Four principles of Bangladesh: Rise of Nationalism & Birth of a State

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Published on May 16, 2021
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After the formation of Pakistan, West Pakistanis, using religion as their shield, started racial and cultural repression on the Bengali nation, leading to a sense of realization among the young generations. Later, the whole nation became united to attain their freedom and political rights amid unlimited economic repression by the military junta. The movement that started with students in the 1950s was joined actively by people of all walks of lives including peasants and day labourers. People irrespective of races and religions felt and spoke for the same demand, and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman became their spokesperson. The newly grown indomitable spirit centring Bangabandhu to live with liberty and free from any sort of exploitation is called Bengali nationalism. This nationalism grew through cultural movement based on language and reached its culmination through the independence of Bangladesh.

Young Sheikh Mujibur Rahman basically realized the Pakistani conspiracy soon after the partition of 1947. He thought of a separate Bangladesh state since then. In December of the same year, Urdu was announced to be the state language of Pakistan in an education conference in Karachi. With this announcement, Pakistanis began their ill-attempt and force to dominate the thousands-years of spirit, culture and lifestyle of 56 per cent majority of the Bengali people. Realizing the situation, Bangabandhu, within few days, founded Chhatra League on January 4, 1948. In his autobiography, he wrote about this: “Pakistani ruler attacked the Bengali language in 1948... We could not tolerate the attack on language. As a result, Chhatra League was born on January 4, 1948. We started protests led by Chhatra League on March 11. We, along with some cultural organisations, faced the assaults of the exploiters.” Bangabandhu took the steps mainly to grow the sense of cultural identity among the young generations through protecting the rights of the language.

Young leader Sheikh Mujib with other students again protested instantly when Pakistan governor Muhammad Ali Jinnah announced Urdu as the state language on March 19 in 1948 at Suhrawardy Udyan in Dhaka. He had to walk in jail due to language movement. But the foundation young Sheikh Mujib built through this movement paved the way to establish a united state. The whole nation got united through their direct participation in different phases of the movements for independence with the ultimate spirit of Bengali nationalism.

Bangabandhu: Torchbearer of Bengali’s Dreams

A major part of Bangladesh’s geographical location is covered with hill tracts on one side, rocky land on two sides, and the other vast area is covered by coastal land. For thousands of years, harmony, tolerance and peaceful coexistence with mixed cultures and a self-sufficient economy has shaped the lifestyle of people of this region. Bengal is historically known as a land for all people irrespective of religions and races. Even there were many revolts during the Mughal regime in matters of self-guarding. That is why it was then known as the Bulgakpur’ or the city of revels. Later, during the English regime, Bengali was divided and reunited again to control this land. Thus, the English sow seeds of communalism to create mistrust among the Muslim and Hindu communities to strengthen their ruling in Bengal.

Though there was an attempt to revive the Hindu-Muslim communal harmony through the Lucknow Pact in 1916, it did not last long. Later in 1923, Chittaranjan Das, Subhas Chandra Bose, Suhrawardy and Sher-e Bangla among others tried to make up the damage with the Bengal Pact. But their attempts ended again in 1925 after the death of Chittaranjan Das. There were many thoughts of founding a separate state only with the greater Bengal and the Bengali people in the Indian subcontinent, but nobody could dare to implement the ideas.

However, it was Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who made it happen to materialize the thousands-years-dreams of Bengali people. He is the only leader in the history of two thousand years who turned the sense of uniformity of the Bengali people into nationalism. This is the reason why seven crore people had their faiths in him and sacrificed their bests to get an independent land.

Rise of Bengali Nationalism

Bengali nationalism started to grow in the backdrops of Pakistani colonial attitude and cultural aggression on the Bengali nation, particularly attack the mother tongue. There grew a spirit inside the Bengali people within few days of partition, that was further triggered by the language movement in 1952, leading to the ultimate rise of Bengali nationalism. Bangabandhu, regarding this movement, wrote in his Unfinished Memories, “I was undergoing treatment at Dhaka Medical College then. Everything was fixed in a secret meeting there. It was decided that I will start a hunger strike on 16 February and the protest will begin on 21st.” Since then, Chhatra League and other student and cultural organizations were becoming vocal for protecting the rights to speak in the mother tongue, which then spread out across the country, resulting in a mass rally on February 21 in 1952 defying Section 144. But the Pakistani military shot fired on the unarmed people who took to the streets. These drops of blood ultimately united the whole nation, sparking an outrage and mass movement of people of all religions and races. The 1954 provincial election saw its impact quite well.

Meanwhile, with Huseyn Shahid Suhrawardy as President, the All Pakistan Awami Muslim League was founded on June 23 in 1949 and Maulana Bhashani became the President of East Bengal Awami Muslim League. As Bangabandhu was in prison due to his involvement in Dhaka University’s fourth-class staff movement, his opinion, being an influential young leader, was sought about the formation of the Awami League. Bangabandhu wrote: “I was also asked whether I will continue student movement or join the political organization if formed. I replied – I will not do student politics anymore, but the political organization because the autocracy will continue in the country unless there is an opposition party.” Later, he was made founding joint-secretary of the party. He was elected the party’s general secretary in 1953.

Phase by Phase Journey

Awami League initiated to form the United Front (Jukto Front) ahead of the provincial election in 1954. This election put the last nail in the coffin of religion-centric politics of the Muslim League with winning only nine seats out of 237 in East Bengal. That time too, they sought votes by using religion. On the contrary, Suhrawardy-Bhashani-Sheikh Mujib-led Awami Muslim League won the majority of the seats by pledging to protect language and culture, ensure non-communal and discrimination-free human life, and economic freedom. The boat symbol became the symbol of people’s dreams and aspirations. Though the cabinet was abolished within two weeks by the conspiracy from the Pakistan central government, the election begot the sense of nationalism among Bengali people against the colonial behaviour of Pakistani and their heinous politics with the religion. This, in the following year, also led to a non-communal spirit among people and turned Awami Muslim League into Awami League with unanimous support.

In 1956, Bangabandhu joined the provincial cabinet, but he resigned from it in the next year to coordinate his party across the country to drum up the support for the independence of the nation. He ran from districts to districts and talked about the exploitation and discrimination of the Pakistan government, and helped the whole nation realize its rights with Bengali nationalism. Consequently, students and ordinary people waged protests despotic military government in 1962-63. After the death of Suhrawardy during this period, Bangabandhu came to the limelight of the whole national movement and became the torchbearer of Bengali dreams. The hidden national spirit got to rise in full swing with the slogan of ‘Jago Jago, Bangali Jago (Wake Up, Weak Up, Bengali, Wake Up)”. The slogan became more vibrant during the mass upsurge of 1969 thanks to the ardent dedication and hard work by Bangabandhu from 1963. In 1969, the previous slogan for the call to wake up the nation became ‘Jegechhe Jegechhe, Bangali Jegechhe (Woke up, woke up, Bengali woke up), and the ‘Bir Bangali Jegechhy, Rokto Surjo Uthece (Brave Bengali Woke up, Blood Sun Rose).

The Outburst of National Spirit

On his journey to wake up the nation, Bangabandhu announced his historic ‘Six Point Charter’, also known as the charter for Bengali’s freedom, in early 1966 highlighting the autonomy, economy and defence. As he was elected the President of Awami League then, he staged rallies and programmes throughout the country and gathered massive support for the Six Point charter, leaving the Pakistani in fear. However, he was arrested repeatedly from 32 rallies and served 90 days in jail. But he was again arrested and kept in jail for a long term as the Pakistani military government got frightened at the brave leadership, popularity and acceptance of Bangabandhu among mass people. But the seed of national liberty was spread already across the country and was not halted even during the physical absence of Bangabandhu during his jail term. The whole nation was inspired and started longing for independence centring on the Six Point charter.

Against this backdrop, while staying in jail, Bangabandhu was sued and shown arrested in a treason charge titled ‘State vs. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Others’ which is popularly known as the Agartala Conspiracy Case in early 1968. The charge sheet of the case stated: “Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and others hatched a conspiracy against united Pakistan.” Clearly speaking, Bangabandhu had continuous communication with the Bengali army, naval officials and other professionals for creating Bangladesh state, and the Pakistan military government treated it as a conspiracy and pressed charge against Bangabandhu and 34 others. But a slogan then broke out saying ‘Jeler Tala Bhangbo, Sheikh Mujibke Anbo (We will break the lock of the jail and bring back Sheikh Mujib)’ across the country. Thus, Bangabandhu and Bangladesh got inseparable with the rise of nationalism among the Bengali nation.

However, in face of public outrage, the Pakistani junta had to withdraw the case on February 22, 1969, and released the leader of the Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He was awarded ‘Bangabandhu’ in a huge rally at Suhrawardy Udyan on the next day of February 23 as the supreme leader of seven crore Bengali people. Seeing the enthusiastic Bengali people full of the spirit of nationalism, Bangabandhu made his stance more strictly to demand the resignation of the Pakistani military junta and fight in the general election. As a result, Pakistan military ruler General Ayub Khan was overthrown on March 25, 1969, through a mass revolt by the Bengali nation. Yahya took over the power and had to give the announcement of holding a general election. It was an unprecedented chapter for the nation to wage mass protests joined by farmers, labours, students and people of all walks of lives with the spirit of Bengali nationalism to release Bangabandhu from jail and made the Pakistani military ruler resign.

1970’s election: Bengali Nationalism at Its Peak

In the wake of mass demand by the seven crore Bengali, the first-ever general election was held in 1970, 23 years into the partition. Bangabandhu portrayed the discrimination and exploitation of the Pakistani junta before the Bengali nation with the slogan and posters saying, ‘Sonar Bangla Shmashan Keno (Why the Golden Bengal became crematorium?)’. He pledged to make the crematorium a golden land again by materializing the Six Point demand and build an exploitation-free state. People accepted the pledges and kept their trust in him and voted for the ‘boat’ symbol of the Awami League. As a result, Awami League emerged as the sole major party in the whole of Pakistan winning 167 seats of 169 in the national council. Also, it bagged 288 seats out of 300 in the provincial council and became the representative party of the whole Bengali nation.

But Pakistani junta refused to give the governing power to the Bengali nation and started wasting times, and hatching a conspiracy. Consequently, the situation became volatile in January 1971. The slogans like ‘Bir Bangali Astro Dhor, Bangladeshi Shwadin Kor (Brave Bengali, hold the weapons and free the country),’ ‘Tomar Amar Thikana, Padma-Meghna-Jamuna (We all are from Padma, Meghna and Jamuna regions)’, ‘Joy Bangla, Joy Bangabandhu (Victory of Bangla, Victory of Bangabandhu)’, ‘Tomar Neta, Amar Neta, Sheikh Mujib, Sheikh Mujib (Your Leader, My Leader, Sheikh Mujib, Sheikh Mujib)’, and ‘Tomar Desh, Amar Desh, Bangla Desh Bangla Desh (Your country, My Country, Bangladesh, Bangladesh)’ etc spread everywhere in the country. The whole seven crore Bengali people became desperate to make the country free from the Pakistani junta with the slogan ‘Joy Bangla’. This slogan ‘Joy Bangla’ played a vital role to unite the whole nation for a common demand and it was freedom. The term ‘Joy Bangla’ refers to the victory of the Bangla language, victory of Bangladesh and victory of the Bengali nation; and the slogan is above any sort of communalism as it became the nationalistic slogan for all the people.

Following the election, Bangabandhu did not fall into the trap of Pakistani as he remained cautious so that the long achievement in the last 23 years would not go in vain by any mistake. He also made the other elected representatives promise at a public rally at the Suhrawardy Udyan not to betray the people. The sole leader of the nation also created the contexts for independence and was closely monitoring the international world too before the election. He put his every step very vigilantly and announced an active non-cooperation movement in March 1971 and a general strike on March 3. With the call for building a fort at every house to resist the occupational forces, he gave the overall direction for war in his historic March 7 speech. Thus, every Bengali people got ready for an inswing battle for freedom. All the banks, insurances and government offices were shut down in his direction. Even on March 23, the red and green flag of Bangladesh, instead of the Pakistani one, was hoisted at every house including the residence of Bangabandhu. When the Pakistani military started the crackdown and genocide on the innocent people at midnight of March 25, Bangabandhu declared independence. With a nine-month ferocious battle and maximum sacrificed, the Bengali nation finally earned its much-awaited victory.

Joy Bangla, Banglar Joy

In the whole Indian subcontinent, a new state was established solely based on the spirit of nationalism with the hands of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Bangladesh was born based on the nationalism that grew adopted from thousands-years old popular culture and lifestyle of the common people.

Then, the first 10 lines from Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Amar Sonar Bangla (O my golden Bangla) was adopted as the national anthem of the country. When the song was played first in 1966 during the council of Awami League, Bangabandhu said then: “It will be the national anthem of independent Bangladesh.” Later, it was also played at a mass rally by Chhatra League on March 3 in 1970, and 10 lakh people sang the song together on March 7 in 1971 during his historic speech. Thus, Bangabandhu brought the whole nation on a common platform with cultural spirit through music, poetry and slogans.

Even the idea of creating Bangladesh is not new. Bangabandhu thought of it soon after the 1947 partition too and he shared the idea on many occasions too. On December 5 in 1969, while speaking at the death anniversary of Huseyn Shahid Suhrawardy, Bangabandhu finalized the name of the new state as ‘Bangladesh’. Since then, the land was unofficially getting popular as Bangladesh and Bangabandhu, from a young leader, appeared to be the supreme leader of the nation and made his place in the mind of mass people with his selfless love and deep patriotism for Bangladesh. He became the only leader in the two-thousands year history of Bengal who spread the spirit of Bengali nationalism among the nation, which ultimately gave birth to a new state called independent Bangladesh.