AA: Were you present at the Suhrawardy Udyan gathering on 7th March?
Yes, I had the opportunity to attend the historic gathering. I came from Gazipur accompanying thousands of people availing 2 trains and 50 trucks to attend the gathering. I was involved with Chhatra League since 1966. And the nucleus of independence was always there in Chhatra League. We were always aware that an armed rebel was necessary to make our country free from Pakistani oppression. But by March 1971, when they were still not handing over power after the general elections on 7th December 1970, and the people openly came out to the road in protest, we knew that the time has come. So on Marc 2, 1971, we formed Sarbadaliya Chhatra Sangram Parishad (All Party Student Action Committee) at Joydebpur, Gazipur. I was made the convener of the committee.
AA: So you were already prepared then. But what difference did the speech make in your preparation for the upcoming struggle?
To me it had no difference because I was already involved with the process and was aware of what was going to happen. But for the entire nation it made huge impact. Because all were not aware or had no clear instruction of what to do. So, through the 7th March speech of Bangabandhu they got a clear instruction. They became very aware that they had to drive away the Pakistani oppressors.
AA: The people near to Dhaka could physically attend the rally and listen to the speech with their own ears. But what about people from other parts of the country who couldn't attend the rally? How did they know about the speech? Was it broadcast on radio or television?
It was a great gathering having over one million people present to listen Bangabandhu. But, you're right, not many people could come from far corners of the country because road communication was not as developed back then. The government initially started to broadcast the speech on radio and television. But after a while they stopped the broadcast. Bangabandhu was informed about this and so in his speech he ordered to the Bangladeshi personnel who were working in radio and television that if his speech is not broadcast then they should immediately stop cooperating with the authority and stop going to workplace. And indeed they stopped going to workplaces next day. And as a result the authority was forced to broadcast the speech next day on radio. And this's how most people learned about the speech around the country. But also the activists of Awami League played a big role to spread the message across the country.
AA: How would you evaluate the political implications of the 7th March speech?
Look, Bangabandhu was a great leader who had immense prudence. His diplomatic sense was also very sharp and it was very evident in his speech. If he declared armed struggle earlier, then the Pakistani authority would establish this to the international community as a separatist movement. It would not be seen as struggle for liberation. So in his speech he gave them ultimatum that the martial law must be withdrawn, army has to go back to the barrack, the power must be handed over to the elected representatives of the perpetrators who had killed people must be brought into justice. He knew the Pakistani authority would not concede to these demands. And in that case Bangabandhu or the people of Bangladesh would not be blamed for any armed resistance. He also gave very precise and clear instruction of the nature of preparation. He ordered to face the enemy with whatever they had under the guidance of Awami League leaders in each and every village of the country. He clearly termed the Pakistani army as enemy in his speech. He also said that even if he was unable to order, for he fared he would be imprisoned or murdered, the people should fight by themselves.
AA: After the killing of Bangabandhu, his family and four national leaders, we saw that there has been some efforts to corrupt the history of or liberation war. And it has been tried to give the credential of declaring the independence to somebody else other than Bangabandhu. But wasn't the declaration of independence already there in his speech?
It was obviously there. He very loudly uttered the words that "The struggle of this time is our struggle of independence, the struggle of this time is the struggle of freedom". He said we have been exploited, oppressed and denied justice all the time but we don't want to accept in anymore. If we look back a little earlier on 3rd March when the Chhatra Sangram Parishad declared their manifesto at Paltan Moydan the student leaders clearly called Bangabandhu the Father of the Nation and they also sang our national anthem there. On fourth March the students hoisted our national flag for the first time in Dhaka University. So all the instructions were already there. But it's very unfortunate that it had been tried to erase his name from history. And if we take a look at the declaration that came on 26th March on radio, it also declared it on behalf of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. But the good thing is the nation never accepted these false claims and the false history.
AA: After 45 years since it happened, do you think Bangabandhu's speech on 7th March still has relevance in today's independent Bangladesh or can it still inspire the current generation? If so, then what way? I think the appeal of the 7th March speech is timeless. It was as inspiring for the nation as 45 years ago as it is today. In his 18-minute long speech Bangabandhu not only inspired us to seek freedom from the Pakistani oppression but he also talked about economic freedom. And it is something which will be relevant as long as Bangladesh exists. The spirit of struggle which he ignited through his speech can be used against any oppression and tyranny. So this speech was not meant for a particular period of time. Every time you listen to the immortal voice you'll find something new in it.
Arts & Entertainment Editor, The Asian Age