by Omar Selim Sher in Ottawa
In Bangladesh’s calendar 10 January is a historically unique day in the life of the Bengali nation. On this day in 1972, with the return of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to his homeland, the people of Bengal achieved the culmination of victory. Although Bangladesh got its victory on 16 December 1971, the people of Bengal did not get a taste of independence. Under his leadership of independent-sovereign Bangladesh was liberated but he remained a prisoner in the prison’s dark cell.
Bangladesh’s independence remained unfulfilled until the great returned home. Freedom came true on January 10, the day the Father of the nation returned to his dream of an independent golden Bengal with the pain of losing a relative.
The history of 10 January 1972, or the history of Mujib’s homecoming, is one of the most critical events in the annals of Bangladesh’s independence history.January 10 is also history, as is 7 March 1971, 10 January 1972, which is a sequel to 7 March 1971.
Yahya Khan passed an order to hang the Nation’s Father in October, while we were in the guerilla warfare. But as we won on December 16, Yahya Khan could not carry out that order. After the unconditional surrender of Pakistan, Bhutto removed Yahya Khan and became the President of Pakistan. Bhutto’s intervention has saved Bangabandhu from hanging order with Mianwali Jail Super Mr. Habib Ali’s help.
Although we achieved victory on 16 December 1971, we did not know where he was or how he was. On January 8, the day we heard the news of Bangabandhu’s release, an indescribable wave of jubilation swept across the country. I cannot express in words the joy of the people in Dhaka city and other parts of the country. It was the feeling ingrained in your heart which I still cherish. The day Bangabandhu returned was Monday. Millions of people have been marching towards the Airport since morning, chanting slogans ‘Joy Bangla’ and ‘Joy Bangabandhu.’
The raddled freedom fighters, the people, fighting with reverence, the childless mother with teary eyes, the husbandless wife, the fatherless son, and daughter, overcoming all the sorrows and forgetting the pain of losing their relatives, all of them are eagerly waiting for the nation to raise its hands to embrace the Father of the Nation.While Dhaka’s outfitwas submerged with a festive mood and sea of people marching at the Airport, at the same time, thousands of people started marching towards Palam Airport and Parade Ground from the highways of Delhi since morning. The people of Delhi gave an unprecedented state reception to the President of Bangladesh Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Bangabandhu was received at the Airport by President Mr. V. Venkata Giri and Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi. When the British Royal Air Force’s comet jet landed with Bangabandhu, 21 artillery shells were fired in his honor. After the Indian President and Prime Minister,he was received by the then Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abdus Samad Azad. In her short speech, Mrs. Indira Gandhi said, ‘I am proud of you.The people of India and Bangladesh are proud of you. The people of India are overjoyed to have Sheikh Mujib among us. Sheikh Mujib has given new life to his people’.
In his speech, Bangabandhu expressed his deep gratitude to India’s people in an emotional voice at a gathering of millions of people during a brief visit to Delhi. He said further,”On my way to Bangladesh, I have decided to stop at the historic capital of your great country because the greatest friend of our people is the people of India and your majestic Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi – who is not only the leader of the people but also the leader of humanity.”
“This journey is from darkness to light, from captivity to freedom, from despair to hope. Finally, after nine months, I am going back to my dream country, Sonar Bangla. During the courtesy call on the Indian Prime Minister at the airport lounge after the reception’s formalities, Bangabandhu privately requested Mrs. Indira Gandhi, “Madam Prime Minister, I am indebted to you. You have helped the people of my Bengal with arms, money, shelter; You have stood by us during the difficult days of our liberation war. We are eternally indebted to you”. Honorable Prime Minister, “I have a request for you. When will you withdraw the Indian Army”? Mrs. Indira Gandhi said in a generous voice, Any day you want.”
Bangabandhu was such a prudent leader that even in such a situation, he talked about the withdrawal of the Indian Army with stately wisdom and got the consent of the Indian Prime Minister.
Then our long wait came to an end. As soon as the British Royal Air Force’s comet carrying Bangabandhu from Delhi appeared in the airspace of Dhaka, the sea of people became overwhelmed. The plane landed at Dhaka Airport at 1:51 pm. As soon as the stairs were set on the plane, the caretaker President Syed Nazrul Islam, Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed and other leaders, and four leaders of Mujib’s forces, rushed to greet the leader along with the leader of the Central Independent Bengali Student Struggle Council.
Standing on the steps of the plane, Bangabandhu waved his hand towards the ocean of people. In his eyes there was a river of tears-laden pain of losing a relative, and a smile of contentment of the victorious hero across his radiant face.
As soon as the Father of the nation entered the golden Bengal of his dream by climbing the plane’s stairs, the head of state was honored by firing 31 cannons. Then Bangabandhu was taken to the stage.There is a shower of flowers on him from all sides. Bangladesh Army, Air Force, and Navy provide Guard of Honor to the President. Bangabandhu took salute from the stage. At the time, the chief of the Bangladesh Liberation Army, Colonel Ataul Gani Osmani, Lt. Colonel Shafiullah and Bangabandhu, Lieutenant Sheikh Kamal, Bangabandhu’s eldest son, was by the side of the Father of the Nation.
After the Guard of Honor and meeting the leaders and the dignitaries, Bangabandhu with the four national leaders, four BLF leaders Sheikh Moni,Tofail Ahmed, Nure-e-Alam Siddiqui, Abdul QuddusMakhon, Shahjan Siraj, ASM Rab and other leaders of Awami League, Students League boarded a waiting truck and to go to the racecourse ground (now Suhrawardy Udyan). After crossing the sea of people standing on both sides of the highway decorated with beautiful arches, flags of Bangladesh, and portraits of Bangabandhu, the truck reached the ground after 2 hours and 13 minutes with Bangabandhu. I was lucky enough to get into fag end of the truck, if I remember correctly, with the late Makhon Bhai of Students League’s help.
It was 4:30 in the afternoon. Millions of people are waiting around the Race ground, and there is no place to store sesame seeds. The young and old applauded continuously all around.Everything seemed to drown in the battle cry of ‘Joy Bangla,’ ‘Joy Bangabandhu.’Bangabandhu got up on the stage, looked around, and wiped his face with a handkerchief. I only thought that the Father of the nation had been waiting for such a day all his life. The grimy, tired face is still bright in the fatigue of long imprisonment.
Pouring all his heart’s content, he said in a dynamic language, ‘When I go to the gallows, I will say, I am Bengali, Bangla is my country, Bengali is my language.’ How can a man who has been on death row for nine months and 14 days in solitary confinement, even in such an overwhelming situation start the address “Brothers, I told you one day to build forts from house to house? Today I say, today we have to work from house to house for our development”.
Further, he said in the address to a mammoth crowd,”The basis of the country will not be based on any particular religion. Democracy, Nationalism, Secularism and Socialism will be the foundation of the state”. Recalling the sacrifices of three million people, he said in a pain-laden voice, “Freedom has come to my Bengal today in return of great sacrifices.”
There are more to the august speech of his homecoming day, but the scope of paper I limited; I cannot detail all the parts of the address ingrained in my heart.
The speech on 7 March 1971, gave clear guidelines on how the ‘struggle for independence’ and the ‘struggle for emancipation’ which we made it. On 10 January 1972, the speech guided the nation on how to realize the spirit of the Liberation War by the wave of patriotism and courage.
But alas, we lost our visionary and prudent leader in just we lost BB after 3 years 6 month 14 days. A handful of army renegades assassinates Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the early hours of 15 August 1975, as part of a larger national and international political conspiracy hatched by anti-liberation forces.He was killed along with the entire family except for his two daughters, as they were in Germany at that time.
The dream ofBangabandhu’s development that was envisaged in his homecoming speech is a reality now, which isfulfilled by his able visionary and prudent daughter Sheikh Hasina. In the last decade and five years during the 90s, she has transformed Bangladesh into a mid-level developed economy. All human indexesies, foreign remittance, export and GDP growth rates are in a commendable position outweighing most South Asian country.
Source: Personal recollection of the Author, Newspaper clippings January 1972, transcripts of TV interview of Mr. Tofail Ahmed, Nur-e-Alam Siddiqui, and archives.
Omer Selim Sher is a retired Professor of Economics at Algonquin College, Ottawa, Canada, and a researcher on South Asian politics.