Published:  12:00 AM, 17 March 2017

Sheikh Mujib's quality of leadership

Sheikh Mujib's quality of leadership
Given the love that Bangabandhu had for the people of Bangladesh and they for him, it can be said that on 15 August 1975 it was not only his two surviving daughters Hasina and Rehana who felt orphan, but it was the 75 million people of Bangladesh, who felt that they had that day lost someone whom they revered as their father.
Looking back, I think there are three qualities of his which would stand out, which gave to his leadership its unique character, and which united a nation of 75 million as one people. I was struck by Sir Thomas Williams singling out on the basis of his own association with Bangabandhu, one of the basis of his own association with Bangabandhu, one of the three qualities that I had singled out in my mind, and that is, of course courage, unparalleled courage. The second quality that stands out, as one looks back, was and intense nationalism, and the third was total commitment to and deep love of the people. In talking about these three qualities I would like to recount three episodes, illustrating how these qualities were expressed.
Courage-I want to recount the episode with which our Chairman, Sir Thomas (1) is personally associated and where we were very close witnesses to the events about which I will talk. You will recall the so-called conspiracy case in which Bangabandhu was the principal accused. You will also recall the great Movement of 1969 which was surging ahead at the time. The Government of the day sought to contain the Movement by calling a Round-table Conference of political leaders. The question had arisen of participation by Bangabandhu. Pressure was bought to bear on him while he was still an accused in the so-called trial that he should agree to attend the conference. Mr Abdus Salam Khan, one of the lawyers who was appearing for him, had conveyed messages from Bangabandhu to come and see him in the court. When I met him, he said, 'I want you to know that I can only go to any Round-table Conference when I and all those who are with me in the dock would be free men. There is no question of our participating in any deliberations, except on the basis that we are free man, and any pressure that may be brought upon me must be resisted.'
Those of us who were seeing Bangabandhu every day during those days remember that he did not finch for a moment. He said, 'Yes, our chest is always there to take any bullets that might come, but if the people of Bangladesh have to sit, if the Bengali people are to sit in any Round-table Conference. its leader can only represent them as a free man.' The rest is history. I remember the drama that was build up, the suggestion that he should go on bail or on parole. These suggestions were summarily rejected, although threats were held out that if he did not go, the Conference would breakdown and the hawks would take over. Every day this was the refrain. Throughout all of this, his nerves held out in a way which was difficult to convey. He never for one moment considered that on an issue which to him was an issue of principle, there could be any question of compromise.

Finally, the announcement came that the case was being withdrawn as it was unconstitutional (The ground they took was, of course, one which has been raised in the petition which had been moved in the high Court by Sir Thomas)! This was in fact the result of the united people's movement and can be counted as one of its victories! Bangbandhu came out as a free man.

On coming out he said, 'Before I go to the Round-table Conference I must first meet my people and take their mandate.' It was in the historic meeting held at the Race Course, where those present can recall the feelings, the profound sense of nationalism that suffused the people on that day, when over a million had assembled to give Bangabandhu his mandate. It was the meeting that the title of 'Bangabandhu' was conferred by the people who they had got him out of custody from the so-called Agartala Conspiracy Trial. This was not a title conferred by any individual, but by the millions of people assembled in that meeting the day after he came out from the Agartala Conspiracy Case.

The second quality that comes to mind is his intense nationalism. Of course, to talk of his intense nationalism, his role in giving to the Bengalee people the sense of being a nation, would mean talking for hours and filling volumes in print. I would, however, like to illustrate this by a specific episode in the early days of Bangladesh, while we were still passing through most difficult days immediately after liberation-when over 10 million people had to be rehabilitated after 9 months of the revages of the liberation war, with millions of people killed, millions up-rooted from their homes, seeking rehabilitation and the economy disrupted, with roads, rail, ports, bearing the marks of indiscriminate destruction. Thus, when the country was in a state of economic vulnerability, the representatives of donors, led by the World Bank, had arrived and taken up the position that if Bangladesh did not take over a 'share' of the liabilities of former Pakistan, the donors would find it difficult to extend any assistance to Bangladesh.

I remember we met together to appraise the situation-the need for assistance was acute. But there was here an issue of principle. How could be question of division of liabilities arise without first considering the question of division of assets. Indeed, by our estimate that if assets and liabilities were to be assessed, Bangladesh should be entitled to a net transfer, so that there could be no question of liabilities being taken over by Bangladesh, as was being proposed. We took the view after due consideration that this was an illegitimate from of pressure that was being put on Bangladesh, at a time when Bangladesh was vulnerable. After we discussed this matter with Bangabandhu, he took up the firm position that on an issue of principle. Bangladesh, as a sovereign nation, could not be imposed upon even thought it might be in a moment of vulnerability. We had 75 million people, each one of them had two hands, we had land and water; we would eke out our sustenance from this land. Bangabandhu said that if the donors persisted in their position, they could leave tomorrow and we would not take aid. We would not accept aid on those conditions. That was nationalism in its most palpable form.

I will conclude with an episode about the third quality of Bangabandhu-that is his total commitment to the people and his deep love for the people. I remember in one of the earliest interviews which I had with the foreign Press in 1972, I was asked, 'What do you think is Bangabandhu's greatest strength?' I said, 'His love of the people.' They said, 'What is his great weakness?' and I said, 'That also is his total love of the people.

A weakness in the total lack of any arrangements for personal security. Many remember his saying that there was no one in Bangladesh who could ever raise a hand against him, not knowing that there could be some criminals, that there could be those who although Bengalee by appearance, were really in the hands of some other force. This weakness, his love of the people was concerned. And people by which he meant the masses of the people was concerned.

 The image of the people that came up to him was that of the day labourer, the boatman on the river, the landless peasant. These were the vast multitudes that make up Bangladesh. Through his love he tried to seek a change, a transformation of society in a peaceful way, carrying all the people with him, but one thing is clear, if there was to be any conflict between the interests of the elite, between the interests of the vested interests and the interests of the masses-the landless peasant, the day labour, the ordinary people-his commitment would remain to the broad masses of the people-his commitment would remain to the broad masses of the people with whom he identified himself.

This is what underlay his great vision of a fundamental economic and social transformation. This is what animated him in the days when he was thinking in terms of a fundamental change dominant and central part of that vision was the transformation of life in the villages of Bangladesh. (Edited version of a speech given at a seminar held in a Committee Room of the House of Commons, London On 17 March 1980. The Seminar, which was presided over by Sir Thomas Williams, Q C M P (later Mr Justice Williams) was organised by the All European Bangabandhu Porisad) The author is former Foreign Minister of Bangladesh

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