Why is the 7th March Speech very significant? Why did military-undemocratic rulers ban it for 21 years?

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Published on March 7, 2023
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Awami League Chief Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gave the final directions for the Liberation War through his historic speech at a huge rally on March 7 at Suhrawardy Udyan in Dhaka. Following his direction, the Bengali nation started taking control of administration from the Pakistanis and preparing for the Liberation War. Then as soon as the Pakistanis attacked the unarmed people with sophisticated weapons on the night of March 25, Bangabandhu officially declared Bangladesh as an independent state immediately (early hours of March 26). Bangabandhu conveyed the underlying message of the declaration of independence to the people through the 7th March speech. So the patriotic people were waiting for the ensuing war in preparation for the highest sacrifice. As a result, with the official declaration of independence in just a few lines on March 26, our Bengalis jumped into war.

However, a vested quarter has always spread propaganda about the historic speech of March 7 and the declaration of independence. Even the anti-liberation force banned the broadcast of the March 7 speech in the country and did not let people hear it for 21 years after the assassination of Bangabandhu and his family in 1975. The reason is very important and psychological. Those who took a stand against the Liberation War knew very well that the basic principle of independence and spirit of the Bengali nation lies in this speech. During the Liberation War, this speech was regularly broadcast from Shwadhin Bangla Betar Kendra to inspire the freedom fighters on the battlefield. This speech boosted the Bengali nation to win the war. Even after independence, Bangabandhu took all the initiatives for reconstructing the country in line with the promises made in the historic speech.

So, it is natural that the anti-liberation group will always be against the broadcast of this speech as it reminds them, their followers and their next generation about their defeat in the 1971 Liberation War. They became frightened when they remembered the courage of the fearless Bengalis who risked their lives to jump into the war responding to the call in this speech. This speech is always the cause of their daily nightmare as they still wonder how the whole nation got obsessed with it to join the Liberation War boldly. So they are very afraid of the power and the far-sighted message of this speech

The anti-independence activists knew that Bangabandhu had talked both about the independence, and economic liberation of the people in this speech. So, the defeated forces of the Liberation War started hiding this speech from the very beginning to hinder the socio-economic liberation of the nation. They knew that this speech has a magical power, which can arouse the people's desire for national liberation. So they tried to erase this speech from history to block the way of rise of people.

Had this speech not been banned from the public for 21 consecutive years in the post-independence of Bangladesh, every citizen of the country would have become aware of their social and economic emancipation. And if that was the case, the grassroots people would have led the country already with the development of the rural economy. Everyone in the village would become self-sufficient. But it did not happen due to the conspiracy of the extremist group.

Significance of 1970’s London visit to understand the meaning of March 7

The historic speech of March 7 was not a written one. Even there was no other speaker on the stage to address the rally on that day. But the context of solo and extempore speech before the massive rally of more than 10 million people was not a sudden event. This speech is a manifestation of more than two decades of political experience and the vibe of emancipation of the oppressed masses. That is why the United Nations later declared this speech as one of the best speeches of the century and a document of world heritage.

One must understand the sequences of the events to understand the significance of this speech. The mass people finally started waking up for their rights and freedom since Bangabandhu proclaimed the 6-point (Charter of Liberation of Bengalis) in 1966 and began campaigning from house to house. As a result, the Pakistani junta tried to suppress the uprising by keeping Bangabandhu in jail. Later in 1968, they filed an Agartala conspiracy case (sedition case) and tried to hang Bangabandhu through a secret trial. However, facing intense mass movement, the government was forced to release Sheikh Mujib on 22 February 1969.

Bangabandhu then became vocal in demanding national elections as he knew that there was no alternative to winning the elections in a constitutional way for the liberation of the Bengali nation. He paid a special visit to London on October 22 or 23 in 1970 to prepare the ground for the election. There he met with a few pro-democracy representatives from Britain and various groups of about one lakh expatriate Bengalis. After those meetings, Bangabandhu returned to the country on November 8. But, while talking to the BBC in several interviews in London, he expressed optimism and confidence about winning the election. He also announced the formulation of a constitution after winning the election.

Fortunately, Bangabandhu's eldest daughter and current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was staying in London at that time. Her husband, a prominent nuclear scientist, Wazed Miah used to work in London then. During this long visit to London, he also talked about the independence of Bangladesh with his daughter Sheikh Hasina. Awami League Chief Sheikh Hasina has reminisced about that in a discussion meeting on the occasion of March 7 this year. She said the Father of the Nation knew that the country would be independent. As he was fully aware of the movements of the Pakistanis, he visited London before the election of 1970. At that time, he discussed with the international community and personally trusted people about the possible steps after the election.

Sheikh Hasina said Bangabandhu, during his London visit, decided the accommodation of the refugees and procurement of arms and training if the war broke out. He even planned how each village would be decorated after independence. Thus he took the Bengali nation to the battlefield in a constitutional way. In the general election held on December 7, the Awami League got a landslide victory. But on March 1, the Pakistani junta postponed the National Assembly scheduled to convene on March 3 resulting in a movement from that day. At a public meeting in Paltan on March 3, Bangabandhu said that he would make a final speech at a rally on March 7 at Racecourse Maidan (Suhrawardy Udyan). From then, the Pakistanis hatched conspiracies to assassinate Bangabandhu. Even there was such information that Bangabandhu would be killed by brushfire so that no one would ever speak of independence.

March 7 speech: Tactical declaration of independence and instructions to conduct war

There was a non-cooperation movement against Pakistanis all over the country from the beginning of March 1971 at the call of Bangabandhu on one side. On another side, there was an attempt to assassinate Bangabandhu by the Pakistani junta. Amid such a fiery situation, Bangabandhu went to deliver his speech on March 7. The student leaders went to Dhanmondi's residence and urged Bangabandhu to declare independence directly. But the Pakistani junta warned that if that happened, the mass rally of millions of unarmed civilians would turn into a bloodbath. That is why Pakistani planes and helicopters were hovering over Suhrawardy Udyan since that morning. In addition, tanks full of ammunition were kept ready beside the cantonment to attack Suhrawardy Udyan.

However, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gave a speech for 22 to 23 minutes in the afternoon. Millions of people heard it in pin-drop silence. Bangabandhu did not directly declare Bangladesh as independent so that no one could brand the long liberation struggle as a separatist movement. But he asked people to get prepared for freedom and the Liberation War. He gave four conditions to the Pakistanis and issued 10 instructions for the countrymen. He announced the abolition of rent-tax and warned against money laundering in Pakistan, presenting Pakistan as a separate state. He made it clear that he is the supreme leader of Bangladesh and the Bengali people started moving independently through closing down the office-court-educational institutions along with roads and highways. He asked the people to prepare for a possible guerrilla war by forming a Sangram committee to turn their houses into forts to counter Pakistani invaders.

Pakistani intelligence reports later described the speech as a "tactical declaration of independence" and described Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as "clever". In that report, an intelligence operative wrote, "Sheikh Mujib tactfully left with the declaration of independence, but we could not do anything."

Bangabandhu did not want to bring the Bengali nation to attack in the first place, but continued to pave the way for a gradual offensive through his call for non-cooperation. If the Bengali nation attacked first, the liberation struggle would be termed as a separatist movement all over the world even though the majority of the support went for Bengali people through the victory in the election. Many nations were in liberation movements across the world then, but none of them came out successful by winning the election, rather went on offensive first – which branded them as “separatists” everywhere. Bangabandhu did not want to put seven crore Bengalis at such risk as he knew the right time to move on.

From his political experience in his life, therefore, Bangabandhu delivered a tactical but far-sighted speech at the right time and the right place on March 7. The crowd returned home with utter satisfaction at his speech. His daughter Sheikh Hasina also joined a procession on her way back to Fuller Road after hearing Bangabandhu's speech at Suhrawardy Udyan. She said that the expression of the people, who were chanting slogans in the name of Bangabandhu while returning home, was saying that they got what they had wanted.

About the 7th March Speech, Siddique Salik, a public relations officer of the Pakistani military government, wrote in his memoirs, "Originally, Sheikh Mujib's rule was established on March 1. That is why he asked employees to bring their salaries on the 28th. With this speech, he not only declared independence, but also gave instructions on how to conduct the war.”