Be­fore his pen went dry, Pranab wrote on 1971, love for Mu­jib fam­ily

Treated as a ‘fam­ily mem­ber,’ he traces warm ties with Sheikh Hasina

The Hindu - - FRONT PAGE - Suhasini Haidar

In June 1971, a young Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment stood up to ini­ti­ate a dis­cus­sion, call­ing for the Govern­ment of In­dia to ac­cord diplo­matic recog­ni­tion to the Bangladesh govern­ment-in-ex­ile based in the Bangladesh­i town of Mu­jib­na­gar, the pro­vi­sional govern­ment, while its leader, Sheikh Mu­jibur Rah­man, was in a Karachi prison.

The MP, 36-year-old Pranab Mukher­jee, spoke at length about the prece­dents to in­ter­ven­tion in world his­tory, and the bru­tal atroc­i­ties be­ing car­ried out in Bangladesh that ne­ces­si­tated In­dian ac­tion.

“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,” he said.

The speech and his mem­o­ries of 1971 and the lib­er­a­tion war of Bangladesh are

found in one of the last, long ar­ti­cles the former Pres­i­dent com­pleted be­fore he died in Au­gust last, a part of an an­thol­ogy of es­says in hon­our of the birth cen­te­nary year of Mu­jib, as Bangladesh’s

found­ing fa­ther is known.

The book, called Voice of Mil­lions, was pub­lished ear­lier this year but is yet to be launched for­mally. What makes the es­say more poignant is that Mukher­jee was due to ad­dress an­other ses­sion of Bangladesh’s Par­lia­ment, this time a Spe­cial Ses­sion on March 22-23 to mark the Mu­jib cen­te­nary, and also to at­tend the book’s launch. How­ever, the func­tions in Dhaka were put off due to the COVID-19 pan­demic, and when they are held, the former MP, Min­is­ter and Pres­i­dent will not be a part of them.

Lone for­eign con­trib­u­tor

Ac­cord­ing to the ed­i­tors of the book, Pranab Mukher­jee was the only for­eign dig­ni­tary asked to con­trib­ute, and he read­ily agreed to their re­quest.

“Mr. Mukher­jee was in­vited to con­trib­ute to the book as a ‘fam­ily mem­ber’ of the Prime Min­is­ter,” ex­plained Asif Kabir, part of the Banga­bandhu Sheikh Mu­jibur Rah­man cen­te­nary com­mit­tee, re­fer­ring to the close re­la­tion­ship he shared with Mu­jib’s daugh­ter and Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina.

Mukher­jee’s pri­vate sec­re­tary, Ab­hi­jeet Rai, said the es­say, which was the last ex­ten­sive piece penned by the late Pres­i­dent, needed con­sid­er­able re­search on Mu­jib’s life and po­lit­i­cal ca­reer and Mukher­jee drew from Mu­jib’s own Un­fin­ished

Mem­oirs that were pub­lished years af­ter his death by Ms. Hasina.

Mu­jib was freed only af­ter the Pak­istan Army sur­ren­dered in Dhaka in De­cem­ber 1971, and as recorded by Mukher­jee, for many days he was kept un­aware of the in­ci­dents, while Pak­istan’s soon to be Pres­i­dent, Zul­fikar Ali Bhutto, at­tempted to ne­go­ti­ate with him.

Even­tu­ally, Bhutto gave up and Mu­jib re­turned to a tri­umphant wel­come in Dhaka with a brief stopover in Delhi to thank Prime Min­is­ter Indira Gandhi for In­dia’s sup­port.

The book con­tains an emo­tive es­say by Ms. Hasina, en­ti­tled “My Broth­ers”, who along with her sis­ter Re­hana, were the only sur­vivors when Mu­jib, his wife, all his other chil­dren and their spouses (15 fam­ily mem­bers in all) were gunned down at their home by army of­fi­cers a few years later in 1975. In later years, when Ms. Hasina was in ex­ile her­self and lived in Delhi with her fam­ily, it was Mukher­jee and his wife Su­vra, who had lived in East Bengal be­fore Par­ti­tion, who be­came their clos­est friends.

“It’s so hard to lose one’s par­ents even when they have a nat­u­ral death,” said Mukher­jee’s daugh­ter and Con­gress leader Sharmistha Mukher­jee. “It is unimag­in­able what Sheikh Hasina has gone through, and I think the bond be­tween her and my par­ents was stronger be­cause she needed emo­tional sup­port at the time.”

Ms. Sharmistha Mukher­jee also re­called that dur­ing a visit to Delhi as Prime Min­is­ter, Ms. Hasina wanted to visit Su­vra Mukher­jee at home. As he was a “stick­ler for pro­to­col”, Pranab Mukher­jee, who was then Fi­nance Min­is­ter, con­veyed his dis­com­fort to Ms. Hasina’s of­fice. Ms. Hasina’s re­ply was: “I am not vis­it­ing the Min­is­ter, but my Boudi [sis­ter-in-law in Bangla).”

In his pass­ing, the former Pres­i­dent shared some­thing else with the sub­ject of his es­say, Sheikh Mu­jibur Rah­man: his “un­fin­ished mem­oirs” are now with his daugh­ter, whose task will be to pub­lish them, she re­vealed.

PTI ■

Strong bond: A file photo of Pranab Mukher­jee with Bangladesh Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina in New Delhi.

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