Fresh from putting to death the first of the war criminals, the nation is celebrating the 43rd Victory Day with a renewed resolve to punish the others for atrocities in the land whose birth they tried to end.
The execution of Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Quader Molla on Dec 12 – who like other collaborators of Pakistan Army had raped and slaughtered Bengalis to stifle their independence struggle – has added gloss to this year’s celebrations.
But arguably the deadliest political violence since 1971 has added fuel to a political crisis that threatens to upend democracy.
A see-saw battle between the political camps over the format of the election-time government and the election itself has devolved into bloody street clashes.
From 1960s leading up to 1971, reeling under the oppression of the then West Pakistan for decades, most Bengalis of East Pakistan wanted a secular society, rooted in Bengali culture rather than in Islam which was used as a tool of exploitation.
They took up arms for liberation at the call of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, after Mar 25, 1971 genocide.
Indebted people are remembering the valiant sons and daughters of the soil, who sacrificed their lives, with a fresh vow to uphold the spirit of the hard-earned independence and democracy.
Pakistani Army’s Lieutenant General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi led his soldiers to surrender to the allied forces of Mukti Bahini (Liberation Force) and Indian Army’s Eastern Command at the historic Race Course Maidan (now Suhrawardy Udyan) in Dhaka.
With the surrender, Bangladesh found its place on world map on Dec 16, 1971 after a nine-month bloody war that cost the lives of three million people.
But, soon after independence with the assassination of Bangladesh’s architect and the seizure of power by the army, new rulers sought legitimacy for their nationalistic vision by turning to religious parties.
They removed secularism and socialism from the Constitution and declared Islam the state religion. This issue lies at the heart of the country’s present predicament: the attempt to revive religion as an instrument to redefine the national identity.
Amid the pulverising violence and an uncertain future, the anniversary of victory has greeted with fanfare and festivity.
The day’s programmes began with a 31-gun salute at the National Parade Ground at Sher-e-Bangla Nagar.
The largest-ever national flag, as claimed by the organisers, will be displayed at the Parade Square at 10:30am.
The Victory Day parade will not be held this year as members of law-enforcing agencies are busy with election-related activities.
The national anthem in chorus will be sung at the Suhrawardy Udyan in the afternoon at the initiative of the Ganajagaran Mancha, which launched a countrywide movement to demand highest punishment to the war criminals.
The national flag will be hoisted atop government, semi- government, autonomous and private offices across the country. Important buildings and establishments would be illuminated at night.
Important roads and road islands have already been decorated with national flags and colourful festoons.
Special prayers will be offered in mosques, temples, pagodas and other places of worship seeking peace, progress and prosperity.
Improved food would be served in hospitals, jails, old-homes, orphanages, etc.
President Abdul Hamid, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Leader of the Opposition Khaleda Zia greeted the nation, in separate statements, on the eve of the day.
The President in his message said: “Remaining committed to the country and the people, we all have to work together to tap our immense potential.”
He urged all to work together irrespective of their party affiliations and opinions to reach the benefit of independence to the doorstep of the people.
The Prime Minister said the government had initiated the trial of the war criminals. “The verdicts are being pronounced. Bangladesh will be free from stigma through the execution of the verdicts.”
She said her government would build a hunger- and poverty-free, prosperous and peaceful country by the year 2021 ‘as dreamt by the Father of the Nation’.
“For this, we have to maintain the continuity of development and democracy.”
Hasina said the vow on the Victory Day should be to work together with the spirit of the freedom struggle and the Liberation War to achieve the ‘ultimate goal’.
Khaleda said the people fought the Liberation War with a vow to establish a democratic Bangladesh free from exploitation and deprivation.
She said: “Since independence, the march of our democracy has been obstructed several times; people’s fundamental and human rights have been infringed.
But, she said, every time the people restored democracy and their fundamental rights through struggles.
A host of political parties including the ruling Awami League and Opposition BNP have plans to celebrate the day.