Tribute to Bangabandhu: How to remember a Hero?
Bangladesh and Bangalees have many heroes. But Bangabandhu shines far above all. While our other heroes may be matchless examples of excellence in their own respective fields, or a multiple of them, Bangabandhu's achievement is that he led us to having a country that we could call our own.
A country is of course its land, its people, its heritage, its mineral resources, its nature, its rivers, its trees, all the species that live in it and everything that it encompasses. A country is also the intellectual legacy of its people. But in the sense of building the future a country is a bundle of potentials – potentials to develop, improve, grow, to conquer adversity, to attain justice, to evolve into something better. It is the opening of doors to a bright future where Sheikh Mujibur Rahman becomes our biggest, brightest and most relevant hero. Whether we are able to achieve that brilliant future fully, partly or at all is another question. But he led us to open that door. That is a fact, indelible in our mind and will rest there forever.
But that hero's life was cut short, and most brutally at that. Why was the man who fulfilled our greatest dream, our innermost urge, our most cherished goal and brought into global reality our political identity so savagely killed?
Their purpose was to strike at the principles of our independence war, values of democracy, secularism, socialism and nationalism. They wanted to distort and if possible, destroy what we already had but more importantly take away from us our magnificent potentials.
As for democracy, how could the killers have anything to do with it, secularism they did not believe in, socialism they distorted and nationalism they defined in a way that it was contrary to its original purpose?
The government of General Ziaur Rahman clearly worked to protect Bangabandhu's killers. He continued with their foreign postings instead of bringing them home and trying them for the heinous crime that they had committed. Even when one of them returned and instigated indiscipline in the armed forces he was handled with kid gloves and never held accountable. One of his most ignominious actions, and we have written about it many times in the past including while Khaleda Zia was in power, was the Indemnity Act. This gave constitutional protection to the self-proclaimed killers and made it impossible for any legal action to be taken against them. For several years we were perhaps the only country in the world that gave constitutional protection to those the whole world knew to be killers because they proudly proclaimed so.
Gen HM Ershad, perhaps not as blatantly, followed the same policy of appeasing the killers. He made no attempt to bring the killers to justice who continued to roam the world on taxpayers' money. He never bothered to touch the Indemnity Act.
Khaleda Zia's first government – 1991-96 – followed meticulously the line set by her late husband. She added a new twist with her so-called birthday celebrations, which had no basis in any official document and was meant to specifically hurt Sheikh Hasina and her sister. It was designed to make a mockery of the tragedy and to trivialise the significance of the day, not to mention exhibiting low taste and an abysmal lack of sensitivity. Was it the view that the whole nation would be so enamoured by the false birthday celebrations that they would forget the significance of Bangabandhu's murder and the tragedy that befell the nation that day?
And all the while Bangabandhu was slowly, surely but unsuccessfully, being removed from public focus. Leave aside paying a minimum respect to the man who helped create Bangladesh, there was not even a mention of him on occasions such as 26th March, 16th December – two of the most important days in our nation's history.
Distortion of history came into full force and the Goebbels of the world stood reincarnated in their devilish best. During Zia's time, suddenly the genocide-perpetrating Pakistan army was replaced by the word "Hanadar Bahini" (marauding force) in our history books, school books and official narratives as those responsible for the killings of the millions. Also, attempts were made to establish that our independence movement was triggered by one radio announcement. Nothing much happened before Zia came onto the scene. Decades of struggle since 1948, the Language Movement, the anti-martial law movement, the six-point movement, the 11-point movement -- everything had to be removed, distorted, downplayed only because of Bangabandhu's essential and central role in them.
Bangabandhu's iconic speech, which is now a part of world intellectual heritage and which played such a crucial role in inspiring the nation and motivating the freedom fighters in the field ( I know it, because it was our daily source of inspiration during our days as a Mukti Bahini), did not exist for them and the March 7 speech did not happen for those in power from 1975 to 1996.
On a personal note, I think it was the first evening following Sheikh Hasina's assumption of power in 1996 when, while in office, I suddenly heard Bangabandhu's 7th March speech over the radio. It was after 21 years that I heard that speech publicly. I was overwhelmed with emotion. In my memory I was transported to that magical day, 25 years earlier, when I, along with lakhs of freedom loving people had gathered at the Race Course Maidan (now Suhrawardy Udyan) to hear our leader, our hero. Silently, I thanked Sheikh Hasina for giving us back this magnificent legacy. (After so many years in power, the government needs to be more circumspect at the random use of this treasure).
For those of us who lived through it, the tsunami of praises for Bangabandhu in today's Bangladesh makes it difficult to re-live the days of its total drought.
So how do we remember our Hero? His own words give us the best indication as to how he would like us to remember him. In his "Unfinished Memoirs" we read, something he himself scribbled in English, on May 3, 1974, "As a man what concerns mankind concerns me. As a Bengalee, I am involved in all that concerns Bengalees. This involvement is born of, and nourished by love, which gives meaning to my politics and to my very being." The monuments that we build for him must be in the hearts and minds of the people and they must be built with love. The meaning of his politics comes from his unwavering commitment to the people. For those who saw him, lived his politics, participated in what he did and for others who read about him, know for certain that everything he did was for his people – meaning people's welfare was central to his concerns.
As we build a better Bangladesh for the present and for tomorrow's citizens, let us remember that everything we do must be people centred – it must add to their welfare, prosperity, intellectual growth and most importantly freedom both of the mind and of the body, especially of the former.