March 17: A unique history of independent and sovereign Bangladesh

Published : Sunday, 31 March, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is the name of the brightest star, written in golden letters in the history of Bangladesh. Today, we can breathe in the free air of an independent country, walk unchained on a free soil and can chase any of our dreams – all these are mostly the contribution of this great personality. Intellectual leadership, prudent wisdom, uncompromising soul and heart filled with love for his common countrymen were the best qualities of Bangabandhu. Millions of Bengalis jumped in the liberation war of 1971, in an unequal fight against the West Pakistani military junta under the shine of his outstanding leadership. A great and unimaginable victory was achieved following this leader’s principles. 100th birthday of this all-time hero was celebrated this year on 17th March, 2019.

Sheikh Mujib was the third child of his parents Sheikh Lutfur Rahman and Sayera Khatun and was born on 17 March 1920 at Tungipara, presently in Gopalganj district. None might have imagined as he was born that this little child would once give birth to a country named Bangladesh. But from the very early age, the qualities of leadership were revealed in him. While studying in a missionary school in 1939, he led a team with the demand of renovation of school’s ceiling to meet the then Chief Minister of Bengal Presidency Sher-e-Bangla A K Fazlul Huq and former Prime Minister of Bengal and later Prime Minister of Pakistan Hussein Shaheed Suhrawardy, when they came to visit the school. At that time, both the veteran leaders were charmed by the sharpness of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s leadership. From that, step by step, from a simple political activist Sheikh Mujib took himself to such a height that legendary Cuban leader Fidel Castro said, “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.”

Giving independence to Bangladeshi people is not the only political contribution of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Even before the liberation war of 1971, he had great contribution in freeing the Indian subcontinent from British colonialism. He had loud presence in all sorts of political movement. 1952 Language Movement, 6-point movement, mass upsurge of 1969 – he made his lion-like presence felt in every political movement. He secured a unique place in the heart of the people by his lifelong struggle standing beside the common people and fighting for the rights of his fellow countrymen. It seemed like children-teenagers-adults-elders and every people irrespective of male or female did not hesitate to jump into an extremely unequal war in 1971 to pay tribute to his love for his countrymen.

Bangabandhu-led Awami League secured a landslide victory first in the provincial assembly and later in the National Assembly, which was unimaginable for the then Pakistani President Yahya Khan. But, not only in East Pakistan but also in West Pakistan, the widespread influence of the brave leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was being felt. With the victory of the National Assembly, the foundation stone of Bangladesh’s independence was truly established. Bangabandhu demanded the complete independence of Bengal or East Pakistan refusing the position of prime minister of whole Pakistan based on the historic six point demands amid different excuses of the West Pakistani rulers to handover the power. When the West Pakistani rulers expressed their reluctance to fulfill this demand, Bangabandhu realized that it is not possible to achieve this independence without struggle and fight. In this context, the greatest hero, the all-time noblest Bengali Sheikh Mujibur Rahman came on to the stage in front of millions of Bengalis. The historic public meeting of the racecourse field, which still moves the hearts of millions of Bangladeshis, took place.

It was 7th March 1971. In the presence of millions of people, the racecourse field seemed like turning into a country. A significant part of Bangladesh’s history, the Racecourse field was shaking from the sound of million’s heartbeat. The pulse speed of everyone was beating even the speed of an unchained horse. Elders, children, youths, teenagers filled every corner of the Racecourse field that day. In this scenario, Bangabandhu came on the stage at 3:20 pm to write history. He captured the hearts of all Bengalis with the movement of his index finger and made the Pakistani rules scared like dark sky of a stormy day. “This struggle is struggle for our freedom. This struggle is the struggle of our independence,” he uttered in thunder-like voice. His appeal overwhelmed all hearts of the present crowd. Minds of millions of Bengalis listening to the dear leader’s speech on the radio from different parts of Bengal got moved. He also said, “As we have given blood, we will give more. Will free the people of this country Inshallah.” But millions of Bengalis were then ready not to only sacrifice their bloods but also everything that belongs to them at the call of their beloved leader. Answering to this call, millions of people were just roaring, “Your country, my country Bangladesh Bangladesh , your leader my leader Sheikh Mujib, Sheikh Mujib.”

Through this historic only 19 minutes speech of March 7, courageous Bengalis started preparing for independence. The Pakistani rulers also became seriously concerned. Within only a few days, the dark night of March 25, 1971 arrived. After 7th March, the Pakistani rulers gradually started to increase their military strength in East Pakistan upon receiving the clear message and feeling the determination of Sheikh Mujib. Consequently, on the dark night of 25th March, they cowardly attacked the helpless and defenseless Bengali people, killing thousands of innocent souls. On that night, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was arrested and taken to a prison in West Pakistan. But before being arrested, he called upon his beloved Bengali nation to begin the liberation war and called for independence. As Bangabandhu started a tough mental war in a dark prison cell, the innocent common people of East Pakistan started a difficult and unequal fight with whatever they have against a giant-like opponent.

March 17: A unique history of independent and sovereign Bangladesh
March 17: A unique history of independent and sovereign Bangladesh

The Bengali nation achieved independence on 16th December, 1971 holding Bangabandhu’s ideals, guidance and inspirations in heart through a long nine month bloody battle at the cost of three million martyrs’ sacrifice and honor of two lacs mothers and sisters. A new country ‘Bangladesh’ emerged on the world map. It is doubtful if any other nation has paid such high price for their independence in the history. Inspired by the thunder-like voice and strong pointing of index finger of Bangabandhu, the Bengalis, usually known for their gentle nature achieved this tremendous victory quite unexpectedly by showing extreme courage within a very short time. We must gratefully remember the contribution of our neighboring nation India here too not only for providing shelter to millions of Bengali refugees but also for fighting with Bangali Mukti Force shoulder to shoulder observing the barbaric acts of the Pakistani regime, which actually played a huge role in achieving our independence. Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi might have also understood that the Bangalee nation will never come out of the influence of the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and someday the Pakistani rulers must have to back off.

Freedom was achieved. But Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, whose orders and instructions were the base of this victory, was captured in Pakistani prison. Everyone was afraid if the beloved leader will return or not. In the meantime, Pakistan’s military junta President Yahya Khan completed all the arrangements to kill Bangabandhu secretly in the Pakistani jail during the month of December. Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sent letters informing this cowardly act to the head of the governments and states of 67 countries requesting them to create pressure on Pakistan to free Bangabandhu. She also successfully pulled the opinion of world people in favor of Bangabandhu and Bangladesh through her visits to five European nations and the USA. In the face of such pressure, the Pakistani military junta finally could not fulfill the dream of killing Bangabandhu. After the arrest, he was kept in a jail near Faisalabad (then Layalpur), but later he was kept in Miawali jail. It is the result of millions of Bengalis’ prayers that Bangabandhu survived even after digging his grave three times.

Bangabandhu was released from Pakistani jail on January 8, 1972. Bangabandhu was secretly sent to London on a military aircraft of Pakistan. After landing at the airport, some officials of the British Foreign Office welcomed him at the VIP lounge. Within a short time, Sir Edward Motherland, Chief Officer of the South Asia Department of British Foreign Office, informed Bangabandhu about his status of a state guest on behalf of the British government. From there, Bangabandhu was taken to the Carriage Hotel in the heart of London. Shortly after, the British Labor Party leader and later British Prime Minister Harold Wilson came to meet Bangabandhu and addressed him, “Good morning Mr. President”. 

Afterwards in a crowded conference Bangabandhu spoke publicly for the first time. He said, “I have not forgotten about Bangladesh even for a moment. I knew they would kill me. I will not have a chance to meet you. But my people will achieve freedom.”

On 10th January, Bangabandhu rode on a comet jet of British Royal Air Force to return home. On the way to Bangladesh, the plane stopped for two hours in Delhi. Indian President VV Giri and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi welcomed Bangabandhu. Though Delhi’s tour was short, Bangabandhu drew a complete picture of Bangladesh’s independence during that visit. The depth of his political wisdom became much clearer during this short stoppage in Delhi.

Though indebted to India’s contributions to the great liberation war, indefinite stay of Indian soldiers on the soil of this country could have raised a lot of questions. So, despite being busy in so many programs and receptions, Bangabandhu asked Indira Gandhi when the soldiers of Indian Allied forces would leave Bangladeshi soil and return home. Though Indira Gandhi tried to assure him, he did not want to be assured without a promise. In the end, Indira Gandhi had to say, the Allied forces soldiers would return to their own country whenever Bangabandhu wanted.

Bangabandhu knew he had to assure the seven and a half million people also, who flooded him with emotions when he returned home on January 10, 1972. So on that day at the historic Racecourse field, Bangabandhu non-hesitantly said in front of the people of his favorite Bengali nation, “I want to tell who want to know, I had discussion with Smt. 

Indira Gandhi in Delhi while returning. I can tell you that I know her. I respect her. She is the daughter of Pandit Nehru, she is the daughter of Motilal Nehru’s son. They are doing politics; sacrificing; they became the Prime Minister of India today. The Indian soldiers will leave Bengal’s soil the day I tell.”

It seemed like the independence of Bangladesh was not complete befor Bangabandhu’s return on 10th January 1972. After the return of the greatest hero, the soldiers of Indian Allied forces gradually started leaving the land of independent Bangladesh. In February 1972, Bangabandhu visited India for the first time as the head of state of Bangladesh. On the visit, along with exchanging greetings and discussions over different issues, he invited Indian Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi to visit Bangladesh and again strongly urged her to quickly remove Indian Allied Forces soldiers from Bangladeshi soil.

On the invitation of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, on the eve of the first birthday of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in independent Bangladesh, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi came on a visit to Bangladesh and even before that, on 12 March, only within two months of Bangabandhu’s return, the last Allied Forces member left the soil of independent Bangladesh. On 17th March, the birthday of Bangabandhu, Indira Gandhi gave a historic speech at Racecourse ground. 

This was the first visit and first speech of any foreign head of state in the independent Bangladesh. In this speech, Indira Gandhi emphasized the friendship between Bangladesh and India. She also expressed hope that Bangladesh and India would cooperate with each other in different future activities and events.

The day was the first birthday of the greatest Bengali of all time, the architect of independence father of the nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in independent Bangladesh. It was like, by taking away all the Indian soldiers, Smt. Indira Gandhi presented an all foreign soldiers and all skepticism free truly independent and sovereign Bangladesh to Bangabandhu.

Indira Gandhi visited independent Bangladesh responding to Bangabandhu’s invitation to strengthen the friendship between Bangladesh and India, from respect to Bangabandhu and from the love for the people of Bangladesh. On 17th March, Bangabandhu’s birthday, she made her historic speech at the Racecourse ground. She engraved the first birthday of Bangabandhu in independent Bangladesh in golden letters by presenting a completely sovereign and all foreign forces-free independent Bangladesh to Bangabandhu and the whole Bengali nation through fully removing Indian soldiers before this emotion-bound day.

Removal of the Indian Allied forces soldiers is very important in the history of Bangladesh and also as an example of Bangabandhu’s strong leadership. Because, from the time of World War II, in no independent country where allied forces soldiers had entered to help, the troops were cent per cent removed or controlled. After achieving independence, many thought that Indian soldiers would not easily leave Bangladeshi soil. But due to Bangabandhu’s farsightedness, wisdom and strong leadership and Indira Gandhi’s true sincerity and love for Bangladesh, only within three months of independence, Bangladesh became a foreign soldiers and control free, full-fledged sovereign nation. This is a great example of how thoughtful and uncompromising a leader Bangabandhu was!

Hence, 17 March is very important in the history of Bangladesh. The day is a very significant one even only as the birth anniversary of the greatest Bengali of all time Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and additionally achieving full sovereignty adds to its importance to a great extent.

In 1993, the founder adviser of ‘Bangabandhu Shishu Kishore Mela’, Nilima Ibrahim wrote a letter calling on the organization’s leadership to celebrate March 17 as ‘National Children’s Day’. On her advice, the celebration of ‘National Children’s Day’ on the birthday of father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman started in a very adverse environment in 1994. Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Rehana inaugurated the program of first National Children’s Day. Then, in 1997, when Bangabandhu’s worthy daughter, current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government came into power for the first time, ‘National Children’s Day’ on 17 March received government recognition and honor. 

Through the celebration of National Children’s Day on the birthday of Bangabandhu, an effort to find Bangabandhu and his outstanding attributes in every child of Bangladesh becomes visible. If the ideals of the father of the nation can be spread among all children of Bangladesh, then the progress of Bangladesh cannot be stopped in any way.

After his return to Bangladesh, Bangabandhu dedicated his heart and soul into the reconstruction of a war-torn country. But in the meantime, counter-revolutionaries were trying to wobble the political and socioeconomic environment of the country which was hampering the reconstruction works in many ways. After Bangabandhu’s barbaric killing in 1975, his birthday was not celebrated with proper honor and dignity for a long time due to the propaganda of his killers and anti-independence ideologists. Hence, as a result of a continuous disgusting distortion of history, the importance of 17 March was never reflected or emphasized in light of Bangabandhu’s birthday and in the context of achievement of full sovereignty. In fact, March 17, holds equal significance in the history of Bangladesh as March 7, March 26 and December 16.

After the murder of Bangabandhu, for the last 21 years, the correct history of Bangladesh was concealed in such a way that the politicians, journalists, columnists and intellectuals of this country had been subjected to self-censoring regarding the history of 17 March. But despite served justice with maximum punishment of Bangabandhu’s murderers and war criminals amid change in political powers and Bangabandhu’s worth daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s forming government for the fourth time, we seem not to be able to get out of that trap of self-censorship in the context of the history of 17 March.

Children should be informed about the real history of Bangladesh, which many have been trying to distort for years, by observing National Children’s Day. We have to motivate them to work for country and the fellow countrymen holding the ideals of Bangabandhu. We hope worthy children of the father of the nation will be raised in every house through healthy mental development and practice of creativity and innovativeness.

100th birthday of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is being celebrated on 17 March, 2019 with state sponsorship. On this day, we offer humble reverence to the father of the nation though a deep sadness which is making every Bangladeshi cry for the last 43 years after losing Bangabandhu will remain in the midst of happiness. The greatest Bengali was lost. This is the only prayer on his birthday that may we pay him his due tribute by making his dream of golden Bangla a reality.

Happy birthday, father of the nation.

The writer is chief patron of Bangabandhu Shishu Kishore Mela and Editor at Kishore Bangla

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