Bangladesh is a nation with a rich and turbulent history. The country emerged as an independent state in 1971 after a bloody war of liberation from Pakistan, which had ruled over its eastern wing since 1947. The key figure behind this historic struggle was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, widely known as Bangabandhu and the Father of the Nation.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was born on March 17, 1920, in Tungipara, a village in the Faridpur district of Bengal, then part of British India. He was the third child of Sheikh Lutfar Rahman and Sheikh Sayera Khatun. He grew up in a politically conscious family and was influenced by his father’s involvement in the anti-colonial movement. He joined the All-India Muslim League, the party that advocated for a separate homeland for the Muslims of India, in 1937 and became an active student leader.
In 1947, when British India was partitioned into two dominions, India and Pakistan, Bengal was divided along religious lines. The Muslim-majority eastern part became East Pakistan, while the Hindu-majority western part remained in India as West Bengal. Sheikh Mujib moved to Dhaka, the capital of East Pakistan, and continued his political activities. He co-founded the Awami League in 1949, a party that demanded greater autonomy and democracy for East Pakistan. He also completed his law degree from Dhaka University in 1950.
Sheikh Mujib rose to prominence as a charismatic and popular leader who championed the rights and interests of the Bengali people. He held various positions in the provincial and national governments, such as minister of agriculture, minister of industries, member of parliament, and opposition leader. He also faced several arrests and trials by the Pakistani authorities for his political activities. He led several mass movements against the military regimes that ruled Pakistan from 1958 to 1971, such as the Language Movement of 1952 which demanded Bengali to be recognized as a state language of Pakistan, and the Six-Point Movement of 1966 which demanded full autonomy for East Pakistan.
In 1970, Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League won a landslide victory in the first general elections held in Pakistan, securing 167 out of 169 seats allotted for East Pakistan in the National Assembly. However, the military ruler of Pakistan, General Yahya Khan, refused to transfer power to Sheikh Mujib and his party. Instead, he launched a brutal military crackdown on East Pakistan on March 25, 1971, killing thousands of civilians and arresting Sheikh Mujib. Before his arrest, Sheikh Mujib declared the independence of Bangladesh on March 26, 1971.
The Pakistani military operation sparked a nine-month-long war of liberation between the freedom fighters of Bangladesh (Mukti Bahini) and the Pakistani army. The war also drew international attention and support from countries like India, Soviet Union, China, and United States. On December 16, 1971, Pakistan surrendered to the joint forces of Bangladesh and India, marking the end of the war and the birth of a new nation.
Sheikh Mujib was released from prison in January 1972 and returned to Dhaka via London. He was greeted by millions of jubilant people who hailed him as their leader and hero. He became the first president of Bangladesh and later assumed the office of prime minister. He faced enormous challenges in rebuilding a war-torn country that had suffered massive human and material losses. He initiated various policies and programs to address the issues of poverty, illiteracy, health care, agriculture, industry, foreign relations, and national security.
Sheikh Mujib also faced opposition and criticism from some quarters for his authoritarian tendencies and his decision to form a one-party system under his newly formed Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BAKSAL) in 1975. He was accused of suppressing dissent and violating human rights by some political parties, religious groups, intellectuals, journalists, and military officers. On August 15, 1975, he was assassinated along with most of his family members by a group of disgruntled army officers at his residence in Dhaka. His daughters Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana survived as they were abroad at that time.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is widely regarded as the ‘Greatest Bangali of all time’. He was a prominent political leader and statesman in Bangladesh. His legacy is celebrated in Bangladesh, where he is regarded as a national hero and symbol of Bengali pride and identity. His leadership and sacrifices inspired a generation of Bangladeshis to fight for their rights and build a better future for their country.