Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a frank, straightforward and compassionate leader. He carried a dream for Bangladesh from his student life, of creating ‘Shonar Bangla’ (‘golden Bengal’). And he held on to his passion for such a prosperous Bangladesh even in the most challenging times. Back in 1943 when hundreds and thousands of starving Bengalis died due to the war policy of the British colonial rulers he was deeply hurt. Later he wrote in his autobiography, “The English were locked in battle and Bengalis would have to die of hunger as a consequence. And this in a land that was once fabled for its resources! When the East India Company had annexed Bengal following Mir Zafar’s betrayal in the eighteenth century, Bengal was so rich that a wealthy businessman of Murshidabad had enough money to buy the city of London.” (The Unfinished Memoirs, UPL,2019, fourth impression, p.17-18). He never could forget the potential of his motherland.
After his return from imprisonment in Pakistan in 1972, Bangabandhu dedicated his energy to building up the war-devastated nation. On one hand, he was busy with the immediate tasks of nation-building, and on the other, he had to focus on the long-term policies that the country would follow. This balancing act of Bangabandhu persisted till his last breath. He could keep dreaming even in the most difficult situation. I have narrated his determination, in the last couple of pieces of this column, to think long-term through the lens of a well-framed constitution, written when he was struggling hard to make ends meet for his devastated people and engaged in rehabilitation and reconstruction.While the struggle for institution-building and reconstruction of the economy was going on, he never missed a moment to tell his people that he was dreaming of a peaceful, progressive, and prosperous Bangladesh. The speeches he made, mostly extempore and coming from his heart, during those early days of nation-building reflected his passion for a prosperous Bangladesh. He was foreshadowing what would be reflected in the constitution and the First Five-year Plan. One must thank the experts and the policymakers for deeply understanding the depth of his dream, even in those difficult days of acute scarcity.
On the very first day of encountering his people who endured so many tribulations at the Suhrawardy Udyan, coming straight from the airport on January 10, 1972, he shared with them the dream of his ideal Bangladesh. He expressed to the audience that Bangladesh would be a land of democracy, socialism, and secularism. Though deeply hurt after hearing from his co-leaders the extreme sufferings, in terms of loss of life and property, the people had to undergo during the war of liberation, he did not waste a minute in sharing his dream of a shining Bangladesh. He said, “We will have to build Bangladesh as a happy and prosperous country where not even one person will die of starvation. All kinds of bribery will have to be stopped.” (Saifullah, Rudro (edited), Shoto borshe Bangabandhu (Bangabandhu at Hundred), Ekattor, 2020, p. 28). He was, indeed, very quick to pick up the issue of corruption which had always been a top priority in his policy discourse. Just four days after taking oath as Prime Minister he met a group of homeless people in his new official complex Shugandha and repeated his dream of building an exploitation-free Bangladesh. He spelled out his thinking about freedom and said, “Freedom means people’s freedom with their self-respect. We pledge to make this society exploitation-free.” (ibid, p. 30). In the same vein, he added, “Do not worry, we have good people, golden people and this golden Bangladesh. Have patience. By the grace of Allah, we will build a new society.” (ibid, p.30). In the same speech, he said that the souls of the martyrs would live in peace only if people had enough food, cloth, accommodation, and work. Only then, you could claim to be free citizens of a free country.
In January 1972, Bangabandhu delivered a speech at the inauguration ceremony of the Supreme Court. In his speech, he mentioned that the judiciary would be separated from the executive, but the two bodies would have to cooperate with each other to avoid chaos. He asked the people present to put the constitution to proper use (Khan, DAH, ‘Jatir Pita Bangabandhur Nirbachito Bhashon’, Vol-2, EkattorProkashoni, 2018, p. 147-148). Mujib made his first state visit to India in February 1972. In his speech delivered in Kolkata Brigade Ground on February 06, 1972, he mentioned that the fundamental principles of Bangladesh would be nationalism, socialism, democracy, and secularism (ibid, p. 168). He also thanked the people of India for supporting the cause of Bangladesh’s liberation, including giving food and accommodation to millions of refugees. At the same time, he reassured the audience that the newly liberated people of Bangladesh were united, and nobody could stop Bangladesh’s race to development given its fertile land. In another speech made during the same visit, Bangabandhu urged the Bangladeshis in India to return to the country and resettle (ibid, p. 170).
Bangabandhu addressed a public meeting in Pabna on 16th February 1972. He became emotional during his speech and said:
“I am no longer the Mujibur Rahman I used to be. It is as if the fire of my mouth has disappeared. I break down when I see that the villages of Bangla have been destroyed, the farmers have lost their crops and homes, the police force has been reduced to nothing, the people do not have clothes, that I am unable to give aid to my worker brothers, that I cannot give food to the families of the poor farmers. How will I compensate for the lacs of people who have become orphans, the mothers who have lost their sons, the wives who have lost their husbands and the brothers who have lost their kin? How will I help these people? How will I give them food to eat and water to drink? The pirates have not only killed my people but have finished the wealth of Bengal as well.” (Translated from Bengali).
He again warned his audience that the freedom they had achieved would be meaningless if they could not build golden Bangladesh. It would be meaningless if the youth did not get opportunities to work. So, he urged them to produce more food for their own survival. Bangabandhu always avoided giving false hope to the people and tried to motivate them to work together for the speedy reconstruction of the economy (Khan, DAH, ‘Jatir Pita Bangabandhur Nirbachito Bhashon’, Vol-2, Ekattor Prokashoni, 2018, p. 173-179).On 26th March 1972, the first Independence Day of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu delivered a historic speech on TV and radio when he announced his decision of nationalisation. He addressed the economic and social issues which the country was facing at that time. He explained that the administrative structure would need to be changed in accordance with the new state and that officers would have to change their mindset as well. After that, he spoke about the constitution which was being framed. He asked the foreign allies of Bangladesh to come forward to the aid of the country. He clarified that “If someone helps us in the process of developing the country, we will accept it. However, this aid must be smooth and unconditional. We believe in the sovereignty and equality of the nations. We hope that we will not face any intervention in our internal matters.” He then spoke of the Bengalis who were still in Pakistan and asked Mr. Bhutto to let them return to Bangladesh. He also spoke on the rehabilitation of refugees who had fled to India. He warned the corrupt people to not hoard relief materials that were to come to the country.
Then Bangabandhu moved on to the issue of nationalisation. He declared that his party would introduce a socialist system and nationalisation was the first step towards realisation of that system in the context of Bangladesh. Local banks, insurance companies, jute mills, spinning mills, sugar mills, water transport, abandoned properties, Biman and foreign trade were to be nationalised. He addressed the workers and said that he wanted to implement a policy that would allow workers to become part of the management, and this would reduce the clash between workers and employers. Bangabandhu spoke about the forthcoming education commission which would bring about a revolution in the education system. He said that farmers were among the most oppressed people and they deserved more favourable policy support from the government. He also declared that the farmers would receive tax relief, loans, and other forms of input assistance. He then spoke about the importance of cottage industries in reducing unemployment and promoting equality. Finally, he ended his speech with the call for people to come together and create an oppression free Sonar Bangla’ (Khan, DAH, ‘Jatir Pita Bangabandhur Nirbachito Bhashon’, Vol-2, Ekattor Prokashoni, 2018, p. 183-191).
Bangabandhu also travelled around the country and spoke to the people in Thakurgaon, Mymensingh and Rajshahi. He elaborated on his vision of socialism in the council meetings of Chhatro Union and Awami League. His May Day speech to the workers was also illuminating. In all these speeches he emphasised the significance of economic freedom, without which political independence might be very hollow. Indeed, all these ideas which he floated in the early days of nation-building were highly visionary in nature. This attitude of Bangabandhu was aptly reflected in the constitution and the First Five-year Plan of the country.
The author is Bangabandhu Chair Professor, Dhaka University and former Governor, Bangladesh Bank. He can be reached at [email protected]