Waiting for the next speech

Posted in history, politics by jrahman on March 7, 2008

Today is 7 March.  On this day 37 years ago, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made the most well known speech in Bangla.  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t get the goosebumps listening to …amader keu dabaye rakhte parbe na…  There is absolutely no denying the fact that the speech marks a milestone in Bangladesh’s quest for freedom.  But 37 years on, we’re still waiting for the next speech that never got made. 

Last March, folks over at Adda commemorated the speech with a series of other great speeches (see here).  One can classify most of history’s great speeches in two classes

First are those that seek to resist, to defy, to grasp the shape of things and smash them to pieces.  Look at Adda’s list.  You see the first kind in Churchill’s famous words:

…we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…

Adda doesn’t mention FDR’s fireside chats, or JFK’s Let them come to Berlin speech, but they are of this kind, as is the 7 March speech. 

Then there is the other kind of great speech that seeks to paint the vision of a better world, one that is remould to the heart’s desire.  In Adda’s list we have Pundit Nehru on the eve of India’s independence:

We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell.

Adda also mentions Reverend Martin Luther King Jr:

…when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

What is our equivalent of Tryst with desitny or I have a dream?  In January, my friend Mash posted the clip of Sheikh Mujib’s triumphant return from the Pakistani death cell (see here).  It is much too easy to say, ‘Oh, we trusted Mujib, and look how he failed us’.  Here is a man who faced certain death and didn’t flinch, when he could very easily have sold us out (a point made by Dhaka Shohor last August, see here).  So Mujib didn’t make that vision speech in January 1972.  So he didn’t articulate what kind of Bangladesh he would want.  So when secularism and socialism was introduced into the constitution in 1972, we didn’t know what they meant. 

Fine.  Mujib played his part for us. 

What about his successors?

What about Ziaur Rahman?  Today’s Bangladesh, with all its good and bad, is a result of Zia’s policies.  And yet, did he ever articulate his vision?  When he introduced the word Bangladeshi into our passport, what did he mean?  Did he mean an inclusive, rights and responsibilities of citizens of a people’s republic type concept?  Or did he mean an exlusive Bengali Muslim chauvinist idea?

What about Khaleda Zia and Hasina Wajed, both democratically elected prime ministers?  What kind of Bangladesh did they want?  What kind of Bangladesh do they want? 

Speeches matter.  Speeches matter, that’s why Barrack Obama has upset Hillary Clinton’s campaign.  Speeches matter, that’s why we get fooled by anyone who can offer us a glimmer of hope.  Speeches matter, that’s why when Fakhruddin Ahmed first addressed the nation, it felt exciting, even though at some level we already knew that it was a false dawn.

But we still wait for that next speech.  And while we wait, we still draw inspiration from the last one.

(Crossposted at UV)

9 Responses

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  2. Rumi said, on March 8, 2008 at 8:50 am

    Some people try to make a point that Mujib refrained from open declaration of independence on 7th March and he was for compromise blah, blah…

    To be fair, Mujib’s step by step, well calculated moves made our independence more possible than Bhashani’s hawkish and overtly secessionist approach since mid sixties. And because this very inspiring, very pro-independence and meaningful but very restrained 7th March speech Mujib became the hero of our independence and “Lakum Din u kum wal ya din” famed Bhashani ended up playing a minor side role.

    And I find this line disrespectful to Ziaur Rahman,

    “Today’s Bangladesh, with all its good and bad, is a result of Zia’s policies. And yet, did he ever articulate his vision?”

    What bad you are talking about? Is it Zia’s fault that after his death one lompot Ershad or One corrup Moeen will try to become Zia?
    He removed secularism. Well has anyone ever tried to reinstate it? Or has any political party ran an elction on this menifesto?

    He clearly articulated his vision in his 19 point.

    It is his wife’s party who failed to protect, publicize and promote Zia’s vision and politics. Thanks to 12 years of Khaleda rule after Zia’s death, nobody now knows what were those 19 points, what kind of republic he envisioned or how inclusive was he. During 10 years of post 1990 BNP ( Parliementary form unlike Zia’s presidential form) rule the government media hardly ever played a full policy speech Zia made numerous times during his 3 years civil rule.

  3. jrahman said, on March 8, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Rumi bhai, absolutely no disrespect meant about Zia. His 19 point plan was more like Hillary Clinton’s policy proposals than Obama’s speeches. Now there is definitely more to leadership than speeches – one also needs detailed policies and ability to implement them. I believe Zia demonstrated these other qualities amply. But if he expressed his 19 points in a speech that is comparable to other great speeches in history, then I’m not aware of it.

    As for Moeen or Ershad, no they are not Zia’s fault. About secularism (or other similar ideological issues), I think we can interprete Zia’s actions in a way that is very much grounded in Bangladesh’s reality. But other interpretations are far less charitable.

    While personally I subscribe to the former interpretation, the latter ones are more popular. On a given day, you’re bound to find some opinionmaker arguing ‘Zia gave us dictatorship/corruption/fundamentalism blah blah…’

    Now, you listen to Mujib’s 7th March speech, and tell me whether there is any ambiguity in the main message. If Zia had expressed his main vision in a similarly clear manner in a key speech, then it’s a shame that we don’t know about it.

  4. fug said, on March 11, 2008 at 1:59 am

    they were very different personalities. zias the kind of chap id have liked to have met.

    I heard a legend of zia from an engineer he appointed on one of the prestige projects, one of the last things he battled the administration over and succeeded. It involves the gen’s lack of security paranoia whilst staying overnight in the dakbungalow, a big bear hug during which he said ‘I am so relieved to pass this big burden onto you’ and his big personal monitoring and motivating. There is another thing about him, which im learning with time, he could recognise talents. Another thing to, just as a lot of potential advisors turned down the job over the past few years, some also did under zia. I well up for hearing stories of how various people were appointed after this period ends.

    Id also like to hear what zia was saying before, during and after the bogra break out. Maulana Bhashani must have been a real character to hear too. I’m sure there is lots of ‘reminiscences’ literature out there by boring old farts who witnessed leadership magic and lived to write the tale… seeing as all the cool people seem to be dying off day by day.

  5. bitterboy said, on March 11, 2008 at 8:37 am

    Sheik Mujib’s 7th March speech is, no doubt, a historic speech and it’s the best speech in his 20 plus years political career. It is of course, inspirational and a milestone in our long polittical struggle against the Punjabi military-led rule. Yet, I have some reservation to rate it as the ever best 100% perfect speech. The grandeur of the speech was not due to it’s content only but also the timing, the number of attendees and the dream, emotion and expectation linked with it. Moreover Sheik Mujib voice as a orator had always been the best. But the speech had no clear guidelines. It had a vague message as he instructed people to start fighting with whatever they have on one hand and also called Yahya Khan to come and visit East Pakistan and investigate what was happening then and also gave pre-conditions to be met for making peace with. And also advising people to be absent from work and get paid on 28th of the month, is a kind of ill and negative part of the speech and reflects mind-set of the leader. He could stop saying “come and get paid on 28th day of the month” and inspire and prepare people for the extreme sacrifice if needed.

    I was not in the meeting as I was out of Dhaka then and so didn’t hear him physically. But there is a hear-say that he ended the speech uttering Joy-Bangla and Joy-Pakistan.

    Whatever, he failed to have required control and commands on his youngster comrades who outpaced him creating the momentum of movement. If he really intended to be totally uncompromising with his 6-points demand or secession or full independence his speech and post-speech 18 days’ [before 25th March] strategies wer wrong. And that’s why people were shocked and stunned by the sudden onslaught of Barbaric Pakistani army on unarmed and unprepared people while whole nation was in complacent mood by the apparent positive dialogue. Unplanned and strategic follies compelled us to pay the undue, a too high price for the independence. The death and destruction would have been far far less if the leadershiip had prudence, vison and farsightedness. And that’s why people have the profound love and respect for Zia when the shocked and directionless nation heard the declaration of independence from the one unknown major. His declaration worked to reliven the almost dead nation as if an onsite defibrillator start beating of an arrested heart.


  6. Abeer said, on March 14, 2008 at 7:16 am

    To All

    It will be unwise, unethical and an injustice with the nation to create any confusion on the most prominent and heroic contributor of our independence. It is the Mujib, who is undoubtedly the father of the nation. Recognizing to the fullest, I have some different ideas to share or clarify from my learned and educated blogers. My views on following issues request the influx of inputs:

    Declaration of Independence: A political rivalry was created and generated confusion through diving the new generations’ understanding on the issue. Mujib was responsible and forced the environment to lit the light. But, might it happen even superseding his desires or initial goal. If it would be his final goal, then possibly he would not join number of meeting with the Pak politicians/ juntas even after mid march. 7 March could be recognized to mark the end of his diplomatic relations with Pakistan. But we know that was not. No denying fact that Mujib ordered his led to protect the motherland. But what was his strategy in provisioning of war munitions? If noting of that sort was at hand, than he displayed severe irresponsibility by forcing the unarmed people into a war. But if he had drafted/ finalized his campaign plan and disseminated than again why Zia risked himself including family for a useless declaration? Either it was a requirement or he was a fool in spending time behind declaration thus making him more vulnerable rather to fight back and organize. But than the fool, fooled all of us after liberation for quite some period. May be he was never a fool but patriot and intelligent, and felt the requirement of declaration as Mujib’s was not enough. So credit may be shared.

    Why Mujib Accepted Arrest? I yet don’t have the conclusive answer. But shadow can be made out on the argument while I try figuring out what alternatives he had. Being an escapee, he would have to be directly involved in dealing with the India, which his foresightness possibly did not permit. Did he delineate any perception of Indian assistance? May be………I don’t know! If not then why his disciples rushed across the border? If he had assertive directives for Indian Assistance than why did not he visit Mujib Nagar at least once during his lifetime? Did he not recognize Mujib Nagar? I am confused…….. But if he wanted his people to fight alone then possibly he did not have alternatives except accepting an arrest. Then his patriotism, devotion and courage are to be placed at the highest.

    Mujib’s Initial Perception About Own Contribution: With very shallow knowledge on the subject, I would like to bring some argument on the table. To my understanding, Mujib could not perceive about the voluminous emotions of the Bengalis/ Bangladeshis reserved in their heart for him. He was rather in confusion on his acceptance as the top leader. He was possibly encountering with complex yielding from his absence in the liberation war. This can be argued from the fact that he altered his passage to the country after being liberated from Pakistan; he was scheduled to reach Dhaka via India only. But he first landed at London, claimed and established himself as the head of the newly born Bangladesh through the international media and then attended the reception at various tires. Some quarter of analyst claims that he was not assertive about the military leaders and perceived conflict with those led the liberation war. The perception was further validated when Mujib displayed mistrust on military by prioritizing in structuring personal force, i.e. Rakhhi Bahini (JRB). This was possibly the biggest mistake of Mijib which finally ended him.

  7. […] and Mujib “Waiting for the Next Speech” by J Rahman was an interesting article at Mukti ( where the writer concisely articulated the aftermath of the dramatic speech of Sheikh Mujibur […]

  8. bitterboy said, on March 17, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    Folks, in 7th March speech there was the call for liberation and freedom that inspired people and can be appreciated.

    But as a civil person I can’t appreciate when I see Sheik said'” Amraa Tomader Bhate Marbo; Amraa Tomarder Paanite Marbo.” That kind of wordings can be expected of only from a reckless uncivil leader. This 7th March speech inspired Banglees to the equal degree as it angered the Pakistani army.

    The responsibilities to the barbaric onslaught go to the Yahya, Bhutto and Mujib. Mujib dismally failed to control the politics that detracked on 1st March as scheduled 3rd March national assembly 1st session was deferred by Yahya. The hoisting Bangladesh flag on 2nd March, reading of so called Swadhinatar Ishtehar on 3rd, imparting training to youths to fight Pakistani army etc, all were hotblooded uncalculative steps. Sheik Mujib hadn’t any control on post-1st-March politics and those events were advancing so fast and like setting the cart ahead of horses.

    Aftermath is the birth of a bloody premature independence with all the heck of problems of survival like a premature delivery of a primi.


  9. The other Mujib speech « Mukti said, on March 8, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    […] Deshi cyberspace and TV were flooded with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s famous 7 March speech. That speech is noted for its sheer defiance.  And parts of it still give me […]

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