The long-awaited panel discussion on “Sheikh Mujib: Icon of Postcolonial Liberation”, which featured Indian writer, diplomat and politician Shashi Tharoor, was held on the second day of the three-day long Dhaka Lit Fest (DLF) yesterday.
Liberation War researcher and journalist Afsan Chowdhury, and poet and former principal secretary to the prime minister Kamal Choudhury were the other speakers at the discussion.
Professor Shamsad Mortuza, pro vice-chancellor of University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh, moderated the discussion, which was held at a packed Abdul Karim Shahittya Bisharod Auditorium in Bangla Academy.
“It is a fitting moment a few months before we reach his [Sheikh Mujib’s] birth centenary to think aloud of him,” said Tharoor as the discussion began.
“He became the first leader in a postcolonial system to have interrogated what a nationalistic identity really meant…One forgets that it was not just 1971, but everything going back to his student days. And the long career of action, agitation, reflection, attempted conciliation, peace-making and oppression through arrest and incarceration. We know he was also sentenced to death.
“He went through all that before reaching the ultimate goal. He articulated a vision of what that form of postcolonial identity meant, which I think has rightly continued to inspire many,” said the author-politician.
Tharoor spoke about Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s uncanny articulation and oratory skills, recalling a 1972 event where Mujib spoke during a stopover in Kolkata. He was returning from London via Delhi after being freed by the Pakistan regime.
Nationalism, secularism, socialism and democracy were the four fundamental pillars to Sheikh Mujib’s policy, he added.
Moderator Shamsad said that some argue that the birth of Bangladesh marked the success of the first armed separatist struggle in a postcolonial world, to which Tharoor said it was not just the first struggle, but the only successful struggle.
“It took a lot of courage and nerve…and vulnerability to the charge of treason and betrayal. But he felt that some things were more important than his own safety,” observed Tharoor.
Afsan Chowdhury said, “In July 1947, a group of Bengal Muslim League activists sat in Kolkata and decided they did not want to have anything to do with India or Pakistan and they would want an independent state of their own. The person who gave me this information used a very interesting quote that I use all the time: ‘We can think of only one man who could become the leader of such a state, that was the tall man from Gopalganj.’”
He added, “My team and I have visited over 10,000 villages. And this strength of Sheikh Mujib came from the villages. Sheikh Mujib came from a small town, and in three years he nearly conquered Kolkata. Nobody dares to say anything against Sheikh Mujib because he has the numbers…”
He further said that Sheikh Mujib had the backing of the peasantry in Bengal, whose support was fundamental to every anti-colonial resistance movement.
“Bangabandhu is our George Washington by vision and by association Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi. He is the greatest Bangalee of our time,” said poet Kamal Chowdhury.
2020 has been declared Mujib Year to commemorate his 100th birth anniversary. The DLF announced that next year’s edition would be dedicated to Bangabandhu.
The session ended with an open mic session for the audience to ask questions.