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15 August, 2018 10:31:37 AM


Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: Charisma personified

The way Bangabandhu conducted himself while confronting the overbearing and scheming top Pakistani military brass in Dhaka in March 1971 speaks volumes of his courage and sense of honour
Syed Mehdi Momin
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: Charisma personified

There is a school of thought in Bangladesh which propagates the view that after returning home on January 10, 1972 from his captivity in Pakistan  Sheikh Mujibur Rahman should have handed over power to someone else and exercised “moral authority” without holding any government office. Well even if the man entertained this thought for sometime, being a true patriot and the consummate politician that he was, he could foresee what would have happened to the newly born country if he did not agree to become its chief executive.

After all, the War was fought in his name and without getting into details of the matter a fierce civil war could have ensued which the nascent nation in its infancy could hardly afford to have.  


Bangabandhu was the first Bengali Muslim politician to come into national prominence from a middle-class background. His father was a government employee at the local court. Bangabandhu was sent to Kolkata for his further education  and got the first taste of politics there. Sheikh Mujib worked actively for the Muslim League’s cause of Pakistan and in 1946 he became general secretary of his alma mater Islamia College’s Students Union. After the partition of India his phenomenal rise in the political arena in East Bengal, later East Pakistan, is quite astonishing. He was a founding member of the Awami League and still in his 30s became a provincial minister. He gave up that lucrative post, an action which was rare then as it is now, to organise Awami League at the grassroots level in his capacity as the party’s general secretary. The fruits of his endeavour are still being enjoyed by Awami League, which has a presence in almost every village of the country.  

It was his mentor Husayn Shahid Surawardi who was the last political leader to have a support base in both wings of Pakistan. In his memoirs Suhrawardi has written about his lieutenant Sheikh Mujib’s growing disillusionment with West Pakistani misrule and his determination to do something about it. The genesis of his historic Six-Points programme in 1966 lies there. He called for a federal state structure for Pakistan and full autonomy for Bangladesh with a parliamentary democratic system. The Six-Points became so popular in a short while that it was turned into the Charter of Freedom for the Bengalis or their Magna Carta.

In the meantime he continued his meteoric rise and by the late 1960s became the most popular leader among the Bengalis. It is amazing to think that in his historic 7th March speech he addressed the people of the land as ‘tumi’ and “tomader” (the informal you Bengali). One has to remember that he was barely 50 at the time.  According to the current writer Bangabandhus’s becoming so popular and loved by the people lies primarily with three things –charisma, courage and his genuine devotion and affection to his people. It is the last factor which is probably the most crucial. Bangabandhu was a genuine people’s leader. It was his love for his people and empathy for his people’s sufferings that made him strive for their freedom. His popularity which reached the stratosphere could not diminish his love for the common people. Till his last breath he never forgot his real source of power – the ordinary man and woman of Bangladesh.  It was his tremendous love for the people that made him eschew his official residence and continue to live in his Dhanmondi Road 32 residence. Unfortunately, that made things easier for his killers.

Whether Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the greatest Bengali of the last thousand years can be an interesting subject for debate however there can’t be an iota of doubt that he was the most charismatic political personality the Bengali nation has ever produced. One did not just meet , they circumnavigated around the aura the man exuded. Taller and bigger than the average Bengali, possessing a supremely confident visage and the manner in which he carried himself contribute towards making him a man among men.

Alongside towering international personalities like Fidel Castro, Marshal Tito, Henry Kissinger, Andre Marlaux, Curt Waldheim, Ne Win, Colonel Gaddafi, Motubo,  Zulfikar Ali Bhutto,  never looked out of place or intimidated. In fact, with the ever present pipe in hand it was often  who looked the more impressive.

The famous British journalist Sir Mark Tully had the opportunity to meet and closely observe the Father of the Nation from close quarters. He found him to possess great charisma. “"I attended several public meetings addressed by Sheikh Saheb. He had a wonderful voice that could mesmerise the crowd. I could feel that from the reaction of the people when Sheikh Saheb used to address public meetings."

Ved Marwah, former governor of Manipur and Jharkhand, wrote this while recounting his memory with  “"I have met many charismatic personalities during my service career, including Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and many world leaders, but I must say that among them he (Sheikh Mujib) was the most charismatic personality I had met." Recalling the time  met India Gandhi in Delhi Airport, Marwah writes “Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by nature was a very reserved person. But this occasion was an exception. I had not seen a bigger smile on her face. She was smiling and prancing like a young girl. One could see an immediate personal rapport had developed between the two."

To most Bengalis, even to those who disapprove of the Awami League, Sheikh Mujib is the real hope for Bangladesh, a hope they do not want to give up. A leader who spent some eleven years in prison, twice came very close to the gallows, first during the infamous Agartala Conspiracy Case staged by Ayub in December 1967; and then by Yahya during the Bangladesh liberation struggle. Mujib is the triumph of survivality, a gift that many believe the leader can now pass on to his nation. That Mujib has won the hearts of millions of his people, inside and outside the country, by his courage, fearlessness and steadfast devotion to the cause of his people is now acknowledged by all, regardless of their opinion of Mujib as a politician. And when the Sheikh fails to win anyone by his courage, he wins him by his charisma and personal charm, or, if he is addressing a meeting, by his powerful oratory and uncanny ability to communicate with the audience, regardless of the size of the crowd. I suspect television and radio, which he has so far seldom used, would hardly do full justice to his appeal for the masses.

Of course, Sheikh Mujib himself is fully conscious—some say, a little overconscious—of his hold over the masses and of his close relationship with his people, which, at times, but now always, transcends political affiliations. The Prime Minister talks about this relationship quite often, in his usual overconfident tone. A good example of this was his short speech on January 10, 1972, at New Delhi's Palam Airport where he had made a stopover after his release from prison in Pakistan. After describing his trip as “a journey from darkness to light,” the Sheikh said, “In these nine months my people have traversed centuries. When I was taken away from my people, they wept; when I was held in captivity, they fought; and now when I go back to them, they are victorious.”

Bangabandhu’s legendary courage was simply extraordinary. Poet and journalist Muhammad Nurul Huda writes “Bangabandhu is incomparable because he was courageous, and it was his moral and physical courage combined that was unprecedented in the annals of our historic political struggle. Come to think of it, the man spent almost the best part of his youth in prison for the liberation of his people. The way  Bangabandhu conducted himself while confronting the overbearing and scheming top Pakistani military brass in Dhaka in March 1971 spoke volumes of his courage and sense of honour. Persons who have seen the transcriptions of those historic meetings bear testimony to Bangabandhu 's bravery and candidness.”

The writer is a journalist working for The Independent


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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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