Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's ideals remain very important even for today's world – and India – because of his belief in secularism, said Nobel laureate Prof Amartya Sen.
Bangabandhu was one of the clearest exponents of secularism, he said.
"Bangabandhu means 'friend of Bangladesh', which is a very modest way to describe Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He was incomparably more than that. A great political leader and the founder of the idea of an independent Bangladesh," Prof Sen said during a virtual talk marking the birth centenary of Bangladesh's founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The South Asia Centre of the London School of Economics in collaboration with Bangladesh High Commission in London organised the discussion titled "Bangabandhu and Visions of Bangladesh", which was live-streamed last night.
"Bangabandhu did not seek glory," said the Nobel laureate Indian economist.
"The subcontinent, India included, is going through a challenging period of ideological confusion right now. And we have reasons to seek guidance from Bangabandhu," he said.
Prof Amartya Sen, who teaches at Harvard University and is a faculty member of the London School of Economics, said Bangabandhu wanted a state that would never discriminate against people as far as religion is concerned, while people would enjoy their religious freedom. Bangabandhu's ideals were reflected in the Constitution of the newborn Bangladesh in 1972, whose preamble asserts that people of all faiths will practice their religions, but political use of religion is prohibited.
He cited examples of how "some sort of political use of religion" in India favours one religion over another and discriminates against people in the name of race and ethnicity in the US and Europe, and conflicts on the basis of languages in Sri Lanka.
Prof Sen likened the policy of Mughal Emperor Akbar in the late 16th century to the secular ideal of Bangabandhu, saying their commitments to protect the privileges of minority community as equal citizens are very important today – not for India alone, for other countries of the whole world as well.
The Centre for Policy Dialogue's (CPD) Chairman Prof Rehman Sobhan, who joined the virtual event from Dhaka, said memories of Bangabandhu were about to be erased from Bangladesh after he had been murdered.
Secularism was the central element of Bangabandhu's belief system and he fought against the political use of religion throughout his political career during the Pakistan regime, said Prof Sobhan.
Bangabandhu had a wider concept of equality and democratisation of not only faiths, but also opportunities. Though socialism is somewhat unfashionable nowadays, Bangabandhu repeatedly emphasised the concept because he wanted to create a state where exploitation and inequality will be done away with, he said.
Bangabandhu was in favour of an egalitarian society, not ruled by and meant for the elite, as he had his political base in the grassroots, travelled in third class compartment in train and dealt with peasants, workers, Prof Rehman Sobhan said, recalling his privilege of working with Bangabandhu closely before and after independence.
"All these had impacts on him…The significant point about Bangabandhu was his concept of socialism originated in his revealed experience of his association with the grassroots," said Rehman Sobhan, who was a member of Bangladesh's first Planning Commission under Bangabandhu's post-independence government.
"One of the most effective ways to honour Bangabandhu on his birth centenary will be to resurrect the memory of his commitment to egalitarian society where opportunities were democratised and we will be able to put in place the agenda which will in fact create such a society in Bangladesh that can be an example for our neighbours and the whole world," Prof Sobhan said.
Bangladesh's High Commissioner to the UK Saida Muna Tasneem made introductory remarks at the event. London School of Economics' Director Minouche Shafik and its South Asia Centre Director Prof Alnoor Bhimani also spoke.