Published:  12:47 AM, 07 March 2018

A speech that created a nation

A speech that created a nation

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's speech of March 7, 1971, will remain as a milestone in the history of independence of Bangladesh. It is one of the few speeches on record that changed the course of history and created a new nation. A million people from every walk of life came to the Ramna Race Course (now Suhrawardy Uddyan) to listen to Bangabandhu. All of them were charged with emotion. Their expectations were high. Speculation was rife that he would declare independence of Bangladesh at the meeting. The situation was, therefore, very tense since nobody knew the consequences of such a declaration.

Bangabandhu spoke for nearly 20 minutes, point by point, without mincing words. He used the common man's language and dialect, easily understood by the people. His voice was emotional and thunderous, as usual. Bangabandhu did not want any bloodbath. He preferred a negotiated settlement of the political crisis through a peaceful non-cooperation movement.

He ordered: "Close all courts, offices and educational institutions for an indefinite period of time. No one will report to their offices -- that is my order to you." At the same time he asked his people to remain prepared for war and said: "If a single bullet is fired upon us from now on and the killing of my people does not cease, I call upon you to turn every home into a fortress against their onslaught. Use whatever you can put your hands on to confront the enemy ... Even if I am not around to give you the order and my associates are also not to be found, I ask you to continue your struggle unabated." 

Finally he made the most famous declaration: "Since we have shed blood, we shall shed more blood but we will free the people of this land, Insha-Allah (If God is willing). The struggle this time is for our freedom; the struggle this time is for independence. Joy Bangla (Victory to Bangladesh)." 

With these words, Bangabandhu essentially declared independence in diplomatic language without proclaiming it openly. There lies the real beauty of the speech. He refrained from making an open declaration for tactical reasons. A premature declaration of independence would have labelled him as a secessionist and derailed the whole movement for independence. 

The speech mesmerised the audience and inspired the Bengali nation. It resurrected a sleeping nation and transformed it into a fighting force. The Bengalis fully cooperated with him. All government offices in Bangladesh started to operate under his instructions. He thus became the de-facto ruler of Bangladesh. 

On March 25, 1971, President Yahya Khan ordered his army to crack down on the Bengalis. By midnight, the army moved in and began what was called "Operation Searchlight." They started killing unarmed Bengalis ruthlessly and indiscriminately.

The door to a negotiated settlement was thus closed for ever and the War of Independence started when the Pakistan army fired the first bullet at the Bengalis. During the early hours of March 26, Bangabandhu had declared the independence of Bangladesh just before he was arrested by the Pakistan army. 

It was Bangabandhu's epoch-making speech of March 7 that inspired and motivated the liberation forces who fought the war in his name. With the support of our ally India, they were able to bring the war to its inevitable end in less than nine months. The Pakistan army surrendered in Dhaka to the joint command of the Mukti Bahini and the Indian army on December 16, 1971.  Bangladesh thus emerged as an independent country.

The writer is a former chief engineer of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission. The article is based on his book, "A Tribute to Bangabandhu and Other Essays."

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