To be sure, the celebratory programme initiated by the government over the 10 days in March starting with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s birth anniversary on March and concluding as these words get written on Independence Day have been an occasion to reflect, and renew our pledges to look ahead with a determination to not rest on our laurels. It helps that the identities of Bangladesh and its founder are indeed so intertwined that the official line marking two occasions – the birth centennial of Bangabandhu and the Golden Jubilee of the country’s independence, can very easily mesh into one overarching theme.
Celebrating a country’s achievements can often descend into vulgar displays of nationalist fervour. Political expediency often seems to dictate such a course. To that extent, it has been pleasant to find the overall mood and character of the programme rather flavoured by Bangabandhu’s liberal variety of nationalism, that Professor Syed Anwar Husain writes about in our lead item this week: non-xenophobic and inclusive, and transcending to an internationalism prefaced by regionalism.
That last bit is reflected in the guest list of foreign dignitaries who swung by the capital over the past week, in spite of the extremely worrying spike in the number of Covid-19 cases being witnessed in Bangladesh right now. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be the 5th leader of a Saarc nation to join our own Prime Minsiter Sheikh Hasina for the twin celebrations at the National Parade Square in the capital. Before him, Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Nepalese President Bidya Devi Bhandari and Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering have all come bearing glad tidings. Of the original 7 Saarc member countries, only Pakistan’s premiere Imran Khan was missing, and understandably so. Despite recent overtures, including a letter sent by Khan on the occasion, officialdom in Pakistan is yet to acknowledge many of the atrocities committed in the state’s name by its occupying force in 1971. The cancellation of an event that was set to be organised around the events of that war by the Lahore University of Management Sciences, consistently ranked as Pakistan’s premier institute of higher education and supposedly a bastion of liberal thought, at the last minute this week without providing any reason for it, suggests that as a society Pakistan is yet to make peace with its own history. Having them present could have been decidedly awkward.
World leaders who didn’t quite make it, yet sent their greetings included Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Pope Francis, and England's Queen Elizabeth II, among many others, sent messages on the occasion. They were mostly warm, in some cases insightful, and in all cases genuinely interested to stay engaged with Bangladesh in its journey ahead. Bangladesh has every reason to hold its head high, for it has overcome truly tremendous odds to get where it is today. This has been a week for affirmation.