What does August 15 demand from us?
Dr Mohammad Didare Alam Muhsin
Every year 15th August comes back to us and brings back the unbearable pain concerned with the day to cause mourning and weeping. The admirers of Bangabandhu remember the tragedy of that day with broken hearts and tearful eyes. Doa-darood, miladmahfil, kangalibhoj (offering food to the poor) etc. are organised throughout the country seeking forgiveness of the souls of the martyred. Whole the country pays homage to Bangabandhu and his martyred family members with heavy mind through discussion, commemoration, and mourning gatherings. Almost half a century has passed after the incident, but the grief-stricken people still try to understand why the tragedy happened on that day by analysing it from various angles. What was the cause? Could this incident have been prevented? Does this incident indicate that there was a deficiency in the security measures taken for Bangabandhu? Or did he just have to be a victim of immense love for his people and childish blind faith in them? Finally, to what extent and how the fate of this newly independent country was affected by this incident?
The altercation of power is nothing new in human history. Even a few hundred years ago, it was hard to imagine that there could be a change of power without war or bloodshed. In fact, feuding and sometimes taking up arms against each other among members of the same royal family over the succession to power was a pretty common phenomenon. In today’s world, revolutionary advances in education and the introduction of peaceful transitions of power in democracies in a significant part of the world have reduced, but not completely stopped, such bloodshed. The peculiarity of the August 15, 1975 tragedy was that on that day Bangabandhu along with his wife, sons including his child Rasel and daughters-in-law – none escaped the merciless bullets of the assassin. Only two daughters, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, and their families were lucky to survive being outside the country. There are not many examples of such brutal killings in history.
Historians and politicians may present multi-dimensional analyses from their respective positions while judging the tragedy of 15th August by the standards of history, but as long as this land called Bangladesh survives with its independent existence, 15th August will keep returning with special connotations to the people of this country. But, why? The most important thing is definitely that the way Bangabandhu made the emergence of independent Bangladesh inevitable in 1971, by awakening the strong desire for freedom among the people of this country, unequivocally makes him the greatest hero in the thousand-year history of the Bengali nation. In 2004, BBC Bangla conducted an audience poll to select “the Greatest Bengali of All Time’ and compiled a list of the top 20, in which Bangabandhu received the highest number of votes. Interestingly, Bangabandhu scored almost twice as many points as Ravi Tagore, who came second on the list. Since the struggle for independence against the British rule and later in the Pakistan period, the people of this region found many great leaders, like Nawab Sir Salimullah, Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Haque, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and Maulana Bhashani, to lead their causes — all of whom were great guns in their own merits. But the way Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was able to give language to the hopes and aspirations of the people of this region through his timely action plan at a pivotal moment of the nation raised him to such a high peak of popularity, which the people of this country have never seen before, and may not see in the future as well.
Although Bangabandhu was physically absent due to being in jail for the entire 9 months of the liberation war, it was totally under his virtual leadership that the people of this country risked their lives and jumped into the war and, finally defeating Pakistani invaders, snatched away the sun of liberation. That fiery speech of 7th March and his thunderous pronouncement – ‘This time our struggle is for freedom, this time our struggle is for independence’ – inspired them continuously on the battlefield. After the war, when the freed Bangabandhu returned home with his Himalayan popularity, he was entrusted with the immense responsibility of restoring peace and order to this war-torn country and making it self-reliant. He had only about three and a half years of time till his tragic assassination to perform this huge task. There is no scope here to go into the detailed analysis of history; however, despite some criticism and lapses, it will not be an exaggeration to say in broad terms that he tried his best to move in the right direction.
Perhaps the biggest challenge before him in the early stages was to restore peace and order in the country and create a stable environment. Almost all those who had taken up arms during the war surrendered their arms in response to his call. In a very short time, he was able to send back Indian troops from the country. He gave the country a constitution in the shortest possible time. In the course of time, this constitution has been amended quite several times, but till now it is serving as the foundation of constitutional rule in this country.
Bangabandhu knew that education would be the greatest weapon for this nation to hold its head high. Therefore, in an effort to strengthen the foundations of education, he took the initiative to nationalize primary education. He introduced free education and arranged for free textbook distribution up to the 5th grade. At the same time, he granted autonomy to the major universities to give them the opportunity to carry out educational practices in an open environment. For the coordination of the financial affairs of the universities, he established the University Grants Commission. To pave and strengthen the way for higher medical education and research, he increased the capacity of the then Institute of Postgraduate Medical Research (IPGMR) – today’s Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) – by increasing the hospital bed number from 300 to 500. Besides, he established the Bangladesh College of Physicians and Surgeons (BCPS) and the Bangladesh Medical Research Council (BMRC) by enacting the necessary laws. By giving due importance to religious practice and religious education in the country, he established the Islamic Foundation and restructured the Madrasa Education Board.
Bangabandhu believed that agriculture and farmers were the mainstay of the country’s economy. That was why he took several initiatives to provide incentives in the field of agriculture, one of which was to make arrangements for the subsidized distribution of fertilizers and irrigation equipment to the farmers through BADC. He established the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC) as the apex body for the coordination of various institutes of agricultural research. Bangabandhu also attached special importance to the energy sector. He established Bangladesh Mineral, Exploration and Development Corporation (BMEDC) and Bangladesh Mineral, Oil and Gas Corporation (BMOGC) as his own and national institutions for exploration, extraction and utilization of oil, gas, and mineral resources. This led to exploration of eight gas fields in the country within his lifetime.
In industrial management, partly inspired by socialist ideas but largely to fill the void created by the exodus of non-Bengali industrialists with their fortunes, Bangabandhu sought to restore the war-torn country’s economy by nationalizing large industries. But, the achievement of this goal was hindered due to the limited period of his governance, inexperience in management, external situation, and internal crisis.
The Writer is Professor and Chairman, Department of Pharmacy, Jahangirnagar University