This Op-Ed is being republished on the occasion of National Mourning Day
The tale of Bangabandhu is that of a legend, a young man who went on to become the architect of Bangladesh, and most importantly, to become Bangabandhu -- the friend of Bangalis.
With his larger-than-life persona, coupled with confidence, charisma, and above all, love for his people, Bangabandhu transcended a mere individual to an institution that is engraved in the core values of Bangladesh as a state.
Humanity, democracy, secularism, nationalism, and social justice -- values that we should reignite over and over again to build the Bangladesh that he fought for. Coming from a humble background, Bangabandhu managed to reach a height of popularity that no Muslim politician from this region had ever achieved until him.
He was the first Bangali Muslim politician to come into national prominence from a middle-class background. But what made him the Bangabandhu who lives on in annals of historical legend?
What made a leader like Fidel Castro witness the greatness of Himalayas in Sheikh Mujib? The answer can be found from one of Bangabandhu’s many stories.
When Bhutto shamelessly attempted to use the “common religion” card with a hope to reunite Bangladesh and Pakistan, and asked Sheikh Mujib to be the prime minister or president of a united Pakistan while also blocking Bangladesh from joining the Commonwealth, Bangabandhu, as expected, was not persuaded, and responded in the most Mujib-esque way.
“If Bhutto tries any of his tricks to keep Bangladesh out of the Commonwealth, I’ll take over Pakistan and make it Bangladesh too,” he told British journalist Gavin Young during an interview, confirming that he was not joking.
“But wait, you think I am joking about Bhutto, but no. If he tries to stop us from joining the Commonwealth by insisting that East and West Pakistan are still legally one nation, I could say ‘All right, but I am the majority leader since I won the election. You are only president at the whim of the army, so democratically, I am prime minister of Pakistan. I will appoint my people all over your provinces.”
It was his determination, indomitable spirit, and truly democratic political vision that made him the man of the people -- Mujib, for once and for all, is of the people, by the people, and for the people.
It always goes beyond the personal, and is enough to curb all the smear campaigns to distort his legacy, the most abhorrent of which started immediately after assassinating the Father of the Nation, as the ugly face of communalism manifested more violently.
Secularism and equality were central to Bangabandhu’s political ideology, beliefs he so gladly upheld even when his life was at risk, which ultimately turned the fanatics against him.
Another important aspect of Bangabandhu as an institution is that he never forgot his real source of power: The people. Before his heinous assassination and part of his family, Bangabandhu declared one last war -- a war against corruption.
Calling upon Bangalis from all classes to build fortresses in every house one more time, in what is reportedly known to be his last public statement, made on the Independence Day of 1975, he said: “The number one priority is to root out corruption from the Bangla soil. I need your help.
“I will enforce law, I will not spare anybody. There has to be a people’s movement. It has to be a movement to socially boycott the bribe-takers and the corrupt.
“Who can do it? My student-brothers can do it, the youth can, intellectuals can, the people can. You have to convert each house into a fortress. This time, fortresses against corruption, so that we can alleviate the sufferings of the toiling masses of Bangladesh.”
His tremendous belief in people and people’s power made him eschew his official residence and continue to live in his Dhanmondi Road 32 residence, to stay closer and corresponding with the masses. Unfortunately, that made things easier for his killers.
Nevertheless, the killers might have been successful in eliminating an embodiment of the institution that was Bangabandhu, but not the institution itself. Because the legacy of Bangabandhu cannot be killed or shut down. He will live on in the dream of a truly democratic, prosperous Bangladesh that belongs to, and only to, the people that Bangabandhu has given his life for. He will live on in the struggle of people fighting for freedom around the world, for his dreams are the basis of the existence of any nation struggling for freedom.
Alongside the deep mourning at his sad and bloody demise, there also remains the Banagbandhu who has conquered death with his unfathomable greatness. He is the salvation of the oppressed and subdued -- for today and forever.
Abu Naser Rayhan is a Feature Writer at the Dhaka Tribune.