The people of a green delta were with their utmost dedication to be named as an independent nation in the world. All that remained in their heart was soon to issue at lips. It was the afternoon of 7 March 1971 – the time a nation was to declare what it had to. And it was Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, undisputed leader of the Bangalee nation, chief of the Awami League and majority leader in the newly elected Pakistan national assembly, to speak up these words as he stepped up to the dais at the Race Course (today’s Suhrawardy Udyan).
Ten lakh people gathered there to get the direction of their leader, turning the area into a human sea.
Around 3:15p.m., dressed in a white panjai and pajama with the characteristic Black overcoat, the leader appeared in the crowd. As he walked on the stage, the rally participants welcomed him chanting aloud Slogans of Joy Bangla. Something electrifying was in the air.
In that 20 minute address, Banbabandhu demonstrated his mettle in no uncertain terms. He did not make a unilateral declaration of independence from his belief that such a move would constitute secession and, worse, could lead to harsh, immediate action by the Pakistan army, which remained in a state of alert in cantonments around the country. Most significantly, he would let his people know that sovereignty was the goal, but it would be sovereignty arrived at on strong constitutional foundations. If constitutionalism did not work, the nation would find other, necessarily radical means to wage its war for freedom.
The oratory was superb. He spoke without notes. It was the finest hours for Bangabandhu, who already emerged as South Aisa’s one of the foremost orator. And for us, it was moment of self-assertion.
His opening words were a sign of the burden of responsibility he carried:
“My brothers, I come before you today with a heavy heart.
It was a tale of exploitation Bangabandhu related to that million-strong crowd on the day. And yet there was the conciliatory in his approach to the state of Pakistan:
The leader raised the matter of a sudden postponement of the national assembly session on 1 March and Yahya Khan’s invitation to him to join a round table conference in Rawalpindi on March 10:
“Now, Yahya Khan says that I had agreed to a round table conference on the 10th. I had said, ‘Mr. Yahya Khan, you are the president of this country. Come to Dhaka, come and see how our poor Bangalee people have been gunned down by your bullets, how the laps of our mothers and sisters have been robbed and left empty, how my helpless people have been slaughtered’.
Earlier, I had told him there could be no round table conference. What round table conference? Whose round table conference?” Mujibur Rahman cannot step on the blood of the martyrs and join a round table conference.
Now he tells the crowd in no ambiguous terms:
“Martial law must be withdrawn; all soldiers must go back to the barracks; an inquiry into the killings must be initiated; and, power must be transferred to the elected representatives of the people.
Bangabandhu then proceeded to outline a series of steps as part of his non-violent non-cooperation movement:
“I call upon you to turn every home into a fortress against their onslaught. Use whatever means you have to confront the enemy . . . Even if I am not around to give you directives, I ask you to continue your movement in a ceaseless manner.”
In response, people are chanting slogans to his call to fight for Bangladesh’s Freedom.
And then came the decisive moment, the words that defined the road to the future:
“Since we have given blood, we will give more of it. Insha’Allah, we will free the people of this land.
The struggle this time is for emancipation. The struggle this time is for independence.
And that speech gave us reason to believe in ourselves once again. Because of him, we remembered our heritage. Because of him, we were Bengalis again. And because of him, we reached out to one another, to the world outside the one we inhabited, to build our own brave new world.