and any attempt to divide them must fail. Bangabandhu gave us freedom, pride, a sense of being at par or above all not only in South Asia but in the whole world. Had he not taken birth Bangladesh would not have been born. There is no denying to this. On this day, we pay him our heartiest respect, salute him once again and bow our heads before him. Long live Bangabandhu in death and in heaven.
M Munir Hossain is Acting News Editor, Bangladesh Post