History tells us that even when the ground realities are inexorable and objective conditions ripe for the political deliverance of a people, the actual delivery required the deft stewardship of a courageous and often charismatic leader. No wonder England had Sir Winston Churchill during war time, Vietnam had Ho Chi Minh, Russia had Lenin and China, Mao Zedong, to accomplish their historic tasks. In the same vein, it can be said that Bangladesh had Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, to arouse and prepare Bengalis for their ultimate emancipation.
One has to agree that in the political progression of a nation, the obvious has to be stated time and again. The fact that public memory is short and that there have been efforts to deliberately twist the history of our political struggle should, in fact, compel us to delineate the authentic course of our history.
It is my view that, in the above context, courage as an attribute was not in abundant supply in many of the leaders of East Pakistan, a region that has evolved into sovereign Bangladesh. This fact of history needs to be recorded and told in a forthright manner, because many in our midst have not quite realised the gravity of the mischief of distorting our political history, done at the behest of a motivated quarter.
The assassins of 1975 were able to physically do away with Bangabandhu, but did not realise that erasing him from the hearts and minds of Bengalis was practically impossible and morally indefensible. The immutable fact of history all Bangladeshis and the rest of the world ought to know is that, the towering courage of this Bengali was instrumental in the creation of a sovereign nation. So fearless and altruistic was this man that he spent nearly two-thirds of his youth in prison for the emancipation of his people.
Imagine the 1960s when Bengalis of erstwhile East Pakistan were subjected to the most humiliating treatment. It would be no exaggeration to state that they were experiencing the tribulations of a colonised people. In an atmosphere of all-pervasive fear and subjugation, it was Bangabandhu who confronted the mighty Field Marshal Ayub Khan and had the courage to forcefully advocate for the rights of his fellow Bengalis. During the trial of the so-called Agartala Conspiracy Case in Dhaka Cantonment, Bangabandhu took to task the rogue Pakistani army personnel and cautioned them to behave. He refused to participate in the Round Table Conference as a prisoner. The 1960s were, in fact, a time when all Bengalis could justifiably take pride in a courageous manner drawing sustenance from Bangabandhu's defiant disposition.
Bangabandhu was a real epitome of courage, both in the physical and moral sense. The historic Six Point Programme, an explicit embodiment of Bengali nationalism, was unfurled at Lahore, the heart of Punjab, by Bangabandhu. In Lahore, the bastion of arrogant Punjabi power, Bangabandhu displayed admirable physical and moral courage during the course of a public meeting in 1970 that he was addressing.
It so happened that his speech was being purposely interrupted by some Muslim League-Jamaat hirelings. When these miscreants refused to stop even after being cautioned, Bangabandhu shouted at them, asserting that he had not come to Lahore to seek votes as he had plenty of them in his own constituency—they could either listen to him or disappear from the meeting area. No Bengali had ever publicly ventured to rebuke the power-obsessed high-nosed Punjabis in such a manner.
When Bangabandhu, the poet of politics, spoke, it had an electrifying effect on the Bengalis whose spirit soared immeasurably in heightened expectations. Their support for their leader was total as evidenced in the historic landslide electoral victory of the nationalist causes in 1970. When the time came for tough talks across the table, Bangabandhu did not wilt. In fact, the cabal of Pakistani army generals that accompanied General Yahya Khan for the meeting in March 1971 were left in awe by the courageous presentation and assertiveness of Bangabandhu.
It is an irony of sub-continental political development that while the prescribed textbooks of social science and literature were supposed to turn Indian gentlemen taking to western education into rebels, in reality, scores of them joined the imperial service to obediently serve their colonial masters. Similarly, a large part of the so-called constitutional-methods-oriented politicians of undivided India were more occupied with their personal and material safety.
The post-partition scenario in Pakistan did not witness much of a change. The military-civil bureaucracy conspired with the business oligarchy and the landed gentry to protect their vested interests. People's emancipation did not figure seriously in the politician's scheme of things. It was in these circumstances that Bangabandhu could galvanise the people to unprecedented political activism for achieving real freedom.
Bangabandhu was gifted with extraordinary organisational acumen and had the inkling of the brutality of the Pakistani military junta. Accordingly, he exhorted the people for an imminent armed struggle. His historic 7th March speech bears an eloquent testimony to that. Precariously positioned as he was in the extremely demanding tumultuous days of March 1971, Bangabandhu, as a constitutional politician, acted with supreme forbearance.
Bangabandhu could never be cowered into submission. The trappings of power did not allure him and he remained a solid rock in the shifting sands. It is time once again to gratefully remember and pay homage to the great patriarch.
Muhammad Nurul Huda is a former IGP and a columnist of The Daily Star.