This is the seventh instalment of a 10-part series on the life and work of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
On February 23, 1969, the people of Bangladesh bestowed the title of "Bangabandhu" on Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Two years later, he led the nation to independence through his determined and sagacious leadership during the Liberation War in 1971 even as he was imprisoned in Pakistan.
In his young, formative days in politics, Bangabandhu met many leaders and esteemed personalities such as Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq, Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, Liaquat Ali Khan, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Khawaja Nazimuddin, Abdus Salam Khan, Ataur Rahman Khan, Fazlul Quader Chowdhury and Tofazzal Hossain Manik Mia. However, he was closest to his mentor Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy.
"One evening, my jail warden locked my door from outside and left. From inside the small room of Dhaka Central Jail, I looked at the sky. I thought of Mr Suhrawardy then. Of how I came to be acquainted with him. How I had become intimate with him. How he taught me the essentials of political life and how I came to earn his love,” Bangabandhu wrote in the posthumously published “The Unfinished Memoirs.”
Regarding Suhrawardy's influence on Bangabandhu, Kamruddin Ahmed, in “Banglar Ek Moddhobitter Attokahini”, wrote: “From Suhrawardy, [Bangabandhu] learned to appreciate the importance of parliamentary politics, how to make an organization strong and how to position oneself within an organization. Suhrawardy had spent years in Britain, where he was exposed to the thoughts of scholars like Jeremy Bentham and imbued with a strong belief in individual liberty and liberal democracy.”
Bangabandhu also observed the activities of other leaders. In his book, “Prison Diaries,” he notes that Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani was envious of Suhrawardy's popularity.
“Why was NAP formed? Certainly not because of principles! The Maulana (Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani) is full of envy and jealousy. He could not stand Mr Suhrawardy’s popularity. His tendency to nurture resentment can be seen when we note that his conscience did not prevent him from secretly joining hands with Iskandar Mizra. He wanted to make Mr. Mirza someone like Egypt’s Nasser."
After Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared his vision of an independent Bengal through the historic Six-Point demand, the autocratic rulers at the time charged him with conspiring to bring about the secession of East Pakistan from the rest of Pakistan in the infamous Agartala Conspiracy Case. The case was filed against 34 Bengali civil and military officers in addition to prime accused Bangabandhu.
The accused were detained inside Dhaka Cantonment, but soon the people of Bangladesh began demonstrations calling for their release. Within a few months, the Pakistan government imposed a ban on meetings and processions under Section 144 and resorted to curfews and indiscriminate shooting by police and the East Pakistan Rifles (EPR).
As casualties piled up on the streets, the movement peaked to an unprecedented mass upsurge that forced Ayub Khan to convene a roundtable conference of political leaders and considered Bangabandhu’s release on parole to allow him to attend the RTC.
“I promised myself that I would not let their deaths go in vain. We would carry on our struggle. We would await whatever fate had in store for us. People surely know how to value their sacrifice. The demands of the people of the land will have to be realized through such sacrifices,” Bangabandhu wrote in “Prison Diaries.”
Bangabandhu rejected the offer of release on parole. On February 22, the Pakistan government caved in to the continued mass protests and unconditionally freed Bangabandhu and the other co-accused. One of the accused, Sergeant Zahurul Haque, had meanwhile been killed by guards inside the cantonment on February 15. The conspiracy case was withdrawn.
The Central Student Action Council arranged a reception in honour of Bangabandhu at the Race Course Maidan (today’s Suhrawardy Udyan) on February 23. Around one million people attended the rally. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was publicly honoured as Bangabandhu (Friend of Bengal) by acclamation at the rally.
The then Dhaka University Central Students’ Union (Ducsu) Vice President and Sarbadaliya Chhatra Sangram Parishad Convenor Tofail Ahmed announced the title on behalf of the people.
Later in an interview, Tofail Ahmed said: “On the basis of the historic 11-Point Movement, we freed Bangabandhu from a Pakistani jail on February 22, through an uprising. As an act of gratitude, the Chhatra Sangram Parishad, on behalf of the nation, conferred the title of Bangabandhu on Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on February 23.”
Bangabandhu has been known by the title since.