Bangabandhu was famously gracious and forgiving, always going the extra mile to reach out to his erstwhile enemies and opponents.
When will Bangladesh come of age as an independent country and what would such a coming of age look like? With 50 years of independence just round the corner this is a fair question for Bangladeshis to ask ourselves.
I would like to posit an answer to this question, and suggest that we will finally have come of age when we can put behind us the existential battles that have raged over the past five decades with respect to our foundational values and principles, what our nationhood means, and even the very history that forged us.
Now, different people will always look at things in different ways, and historical events can and will and must have more than a singular meaning. And in a democracy everyone will have their own beliefs and ideas and interpretations.
Yet, for a nation to cohere, we must have some common touchstones and some common values.
Reverence for our Liberation War must be one such touchstone and reverence for our Founding Father, the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman must be another.
Bangabandhu was a complex and contradictory man and certainly he was not without flaws and made his fair share of mistakes. But the fact that this courageous and charismatic man embodied our national identity and that without his inspiration and example we would never have achieved our freedom as a people cannot be gainsaid.
Reverence for this great man and recognition of the centrality of his role in the very definition of Bangladesh as a country should and must be something that all Bangladeshis can agree on and find common ground on.
It is absolutely crucial to our own self-identity as a nation that he be recognized as a man for all Bangladeshis and not just for some. As his own heroic and magnanimous efforts to bring the nation together in his all too short tenure at the helm of independent Bangladesh testifies, this was how he saw himself.
Bangabandhu was famously gracious and forgiving, always going the extra mile to reach out to his erstwhile enemies and opponents. He was always supremely cognizant of his role as the leader of all Bangladeshis not just those who had voted and fought for him.
Indeed it is quite possible that this greatness of spirit and vision is part of what sealed his doom. He lacked the ruthlessness and cunning to vanquish his enemies and the conspirators against his rule. But we must understand that he would not have had it any other way.
Bangabandhu’s belief in the goodness and brotherhood of all Bangladeshis and his belief that he belonged to all the people of our great nation was central to both his conception of himself as a man and of Bangladesh as a nation.
I am opposed to the legal innovations that make it a crime to criticize Bangabandhu or try to legislate a singular official version of his legacy and our history. This is something he himself would never have thought to do and his vision of an independent Bangladesh was one in which we would all be free to argue fiercely and passionately for our beliefs, values, and interpretations, however much they might differ.
To try to force through legislation reverence for a man whose greatness was built on the freely given and hard earned love of the Bangladeshi people is antithetical to the man he was and indeed does a disservice to his memory and legacy.
Bangabandhu does not need any laws to protect his name and reputation. The simple truth of his life and death is enough to establish his greatness and protect his legacy and what the Bangladeshi people meant to him and what he meant and means to the Bangladeshi people.
The truth is the truth. History is history. Incontrovertible facts are incontrovertible facts. The battles which were fought over Bangabandhu’s legacy in the 1970s and 1980s, the disinformation and defamation which his legacy had to suffer and which disfigured our polity are now largely a thing of the past.
The reason for this, I believe, is that the new generation of Bangladeshis has made up its own mind as to his greatness and has chosen to disbelieve and disregard the negative propaganda against him. They have read the history books and seen footage of the historic speeches and have come to their own conclusions.
That Bangabandhu was the greatest of all Bangladeshis and that we owe our very independent existence to him is a recognition and a belief that the youth of Bangladesh have come to by themselves. And in coming to it and finally ending the internecine wars we have fought these many years over the history of Bangladesh, the new generation of Bangladeshis is now finally prepared to forge our future together as one.
A nation must honour its history and its heroes. And in this 100th year since the birth of Bangabandhu and on this grim anniversary of the date this great man was cut down in his prime, I feel that Bangladesh is finally doing so, and in so doing we are finally coming out of the darkness that engulfed this country 45 years ago and into the light of a new day.
The truth has set us free.