The speech delivered by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman prior to the 1970 general elections captivated the people of Bengal
The 1970 general election was a turning point in the history of Bangladesh's struggle for independence, as it was the first general election to have taken place in Pakistan since its founding in 1947.
Some 24 political parties of various sizes and stature took part in the elections, with the then All-Pakistan Awami League enjoying the highest level of popular support.
Prior to the election, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman announced that a victory in the elections would be the weapon to fight for and secure people's rights.
Campaigning on the basis of the 6-point demand, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Awami League president, urged the nation to elect Awami League candidates in the country’s first general elections held on December 7 for the national assembly and on December 17 for the provincial assembly. Elections were deferred in a few seats in the cyclone affected coastal areas in the south.
Bangabandhu chose 'boat' as the electoral symbol of the Awami League and as the nation's hope.
The Awami League achieved an absolute majority in the general elections on December 7, winning 167 (including 7 women’s reserved seats) out of the 169 seats of the national assembly allocated for East Pakistan and 298 seats (including 10 women’s reserved seats) of the 310 seats of the provincial assembly of East Pakistan.
The following is the text of a speech delivered by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on December 1, 1970 ahead of the elections.
My dearest brothers and sisters,
Assalamu Alaikum. Please accept my greetings.
The coming December 7 has been fixed as the date for the first general elections where you will be able to implement your voting rights. The election is the result of unrelenting sacrifice and struggle of the people. We can take the opportunity to free the country and its people from all kinds of suffering and crisis through this election.
Following 23 years of unrelenting struggle that saw hundreds of patriots being martyred and thousands of students, labourers and political activists endure unending torture, a wonderful opportunity has presented itself to the people of Bangladesh today. One significance of this election is that the assembly members would not be able to ascend to power right after winning the election or being elected as members.
They would also have to carry out the responsibility of formulating a constitution within a stipulated time. In fact, this is the first time in 23 years that the elected representatives of the people are getting the right and chance to frame the constitution. That is why the election is immensely important.
My dear countrymen,
Despite our long struggle, enormous sacrifices and long wait, if the representatives of the peasants, labourers and working class people are not given the responsibility to frame the constitution, then the people, especially the seven crore people of East Pakistan, will again be tied to the chains of slavery.
The dictators and oppressors will put up obstacles at every single stage of writing a constitution according to the wishes of the working class people of the country.
By implementing our right to vote, if we can snatch away that task from the hands of evil people, then only will we be able to fulfil the two charters of freedom - the 6 and the 11- point demands.
That is the only reason for the Awami League to take part in this election and the party has given a candidate for every seat.
After coming out of jail, we raised a demand for representation on the basis of population. Now we have achieved that.
That is why we are now privileged with the responsibility of formulating the future constitution.
Now if all the elected forming members of the national assembly can come to the same platform and support the same program and principle, then we will be able to bring an end to all the injustices, discrimination and oppression that had been inflicted upon us in the past.
The members of the national assembly from other parts of the country will be bound to accept the 6 and 11-point demands, the charter of freedom of the Bangalis, in the face of our united effort and combined demand.
This will happen because we will be the majority in the parliament.
On the other hand, if we get divided and engage in suicidal conflict among ourselves out of narrow individual interests and differences over principles, then those who do not want the good of the people of this part of the country and want to control our resources will be benefited.
That will eventually lead to a delay in the emancipation of all the poor, oppressed and unfortunate people of Bangladesh.
Brothers and sisters,
Sher-e-Bangla is no more among us. Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy is not among us either.
Those who claim seniority have either sold out to a group of West Pakistanis who nurture bitterness for the Bangalis, or have rendered themselves inactive, lifeless and have lost balance being influenced by others.
I now clearly understand that the unfortunate people of the country must speak up for themselves. It will have to be the Awami League which will take the responsibility of shaping the hopes and aspirations of the populace. And we are ready for that.
We have built our party with this aim in mind. We will consider our struggle to be successful if we can ensure a good life for all, build a happy, beautiful and prosperous future for all and reduce the sorrow and pain of the people by realizing our dream even at the cost of our lives.
I am not hungry for power because the struggle for realizing people's demand is far greater than power.
Now if you want to give us the responsibility of placing your opinions and realizing your demands, then we will have to consolidate power from right now.
A majority in parliament will give us that power because it is the key to realizing all our demands.
That is why, at this critical juncture of history, I want to place only one request to you: Please cast your vote for 'boat' and elect Awami League candidates in all the constituencies.
Finally, I would like to place another issue before you.
You remember how we Bangalis were completely disconnected and rendered helpless during the 17-day-war in 1965.
All our communication with the outside world broke down.
The 7 crore people spent their days in unending anxiety and uncertainty like a blockaded island, with Allah as their only resort. The so-called centre and its administration was completely out of our reach in the days of necessity just because of the geographic position.
That was why in 1966, not for my own benefit but for the good of the people of Bengal, I raised the 6-point demand.
The demand was for self determination and autonomy, about ending the discrimination that was prevailing between different regions.
While trying to press the demand, I was subjected to repression time and again and was harassed with one false case after another. I was taken away from my elderly parents, wife and children and thrown into jail.
My colleagues also had to face the same fate. In those desolate days, only the Almighty and ever compassionate Allah was with me.
It was not any leader, but you – the revolutionary students, labourers, peasants and general young courageous children of Bengal, Manu Mia, Asad, Matiur, Rustam, Zoha, Anwara – who breached curfew in the dead of night and laid their lives to bring me out of jail.
I have not forgotten those days, nor will I ever forget those days because I simply cannot.
Even if I am alone again in my life or a death warrant like the Agartala Case looms over me, I will not betray the holy blood of the martyrs.
The love that you have shown me, I am ready to even lay down my life to repay this debt of love.
Brothers and sisters,
The mother who was shot dead when breastfeeding her child; the teacher who was killed on the Rajshahi University campus for protesting; the labourer who laid down his life trying to build a movement; the student who stood fearlessly in the face of a rifle; the soldier who was killed helplessly in a solitary cell inside Kurmitola cantonment, the peasant who was killed right on the boundary of his paddy field- all their discontented souls are across the sky of this Bengal demanding justice.
The 6 and 11-point demands are the very same movement that they laid the foundation for by shedding their own blood.
I am their brother. I know for sure that their souls will be soothed only if the 6 and 11-point demands are fulfilled.
That is why, all of you, please vote for 'boat' and make all the Awami League candidates in all the constituencies of Bangla victorious.
I strongly believe that we will eventually win our battle against the sharp claws of the heartless oppressor that took away so many lives from the soil of Bengal.
The blood of the martyred cannot go in vain. Surely Allah will be with us in this struggle for justice and truth.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
1 December 1970
Text Source: Bongobondhupedia, edited by Muntassir Mamoon, published by Bangladesh Shishu Academy
Photo: National Implementation Committee for Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s 100th anniversary celebration