DHAKA, March 6, 2015 (BSS) - As the momentous day of March 7, 1971, approached, all eyes were glued to the speech to be delivered by the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the historic Race Course Maidan, now Suhrawardy Udyan.
Bangabandhu had repeatedly asked the nation to wait till this day to give him time to talk to his colleagues and other stakeholders to make up his mind before he made up his mind.
It was to be the day destiny caught up with him and the rest of the country. He knew that and so did everybody else. From the early morning people from far and away, trekked towards the Maidan. It was like a pilgrimage.
And they came in their thousands. By 10 o'clock the huge Maidan was brimming with people. Farmers had come with their ploughs, boatmen with their oars, Santals with bows and arrows, professionals in their pin-striped suits, students in their uniforms, women and girls in saris and salwars and kameezes, journos with their pens, notebooks and tape recorders and politicos with their trademark punjabis and kurtas.
Everybody was there. Some estimates say the crowd was a million strong.
The meeting was to start at 2 o'clock but Bangabandhu could not be seen anywhere. The patriotic songs that were being sung from the morning gave way to fiery speeches, mostly by student leaders. The general theme was now that the Pakistanis had shown their malevolent intent there was no other option but to form a new, independent country, Bangladesh.
The implication: Bangabandhu should declare independence. But then people wanted to hear Bangabandhu, nobody else mattered. He was the leader of the majority party in parliament and only he had the legitimacy to make an announcement.
At 2:40 pm, 40 minutes past scheduled time, Bangabandhu came to the Race Course. Immediately there was uproar of approval followed by ecstatic hand clapping and incessant slogans. Gradually Bangabandhu walked up the makeshift stairs to the rostrum. At the sight of the Great Man suddenly the crowds went silent, as if mesmerized.
Then he spoke in his deep voice: My dear brothers and sisters, with a heavy heart I stand in front of you. You know what is going on................. Even as I speak my people are being killed (by the Pakistani forces) across the country."
Immediately the rolling speech went high pitch. He briefly recounted the history of conspiracy by the Pakistani clique to keep the majority Bengalis out of political power and the many sacrifices Bengalis had made to attain them.
Then he made his proposal that power should be handed over to the representatives of the people, immediately.
He also directed people to be prepared for any consequence and face it with whatever (weapons) they could muster, even during his absence.
And the punch line: Our struggle this time is for freedom, it is for independence, came at the end of the speech, which immediately made the people delirious. That is what they had wanted to hear and that is what the Leader had said! And it was said so beautifully: the Pakistanis couldn't blame him of making a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) yet in the same breath he had it.
As the Pakistani, later British journalist, Anthony Mascarenhas was to recall in his monumental book "Rape of Bangladesh": He (Mujib) had spoken and had done it well. But the master orator that he was, he looked at the crowd, first to his left and then to the right and knew that there was still something that was missing. By that time his speech had almost ended, nevertheless he went for the master stroke: The struggle is for...............
As soon as he had uttered those words the crowd went ecstatic. That is what they had come for and that is what they got.
The speech was brief, 18-minutes long, but it said it all. Some call it Mujib's Gettysburg Address; others compare it to Churchill's "blood, tears and toil" speech. Whatever the case, the fact remains that it was this speech which clearly laid down the path to the subsequent War of Liberation.
During the speech, which was scheduled to be broadcast live on radio, Bangabandhu was told it was not being done. He thundered "I've just heard that my speech is not being broadcast on radio. I ask all Bengali employees of the Radio to abandon their stations." Immediately, the radio went off.
The next day at 7 in the morning radio programmes were resumed with the speech of Bangabandhu, verbatim.
Earlier in the day following a two-day working committee meeting of the Awami League Parliamentary Party (ALPP) Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman issued a statement to the press. It said: Minority group obstructing transfer of power.
Bangabandhu had never conveyed any impression that a Round Table Conference (RTC)-type of conference should be held.
He also `repudiated' that the Awami League in any way obstructed the transfer of power and added that the majority party certainly would not gain by obstruction.
Bangabandhu said, I had only conveyed to the President that he should come to Dhaka in order to see the grave situation prevailing in Bangla Desh.
It was pointed out, he added, that constitutional issues were best resolved within the National Assembly and its Committees rather than by secret negotiations and that once a National Assembly had been brought into being there was no justification for any RTC or secret parleys.
(Bangabandhu) Sheikh Mujib said, "It is only too clear to the people of the country and indeed the world that it is a minority group of Western Wing which has obstructed and is continuing to obstruct the transfer of power".
Recounting the measures taken during the last few days, (Bangabandhu) Sheikh Mujib said that it now appeared that the -"political confrontation" was soon to be followed by "military confrontation" if the majority did not submit to the dictation of the minority group.
He said neither democratic way of life could be established nor power could be transferred to the people if a minority group conspired with the vested interests to frustrate the democratic process.
He, therefore, suggested a seven-point formula for immediate adoption if the President sincerely desired that the National Assembly, as the sovereign body of the elected representatives of the people, should function.
The points are:
(a) Immediate withdrawal of Martial Law.
(b) Transfer of power to the elected representatives of the people.
(c) Immediate withdrawal of all military personnel to the barracks.
(d) Immediate cessation of the military build-up and the heavy inflow of military personnel from the Western Wing.
(e) Immediate cessation of firing upon civilians so that not a single bullet is fired with immediate effect.
(f) Non-interference by the military authorities in the different branches of the Government functioning in Bangla Desh and direction to desist from victimization of Government officers and employees.
(g) Maintenance of law and order to be left exclusively to the police and Bengali EPR, assisted, wherever necessary, by Awami League volunteers.
Bangabandhu said "We had suggested the 15th February as the date for the first sitting. While the minority group in question had indicated a preference for the first week of March. It was the minority group's view which was accepted and the Assembly was summoned on the 3rd of March. But then the same minority group raised objections to participation in the National Assembly".
"By this time, our Parliamentary Party had assembled at Dacca and Members had already begun to arrive from the different provinces of the Western Wing.
The Chief Election Commissioner had reached Dacca and announced that the election of the women Members was to be held on the second of March. The President himself was expected to arrive on the lst March for the inaugural Session.
"On the lst March, by a Radio statement there was sudden and unwarranted postponement of the National Assembly sitting sine die. ............... Indeed, these apprehensions were further fortified by the steady military build-up which became evident. This showed that political confrontation was soon to be followed by `military confrontation ', if the majority did not submit to the dictation of the minority ".
"Indeed, we had warned in our statement of the 24th February that dark conspiratorial forces had always intervened in our country whenever the people were to take over power through the democratic process. The microscopic minority which represented the vested interests of the Western Wing had by sabotaging democracy deprived the 75 million people of Bangla Desh, as they did the oppressed masses of the Western Wing of their basic rights.
In 1953 the Bengali Prime Minister was dismissed by a conspiracy of the Punjabi ruling clique. In 1954, the elected Government in East Bengal was dismissed and the Constituent Assembly itself was dismissed by the same clique. When general elections were to be held in early 1959, the vested interests of the Punjab once again struck and usurped power. Today the Punjabi ruling coterie is attempting to repeat this disgraceful history. But they should know that the awakened masses of Bangla Desh as also the oppressed masses of the Western Wing shall resist their foul conspiracies by every means possible.
He said today after the elections the only legitimate source of authority in the country is the elected representatives of the people. "No individual can claim authority superior to that of the elected representatives. We as the representatives of the overwhelming majority of the people of Bangla Desh assert that we are the only legitimate source of authority for Bangla Desh. Indeed by virtue of our majority position, we are the legitimate source of authority for the whole country.
The events of the last seven days have shown that all branches of Government functioning throughout Bangla Desh have accepted us as the source of legitimate authority and have carried out our directives."
No National Assembly at Gunpoint
"This brings us to the question of the sitting of the National Assembly announced for the 25th March." The Awami League President said: "We had ourselves time and again asserted the urgency in respect of an early sitting but today a grave and abnormal situation has been created. A virtual reign of terror has been created in pursuance of the policy of military confrontation of the civilian population of Bangla Desh."
He said the Members of the National Assembly could not be expected to discharge their duties in ' an atmosphere of terror.'
"So long as this state of confrontation as also the inflow of army personnel and arms from the Western Wing continues, so long as an atmosphere of repression is maintained, so long as there are daily reports of military firing upon civilians in different parts of Bangla Desh, the members from Bangla Desh could hardly be expected to contemplate participating in the National Assembly at gunpoint," he said.
He said if the ` military confrontation ' is continued: ` let there be no doubt that no National Assembly can ever function'.
The Awami League President said: "Our people have already proclaimed to the world that they shall no longer allow themselves to be exploited as a colony or a market. They have expressed their determination to be the free citizens of a free country.
"If the ruling coteries seek to frustrate these aspirations, the people are ready for a long and sustained struggle for their emancipation. We pledge to lead this struggle and ultimately to attain for the people their cherished goal of emancipation for which so many martyrs have shed their blood and made the supreme sacrifice of their lives. The blood of these martyrs shall not go in vain'.
"The first phase of our struggle has been launched. Our heroic masses have displayed indomitable courage and determination. They have braved bullets and violated curfews in a planned manner".
"Our struggle must continue."
(THE DAWN, Karachi, Pakistan; March 8, 1971)