The March 7 address by Bangabandhu—the great poetry of our emancipation—is a time-tested speech. This great speech still ignites people. It flames forth our unquenchable thirst for justice. It makes us move in tune with the spirit of the Liberation War. Martha Nussbaum calls it a 'love', and thus distinguishes it from the simple embrace of principles. This love involves the feeling that the nation is one's own. Consider “bhayer aamar” or “amar manush” from the March 7 Speech or “Amar Sonar Bangla” from our national anthem, you will see a ground for this claim.
The art of oratory occupies a special place in our history. Sher-e-Bangla's oratory, for example, is omnipresent in our historical narratives. When he would speak,it would move everyone no matter what their socio-economic status. For Bangabandhu, eloquence was one of his many defining leadership qualities. The March 7 speech spanned for 19 minutes, but if you hear it, you get the feeling that it lasted for a moment.
Every utterance of the address can form the basis of a ballad to express the intensity of the Bangalis' political emotion. Bangabandhu starts with an inclusive term,Bhayera amar, and by that compels the masses to attention. He acknowledges and respects people's wisdom by saying apnara shobi janen, ebong bojhen. He narrates the context, injects a strong emotion directed to a general welfare, involves our hearts in something beyond greed and egoism. He establishes the justification of the demand for independence. He echoes peoples' thirst for a constitutional government and mentions that the people wanted to see the Constitution framed for economic, political and cultural emancipation.
Bangabandhu goes into the core principle of democracy when he says, “despite our majority, we would still listen to any sound ideas from the minority, even if it is a lone voice, I support anything to bolster the restoration of a constitutional government.” Perhaps, the weightiest dictum he utters in the speech is: “the struggle this time is a struggle for freedom, the struggle this time is a struggle for independence.” Bangabandhu uses the word “independence” as a leitmotif of “emancipation”. He is precise and clear when he says,“what I want is justice, the rights of the people of this land.” He respects the people, saluting them expresses his gratitude: "they rescued me with their blood from the conspiracy case. So, I uttered that day, right here at this racecourse, I had pledged to you that I would pay for this blood debt with my own blood. Do you remember? I am ready today to fulfil that promise!” Bangabandhu kept his promise, ironically in his independent Bangladesh on the horryfying night of August 15, 1975.
Bangabandhu provides a complete guideline about how the country would run in his absence. Then comes his great revolutionary utterance, “use whatever you can get hold of, to confront this enemy…seven crore people of this land cannot be cowed down.” Bangabandhu notes the price for independence: “the Bangali people have learned how to die for a cause and you will not be able to bring them under your yoke of suppression.” Then comes the thunderstorm:“if a single bullet is fired upon us henceforth if the murder of my people does not cease, I call upon you to turn every home into a fortress...since we have given blood, we will give more of it. But Insha'Allah, we will free the people of this land.”
Bangabandhu's power in igniting public emotion can be explained by relating the March 7 speech into the thoughts of the French historian Joseph Renan. Renan compellingly argues that the idea of a nation involves a story of the past, usually a story of the adversity and suffering, and then a commitment to the future worth fighting for. For Renan, the concept of “nation” is not merely geographical but also spiritual. Renan thinks that “where national memories are concerned, griefs are of more value than triumphs, for they impose duties and require a common effort.” Bangabandhu translates Renan's “spiritual principle” by telling the story of the past in a locomotive manner: “1952 shaale rokto diyechi...” and so on.
Professor Anwar Pasha's novel Rifle Roti Aurat offers a useful illustration of Bangabandhu's spiritual principle. Professor Pasha writes: “Sheikh Mujibur Rahman—is not only a name but also a souvenir of the self-dignity of the Bangalis...and also of jovial life. The Bangalis who heard Bangabandhu at the Racecourse on March 7, 1971, just for once, would surely turn into a new human entity.” Pasha depicts Bangabandhu at the altar of Shaheed Minar on February 21, 1971 with his powerful analogy. That Mujib of February 21, 1971, was the very Mujib two weeks later on March 7, 1971, with that thunderous voice! Did any Bangali ever hear a voice like that before? Perhaps, they found the same force in Shashanka or in Hussein Shah or in Siraj—Chief Mohanlal or in the voice of Netaji Shubhas Bose.
Poet Nirmalendu Goon even travels beyond Professor Pasha. In his famous poem, sadhinota ei shobdoti kibhabe amader holo, Poet Goon in a versatile style resonates that we adore the word sadhinota as ours from the very day of March 7 when Bangabandhu utters, “ebarer songram amadermuktir songram, ebarer songram sadhinotar songram!” Indeed, March 7 speech places Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in a remarkable standing as the Father of the Nation. Farooque Chowdhury said: “(at this event of March 7) the terms of changing the political map started and got embedded in the deepest sense of the seven-crore people...the speech to a rebellious armed soldier was a green signal for entering into the war, to a pen-held intellectual, was an infallible direction and to the mass people of Bangladesh was the great utterance of emancipation.”
The Newsweek, in its April 5, 1971 issue sketches a similar emotive figure and an artistic altruism of Sheikh Mujib by terming him a “poet of politics.”The magic of the speech is that it never becomes monotonous. Therefore, it is erroneous to regard it simply as a politician's speech; rather, it can be compared with the tune of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, behind whom successive generations run being overwhelmed by its magical power. It is not an address of 19 minutes, but a reservoir of the ideology Bangabandhu had professed throughout his political career and instilled in us a powerful national political emotion. We should assemble every March 7 at the Suhrawardy Uddyan to rejuvenate ourselves in the spirit of the Liberation War.
SM Masum Billah teaches Law at Jagannath University.