The Center for Research and Information (CRI) organised a special session titled – “Bangabandhu’s Leadership: Lessons for Today’s Youth” on Saturday 28th December 2019 at the Government Physical Education College, Mohammadpur, Dhaka. This session was a part of the Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center’s (BYLC)’s ‘Youth Carnival’ which celebrated the lives and works of the youth of Bangladesh. In honour of the 100th Birth Anniversary of the Father of the Nation next year, CRI was invited to organize an interactive session on Bangabandhu for the youth visitors at the carnival.
Speakers for this segment include Tarana Halim – a lawyer, cultural activist and the former State Minister of Information along with Mohammad Ali Arafat, an academic and the Chairperson, Shuchinta Foundation. The session was moderated by special assistant to the Prime Minister – Barrister Shah Ali Farhad. The session was attended by youths from a cross section of the country including youths from BYLC’s network and general carnival visitors.
The session was introduced by Ejaj Ahmed – the founder and president of Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center. He said that often when talking about world leaders and influential personalities, the topic of our Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is often seen as being associated with a political party or a political agenda. However, it is important to acknowledge and respect the role of our founding father and his role in our independence. When it comes to leadership and sacrifice, Bangabandhu is second to none. The discussion was focused on leadership and lessons from Bangabandhu’s life and his unique leadership qualities. The speakers shared their knowledge and insight on the topic of Bangabandhu, his practices and its relevance in the modern day, with the participating youth.
The discussion started with Mohammad Ali Arafat explaining the difference in leadership, management and administration as well as how it is interconnected. He said idealism and realism needs to be balanced in order to be an effective leader. Leadership is not about simply emotionally motivating people or making pragmatic decisions, only a good leader know how to balance them both.
Question ‘An ideal quality in a leader is seen as someone who has a vision and is selfless think of the benefit of the society. How do you see Bangabandhu in this light?’
Tarana Halim – Bangabandhu once said, ‘’Independence should not mean chaos and unrest. Independence is living a respectful life and being able to hold your head up’’. He said to the youth ‘’Without ethics and the ability to self-criticism, self-control and self-rectification, one cannot be an ideal citizen’’. He even addressed the youth specifically at an Awami league Council, requesting them join hands to tackle the problem of corruption. For example, when he said ‘Where is my blanket’, what he meant was the irregularities in the blanket distribution which was brought in for 75 million people. How many people have the courage to say something that in a parliament to all his peers?
In the UN General Assembly, he said addressing the most powerful countries about the increasing inequality and the rich-poor gap. He even talked about the lack of employment opportunities and the high price of importing goods is a struggle for a country like Bangladesh. He was equally vocal nationally and internationally.
When asked about the prolonged period Bangabandhu spent in jail and if that level of sacrifice is expected from all leaders, Mohammad Ali Arafat said, besides the confinement in jail, Bangabandhu was also ready to make crucial sacrifices for our nation. If you remember his speech on 26th March, 1971, he said ‘if I cannot give orders later…’. Why did he say that? He anticipated that he might be captured and taken away or even killed. This is why he addressed the nation telling the people what to do in his absence. When he declared independence, his speech began with the words ‘’This is perhaps my last speech…but you need to resist. You need to protect the independence/freedom of Bangladesh.’’ He was ready to make the ultimate self-sacrifice.
We often hear from the young generation that they are reluctant to join politics as they feel the political environment is hostile in this country. I would say to them, politics is all about finding what is wrong in your society and taking initiative to fix it. Leadership is not about walking red carpets or sitting comfortably in a public event. Being able to face obstacles and having the courage to face any backlash is a part of political leadership. Leaders like Bangabandhu, Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Ghandi could not achieve what they did, if they did not have the capacity to work under extremely difficult situations.
Question – It takes a lot of work to develop an organisation. What do you think is a leader’s role in and towards his organisation? Secondly Bangabandhu decided to leave his position as a minister under the Jukto Front rule and assumed the general secretary of the party to further strengthen the organisation. In order to achieve certain goals, what role does an organisation play in a leader’s life?
Tarana Halim – An organisation is a public relation tool for a leader. It determines your outreach capacity. In Bangabandhu’s case, it’s the party workers who travel to every corners of the country, delivering his message. Our Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina once asked by someone about her successful career to which she replied ‘’What you see now comes from years of collective hard work and struggle by my party workers. They are the ones who you do not see.’’ Thus, a leader is only as good as the team underneath them. It’s the collective strength of the party that determines the image of a leader which in turn determines the successes and failures of the administration.
Mohammad Ali Arafat – Bangabandhu left his position as a minister in 1954 to work on strengthening his organisation and spread the roots to all corners of Bangladesh. Once his support system was created that’s when he started the 6-point movement. He knew he could not achieve the bigger goals and visions of an independent nation without a strong organizational backbone.
I would say even Barack Obama who is such a charismatic character, could not become a president without the support from the Democratic party.
Question – It is the leaders job to create more leaders. Bangabandhu used to surround himself with the best possible minds of the country, including Dr Kamal Hossain as a jurist, Rehman Sobhan as an economist, Tajuddin Ahmad as a development and planning expert. What is your opinion, about how well did the ruling parties after Bangabandhu, including the current one perform in this regard? And what can the youth learn about team-building from this?
Mohammad Ali Arafat – Bangabandhu became the undisputed leader of the nation because he understood the importance of an organisation and its supporters. Captain Muhammad Mansur Ai, Abul Hasnat Muhammad Qamaruzzaman, Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmad who were confidants of Bangabandhu all started as local level leaders not national leaders. It was Bangabandhu who picked them and supported them in becoming national leaders. At that time, there already were renowned national leaders like Maulana Bhashani, Ataur Rahman Khan and many others. But Bangabandhu picked those in whom he saw courage, strength and the potential to become leaders.
He picked academics to support him to create the 6 point demands. People like Professor Nurul Islam – who is possibly the greatest economist Bangladesh ever produced. With their support, he formulated the six point demands, and clarified to the people factors like the economic disparity between East and West Pakistan. If you read Professor Nurul Islam’s book – ‘Making of a Nation, Bangladesh: An Economist’s Tale’ you will find a lot more about the uniqueness of Bangabandhu’s leadership.
When setting up their organisation, it cannot be focused on the leader alone. You need to create successors and train those who will carry on your work. The success of a leader also depends on his capacity to plan for the future and the sustainability of an organisation. This is why not only was Bangabandhu assassinated with his family, but they also did not spare the next tier of leaders or potential successors of Awami League. They wanted to completely destroy Awami League as political party.
Lastly those who are in the same stature as Bangabandhu, leaders like Mandela and Gandhi, they were the kind of leaders who loved ordinary people just like family. This is a very unique quality. They never discriminated anyone based on their background. David Frost in an interview with Bangabandhu asked him what his greatest quality was as a leader and he said ‘I love my people’. He then asked what his disqualification was as a leader, and he replied ‘I love them too much.’ He said during the interview that he loved his countrymen more than his immediate family. This was the reality; this is why he was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the people of his country.
David Frost when he interviewed Bangabnadhu’s daughter and our current Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, he asked her how she felt about her father loving the people more than his family. She said that it never bothered her or her family. In fact, they were all proud to have a father like him.
Question – Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib, the wife of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman played an important role in his leadership. How important do you think family support is one’s leadership journey?
Tarana Halim – When you are already leading a non-cooperation movement, the last thing one needs is to fight the non-cooperation of his family. So it’s one less battle to fight when you have the support of your family.
The Prime Minister once said, that to save time in the incident of an unexpected arrest, her mother would always keep a suitcase packed for him to take to jail. Meanwhile his children were not allowed to say their fathers name in school, they had to struggle financially when he was in jail. Mrs Mujib even told him not to accept release from jail on parole unless his party men were also released. He did just that. She is the one who always encouraged him to speak his mind and follow his heart. This is why when he returned to Bangladesh after the confinement. He went straight to address the public.
This was Bangabandhu and we will not be getting another leader like him. It is not possible for leader that great to emerge again. He was able to become such a leader because he always had his family’s support.
Question: Do you think we have the liberty today to be outspoken like Bangabandhu?
Mohammad Ali Arafat – Yes we do. It’s a safe haven compared to the colonial times that Bangabandhu grew up in. They used to shoot people like animals back then. Why do you think Bangabandhu in his 7th March speech said ‘We have already shed blood and we are prepared to shed more..’’? We never have to use such words. Everyday there are political debates on mainstream medias and we can speak freely.
However, we must remember, that leadership also comes with responsibility. We cannot be so reckless with exercising freedom of speech to an extent that it causes chaos or riots. You have to understand the difference between progressive and regressive.
Tarana Halim – There is a fine line between freedom of speech/expression and hate speech. When our expression or speech is discriminatory against someone’s background, religion or supports terrorism.
Some of the top points which emerged from the discussion include how leadership requires vision, especially long term as well as sacrifice, often of a personal kind. The importance of a support system, especially of families and loved ones as well as the ability to surround themselves with the best talents available. Points were raised on how to be inclusive and be able to who in turn nurtures future leadership, accommodate all, even their opponents. Also the capacity to nurture their organisations and colleagues with utmost care in every field, not just politics.