'I have not come to be the leader of Awami League. I want to stay beside you as your sister, as your daughter, and as a worker of Awami League, who believes in the ideals of Bangabandhu'
On May 17 in 1981, Awami League President and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina returned to Bangladesh from India, nearly six years after the assassination of her father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The assassination of the Father of the Nation and most of his family members by a group of army officers on August 15 had made it impossible for the two surviving daughters – Hasina and Sheikh Rehana – to set foot on their motherland for years.
On August 15, 1975, they were in Germany. After 19 days they moved to India.
Sheikh Hasina landed in Dhaka from Delhi via Kolkata on May 17, 1981 with her daughter and Awami League leaders to see a massive crowd of hundreds of thousands waiting for her return at the then Dhaka Airport in the capital.
Three months before the return of Hasina, the party made her president at a national council of Awami League held from February 14-16.
Awami League will hold a discussion on Thursday at the Krishibid Institution of Bangladesh with the party’s Presidium Member and Deputy Leader of the House Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury as chair.
Awami League, Awami Jubo League, Bangladesh Chhatra League, and other associate bodies of the party have chalked out elaborate programs marking the day
'I want to stay beside you'
On May 17, 1981, Hasina came straight from the airport to a rally on Manik Mia Avenue.
“I have come to stay beside the people of Bangladesh. I have taken part in the struggle for freedom. I have not come to be the leader of Awami League. I want to stay beside you as your sister, as your daughter, and as a worker of Awami League, who believes in the ideals of Bangabandhu," she told the massive crowd in an emotional voice.
The rally was arranged in front of the National Parliament, on the street, to the right of the gate. The mass gathering heard her speech with pin drop silence and strong slogans.
Curfew was imposed in the capital city of Dhaka every night till the last day of Ziaur Rahman's rule.
“Imagine how unsafe the country was at that time. She came back home at her life's risk,” said Abdus Sobhan Golap, now Awami League office secretary and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's special assistant.
Back then Golap was a leader of Bangladesh Chhatra League and went to the airport along with fellow activists from Dhaka University.
“That was the first time after Bangabandhu's assassination we chanted the Joy Bangla slogan openly. It was amazing to see presence of people on Dhaka's streets. People came from all over the country,” he added.
The day was cloudy with intermittent thunderstorms and heavy rain. Nevertheless, people, drenched in the rain, started gathering around the airport from noon. The flight carrying Sheikh Hasina arrived in the afternoon. Awami League leader Abdus Samad Azad and Korban Ali were with her.
In her a half-hour-long speech, Hasina vowed to continue the struggle to bring justice for Bangabandhu and the four national leaders and sought people's assistance.
The gathering replied with slogans such as “Hasina we are giving our word, we will take revenge for the death of Mujib” and “Storm, rain, or dark night, we will be there with you.”
After the rally, in the evening, amid heavy rain, Sheikh Hasina moved with a large crowd to Dhanmondi 32, the house of Bangabandhu where the family was assassinated. She wanted to see her home and pray for the departed souls of the victims, but the security did not let her in.
Sheikh Hasina with her party members then sat on the road and held a prayer for her family members. She then went to her husband's house.
The Ziaur Rahman government had placed massive numbers of police and other law enforcement personnel on the roads, but the crowds outnumbered them.
Since the February council where Sheikh Hasina was selected as party chief, leaders and activists of Awami League and its associate organizations started mass communication and organization for the gathering.
Before the council, several teams of Awami League leaders went to Delhi to meet Hasina and Rehana.
Back in the country, after she was made the party chief, delegations of leaders visited her again in February to talk about her homecoming.
Initially it was decided that she will come back home on March 17 or 26, but it was later changed to May 17.
To take her home, Awami League leaders Abdus Samad Azad and M Korban Ali went to Delhi on behalf of the party. Hasina took an Air India flight from Delhi.
After 1975, Awami League saw conflicts in leadership and factions within the party. But her homecoming gradually created a united party.