News & Politics
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had many strings to his bow. He was a gifted political orator and his words had such a magical effect on his people that they ventured into a struggle for emancipation and also a struggle for independence which became a bloodbath. He made hundreds of speeches at home and abroad which form the oral evidence of the history of Bangladesh independence. His March 7 (1971) speech delivered at a mammoth public gathering at Ramna Race Course is not only his best speech, but also one of the 'world's all-time best' by all accounts. The contemporary English historian Jacob F. Field has, in his 2013 book We Shall Fight on the Beaches: The Speeches That Inspired History incorporated the speech as one of the 'most rousing and inspirational wartime speeches' made in the last 2,500 years that range from Cicero to Churchill, Lincoln to Mao. Besides, UNESCO also included it in the Memory of World Register as a documentary heritage. However, as far as the text and context of the speech and its impact on the people are concerned, it was a clear manifestation of an enormous political will and powerful public opinion. Peter Furtado, editor of History Today magazine, called it "a de facto declaration of Bangladesh's independence" in his 2011 book History's Daybook: A History of the World in 366 Quotations.
Bangabandhu's 7 March speech however does not need any introduction or any formal global recognition. It was a clear signal of independence of his country and its import is self-evident. All that the Bengali people lost during the 23 years' bondage of Pakistani rule and all that they finally longed for found expression in the strongly and carefully worded speech. Words came out of his mouth as powerfully as gasses gush out of the volcano. In the fiery speech Bangabandhu related the facts and figures of how the people of Bengal were deceived, deprived of and persecuted for being Bengalis. He urged them to comply with the rule of law, warned them off their undemocratic attitude towards and barbarous treatment of the Bengali and finally gave his people a clarion call to action. And it worked. Bangabandhu for his fine oratory and brilliant public speech was termed as a 'Poet of Politics' by the international Newsweek magazine, and deservedly so. The magazine made him the subject of a cover story which was published in its 5 April 1971 issue. As a matter of fact, the 19-minute-long speech, comprised of 1107 words, was a beautiful lyric poem. It was the finest poem in the Bengali language. A national saga spoken in the best words and arranged in the best order! It is our sweetest song that tells both of our saddest thoughts and happiest dreams.
The speech is a work of outstanding political merit. With its words and phrases, rhythms and rhymes, pauses and intonation, emotions and passions, it speaks for itself and contains an undertone of resistance to the Pakistani rulers. Its gripping text captures the imagination of the people and becomes the herald of the last nail in the coffin of the Pakistani brutal regime. "The struggle this time is the struggle for our emancipation; the struggle this time is the struggle for our independence," has become the global slogan for a people's financial deliverance and political independence.
In the speech, Mujib spoke as the representative of his people, as the spokesman for his motherland and the sole voice of his nation. As he put it: "Since we've shed blood, we'll shed more, but we must make the people of this country free.'' Netaji Subhas Bose urged his people for blood too: "Give me blood, I'll give you independence." Netaji's appeal however sounds less inclusive than Mujib's. Netaji also was a great patriot and a true friend of people and more significantly, one of Mujib's political gurus. But Mujib is one who surpassed his gurus and finally surpassed himself. The late Professor Humayun Azad quite cogently made a comparison between Mujib and his political peers. To quote: "Compared to Mujib, his predecessors are mediocre and successors are insignificant and laughable." Professor Azad's opinion carries weight for, he was not like the intellectuals of his generation rotten by the ugly process of politicization resulting in bias. Mujib's association with people was so profound that he loved using plural personal pronouns. And he was quite deservedly given the appellation 'Bangabandhu' on 23 February 1969 in a grand reception accorded to him in Ramna Race Course Grounds. In 1973 Algiers Non-Aligned Movement, while Bangabandhu in his speech divided the world into 'the oppressor and the oppressed' and avowedly sided with the latter, Fidel Castro urged caution. As the English journalist David Frost asked him at a conference what his qualifications and disqualifications were, he replied 'love of people' in answer to the first question and 'too much love' to the second.
In his historic 7 March speech, Mujib announced a civil disobedience movement in the East Pakistan. He was a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and accepted his philosophy of civil disobedience. Civil disobedience, as popularized by the 19th century American philosopher Henry David Thoreau, is an argument for disobedience to the unjust affairs of the state and an avowed and active refusal to obey them in a nonviolent way. This way of peaceful protest inspired Gandhi in his struggle for Indian independence against the British Raj and Martin Luther King Jr's peace movement for civil rights in America. Gandhi first used the term hartal derived from his mother tongue Gujarati haḍtāl to refer to his anti-British general strikes. His hartal was a mass protest for political reasons that involved a voluntary shutdown of workplaces, offices, shops, and courts of law against the British colonial rule. The term had wide currency during the entire gamut of the anti-colonial movement in the sub-continent and Mujib, as a follower of Gandhi was influenced by it and used it as a political weapon against the Pakistani rulers. Mujib's civil disobedience movement in the East Pakistan was an all-out non-cooperation, an overflow of powerful collective emotions, and a mixture of idealism, courage and patriotic fervor. It concerned Yahya so much that he called Mujib 'a traitor' and accused him of breaking the Pakistan's 'solidarity and integrity'. Though Mujib's civil disobedience movement turned into the war of independence, it was obviously in defense of the country against unprovoked military aggression.
The government has celebrated the birth centenary of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with great pomp and solemnity. There was a flurry of activity to mark the Mujib Year. But the point is to make sure that those activities are not reduced to ostentation or a mere formality. Whatever we do to observe the occasion should capture the hearts and minds of the younger generation. The 7 March speech, by popular demand, should be included in the school, college and university textbooks in order that the future generations can be brought up to be respectful of the Father of the Nation and can grow a sense of the nation's history.
Dr. Rashid Askari is a writer, fictionist, columnist, translator, media personality and the former vice chancellor of Islamic University Bangladesh. Email: [email protected]
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