The birth of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on March 17, 1920, was a momentous occasion that coincided with the changing contours of the subcontinent. Far away from the Great War, which unfurled a complex politics in colonial India and caused the waning of imperial enthusiasm, in a remote village called Tungipara in Gopalganj, Sheikh Lutfar Rahman and Sheikh Sayera Khatun welcomed their first son after two daughters in the family. They called him "Khoka". His childhood was no different from the other village children except for his strong determination to secure the rights of others. He would do so making sure that his fellow Muslim students could sit on the front bench in a predominantly Hindu school, his playmates get a deserved rest after a football match, or his rickety school structure gets the attention of the visiting political dignitaries.
The last instance brought Sheikh Mujib close to the then Commerce and Labour Minister of Bengal, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, who asked him to start a student unit of the Muslim League. Their relationship deepened when Mujib was sent to Islamia College in Kolkata after his matriculation. His leadership acumen got him elected as the general secretary of the college students' union.
He remained a Muslim League activist who played a significant role in diffusing communal tension during the riots or distributing food among the victims. When his party broke away from the conservative and elitist faction of the Muslim League and rebranded itself as the Awami Muslim League, Mujib was elected as its Joint Secretary. The imminent departure of the British made the party focus on securing a homeland for the Muslim majority.
After the Partition, Mujib came to the University of Dhaka to study Law. The euphoria of having a hard-earned Pakistan with two wings was short-lived as the central government started disregarding the regional needs and culture. The declaration of having Urdu as the state language irked the people of East Pakistan further as they realised the colonial intention of the central leaders. The resentment resulted in activism. Mujib along with many of his peers was sent to jail. The Language Movement catapulted Mujib to the political centre stage from the campus protest he was leading to redress the wrongs against fourth-class employees.
He was given a ticket by the electoral alliance of 'Haq-Bhashani-Suhrawardy' to contest the Gopalganj constituency in 1954. His overwhelming win against a formidable opponent earned him a ministerial position in the cabinet of the United Front in 1956.
Once Maulana Bhashani left the Awami Muslim League, his party adopted a secular stance by removing Muslim from its name. Mujib became the party's general secretary in 1955. The abrogation of the constitution by the military junta forced Mujib to launch his campaign for democracy. With his fiery speeches and charismatic presence, he galvanized support for the historic six-point demand seeking regional autonomy.
The leaders of West Pakistan saw it as a secessionist scheme and brought charges of conspiracy against him in 1968. He was released from what is now known as the Agartala Conspiracy Case following a mass uprising in 1969. Soon after, he was bestowed with the honorific title Bangabandhu –the friend of Bengal.
When the military junta announced the date for a national election in 1970, they did not expect Awami League to get the majority of the seats. The landslide victory made Sheikh Mujibur Rahman the prime-minister-elect of Pakistan. However, notwithstanding the people's verdict, the military rulers took him into custody and unleashed a genocide on March 25, 1971. The moment of truth that Mujib outlined in his famous speech on March 7, 1971, arrived. People braced for the ultimate sacrifice. Resistance was mobilised; freeing Mujib and freeing the country became synonymous.
With Mujib as its president, a provisional government was formed at a border-town renamed as Mujibnagar. The guerrilla war lasted for nine months before the victory was earned on December 16, 1971, at a cost of 3 million lives. Mujib was returned to his people on January 10, 1972. He took the responsibility of a war-ravaged country that had to negotiate with the nuances of the Cold War, the growing influences of the Islamic countries, and the expectations of the big neighbour who supported us during the war.
For someone, who spent a quarter of his life in jail and the rest in promoting a just cause for a nation for his people to dream, it was time to become a statesman to bring recognition for a new country. He had just over three years to do so before assassins tried to silence him and all that he stood for.
On March 17, we look back at the man who became the architect of a nation-state. He mapped out our destiny when the maps of the region were being re-drawn. It is up to us to adorn the map and the man behind it with love and pride.