Bangabandhu: Oratory on Olympian heights

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Published on August 16, 2021
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Syed Badrul Ahsan:

Oratory was one of the finest traits in Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Few have been the men, the figures who have earned places in the historical pantheon, who have equalled his ability to move the masses with the power of words. And for Bangabandhu, the power of words came on the sure strength of logic, in his belief that nothing could be as effective as language which came dipped in reason to inspire a nation into forging a belief in its ability to work wonders.

The thousands of speeches Bangabandhu delivered throughout a defining and dramatic political career are testimony to the power of the word he employed in his campaign to give his people, here in Bangladesh, the rights they deserved by law and within the parameters of nature. On 7 March 1971, at the Race Course in Dhaka, it was sheer poetry which underlay his politics, his conviction that Bengalis deserved better, that a junta resting on illegality possessed no right to repudiate the verdict delivered at an election. It was a clarion call to freedom which came forth on 7 March. The punch line came at the end:

The struggle this time is the struggle for our emancipation. The struggle this time is the struggle for independence.

If the 7 March address was an instance of Olympian grandeur in Bangabandhu's politics, the sheer emotion which defined his speech on the day he returned home from captivity in Pakistan was a mark of the leader who was one of us. The Bible speaks to us of the tears shed by Jesus. On 10 January 1972, Bangabandhu wept, not because he had been away, not because he had been held in incarceration by the enemy and sentenced to death, but because three million of his people had embraced martyrdom in the struggle for freedom. It was a rare instance of the Father of the Nation shedding tears in public and yet it was proof again that our great leader was simply one of us. Emotion bound us to him.

Go back to September 1974. Turn your gaze at the UN General Assembly, to hear Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman address the world in all the diplomacy language could muster. He was the spokesman of the Bengali nation before the global community, the very emblem of dignity, as he spoke of the dreams he was forging for his people. It was a canvas where he chose to demonstrate the courage, the determination, the vision of his people about their future, and in the language they spoke at home. On the day, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman added richness to our heritage when he spoke in Bangla. It was, again, oratory on the peaks. We were there with him.

Bangabandhu's speeches on the international scene --- at the Commonwealth, at the Non-Aligned summit, at the OIC conference --- were a constant opening of doors to the Bengali world. With firmness he enlightened, indeed educated the world on the history and political aspirations of his people. That a poor nation was in possession of affluence in terms of the sacrifices it had made to give itself a place in the sun, that for such a nation it was only natural to identify with liberation struggles in Asia, Africa and Latin America, to empathise with people because this nation knew the meaning of struggle and sacrifice, was the theme Bangabandhu expounded abroad.

Think back on that cold January day in Delhi, on his way to his liberated Bangladesh in 1972. He began to address tens of thousands of welcoming Indians in English, but his audience, conscious of the oratory he could call forth, demanded that he speak in Bangla. And what emanated from him was a brilliant articulation of politics as it had shaped up --- because he had given shape to that politics. More significantly, the speech was a beautiful, sincere expression of gratitude to the government and people of India for the enormity of the assistance, moral as well as material, they had provided the Bengali nation with in their hour of supreme need. It was Bangabandhu. It was the Liberator. It was the President of Bangladesh, all his statesmanship shining on that frosty day.

Besides the oratorical skills Bangabandhu employed in his speeches throughout his career, there are the statements he made in the Pakistan constituent assembly in defence of Bengali rights that stand out at this distance in time. His arguments opposing the creation of One Unit in West Pakistan and the renaming of East Bengal as East Pakistan on the floor of the assembly in August 1955 pushed the government and the ruling classes based in Karachi into uncomfortable silence. Again, his press conferences were emblematic of the uncompromising nature of the politics he consistently pursued in his career. Be it his announcement of the Six Points in Lahore in 1966, be it his interaction with the media at London's Claridge's Hotel in January 1972, be it his first press conference as Prime Minister on 14 January 1972 in Dhaka, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman shone in all his brilliance of linguistic expression.

Humility was Bangabandhu's hallmark. But his humility did not come in the way of his assertiveness when it came to voicing, in public, the demands of his people. In February 1969, he was polite in his interaction with Field Marshal Ayub Khan, his long-time tormentor, at the Round Table Conference in Rawalpindi. But when he took the floor to argue his case, he made it clear that the Six Points had not been shaped in cavalier fashion, that they mattered for his people. Everyone listened.

We do not forget the enormity of self-esteem which he demonstrated in court on the opening day of the Agartala Conspiracy Case trial in June 1968.

'Anyone who wishes to stay in Bangladesh will have to speak to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.'

That was Bangabandhu. When comes another like him?

Writer: Historian and Political Analyst

Source: The Business Standard