THE INDISPUTABLE LEGACY OF BANGABANDHU
Bangabandhu’s portrait may not hang in one building or another, but there can be no doubt about his role in founding this nation
The executive committee of the National Press Club unveiled a portrait of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at its premises earlier this month, as Bangladesh observed National Mourning Day. The news itself was no surprise, it had to happen someday. The surprise is that it happened through a compromise between opposing groups of journalists who comprise the membership of this august body. We do not know what the compromise was about, but one can speculate that it is probably about hanging portraits of other political leaders that belong or belonged to the main opposition party. Some thoughts come to mind on this surreal incident.
First, it is a shame that an organisation that is supposed to represent the body and intellect of the nation should have any ambivalence toward recognising and honouring the founder of the nation. Second, that there would be a feud on the subject between groups, regardless of their political affiliation is pitiful. Hearing the news that the club had finally put up a portrait of the father of the nation in its premises after more than four decades of independence is like hearing the Qur’anic verse about awakening from sleep of the seven sleepers in the cave for centuries and finding that nothing has changed around them.
Indeed, our country may have made many strides in the last 40 odd years in improving the economy and bringing about better lives for a lot of the common people, but in politics, we remain as divided as perhaps the day we launched our war of liberation against Pakistan. Our politics remain not only divisive, but also acrimonious because some among us want to deny our history and our legacy.
Some among us forget the history and the legacy handed down to us by the man who literally laid down his life for the country. And some others would like to put other false claimants for founding and forming the country on the same pedestal as Bangabandhu. Hence the fought, hence the denial. But denying Bangabandhu and his legacy is equal to denying the birth and existence of Bangladesh.
No other nation has contended the place of the founder of the country in its history, let alone fight over it. The place of the founder of the country and his role in forming the nation are as sacrosanct as the country’s identity as a nation. Political parties may disagree on how to run the country, follow different political ideologies, and have differences in political and economic systems. But the one thing they hardly disagree on is the place of the founder of their country. The place of the likes of Gandhi, Jinnah, Ataturk remain undisputed decades after their death.
Political parties have come and gone, even political systems have changed in some countries; but these changes never affected the honour and respect these countries have for these leaders. They never denigrated their founding father, nor changed their history to suit their political goals. Unfortunately, we did. And we did it in a manner unfit for a country that was once beholden to one man at whose command it brought to a stand-still a mighty junta, and his followers fought a mostly unconventional war to defeat the junta and liberate the country.
Contentions in politics are a part of the process. Political parties fight among themselves for political control of the government, and they fight on issues that they think will make them more appealing to the people who they want to represent. The political issues range from purely economic to social and international affairs. Political leaders often make their opponents targets of attack, sometimes even stooping down to a personal level. In mature societies, limits are drawn in such debates so that people refrain from belittling a nation’s founders or fomenting controversies around them.
A sad reality of our short history is that there have been attempts in the past, and there are attempts even now, by people who have little regard for the legacy of Bangabandhu to deny his place to promote their own political ideology. Not strangely, these are the same people who had sided with the dark forces that opposed a free and independent Bangladesh.
To these people, the identity of Bangladeshis was primarily as Muslims, and a separation from Pakistan would eliminate that identity. These people had to swallow it hard when Bangladesh became a reality, but they could never forgive Bangabandhu for his role in giving birth to this country, which promised a religion-neutral nation and the separation of religion from the state.
Unfortunately, these elements that laid low after liberation would rise again after his assassination, and try to re-establish their ideologies in this fledgling country. The divisive politics would get a helping hand from the undemocratic elements that would rule the country for the next two decades. And one favourite practice of these elements would be to deny the rightful place of Bangabandhu in history. After his physical assassination, they would launch a character assassination.
The cardinal mistakes of the political elements that have tried to alter history lie in their own ignorance of history itself. They do not know that ignorance of history causes one to slander their own times. Bangabandhu and Bangladesh are inseparable; one cannot think of one without the other. It really did not matter to the legacy of Bangladesh and his place in history if his portrait did not hang in one building or another. But it does matter if there is still disunity among the Bangladeshis regarding the father of the nation. For without him, Bangladesh would not be here today.
AUGUST 25, 2015