Home Commentaries & Articles Inheritance of Mujibism: A Daughter Enthused Over the Dream of Golden Bangla

Inheritance of Mujibism: A Daughter Enthused Over the Dream of Golden Bangla

If one were to use a metaphor for the personality of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Bangabandhu; perhaps one could say that he was like the Nazunia. The Nazunia is a rugged grass flower. It grows on its own.  It needs neither a Gardner nor any special care or climate. It grows anywhere and everywhere. It blooms by the edges of gardens, corners of structures, near hedges, on the roads and in the wilderness. It is not meant for the glossy vases, garlands, and gardens of the rich and the powerful. It is for everyone and treats everyone the same. Nazunia does not expect any appreciation from those who cross its path but stands by to make their route better by its presence. However, if anyone does pause to take a closer look at it, one is wonderstruck by the resilience this unassuming flower. It is very delicate and yet extremely strong at the same time. In its apparent ordinariness resides extraordinariness. Amongst the many who were awestruck by this Nazunia – Sheikh Mujibur Rahman – and understood this paradox of extraordinariness in ordinariness is Sheikh Hasina Wazed, his daughter. 

This writeup breezes through some of the interviews of Sheikh Hasina to trace the shimmer of Sheikh Mujib’s dream of Sonar Bangla, in his daughter’s aspirations. In an interview given to Sir David Frost on 23rd September 2013, Sheikh Hasina shared some of the most personal memories of her parents and grandparents. She mentioned that she stayed with her grandparents for a part of her early life. They were extremely protective of their grandchildren. So much so that Hasina was not allowed to attend a formal school because that would have entailed a journey across a water body and her grandmother feared that the connecting bridge might collapse and something may happen to her little princess. Even though Hasina doesn’t explain her grandmother’s fears, if one looks into the family’s past one finds that they had actually lost young lives to early deaths. Sheikh Mujib’s paternal uncle and aunt had died in their youth leaving their daughter, Sheikh Fazilatunnisa; also called Renu a young orphan. Mujib’s grandfather secured this child’s future by marrying her with Sheikh Mujib. Thus, Hasina’s parents were also cousins. It goes to the credit of Sheikh Mujib that even though he had a strongly independent take on most matters in life, he happily accepted this decision of his elders. The marriage was an exceptional success. Although about a decade younger than her husband, Fazilatunnisa proved to be a pillar of support for him. Hasina praised her mother as someone who never complained about anything. She believed that patience is power. She didn’t limit herself to looking after her household but also played an important role in the socio-political mainstream. Revealing her parents’ conversation before the historic 7th March 1971 speech of Sheikh Mujib, Hasina wrote as follows: ‘Many suggestions came to my father. He listened to all the suggestions with patience…when my father was getting ready, my mother brought him to a room and told him to take rest for a while…my mother had said to my father, “the fate of the nation depends on you today. You should remember that you have a ‘stick’ in front and a ‘gun’ in your behind…you have been suggested by many to speak so many things. As the fate of the masses depends on your statement, follow your way. Whatever you will deliver that will go right through because people of the country love you and depend on you.” (cf. Md. Shamsuddoha, ‘The speech of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on 7th March 1971: A Historical Analysis’, Journal of Social and Political Sciences, vol. 3, No.1, pp. 222-223.) It is indeed remarkable that after the 1975 massacre, when it seemed impossible for anyone from the family of Sheikh Mujib to dare to come back to Bangladesh, leave alone come to power, Hasina did both. Besides the terrifying threat to her life, she would have also braved the gender-based prejudices which may have hindered her progress. Her parents had inspired her so deeply that she remained strong despite their gruesome killing. Indeed, Sheikh Mujib had prepared his daughter for his death. That is one of the difficult but most important things that a parent must do and knowingly or unknowingly he had done it.  It is no wonder that as a Prime Minister Hasina has taken conscious steps to eradicate gender-based discriminations from Bangladesh. After all her father had set an example of gender-equality and gender-justice by the way he treated Fazilatunnisa. He sought her advice on critical issues and respected her opinion.  In the present times, it gives great satisfaction to Hasina that the government of her country has made school education free for girls. The government of Bangladesh also provides them with free books and stipends etc. In an interview given to Angela Merkel on 14th February 2019, she said that she did not want the females of her country to feel that marriage could be the only aim and goal of their life. They must be given many more choices and options. She happily informed that due to the progressive policies of her government, parents of female children, consider their daughters also as potential earning members of the family. Economic independence of women is a priority in the agenda of Sheikh Hasina. She is actively involved in ensuring the induction of women in positions of power and decision making. No wonder that the number of child-marriages has decreased substantially in Bangladesh. Nuzhat, the Vice President and Principal Consultant of SKOPE Business Consulting, Gurugram, India, who visited Bangladesh once or more times in a month since 2018 for business made the following observations: “The growing role of women in the economy is directly proportional to the power that they have in society. The Ready-Made Garment segment makes the largest contribution to exports from Bangladesh. This sector generated employment opportunities for a lot of women. Even at the top level, one would see plenty of women in leadership roles. Thus, in Bangladesh women are reasonably empowered. It is to be noted that Bangladesh has secured the first spot in gender equality (among South Asian countries) for the second consecutive year at the Gender Gap Index of 2017. Women of Bangladesh have an intense desire to prove themselves at the workplace. The local culture is embracing the idea of working women rapidly.  I have met some women enterprising women like Monjarin Zaman, Director, at Fakir Apparels and Sohana Rauf Chaudhary at Rangs. They are grooming future women leaders within their organizations. Rubana Haq, President of Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers & Exporters Association is pushing the cause of readymade garments labour, on global forums during the current COVID crisis.” Thus, Sheikh Mujib’s respect for gender justice has translated into progressive policies in his daughter’s governance in particular and the ethos of their nation in general. 

In the interview with Frost, Sheikh Hasina was asked whether her father was a strict disciplinarian. She replied that there is no doubt that he was strict, but he was so in an affectionate way. She quickly asserted that he was the most caring and loving father. She opened her treasure box of memories and shared that he enjoyed taking his children for walks. Sheikh Mujib’s grandson and Hasina’s son, Sajeeb Ahmed Wazed wrote in an article in Dhaka Tribune (18th March 2020) that as a four-year-old he adored his maternal grandfather so much that he wanted to copy each action of his: “As a child, I loved having breakfast with my grandfather. I insisted on eating whatever he ate, exactly the way he ate it. My grandmother objected to this idolization only once when, as a joke, my grandfather allowed me to puff on one of his lighted pipes. Grandma got angry. He gave one of his famous, big laughs as I coughed my little lungs out…” Hasina’s reply makes it quite clear that her father balanced affection with discipline. Undoubtedly the latter is essential to make children handle situations which are outside their comfort zone. In a way, he was trying his children to understand that they will not be loved by everyone, but yes, he loves them. However, Sheikh Mujib’s love for the people of his nation was far greater than his love for his immediate family. I say ‘immediate’ because he considered his people also to be his family. Hasina recalls: “He never thought about himself. Thought only about his people. The thought that occupied his mind was to do everything that he could do to free them from oppression. He risked his life for them.” Hasina is so proud of him that she doesn’t hesitate for a moment in declaring that for her too, her people come first. They are more important to her than her family. As she says this in an interview, the glimmer of un-fallen tears in her eyes attest how she feels about her father’s dedication for his people. She remains undeterred in her resolve to be like her father, the numerous attempts on her life notwithstanding. Her remembrance of the day her parents and brothers together with other relatives were massacred in their home is vivid. She said: “In the morning the phone rang. I still feel the sound.” The person on the other end asked her to call her husband. There was a coup in Bangladesh. The suspense was killing. She feared for the worst. Her fears were not unfounded. She had lost everyone except her sister, her two children and her husband. They were in Germany at that time and were thus saved. She didn’t know how to break the news to her younger sister, whom she protected in a motherly fashion. As a mother, she could hardly share her pain with her own children because they were just two and four years old. She cried alone; protecting her loved ones from breaking down by seeing her break down. In those days of despair, her father’s way of balancing emotions with goals would have shown her the path to recovery. As she says to Sir David Frost that she couldn’t even come back to Bangladesh then; a tear betrays her and flows down her cheek. With the painful memory surfaces the innocent young girl, who hides behind the tough facade of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. The girl still searches for answers; how could the very people of Bengal kill her father, he loved them more than anyone; she surely knows that. Years have passed, but the pain and disbelief still seem recent. The fact that the lives of her loved ones were lost in the way of serving the people of her nation is perhaps not just a consolation but also an inspiration for her. The people come before her family, just the way they were her father’s priority. Whenever they will allow her to serve them, she would, no matter what risks come with the deal. There have been more than a dozen attempts on her life. In fact, a grenade attack on 21st of August 2004, killed many of her supporters. It is almost like a fairy tale that she lives to talk about them. In the interview given to Angela Merkel, she bravely proclaims that her government has zero-tolerance for terrorism. It is committed to ensuring freedom of speech and secularism. Unfazed by her opponents she says: “I know that my father sacrificed his life, and I am ready to sacrifice because I have to fulfil my father’s job.”  In the same interview, Hasina elaborates upon her father’s dream. She says: “My father struggled his whole life for these people and the country. He wanted to build up this country as a prosperous country, but he could not do it. So, I feel that it is my job.” She further emphasises that it is her responsibility to keep peace in her country. As a leader, she is determined to make choices which are good for her people. While speaking in a meeting of Council on Foreign Relations, on 26th September 2019 she defined Golden Bangla as a zone of social justice, modernity, secularism, religious freedom, and harmony. She supports freedom of speech and is ready to face criticism. She says: “If you work more, you will hear more criticism.” When asked by Markel about the rising number of rightist groups, she assures that her government is committed to creating an atmosphere where every religion can perform their faith peacefully and honourably: “Secularism does not mean no religion. We believe in religion. Sometimes they (rightists) use Islam the wrong way, they should not do it.” Her firm stand on secular values takes one right back to her father’s 1971 speech. He had said: “Listen and bear in mind, the enemy has penetrated us to create division amongst us and to start looting Hindus, Muslims, Bengalis and Non-Bengalis, all those who live in this Bangla are our brothers. The responsibility of protecting them is on you. Ensure that our reputation is not smeared in any way.” Thus, Sheikh Mujib had made it clear right at the onset that divisiveness and separatist tendencies based on religious, ethnic or any other lines will not be tolerated by him or his party. He stood for communal harmony, secularism, social justice, and absolute peace. Nuzhat’s recent observations are as follows: “The social fabric of Bangladesh is predominantly secular. Non-Muslims occupy top positions in many organisations. Competence is the only criteria for employment. Business Houses don’t hesitate in employing expatriates and one would find several of them from India and Sri Lanka, besides some European countries. The first-generation business owners are very progressive in their outlook. They understand the importance of education and this has furthered a modern outlook in the country.” Thus, Hasina learned it from her father that one doesn’t have to be an atheist to respect all religions. Sheikh Mujib had cautioned against an inhuman interpretation of religiosity way back in 1971 and Hasina holds on his idea of humanism. She believes that a true follower of any religion-any religion at all – is certain to have humanism as his basic nature. Once that position is taken, respect for all religions and the variety of creation would follow with the involuntariness of a beating heart.  

The Nazunia element of Mujibism shines through Hasina’s personality in beautifully subtle shades. She sounds so tough and unbeatable when she says to Angela Merkel: “We have to do, what we have to do.” And then you have the same Hasina speaking on 2nd October 2019, about a shortage of onions, caused by a temporary ban on their export to Bangladesh. She laughs and says: “I have told my cook not to put onion in my food.” Indeed, the nation has become her family and who does not want a happy family? Here, you have a true leader who will not eat onions until its supply is regularised enough for all her people to afford it. That is Mujibism. Everyone in the room laughs at her positive and light take on the matter. And the dream of Golden Bangla unfolds in a mesmeric way, as a daughter bridges the gap between her father’s aspirations and her nation’s reality.

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