Commemorative Commentary: Bangabandhu's finest hour
12:00 AM, March 07, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:15 PM, March 07, 2018

Commemorative Commentary: Bangabandhu's finest hour

It is this writer's view that the 7th March speech was Bangabandhu's finest hour. He stood far taller than ever before and with him we too stood tall as well, far taller than we could never imagine or even dream of till then.  He was always known for being a powerful and spellbinding speaker. But that day, 47 years ago, he outperformed himself a thousand times over, and a thousand times more empowered we felt that day.

During that crucial March afternoon, and especially through the electrifying moments of the speech the young Bangabandhu stood towering above the nation, singly shouldering the burden of leading an unprepared people towards an independence struggle that was later to become one of the most brutal.

However bravely we may talk today about those events so long ago, at that time we really did not know how things were to unfold. Yes, we all wanted our rights and our freedom and we wanted them right away. But how were they to come? Was freedom to come through negotiations or would it require us to wage an armed struggle? And what did we understand by armed struggle? Did we really know what it would entail? We romanticised about it, but knew nothing of it.

Things were becoming increasingly obvious that to realise our legitimate rights we may have to split the exiting country asunder and seek independence. But how is one to start an armed independence movement? What would be the consequence of making a declaration for it right now? What was needed for us to do in case we were to start such an armed struggle right  away.

Though we all talked about it, and some may have even said so in public, yet it was for our elected leader, it was that man who was to speak to the nation on this day , who would have to take us through that uncharted path.

Many do not fully appreciate that a premature call for action or an unprepared move could nip all our dreams in the bud. Many a revolution failed because of that.

The man who should be the Prime Minister of whole of Pakistan by dint of his electoral victory had to take the right step at the right time. The critical question was when would be the right time to make that bold move? That was the burden that was being shouldered by the man who was to speak.

And this is where the speciality and uniqueness of the 7th March speech lies. One must fully understand the very critical nature of the speech and the crucial moment when Bangabandhu was making it. We were all aware that the Pakistani government and especially its military was waiting to pounce on us with all their might for any wrong move that Bangabandhu would take.

The brilliance of the speech is that it says everything without giving the enemy elements that could be used to hold us legally responsible under international law for breaking up the formal Pakistan. Though by then we knew that the country had actually broken up in every sense yet the nuances of the legal world had to be observed and Bangabandhu did so most dexterously in his speech.

To fully appreciate the magnificence of this speech one has to understand the context in which it was delivered. Awami League had fought an election and won the majority of seats in the parliament of Pakistan. Following the results, Gen Yahya had declared that Sheikh Mujib would be the Prime Minister of Pakistan. It was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and some conniving army generals who did not want to transfer power to someone whose electoral programme was to realise the legitimate rights of the Bangalee people enshrined in the now famous six points. There were many indications about the impending betrayal of the verdict of the December '70 elections, yet it was not till the postponement of the session of the newly elected parliament that Bangabandhu could really give a call for an all-out movement.

When the session of the parliament was postponed on 1st March, '71, the fatal shot to the existence of united Pakistan was fired right into its chest. And it was on the night of 25th March, when Pakistani military cracked down on the civilian population of what was till then one country, and started what was later to become a genocide of the Bangalees that Pakistan was killed and buried. It was in the midst of this highly charged transition period -- that started from the 1st March -- when events were unfolding at a break-neck speed that Bangabandhu had to give this speech.

And here lies the beauty and the craftsmanship of this speech, which transforms it as a classic in political oratory, which has rightly been honoured by UNESCO recently.

The speech had to live up to the high expectation of the people who wanted their independence and yet there should be nothing in it that could give an outright excuse to the Pakistan army to start military action against the unarmed Bangalee people. In fact, Tikka Khan's bands of killers would want nothing better than to be given a publicly announced excuse for an army action which we now know to be genocidal and which had already been decided upon by the army junta.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina hands over Unesco certificates to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina hands over Unesco certificates to five organisations for their outstanding contributions to achieving the recognition of the March 7 Speech of Bangabandhu as the world's documentary heritage. The photo was taken at the Gono Bhaban yesterday. Photo: PMO

So Bangabandhu had to say everything, and yet not give the excuse that Pakistan military was looking for. He had to stand steadfast and yet keep open the doors for negotiations which he knew and we understood to be, nothing but a farce.

Under no circumstances could he appear to be the one responsible for the breakdown of the talks. And yet he had to take his people forward and give them the right directions, maintain the militancy, ask them to take all the necessary preparatory steps, and clear people's minds about the final goal. It was a political and intellectual challenge of the highest kind, and it could be tackled only by a speech of the type that Bangabandhu delivered that day.

Take for example the content of the speech. In it he gradually builds up the whole rationale for the movement that has been going on. He argues, cajoles, pleads, demands and finally warns, not to take lightly the demand of a people who have realised their strength through struggle. He talks of peace and yet gives clear signals that peace cannot come at the cost of capitulation. He talks of sacrifice, but not in terms of a helpless people who are weak but in terms of a courageous and bold people who have knowingly taken upon themselves a task which they knew to be an arduous and dangerous one and for which they were ready to face any consequence.

There was superb cleverness in the construction of the speech in which he said all that he needed to be said and yet the enemy could not hold him responsible for having said anything which was illegal.

The voice in the speech is one of its most magnificent aspects. It was so bold that the whole nation could and in fact did, take strength from it. There was the unhesitant enunciation of everything that needed to be said. There was such a magnificent modulation of voice that every word uttered seemed irreplaceable.  The way the words flowed it came from the heart and yet never lost that fine balance that a political speech of such significance had to have especially at that moment in time.

Throughout it all the strength of the man came out and touched us all who heard him, drawing us all close to him and making us automatically and unquestioningly trust and repose faith in him.

If ever a speech united, strengthened, enthused, inspired a people, and gave courage to them to become bolder and more determined than they usually are, it was Bangabandhu's speech of 7th March 1971.

If ever one single speech became the most effective motivational weapon for a nation at war then this was it.

If ever a speech of a leader became the constant companion for young freedom fighters (like myself and millions like me) facing an enemy known for their proficiency and ferocity and which acted to link the people in a spellbinding string of words and sounds, then this speech was so, for all of us, the freedom fighters, spread throughout the nook and corner of what was then our enslaved motherland.

The above is an updated version of the article originally published 21 years ago as a commentary in this paper in 1997.

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