Digital Bangladesh: How Bangabandhu’s state inspires Sheikh Hasina's long journey


Published on April 24, 2022
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The daughter of Bangabandhu has brought Bangladesh to the culmination that Bangabandhu dreamed of since independence. Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had struggled for liberation for almost two decades to fulfil his dream to build a poverty and hunger-free Golden Bengal. Sheikh Hasina, the eldest daughter of Bangabandhu, witnessed the long struggle for independence, the Liberation War of 1971 and the three-and-a-half years of independence. But after the brutal murder of Bangabandhu's family on August 15, 1975, she had to live in exile. After being elected as the head of the Awami League in 1981, she had to face various obstacles step by step even after returning to the country. She had to face life threats more than once. But she did not give up and presented today’s Bangladesh for us.

The daughter of Bangabandhu Sheikh Hasina developed herself as a future statesman through her struggle to protect democracy from the clutches of dictators and realize the life and sufferings of the mass people across the country. She has been able to overcome this impassable journey by holding Bangabandhu's state philosophy in her heart and by her firm commitment. Hon'ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has elaborated on these issues in an article published in an international journal on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh's independence.

She mentioned three particular phases in her journey to establish today's Digital Bangladesh through liberating the people from the ruins of war and the clutches of dictatorship and extremism. These are:

First, the struggle to realize and implement the ideals of Bangabandhu

Second, the strategy and hard labour to meet the seven basic needs of the people

Third, the efforts to prepare the country to make the living standards of future generations suitable for the modern world

At the beginning of her article titled 'Striving to Realize the Ideals of My Father', Hon'ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reminisced with a touching quote from her father. This memoir reflects how much Bangabandhu used to inspire his family to lead an ordinary life even after becoming the Prime Minister of the country after independence. Seeing his young daughter Sheikh Hasina wearing expensive clothes, Bangabandhu said to her, 'Are you going to wear those flashy, expensive sari and jewellery? Most people these days can’t even afford a single meal—do you want to show off how rich you are? Don’t wear them please, wear something simple and ordinary so that you can identify yourself with the poor people of this land.’

Sheikh Hasina still feels those words of Bangabandhu. She writes: I can never forget those words of my father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the man people fondly called Bangabandhu, or Friend of Bangladesh—a title bestowed in the 1960s reflected how much they loved him. It was not meant to be a lofty title but, rather, a simple reflection of people’s love. I learned from my father how to empathize with the deprived, and the disadvantaged, and how to dream about building a prosperous future for them. He dreamt about creating, once again, a Sonar Bangla, or Golden Bengal, as our land was known in ancient times. He envisioned a prosperous country based on the ideals of democracy, religious tolerance, and social justice. It ultimately became his political philosophy and lodestar all through his life. I have always tried to follow his advice and example.

Three Extraordinary Qualities of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman:

Sheikh Hasina said her father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a child of an ordinary family like all our Bengali families. Regarding the philosophy of his father about lifestyle, she further said: “Among Sheikh Mujib’s many extraordinary qualities, three stood out above all others.

First, he naturally empathized and connected with people from all walks of life. His background may have helped in this regard; he was not from a family of extraordinary wealth, but from one in a rural farming community that was economically comfortable.

Second, he was fearless in protesting and resisting the forces of oppression.

Third, he could articulate and give voice to what the people needed and aspired to. He represented people, and he became naturally the centre of people’s faith and trust.

From Language Movement to Independence:

Following the partition of 1947, the movement for protecting the mother tongue started in 1948. The young Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was then a student of the law department at Dhaka University. Students started organizing under his leadership to demand the state language Bangla and this movement gradually spread. On March 11 in 1948, the Pakistani rulers arrested the young leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his associates from the rally for the Bangla language movement. Student leader Sheikh Mujib had to endure more than one imprisonment and persecution for leading the language movement.

The young Sheikh Mujib gradually became the public leader due to the love and aspirations of the mass people he obtained throughout his movement. Leader Mujib reached the heart of every grassroots person in the country through almost two decades of hard struggle. He established the Awami League as an organization of people across the country. He was able to bring people of all religions, castes and professions under one umbrella through long days of hard work and winning the hearts of the people. For the first time, he united the seven crores of Bengali people who were divided into many beliefs and activities. As a result, in the 1970 elections, all Bengalis cast votes for the boat symbol in the Awami League for the Six Point Programmes of Bangabandhu.

But the Pakistani dictators started conspiring. If you notice, you will see that since the language movement, the struggle for the autonomy for justice turned into the final struggle for independence in less than a quarter of a century. In that continuation, the final moment came. At the historic mass rally at Suhrawardy Udyan in Dhaka on March 7, 1971, Sheikh Mujib declared, "The struggle this time is the struggle for our emancipation. The struggle this time is the struggle for our independence.” On the night of March 25, in the wake of the brutal brutality of the Pakistani junta and the people's spontaneous desire for independence, he declared independence in the early hours of March 26.

As a result, the Bengali nation went to war against the occupying Pakistani army force. Finally, on December 17 in 1971, Bangladesh emerged as an independent and sovereign state. A new state was born in the world achieving the dream of an independent state that Bangabandhu had dreamed of for two long decades.

Bangabandhu's Sacrifices Inspire Bangladesh to Move Forward:

Throughout his political life, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman used to choose the path of achieving his goals through a non-violent movement. On the night of March 25, 1971, shortly after the outbreak of genocide in Bangladesh, he was arrested by the Pakistani army and held in solitary confinement in West Pakistan.

Regarding this, Sheikh Hasina writes: “In a secret military trial on the prison premises, my father was sentenced to death. He was about to be executed when Bangladesh succeeded in its struggle for independence. Because of his frequent imprisonment in the past, my sister, brothers, and I were deprived of our father’s presence, but never his enduring affection. My mother wholeheartedly supported him through his long political struggles; she was also by our side, ensuring that all her children received a proper education. We dearly missed our father; his frequent absences only deepened our loyalty to his idealism.

We were fully aware that he was absent because of his imprisonment and the reasons for it. His sacrifices made it easier for us to make corresponding sacrifices.

Our parents taught us about the value of patriotism, and we shared his deep love of the people and his steadfast commitment to the liberation of our land. They made it easier to never lose our way, to never lose hope for a brighter, better future.”

Endless Obstacles & the First Episode of Forming Sonar Bangla:

Regarding the Homecoming of Bangabandhu, Sheikh Hasina further writes: “After Bangladesh won independence, the Pakistani military finally released my father. He immediately and triumphantly returned to Dhaka and was given a tumultuous hero’s welcome by his beloved people.

As head of the new government, he launched the daunting task of rebuilding a country emerging from the ashes of a devastating war. The government treasury was empty. Ten million Bangladeshi refugees, who had taken shelter in India to escape from the atrocities committed by the Pakistani military, had to be quickly rehabilitated as they began to return home. The country’s railways, roads, and bridges had to be rebuilt and communications re-established. Firearms had to be recovered from citizens who had spontaneously declared themselves freedom fighters and resisted the Pakistani military during the Liberation War. Law and order had to be restored.

Crop production, disrupted badly during the war, had to be resumed, and the availability of vital agricultural supplies had to be secured.

As rehabilitation, restoration, and recovery were pursued in midst of chaos and confusion, Bangabandhu formed Planning Commission began to prepare a comprehensive plan for the country. The most important task was to frame a Constitution for an independent Bangladesh, one that truly reflected the aspirations of those who had fought and sacrificed their lives for their cherished freedom.

Additionally, to secure support from neighbouring countries and the international community, Sheikh Mujib sought urgent diplomatic recognition from countries throughout the world. He accomplished these difficult tasks within a very short time and was soon recognized as a charismatic world leader, a statesman with a clear vision. Many world leaders visited Dhaka, and he was invited to many of their countries. Through his historic speech at the UN General Assembly in New York on September 25, 1974, Sheikh Mujib made all Bangladeshis proud of their nation and their heritage. The world applauds the name of Bangladesh due to Bangabandhu.

The Tragic Chapter of 1975 & Sheikh Hasina’s Life in Exile:

Remembering the tragedy of 1975, Sheikh Hasina writes: Then tragedy would strike, whose enormity I still have not fully adjusted to! My younger sister Rehana and I, along with my two children, were visiting Germany, where my husband, Dr Wazed, was working as a nuclear scientist. During a short trip to Belgium, in the early morning of August 15, 1975, I was awakened by the harsh ringing of the telephone. Our host received the call but did not want to talk to me, only to my husband, who was standing very close to me. My husband turned to me and said that there had been a coup in Bangladesh, but nothing more. However, the sense I got by reading his face, was I felt that something cataclysmic had befallen my family in Dhaka.

I was shocked and stunned, and the only words that came to my mouth were, “If there has been a coup, then I have lost everyone.” After going to Ambassador Humayun Rashid Chowdhury’s house in Bonn, we confronted the heartrending news that my father, my mother, my newly married brothers and their wives, and even my kid brother Russel had all been killed. It pains me to list all 18 members of my close-knit family who died that day.

The usurpers of power wouldn’t allow my sister and me to return home. Along with my two infant children, we spent about six years in wretched exile. We ran as refugees from place to place, always afraid that we would be hunted down by the assassins and finally eliminated.

Return of Bangabandhu's Daughter to Bangladesh amid Life Risks:

After spending half a decade in exile, Sheikh Hasina returned to her country. The prime minister remembers: Finally, we began to see some light at the end of the exile tunnel. As limited political activities resumed in the country, the Bangladesh Awami League, the political party my father had built up since the 1950s, selected me to be its president—a decision welcomed by our people. I returned to Bangladesh in 1981 despite some resistance from the prevailing military regime. This return did not automatically lead to a smooth political ride for the daughter of the country’s founder. There were troubles, trauma, and turbulence at every turn. I focused all my passion and energy on carrying out this daunting political career; I saw no choice but to go forward, as my father would have done.

I felt compelled to confront and overcome the obstacles thrown at us, not just to vindicate the cruel and senseless assassination of my father and family members. In my mind, the crimes of the conspirators were bigger than murders; they had also killed the hopes of a burgeoning new nation, one that had been subjugated by colonial rulers for centuries.

In confronting these many difficult issues, I followed a simple methodology. I asked myself, “What would my father Sheikh Mujib do if he had remained alive?” The answer was always to remain steadfast to the ideals of Bangladesh that had inspired him and the entire nation. We needed to remain faithful to the ideals of the Liberation War of 1971, for which three million Bangladeshi people had sacrificed their lives.

Experience of Sheikh Hasina's New Journey towards Fulfilling Bangabandhu's Dreams and Ideologies:

She travelled all around the country to understand the needs of people, particularly the disadvantaged ones, to show empathy for their problems and identify those. She writes: To understand the needs of the people, particularly those who were down-trodden, I had to have empathy for their current problems and their aspirations and dreams for the future.

I began to meet routinely with ordinary people, especially those from poor households in the villages, who represented the real Bangladesh. I visited countless village markets and grassroots centres. In the process, I learned first-hand about economic activities in rural areas and became familiar with their needs, especially during natural disasters such as floods or cyclones.’

I extensively visited the areas vulnerable to monga (“monga” is a word used in our Rangpur district meaning localized famine), which affected northern Bangladesh, and tried to understand the practical details of these situations. My memories were filled with what my father had told us about his own dreams and specific plans for the development of the country. He used to share with us his ideas about how the endemic poverty that had plagued the country since colonial times could be eradicated once and for all. He had extensive planning about it.

I realized that many of the party’s leaders had been lost in the Liberation War; the party had been rudderless since 1975. So there needed a systematic change to implement the visions of Sheikh Mujib to rebuild the country. This led me to start reorganizing the Awami League. There was resistance; some insisted we did not need to fix what was already working.

I believed that the party needed to be strengthened to become our political platform, starting with the lowest units at the grassroots level. But it was hard and painstaking to rebuild an organization. Here too Sheikh Mujib’s philosophy, ideals, and aspirations helped me reorganize the party. The overwhelming desire at the ground level was to infuse our people with the spirit of the Liberation War and with the basic principles of the country’s constitution.

Sheikh Hasina on Bangabandhu's Thoughts about Bangladesh:

My knowledge and understanding of my father’s thoughts and plans—stemming from his lifetime dedication to and thinking for the country—have helped me translate his ideas into concrete programmes. The guiding principles involve – (1) being steadfast, (2) being empathetic to the needs of the downtrodden, (3) being systematic about actions and (4) being committed to materialising.

My father’s dream was to build an independent Bangladesh that would facilitate a better life for all the people in the country and change their destiny. When he was home, he would often discuss with us his thoughts and plans on ways to make each village self-sufficient by further increasing agricultural output. He visualized industrialization, road-building, the dredging of waterways, the expansion of railways, and so forth.

He imagined good roads leading to every village, with rice fields on one side and farmers’ settlements, schools, colleges, railway lines, hospitals, religious institutions, and all the social elements of life on the other. He dreamt of introducing various machines, purchased either individually or through cooperatives, which he asserted would greatly increase productivity.

He wanted to bring about a radical change in agriculture. He considered production-haring (keeping land ownership intact) schemes in which (1) the current landowners would claim a part, (2) the state-supported cooperatives would claim another part, and (3) the labourers would claim yet a third part. He had schemes for marketing the farmers’ produce. The important point is that he was always thinking and believed that conditions could be improved through innovations. His thoughts and beliefs became my inspiration and education.

Mourning Turns Into Strength, So Does Bangladesh:

It's impossible to forget the pain of losing a family member that night in 1975 and to come out of that emotional shock. Even then, for the greater good of the people of the country, she has tried to turn the grief of losing a family into strength to build a better Bangladesh, said Sheikh Hasina. She writes: I have seen many instances of wealthy families who, after great loss, donated their wealth to serve humanity by creating institutions of excellence. The Stanford family donated more than 8,000 acres of land when they lost their only child, Leland Jr., to typhoid in 1884, creating the foundation of today’s Stanford University.

The Widener family invested in Harvard University when their son Harry died in the Titanic disaster in 1912, helping to create the university’s largest library and one of the best in the world. I bring up these examples to point out that the pain of a tragedy can be channelled for good purposes.

I believe that the loss of my whole family was a tremendous tragedy, but I did not have any wealth to donate. However, I realized that I could channel my tears, tenacity, and time into building Bangladesh. My path since that dark year of 1975 eventually led me, 21 years later, to become prime minister for a five-year term, starting in 1996.

The country became self-sufficient in food for the first time basically after Awami League formed the government in 1996. After being elected Prime Minister for the third time in a row since 2009, Bangabandhu's daughter Sheikh Hasina got time for development works. Through the implementation of Bangabandhu's philosophy, she has been able to turn today's Bangladesh into a digital state, Bangladesh has become a middle-income country. Bangladesh stands tall in the world today thanks to the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s vision of the state, and the strategic but tireless efforts of his daughter Sheikh Hasina to materialize the visions.