Mar 07, 2020
A few months before Bangabandhu’s historic speech of the 7th March 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the leader of Awami League led his party to a victory in the General Election of December 1970. The entire nation patiently bided it’s time for the opening session of the National Assembly to be convened on the 3rd March, 1971 and in the backdrop of the first general election in 23 years of Pakistani history, celebration proliferated throughout the country emancipating from the clutches of autocracy with a desire to be governed by the people they chose (The Daily Ittefaq, 2 March 1971). Ceasing the aspiration for democracy that the people hold on to for years, President Yahiya Khan provocatively deferred the general assembly meeting via Radio Pakistan for an indefinite time (Bangladesh Genocide Archive, March 1971). The entire East Pakistan was left startled and beginning of the end commenced with the news on that day, sharp at 1.05 pm.
The entire province led by Dhaka exploded like Vesuvius soon after they overcome the shock. Bangabandhu declared a general strike from 3 March to 6 March from 6.00 am to 2.00 pm and stated that he would address a public gathering at 2.00 pm on the 7th March and give further directions (Bangladesh Genocide Archive, March 1971). On 7 March, millions gathered at the Race Course (Presently known as Suhrawardy Uddan) to hear Bangabandhu with anticipations, trapping a great deal of anxiety over what he would tell the 75 million people in the country that day (Ministry of Culture, Govt. of Bangladesh). On the same day, student leaders of East Pakistan Chatro League (Presently known as Bangladesh Chatro League), who in fact declared it earlier and were flying openly the flag of independent Bangladesh, pressurized him to declare Bangladesh independent from Pakistan (Abu Taher's Last Testament: Bangladesh: The Unfinished Revolution, Lawrence Lifschultz Economic and Political Weekly Vol. 12, No. 33/34). Such demands were echoed in other areas too eventually persuading everyone that the Awami League leader was going to give in to the pressure declaring Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI). Bangabandhu’s rejection of General Yahiya Khan’s invitation for a roundtable on 10 March induced every one of his projected action.
Bangabandhu reached the Race Course two hours late, devolving the time at his own residence articulating the fate of 75 million people in his mind without being influenced by the surrounding as he said, “You go ahead with your preparations for the independence war while I am playing a wait-and-see game with the Pakistani leaders”. He understood very well about the inviolable right of a member of the UN under international law in favor of its sovereignty and territorial integrity although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights did provide peoples their right of self-determination. But Bangabandhu knew that such a call would turn the race course into a bloodbath in minutes. General Tikka Khan and his army stood ready to swoop on Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the mass if there was a unilateral declaration of independence. They were equipped, they knew and so did Bangabandhu that, if that would have been the case, the movement for independent Bangladesh would have been clutched in the coating of a separationist movement and the fate of Bangladesh would have gone the way the movement for independence of Biafra had gone.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman proved himself a lot smarter than his entire generation. Mindful of the demands of international law as well as the inevitable need to harness the aspiration of the people for a better future, Bangabandhu crafted a speech and delivered it with such passion that, among the people it had the similar impact of a Unilateral Declaration of Independence without infuriating the Pakistani Military Junta. In those riveting 11 minutes, he articulated the story of Pakistan which failed as a nation, argued in defense of what the Bengalis as a nation needed to do. The craftsman of Bangladeshi independence soared, as million soared with him while he defined their path to the future. Urging his people to turn every house into a fort of resistance, Bangabandhu closed his speech saying, “The struggle this time is the struggle for our emancipation. The struggle this time is the struggle for independence.”
Syed Badrul Ahsan rightly pointed out that although there were a lot of political adventurists expecting a direct UDI, lot of skeptics of Sheikh Mujib waiting to judge his political wisdom, Sheikh Mujib made no mistake in showing his prudence. He successfully directed his people to the inevitable goal of sovereignty built on strong constitutional and international legal foundation. Bangabandhu made it clear that if the regular means of constitutionalism does not work in ensuring peoples’ rights, the people would rather choose the radical way of safeguarding their own rights.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman negated the chances of the urge of independence being turned into a secessionist movement. He refused to be named in the history as a separationist. Shunning all ideas and possibilities of UDI, he embedded in clear and unambiguous terms that liberation was a matter of time. As people went back home that day, in content, with loud resonances of Joy Bangla on this very soil, their lives transcended forever, so as their souls.
The author in the “Silent and the Lost” rightly observes, “Where do you find one man addressing millions and within ten countable minutes unifying them into one fighting nation? Sheikh Mujibur Rahman did just that on 7 March 1971.” Let alone the pillars of political and social emancipation, through his speech he reiterated the bright pages of our history and as he did that, we remembered our culture, our heritage and our secular belief, repudiating the mistake of a quarter century earlier.
Shahrima Tanjin Arni is the International Affairs Secretary of Dhaka University Central Students' Union (DUCSU).