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10 January, 2021 12:42:05 PM

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Bangabandhu's Homecoming: Shades of Memory

M Shahinoor Rahman
Bangabandhu's Homecoming: Shades of Memory

On January 10, after reaching Dhaka, millions of people gleefully greeted him with spontaneous welcome notes from the airport to the Racecourse Ground (currently, Suhrawardi Udyan). At 5 p.m.

on that day, he addressed about one million people gathered in the Racecourse Ground. At one point in the 17-minute long speech, he said, "A grave was dug up beside my cell. I was ready. I am a Bengali. I am a man. I am a Muslim—a Muslim dies once, not twice.'

On the night of 25 March 1971, the Pakistani forces arrested Banabandhu from his Dhanmondi 32 residence. For the entire nine months of the war of independence, the Pakistani dictators kept him in the darkness of the prison-cell in Layalpur, Pakistan. While Bengalis were fighting in the battlegrounds for freedom, their pathfinder leader was waiting for imminent death as condemned in a farce of a trial arranged by the Pakistan military junta. Bangabandhu spent most of his political life in prison, so prison was never a place of dread for him. After the Bengalis won the final victory in December, world leaders, especially the then Prime Minister of India, Shrimati Indira Gandhi, raised voice demanding the release of Bangabandhu. The defeated Pakistani regime was forced to release Bangabandhu giving way to international pressure. He then returned victoriously to his Bengal, which got independent following his call, as the heroic leader of the brave Bengalis.

On January 10, Bangladesh capital Dhaka turned into a sea of people, after the return of Bengali nation's eye-candy Sheikh Mujib. In a column describing the day, veteran journalist Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury comments that he was blinded by the tears of emotion when he had a bird's eye view of the torrents of people on the streets of Dhaka. From Bangabandhu returned Dhaka from Pakistan via London and Delhi. Indian diplomat Sashanka Shekhar Banerjee was a sojourn in the entire 13-hour long flight from London to Dhaka. He later recalled: "After being released from prison in Pakistan, Sheikh Mujib arrived at London's Heathrow Airport. I was a fellow traveller to escort him to Bangladesh from Delhi on the advice of Mrs Indira Gandhi." On 9 January 1972, at 6:00 am Bangabandhu reached the VIP lounge at Heathrow Airport. He was welcomed by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Officer Ian Sutherland and Indian High Commissioner to London, Apa B. Panth.

Ian arranged for Mujib a meeting with British Prime Minister Edward Heath. And Apa B. Panth facilitated his communication with Indian Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi. Indira-Mujib telephone conversation lasted for 30 minutes. "After an hour, Indira Gandhi again talked to Bangabandhu." With the consent of Indira Gandhi, Sashanka Banerjee accompanied Bangabandhu en-route independent Bangladesh.  The First Secretary of the Indian High Commission, Bed Marwa, the foreign minister of the post-independence Bangladesh government Kamal Hossain and his wife Hamida Hossain were also with them. 'They sat side by side in the plane. The favourite aromatic Erinmore tobacco and the famous pipe adorned the table in front. The delighted Mujib seemed all eagerness to return home.

"In a drenched voice, he said, 'Independent Bangladesh, my Bangladesh.' He gave thanks for the long-term cooperation. He said, 'Banerjee, this time I want a special favour.' I said, 'Of course, if it's within my ability.' He said, 'We need to send Indira a message before meeting her in Delhi. The withdrawal of Indian Allied Forces from Bangladesh has to be done by 31 March 1972.' He said that he had spoken to the British Prime Minister about this. Bangladesh will have no more obstacles for getting recognition from the British government if the Indian Allied forces leave.     

"The plane has started flying again after refuelling from the Middle East. Bangabandhu squinted at the milk-white clouds. After a while, he stood up and began to sing, 'My Bangla of gold, I love you.' His eyes got filled with water. He said, 'Banerjee, you too. Let's take a rehearsal.'" They sang the song together. Bangabandhu tried to hide the tears and said, "The war-torn country is awaiting a more intense struggle to move forward. My only strength to boost courage in my chest: the common people of my country." To the surprise of Sashanka, Bangabandhu suddenly said, "This song will be the national anthem of Bangladesh. Tell me how it will fare."Sashanka Banerjee responded, "Then, for the first time in history, Rabindranath Tagore will be the author of the national anthems of two countries."

We become certain about two things from Banerjee's description. Bangabandhu was very much aware from the very beginning about the issue of retaining the free and sovereign status of Bangladesh by the removal of any foreign influence over the Bengali nation. And on his way home, with an undetermined inspiration, he decided to take the song 'My Bangla of gold' as the national anthem of Bangladesh, for this was the song which surged up spontaneously in his mind and voice at that moment. Sashanka Shekhar Banerjee again said, "The message of West Bengal Chief Minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray came in asking him to halt at Kolkata on the way to his country—the people of Kolkata want to see Bangabandhu. He expressed gratitude and said in a return message that he was grateful for the support of the people of Kolkata in the struggle for independence. But he was impatient to return to Dhaka via Delhi. However, he would come to Kolkata soon. "After sending the message, Bangabandhu said, 'The path seems never-ending. The free skies, people, nature all are calling me. I can't explain how it feels!' "In Delhi, Sheikh Mujib was welcomed by the then Indian President V. V. Giri, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Foreign Minister Sardar Sharan Singh and many others. At the Presidential Palace, he was entertained with the sandesh, samosa, singara and Darjeeling tea brought from Kolkata. In the Mujib-Indira meeting, the issue of the withdrawal of Indian troops from Bangladesh in three months was discussed.

"10 January 1972. The superhero of the independent land Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman alighted off the plane in Dhaka at noon. The rippling crowd and their chants of slogans filled the whole atmosphere. The voices rose skyward: 'Joybangla', 'Joy Bandabandhu', 'Joy muktijuddha'. All the way from the airport to the Paltan Ground—a humongous ocean of people. That was an unprecedented moment, relishing the joy of freedom and the return of the great leader. The visual of the Great Leader Bangabandhu's homecoming is still fresh in the eyes." That day of nineteen seventy-two is as it were a living one in the description of Sashanka Banerjee.

Deb Mukherjee was a young officer at the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs at that time. He later served as The High Commissioner of India in Dhaka. Recalling the day of Bangabandhu's homecoming, Mukherjee tells BBC Bangla in an interview that many were very anxious about Sheikh Mujib for several weeks before the event because many were sceptical about whether he was alive in Pakistan's prison. As Deb Mukherjee reports, during his halt at Delhi, Sheikh Mujib gave a warm speech congratulating India for her support in the Bangladesh war of independence. Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Mujib spoke on the same stage that day.

In that speech, Sheikh Mujib thanked Indira Gandhi for her diplomatic role in building international public opinion during the Bangladesh war of independence. He said, "The people of Bengal would never forget the help and sympathy that your Prime Minister, your government, your army, and your people have extended to my people in distress." He added, "Even a couple of days ago, I was in a dark cell in West Pakistan. Mrs Gandhi has left no place in the world to try to ensure my protection. I'm personally grateful to her." It was the first meeting of Bangabandhu with Indira Gandhi although he spoke to her over the telephone the previous day when he was in London. Deb Mukherjee thinks that the first meeting with Indira Gandhi laid the foundation of the Indo-Bangladesh relationship. According to him, relations between Bangladesh and India were disrupted for many years after the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

For the entire nine months of the liberation war, Bangabandhu remained imprisoned in Pakistan, but the powerful words of his historic speech on March 7 were smeared in the heart, in the spirit, and in the existence of the whole Bengali nation as much as they are now. Following the orders of Bangabandhu, the brave Bengalis fought against all odds to bring the country to the brink of freedom. Had Bangabandhu not been brutally killed by the conspirators on August 15, 1975, Bangladesh would have progressed ahead towards becoming a Malaysia or a Singapore long before the current rapid progress under Sheikh Hasina's able leadership. At that deadly night of August 15, the two daughters of Bangabandhu, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana were saved due to their staying abroad. The post 1975 governments did their utmost not to let Sheikh Hasina return home from exile and therefore, on 17th May 1981, she had to return to the country enduring a similar challenge like her father. The situation in the capital Dhaka was still as overwhelming with a huge gathering of people as the homecoming day of Bangabandhu.

The homecoming day of Bangabandhu is celebrated every year as a symbol of trust and reliability in the life of the Bengali nation. Hence, the day is very important to the Bengali nation as a beacon of inspiration towards the entanglement with the country in any situation. Wading through a sea of darkness, as the sun of a new day returns with new light and hope, so returned Bangabandhu to us on 10 January 1972. The day will be written forever in the history of Bangladesh and the Bengalis in indelible letters.

The writer is Professor of English and Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Islamic University, Kushtia, Bangladesh

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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.

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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