Bangladesh : Syed Nazrul Islam --- A Perfect Bengali Gentleman Politician

Syed Nazrul Islam had the tone and content, similar to Bangabandhu, to get his audience to rally behind his ideas of being a better person, building better relationships

by Anwar A. Khan

( November 6, 2018, Dhaka, Sri Lanka Guardian) A look at the political leader’s hall of fame would reveal names like Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmad and the likes.

We can merit Syed Nazrul Islam with the title "the Great." He lived only 50 years. He was gunned down to death by some cruel black sheep of the Bangladesh Army in the Dhaka Central jail in the wee hours November 3, 1975. This great and noble soul of this sacred land served as the acting President of Bangladesh in the absence of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman during our glorious Liberation War in 1971. He was born in 1925 at a remote hamlet in the Kishoreganj District. He was all-through a brilliant student and obtained his Master’s degree with B.A. (Hons.) securing 1st Classes in History and Law from the University of Dhaka in the very early years of Pakistan came into being. He was an active student political leader during his Dhaka University days.

He entered the civil service of Pakistan in 1949 but resigned in 1951 to work as a Professor of History at the Anandmohan College in Mymensingh, where he also practised Law. Syed Nazrul's real political career began when he joined the Awami Muslim League and participated in the Language Movement in 1952, for which he was arrested by Pakistani police. He was the Senior Vice President of all-Pakistan based Awami League and became a Member of the National Assembly of Pakistan in the general elections held in 1970 during President Yahya Khan’s regime. When Bangabandhu was arrested on March 25, 1971 by Pakistani Army, Syed Nazru Islam escaped to Mujibnagar with other party leaders. Bangabandhu Mujib was elected president of Bangladesh government but he served as Acting President with Tajuddin Ahmed as Prime Minister. He played a key role in leading the nationalist cause and coordinated the Mukti Bahini guerrilla forces and won support from India and other nations to achieve Bangladesh.
In his address at the Bangladesh Independence Proclamation ceremony at Mujibnagar, Acting President Syed Nazrul Islam said, “Bangladesh had lost her independence in the war at mango orchard of Plassey in 1757. Today, on 17 April 1971 that lost independence has returned here at another mango orchard of Bangladesh. Free Bangladesh is born.” He urged the world community to extend military assistance to our War of Liberation and accord diplomatic recognition to Bangladesh. In his address Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed said, “Pakistan is dead. The dead body of Pakistan has been buried under the mountain of human corpses. Yahya himself is the killer of Pakistan… Our struggle would not stop until the occupation forces are driven out of the country.” It was Mujibnagar where the nation’s destiny was reshaped in 1971 and Syed Nazrul Islam was one of the formidable figures who reshaped the nation’s destiny in absence of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He was a great orator; and a great human being. He knew the art of speaking in public. He was one of the greatest orators in political history of Bangladesh. There is no doubt that this powerful orator is the single-most popular mass figure in the country beyond Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He is for sure, much admired leader in Bangladesh during his time.

When it comes to oratory or touching the people's soul by words, there is only one man who is also known as the well-versed politician in public oration in mobilising public opinion on his points like Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In a long and eloquent address at the Bangladesh Independence Proclamation ceremony, Syed Nazrul outlined the stages by which resistance had become an imperative moral duty. He fought against the British domination, and he fought against the Punjabi/Pakistani domination very bravely. He cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which he hoped to live for, and to see it realised. It is an ideal for which he was prepared to die. Syed Nazrul Islam spoke those words in the full knowledge that he risked the gallows. In a simple yet powerful statement, he told the crowd present at the Bangladesh Proclamation Ceremony, "Thank you that you choose to care to fight the brutal Pakistani Military to defeat them and achieve Bangladesh."

This nightingale charmed the audiences with his magical oratory, and left an indelible mark on Bangladesh's born. This is no exaggeration to tell. To ask him, for his credentials is like asking the sun about its right to shine. His strength and beauty, the grace and dignity of his bearing, the dark light of his eyes, his imposing appearance, and from the moment he began to speak, the splendid speech with his rich deep voice enthralled the vast audience. The thought of this warrior prophet of Bangladesh left a deep mark upon Bangladesh. Bangladesh thus had the blessing of directly hearing a person of the stature of a great politician, radiating purity, compassion, and love. Clearly, there have been very few politicians who have been able to match the respect and authority that he commanded. His achievements designed to stir the spirits of a nation at war. A noted speaker before his people, Nazrul essentially redefined the public speech. He was a well-respected politician who is an out-of-the-box thinker and speaker. He approached topics from a unique point of view which made us to redefine our lives, personally and politically. Address is a cornerstone of Bangladesh history. His speech rallied a nation and set created a foundation of Bengali idealism for future generations side by side with the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Syed Nazrul Islam had the tone and content, similar to Bangabandhu, to get his audience to rally behind his ideas of being a better person, building better relationships. Churchill wrote, “Of all the talents bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of oratory.” And I think Syed Nazrul never forgot it. His speeches during his political life time cemented his reputation as one of the greatest orators in history. In an effort to boost public moral during our Liberation War in 1971, he used to deliver his most stirring speeches. Referring to butcher President General Yahiya and the looming Pakistani threat, he laid out the facts in the clearest of manners. “If we can stand up to him, Bangladesh will be free; Bangabandhu will be freed by the Pakistani Military Government . . . But if we fail, then the whole Bengali Nation. . . will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the Pakistani Military Junta last for a long time, men will say, ‘This was their finest hour” but we must not allow this to happen under any circumstances. He called for a determined but passive resistance against the Pakistani Military Junta’s continued occupation of the country. His speeches can be considered a masterful work for both its ability to motivate and its effective message of driving out the bitter enemies of his countrymen.

His finest oration moment was his Eid-ul-Azha speech at the famous Sholakia Eidgah Maidan, Kishoreganj immediately after we achieved Bangladesh – a notable moment of the Bangladesh History. Syed Nazrul Islam perfected the tone of leadership, that’s a rare quality you’ll find when one will remember his spirited speech. He delivered speeches during his life time which are still a powerful reminder of equality and justice that should be required reading in schools, colleges and universities today. His oratories are all simple, clear, and powerful. There is only one Syed Nazrul Islam who understood how to put an audience at ease with his message, but he also knew how to make a strong point — he didn’t become a Shark Tank. It was a Syed Nazrul Islam who is remembered as the greatest orator Bangladesh ever produced, and perhaps one of the greatest the world has ever known.
This great orator was the great pillar of knowledge and wisdom for future generations. Syed Nazrul, master statesman and orator, loved his motherland. He cherished its way of life and abundant freedoms. And he believed in standing strong against anyone who might attempt to infringe on these privileges. While the brutal Pakistani Army made bolder and bolder incursions into the land of Bangladesh, the people seemed stuck in an apathetic stupor. For months, Syed Nazrul Islam employed his powerful oratorical skills in attempts to awaken his fellow citizens from sleep to the realisation of the imminent danger the Punjabis/Pakistanis posed. He boldly called upon them to rise up and take action. After his rousing speeches, the people all cried out for arms to fight back and defeat the cruel Pakistani Forces and their equally brutal local accomplices and win Bangladesh’s independence. These speeches lifted hearts in dark times, gave hope in despair, refined the characters of men, inspired brave feats, gave courage to the weary, honoured the dead, and changed the course of history.

Great oratory has three components: style, substance, and impact. A great speech must be masterfully constructed. The best orators are masters of both the written and spoken word, and use words to create texts that are beautiful to both hear and read. A speech may be flowery and charismatically presented, and yet lack any true substance at all. Great oratory must center on a worthy theme; it must appeal to and inspire the audience’s finest values and ideals. Great oratory always seeks to persuade the audience of some facts or ideas. The very best speeches change hearts and minds and seem as revelatory several decades or centuries removed as when they were first given. Syed Nazrul Islam had that much of qualities. The writer of this piece like many other people had the privilege of hearing of more than one hundred wonderfully crafted speeches made by him, each lasting not less than three hours under a pin-drop silence. He was so fluent and eloquent in his speeches covering all aspects of politics of the-then Pakistan and he used to cast a spell bound on his audiences by delivering his speeches.

Syed Nazrul Islam was a pure and perfect Bengali gentleman politician possessing all such essential and distinguishing attributes. Like John F. Kennedy, he used to say, “And so, my fellow Bengalis: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens: ask not what Bangladesh will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” He further said, “In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigour has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.” He believed that in the history of the world, there has not been a more genuinely democratic struggle for freedom than ours. But it was his conviction that inasmuch as these struggles were fought to be able to realise the democratic ideal. In the democracy which he envisaged, a democracy established, there would be equal freedom for all. Everybody would be his own master. It is to join a struggle for such democracy that he invited us to join. Once one realised this he would forget the differences particularly among the Hindus, the Muslims and people of other religions, and thought of themselves as Bengalis only, engaged in the common struggle for independence.

He was determined that unless and until the Yahya Junta had fallen in our sacred soil, we shall not flag or fail. “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in all fronts, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our country, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which he did not for a moment believe, this land or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then we would carry on the struggle.”

In one of his remarkable speeches, he said, “It is peculiarly incumbent upon you who have strength to set a right example to others. I ask you to remember that you cannot retain your self-respect if you are loose and foul of tongue, that a man who is to lead a clean and honourable life must inevitably suffer if his speech likewise is not clean and honourable. Every man here knows the temptations that beset all of us in this world. At times any man will slip. I do not expect perfection, but I do expect genuine and sincere effort toward being decent and cleanly in thought, in word, and indeed. As I said at the outset, I hail the work of this society as typifying one of those forces which tend to the betterment and uplifting of our social system. Our whole effort should be toward securing a combination of the strong qualities with those qualities which we term virtues. I expect you to be strong. I would not respect you if you were not. I do not want to see our religion, Islam professed only by weaklings; I want to see it a moving spirit among men of strength. I do not expect you to lose one particle of your strength or courage by being decent. On the contrary, I should hope to see each man who is a member of this society, from his membership in it become all the fitter to do the rough work of the world; all the fitters to work in time of peace; and if, which may Heaven forefend, war should come, all the fitters to fight in time of war. I desire to see in this country the decent men strong and the strong men decent, and until we get that combination in pretty good shape we are not going to be by any means as successful as we should be. There is always a tendency among very young men and among boys who are not quite young men as yet to think that to be wicked is rather smart; to think it shows that they are men. Oh, how often you see some young fellow who boasts that he is going to “see life,” meaning by that that he is going to see that part of life which it is a thousand-fold better should remain unseen!”

I think he believed what Theodore Roosevelt believed, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” He told the countrymen as he said to colleague ministers who joined the provisional government during our War of Independence: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.” He said : “When you ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea, and air. War with all our might and with all the strength Allah has given us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.”

Syed Nazrul Islam’s charisma, skills in rhetoric, and passion, place him in a league of his own. He voiced a clear, compelling message of hope, a dream that things would not always be as they were, and that a new day was coming. It is just as electrifying and moving today as it was in March 1971. This was his hope. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. From everywhere in Bangladesh, let freedom rings!

The Liberation War in 1971 is a story of men with a burning desire for liberty. This write-up is dedicated to these men, who not only dreamed, but sacrificed all in order to realise the dream of independent Bangladesh. Bangladesh was a poem in his eyes; its ample geography dazzles his imagination. Like Theodore Roosevelt Syed Nazrul Islam believed, “This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.” We should believe Bangladesh will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.

He spearheaded Bangladesh’s freedom struggle by giving speeches on the exploitation of the country by the Punjabis/Pakistanis. He was a major political leader of the country. He spent his entire life committed to promoting humanity. He was a confident politician who has tried his best to lead her nation to prosperity. His knowledge of administration, as well as his hard work and dedication, helped him get noticed, and earn many important government roles. He then created history by becoming the first Acting President of his nation. His efforts as a leader are visible to the entire nation. Famous for his gift of the gab ability, he vehemently criticised the cruel rulers of Pakistan. Many years after his death, he continues to be a subject of many heroic and legendary stories in Bangladesh. He is a well-known and publicly adored figure, especially in the greater Mymensingh District. His martyrdom, for the cause of Bangabandhu’s politics and Bangladesh, inspired his countless countrymen to come to the battlefield and fight for the cause of independence. He will be remembered as one of the few legends of the Bangladesh frontier.

He is largely recognised as an unusually charismatic and softly outspoken politician, committed to the causes of public welfare in all respects. He is an illustrious politician. Syed Nazrul Islam strongly believed in the fact that national renaissance could not be attained through active politics all alone. He understood the importance that education would play and thus, indulged himself completely in it. During his tenure of very high government positions, he marvelled all with his gentleness, courteousness and sense of humanity. He was kind and tender to all irrespective of their social, political and economic status. He was the scholarly politician. Today, he is remembered as a man of unblemished character.

Syed Nazrul Islam was recognised as a powerful leader and skilled parliamentarian. His calm demeanour, sunny disposition, genial personality, and jovial spirit helped him sail through his political career with ease so much so that he earned the nickname, “Banglar Bulbul (the nightingale of Bangladesh)”. He was lauded for his skilled approach and resilient tact. An iconic politician and a revolutionary, Syed Nazrul Islam is widely admired for his astute idealism and statesmanship. Endowed with a wonderful political outlook and futuristic thinking, Nazrul Islam in his lifetime went on to become a paramount leader of the Bangladesh independence movement. He was undoubtedly the central figure of the Bangladesh politics beside Bangabandhu and contributed much to the nation both before and after Independence. With Bangabandhu as his mentor, Syed Nazrul Islam worked his way to become an important leader of the Bangladesh Awami League. He played a major role in making Bangladesh a sovereign, socialist, secular, and democratic republic. He envisioned political, social and economic reforms for the country’s advancement and growth. He was instrumental in making the struggle of common people, a part of the nationalist movement. A passionate advocate of education, he believed that educating the young people of Bangladesh was imperative for the country’s future growth.

He was a staunch supporter of democracy. He was a staunch exponent of the liberation theology which believes in liberating people from all forms of injustice and sufferings. He used to say, “For me the people remain at the very core of our struggle” and this is the reason he wanted that people should be given the choice of electing their leader. He learnt the value of hard word, determination and perseverance from his parents who always encouraged him to stand up for himself and bounce back after failures. He was a brilliant student, and displayed exceptional leadership qualities from a young age and was elected the Vice President of Sir Salimullah Muslim Hall of Dhaka University during his Dhaka University days. He was a well-educated and thoughtful man known for his political philosophies.

Syed Nazrul Islam rose from his humble beginnings to receive his education from a prestigious college and university and became a qualified lawyer. From early on he believed in the ideal of freedom for all and became involved in the patriotic cause and led the Bangladesh movement for independence from Pakistan. His achievements as though largely unrecognised in his era gained greater recognition in modern times. As a democrat and a remarkable orator, he was well versed with politics since his childhood. As he grew up, he carried his political legacy forward and turned out to be a great leader. He had great leadership qualities which had helped him earn many varied very high posts and he proved his skills by performing his duties in these posts, in the best possible way. A quote by Kennedy, “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men”, and this perfectly summarises his philosophy of life; a man with a futuristic vision. It was due to his skillful statesmanship and confident approach that he earned the title of a compelling, charismatic leader.

He, in his speeches, asked citizens to be more active and responsible. He earned him quite a reputation. He even called the nation to join together in the fight against tyranny, poverty, disease, and war. Though his addresses radiated confidence, in reality, he found it challenging to match up to his optimistic vision due to the pressure of managing daily political realities at home and abroad. He became a legendary hero in public as well as intellectual speaking. He was a dedicated countryman who served his countrymen well. It is said, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” Syed Nazrul Islam has not died; he has just faded away. He was one of the few finest politicians this country has ever produced. He was a perfect Bengali gentleman politician.

-The End-

The writer is a senior citizen of Bangladesh, writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs

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