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7 March, 2016 00:00 00 AM

The speech that changed the course of history

The speech inspired the whole Bengali nation. It resonated with the dreams and aspirations of the people
Syed Mehdi Momin
The speech that changed the course of history

In April 2004 listeners of the BBC's Bengali service voted Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the "Greatest Bengali of All Time". Well these types of polls are subjective exercises and many will select some other person as the greatest Bengali ever. However few, if any can deny that the speech that our great leader delivered on March 7 1971 is the greatest political speech ever made by a Bengali. The sheer drama pf the speech enthralled the audience years back and even now when one hears it they can’t but be moved by the speech.
Today, 45 years back, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman delivered this historic speech on the then Racecourse Maidan (currently Suhrawardy Udyan) that effectively declared Bangladesh’s independence from the clutches of the West Pakistanis who virtually used this area as their colony. Bangabandhu, who had become by that time a leader of unparalleled greatness encouraged the Bengalis to take up arms and fight for their freedom. On this day Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman called upon all Bangalis of then East Pakistan (today's Bangladesh) to launch a decisive struggle against the Pakistani occupation forces indicating for taking all-out preparations for the War of Liberation. ‘Ebarer Sangram Amader Muktir Sangram, Ebarer Sangram Swadhinatar Sangram’ (This time the struggle is for our freedom and emancipation), is what the Father of this Nation famously declared.  The momentous inspirational speech, which many Bengalis know by heart, is considered by many to be one of the world’s best.
In 1971 Racecourse Maidan turned into a human sea. By many accounts as many as a million people gathered to hear Bangabandhu’s speech.
For me whenever I hear the speech I never fail to be impressed by the great man’s towering personality and charisma. We have to remember that Bangabandhu was 51 at that time–hardly an old age for a politician. However through his monumental sacrifices for the nation and his unparalleled leadership qualities he had become a revered iconic figure for the Bengali nation. He had earned the right to address the whole nation as “tumi” and :tomader” usually reserved for contemporaries or someone younger. "Ghorey ghorey durgo gorey tolo, tomader ja kichhu achhe tai niey prostut thako" (make fortress out of your homes, and stay ready with whatever you have)  Incredibly this did not seem incongruous in any manner. The message Shekh Mujib conveyed in the 7th March speech was that - there was no more negotiation  with the West Pakistani regime, and  the only option left for Bengalis was to go for independence
In his speech Bangabandhu narrated the story of deprivation of and repression on Bengalis and urged the people to turn every house into a fort and get ready with whatever is available to fight the enemy. Bangabandhu in his address tactfully stopped short of making unilateral declaration of independence in order to avert a possible massacre of the people starting from Race Course that very day. However Bangabandhu nobody can deny that the 7th March address gave the nation the guideline for armed struggle for liberation. And from that point of view the address was the informal declaration of independence which was given the final shape by him in the early hours of 26 March, 1971. Those immortal words “Since we have sacrificed blood, we will sacrifice more. We will definitely liberate the country, Insha-Allah” is clear indication that Banglabandhu was determined to lead his people towards liberty. Never before that day could any Bengali leader sense the pulse of a nation so perfectly.
There are some people who say Bangabandhu only wanted to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan. In his historic speech he categorically stated “I don't want the Prime Minister's office. We want the people of this country to have their rights.”
Bangabandhu’s speech changed the course of history and the whole nation started preparing for the ultimate showdown with the Pakistani rulers. The speech not only propelled the Bengalis towards a fight for independence, but also has become a source of inspiration for all freedom-loving people all over the world.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's speech of March 7 is a momentous occasion in the history of this country. There are very few speeches in the history of mankind that has changed the course of history. The Father of the Nation’s speech is indeed belong to that rare list.  Interestingly Bangabandhu did not read from a prepared speech. He had no notes in his hands. On record, there is none who claimed to have tutored him before the speech. He spoke extempore, from his heart and mind, in his own inimitable style to the people whom he loved and who loved him.
It is believed that more than a million people came to the Ramna Race Course (now Suhrawardy Uddyan) to listen to Bangabandhu on March 7. They included students, teachers, workers, government servants, professionals, day labourers and in fact men and women from all walks of life. The crowd was charged with emotions and their expectations were high. Many believed that  Bangabandhu would declare independence of Bangladesh through his the same meeting. The situation was tense as nobody knew the consequences of such a declaration.
Bangabandhu came, climbed on the rostrum and delivered his historic speech. He spoke briefly, for nearly 20 minutes, point by point, without mincing words and practically without unnecessary repetitions. The speech may be divided into five broad segments: (i) an introduction, (ii) a historical account of the political deprivation of the Bengalis, (iii) the prevailing political crisis, (iv) the demands, (v) directives and final declaration, all presented in a perfect logical order. He used the common men's language and dialect, easily understood by the people. His voice was emotional and sounded like a thunder, as usual.
Bangabandhu addressed the crowd as his brothers. He told them that he was "speaking with a very heavy heart as the streets of Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, Rangpur and Rajshahi are still stained with my brothers' blood." He said he could hear "the cry of the Bengali people, a cry for freedom and a cry for their rights." This introduction put his heart, his mind and his vision in unison with those of the audience.
Bangabandhu did not want any bloodbath. He wanted a peaceful and negotiated solution to the political crisis. Even though the Pakistan army killed many innocent and unarmed Bengalis, he was compassionate to them showing a high standard of statesmanship. Addressing the Pakistan army he announced, "You are my brothers. Return now to the barracks where you belong to and no one will bear any hostility towards you. Only do not attempt to aim any more bullets at our hearts." Following a carrot and stick policy he warned them at the same time if they did otherwise, "…The seventy million people of this land will not be cowed down by you or accept your suppression any more. The Bengali people have learned how to die for a cause and you will not be able to bring them under subjugation."
Addressing the people Bangabandhu leaves his last instructions, "If a single bullet is fired upon us from now on and the killing of my people does not cease, I call upon you to turn every home into a fortress against their onslaught. Use whatever you can put your hands on to confront the enemy…. Beat them to death, starve them to death and deprive them of water till they die. Even if I am not around to give you the order and my associates are also not to be found, I ask you to continue your struggle unabated." This was essentially a declaration of war against the Pakistan army, albeit conditionally.
Finally he made the most famous declaration, "Since we have shed blood, we shall shed more blood but we will free the people of this land, Insha-Allah (If God is willing). The struggle this time is for our freedom; the struggle this time is for independence. Joy Bangla (Victory to Bangladesh)". By these words Bangabandhu in reality conveyed a clear message of a declaration of independence in a diplomatic language without having proclaimed it openly. There lies the real beauty of the speech. He refrained from making an open declaration on that occasion for tactical reasons.
Political analysts believe that it was a prudent decision to do so. A premature declaration of independence would have labelled him as a secessionist and derailed the whole movement for independence. Secessionist movements are not, in general, supported by international communities unless they are based on solid grounds like genocide, ethnic cleansing, gross violations of human rights etc. Moreover, the Pakistani junta could use the declaration as an excuse to massacre thousands of Bengalis, including Bangabandhu and other Awami League leaders, at the Ramna race course on the plea of suppressing a secessionist movement. The world would have remained as a silent spectator to such a massacre. Bangabandhu was, in fact, waiting for an opportune moment to make the actual declaration.
The speech mesmerized the audience and inspired the whole Bengali nation. It resonated with the dreams and aspirations of the people. It resurrected a sleeping nation and transformed it into a fighting force.

The writer is Assistant Editor of The Independent and can be contacted at:


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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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