'Gentlemen, as you can see, I am alive and well,' Bangabandhu said in his first words to the media
After spending nine and a half months in a Pakistani jail, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman returned to a newly liberated and sovereign Bangladesh 49 years ago on January 10, 1972.
Bangabandhu was abducted by the Pakistani army in the early hours of March 26, 1971 at the onset of Operation Searchlight, in an attempt to defeat Bangladesh’s struggle for independence. But Sheikh Mujib’s foresight in delegating responsibilities to his trusted deputies and faith in the people ensured they would not only wage one of the fiercest wars for independence, but also ensure victory.
After Bangabandhu was released on January 8, he wished to fly back to Dhaka immediately. But as Pakistani aircraft were banned in Indian airspace, Pakistan’s new President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had taken over from a disgraced General Yahya Khan, recommended that Bangabandhu fly to Tehran or another neutral location. Sheikh Mujib decided to fly to London, where he addressed the world media in a sensational meet-and-greet at Claridge’s Hotel.
“Gentlemen, as you can see, I am alive and well,” said Bangabandhu in his first words to the media.
His words, when aired on the BBC and BBC Bengali Service, reached the millions yearning to hear of his well-being, led to outbursts of joy and grateful prayers across the nation.
After a brief stopover in Delhi to thank Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her country for their assistance to the Bangladesh cause throughout the Liberation War, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman returned home to a free Dhaka, to millions of restless and ecstatic Bangalis for whom his safe return was tantamount to a fullness of national victory.
On a winter morning, a Royal Air Force aircraft landed at Tejgaon Airport carrying Sheikh Mujib and his entourage, among whom were Dr. Kamal Hossain, who had been under arrest in Pakistan since April 1971, and his family. Over 500,000 people lined up on the road from the airport to Shahbagh to welcome their leader home.
On a truck that was more laden with flowers than people, an emotional Bangabandhu experienced the jubilation that rolled through the crowds as they caught a glimpse of him.
Upon his return, Bangabandhu delivered his speech on January 10 at the Race Course [now Suhrawardy Udyan] outlining the principles upon which Bangladesh would function as a sovereign state.
“My Bangladesh is independent today, my life’s desire has been fulfilled today, people of my Bengal have been liberated today. My Bengal will remain free,” Bangabandhu declared.
“In my state, in this Bangladesh, there will be a socialist system. There will be democracy in this Bangladesh. Bangladesh will be a secular state,” he said.
“Together we will build a new and prosperous Bengal. The people of Bengal will be happy again, live life merrily and breathe freely in an open atmosphere,” said the Father of the Nation.
He recalled with respect the contributions of all during the war and urged the people to rebuild the war-ravaged country.
Two days later, Bangabandhu, who had been declared Bangladesh’s President by the Mujibnagar government in April 1971, took the oath of office as the country’s Prime Minister under a parliamentary form of government on January 12, 1972. Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury took over as President.
Programs to celebrate the day
The historic day this year comes with extra significance as it coincides with the Father of the Nation’s birth centenary celebrations, just three months ahead of the golden jubilee of the country’s independence.
The day will be observed on Sunday across the country in a befitting manner. However, all programs marking the day will be observed by maintaining health guidelines in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The ruling Awami League has arranged various programs to observe the historic Homecoming Day of Bangabandhu on Sunday.
The programs will start with the hoisting of the national and party flags at the party central office, Bangabandhu Bhaban, and party offices across the country at around 6:30am on Sunday, said a press release.
AL leaders and workers will place wreaths at the portrait of Bangabandhu at Bangabandhu Bhaban in Dhanmondi at 9 am.
Later, a discussion will be held on a limited scale, through maintaining health guidelines, at the party’s central office in the city’s Bangabandhu Avenue at 3.30pm.
Prime Minister and Awami League President Sheikh Hasina will address the discussion through videoconferencing from her official Ganabhaban residence in the city.
Besides, all district, city, upazila, thana, union and ward level units of the Awami League, its associate and likeminded bodies will organize similar programs coinciding with the central program to observe the day in a befitting manner.