A war over slogans has started in West Bengal ahead of the upcoming Legislative Assembly elections. Even as the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of religious politics by repeating the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ chant, the latter has countered that the ruling party in the state was engaging in Bengal sub-nationalism with itsuse of the slogan ‘Joy Bangla’.
West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh on Thursday accused Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of creating a ‘Greater Bangladesh’ with ‘Joy Bangla’ slogans in public meetings. “The honourable person is uttering the Bangladeshi slogan ‘Joy Bangla’ which is the national slogan of Islamic Bangladesh,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
It is true that ‘Joy Bangla’, which translates as ‘victory to Bengal’ or ‘hail Bengal’ is the national slogan of Bangladesh and that it has a special place in the country’s memory of the 1971 Liberation war. But the roots of the slogan go way back to 1922, when a nationalist movement against the British was raging in India.
Origins of ‘Joy Bangla’
The phrase ‘Joy Bangla’ is taken out of a poem written by Bengali poet, musician and writer Kazi Nazrul Islam. In the poem ‘Purna Abhinandan’, which translates as ‘fruition of felicitation’, the phrase appears in the fifth stanza:
Joy Bangla’r pur?ochondro, joy joy adi ontori?
joy juge juge asa senapoti, joy pra? ontohin
(Hail to the full moon of Bengal, hail to the eternally enveloped,
All hail to the warriors who came here generation after generation, hail to the ceaseless eternal souls)
The poem written in 1922 spoke about the spirit of revolutionaries in Bengal, who shattered the shackles of oppression through generations. Nazrul wrote extensively on the theme of rebellion against colonialism, foreign oppression, exploitation etc., and was thus given the epithet, ‘Bidrohi Kobi’ (rebel poet). His writings were of inspiration to Bengalis of East Bengal during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation war, when the country broke away from West Pakistan. In 1972, Nazrul was crowned the titled ‘national poet of Bangladesh’.
‘Joy Bangla’ in the Bangladesh Liberation War
In the 1960s, when the disparities between East and West Pakistan became all too evident, a popular movement emerged in East Pakistan which desired a separate state for itself on linguistic grounds. In 1969, the Sarbadaliya Chhatra Sangram Parishad (All Parties Student Resistance Council, or SCSP), announced an 11-point charter for self-government in East Pakistan. It evoked emancipation through slogans such as ‘Your Desh, My Desh, Bangla Desh, Bangla Desh’ and ‘Joy Bangla’ which were now heard in public instead of ‘Pakistan zindabad’.
On January 22, when the founding father of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was released from jail by the Pakistani government, he was felicitated by the SCSP, which held a huge rally in Dhaka. Cries of ‘Joy Bangla’ were heard with full zeal from all across the street.
During the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, ‘Joy Bangla’ became the war cry of the Mukti Bahini, which was a guerrilla resistance movement consisting Bangladeshi military and civilian forces, fighting for the freedom of Bangladesh. When Rahman gave his famous speech of March 7, 1971, in Ramna Race Course at Dhaka, urging people to find their freedom, it concluded with ‘Our struggle, this time, is a struggle for our freedom. Our struggle, this time, is a struggle for our independence. Joy Bangla!’. The speech was soon followed by echoes of ‘Joy Bangla’ from the audience which was almost a million strong.
Soon after the Independence of Bangladesh ‘Joy Bangla’ was made the national slogan of the new country. However, after the assassination of Rahman in 1975, when Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad proclaimed himself the president, he replaced the slogan with ‘Bangladesh Zindabad’.
‘Joy Bangla’ as Bangladesh national slogan
In 2017, a petition filed at the Bangladesh High Court by a Supreme Court lawyer named Bashir Ahmad, asked ‘Joy Bangla’ to be declared the national slogan of the country. “Joy Bangla was the slogan of our independence and national unity. Therefore, it should remain as the national slogan for future generations,” the petition read. During the court hearing Ahmad said the slogan inspired people to fight the Pakistani military, and hence it must retain the national slogan status.
Consequently, on March 10, 2020, the High Court declared ‘Joy Bangla’ as the national slogan of the country. It directed authorities to take necessary measures so that all state officials and public post holders used the slogan in speeches on days of national importance.