Published:  12:36 AM, 15 August 2017

Bangabandhu: A true friend of the masses

Bangabandhu: A true friend of the masses

In this month of August we all remember our Father of the Nation with humility and pains. Many organizations pursue this remembrance in their own ways. While commemorating the martyrdom of this valiant son of Bangladesh we try to throw light on diverse features of his life. Most of us recall his contributions in shaping the politics of this region towards a progressive stream leading to the birth of a new nation. Others talk about his statesmanship.

Many commentators focus on his brilliant and inclusive leadership. His participatory style of leadership derives from his proximity to the ground where he comes from. He could always feel the pulses of the masses as he considered himself to be one of them. As if he was the leader which Rabindranath Tagore alluded to while speaking about achieving swadeshisamaj (vernacular society).

It was June 18, 1907. Tagore was speaking at a reception given to him in Chittagong. Instead of speaking on literary issues he focused on the role of the leaders who were involved in socio-political movements. He said," neither the elderly and liberal nor the young and progressive groups were engaged in nation building activities. All of them were far away from the masses. Certainly, the nation deserved their closer interactions with the ordinary people."

This perception of Tagore originated from his own interactions with the farmers in his estates in Patisar and Shilaidah in East Bengal. He was also very close to the adibhashis and small artisans in Sriniketan. He was always encouraging his tenants and small artisans to form cooperatives and practice modern cultivation and develop cottage industries. Simultaneously, he was mobilizing the villagers for better education and health practices. He was easily accessible by his tenants without any barricade raised by the intermediaries.

They could share their joys and sorrows with him without any prejudice.Based on his down-to-earth experiences in reforming the rural Bengal he replicated some of these experimentations in Bolepur in and around Shantinikaton. He has written in one of his essays on societal reform that the country needed a leader who could easily connect to the masses.

My own feeling is that we finally got a leader who was truly the friend of masses and hence could easily connect with them. He is none other than Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, our Father of the Nation. He used to think about the welfare of the downtrodden even in his lonely days in jail. He was closest to the inmates of the jail who were mostly ordinary people from the villages. Many of them were put in jail, rightly or wrongly, for petty crimes. He used to spend hours with them to know their pains and pleasures with a hope that one day he would be able to change fate of people like them if he got a chance of leading the nation.

He even did not forget the sorrows of the poor and disadvantaged with whom he had some interactions during his boyhood or youth in the villages. Thus the entry in his diary on July 8, 1966 says," when I was taking rest silently in my bed in jail the old memories of my village life came back in flashes. I could clearly see how the poor hungry villagers were leaving their villages for the towns for jobs and food. I could also see how they were struggling to survive in the slums.

These memories came to my mind as I was from the village as well. I love the villages." Like Tagore Bangabandhu also felt deeply about how to ameliorate the deprivations of the poor villagers. He too was keen to improve the education and health conditions of the poor. And hence it was not surprising that the children of these villagers, who were in schools, colleges and universities, came out in thousands into the streets and demanded freedom of Bangabandhu from jail. Many of them were killed while they were making protests.

These sons and daughters of the emerging middle class fought for autonomy of Bangladesh under the banner of 'six-points' announced by Sheikh Mujib leading to the popular upsurge of 1969. In the process Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was freed from ' Agartala Conspiracy Case' and conferred the title of Bangabandhu by the student leaders. And then on he became sole spokesman of the Bengalees and consolidated them to fight for the interests of the people of Eastern Province of the then Pakistan which was already named as Bangladesh by Bangabandhu. Bangabandhu led his party to 1970's national election and won overwhelmingly with full support of the Bengalees. He was destined to be the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

The newly elected Constituent Assembly was called for the session in Dhaka. But suddenly the then President of Pakistan Yahahiya Khan postponed the session and Bangabandhu had no option other than initiating a non-cooperation movement against the military backed Pakistan Government. This movement mobilized the entire population of Bangladesh into an emerging Bengalee nation under the spirited leadership of Babgabandhu Sheikh MujiburRahman. Following the Pakistani military attack on the students, police and ordinary people of Bangladesh on the late evening of 25th March 1970 and start of a genocide, Bangabandhu gave the clarion call for independence of Bangladesh at the early hours of 26th March.

And thus started an all-out war for liberation of Bangladesh which ended in mid- December 1971 with victory of the Bengalee nation. Bangabandhu, who was taken to jail in West Pakistan immediately following his call for independence, came back to liberated Bangladesh on 10th January 1972 via London and Delhi. He was greeted by millions at the airport and addressed a mammoth gathering at the Saharowardy Uddan. He said Bengalees are humans and not otherwise as was indicated by Tagore in one of his writings. But alas, he was proven wrong as his relentless struggle for reconstruction of the war ravaged Bangladesh was cut short by bullets of conspirators on the night of 15th August 1975. Perhaps, Tagore was proven right on that fateful night.

At least, those Bengalees were not certainly humans. During the short tenure of his rule as the head of the government he not only put the economy back to its rails but also initiated a number of reforms in education, health, agriculture, industry, finance where the priority was always on the interests of the deprived and disadvantaged. He launched a pro-people constitution just within a year. This was followed by the initiation of the First Five Year Plan which aptly reflected the dreams and aspirations of the teeming millions. But we all were deprived of his wise leadership by the conspirators.

His bias for the poor originated right from his boyhood. The two autobiographical books, 'The Unfinished Autobiography' and ' Karagarer Rojenamcha (the diaries from jail), clearly reflect where his heart was. It was in 1937. He was a student of class seven. He started raising alms from the adjoining Muslim households under the leadership of his teacher Kazi Abdul Hamid MSc to develop a fund for educational support of the meritorious but poor students. He continued this humanitarian drive even after sudden death of his teacher Kazi Hamid.

Bangabandhu speaks at UN in September 1974

Again back in 1943, when there was a devastating famine in Bengal young Mujib started gruel kitchens to provide food the victims. His entry into the diary speaks a volume about how he was moved by the pains and sorrows of the affected people.  He wrote," I saw a child trying to suck the breast of a dead mother. The dogs and hungry people were competing for left outs in the dustbins. Parents were trying to sell the children to get some money to buy food. But there were no buyers. People were asking for food on the doors of others and many of them died there…We were baffled. We saved some food from our hostel canteens and passed on to the starving people."(Unfinished Autobiography,P.18).

The above words demonstrate how deeply he was affected by the ongoing helplessness of the starving millions. This food crisis, he said, was created by the British Government as it stockpiled food for the soldiers of the Second World War. His leader Shahid Saharowardy asked him to open gruel kitchens to save the lives of the starving people. Young Sheikh Mujib and his friends worked day and night to run some of these gruel kitchens and slept on the table of the Becker Hostel. This awful experience left a lasting mark on his mind about the vulnerabilities of the poor in Bengal. So he started campaigning for Pakistan under the leadership of Saharowardy where he thought ordinary people will enjoy economic freedom as the Zamindari system was to be dismantled.

 But the partition of Bengal by the British to create East Pakistan in the Muslim majority portion of it created more problems than it solved. The exodus of refugees from both sides of the border following communal riots made him and his friends sad and frustrated. They again established 'Refugee Shelters' to help contain this unexpected human crisis. After spending many days in rehabilitating the refugees both in Calcutta and Faridpur he came back to Dhaka. By that time the Pakistan government has been taken over by the West Pakistani bureaucracy with their aligned politicians. Young Sheikh Mujib started mobilizing first the students under the banner of Students League.

He immediately got himself involved with the brewing language movement as the then Pakistan Government openly declared that only Urdu shall be the state language of the country. As expected he vehemently opposed this move and ended up in jail. He continued to support this movement even when he lost his studentship for his political activities. He then launched a political party called Awami Muslim League along with the blessings of the senior leaders like Saharowardy, MoulanaBhashani, Ataur Rahman Khan, ShamsulHuq. Soon they attracted huge support from the student ordinary people of Eastern Province of Pakistan. As expected he was put to jails off and on as he was the focal point of the youths.

He played a crucial role in 1952 Language Movement even though he was mostly in jail. He became even more popular after 21st February 1952 when a number of students were killed by police firing. Once out of the jail he started mobilizing the people for democracy and demonstrated his strength by winning the 1954 provincial election under the banner of United Front. He also took oath as a Minister of the United Front Government but only for a couple of weeks. The Government was abolished by the Presidential order and Sheikh Mujib was again put to jail. He was the only minister who was put to jail.

And then onwards jail became his second him. In between came Martial Law and he became the real effective opposition leader for the military rulers. He continued to come out of the jail and go into it at the sweet will of the government. In the process he became the undisputed leader of the Bangalees. He was made the number one acused for the Agartala Conspiracy against the state. The struggling millions raised unprecedented voices against the government for putting him in jail. He was writing diaries during those days in jail. Almost all the entries of his diaries documents about the hardships of the inmates of the jails who were ordinary people from villages. These inmates used to provide him services and they came very close to his heart.

Ordinary men like 'Lodu' attracted pages after pages of his diaries. Simultaneously he narrated about his ordeals and thoughts about the political developments outside the jail. He explained in details how the farmers and workers were being exploited by the military backed regime of Ayub Khan. He has written in details about the pains of the young workers including students aligned to his party who were flocked to jails following any call of general strike. He could not sleep nights after nights seeing atrocities on these kids.

He also recollected in his diary how a poor women in his constituency gave him 'four annas'( twenty five paisa) during his election campaign after providing him a glass of milk. When he wanted to give some more money to this poor woman she just refused and caressed his hair wishing him success in the election. She said that was all she could contribute towards his election expense. He was visibly moved by this gesture. When he came out of her house he started wiping his tears. And he said, "How can I forget this and what can I do for this kind of people". He never forgot them. As soon as he got a chance to lead the nation he started taking measures to bring smiles into the faces of these ordinary masses. Not even a minute he spared for himself when he was running the statecraft.

But it was the misfortune of the nation that his heroic statesmanship was suddenly cut short by the conspirators who too were close (?) to him. Although he is not with us physically but he is all around in our everyday life. Let his pro-poor ideals guide us in perpetuity so that his dreams of 'Golden Bangla' are finally fulfilled. Let his soul live in peace.

The author is an eminent economist and former Governor of Bangladesh Bank. Email:

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