BANGLADESH remembers today a great hero, a giant among men, who was born on this red-letter day in 1873. The whole nation honours and respects and admires this brave son of Bengal because he loved peace and did everything in his power to avert dire calamities; because he merited the high and exalted positions to which the suffrage of a grateful nation elevated him; because he was regardless of personal gains and cheerfully endured all toil and hardship so that he might elevate the masses of mankind; because he had a high sense of honour, respected the rights of conscience, and nobly advocated equality of privileges and the universal brotherhood of man; because he had an unshakable faith in Islam but never spoke ill of any other religion; because he was a man of the people. And Bangladeshis believe that he was one of us and that he was for us. Yes, Sher-e-Bangla A.K. Fazlul Huq, whose birth anniversary we celebrate today, really gave enormously of himself to the people, and he really loved the people.
He came right from the heart of Bengal, not from its geographical heart but from its spiritual heart. He exemplified what millions of parents hope their sons would be: strong and courageous, intelligent and erudite, honest and compassionate. He personified integrity, he personified honour, he personified modesty, he personified dignity, he personified dedication, he personified loyalty, he personified patriotism. And with his qualities of head and heart, he personified the best in Bengal.
His was indeed an eventful life, his personality multi-faced and his achievements many. Many were the roles he had filled with distinction. At one time or another, he was one of the greatest legal luminaries the Indian subcontinent had produced, an unparalleled ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, a great constitutionalist, a distinguished parliamentarian, a top-notch politician, an indefatigable freedom fighter, a fiery orator of the first water, a political strategist of the highest order, an educationist of rare caliber, a social reformer with foresight and acumen, and, above all, an indomitable champion of truth and justice.
No wonder the people loved him with all the warmth and sincerity under the sun, and every trust that the people of this country had in their power to bestow, he was given. And yet, he always retained a saving humility. His was the humility not of feat but of confidence. He brushed shoulders with the "greats" of both the subcontinent and Great Britain, and he knew that the "greats" were human. Yes, his was the humility of man before Allah and before the truth. His was the humility of a man too proud to be arrogant.
When Sher-e-Bangla was born in 1873, Bengal lay prostrate at the feet of the British, groaning from the wounds inflicted upon it. The Great Mutiny of 1857 had been ruthlessly quelled and the ancient ruling classes had either been wiped out or lay cringing in the dust. The poor and helpless people of Bengal were so hungry, ragged and unhappy that they thought with their stomach, saw with their nakedness and felt with their misery.
The Tiger of Bengal genuinely believed that he was one of them and that he was for them. He was driven by a mission to serve, to improve and uplift the toiling masses. He inspired them to go forward, to take their lives in their hands, fully and joyfully as he himself did. And the hundreds and thousands of hapless and downtrodden have-nots, who stood in awe of the mighty, very easily gave their heart to this person who renounced personal advantages and dedicated himself of the general welfare. It is true some differed with him, but all respected his sincerity, his wisdom, his solicitude for the toiling masses and his passion for truth and justice.
No one who knew Sher-e-Bangla A.K. Fazlul Huq would attempt to describe him in a nutshell. He was many-sided, complex, full of conflicting enthusiasms and burdened by many sorrows. Yet, there has seldom been a public hero who was more open with his problems and his thoughts, in private letters and public prints, in speeches and conversations with friends and colleagues. He always seemed to talk fully and freely, to say just what he thought and felt, to make every effort to see that his listeners understood his viewpoint, regardless of what they might think of its merits.
Some remember the mastery of language, the gift of oratory that placed him in a class with Edmund Burke and Winston Churchill. Some remember that he was human and humane, a fully developed man who responded so keenly to the joy of life as he did to the cry of human distress. Some remember that he was a lover of people, a lover whose loyalty was pledged to all mankind. Some remember that all his life he pleaded and strove for social justice, for the right of the lowly to dignity, of the poor to material well-being, of the citizen of self-government, of the ignorant to knowledge, of the child to unfettered development, of the chained Bengalees to consciousness and freedom.
Some remember how he truly loved problems, and with an exuberant confidence that few politicians could match he thought that he could solve some of them, though not single-handedly. He delighted in leading and managing and inspiring people, all kinds of people, people in every walk of life, in every domain of thought. As he could persuade, he could also be persuaded. He had respect for others' points if he was persuaded that he had been wrong. Tolerance and sympathy were elements of his character, and that character gained him the affection and esteem of millions of his countrymen. But let none forget even for a moment the single quality that made him unique, the quality that made him powerful, the quality that endeared him to the common masses: the qualities of head and heart, the quality of character. His greatness derived not from his office, but from his character, from a unique moral force that transcended national boundaries, even as his deep concern for humanity transcended international boundaries.
Sher-e-Bangla, the beloved Tiger of Bengal, is a part of history now -- he had shaded himself, in the words of Omar Khayyam, "with yesterday's seven thousand years." Once again we celebrate today the birth anniversary of the doyen of Bengal, once again the whole nation salutes the great personality, a fond salute to a man whose extraordinary life was dedicated to service, a profound respectful salute to a man larger than life who, by any standard, was one of the giants of all times. The beautiful eulogy of John Maidston aptly applies to him: "A larger soul hath seldom dwelt in a house of clay."