The two great occasions জন্ম the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the golden jubilee of Bangladesh’s independence ূর্ত remind us once again of the moment of creation of Bangladesh and of Bangabandhu’s unique role in that creation. For those of us who have witnessed the emergence of Bangladesh independently and have witnessed the outstanding contribution of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman behind it, it is very difficult to express in words the evaluation of his activities and political thinking. In today’s essay, I will discuss how peace, liberation and humanity — these three issues were reflected in Bangabandhu’s actions, thoughts and foreign policy.
Humanity, liberation and peace in Bangabandhu’s political activities and thoughts
He has a quote at the beginning of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s unfinished autobiography so that he introduces himself first as a man and then as a Bengali. He wrote, ‘As a human being I think of the whole human race. As a Bengali, what is related to some Bengalis makes me think deeply. The source of this constant saturation is love. ‘
Love for the people was the motivation of Bangabandhu’s activities and the welfare of the people was the goal of his activities. It was these human values that inspired him to take part in the political struggle, which is reflected in his various political ideologies, such as democracy, secularism and socialism. He used to say that his lifelong dream was to put a smile on the face of a sad person. From his expression ‘smile on the face of sad people’ we can understand how broad and multidimensional his idea of social development was.
We see the desire to put a smile on the face of sad people in Bangabandhu’s activities from a very young age. While still a student at the school, he began participating in student politics and social work at the same time. Involved with his political consciousness was the desire to liberate the poor, the oppressed and the deprived.
In his autobiography, he wrote that he joined the Pakistan movement thinking that in this new state, poor Muslims and peasants would be freed from the oppression of the zamindars and moneylenders. We see that he worked in the langarkhana during the famine of 1943-44. At the risk of his own life during the communal riots of 1948, he rescued people from both the Muslim and Hindu communities.
After the establishment of Pakistan, Bangabandhu became involved in various rights movements of Bengalis and was repeatedly imprisoned. However, at that time, besides protecting the Bengali language and culture, his greatest struggle was to liberate the Bengali nation from various forms of exploitation and to establish their democratic rights. Bangabandhu’s idea of nationalism was deeply rooted in the idea of a democratic state system and a balanced social system. He used to say that he was not a communist, but he believed in socialism. He wants freedom from exploitation of oppressed people and elimination of inequality between rich and poor.
From a young age, Bangabandhu was aware of the struggle of the people of the world against imperialism and colonialism. He visited China in 1952 to attend the Asia-Pacific Peace Conference, where he had the opportunity to exchange views with peace-loving and human-liberation leaders from various countries. In the book New China I See, he writes, “Whether it is Russia, America, Britain, or China, we are willing to raise our voices in a thousand voices with those who will fight for peace. We want peace.”
Bangabandhu led the Bengali nationalist movement all his life, but never engaged in the politics of hatred and conflict between different groups. Recently we have seen the rise of extremist nationalism in the West and other democracies, where one group is being pushed towards violent behavior against another. Bangabandhu’s thought of nationalism was just the opposite. He believed in the coexistence of all groups and the equal rights of all citizens.
Bangabandhu’s ideology was secular politics. Throughout his life he has opposed misinterpretation of religion, violence in the name of religion, politics with religion. Secularism not only reminds him of the co-existence of all communities, but also of the special responsibility that the majority community has to protect the minorities, and he works for that throughout his life. Even in his speech on March 7, 1971, he warned the people not to resort to communal violence. He said, “You see, we should not be discredited.”
Bangabandhu formed a strong political party. He organized millions of people in the movement, but his goal was a non-violent and peaceful movement, so that rights could be realized through democratic means by creating public opinion and bringing about change in the undemocratic system.
In the 24 years from 1947 to 1971, the Bengali nationalist movement under his leadership continued to accelerate, but he was always in the midst of a peaceful democratic process. In his historic speech on March 7, Bangabandhu beautifully presented the Bengali nationalist movement to the whole world at the same time as a peaceful, democratic and mass liberation movement. All over the world, he was compared to Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr., who fought for the rights of the people. Bangabandhu’s image as a pioneer of peace, liberation and humanity was very helpful in building world public opinion in favor of our freedom struggle in 1971.
Humanity, liberation and peace in Bangabandhu’s foreign policy
The foreign policy of Bangladesh was formed under the influence of Bangabandhu’s political thought, the main aim of which was to establish world peace and regional peace. “Friendship with all and not enmity with anyone” was the basis of his foreign policy. He used to say that he wanted to build Bangladesh as the Switzerland of South Asia. Bangladesh’s foreign policy ideology was non-alignment, peaceful coexistence and opposition to colonialism, racism and imperialism. Bangabandhu supported the struggle of the freedom-loving people of the whole world, especially in South Africa and Palestine, in various international forums. During the Arab-Israeli war in 1973, newly independent Bangladesh sent medical units and tea in support of the Arabs. Following the path of humanity shown by Bangabandhu, Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina also established herself as a pioneer of humanity in the world in 2017 by sheltering seven lakh Rohingyas.
After becoming a member of the United Nations, Bangabandhu addressed the session of the organization in Bengal on 25 September 1974. In his speech, he emphasized the importance of controlling the arms race, establishing peace and international agreements. He also praised the United Nations for its significant contribution to the cause of human progress. He emphasized international co-operation as well as self-reliance.
Bangabandhu concluded his speech at the United Nations by expressing his conviction on “man’s belief in the invincible power and man’s ability to conquer the impossible”. “We can suffer, but we will not die,” he said. The determination of the people is the ultimate strength to face the challenge of survival … We will move forward only through the united and coordinated efforts of the people. ‘
Bangabandhu’s belief in the ‘united and coordinated effort’ of the people did not fail. In the last 50 years, the people of Bangladesh have achieved unprecedented social and economic development by overcoming many obstacles. Our expectation is that this strength displayed by Bangabandhu — ‘united and coordinated efforts of the people’ — will be further strengthened under the strong leadership of Bangabandhu Kanya and Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Bangladesh’s progress will be irresistible. Together we can build the golden Bengal of Bangabandhu’s dream, where peace will prevail, people will be liberated from deprivation and oppression and where all civil rights will be guaranteed.
[Brief commentary of the speech read on 24th March 2021 at the celebration of Bangabandhu’s birth centenary and the golden jubilee of independence]
Dr. Raunak Jahan Political Science and Honorary Fellow, Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD)