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Mukherjee recalled fond memories of Sheikh Mujib in his article penned days before his death

Mukherjee, in his article that is published in the book 'Voice of Millions' to mark the centenary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, also reminisced how he, as a young Rajya Sabha MP, had called in Parliament for granting recognition to the then Bangladesh government in exile, as part of a political solution. The former president quoted from Sheikh Mujib's book 'Unfinished Memoirs', published by his daughter 29 years after his death, to note how the Bangladeshi leader was not even aware of the independence of his country and was in exile in the Mianwali Jail near Rawalpindi at that time.

PTI | New Delhi | Updated: 18-10-2020 19:50 IST | Created: 18-10-2020 19:47 IST
Mukherjee recalled fond memories of Sheikh Mujib in his article penned days before his death
Former President Pranab Mukherjee (File photo) Image Credit: ANI

In an article penned days before his death, former president Pranab Mukherjee had fondly remembered Bangladesh founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and recalled how in 1972 the then Pakistan President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had tried in vain to pressure him into issuing a joint statement to show that Pakistan remained undivided. Mukherjee, in his article that is published in the book 'Voice of Millions' to mark the centenary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, also reminisced how he, as a young Rajya Sabha MP, had called in Parliament for granting recognition to the then Bangladesh government in exile, as part of a political solution.

The former president quoted from Sheikh Mujib's book 'Unfinished Memoirs', published by his daughter 29 years after his death, to note how the Bangladeshi leader was not even aware of the independence of his country and was in exile in the Mianwali Jail near Rawalpindi at that time. He was thereafter taken to London on a special flight on the night of January 8, 1972, after Bhutto failed in his attempts to woo him.

"Bhutto informed Mujib that he was the president and needed Mujib's help. During the few days between 1st and 8th January, Bhutto spoke to him at various times and pressured Mujib to sign a joint statement. He showed Mujib many drafts...," Mukherjee wrote. "Meanwhile, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto made repeated appeals to Mujib to establish a relationship between Pakistan and Bangladesh. A relationship that would keep Pakistan undivided.

"Mujib simply informed Bhutto that he would not be able to say anything to him without first conferring with the people of his country. "In the end, a frustrated Bhutto decided to send Mujib to Britain. In the middle of the night on 8th January 1972, a special Pak Airlines plane flew Mujib, its sole passenger, to London's Heathrow airport. When he landed at Heathrow, the local time was 6:30 am," he said, noting from his book.

Mukherjee also recollected in his article how his mind was filled with memories of the events of 1971. He was 36 years old and an MP when the people of Bangladesh were engaged in their liberation struggle. "I recall that, on June 15, 1971, I had the privilege to initiate a discussion on the floor of Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament, when I suggested that India should accord diplomatic recognition to the Government of Bangladesh in exile in Mujibnagar. My words are on the record in the proceedings of Rajya Sabha.

"When a Member sought my suggestion on how to tackle the problem, I responded by saying: 'I am talking of a political solution which means categorically recognising the sovereign democratic Government of Bangladesh. "Political solution means giving material help to the democratic, sovereign Government of Bangladesh.... I reminded the House of the many instances in world history when intervention on similar grounds had taken place in the past," Mukherjee wrote in the article which, his close associates said, was his last.

He also wrote about how Mujib worked hard for creation of Pakistan, but intense disagreements arose between him and the Muslim League leadership as he began to oppose various policies and their applications. "Because of this, he was imprisoned shortly after liberation for criticizing and opposing government policies at different times. If the 9 months in 1971 are included, then Mujib's total period of imprisonment comes to 3,053 days, he said.

Describing the 'Father of Bangladesh' as "a tireless statesman", Mukherjee said the legacy of 'Bangabandhu' and Bangladesh are intertwined together. "There are very few individuals in history who have a profound impact in the creation of Nations, indeed a subcontinent's identity.

"Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujbir Rahman stands tall amongst those few. His unbound love for his people and his struggle for them is a testament to his legacy. "As the sub-continent observes his birth centenary, we not only remember a statesman but a man who lived and died for his great nation, in the process reaffirming the culturally ingrained values of freedom and liberty, composite secularism and inclusive development," he said in his article.

He wrote about the days of Sheikh Mujib's schooling, to becoming the leader of Bangladesh. The former President, who is the only one from outside Bangladesh to have written in the book, said his dream of a 'Sonar Bangla' lives on.

He also talked about how Sheikh Mujib made the 'Chhatra League' a mass movement that also helped in achieving the dream of Bangladesh's independence. Mukherjee said he was in Kolkata when Sheikh Mujib was assassinated. "Of the brutal annihilation of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with his entire family (except his two daughters Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana) at the dawn of 14th /15th August 1975, the most vivid memory I have is of unbelievable shock and anger," he also said. Mukherjee died on August 31 at the age of 84.


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