Ansar Ahmed Ullah
British ministers, senior members of the UK House of Lords and House of Commons, ambassadors, renowned journalists and community leaders at a high-profile commemorative event organised on 8 January by the Bangladesh High Commission in London remembered with great honour the historic arrival of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in London on 8 January 1972, following his release from Pakistan, observed that his visit laid the foundation of Bangladesh’s global diplomacy. Paying their homage to Bangladesh’s Founding Father, they also recalled his deep relationship with the UK government, its people and the British Bengali expatriates.
Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen, MP, was the Chief Guest at the event titled “Bangabandhu & Britain: And the Historic 8 January”. Chaired by the High Commissioner of Bangladesh to the UK and Ireland Saida Muna Tasneem, the meeting was addressed by Minister of State for South Asia and Commonwealth at the British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) Lord Tariq Ahmed, Leader of the Opposition and the Labour Party Rt Hon Keir Starmer MP, Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party Ms. Nickie Aiken MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Ms Lisa Nandy MP, Joy Morrissey MP, Seema Malhotra, MP, First Minister of Wales Rt Hon Mark Drakeford AM, Indian High Commissioner to the UK Ms. Gaitri Issar Kumar, Human Rights Lawyer Mrs Cherie Blair CBE QC, Vice Chair of the APPG on Bangladesh Lord Bilimoria, Chair, Standing Committee on Justice, House of Lords Lord Howell, Lord Rami Ranger, Former Assistant Private Secretary to Her Majesty The Queen and Chief Executive, Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC) Ms. Samantha Cohen CVO, former Bangladesh Ambassador Mohiuddin Ahmed, former BBC journalist William Crawley, Bangladesh independence movement activist in the UK Sultan Mahmud Shariff and member of the London Assembly Shaun Baily. Hundreds of expatriate Bangladeshis from the UK and Ireland joined the commemorative event paying their tribute to the Father of the Nation.
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Dr Momen in his speech said Bangabandhu’s stopover in London on 8 January 1971 before he reached independent Bangladesh and subsequent meetings with the then British Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath and opposition Labour Leader Sir William Harold demonstrated an unqualified friendship from both the ruling Conservative government as well as the opposition Labour Party and unconditional love for his Bangladeshi-British people.
Dr Momen said, “Bangabandhu’s 8 January official meeting with Sir Edward Heath set in stone a strong Bangladesh-UK friendship to grow in leaps and bounds over the past 50 years and paved the way for Bangladesh’s official recognition by Britain on 4 February 1972.”
The Foreign Minister referred to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina marking the Bangabandhu’s Birth Centenary in which the UK Prime Minister wished that Bangabandhu’s inspiring founding vision of a democratic, free, secular and inclusive Bangladesh would continue to guide Bangladesh during the 50th anniversary celebrations in 2021 and beyond.
Lord Tariq Ahmed said, “Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is an inspiration not just to the Bengali community across the world but to many who fight for liberty and democracy. He laid the foundation of a strong partnership and deep friendship that Bangladesh-UK has been enjoying in the past five decades since his maiden visit to the UK.”
He said that Bangabandhu’s founding vision of a democratic, secular and inclusive Bangladesh was an inspiring one and the UK would remain a critical partner of Bangladesh seeking to support peace and prosperity for all its people led by the illustrious daughter of Bangabandhu, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Paying profound homage to the Father of the Nation, High Commissioner Saida Muna Tasneem in her opening remarks said, “Bangabandhu’s maiden visit to the UK was the beginning of the friendship and commitment between newly independent Bangladesh and the UK.”
The High Commissioner hoped that the UK government, its people and British-Bangladeshi expatriates would extend their continued appreciation, understanding, cooperation and support in pursuit of a democratic, secular, self-reliant, inclusive middle-income Bangladesh by 2021 and developed economy by 2041 under the leadership of Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Leader of the Opposition and the Labour Party Rt Hon Sir Keir Starmer, MP, paid his deep tribute to Bangabandhu and said, “Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a great statesman who spent 14 years imprisonment for fighting to establish civil, political and cultural rights of his people and leading his country towards independence.” Citing the meeting between Bangabandhu and former British Prime Minister Sir William Harold said that he was incredibly proud as the two great leaders shared a rare friendship based on their belief on equality and justice; and that bond provided a strong platform for the friendship and relationship between the British people and people of Bangladesh”.
Representing Conservative Party Chair Amanda Milling, Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party Ms Nickie Aiken, MP, said the bond that Bangabandhu had established with the UK since his stopover in London would continue to guide Bangladesh-UK bilateral relations in the post-Brexit and post-Covid era. She said, “I understand that Prime Minister Boris Jonson will be working more closely with Bangladesh’s Father of the Nation’s daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to optimise bilateral trade and investment and facing risks from climate change.”
Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Lisa Nandy, MP, said she is immensely proud to have British-Bangladeshi heritage as her father was a Bengali. She affirmed that her party would be working closely with Bangladesh High Commission as well as with the British-Bangladeshi community to celebrate Bangabandhu’s birth centenary and the 50th year of Bangladesh independence and Bangladesh-UK diplomatic relationship.
Following the discussion, Dr Momen and Lord Ahmed jointly inaugurated the ‘Bangabandhu Library’ established at the Bangladesh High Commission London marking the historic day of Bangabandhu’s maiden visit to the UK.
A documentary on the Father of the Nation was screened at the beginning of the event that followed a cultural presentation of sarod recital and dance titled “Bangabandhu the Braveheart: A Veer Rasa”, by classical musician Rajrupa Chowdhury and artiste Sadia Islam Mou & her troupe.