This is the second instalment of a 10-part series on the life and work of our founding father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
During the 1930s, when Subhas Chandra Bose, Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Abul Kashem Fazlul Huq, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and Khawaja Nazimuddin were among the prominent leaders in undivided India under British rule, a young leader named Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was growing up.
Bangabandhu developed a keen interest in politics from an early age. His father Sheikh Lutfar Rahman subscribed to several newspapers, including Ananda Bazar, Basumati, Azad, the monthly Mohammadi, and Saugat. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman would read them all.
His interest in politics did not stop when he was married to Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib Renu at the age of just 13. Renu was just three years old at the time.
“After Renu's father died, her grandfather called my father and said, 'You will have to marry off your eldest son to one of my granddaughters. This is because I intend to bequeath all my property to my two granddaughters.' Renu's grandfather was my father's uncle and I had to marry her because of my father's command. The marriage ceremony was confined to an official registration. All I could gather about the event was that I had been married off. I was not able to comprehend the implications of the act,” Bangabandhu wrote in his “Unfinished Memoirs.”
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Around 1937, at the age of 17, Bangabandhu began to understand some of the problems of British rule and became an admirer of resistance leader Subhas Chandra Bose. He even attended meetings of the Swadeshi movement in Gopalganj and Madaripur.
“I began to harbour negative ideas about the British in my mind. The English, I felt, had no right to stay in our country. We had to achieve independence. I too became an admirer of Mr Bose and started to travel back and forth between Gopalganj and Madaripur to attend meetings. I also began to mix with the people in the Swadeshi movement,” Bangabandhu wrote.
Bangabandhu’s attendance at the meetings is his first recorded involvement in politics.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman naturally assumed a leadership role among his classmates at high school, as he was older than most of them after missing out on four years of education due to an eye operation. Bangabandhu and his group of followers soon caught the attention of the public and he became popular in Gopalganj town.
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In 1938, at the age of 18, Bangabandhu met Prime Minister Fazlul Haq and Labor Minister Suhrawardy in Gopalganj. It was a defining moment in the young leader’s life.
Regarding the visit by the two leaders, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman wrote: “A huge meeting was to be organized for their visit. It was decided to hold an exhibition on the occasion too. After all, the two leading leaders of the Muslim community of Bengal would be coming to town and all Muslims of the area were excited at the prospect. I was still in school then. As I noted before, I was older than the boys I used to hang out with and so was given responsibility for forming the volunteer brigade. I formed the brigade with everyone who was willing to join it regardless of their religion or beliefs.
“Later, it became apparent that the Hindu boys were leaving the group one by one. Unable to figure out why this was happening, I asked a friend what was going on. He told me that the Congress party had directed them not to participate in the event and had even instructed them to make sure the leaders were not given a grand reception. They were also asked to ensure that shops were made to shut down on that day. In those days, Hindus owned 80% of the shops in town. The news surprised me since we didn't treat Hindus and Muslims differently then. I was very friendly with the Hindu boys. We used to play, sing and roam the streets together,” he added.
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Bangabandhu eventually managed to form the volunteer brigade and joined the meeting with Huq and Suhrawardy. During the meeting, he caught Suhrawardy’s attention and the two became close.
After the meeting, the 18-year-old Bangabandhu took part in a clash and was arrested for the first time, heralding a new chapter in his life.
A telegram was sent to Huq and Suhrawardy, informing them of the arrest. In 1939, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman met with Suhrawardy on a visit to Kolkata.
Officially, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was involved in student politics under the banner of the Muslim Students’ League and was made general secretary in Gopalganj district.
Bangabandhu wrote: “I was gradually drawn into politics. My father did not prevent me from participating in politics; his only concern was that I should continue to pursue my studies.”
In 1941, Bangabandhu completed his Matriculation exam at Gopalganj Missionary School, shifted to Kolkata, and began preparing for a greater political role in the coming years.
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