Sheikh Hasina`s Homecoming: A Defining Moment in Bangladesh`s History


Published on May 17, 2024
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Prime Minister and the President of Bangladesh Awami League Sheikh Hasina returned to Bangladesh on May 17, 1981, after an involuntary exile abroad that commenced in August 1975. Each year, on May 17, leaders and supporters of the Bangladesh Awami League observe the occasion known as "Jononetree Sheikh Hasina's Homecoming Day." Several events have rendered this day significant in Bangladesh's history. The subsequent narrative will offer a comprehensive insight into the context and significance of "Hasina's Homecoming Day."

On August 15, 1975, anti-liberation terrorists attacked Sheikh Fazlul Haque Moni, a Juba League leader, and Serniabat, a cabinet member and Bangabandhu's brother-in-law. This tragic incident resulted in the demise of Bangabandhu and most of his family, but by the grace of Almighty Allah, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana survived. Deeply ingrained in our national history, these events plunged Choto Apa Sheikh Rehana and Prime Minister Jononetree Sheikh Hasina into a world of profound sorrow and uncertainty. Their safety became increasingly precarious as assassins targeted Bangabandhu's direct descendants. The fact of their escape and subsequent self-preservation for six years until their return to Bangladesh on May 17, 1981, surpasses the realms of fiction in its magnitude.

The assassination of Bangabandhu and his family was orchestrated by specific Pakistani followers despite the presence of military personnel in uniform on television immediately after the killings. Humayun Rashid Chowdhury, the former Bangladeshi ambassador to West Germany, supported Bangabandhu's daughters during this tumultuous period. Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia and Indira Gandhi of India, leaders unaffiliated with any significant power bloc, extended political asylum to Bangabandhu's daughters.

The news of Bangabandhu's demise left them in a state of profound shock and grief, as they were not only his close associates but also fervent admirers. Bangabandhu's daughters embarked on a journey to New Delhi, India, to express their gratitude for the sanctuary provided.

The brutal assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family members by individuals linked with Pakistan brought unparalleled disgrace to the nation on the global stage.

Pakistani allies were forced out of independent Bangladesh because the Bengali people refused to tolerate deception. Bengali nationalist and non-communal organizations stood firm against forces opposed to independence. After six years of exile, Jononetree Sheikh Hasina's return to Bangladesh on May 17, 1981, marked her leadership of Bangabandhu’s political organization, the Bangladesh Awami League, despite numerous obstacles imposed by the previous regime. She arrived at Kurmitola Airport via an Indian Airlines flight from Kolkata at 4:30 p.m.

In her absence, Jononetree Sheikh Hasina was elected party president during the Awami League's national council meeting on February 1416, 1981. "I haven't come back to lead the Awami League," remarked Jononetree Sheikh Hasina about her return. "I'm here to stand with the people in their struggle for liberation." As over 1.5 million people gathered at the airport, the AL president announced this, receiving an enthusiastic standing ovation. Bangladesh has seen remarkable progress under the exceptional leadership of Prime Minister Jononetree Sheikh Hasina, the esteemed daughter of Bangabandhu.

Sheikh Hasina's unwavering commitment to realizing Bangabandhu's vision of a prosperous Bengal continues unabated. Her return symbolizes a pivotal moment for the democratic and secular aspirations of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's supporters. Sheikh Hasina stands as the most significant legacy of Bangabandhu, inheriting his bloodline and leadership acumen. Her tenure has brought newfound optimism, dispelling the long-standing gloom that once shrouded Bangladesh's fortunes. Jononetree Sheikh Hasina arises as the nation's most reliable guardian, navigating through crises with resilience and fortitude as the President of Bangladesh Awami League and Prime Minister of Bangladesh. She has endured numerous tragedies, inspiring hope and resilience in her people. Her leadership during challenging times has earned her unparalleled domestic and international respect.

The revolution of Bangladesh's democratic journey has often been uncertain, especially after the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975. Military rulers attempted to model Bangladesh after Pakistan, disregarding the sacrifices made for independence.

Jononetree Sheikh Hasina, the eldest child of Bangabandhu, was elected by a national council to lead the Bangladesh Awami League in the early 1980s. Despite objections from the military regime, Sheikh Hasina returned to Bangladesh to assume leadership of the party, a move deemed essential during a time of crisis. Sheikh Hasina, a beacon of resilience, endured harrowing grenade attacks, a testament to her unwavering dedication to the betterment of the working people of Bangladesh. Her political philosophy, which she has put into action, revolves around addressing the needs of the populace and striving to realize the vision of a Sonar Bangla, a liberal, democratic, and secular Bangladesh envisioned during the liberation war. At the core of her political slogan lies the commitment to enhance the standard of people's lives.

As the coronavirus pandemic mopped worldwide, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took charge, leading Bangladesh's exemplary disaster management efforts. Under her leadership, stringent measures were implemented, including closing government offices, schools, and educational institutions, except those under the health ministry. A robust framework for COVID-19 detection tests, establishing specialized hospitals and isolation centres, deploying armed forces to enforce hygiene and social distancing regulations, and enhancing relief programs to provide food assistance to the vulnerable were swiftly implemented. Despite having a team, Sheikh Hasina personally oversaw every aspect of the response, embodying the role of a commander-in-chief, which is crucial in every battle. Her hands-on approach instilled confidence in the nation, reassuring them that their leader was at the forefront of the fight.

Sheikh Hasina, often referring to herself as a 'Pilot who could not sleep,' spearheaded the nation's fight against COVID-19 with vigour. Through frequent video conferences, she provided precise directives to government officials, instilling confidence among citizens nationwide. Collaborative efforts between Sheikh Hasina and leaders across Asia aimed at combating COVID-19 and safeguarding South Asians exemplify her proactive approach to regional challenges. Bangladeshis are fortunate to have a visionary, energetic, and sincere leader in Sheikh Hasina, whose exceptional leadership has garnered international recognition.

The fact that Forbes lauded her prompt and commendable response to the crisis, noting Bangladesh's resilience under her leadership, is a testament to the pride she brings to the nation.

As the longest-serving Prime Minister in Bangladesh's history, Sheikh Hasina promptly organized the repatriation of stranded Bangladeshis in early February 2020. This entailed a series of proactive measures, including the closure of academic institutions and the opening of online business dealings upon the first detection of COVID-19 cases in March. Stringent screening protocols at international airports underscored her commitment to containing the virus, resulting in the quarantine of thousands as a precautionary measure. Sheikh Hasina's swift and comprehensive response parallels the decisive leadership demonstrated by Bangabandhu during the liberation war, reaffirming her legacy as a transformative leader in times of crisis.

Jononetree Sheikh Hasina's courageous bearing against various domestic and international challenges, rooted in her rejection of fear, is a tribute to all Bangladeshi citizens. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Prime Minister took simultaneous action to safeguard the economy's growth trajectory and improve people's lives. Jononetree Sheikh Hasina successfully achieved nationwide electrification and completed the construction of the Padma Bridge despite funding setbacks from the World Bank. Under her leadership, Bangladesh has witnessed advancements across its economy, social fabric, cultural landscape, traditional values, and digital infrastructure, showcasing its potential for global economic growth.

More than mere sincerity and honesty, Sheikh Hasina's influence is grounded in her unwavering belief in the resilience and potential of the Bengali people. She steadfastly upholds the notion that Bangladeshis cannot be subdued by any powerful nation, having secured independence through the sacrifices of the liberation war. Jononetree Sheikh Hasina's visionary leadership has significantly contributed to Bangladesh's remarkable growth and elevated its international standing in the twenty-first century. Countless individuals, myself included, are inspired by Sheikh Hasina's belief in our potential and her continued success on the global stage. Let us pray for the enduring health and longevity of Jononetree Sheikh Hasina, a beacon of hope and progress for Bangladesh.

Author: Dr. M. Shahinoor Rahman, Professor of English at the Islamic University of Kushtia.