We owe it all to Bangabandhu
A Royal Air Force Comet was making a round over Dhaka. A sea of human heads was seen from above. A very special person was being flown in from a dungeon somewhere in Pakistan. This was the 10th of January 1972 and this very special person was none other than Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the undisputed father of the Bangladeshi nation. This leg of the journey began in London, after he was brought there from Pakistan. Then on the onward journey to Dhaka there was a brief halt at the Delhi Airport from where Farooque Chowdhury, a senior Bangladeshi diplomat joined him as an escort. In one of my interviews for a local channel, Farooque Chowdhury told me that he was overwhelmed by the presence of so many hundreds of thousands of people and drew the attention of Bangabandhu
The rebel meets the rebel: Bangabandhu with Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam.
towards it. Bangabandhu was inattentive about the surrounding and looked blank. Farooque Chowdhury asked him to look through the port-hole. Bangabandhu saw the human sea and started crying silently. Chowdhury was a bit embarrassed because he naturally thought that the congregation of so many people to welcome Bangabandhu would make him happy. He apologised to the leader for anything wrong that he might have done. Bangabandhu controlled his emotion and said, almost in a whisper, “What shall I feed them? The Pakistanis have plundered and destroyed my country.” Such is a leader who places people's predicament above personal glory. Another conversation happened between Chowdhury and Bangabandhu in that journey that is worth quoting here. There was a fervent appeal from the West Bengal government to break journey in Kolkata before landing in Dhaka. People were waiting at the Kolkata airport to have a glimpse of Bangabandhu. When he was told about this Bangabandhu said, “Tell them I am most grateful to the people of Kolkata for their kindness to my uprooted people and the succour they reached to them during the nine glorious months. I shall come to Kolkata as soon as I can but I must see my own people first.” Such was his love for his people and the country.
I saw Bangabandhu in person first when he had won the election of 1970. He was for us, as for many others, the first Bengali hero that we could be proud of. Sheikh Fazlul Haque Moni, who was also killed on the fateful night of 15th of August, was then the owner and editor of the Bangla daily Banglar Bani. I had told him about my eagerness to meet Bangabandhu and Moni bhai took me to the Awami League office at Purana Paltan to meet him. Moni bhai asked me to sit in the ante-room while he went inside to meet the leader. I do not know how Moni bhai had introduced me with Bangabandhu. On seeing me he said, “I am told that you are in to writing and have an intellectual bend of mind. If I come to power I will need people like you to take care of activities related to intellect.” I was flabbergasted and must have looked stupid. He asked if I had known of the many wonderful private libraries that there were all over Bangladesh. He spoke about the libraries in Lohagora of Jessore, in Ishwari Pathshala in Comilla and quite a few others. He said he would need me in the team that he would put together to restore these libraries and look after them. He even told me about the rich collection each of these had in them. I was really taken aback. I could not imagine how he, a busy politician had the time for such details about something that did not fall within his scope of activities. About four days before his murder one of our leading artists had gone to see him on his return from abroad. Bangabandhu was sitting in his living room in the middle of a huge crowd. Our artist while paying respects to Bangabandhu told him that for the sake of his security he should be more careful. Bangabandhu smilingly looked at the artist and said, “Who do I screen? Can I screen you?”
A lot of debate ensues about the period between 1972 and 1975 as a tool to determine the role of Awami League as the first ruling party of the independent Bangladesh. I must start with the fact that I have lived through the period in question. Not only that, I have also been actively associated with the war that we fought to establish the country of Bangladesh and had taken part in it as a “thinking” and a “non-party” political being. I first met him personally when his party had just won the elections of 1970.
Bangabandhu with singer Hemonto Mokhopadhya and grandson ‘Joy’.
Yes there was a lot of naiveté on the part of the Awami League, in that they were not even ready for a challenge they were thrown in as a corollary to the war of liberation. They were not a party ready for revolution. AL had expected to rule in a democratic country with all its provinces enjoying autonomy. Well that was quite in order. To the best of my knowledge there was no political party who ever thought of or planned for the contingency of taking charge of an independent country with all its manifestations. A war was thrust upon us and we suddenly found ourselves fighting and winning it. A country was born. It was then that those who had opposed the war started unfurling their plots to undo the newly born country. This was, I dare say now, a plan well laid out by the retreating Pakistanis and their cohorts, the Razakars and Al-badrs. I think it would not be out of context to recap the condition that prevailed in post liberation Bangladesh. We know that we returned to a liberated land that was reduced to rubble by the war. The roads and bridges were destroyed, industries decimated, banks rid of currency notes, local administration disarrayed and, above all, hundreds of thousands of human beings annihilated. To make things worse the ultra leftists were busy in looting and arson and killing people on the pretext of doing away with class enemies. Did we know that of the nine Law Makers killed after the independence till now, seven were killed between 72 and 75? A condition of utter lawlessness was let loose by the so called leftists in rural Bangladesh. A residue of this band is still active in certain parts of the country. Add to it the fact that when Bangladesh was groaning in agony and the government was in dire need of help, except India, the Soviet Union and some other poorer friends of Bangladesh nobody extended a helping hand. U.S.A in cahoots with Pakistan and China actively opposed our independence. The entire capitalist west supported this triumvirate. So no help would come from them. The oil-rich Arabs toed the line of Pakistan and did not even recognise independent Bangladesh. We did not know where the succour would come from. The government of Bangabandhu was pushed back to the wall. Being in such anguish, I could not agree more, that there could be some slips here and there. Creation of Rakkhi Bahini, perhaps, was one such slip. But imagine, the entire rural Bangladesh was under the thumb of the lawless thugs, innocent people were getting killed in hundreds every day. What could a democratic government do to address a situation as desperate this? Some of us consider the formation of RAB pertinent in view of the worsening law and order situation today. Imagine what an isolated government of a rampaged country could do at that point in time? It should be possible to recall that immediately after dislodging the government of Bangabandhu “recognition galore” started and plenty of help in cash and kind started pouring in from the countries that would not touch Bangladesh with a ten feet pole. If someone said that this was too close to being an orchestrated series of conspiratorial events could we blame them? It must also be put on record that during the short period of three and a half years the government of Bangladesh did institute some measures towards rebuilding the nation. We see a bumper crop in November of 75. It could not be Mushtaq's doing? Most roads and major bridges, rail roads and highways were repaired. The river Karnafuli was rid of the debris of sunken ships. There are many more. Suffice it say that the governments that emerged into power subsequently only improved upon the development process initiated by the first government of Bangladesh. From creation of Bangladesh to setting on course to a democratic nation, we owe it all to Bangabandhu.
(R) thedailystar.net 2009