The BNP is today in the unenviable position of not having any clear perspectives on the youth movement at Projonmo Chottor. It is patently taken aback by the intensity of the pro-Liberation spirit demonstrated by tens of thousands of young men and women, in whose support broad sections of society have come forward in these past many days.
For the BNP, whose record on the war crimes trial has remained shrouded in mystery, for reasons of its political alliance with the very men now on trial for crimes against humanity, it is a matter of damned if it does and damned if it doesn't. It cannot express solidarity with the young because that would mean repudiating its fanatical allies the Jamaat. And if it disowns the Jamaat, a big chunk of its politics will simply cave in.
Interestingly, the BNP appears driven by a need for a face-saving way out of its dilemma. Its leaders say they understand the grievances being voiced at Projonmo Chottor, but they are worried by the repeated chanting of Joy Bangla by the young. They smell something of the partisan in that chanting of the Bangalee nationalist slogan.
The BNP, either through a deliberate negation of history or a plain demonstration of pique, has suggested that questions and confusion have arisen around Joy Bangla, a slogan which, in its view, lost general acceptability in post-Liberation times owing to what it calls the partisan nature of the government in power after 1971.
For the BNP and for everyone uncomfortable with Joy Bangla, these are the facts behind a slogan that carried us through our War of Liberation and still underpins our sovereign status as a nation:
The Joy Bangla slogan first acquired currency following the successful mass upsurge against the Ayub Khan regime in 1969. In the following year, when Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made it known that the general elections scheduled for the end of 1970 would be a referendum on the Six-Point Programme of the Awami League, Joy Bangla took on a wider dimension as a Bangla slogan.
The intensity of Joy Bangla went up by leaps and bounds in March 1971 when the Yahya-Bhutto conspiracy to prevent power from being handed over to the Awami League first became obvious. Joy Bangla became a militant Bengali slogan chanted across the length and breadth of the province. And in the nine months of the war, Bangladesh's freedom fighters went into battle raising full-throated Joy Bangla slogans. The record, in printed documents and video footage, is out there.
Joy Bangla, therefore, has been giving a distinctive non-partisan and nationalistic flavour to the Bangalee ethos since the late 1960s and is an unmistakable symbol of Bangalee nationalism. Contrary to the BNP's argument that it lost general acceptability in post-liberation times, Joy Bangla was first undermined by the murderous regime which brought Khondokar Moshtaque and the assassins of Bangabandhu to power in August 1975.
Moshtaque used the old, Pakistan-style slogan "Bangladesh Zindabad" in his very first broadcast as usurper-president. The "zindabad" idea was then picked up by the nation's first military ruler Ziaur Rahman, who also made sure, as martial law administrator, that the secular spirit of the constitution was removed and replaced by invocations of a communal nature. General Ershad and then Khaleda Zia and their political friends upheld "zindabad" despite the fact that it was Joy Bangla which continued to exercise a hold on the public imagination.
The conclusion is simple and crystal clear. Joy Bangla, first raised as a slogan by the Awami League, went on to acquire absolute public acceptability through the crucible of mass movements against Pakistani political machinations and then through the fire and fury of war in 1971.
"Zindabad", on the other hand, has been a calculated move by men seizing power by extra-constitutional means and their camp followers to dilute the significance of the Bangalee nationalist struggle. Many of these camp followers, by the way, took part in the war singing the Joy Bangla slogan.
The BNP would do well to acknowledge the message coming out of Projonmo Chottor -- that when the young men and women gathered there rend the air with chants of Joy Bangla, they are not thinking of partisan politics but only reliving those great historical emotions which defined, and still define, our place in the world.