The countdown for Bangabandhu’s birth centenary began on 16 January, the anniversary of his homecoming. The prime minister declared that the year, from 17 March 2020 to 17 March 2010, that is, from one birthday of the Father of the Nation to the other, would be commemorated as Mujib Borsho, the Year of Mujib. That means it was just over 68 days from the start of the countdown till the day the commemoration begins.
However, the commemoration has already begun, starting with Bangabandhu BPL which ended on Friday. This is the Bangladesh franchise T20 cricket event organised by BCB. The commemorations should have the dignity, standard and honour appropriate to the stature of someone acknowledged to be the Father of the Nation, who has been voted in a BBC poll as the greatest Bengali of all time, who has struggled all his life for people’s rights and the independence of the country, whose contributions have been acknowledged by the people all over the world and who has been honoured by world leaders.
Franchise tournaments are a commercial and entertainment version of cricket. Professionalism in any sport is good. But there are questions as to how appropriate it was to link Bangabandhu’s name to a tournament where the players are bought and sold through auction, where everyone’s attention is focussed on the money and the budget, and where the game is completely commercial and all about hitting fours and sixes. On top of that, the main attraction of the inaugural ceremonies was two singers from Bollywood. The programme hardly reflected Bangabandhu, the beloved leader of the people. Why were there Mumbai artistes performing at the event? They were not even any sort of legendary artistes. Legendary artistes of our own country too we ignored. The programme totally lacked in quality and taste. This did not do justice to Bangabandhu.
As far as I know, there are more sports events and cricket tournaments in the year’s celebrations and we hope that these maintain the dignity of the occasion. There is always the fear that many organisations will emulate BPL and link Bangabandhu’s name with all their regular events.
In light of the central and district level programmes for the countdown and being present at a few preparatory meetings as member of one of the committees, I feel the need to make certain observations. The 10 January countdown event perhaps was a last moment idea that cropped up and was hurriedly organised. In order to ensure that such sudden programmes at a district level are effective, the best strategy is to involve school and college students and teachers and to arrange programmes of the district shilpakala (art and culture) and shishu (children) cultural troupes. But there was no proper preparation to decide on what the students and teachers would do, what would be done at the countdown event and how to draw in large crowds to enjoy the cultural programmes. There wasn’t even time to prepare for all this. The programme basically turned out to be a crowd of a few thousand people with some makeshift programmes and cultural shows for the sake of the media. Speaking to a few persons who had been at the countdown event, it was evident that they received no message at all about the significance of the occasion.
However, being present at the preparatory meetings of one of the committees, I noted that extensive programmes have been taken up for the entire year. The member secretary of the main committee must have put in a lot of thought and work into this, given his poetic prowess and bureaucratic skills and experience. There are no questions about his competence. However, I would like to politely point out the huge number of programmes to be conducted throughout the year in accordance to the chalked our plans of the government, will be run and controlled by the government people. At the Bangabandhu BPL inauguration and at the central and district countdown programmes, the people were mere observers. Surely this should not be the same throughout the year.
I humbly would also like to say that I am not speaking for the sake of nitpicking or criticism. Even since politicians were jailed or remained fugitives after the brutal killing of 1975, I was an active cultural activist on the streets. I even slanted some of my columns in favour of Awami League in the greater interests of the nation. I gave up my job so I could work freely to this end. But I am not here to talk about myself. It is about Bangabandhu’s life, works, the significance of his life and works and his greatness. How can the younger generation, even the young Awami League activists, grasp all these aspects of Bangabandhu through various tournaments and programmes? How will their minds be filled with his joys and pains, his honour and dignity, his ideals and inspiration? At the end of a year of celebrations and events, what message will remain with the people, particularly the younger generation?
From being a common political worker to becoming a great historical leader, Bangabandhu never moved away from the source of his power, the people. This chemistry, this bond between the people and the leader is not just a matter of rhetoric. It is a part and parcel of life. But where is the involvement of the people now? Can the commemoration of Bangabandhu’s birth centenary be complete with the people just in the role of spectators?
I know it is easier to call for mass participation than actually implementing it. And it is even more difficult for Awami League to do so at present. The leaders must keep in mind that they have been in power for 11 years now and in this span of time many new leaders as well as leaders and activists of Chhatra League and other affiliate bodies have come on board. They are used to seeing the party in power, in enjoying the perks of power, they have heard about the sacrifices, the sufferings and the struggle, they have heard about the movements and even speak about all this in their speeches, but these are not mere ideas. These are matters of experience. They have not had such experience. So if these leaders and activists are to conduct the programmes, there is fear of a repetition of the Chapainawabganj countdown event which was marred by factional clashes. There is also a fear of superficial programmes being arranged just as eyewash all over the country.
Is it for such apprehensions that the Bangabandhu centenary events will be controlled by the government, government organisations and mainly by the bureaucracy? Is this just an Awami League partisan event? Would that be correct? The 30 December election points to the dangers of excessive bureaucratic intervention. Alternatives must be considered where it will be the people’s Mujib bhai, the people’s Sheikh Mujib and the beloved and respected Bangabandhu that is kept in focus.
My humble proposal is for all-party committees to be formed with people of the Bangabandhu bent of mind. In 2008 and even before, Sheikh Hasina had formed coalitions. But the stronger the ruling party is becoming, the less importance is being given to coalitions. The space of political persons in the party itself is shrinking. It is true that coalition members managed to win in the election by riding on Awami League’s back, but politics is more than just elections. It is a lot like chess, the pieces have different strengths and roles, but all are indispensible. Another metaphor could be of glue which sticks big components together to make a whole.
The crisis of political ideals and objectives is deepening in society. I understand that Awami League has to move forward calculatingly, but this will not resolve the crisis. In fact, it may deepen further. A political environment must be created where the way is open to a non-communal democratic Bangladesh imbibed with the spirit of the liberation war. No matter how much the government may sing about the spirit of the liberation war, this spirit now faces a formidable challenge. Bangladesh is on the brink of losing the liberation war spirit.
Bangabandhu’s centenary could trigger a revival of that spirit among the people and bring about a greater unity. Jamaat will certainly not be a part of this and the same about BNP and its alliance. But outside of that, Bangabandhu’s daughter could unite the masses and use Mujib Borsho to revive the lost and disappearing spirit of liberation war. One must keep in mind that even during the 1971 liberation war, an all-party advisory council was formed to oversee the government-in-exile. It had played an effective role in many different ways at the time.
I feel that, headed by Awami League, an all-party committee should be formed to commemorate the centenary of Bangabandhu’s birth. There can be committees in the districts and these can organise programmes along with the public. The civil society can arrange programmes too in coordination with the all-party committee. The main responsibility of the district administration and government officials at all levels with be to extend support. All educational institutions can organise programmes too. The education ministry can issue guidelines in this regard.
It also won’t be correct for the government to take responsibility to arrange funds for all the events. This will affect the commitment, love and sincerity towards the programmes. In the past, political and cultural activists would collect funds for the programmes. Today, admittedly, there is a fine line between fund collection and extortion. Keeping that in mind, the people can take initiative. They will have to get the approval of the all-party committee for their plans, programmes and budget. Rather than using government funds, this is likely to cut down on corruption and misuse of funds. The government can fund the events partially and the organisers can then go ahead and arrange their own funds. In the past when Bangladesh was a land of the poor, many big things were achieved. So why can we not do so now, with the significant increase in the GDP and per capita income?
It is now time to think whether Bangabandhu’s centennial will be commemorated though state-run arrangements or with the overall participation of the people.
* Abul Momen is a poet, columnist and journalist. This piece appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.