Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, lovingly called Bangabandhu (or friend of Bengal but in essence meaning the Father of the Nation, Bangladesh) by popular acclamation in 1969, was born on 17 March, 1920 in the placid rural hamlet of Tungipara, in the Gopalanj Sub-division of the Faridpur district. (Gopalganj has been subsequently upgraded to a district). His father, Sheikh Lutfar Rahman, a well-to-do landowner also served as a sheristadar in the local Munsif Court.
As Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was growing up, he used to learn of his family’s ancestral struggle withthe local zamindar and the indigo plantrs, all of who subjected his forefathers to financial stress and harassment. Knowledge of these unhappy family experiences left a deep impression on young Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who would grow ardently opposed to all facts of imprerialism, and exploitation of the landed interests.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman received his elementary education in the village minor school established by a member of the family. Later on, he was admitted into Gopalganj public school. In 1934, while in grade 7, he was affected with beriberi that had an effect on his heart and eyes. He was medically treated for glaucoma, & subsequently, on the recommendation of his physician, he was withdrawn from school for four years. In 1937, he returned to his studies with vigor and enthusiasm.
In his youthful years, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was attracted to all forms and kinds of resistance movement against the British rulers of india; he began to believe firmly that every one should organize resistance against the ruling British Raj. At around this time of his youthful life, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman also began to take interest in Social work, and served as Secretary of the Muslim Sheba Samity that assisted poor students in pursuing their education.
In 1938 when the Chief Minister of Bengal A. K. Fazlul Huq, and his Cabinet Minister for Commerce and Labor Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, visited Gopalganj, the young Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was given responsibility of recruiting a volunteer group for organizing a public reception for the important visitors. It was on this occasion when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman met, for the first time, his would be mentor, Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy.
Cabinet Minister Suhrawardy was immediately drawn to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and asked him to organize a branch of the Muslim League, and a Muslim student organization in Gopalganj. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, then a student of Gopalganj Mission High School, got arrested for the first time on charges of causing public disturbances when a fracas broke out between the supporters of the Muslim League and the visiting Ministers, and their Congress opponents opposing the reception. Since most Congress supporters happened to be Hindus, a misgiving gained concuss that the Hindus were not favorably inclined to Muslim interests.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman passed his Matriculation from Gopalganj Mission School in 1942. He proceeded to and got admission in Calcutta Islamia College. He also became a resident of the Baker Hostelin Calcutta, now Kolkata. In due course, he was elected uncontested as the General Secretary of the Islamia College Student’s Union for two consecutive terms in 1945 and 1946. He graduated in 1947 from the University of Calcutta to which the Islamia College was an affiliate. After partition of sub-continent, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was admitted in 1948 for a degree on Law in the University of Dacca of the then East Pakistan. Unfortunately, he could not complete the degree course, as he was released force release from the Dacca University for arising the cause and supporting the demand for improved service conditions of the fourth class employees of the University.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, as a student, was average in his studies for the simple reason of his spending more time and interest in politics than on academic pursuit. With an intelligent, sharp and inquisitive mind, he applied himself, during available time, in the pursuit of knowledge of art, literature, history and philosophy. In his incomplete and unpublished memoir, he records diligently his observation as well as his interpretation of the many historical events that occurred in the last decade of United Bengal and the first two decades of East Pakistan, with the insight of an eye witness and a participant.
In long periods of his interments because of political convictions, and particularly during the Agartala trial, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman spent his time reading books on his areas of interest, and wrote his memoir. On one occasion from jail, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman wrote a letter to Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy of his wish to go to England and become a Barrister-at-Law. In comparison to his mentor, Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, or A. K. Fazlul Haq, for whom he had the highest regard, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a college graduate.
Unlike them however, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had a unique presence of mind, a ready wit, clarity of thought, and oratorical ability to spellbind his audience. Indeed, he had in his early political career, mastered the art of public speaking, and the technique of mass mobilization of people. With his own rural background, he could communicate with people as one of his own. Populist, cultured, urbane and dignified, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman presented the image of a politician who could represent both the countryside as well as the urban communities.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahnman’s long stay in Calcutta during his formative youthful years had in many ways molded his political views and outlook. He was the last East Bengal political leader linked to Calcutta, the nerve center of Bengal politics during the British Raj, and to rural East Pakistan. In Calcutta, he was exposed to the communal rancour and violence as well as to the refreshing liberalism found in the leadership of at least a few across the religious divide.
Although Sheikh Mujibur Rahman did not have any close contact with Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, he became the Netaji’s close admirer for his secular convictions, efforts to bring about Hindu-Muslim understanding, and strong anti-imperialist stance. He equally held Chitta Ranjan Das in high respect for his dedicated efforts in creating lasting Hindu-Muslim amity.
While in Calcutta, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman came in close touch with Husayan Shaheed Suhrawardy. He also came in contact with A. K. Fazlul Huq, Maulana A. H. K. Bhashani, Maulana Akram Khan, Abdul Hashim, and many others notable progressive Muslim leaders, alongwith Nawabs and Khan Bahadurs. But unlike them who spent most of their time in Calcutta, he, with the exception of Maulana A. H. K. Bhashani, remainis tied to his rural upbringing.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman entered the world of politics in his youth, In 1940, he was elected councillor of the All India Muslim Students’ Federation and the All Bengal Muslim Students’ League. At the same time he was also serving as Secretary of the Gopalganj Sub-divisional Muslim League. In 1941, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman participated in the agitation for the removal of the Holwell monument in Calcutta. He also identified himself with the movement that supported the Indian National Army’s (I.N.A. of Netaji Sublaash Bose) endeavor againts the allied war effort in World War II. During the famine of 1942-43, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s studies were interrupted as he decided to return to Gopalganj to take care of his people.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman left the Muslim League in early 1947. He became disillusioned with the cultural, political and economic domination of East Pakistan by West Pakistan following the partition of the sub-continent. He became also greatly concerned with the deliberate state policy of marginalization of the Hindus, especially the policy of prescribing separate electorate for them. He could not also acquiesce to the extradition of Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy from East Bengal by the government of Khawaja Nazimuddin on orders from Karachi. Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy had made enormous contribution in making Muslim League popular in East Bengal and in attaining Pakistan.
After disassociating from the Muslim League, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman sought new organizations through which he could articulate his political views. He became a founder member of the Democratic Youth League. At the same time, he established the East Pakistan Muslim Students’ League. In 1948, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was elected a joint-secretary of the newly founded East Pakistan Muslim Awami League, the precursor to the Awami League. He became the General Secretary of the party in 1952.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took keen and active interest in the language movement. In 1948, he organized the protest against Muhammad ali Jinnah, the Governor General of Pakistan, who pronounced that Urdu alone should become the state language of Pakistan. At the Curzon Hall, where Muhammad Ali Jinnah delivered his convocation address, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was not present but he organized the protest against the Governor General’s repeated unilateral declaration for Urdu as the only state language. At that time, he forcefully negotiated with Chief Minister Nazimuddin who promised his cooperation in favor of the Bengali Language.
The language movement took a historic turn on 21 February 1952, when the students of Dhaka University protested against visiting Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan’s arrogant declaration on January 27 in Dhaka that Pakistan Shall have Urdu as the only state-language and that the Arabic script will be used in Writing Bengali. To quell the student demonstration, Police resorted to fire, killing four and injuring many others. This incident triggered the powerful language movement providing the most potent ingredient for Bangladesh nationalism. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was locked in the Dacca Central Jail when blood was spilled in the University campus. While in jail he had gone on hunger strike on 14 February in demand for recognition of Bangla as state language, and for end to repression in East Pakistan. To stop him from contacting the student activists, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was transferred to the jail in Faridpur district. Unable to withstand the popular pressure of the people, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was released from prison on 26 February 1952.
In the first general elections of 1954, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was elected to the East Pakistan Legislative Assembly. He served as the Minister for Cooperative, Credit and Rural reconstruction in the Cabinet of A. K. Fazlul Huq from 15 May, 1954 to 6 June, 1955. During June, 1955, he was elected to the National Assembly of Pakistan. On 06 September 1956, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman once again assumed the office of the Minister for Commerce, Labor and Industries in the Awami League cabinet led by Chief Minister Ataur Rahman Khan. He served in that capacity until 08 August, 1957 when he resigned to become full-time General Secretary of the Awami League.
To Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the interest of the party was more important than that of the cabinet ministerial position, and felt that the Interest of the cabinet on occasions needed to be subordinated to party interests. On this issue he came into occasional altercation with Chief Minister Ataur Rahman Khan, and this began to create irreparable friction between the two leaders. However, now as the General Secretary of the Awami League Party, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman bore sole responsibility of the party’s multifarious activities, including the party’s organization in the legislature, and of political gatherings. His work led him to travel extensively throughout the countryside where he recruited people to the party, and established party offices countrywide. With his eloquence, wit, and gift of articulation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was able to attract large crowd to the Awami League gatherings and conventions.
Sheikh Mujib had widely traveled abroad at a time when such ventures were a rarity. He visited China twice; the first time in 1953 when he attended the Peking Peace Conference, and again in 1967 as Leader of the Pakistan Parliamentary Delegation. As a recipient of the United States government leadership grant, he visited that country in 1958. He, however, remained a critic of the United States of America for some of its policies related to the developments in the sub-continent; opposed acceptance by Pakistan of American economic and military assistance, and Pakistan’s participation in the military alliances with the United States, or for that matter, any other power.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was frequently imprisoned on charges of anti-state activities by the Government of Pakistan. He was arrested four times between September 1948 and 14 March 1954. He was arrested for the fifth time in 1954 immediately following the suspension of the cabinet of A. K. Fazlul Huq. on 12 October 1957, the Martial Law Regime under the East Pakistan Anti-Corruption Act, 1957 and Ordinance LXXII of 1958 arrested Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on the false and baseless charge of accumulation of property disproportionate to his known source of income. He was subsequently held under the more stringent Public Safety Ordinance and an additional charge filed against him by the Bureau of Anti-Corruption. All of these false charges were meant to coerce and intimidate him into giving up his determined struggle for the legitimate rights of the Bengali people.
Such unfair and unjustified treatment of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman came to a head with his arrest and imprisonment in September 1966 for the so-called "Agartala Conspiracy" where he was charged for planning the dismemberment of Pakistan. The Allegation could not be proven, but yet he had to remain interned. It was the mass agitation of the students that led finally to his unconditional release in February 22. 1969. Immediately after his release from jail, on 23 February 1969, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman addressed a rally of over a hundred thousand jubilant supporters, a number never seen hitherto in anypublic meeting anywhere in Pakistan. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had become an instant hero of the Bengalis.
Then followed Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s historical Six Points program demanding equality in the sharing of resources, and complete autonomy for East Pakistan in all matters, except defense, foreign policy and currency. This legitimate demand that had full support of the Bangalis led to confrontation and conflict with the political leadership and the military in Pakistan. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s resolute will and determination for attaining the rights of the Bengalis of East Pakistan earned him their love, adulation and the unstinted support. Thus the people by unanimous and wide acclamation name him “Bangabandhu”.
Indeed, Bangbandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s profound and genuine concern of the unfortunate plight of his people; his grit of purpose in setting unfair matters aright; his inspiring leadership in mobilizing and leading the people in seeking their just demands; his grim determination, dynamism and courage in times of crises and beyond; and finally, his rare and unique charisma in mesmerizing men, women, and even children to blindly follow him in pursuit of their common dream, undoubtedly made Sheikh Mujibur Rahman one of the greatest outstanding world leaders of the last century. It was possible for him and only him to liberate the Bengali People of East Pakistan for their miserable state of exploitation and subjugation, and realize for them an independent, sovereign country of their own,Bangladesh.