Bangabandhu’s commitment to people’s rights and democracy

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Published on July 30, 2022
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Aleem Haider:

It took thousands of years for the Bengali nation to attain the rights to express their likes and dislikes and to exercise their rights. The Father of the Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman became the torchbearer, guiding the nation to realise their rights and achieve the long-cherished freedom. He did not stop there. He brought the fruits of the freedom to the doors of the people, ensuring democratic practice – the key philosophy for any modern state. And it was democracy the people were yearning for before the birth of Bangladesh.

Since partition, there was no general election in United Pakistan in 23 years till 1970. It was a matter of utter surprise that from 1947 to 1956 the Pakistan state was governed by the Government of India Act as framed by the British. Due to autocratic rule, it was not possible to introduce a constitution in the two decades of the emergence of Pakistan. The military junta ruled the whole period, exploiting the majority Bengali nation both economically and culturally and thus started the movement for justice.

The autocratic Pakistani government carried out political repression on the people. They abolished the provincial government formed by Awami League-led United Front in 1954 through a democratic election. The Bengali nation became conscious about their rights amid discrimination and repression. That is the reason why the people welcomed the Six Point Charter of Bangabandhu wholeheartedly. The Six Point charter stood against the bullets by Pakistani as an alternative ballot to ensure rights and justice of the Bengali nation, leading to a landslide victory in Pakistan’s first-ever general elections in 1970.

The seven crore people cast their votes for the ‘boat’ symbol bringing a revolution to achieve their rights. Awami League emerged as the sole majority party bagging 167 seats in the national council. It also got 288 seats in the provincial election. Thus, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman became the supreme leader for the nation, preparing the people to achieve their rights through democratic movements and democratic elections for long two decades.

Though he appeared as the supreme leader for the Bengali nation inside the country’s territory for a long time, he drew international attention following the historic victory in the general election. He pledged to rule the country in a constitutional and democratic way based on his Six-Point charter, and that is why he first initiated the democratisation of the state after the election.

But the Pakistani junta unleashed genocide at midnight instead of handing over the power to the democratic and elected government. Bangabandhu, being the supreme leader of the Bengali nation, declared independence. We achieved our freedom through a nine-month war. The Founder of the State and Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman introduced the Constitution within one year of independence with democracy as one of the key pillars of the country. Article 11 of the Constitution stipulates: “The Republic shall be a democracy in which fundamental human rights and freedoms and respect for the dignity and worth of the human person shall be guaranteed 14[* * *] 15[, and in which effective participation by the people through their elected representatives in administration at all levels shall be ensured].”

Bangabandhu's Political journey:

One of the leading persons who influenced the political career of Bangabandhu was Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy – known as the icon of democracy. When teen Mujib was a student of Gopalganj Mission School in 1938, the then chief minister of undivided Bengal Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq and labour minister Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy visited the school on inspection. Young Mujib then informed them of the problems the school was facing. Suhrawardy noted down the name and address of Mujib. Following his matriculation exam, Mujib got admitted to Kolkata on Suhrawardy’s advice and he became active in politics. On his political journey, he was made the founding joint general secretary of Awami League in 1949 while he was in jail. Later, he was also elected the party’s general secretary in the Awami League Council on 9 July 1953.

After becoming second-in-command of the party, young leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in his speech said: “There has been no council meeting till now after Awami League was founded in 1949. I am instructing all Awami League units in every district and subdivision to finish the elections within three months. The East Bengali Awami League Council will hold the election for party officials and frame a constitution and manifesto.”

The party with the spirit of democracy brought the massive victory for United Front in the 1954 election. Then in the following year during the party’s council meeting, all agreed to omit the word ‘Muslim’ from the party’s name as proposed by its general secretary Sheikh Mujibur Rahman making it a non-communal political party. He was re-elected general secretary in the council too.

In 1957, the Awami League council was held in Kagmari. In the same year, the party decided that a person cannot hold a post in the government and the organisation simultaneously. Following the decision, Sheikh Mujib prioritised the party and resigned from the cabinet.

It should be mentioned that Bangabandhu was elected the party general secretary with direct votes every time from 1953 to 1966 and the party’s president from 1966 to 1974. He never deviated from democratic practices even after the nation’s supreme leader and leading the nation towards freedom. After the independence, he arranged general elections in 1973 after introducing the Constitution. He always believed that people are the source of all power.

Repression by the Pakistani junta:

West Pakistan ran an undemocratic rule and unlawful supremacy during the whole period before the Liberation War 1971. Bengali nationalism grew through democratic protests and movements against the discrimination and exploitation. In counter-response to Pakistani autocratic attitude, Bangabandhu established Awami League as a democratic party in different phases. This was how the party won the hearts of the ordinary people and became the platform to attain people’s rights.

Bangabandhu described the autocratic attitude of Pakistanis in his autobiography. He writes: “We got afraid as there was politics of conspiracy in Pakistan. It is hard to express in words that how heinous it is to shoot a political opponent dead. We, who believe in democracy, hate such heinous activities.”

The Pakistani junta and their allies also hatched conspiracies to halt the democratic movements of the ordinary Bengali people led by the Awami League. But they could not drive the Bengali people towards communalism. Even parties who used religion as political tools vanished. To get their democratic rights, people kept their faith in Awami League. Bangabandhu in his autobiography writes more about the conspiracies: “Pakistan will be [would have been] a democratic state. All the citizens irrespective of religion and race, will enjoy [would have enjoyed] equal rights. But regrettably, those who opposed the Pakistan movement have poisoned the politics in name of making Pakistan an Islamic state. Without any economic and social-ethical programme, Muslim League leaders also remained busy with the only slogan – and that is Islam.”

Pakistanis were frightened by the spirit of nationalism among millions of the Bengali people and they arrested Bangabandhu many times seeing the massive support for the Six Point charter everywhere. They also brought sedition charges (Agartala Conspiracy Case) against him and tried to execute him to end the Bengal movement. But the people resisted Pakistani attempts and finding no headway, they had to free him. On release, he appeared at Suhrawardy Udyan and was awarded the title ‘Bangabandhu’. Then as the supreme leader of the nation, he promised to ensure a humanitarian life for all. His indomitable leadership even toppled autocratic Ayub Khan, and he demanded elections to form a democratic government and constitution.

During this period, he paid a visit to Britain. There he gave an interview to the BBC and clarified his stance for democracy: “No person is empowered to introduce a constitution. It is the power of people’s representatives, and only they can give the Constitution. If there is a free and fair election of the masses, their representative can frame the Constitution and people will accept it. I believe in democracy. I am ready to accept the opinions of the majority. I have no personal power. Whom do I represent? I cannot say that I am the leader until I have legal and moral rights to say: I am representative of the people.”

Quest For Democracy:

As the first priority, Bangabandhu came up with the Constitution within one year of the Liberation War. On 4 November 1972, while the Constitution was being adopted in the Constituent Assembly session, Bangabandhu delivered a speech where his ideas gained more clarity. The explanation Bangabandhu gave about ‘democracy’, ‘socialism’ and ‘secularism’ are quite different from traditional ideas. Regarding democracy, Bangabandhu said: “We believe in democracy. It is democracy that brings welfare for the ordinary people. There has been a concept among people and we have seen it earlier too - countries, where democracy exists, use it to give protection to the capitalists. We do not believe in such a democracy. We want democracy for the exploited.” Regarding the democracy for the exploited, he also said: “it will protect the destitute of the country and there has no way to protect the exploiters.”

Stressing the need for an election system, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman said: “We believe in the opinions of the people. Those who will be elected by the people will rule the government. People are the source of power.”

After independence, Bangladesh Awami League held its two-day long council on 7 and 8 April in 1972. Addressing the inauguration session, Bangabandhu said: “If the government officials cannot change their mentality in accordance with public interests, there will be significant changes if needed.” Democracy was not just in name, but he was vocal for changing colonial behaviour and establishing real democracy in society.

Earlier on 1 February, while speaking at a function, Bangabandhu said to the heads of different agencies and autonomous bodies, “Millions of country’s people were victims of repressions and torture by Pakistani military junta in the nine months of the Liberation War. There is nothing to compare with the sacrifice of the people. There is hardly any family that does not face Pakistani atrocities. People sacrificed their best and lives to protect the ideologies of Bangladesh. We got out independence after many sacrifices. The government officials have their new duties to this independent nation. Government officials have to be aware of this duty. The bureaucratic mentality of the past has to be changed.”

Even in a speech in 1975, he called for showing a kind attitude towards the poor saying: “Remember, neither is it a British colony nor a Pakistani colony.”

There have been many rumours and propaganda about the BAKSAL, but it was basically the second revolution. Bangabandhu worked relentlessly for three years and a half to build a war-torn country in an empty hand. But he faced many conspiracies repeatedly from international gangs and their local collaborators. That is why in 1975, Bangabandhu brought changes in the Constitution to reform the government system with unanimous approval from the national parliament. Then he brought all recognised political parties under a common platform called ‘Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BAKSAL) and asked all to join there.

Bangabandhu tried to bring all parties and opinions together to get rid of the turmoil situation. He even included democratic practices in the administrative and social reform plans. Bangabandhu initiated the process to decentralise power by ensuring elected representatives in every district and giving civil society representatives the charge of the governor. He kept people from all classes and professions including administration in every governor council to materialise the decentralisation of democracy and people’s administration.

The Father of the Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman devoted his whole life to establish people’s rights. The way he brought independence to Bangladesh through democratic movement is a matter of awe in world history. And the way he tried to bring the fruits of independence to the doorstep of the people through democracy of the exploited and destitute, was a groundbreaking and legendary initiative indeed.