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Bangabandhu: An institution

-Muhammad Zamir

by tbhad

The month of March is important for Bangladesh. Every Bangladeshi remembers with respect the 7th of this month when Bangabandhu addressed all of us in 1971 and told us to prepare ourselves for our War of Liberation. Similarly, we recall with nostalgia the 17 March which is celebrated by all of us as the “National Children’s Day”.

This year, 17 March marks the 104th birth anniversary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman- our Father of the Nation. This day also generates in our hearts prayers and thoughts as we recall his historic contribution towards the creation of Bangladesh.

Born on this day in 1920, his life was an example of fortitude, courage, patience, honesty and also a relentless struggle for upholding and achieving the rights of the oppressed people. It is this that has led all of us to consider him and remember him as the greatest Bangalee in the history of our past thousand years.

He withstood various trials and tribulations during the long period of his political struggle and stood face to face with death at least on two occasions. Yet, never for a moment did he waver. A triumphant smile always adorned his face while he confronted any vicissitude. Between 1948 and 1971 he became the symbol of all the ideas, ideals and aspirations of his people. He used his charismatic power to urge and achieve independence of Bangladesh.

Under the leadership of Bangabandhu, we, the Bangalees, learnt to think and act unitedly. He was an example of how we can live in complete harmony with the culture and traditions of Bangladesh, its nature and its people.

In the Preface written by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the recently published Volume- 1 of “Secret Documents of Intelligence Branch” on Bangabandhu, the reader’s attention has been drawn to how he suffered arbitrary punishment and detention in the hands of the Pakistani law enforcement authorities who always kept him under strict surveillance. The documents contained in this publication outline how Bangabandhu despite all the scrutiny by the Pakistani intelligence was able to covertly carry on his contacts with senior members of the Chatra League and convey to them how they needed to continue the agitations that were necessary during the 21st February, 1952 demonstrations and the 6-Point demand of 1966. This publication unfolds for the readers his commitment for the people and Bangladesh.

Having worked closely under Bangabandhu’s guidance from the end of January, 1972 till May, 1974, in different capacities in our newly created Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I was witness to his determination to take Bangladesh forward and achieve his goal of “Sonar Bangla” despite unacceptable comments by some international leaders including Henry Kissinger, the US Secretary of State who described Bangladesh as “a bottomless basket-case”.

It was this firm determination on the part of Bangabandhu that encouraged him to take on the responsibility of a devastated country that had suffered a nine month holocaust and genocide. It may be recalled that when Bangabandhu came back to Dhaka on 10 January 1972 he was confronted with an economy in shambles and a basic paradigm of infrastructure badly scarred.

We need to remember that with the liberation of Bangladesh on 16 December, 1971, Bangladesh had stepped into the next phase of her national life- the struggle for survival. It was dramatic as well as challenging. Bangladesh had to coordinate herself into one compact unit to overcome the existing and evolving staggering problems. This would not have been possible without the wise and selfless guidance of Bangabandhu.

The first test came on the question of rehabilitation of the nearly ten million refugees who had sought shelter in the neighboring States of India- West Bengal, Tripura, Meghalaya, Assam, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. UNHCR estimates available on 1 December, 1971 revealed that there were about 6.79 million refugees in different camps and another 3.13 million refugees had taken shelter with friends or relatives. This continuous stream returning to Bangladesh in early 1972 had to be provided with instant ration and basic transportation to their respective homes in rural or urban areas  The sick and disabled had to be taken in hand and minors provided with all adequate care. Depleted granaries had to be replenished and the communications network restored for flow of man and material. Food and clothing had to be procured in bulk to meet the daily exigencies, each one as serious as the other.

One can only term this devastating situation that Bangabandhu had to monitor and solve as staggering in character and magnitude. It was fortunate for all of us that we had at that juncture the inspiring leadership of Bangabandhu. Despite overwhelming odds he did not buckle down or flinch from his responsibility. Reconstruction and rehabilitation was given top priority and a recovery programme started despite the challenge of practically not having any significant foreign exchange reserve.

The success of Bangabandhu and his government was subsequently acknowledged on page-vi, Volume-1 of the UNROD report- “Bangladesh: A Survey of Damages and Repairs” through the comment that the coordinated efforts of Bangladesh and the international community had led to this country “facing no starvation, no unmanageable law and order problem”. It was also observed that “this country is settling down as an organized community with a government working steadily through and towards democratic procedures”.

Bangabandhu will also always be remembered for his immense contribution towards the world recognizing Bangladesh as a country that had emerged from the ashes to become an important player among the international community of nations- within the United Nations, the Commonwealth, the Non-Aligned Group and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. His speech in Bangla delivered in the United Nations General Assembly, New York in 1974 also eventually led to 21 February being recognized as the International Mother Language Day.

One can only remember with gratitude the great contribution made by Bangabandhu at this juncture and thank our Creator for sending him to us to selflessly guide our destiny at this critical time.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance, can be reached at <muhammadzamir0@gmail.com

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