Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s fiery speech of Mar 7, 1971, not only gave birth to Bangladesh, saved many from imminent death and showed his love for his people, but it also portrayed the man he was.
We have talked about how he proclaimed de-facto independence in this speech and guided the nation towards an eventual victory. Political gurus have said that Mar 7, 1971, was the day when Bengalis had started their War of Independence, which acquired an official face when Bangabandhu proclaimed independence Mar 26 1971. It ended in victory nine-months later, on Dec 16 1972.
But this speech, perhaps the most important speech of his distinguished career shed light on Bangabandhu’s character---- a character that should be an example for all men and women.
“The struggle this time is the struggle for emancipation, The struggle this time is the struggle for Independence,” Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman thundered during his stirring, 19-minute speech to the freedom seeking Bengalis and the world at large on 07 March 1971, at the most massive rally ever in Dhaka’s current Suhrawardy Uddyan park.
This alerted the Bengalis to the fact that a conflict was inevitable and thus they must take necessary steps to fight or to save themselves. Bangabandhu was ready to sacrifice his own life and stayed on in his house Road 32, Dhanmondi area home but saved many lives with this message.
Following the speech, many people had moved to safety or took precautionary measures as far as possible. People stored dry food, candles, medicines and water. Many brushed their rusting weapons and kept them ready for use. Those living in Bihari-majority areas had moved if they could because this Urdu-speaking group from India’s Bihar state were already threatening the Bengalis.
“Turn every house into a fortress, resist the enemy with everything you have ... Having mastered the lesson of sacrifice, we shall give more blood. Inshallah, we shall free the people of this land,” said Bangabandhu in his speech.
Bangabandhu told his people “be ready with whatever you have. Turn every home into a fortress.” These words clearly indicated that there was no time to prepare for defence as talks were not going anywhere and that every Bengali haD to take up arms to free Bangladesh from the occupation Pakistan army.
Bloodshed is inevitable in any armed conflict, yet Bangabandhu warned his people and asked them to be prepared for such an eventuality.
He gave directives for a civil disobedience movement. This was yet another move to buy time and save lives as proclaiming complete independence on 07 March 1971 would have led to the loss of millions of lives. Thus between 07 March and the Pakistani army crackdown of “Operation Searchlight,” Bengalis got sometimes time to prepare as best as they could and save themselves.
The historic Mar 7, 1971, speech of the Father of the Nation was included in the Memory of the World International Register, a list of world’s important documentary heritage maintained by UNESCO. The register now has a total of 427 documents and collections from all continents.
General Ziaur Rahman, the assassinated president and founder of opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), wrote in the Bengali-language magazine called Bichittra on Mar 26, 1974, that the speech had inspired him to take part in the 1971 War when he was a major. The speech was included in the book ‘We Shall Fight on the Beaches: The Speeches That Inspired History’, by Jacob F. Field.
Then a very important line: “Do you, my brothers, have complete faith in me….?” Bangabandhu knew that the response would be an overwhelming “yes,” yet as a true democrat he wanted the world to see that he was indeed the undisputed leader of the Bengalis, of Bangladesh.
“…. Let me tell you that the Prime Ministership is not what I seek. What I want is justice, the rights of the people of this land. They tempted me with the Prime Ministership but they failed to buy me over. Nor did they succeed in hanging me on the gallows, for you rescued me with your blood from the so-called (Agartala) conspiracy case. That day, right here at this racecourse, I had pledged to you that I would pay for this blood debt with my own blood. Do you remember? I am ready today to fulfil that promise!”
His speech bespoke a man who was a real leader as he loved his people and was ready to sacrifice his own life to save the millions who followed and loved him.
It spoke of a man who was not greedy and thus he did not accept offers from the Pakistanis or abandon his own people for power, which was ready for him if he wanted so.
To end on a personal note, I would like to recall briefly my meeting with this great leader who touched my heart. It was 1974 and I was a 13-year-old lad. I was in his Dhanmondi home with my three-year-old brother and my mother.
He got down the stairs with his favourite pipe. I looked like a lilliput in front of him. “Son, who are you?” He asked me. My mother joined US and introduced herself. “Ok, come with me to my office. You (PS) arrange a transport and pass for her.”
We followed him in our car to the then Ganabhaban near Ramna Park. Once there he recognised my father and cried, saying “I am pained to know he has embraced martyrdom. He came to see me ... he was a very good man. He was all out with me for getting Bangladesh.”
I sat on his lap along with my younger brother. He gave us each a Tk 500 note to buy chocolates as he kissed and hugged us. We found a grandfather who addressed my mother as “Ma.” He consoled my mother and told her not to worry as he would take care of us.
He was a man who had a heart filled with love, true love. How many of us have that today?
I still feel his love and consider myself one of the most lucky men for this gift from God.
Nadeem Qadir is the Consulting Editor, Daily Sun and a UN Dag Hammarskjöld fellow.