Standing on verge of the 46th death of Bangabandhu it appears that he was not only the architect of Bangladesh but his role was wider. For paying homage to a great man or leader there certainly remains some reasons which are always relevant. Bangabandhu has been snatched away from us but his thoughts are still our guidelines. Now, when this sub-continent is passing through tough times due to ideological confusion, teachings of Bangabandhu may be inspiration for all.
On the point of secularism Bangabandhu was always at frontline. Many countries can learn something from him. At present India is stumbling with secularism. Bangladesh has faced many ups and downs in this respect but Bangabandhu made it clear what kind of Bangladesh he wanted. He had no hesitation within himself regarding secularism. For this reason he said that secularism does not mean irreligion. He declared it boldly at the time of adapting constitution of Bangladesh in parliament in November, 1972 and was always against political use of religion.
It is a matter of regret that secularism is facing a lot of obstacles in India. People of different religions are being victims of discrimination. In various sectors, even in the case of citizenship, central government is providing advantage to some of their preferred religious sects. In some places particular food (i.e. beef) has been banned for certain communities viz. Muslims, lower caste Hindus, tribals etc. on excuse of objection from orthodox Hindus. Restriction on inter religion marriage has been imposed though there is no such prohibitory provision in religion.
It is evident that the present situation of India is concerning whereas practice of secular democracy was very strong there since independence. Ahead of election the question of secularism becomes burning now.. A basic principle of secularism i.e. not to use religion for political purpose, particularly for polls, as uttered by Bangabandhu is more relevant not only for Bengal but also for the world.
Not only secularism, Bangabandhu’s idea of language is also important now. Though he was behind the bars on 21st February, 1952 he paved the movement. The point of relative importance of Tamil and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka became a serious question that led to civil war from 1983 to 2009. If Sri Lankan leaders could realise the idea of Bangabandhu about language then that sanguinary civil war could have been avoided. Bangabandhu’s prudence regarding language was extended far away beyond the boundary of East Pakistan. The Bengali language movement of Barak Valley at Assam in 1960-61 was also influenced by our language movement.
Within a short period of independence main languages were honoured as national language in Indian constitution which avoided many serious problems. It happened long before Sheikh Mujib became the main leader of East Pakistan but some of his ideas regarding language are relevant to language policy of India. Main languages received constitutional respect but use of Hindi and English as official language created an imbalance with other languages. Those, whose mother language is Hindi, always gained some additional benefits in comparison to others. This problem prevails in West Bengal and is very acute in South Indian states because their languages (Tamil, Telegu, Connor etc.) have evolved from ancient Tamil, not from Sanskriti.
Bangabandhu’s thoughts on equality is always important. Inequality between two parts of Pakistan was the main reason of demand of independence of Bangladesh. During election campaign of 1970 he boldly put forward the question of equality. He also explained the need of equality between the Hindus and Muslims. He said that people of minority community should enjoy the same rights and privileges like others. This declaration of equal rights for minorities never appeared as a hindrance to success of Awami League. This is another important point to learn from Bangabandhu.
It is beyond doubt that sense of equality was very much important to a true Bengalee. We have to remember that acceptability of equality was always a major feature in the continuation of history. Bangabandhu has repeatedly declared the relationship between his moral ideas and traditional values of Bengal. Mingling of traditional sense of equality (as described by Siddhacharya) of true Bengalees and modern ideology of secularism is a bare necessity for today. The bright and pragmatic thoughts of Bangabandhu can inspire us this regard. (Based on a speech delivered by Nobel laureate Professor Amartya Sen in January 2021 in London School of Economics on birth centenary of Bangabandhu)
About Shakespeare’s tragedy Julius Caesar scholars say that Caesar dead was more powerful than Caesar alive. This observation is fully applicable to Bangabandhu. Without having any benefit of family heritage in politics he developed himself and gained extra ordinary ability to conquer hearts of people. His vision is still a guiding force for Bangladesh. Today millions of persons claim themselves as ardent soldiers of Bangabandhu but do they possess fraction of Bangabndhu’s unique organising competence and incomparable love for this country and its people? Have those self-declared soldiers of Bangabandhu learnt anything from him? 1026
The writer is a former Commissioner of Taxes