January 10, 1972 was not only a day in the Gregorian calendar but also a day that went down in history. On that day, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the undisputed leader of the nation and supreme commander of the country’s Liberation War (1971), set foot on his own sweet soil after the nine-month long false imprisonment in Pakistan. None could even think that he would be able to escape alive and back home.
Even after the surrender of the Pakistan occupation army on 16 December 1971, the final victory was depending on some tact and diplomacy, which the imprisoned leader could very well handle.
As the Pakistan occupation army surrendered to the Bangladesh-India joint force on 16 December 1971, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the founder of Pakistan People’s Party, took over the presidency of Pakistan. He had still cherished the dream of winning back Bangladesh and was threatening to conquer it. He had met Mujib in the prison and offered him to join his cabinet. Mujib smiled his unwillingness. While the demand of his release was increasing across the globe and even in Pakistan, they had no other option but to release him. However, Bhutto did not give up the hope and expressed his final desire that Bangladesh and Pakistan should be united by the bonds of religion. Mujib was offered the premiership or presidency of united Pakistan. However, quite diplomatically, the prudent leader reserved his judgment until he came back home and talked to his people. Writing about Bhutto’s last words to Bangabandhu, the US Journalist Fox Butterfield said, “At the Race Course, Sheikh Mujib told his vast audience that the last words of the new Pakistani President, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, to him before he was released and put on a plane to London were, ‘Try to keep Pakistan together, if there is any way.’
‘I said nothing’, Sheikh Mujib recalled. But now I say to you Bengal is independent, and let the people of Bangladesh live happily. The unity of the country is ended.” On his return, Mujib declared Bangladesh as a completely breakaway republic. However, when Bhutto’s wicked design of regaining Bangladesh was shattered, he became extremely irate and got down and dirty with Mujib and the people of Bangladesh and consequently kept opposing Bangladesh’s bid to join the Commonwealth.
The New York Times Journalist Fox Butterfield, who had been an eyewitness to Bangabandhu’s homecoming, wrote a gripping narrative of the situation then created with returning home of the supreme leader of the Liberation War. The title of his special report reads “Sheikh Mujib Home; 500, 000 Give Him Rousing Welcome”. As he puts it: “Sheikh Mujibur Rahman received a tumultuous, triumphant welcome today (January 10, 1972) from a crowd of half a million Bengalis as he returned to his native land for the first time since he was arrested nine months ago by the Pakistani authorities…[t]he exultant crowd showered Sheikh Mujib with flowers and chanted “Joi Bangla” as their leader stepped from the British Royal Air Force Comet jet that had brought him from New Delhi. Sheikh who was released Saturday, flew to New Delhi from London…looking tired but elated by his reception, [he] later said at an enormous rally at the Dacca Race Course: ‘My life’s goal has been fulfilled. My Bengal is independent.” Describing Bangabandhu’s physical appearance and strong handsome features, the reporter said, “The 51-year-old Sheikh Mujib, who is tall for a Bengali and has a thick moustache and heavy shock of greying hair…was wearing a black suit with a high buttoned collar”.
The history of 10 January (1972) or the history of Mujib’s homecoming is one of the most important events in annals of Bangladesh’s independence history.10 January is also a history as is 7 March. The 10 January is a sequel to 7 March (1971) or 7 March is a prequel to 10 January. If 7 March is the prelude to the Liberation War, 10 January is the fitting postscript to it. Since 7 March came, 10 January could not be far behind! And Mujib made the history in both the events. The most important aspect of these couple of events is plain and simple: Both the speeches were delivered by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The speech on 7 March gave clear guidelines on how the ‘struggle for independence’ and the ‘struggle for emancipation’ could be made possible and the speech on 10 January guided the nation on how to realise the spirit of the Liberation War by the wave of patriotism and courage.
The speeches are history in speech or oral history of independent Bangladesh. The history of Bangladesh, its people and culture over the years has been poignantly expressed in the speeches of its greatest leader. In his 7 March speech, Bangabandhu poetically narrated the long history of our struggle for independence and in the 10 January speech, expressed his complete satisfaction with the victory in the Liberation War, and gave his audience the satisfaction of seeing his cry. He expressed his deep sense of gratitude to the people regardless of social stratification and religious affiliation who had laid down their lives on the altar of the most sought-after independence of the country. His voice was choked with deep emotion at the thought of reunion with his people after a pretty long silence caused by the devastating war. He recollected his days in the Pakistan prison camp where he was waiting to see himself swing from the gallows. But that did not strike fear into his heart. In testimony to his fearlessness in the face of danger, the leader identified himself first as a Bengali, then as a human being and finally as a Muslim, who, he affirmed, would die once, not twice. He assured that he would walk to the gallows smilingly rather than bringing shame and dishonour on his nation by way of begging a pardon from the national enemies. Nothing daunted, he kept on fighting for his political cause even in the jail, and asked the Pakistani junta to send his dead body back to his country, if killed.
Bangabandhu’s 10 January speech is no less important than his 7 March speech or any other historic speeches in the world. It is replete with hopes and aspirations, pledges and commitments, faith and confidence essential to the building up of a new nation state. The main message of the speech can be derived from the speaker’s indomitable passion expressed for his country, his language, his people and culture. The spirit of the speech can be a guiding light for the people who passionately participated in or now support our Great Liberation War – the freedom fighters – farmers, labours, and intellectuals; the students and teachers; poets, litterateurs, and journalists; doctors, engineers, and the lawyers; potters, weavers, and blacksmiths; the people whose sacrifices made our independence inevitable, the people who in the post-liberation period have worked, and are still working for realising the dreams of our Liberation War; the people who love and shall continue to love our sweet little land, our people and culture, our language, our soil and sovereignty, our skies and seas, rivers and jungles, plains and hills– from Teknaf to Tentulia – and who love the beautiful national flag marked by the red blazing sun amid thick emerald greens; and love to sing ‘my Bengal of gold/ I love you’.
Dr. Rashid Askari is a writer, fictionist, columnist, and vice-chancellor, Kushtia Islamic university, Bangladesh. Email: [email protected]