Today is the 99th birth anniversary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It is being celebrated not only across the country, but also around the world wherever Bangladeshis are there. The day is also celebrated as the ‘Children’s Day’. Bangabandhu’s name is uniquely placed in the history as Bangladesh emerged as an independent country with immense sacrifices under his leadership.
Though statehood is relatively new for Bangladesh but its national character dates back to the ancient past. History suggests that in the past a number of independent principalities constituted the region now called Bangladesh that included Gangaridai, Vanga, Gauda, Pundra, and Samatata. In the 14th century, these principalities were unified by Sultan Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah. It came under the rule of a British trading company in 1757 and later under the British Crown and was continued till 1947. At the time of the departure of the British, Bengal was partitioned on religious line into East and West Bengal. East Bengal became a part of the state of Pakistan on August 14, 1947. In 1955, it was renamed as East Pakistan and remained so till itemerged as Bangladesh in 1971. Soon the people of East Pakistan became disillusioned with the extreme discriminatory policies of the Pakistan Central Government dominated by the West Pakistanis (mostly Punjabis). This led to the formation of the Awami League (initially (Awami Muslim League) in 1949.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had been one of the founders of the Awami League and became its leading figure after the death of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy in 1963. Then there was no looking back for Bangabandhu in leading the people for realising their rights against all odds and repressions of the successive Pakistani regimes. The defining moments came after the general election of 1970 held under the military junta led by General Yahia Khan. The postponement of the first session of the Pakistan National Assembly scheduled to be held in Dhaka in the first week of March 1971 led to widespread protest and Bangabandhu took over the helm of affairs as the undisputed elected leader of the 75 million people of East Pakistan. On March 7, 1971 in his historic speech from Race Course Maidan Bangabandhu gave a road map for the ultimate emancipation of the people. Later talks were held to find a political solution to the problem in the disguise of the hidden agenda of the worst form of military assault called ‘Operation Searchlight’ on the unarmed people of East Pakistan. Bangabandhu just before being arrested by the Pakistani forces declared independence of Bangladesh in the early hours of the 26th of March, 1971 and urged upon the people to fight to the last for the liberation of the country by freeing it from the occupation of the barbaric Pakistani military. After nine months of war at great costs of lives, honours of the people and mass destruction the victory was achieved with the surrender of the occupation forces to the joint command of the Mukti Bahini and the Indian armed forces.
On January 10, 1972, Bangabandhu came back to his people from the captivity of the Pakistanis. From then on, a new phase in the life of Bangabandhu started with new challenges of herculean in nature to be overcome. In this new journey, he also created history by achieving different milestones within a short span of about three and half years as the head of the government and the state. The bullets of the assassins cut short his life in August 1975. During early 1972, the allied forces or the Mitra Bahini- the Indian military forces left Bangladesh at the request of Bangabandhu. He was quite confident to be able to restore law and order with the help of Bangladesh law enforcement agencies. In no time, Bangladesh armed forces consisting of military, air and naval forces took their formal shape at the instruction of Bangabandhu. The paramilitary force like the erstwhile Bangladesh rifles was also reorganised. The civil law enforcement agency, the Police took over the charge to restore and maintain law and order in the country.
There was the urgent need for the restoration of the administrative system and civil character from that of the military one. Once it was successfully done, it took over the responsibility of running the administration of a newly independent country under political leadership. Here it must be remembered that the administrative system that we inherited at the time of liberation was meant to run a provincial government. To address the issue, the government formed the Civil Administration Restoration Committee to examine and suggest ways and means for restoration of civil administration at various levels. Based on the recommendations, the provincial secretariat was transformed into the national secretariat with ministries and related directorates/departments and corporations. Later, the government appointed two major committees in 1972, namely the Administrative and Services Reorganization Committee (ASRC) and the National Pay Commission (NPC). The committee/commission was entrusted with the responsibility of suggesting measures towards reorganising the central bureaucracy, including local government, accompanied by devolution of power from the central to the local level and a national pay structure. The ASRC recommended a unified grading structure covering all services into 10 grades in which there would be an appropriate number of pay levels. It also suggested for the abolition of the elite cadre with adequate opportunities for talented persons to rise quickly to the top from any level of the civil service. Here it needs to be mentioned that the recommendations of the said committee were very forward looking and still valid to the current context of the country.
Relief and rehabilitation was the other huge task that the government embarked upon to address. About 10 million refugees went to India during the war. They were brought back and rehabilitated. Repair and reconstruction of the nearly destroyed infrastructure of rail and road communication turned out to be a daunting task for the government. However, in no time, Bangabandhu’s government restored the communication network of the country.
Chittagong port is the gateway to foreign trade of the country. During the war mines were laid all over in the port channel. With the help of the Soviet Union, in the shortest possible time, the mines were removed and the port was made operational. During the liberation war, the economy of the country came to a standstill. Moving forward the wheels of the economy and putting it on the growth path was the other urgent need that needed government interventions. Bangabandhu’s government took a number of initiatives in this regard. Several public corporations were created and industries and businesses were incorporated in them. Here it needs to be mentioned that several industries and businesses were owned by the Pakistanis who abandoned them and left for Pakistan. The new government had to take them over and started running them under state management. Slowly the economy started to move forward and was gaining momentum. The other glaring success of Bangabandhu was the framing of a foreign policy of the new born country. The main theme of the policy was ‘friendship to all and malice to none’. Under Bangabandhu’s leadership, in no time, Bangladesh could become a member of the UN, OIC and other world bodies and also secured recognition of most of the countries of the world.As a nation builder, the most noteworthy contribution of Bangabandhu was presenting the country with a constitution within just one year of the independence of the country. The constitution has been acclaimed around the world for its egalitarian principles safeguarding and guaranteeing particularly the equal and human rights of all citizens of Bangladesh irrespective of religion, creed, culture and ethnicity. As a nation builder, Bangabandhu started from scratch. But within the shortest possible time of just three and a half year, everything that a country needs to survive and move forward were created, framed, established and made operational. For all these and many more other contributions especially in nation building after the emergence of the country Bangabandhu’s name will always remain imprinted in the letters of gold in the annals not only of Bangladesh but also of the world.
(The different sources of information are acknowledged with gratitude).
The writer is a Professor, Department of Public Administration, University of Dhaka and Member, National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh.