It is a rare piece of good luck for one to witness two historic events in one's lifetime—the 50th anniversary of the nation's independence and the birth centenary of its founding father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. March 26, 2021 was one such day. While the Mujib centennial celebrations commenced last year, the celebratory events had to be cancelled because of the pandemic. However, a ten-day programme was chalked out to celebrate both occasions this year between March 17 and 26.
We have come a long way in the last 50 years. There is much to celebrate in terms of our economic achievements. We have outdone our neighbours in many socio-economic indices. We have weathered many storms, both literally and metaphorically, and emerged victorious.
Bangladesh is cited as an example to emulate in poverty eradication by the media of—of all countries—the United States. Our GNP growth is an issue that the media and opposition in India use to snipe at their government.
These and many other things we can pride ourselves on and rejoice in—together, the administration and the people and all political parties. Regrettably, the "together" was nowhere to be seen during the celebrations, which were muted, understandably, because of the pandemic. In the fanfare of official programmes, the people were left out. On the grounds of VVIP security, the public in general and the political parties were prevented from holding their own programmes to celebrate the occasions.
The ten-days celebrations were attended by most of the leaders of our region. But the country wore a different picture with restrictions put on the movement of people, ostensibly because of the presence of foreign dignitaries in the capital. In fact, on March 26, the capital wore a lockdown look with most of the public and private transports off the roads. And all because people were asked by the police to restrict their movement "unless urgent" during the 10-day state programme. The only people's activity visible were the protest gatherings organised by a religious group in several places in the country on March 26, to protest the Indian prime minister's visit, in which five people were killed when police opened fire on these protesters, who turned violent in several places in the country.
This is, of course, not the first time that foreign dignitaries visited Bangladesh. We have seen larger gatherings before, including a SAARC summit. But no such announcements on movement were made before, if our memory serves us right. Even the size of the police and security ancillaries was not as large as we have now. This time, political parties were warned by the DMP that organising any programme between March 17 and 26 would be considered an "anti-state" act.
Also absent in the celebrations were the four martyred national leaders: Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmad, Captain (Rtd.) Mansur Ali, and AHM Quamruzzaman. We should have been celebrating the life and contributions of these four heroes also. Undeniably, it is because of the political acumen and diplomatic skills of these very capable lieutenants of Bangabandhu that the government-in-exile steered the military and the political course of our Liberation War. What we often overlook, to the detriment of history and in a disservice to the succeeding generations, is the significance of the part played by these four—not only as the trusted lieutenants during the years preceding the war, but also as ones who provided the political leadership and coordinated the military operations during the nine months. And the one who stands out most is Tajuddin Ahmad as prime minister of the government-in-exile. All the four were so steadfast in their duty and loyalty to the nation and to Bangabandhu that they preferred death rather than compromise their principles. One has not come by any mention of these four leaders in any of the official flyers or supplements, official or those brought out by the print media.
We should not forget that the 1971 war was a people's war, the entire nine months, led by the able followers of Bangabandhu. And the entire nation was gelled together by them, except for a few who collaborated with the occupation army. And without the support from home and the acts of the guerrilla fighters operating from India, December 16, 1971 might have been long in coming, but come it would have, in nine months or nine years, but not without the people's active support.
Bangabandhu belongs to Bangladesh, not to any one party. People may have differences of views with him as a political leader but nobody can afford not to accord him his rightful place, as the Father of the Nation, and his honorific—Bangabandhu—which predates December 16, 1971.
As we celebrate our victory and mourn the martyred, we have to ask whether we have been able to fulfil the dreams of the Mukti Bahini and the martyrs. Have we been true to the four fundamental pillars on which the state is founded? Have the principles that led to the War of Liberation been honoured? Have the major pillars of a nation, democracy and democratic principles, become stronger or wilted under a type of democratic dispensation that has become the new norm in Bangladesh in the last decade? And last but not the least, what do the people feel after 50 years of independence? And these cannot be asked or answered by keeping the discussions on the War of Liberation narrowly focused.
Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan, ndc, psc (Retd), is a former Associate Editor of The Daily Star.