This Op-Ed is being republished on the occasion of National Mourning Day
“I have not seen the Himalayas. But I have seen Sheikh Mujib. In personality and in courage, this man is the Himalayas. I have thus had the experience of witnessing the Himalayas.” -- Fidel Castro
his year, August 15 marks his 44th martyrdom, and the mourning day reminds us of his immense contribution to the liberation of the Bengalis from a long subjugation and to the foundation of an independent state.
What we know from the history is that Bangabandhu developed a linguistic nationalism -- mostly based on language and culture -- which turned into Bengali nationalism, which established a nation-state with the harmonious unity of different religious communities.
Let us revisit his relentless political struggle against the Pakistani autocratic military misrule so that our young generation can be inspired by his charismatic leadership, towering personality, indomitable courage, and unconditional love for the nation.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was born in Tungipara, a village under the Gopalganj subdivision in the district of Faridpur, in 1920, during the British Raj.
In 1942, he passed his matriculation from Gopalganj Missionary School. In 1938, Sheikh Mujib happened to meet the great leaders -- AK Fazlul Huq and Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy -- who came to visit Gopalganj.
During this visit, HS Suhrawardy discovered Sheikh Mujib as a promising, courageous political talent. Sheikh Mujib also got himself admitted into the University of Dhaka to study law but was unable to continue because he was expelled from the university in early 1949 on the charge of “inciting the fourth-class employees” in their agitation against the university authority’s indifference towards their just demands.
As a political disciple of Shaheed Suhrawardy, Sheikh Mujib became very active and joined the Bengal Muslim League in 1943.
After obtaining a BA degree in 1947, he appeared to be one of the Muslim politicians working under Suhrawardy during the communal violence that broke out in Calcutta just before the partition.
After the partition of India, Mujib chose to stay in East Pakistan and founded the East Pakistan Muslim Students’ League.
With the passage of time, he became the most prominent student political leader in the province of Pakistan.
Following the announcement of Muhammad Ali Jinnah that Urdu would be the only official state language of Pakistan, protest erupted among the Bengali speaking people in 1948. Mujib led the Muslim Students’ League in organizing strikes and protests, and was then was arrested along with Khaleque Nawaz Khan and Shamsul Haque.
Sheikh Mujib left Muslim League and then joined Suhrawardy, Maulana Bhashani, and Yar Mohammad Khan in forming the Awami Muslim League.
He was elected to East Bengal Legislative Assembly on a United Front coalition ticket in 1954 and served briefly as the minister for agriculture during AK Fazlul Huq’s government.
Following the suspension of the constitution and the imposition of martial law declared by General Ayub Khan in 1958, Mujib was arrested on the charge of waging resistance and imprisoned till 1961.
After his release he organized an underground political wing called Swadhin Bangla Biplabi Parishad -- comprising of student leaders -- to oppose Ayub Khan’s military regime. He started working for the independence of East Pakistan and was again arrested in 1962 for the protest.
Following the death of Suhrawardy in 1963, Sheikh Mujib came to head the Awami League which turned out to be one of the largest political parties in Pakistan. Later, the party leaders decided to drop the word “Muslim” from its name with a view to moving towards secularism and making a broader appeal to non-Muslim communities.
He was one of the key leaders who opposed Ayub Khan’s “Basic Democracy” model designed for centralizing power and merging the provinces.
During the escalation of communal tensions in 1966, Sheikh Mujib placed a six-point autonomy plan titled “Our Charter of Survival” at a national conference of opposition political parties in Lahore; he demanded self-government and considerable political, economic, and defense autonomy for East Pakistan in a Pakistani federation with a weak central government.
Obtaining huge support of Bengalis, including the Hindu and other religious communities of East Pakistan, Sheikh Mujib led the Awami League to win the first democratic election of Pakistan in 1970. Despite having a majority, the party was not invited to form the government.
With the mass protest mounting across the East Pakistan and the rising demand for the liberation from the West Pakistan subjugation, Bangabandhu envisioned a struggle for independence during a landmark speech on March 7, 1971.
Defying Bangabandhu’s appeal, the Pakistan army launched Operation Searchlight to suppress the wave of Bengali nationalism on March 25, 1971. Hence, Mujib was arrested and detained in military custody in West Pakistan.
Then the liberation war started with the leadership of Tajuddin Ahmed -- the first prime minister of provisional government styled “Mujibnagar government.”
And the war lasted for nine months.
With the surrender of the Pakistan army to Bangladesh-India Allied Forces, the liberation war ended on December 16, 1971. Eventually, Bangladesh gained independence.
In post-independence Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, being the prime minister, was surrounded by some conspirators (Khandaker Mushtaque Ahmed, Taheruddin Thakur, and others) in his cabinet.
On the very fateful day of August 15, 1975, Bangabandhu with his family members -- except the present Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her sister Sheikh Rehana -- were brutally killed by a group of disgruntled and wayward army officers with the help of CIA and the party’s internal conspirators.
In a war-torn country, just after independence, Bangabandhu had to deal with multifarious problems and simultaneously concentrate on re-building the nation by facing many challenges like unemployment, corruption, famine, and severe political opposition by Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal -- which created an armed underground outfit named “Gonobahini” to carry out subversive activities across the country -- and other anti-liberation forces.
The brutal killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman plunged the nation into political turmoil for many years.
Bangladesh saw a series of military coups and counter-coups and political assassinations which paralyzed the country and effectively “banished” democracy from Bangladesh until 1990.
Bangabandhu’s illustrious political work should be re-studied and re-visited in the academic arena. He should be kept beyond any trifling political controversies.
In fact, Bangabandhu’s ideals should not be limited to the political domain of Awami League as Nelson Mandela is not limited to that of the African National Congress. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is the epitome of courage, struggle, and liberation.
His political career is a source of inspiration for millions. Hence, all political parties of Bangladesh should reach an undeniable consensus on honouring Bangabandhu as the Father of the Nation, and observe this day as a tragic event in the history of Bangladesh. Let the truth of history prevail over emotion.
Sheikh Nahid Neazy is Associate Professor and Chair, Department of English, Stamford University Bangladesh.