The Return of Bangabandhu
Mahbub Husain Khan
After the Liberation of Bangladesh on December 16, 1971, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was released from Pakistan jail and he arrived at Dhaka via London on January 10. I heard the news on my car radio as I was heading for Dhaka on the very same day to join my post as Private Secretary to Mr Sheikh Abdul Aziz, then the Minister for Communications. The machinations of Bhutto and Yahya Khan had led to the arrest of Bangabandhu and then after nine months of war Bangladesh was liberated. Bangabandhu had opted to be the father of a nation rather than the Prime Minister of an alien country. And it was the opportunist Bhutto who strived to get an advantage out of the situation he faced, by promptly releasing Bangabandhu in the face of appeals by the leaders of the free world.
On his arrival, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had to start from scratch. He and his government had to deal with countless problems that the war-ravaged country faced at that time; restoring law and order; rehabilitating the muktijoddhas; restoring the ruptured communication system; saving lives of the people who were hostile to the War of Liberation from the public wrath; and more importantly feeding the hungry millions. During the first months of our independence, the country was on the shards of its war-shattered economy. Dozens of jute mills and other factories were heavily damaged .The plantations of Sylhet, which produced 30 million kg of tea annually, were ruined. The country came out of the war with less than US$ 500,000 in foreign exchange. Most of the major businesses were owned by West Pakistanis, who managed to get the bulk of their cash assets out of the country before December 1971.
William S Ellis, senior sub-editor of the National Geographic who came to Bangladesh in February 1972, wrote in his article, “Bangladesh: Hope Nourishes a New Nation” published in the September 1972 issue of the National Geographic :
“Earlier in the day I accompanied Sheikh Mujib as he inspected widespread destruction a few miles south of Mymensingh. Sadness and the physical toll of 18-hour workdays showed on the face of the Prime Minster as he walked through the debris. As word of his presence spread, the area came alive with thousands of villagers. Hundreds of thousands of people waited on the field as the weary man stepped upto the microphone. They knew what his first words would be. They were ready with the response.”
“Joi Bangla!” meaning “Victory to Bengal” and the answer was an echo that swelled to thunderous volume as it rolled back from the crowd “Joi Bangla! ”
And then Bangabandhu posed a question: 'Are you willing not to demand anything from me for two, even three years?' 'Yes' they shouted. Some were too weak from hunger and disease to shout. They nodded to signify their willingness.”
And it was exactly after three years and two hundred and eighteen days that he was assassinated by the very soldiers he had welcomed into the army.
A free Bangabandhu in a free Bangladesh. After landing at Tejgaon airport Bangabandhu goes straight to the Race Course on January 10. Photo: Star File
On a personal level, there are two memories of mine after the return of Bangabandhu. Towards the end of January 1972 my mother, late Khodeja Khatun, who was the Principal of Eden Girls' College, went to meet Bangabandhu at Gono Bhaban with some of her colleagues and student leaders of the College. After the formal aspects of the meeting, she asked Bangabandhu whether he remembered my father, late Muhammad Husain Khan, Bangabandhu said, “Who will forget Thanda Miah (my father's nickname) for his great deeds, and also who will forget Thanda Miah (Wahiduzzaman) now in jail for all his misdeeds?”
Later, in February, Tofail Ahmed, my class friend and Political Secretary to the Prime Minister told Bangabandhu that I was a leader of the East Pakistan Chhatra Union in my student days. Bangabandhu told Sheikh Abdul Aziz, whose Private Secretary I was, about my political leanings. Sheikh Aziz asked me about it and I said it was true. But no political victimisation came my way. Rather I was always given a very good Annual Career Review (ACR) and prized postings.
Now that forty years have gone by since March 26, 1971, December 16, 1971 and January 10, 1972, our freedom's grandeur still lifts our spirit and, still translates for us the language we are in danger of forgetting, the language of freedom, the appeal of Bangabandhu. We can only look ahead, when we look back to the lessons of 1971, and to the ultimate tragedy of August 15, 1975.
Mahbub Husain Khan is a writer and former civil servant.
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