Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (hereinafter “Gandhi”) is, no doubt, an undisputed leader of India. He is one of the main architects of India’s independence from the British rule. He was educated in the United Kingdom (called to the English Bar by the Honourable Society of Inner Temple), subsequently lived in South Africa and then returned to his own country, India. He successfully led peaceful and non-violent movements in the then greater India. He is, in fact, known throughout the world for his non-violent movements and hunger strikes. Gandhi is well respected in India. Whoever comes to office in India, Gandhi is given due and the utmost respect. His photo and portrait are put in the same place, no matter which party comes to office. Gandhi's birthday, 2 October, is a national holiday in India, Gandhi Jayanti. Gandhi's image also appears on paper currency of all denominations issued by Reserve Bank of India, except for the one rupee note. Gandhi's date of death, 30 January, is commemorated as a Martyrs' Day in India. All of these are done regardless of which party is in office.
Similarly, Quaid-E-Azam Muhammed Ali Jinnah (hereinafter “Jinnah”) is also an undisputed leader in Pakistan. Like Gandhi for India, he was the main architect of creating Pakistan. He was an excellent orator in English. He possessed outstanding negotiating skills. Even the former Congress leader Moulana Abul Kalam Azad, who vehemently opposed Jinnah for campaigning to create Pakistan, praised Jinnah in his book called “India wins Freedom” for his orating and negotiating skills. Like Gandhi, Jinnah was educated in the United Kingdom (called to the English Bar by the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn) and then returned to his own country, the then India. Jinnah is well respected in Pakistan. His photo and portrait are always kept at the top of the back wall of the President’s and Prime Minister’s Offices and his birthday is observed as a national holiday, no matter which party is in office. According to his biographer, Stanley Wolpert, Jinnah remains Pakistan's greatest leader.
In Bangladesh, it is different. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (hereinafter “Mujib”) is not an undisputed leader of Bangladesh despite the fact that he was the main figurehead in Bangladesh’s independence war. Though he was not educated abroad like Gandhi and Jinnah, he was a fire band speaker and charismatic personality. He had the unique quality of being the leader of an agitational movement. Unlike Gandhi and Jinnah, his photo and portrait are preserved in all public offices only if the Bangladesh Awami League (BAL) or, at best, the like-minded Alliance which it leads comes to office. We have seen the rule of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) government and Jatiya Party (JP) government, a partner of the current BAL-led alliance, in the past. They have not respected (or displayed photos or portrait of) Mujib as the BAL has done.
Why this is so? Partially sighted, one-eyed and blind supporters of different parties may give different explanations. But the true historical facts are: neither Gandhi nor Jinnah ruled their respective country as an Executive Head like a Prime Minister or a President. Mujib was, no doubt, an undisputed leader up until the independence of Bangladesh. However, his rule [or “misrule” as many claim] of 1972-75 made him controversial. It was perhaps not a wise decision taken by Mujib to rule the country as the Executive Head, initially as the Prime Minister and then as the President. He was an undisputed leader throughout the independence war and it would have been better for him to be above narrow political controversy after the independence. He should have acted as a statesman or guardian of the country – like Gandhi for India or Jinnah for Pakistan. In fact, what Bangladesh needed desperately in those early months after independence was a symbol of the state, one that would unify people and give them the courage and resolve to succeed.
Gandhi and Jinnah did not survive long after independence of India and Pakistan. Gandhi was assassinated on 30 January 1948, within a few months of India’s independence, at the age of 78. On the other hand, Jinnah died on 11 September 1948 at the age of 71, just over a year after Pakistan gained independence from the British Rule. If they survived long and run their respective country as an Executive Head, such as Prime Minister or President, they would have certainly been controversial. Thus, had Mujib died immediately or soon after the independence of Bangladesh or had he not ruled the country as an Executive Head of the Government or the State, he would have been undisputed leader like Gandhi in India or Jinnah in Pakistan.
Leading a mass or people’s movement with full confidence and charisma is one thing, but ruling a country with intellect, fairness, wisdom and vision is completely another thing. Mujib had shown the former with absolute competence, but not the latter. He had unparallel skills and charisma when leading people for a cause or leading an inclusive, agitational public movement. Unfortunately, he could not show his wisdom, far sighted vision, intellect and fairness in running a newly independent country.
For decades, Mujib fought for democracy and rights against Pakistani military dictators. In fact, he spent the most important part of his life in Pakistani jail. He was harassed and tortured in many ways. He was kept away from his family for years. He made a great contribution and sacrificed a great deal for Bangladesh. The whole independence war was conducted in his name, but in his absence. How could such a person, following independence, introduce one party dictatorial system and close almost all media? On whose advice he had acted upon? The nation in general and the BAL in particular should reflect upon those questions. Impartial historians and political scientists think that introducing one party system derailed Bangladesh's development as a democratic state, contributing to its subsequent political instability and violence, the legacy of which Bangladesh is still carrying.
Mujib was a national figure. His great contribution, role and sacrifice will never be forgotten by the nation. Let the nation give him due respect, willingly and voluntarily. The BAL has been disrespecting Mujib (to a great extent, letting him down) by turning him into the asset of their own party alone. He should be the nation’s asset as opposed to the party’s. The BAL often crosses the boundary in this respect. It is worth remembering that respect cannot be taken or collected by force. It has to come automatically from the hearts of the people.
Gandhi is commonly, though not officially or constitutionally, considered the Father of the Indian Nation. Has the fact that Gandhi was not officially or constitutionally the Father of the Nation of India reduced his importance and the respect shown to him? Not at all. He is, in fact, in the hearts and minds of all Indians. Similarly, Jinnah has been and is in the hearts and minds of all Pakistanis. No matter what outstanding qualities he had, Mujib was certainly a human being. As a human being, he had weaknesses and limitations. So did Gandhi and Jinnah. Let history and the people decide and give the respect to Mujib that he deserves. When a great leader of a nation is in the hearts and minds of his people, he does not need an official or constitutional recognition. Similarly, when a great leader cannot win the hearts and minds of his own people, official or constitutional recognition will not bring any natural honour and respect. Often it is bound to be counterproductive. The sooner the BAL or the respective blind supporters of different parties realise this, the better for the country, the better for the nation.
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