Published:  02:57 AM, 21 March 2020

Bangabandhu and Bangali nationalism

Bangabandhu and Bangali nationalism

On 5 December 1969, Bangabandhu, on behalf of the people, declared that the name of province be Bangladesh, which was greeted with thunderous applause. The next day, Maulana Bhasani and Ataur Rahman Khan, the two senior politicians, endorsed the declaration. In this declaration, geography appeared prominently as an element in Bangali nationalism.

To put history in perspective, it may be mentioned that during the Mass Uprising of 1969, the youth had brought the words 'Independent Bangladesh' for the first time to public attention by chanting the slogan: "Brave Bangalis, take up arms, make Bangladesh independent."

Two other slogans of this movement were also pointers to nationalism; and these were: "who are you, who am I? Bangali, Bangali" (ethnicity); "Dhaka or Pindi? Dhaka, Dhaka" (geography). Moreover, when the brave Bangalis were exhorted to take up arms to wrest freedom, history and tradition were invoked. History, as mentioned in the beginning, is always the source of nationalist thinking.

The economic disparity consequent upon the exploitative Pakistani rule was perhaps the strongest determinant of Bangali nationalism; this was demonstrated during the 1970 general elections campaign. The Awami League circulated a poster with the captivating tittle "Why is Golden Bengal a Graveyard?" This poster made an economic comparison between the two wings of Pakistan in the following way:

This poster decided the fate of Pakistan and victory of the Awami League. In fact, Bangabandhu's leadership was crucial in ensuring landslide victory of his party. This election result was the peak of Bangali nationalism, and Bangabandhu emerged as the sole spokesman of this nationalism, and also of the people rallying behind this nationalism.

As per this election result, Bangabandhu and his party were supposed to be in government at the center, but this was not be as Yahya, Bhutto and the Pakistan military conspired to do something otherwise. This denial to the Awami League of its legitimate right was, in reality, a betrayal of the Bangali people; this was a factor that turned the erescendo nationalism into a strident one with Bangabandhu riding the crest.

A turning - point for the confused and dithering Bangali people arrived as Bangabandhu delivered his defining 7 March speech. This speech defined the future of the Bangali nation when, in a staccato sentence, it was said, "This time the struggle of ours is for emancipation, this time the struggle is for independence."

Even under an intense pressure of circumstances, Bangabandhu refrained from unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) and xenophobia, and, on the contrary, exhorted his people with such fiery words as, "As we have given blood, we will give more blood and liberate the people of this land, Insha Allah."

Although not a direct declaration for independence, the speech was subsequently considered the most effective declaration for independence. Bangabandhu once again proved his reticence and farsightedness as well. Moreover, through this speech, he proved himself capable of holding a strident nationalism on leash, and that too under a most provocative scenario.

Internationalism: External ramifications of Bangabandhu's nationalism

On 10 January 1972, Bangabandhu gloated over the independence of his country as he said smugly, "Today I have desire of my life fulfilled; Bangladesh is independent." In fact, in independence, Bangali nationhood culminated in statehood; this was also the crowing glory for the man who had piloted nationalism to such a finale. This speech indicated the ideological orientation of the just - born state and made overtures to the international community for recognition and assistance.

As for the ideological orientation of the state he stated, "Bangladesh will be an ideal state, the basis of which will not be religion; the basis of the state will be democracy, socialism and secularism (at the time of writing the constitution, nationalism was added as the fourth principle).

The non - xenophobic nationalism of Bangabandhu was pronounced as he outlined the future of Bangladesh - Pakistan relationship in such succinct words as, "You live in peace. We will have nothing to do with you. Even in death, Bangalis will not part with independence. I wish you well. You accept that we are independent. You remain independent."

The constitution is the way a state is required to tread in crafting domestic and foreign policies. When Bangabandhu said "friendship for all, malice to none" and "Bangladesh will be Switzerland of Asia", these became the underlying principles of Bangladesh foreign policy to be enshrined in the relevant constitutional provisions.

On 12 October 1972, the draft constitution was placed in the Constituent Assembly. On this occasion, while explaining the four fundamental principles of the state, Bangabandhu shared his ideas specific to nationalism in the following words-

"I would like to say something about this nationalism. There is something that goes with say language, civilization and culture; and this is a feeling. No nation can be great without this feeling, and nationalism cannot grow without this feeling. There are many nations in the world who are nations despite the fact that they are multi - lingual. There are countries in the world, who despite their linguistic and religious affinity, are heterogenous nations; they have failed to be a single nation. Nationalism depends on a feeling.  

. . I am a Bangali, because I have this feeling."

In conceiving nationalism along such lines, Bangabandhu appeared to have echoed Benedict Anderson's "imagined community" construct, and that of Rupert Emerson's "nations in hope." It needs to be mentioned that this feeling was non - xenophobic and inclusive; and transcended to internationalism.

Bangabandhu's internationalism was, however, prefaced by regionalism - wishing well for peoples nearby home in South Asia. On 6 February 1972, Bangabandhu, on his trip to Kolkata pleaded for South Asian cooperation as he said, "Let there be an end, once and for all, to the sterile policy of confrontation between neighbors. Let us not fritter away our notional resources, but to use them to lift the standard of living of our people."

He repeated the same theme in a speech he delivered on 4 March 1974 at Daudkandi of Cumilla.At the Commonwealth Summit of Heads of Government held in Ottawa on 2-3 August 1973, Bangabandhu appeared eloquent on world peace as he said:

"I believe that both the developed and developing countries have an overriding common interest in survival and peace. The arms race remains a threat to mankind. Inherent in it is not only the threat of total destruction, but also colossal wastage of the earth's resources. Can we not do something to divert these resources so that they may contribute to alleviating human suffering and advancing human welfare?  . . . . Can we not concert our efforts to contribute to creating an environment of peace in the world?"

At the 4th Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the Non - aligned countries held in Algiers on 6-9 September, Bangabandhu renewed the call for world peace as he said, "I pledge… that Bangladesh will always stand behind all those who are struggling for national liberation in Africa, Asia and Latin America."

Pointing at the global system, he uttered the stunning words in his thunderous voice: "The world is divided between those who are oppressors and those who are oppressed. I am on the side of the oppressed."

On 25 September 1974, Bangabandhu addressed the 29th session of the United Nations General Assembly in Bangla. That he spoke in Bangla showed his unflinching commitment to his mother language and nationalism associated with this language. In his The Unfinished Memoirs, he wrote about his love of mother language: "Every race loves its mother language. No nation has tolerated any attempt to insult its mother language."

It may be mentioned that, back in 1952, he also spoke in Bangla at the Asia - Pacific Regional Peace Conference held in Beijing.12To return to Bangabandhu's UNGA speech, peace was a theme that was reiterated as he said, "Our total commitment to peace is born of the realization that only an environment of peace would enable us to . . . .  mobilize and concentrate all our energies and resources in combating the scourges of poverty hunger, disease, illiteracy and unemployment."

Concluding words

As a perfect embodiment of Bangali nationalism, Bangabandhu picked up the Rabindra sangeet "Amar Sonar Bangla Ami tomae bhalobashi" (my golden Bengal I love you) as our national anthem. As is obvious, this sangeet eulogizes the motherland in glowing terms. Moreover, the slogan 'Joy Bangla' (victory to Bengal), coined in September 1969, cumulatively described the Bangali nationalism; this was also the war - cry for the freedom fighters during the Liberation War.

But as piloted by Bangabandhu, this nationalism was a recipe for people's welfare both at home and across the world. Once the Bangali nationhood culminated in statehood, Bangali nationalism transcended to the world with its intrinsic ethos of self - assertion by the exploited peoples. With Bangabandhu, therefore, Bangali nationalism broadened itself into internationalism - a perfect liberal nationalism.

This was also not a xenophobic and jingoist nationalism abhorred by Rabindranath Thakur. But it must be emphasized that this nationalism, although liberal in ethos, was uncompromising in seeking the goal it sought; and, undeniably, Bangladesh was an outgrowth from this nationalism. (Concluded)

The writer is Bangabandhu Chair Professor, Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP). This is the second and last part of the paper he presented at a seminar on Bangabandhu's "The Unfinished Memoirs", Organized by Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) on 15 March 2020

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