About Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
“As a man, what concerns mankind concerns me. As a Bengalee, I am deeply involved in all that concerns Bengalees. This abiding involvement is born of and nourished by love, enduring love, which gives meaning to my politics and my very being” (Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Unfinished Memoires)
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, very fondly called Bangabandhu -Friend of Bengal – by his people was born in Tungipara, a village in present Gopalganj district (formerly Faridpur district) on 17 March 1920. Mujib spent his childhood in his native village.
Mujib’s political career began while he was a student at Gopalganj Missionary School. Upon completion of his secondary education Mujib moved to Kolkata for higher education. Whilst studying for degree at the Islamia College in Kolkata, Mujib became engaged with the movement for the creation of Pakistan. However, when communal riots broke out across India, especially in Bengal, he took an active part in protecting Muslims and non-Muslims alike, often by risking his own life.
Upon returning to Pakistan Mujib took admission in the Department of Law at Dhaka University and founded the Muslim Students’ League on 4 January 1948. When the then Prime Minister of Pakistan Khawaja Nazimuddin declared that ‘The people of East Pakistan must accept Urdu as their state language,’ Sheikh Mujib put all his energies in building a strong movement against this move. He and some of his colleagues were arrested while holding a peaceful demonstration in support of the demand for Bengali to be one of the state languages of Pakistan.
Upon his release from the jail on 21 January 1949 Mujib extended his support to the striking Class Four employees of Dhaka University to press home their various demands. The university authorities imposed a fine on Mujib for leading the movement. He refused to abide the unjust order. Furthermore he was arrested for staging a sit-in protest in front of the vice chancellor’s residence. While in prison he was elected as one of the joint secretaries of the newly formed East Pakistan Awami Muslim League on 23 June 1949.
Mujib began to travel the country to canvas for the rights of Bengali people of then East Pakistan and condemn the military rule in Pakistan. His uncompromising stance against the military rulers and championing of the causes of the Bengali masses led to continuous harassment and imprisonment by the Pakistani military regimes. Indeed Munayem Khan-the then governor of East Pakistan boosted:
“Whilst I am the governor of East Pakistan Mujib will spend the rest of his life in the prison”.
True to their words the Pakistani military regime kept Mujib behind bars over half the twenty-four years that they ruled in Bangladesh. He was incarcerated no less than twenty times and faced the gallows twice. It became routine affairs of the state to arrest Mujib at every turning of political events in the country between 1949 and 1971.
Mujib was elected as the general secretary of the East Pakistan Awami Muslim League on 9 July 1953. Under his leadership on 21 October 1955 Awami Muslim League decided to drop the word “Muslim” from its name to reflect its secular and progressive vision.
In 1966 Sheikh Mujib launched his “Six point” programme, demanding political and economic parity with West Pakistan and regional autonomy for East Pakistan. He then embarked on a national tour to mobilise the public opinion, which incurred eight arrests.
Perhaps realising that Mujib was unstoppable, the military regime of Ayub Khan filed the notorious Agartala Conspiracy Case against him and thirty-four Bengali civil and military officers. The defendants were charged for conspiring to secede East Pakistan from the rest of Pakistan. However, facing demonstration across the country the conspiracy case against Mujib and the others was unconditionally withdrawn.
Soon after the collapse of Agartala Conspiracy Case and release of Sheikh Mujib from prison General Ayub Khan resigned and handed over the power to General Yahiya Khan on 25 March 1969. General Yahiya Khan promised to hold a general election on the basis of universal franchise, which was held between 7 December 1970 and 19 January 1971. Awami League, under Sheikh Mujib’s leadership, won an absolute majority.
As a majority leader in the parliament Sheikh Mujib should have been the next Prime Minister of Pakistan, but it never happened. Instead, the Pakistani army prepared for war against Bengali people. And the Bengalis, under the leadership of Sheikh Mujib, responded by declaring non-cooperation movement, which paralysed the country. In this context Sheikh Mujib delivered the historic speech.
On the night of 25 March 1971 the Pakistani army started the “Operation Search Light”, which led to the slaughter of three million people over the course of nine months. General Niaz,i the commanding officer of the Pakistani army in East Pakistan, described the event:
“The military action was a display of stark cruelty, more merciless than the massacres at Bukhara and Baghdad by Changez Khan and Halaku Khan, or at Jallianwala Bagh by the British General Dyer.” (The Betrayal of East Pakistan)
Receiving the news of the massacres in Dhaka and elsewhere Mujib concluded that for the people of Bangladesh had no option but to declare independence, which he did in the early hours of 26 March 1971 Bangladesh. His message was:
This may be my last message; from this day onward Bangladesh is independent. I call upon the people of Bangladesh wherever you might be and with whatever you have, to resist the army of occupation to the last. Your struggle must go on until the last soldier of the Pakistan occupation army is expelled from the soil of Bangladesh. Final victory is ours.
Soon after dispatching the text and the recorded messages Mujib was arrested and taken to Pakistan. However, as per his advice and earlier plans many of his close associates, notably the four national leaders- Syed Nazrul Islam, Taj Uddin Ahmed, Captain Monsoor Ali and AKM Kamruzzaman – were able to cross the border into Indian and, on 17 April 1971, formed the government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.
On 16 December 1971, after nine months long war in which three million Bengalis were slaughtered, over ninety thousand Pakistani soldiers unconditionally surrendered to joint command of Bangladesh’s liberation army and Indian forces at Ramna Racecourse where on 7th March Sheikh Mujib made the historic speech.
On 10 January 1972 Mujib returned to his beloved country to a hero’s welcome and set about rebuilding it in accordance with the principles of Secularity, Nationalism, Democracy and Socialism. However, the anti-liberation forces and their international backers staged a military coup in 15 August 1975 in which Mujib, along with most of his family members, were killed.