Bangabandhu was charismatic and genial

Bangabandhu was charismatic and genial: Sir Mark Tully

Sir Mark Tully

Mark Tully, former BBC bureau chief in India is a renowned journalist and needs no introduction. Covering the Liberation War of Bangladesh was a high point in his career; that he did extensively for the BBC and had the fortune to watch the founding father of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from close quarters. He also had the opportunity to meet Bangabandhu after his return from Pakistan’s captivity. Reflecting on those tumultuous days, Sir William Mark Tully described the late leader as an “extremely friendly and open person” who loved his people from the heart.

My scheduled interview with Mark Tully looked as if the celebrated former BBC Bureau Chief had been waiting for me to express his feelings about Bangladesh’s charismatic leader and father of the Nation-Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Recalling his first interview with Bangabandhu after the latter returned from Pakistan, he said “I do not recall the exact dates but it was after he returned from jail in Pakistan and the army had moved out of Dhaka. I did not know Sheikh Saheb very well before he was arrested and taken to jail in Pakistan”.

At his East Nizamuddin residence in New Delhi, the veteran journalist spoke about his visit to Dhaka, soon after the Independence of Bangladesh. He had to file some reports on the new-born

country and sought an interview with the charismatic leader of the new nation. “Of course I wanted to interview him… but never knew he would see me actually, I did not know that it would be granted so soon. As the interview was granted I was told Sheikh Saheb was also interested to meet me”, he said.

“We had a long discussion and he spoke a great deal about the new-born Bangladesh, its people and his future plans. The interview lasted over an hour, I guess. He told me about his determination to establish a secular democracy in Bangladesh and also his other big dreams”.

Recalling the gesture of the legendary leader, Tully said, “at the very outset Bangabandhu thanked me for my contribution to the Liberation War of Bangladesh to which I replied: “I merely reported the incidents as it unfolded, many others journalists had done like me”. But he (Mujib) would not agree. At the end of the conversation, he presented me with a painting that is still with me.”

“I was deeply touched by his gesture (the gift) and you know we (BBC staff) are not supposed to accept any gift. I told my BBC head office in London about the gift and informed them that I would put the painting in the BBC office in Delhi, which I did.”

Responding to my query as to how did he find the person Bangabandhu at that time, Mark Tully, who received Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1985, said: “I found him extremely genial, friendly and open. He was a very friendly man, a very big person in every sense of the term of the word.”

Tully, also a recipient of ‘Padmashri’ from the Indian Government in 1992, said that he had met the Bangladesh leader several times after that. But he could not recollect how many times. During subsequent meetings Sheikh Mujib told Tully that he was upset with the problems.

“I also attended several public meetings addressed by Sheikh Saheb. He had a wonderful voice that could mesmerise the crowd. I could feel from the reaction of the people when Sheikh Saheb used to address public meetings.”

During Emergency, in July 1975, Sir Tully was proscribed from India and had to move to London and mostly worked in a newsroom and could not travel as much. “I was working in the night shift when the news of Sheikh Mujib’s brutal assassination came I was very sad obviously as Bangabandhu had been very kind to me.

“Personally I was sad because I remembered my interactions with him and the high hopes and optimism he had for his people and his belief in the future of Bangladesh.”

Asked how he rated Bangabandhu as a leader compared to other leaders of his time, Mark Tully responded: “He faced lots of problems than any of his contemporary leaders. He had bigger problems– the nation was ravaged; then there was global economic recession, coupled with rise of prices of petroleum products”. And there was an open border with India where it was impossible to stop smuggling.” “I personally feel he had faced more problems than any other leaders of his time,” Tully added.

While generalising the problems in the subcontinent, Sir Tully observed: “Too much power comes to the leaders when there is no institution to check that. The leaders often have to take decisions for which they have no idea. And later they are blamed for that.”

Sir Mark Tully, who received the ‘Knighthood’ from the Queen of England in 2002, also narrated his experience about military rule and how detrimental it was to the development of a nation. “I know from the experiences of Pakistan, military government cannot be a solution for any problem in Bangladesh. I always felt that military rule was never an answer.”

The former BBC Correspondent was all praise for Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina too, the daughter of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

“I interviewed her….I must have done (interviews) both as Prime Minister of Bangladesh and Leader of the Opposition,” Tully added.

“I have great admiration for her courage. She came back and joined politics despite risks. to run a big political party like the Awami League”, he quipped.

On the current relations between Bangladesh and India, Sir Mark Tully observed: “My great hope is that Bangladesh and India must build relations to the mutual benefit of the two peoples. This depends on both countries. “You cannot expect one country to follow the other”, said.

As the interview came to an end, Sir Mark Tully took me to the adjacent living room where he showed the gift given by Bangabandhu. The painting was done by artist Muzimul Azim, in 1973. I asked how he managed that. “I simply took it from the office,” Tully quipped with a child like smile as he would cherish the memory of the late Bangladesh leader for long time. Mark Tully also informed that as and when he shifts to a new house he would surely take this rare gift with him.

(Writer is Bureau chief of BSS, New Delhi)

Author : M. Shafiqul Karim

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: The leader of a nation

The leader of a nation

Bangladesh won victory on December 16, 1971 as a sovereign country through a bloody civil war in which millions died, 10 million became refugee in India to escape torture, and 30 million were uprooted from their homes. Every household in then East Pakistan suffered due to military atrocities. The leader behind their independence struggle was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, a tall man with a bushy moustache. Like Nelson Mandela, he spent most of his prime lifetime in jail as he demanded justice, fair share and democracy for his people. During 1966 when he launched his six-point program for regional autonomy for all provinces of Pakistan, he was arrested 14 times in a 2-year period. He was even sentenced to death and was forced to dig his own graveyard but Almighty Allah had a different plan for him. Instead of being hanged by then Pakistan’s Military ruler, General Yahya Khan, he was released as a national hero and on return to his homeland, became the Prime Minister of independent Bangladesh, a truncated country on January 12, 1972. The man who was chosen overwhelmingly to be the Prime Minister of ‘united Pakistan’ in 1970 was sentenced to death. However, he escaped death in Pakistan and ended up as the ‘father of a new nation’. Like Nelson Mendela or Mahatma Gandhi of India, he endured suffering and imprisonment to achieve emancipation for his countrymen. His countrymen out of love and for his sacrifice honored him with the title of “Bangabandhu”, meaning ‘friend of Bangladesh’ in Bengali. The Time Magazine in its cover story referred him as “Poet of Politics”. He was a rare man of courage with strong determination and political acumen. He was born on March 17, 1920 and at age 12, he had to leave school for 3 years as his eyes were to be operated upon.

In 1944 he graduated from the Islamia College of Calcutta and became a ‘voice for the Muslim cause’. He worked hard for the creation of Pakistan, then ‘dream homeland’ for Muslims of India. When Pakistan was created, he found his dream shattered and subjugation was let loose on Bengalis. As a student of the Law Department and as an eloquent speaker in three languages of then Pakistan, Urdu, Bengali and English, he protested the imposition of Urdu as the ‘only state language of Pakistan’ and therefore, he was arrested and was expelled from the Dhaka University in 1948. After 24 years, the Dhaka University rescinded its expulsion order when he became Prime Minister and it accorded him life membership in 1972. As a Muslim activist, he fought against Hindu domination and with the same spirit, he fought against the Pakistani subjugation. At age 34, he got elected as a Member of Parliament and became a Minister of then East Pakistan in 1954 defeating pro-Urdu party of Pakistan, the Muslim League. But within 14 days of assumption of power, the elected government was dismissed by then Pakistan’s Federal government headed by a former bureaucrat, Gulam Mohammed, then Pakistan’s Governor General. Soon he appointed his colleague, a former Indian Intelligence Officer, General Iskandar Mirza as East Pakistan’s Governor. However, when political activities resumed, Sheikh Mujib again got elected and became the Minister of Commerce and Industry in 1956. After 14 months when General Ayub Khan imposed Martial Law in October 1957, he was jailed again and he basically remained in jail until 1969. In 1969 mass movement throughout Pakistan forced President Ayub to release him and drop the infamous Agarthala Conspiracy case against him. President Ayub invited him to a Round Table Conference (RTC) in Rawalpindi on February 1969 and as Ayub Khan refused to compromise on his ‘6-point autonomy demand’, he walked out of the RTC on March 13, 1969. Following this, Gen. Yahya ousted Ayub on March 23, 1969. He held all-Pakistan national election for the first time in December 1970 in which Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League got the majority seats– 167 out 169 in East Pakistan and his allied parties got another 35 in West Pakistan totaling 202 in Pakistan’s 300-seat National Assembly. Pakistan’s Zulfiker Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) got a total of 80 seats. Therefore, Bhutto demanded that power be shared and be handed over to “two majority parties” of East and West Pakistan’. Otherwise, he would not allow the session to resume. At his threat, Gen. Yahya abruptly postponed the resumption of the National Assembly and on March 25, 1971, he imprisoned Bangabandhu and let loose a ‘genocide’ in then East Pakistan in which 3 million died. Finding no other alternative, Bangladeshis, rank and file, fought valiantly and they defeated the occupation army. Pakistan’s 97,000 well-trained soldiers surrendered on December 16, 1971 to the Joint Forces of Bangladesh and India.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib was in power from January 12, 1972 to August 15, 1975, a total of 3 and half years. The man who sacrificed his entire life for ‘justice and fair share for his people, the man who fought to establish democracy and economic well being of his country’ was assassinated on August 15, 1975 along with his wife, three sons, two daughters-in-laws, brother, brother-in-law and his daughters, son and grandson, his nephew and nephew’s wife including his security officer totaling 16 members. Luckily two of his daughters, Sheikh Hasina (former Prime Minister of Bangladesh) and Sheikh Rehana escaped death as they were abroad at the time. An ‘Indemnity Ordinance’ protecting the murderers was incorporated in the constitution by the new government under General Ziaur Rahman and the self-confessed killers were rewarded with business and lucrative diplomatic jobs abroad. Because of the towering personality of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Indian forces had to leave Bangladesh soil on March 17, 1972 and the country received world recognition at rapid speed including a seat at the UN, the IMF and the World Bank.

Bangabandhu became the head of government in a war ravaged country in which roads, bridges, schools, colleges, communication network, industries, in fact, the whole infrastructure were heavily damaged or destroyed, millions were uprooted and the nation had no experience of running a national government. Its ferries, trucks and buses were destroyed and its railway lines were uprooted. The nation had not a single aircraft, nor there was any seagoing vessel. There was no foreign exchange reserve in the country and the nation’s food godowns were not only empty, the agricultural cropland remained uncultivated due to war. The defeating and departing army either destroyed schools and infrastructure or set them afire. Moreover, the police force and the civil administration were totally collapsed, and in addition, large amount of arms and ammunition left to anti-liberation forces made the law and order situation all the more difficult. Naturally, it was a daunting task for any leadership. In spite of such hardship, the new government moved quickly to restore normal lifeit set up new administration, collected arms and ammunitions, repatriated and rehabilitated 10 million refugees from India, rehabilitated another 400,000 stranded Bangladeshis from Pakistan, ensured 44,000 cusecs of water from the Ganges-Jamuna tributaries, adopted a constitution, opened 11,000 primary schools, employed 50,000 new teachers and nationalized 580 industrial units left by Pakistani owners including banks and insurance companies. His government banned all anti-Islamic and anti-social activities like gambling, horse race, drinking of liquor, and it established Islamic Foundation and reorganized Madrassa education and supplied free books to all students upto class V and at subsidized rate upto class VIII. To encourage agricultural crop, it waved tax up to 25 bighas, distributed khas land to landless farmers and installed 46,000 power pumps in 1973. Besides, certificate cases against 1 million farmers were lifted and it distributed 16,125 tons of high-yielding rice seeds, 454 tons of jute seeds and 1,037 tons of wheat seeds. Soon the country faced few serious external problems such as the four-fold increase of gasoline price following the Middle East war of 1973, the world wide shortage of food production causing doubling of food price and subsequent cut in US Food Aid plus the devastating flood of 1974. These environmental factors combined with domestic under production due to war and abandonment of industries and unavailability of spare parts and raw materials created shortage of essentials in the country and inflation jumped to a record high of 56 per cent. Owing to the enormity of problems, administrative inexperience and corrupt associates, his administration failed to meet people’s expectation. But that is a different story.

Bangabandhu restored Bangladesh’s relationship with Pakistan in 1974 and pardoned collaborators against the advice of many as he was a ‘peace maker’. He invited Muslim Heads of governments including President Bhutto to visit Bangladesh. He accorded him a rousing reception and pardoned few hundred war criminals at his request. They were even allowed to accompany Bhutto to Pakistan. However, Pakistani leadership failed to reciprocate such goodwill gesture in resolving the outstanding issues including the repatriation of Pakistani nationals, the Biharis who faithfully supported the Pakistan occupation army in identifying and killing the Bangladesh supporters. Their faith in Pakistan is now being shattered.

Bangabandhu said, “those who cannot maintain law and order cannot expect to be a great nation… political freedom comes to naught if it fails to ensure economic freedom…we must extricate corruption from the soil of Bangladesh”. Unfortunately, law and order problems, economic deprivation and corruption are still rampant. Therefore, the greatest task he has left behind is to create a “golden Bangladesh” where the people will be law-abiding and the society corruption free. This article was published in DailyStar of Bangladesh. Author Dr. Abdul Momen is a Professor of Economics and Management in Boston and currently working in Saudi Arabia.

Author :  Dr. Abdul Momen

Bangabandhu “Greatest Bengali of All Time”

Listeners of the BBC’s Bengali service have voted Bangladesh’s first president, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the “Greatest Bengali of All Time”.

Sheikh Mujibur, assassinated in 1975, easily beat Nobel prize-winning poet and playwright Rabindranath Tagore.

Another Nobel laureate, economist Amartya Sen, was the only living person in the top 20 at number 14.

He was one place behind Satyajit Ray, director of classic films such as Pather Panchali and the Chess Players.

Sheikh Mujib, popularly known as Bangabandhu or Friend of Bengal, is credited by many with leading Bangladesh to independence from Pakistan in 1971.

The former Bangladeshi president was one of numerous politicians to figure prominently in the poll, including General Ziaur Rahman, the assassinated husband of the present prime minister.

Tagore is revered widely – regarded by many as the Bengali Shakespeare – and is the composer of both the Indian and Bangladeshi national anthems.

In the survey, popular fascination with poetry and rebellion was reflected in the listeners’ choice for number three – Kazi Nazrul Islam, a firebrand poet who was jailed by the British for writing subversive verses.

Still revered by Bengalis as the Rebel Poet, Nazrul Islam also composed hundreds of love songs and religious chants.

The radio survey was conducted over February and March, when listeners were asked to nominate their five greatest Bengalis.

The Bengali Service announced the names through a countdown over 20 days, starting on 26 March – Bangladesh’s independence day – and ending on Bengali New Year’s Day on 14 April.

The survey put only one woman in the Top 20, Rokeya Sakhawaat Hossain, at number six.

Reformers and revolutionaries

Hossain, popularly referred to as Begum Rokeya, risked social wrath and isolation at the turn of the 20th century, by pioneering education for Muslim women in Bengal.

The top 20 was peppered with names of reformers and revolutionaries – Subhash Chandra Bose, who led an abortive armed rebellion against British rule during World War II, came in at number five.

Social reformer and educationist Ishwar Chandra Viddyasagar, who sought to break down caste barriers in Hindu society, came in at number eight.

A 19th Century rebel against British rule, Mir Nisar Ali Titumeer, came in at number 11.

But not everyone on the list is a poet or a politician, with listeners voting scientist Jagadish Chandra Basu into number seven. He is credited with ground-breaking work on the life cycle of plants.

The BBC’s Bengali service has nearly 12 million listeners in Bangladesh and eastern India, home to some 250 million Bengali-speakers.

The survey produced well over 100 names, and the top 20 was compiled on points awarded according to listeners’ order of preference.

Listeners name ‘greatest Bengali’
By Sabir Mustafa
BBC Bengali editor

Historic verdict in Bangladesh

The assassins of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman have been brought to justice 23 years after he was murdered and his government was overthrown in a military coup. A historic wrong has thus been set right.

NOVEMBER 8, 1998 could well be a turning point in Bangladesh’s history. On that day, Kazi Gulam Rasul, a District and Sessions Court judge of Dhaka, sentenced to death by firing squad in public 15 former Army officers, the “self-confessed killers” of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, 23 years after the country’s founding father was assassinated in a military coup that overthrew Bangladesh’s first Government. Mujibur Rahman was brutally murdered along with 26 others, including his wife, three sons (one of them was just 10 years old), two daughters-in-law, brother, close relatives, political associates and security men in a pre-dawn attack on August 15, 1975.

The historic verdict, which was delivered after 17 months of hearings, came at the end of an agonising trial (see chronology). The “Bangabandhu murder case” – as it is called – was filed in October 1996, more than 21 years after the assassination took place and four months after the Awami League Government led by Sheikh Hasina, one of Mujibur Rahman’s two surviving daughters, assumed office.

Following the award of the death sentence to 15 former Army officers who were found guilty of the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975, a march in Dhaka on November 8 remembering the Father of the Nation.

The people of Bangladesh never saw the assassination of Mujibur Rahman, popularly known as “Bangabandhu” (Friend of Bengal), as an isolated incident. Mujibur Rahman was assassinated three and a half years after he led East Pakistan to independence from West Pakistan through a bloody war of liberation, which was in effect a firm rejection of the “Two-Nation Theory” of Mohammad Ali Jinnah (this theory led to the Partition of India in 1947). The act of breaking away from West Pakistan was viewed as a political and social revolution that aimed at opposing the dominant role of the military in politics and at discarding the politics of communalism. In the popular perception, Mujibur Rahman thus represented a secular and progressive Bangladesh. For pro-liberation Bangladesh, the demand to bring to trial his assassins was therefore a moral compulsion.

Secular and progressive Bangladeshis never came to terms with the 1975 massacre although the assassins and their accomplices justified their action on the grounds that Mujibur Rahman had assumed absolute power under the one-party (Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League) system of governance he enforced and suppressed his political opponents. Pro-liberation Bangladesh continued to view the assassination and the coup as a plot hatched to steer the newly-formed country away from its avowed path of socialism, democracy, nationalism and secularism. This belief was lent credence to by successive military and quasi-military governments which dropped secularism from the set of state principles and substituted Bengali nationalism, the guiding spirit of the country’s war of liberation, with the new-found “Bangladeshi-nationalism”, which is based on religion.

Mujibur Rahman’s daughter and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina weeps while answering newspersons’ questions on the historic verdict.

The shame that accompanied the killings was deepened by the proclamation in 1975 of the Indemnity Ordinance by the military government of Khandaker Mostaque Ahmed, who appointed himself President of the country following Mujibur Rahman’s assassination. The infamous Ordinance was incorporated in the Constitution by President Gen. Ziaur Rahman. The Ordinance granted indemnity from prosecution to those who plotted for and participated in the bloody political changeover.

However, the Shiekh Hasina Government, after it assumed office in June 1996, sought the opinion of a panel of judges and legal experts and cleared the hurdles in the way of prosecution of the plotters. In October 1996, cases were filed against 19 persons in connection with the assassination. All but one of the accused were former military personnel.

At the District and Sessions Court, Dhaka, retired Lieutenant-Colonels Mahiuddin Ahmed and Shahriar Rashid Khan, two of those who were sentenced to death.

THE former Army officers who have been sentenced to death are Lt. Col. Syed Farooq Rehman, Lt. Col. Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan, Lt. Col. Mahiuddin Ahmed, Lt.Col. Khandaker Abdur Rashid, Maj. Bazlul Huda, Lt. Col. Shariful Huq Dalim, Major Sharful Hussain, Lt. Col. A.M. Rashed Chowdhury, Lt. Col. Mahiuddin Ahmed (Lancer), Lt. Col. Noor Chowdhury, Lt. Col. Abdul Aziz Pasha, Capt. Mohammad Kismet Hashem, Capt. Najmul Hossain Ansar, Capt. Abdul Majed and Risalder Molemuddin alias Moslehmuddin. The first three were arrested from Dhaka in August 1996. The others were handed down the sentences after being tried in absentia.

Of the army officers who were tried and sentenced in absentia Maj. Bazlul Huda’s return to the country was ensured by the Government in a dramatic way. All the others are believed to be hiding in various countries, including the United States, Canada, Libya and certain European and Asian countries. Maj. Huda and Lt. Col. Khandaker Abdur Rashid, two key persons behind the coup of 1975, floated the Freedom Party along with Lt. Col. Syed Farooq Rehman in the 1980s after returning from their self-imposed exile. Rashid and Huda fled the country again as soon as Shiekh Hasina was sworn in as the Prime Minister in 1996. Within hours of the pronouncement of the death sentence, Huda was brought to Bangladesh by special aircraft from Bangkok, where he was facing a jail term on charges of shop-lifting. Lt. Col. Syed Farooq Rehman, who returned to Bangladesh 10 years after the assassination, even contested the presidential election against Gen. H.M. Ershad in the late 1980s. (Frontline, in its issue dated November 1-14, 1986, published an interview with him.)

Lt. Col. Syed Farooq Rehman (right), who was found guilty, and Abdul Wahab Joarder, who was acquitted.

Meanwhile, the Sheikh Hasina Government has initiated talks with the countries in which the assassins are believed to be staying to have them deported to Bangladesh. The Bangladesh police has also sought the help of the Interpol to facilitate the return of the assassins.

THE trial and the judgment are seen as constituting a major blow to the trend of frequent military take-overs in Bangladesh. The successful conclusion of the trail has also strengthened the country’s quest for stabililty for its democracy.

In Dhaka on November 12, a march by activists of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party to protest against the death of seven BNP workers in violence during a three-day, countrywide hartal called by the Opposition party. The BNP and its allies have not publicly supported the leaders of the 1975 coup, but Sheikh Hasina has said that “their aim is to protect the killers”.

While handing down the verdict, Kazi Golam Rasul acquitted four of the accused, giving them the benefit of the doubt. They included one of the prime accused, Taherussin Thakur, former Information Minister and the lone civilian among the accused. The Government is, however, likely to appeal against this acquittal in a higher court. (Another civilian who was among the accused, Zobaida Rashid, wife of Lt. Col. Khandaker Abdur Rashid, had been acquitted of the charges against her by the Supreme Court at an early stage of the case.)

KAZI GOLAM RASUL ensured that the proceedings in the case progressed according to due process of law. For its part, the Government scrupulously adhered to due process of law and provided the accused, including the absconders, opportunities to defend themselves. The Government did this despite the fact that in a case like this it could have formed a special tribunal, which would have tried and sentenced the accused in a much shorter span of time. In fact, the Government even appointed lawyers for the accused persons who were absconding.

The defence lawyers challenged the legality of the trial by the District and Sessions Court on the grounds that such a trial had been barred by the Indemnity Ordinance of 1975. They also challenged the moral and legal propriety of senior advocate Sirajul Haq appearing as Chief Public Prosecutor in the case, for he was an Awami League member of Parliament when Mujibur Rahman was assassinated. Defence lawyers also raised objections relating to the location of the court which was situated in an old building adjacent to the Dhaka Central Jail. Only after the Supreme Court overruled the objections did the trial court begin the hearings.

Shah Moazzem Hossain, leader of a faction of the Jatiya Party, and K.M. Obaidur Rahman, MP, and Nurul Islam Manzoor, both belonging to the BNP, who were arrested in connection with the murder on November 3, 1975 of four leaders of the liberation struggle. All three were at one time influential leaders of the Awami League.

The Judge gave the verdict after 148 days of hearings and cross-examination. Passing the sentence under Section 302/34 of the Bangladesh Penal Code, the Judge said: “It has been proved beyond reasonable doubt that a total of 15 accused killed the then President Bangabandhu, along with his family members, relatives and some others at the 677 Dhanmondi residence of Bangabandhu in furtherance of a pre-planned conspiracy at about 5 a.m. on August 15, 1975.” The judgment said: “After the incident, some of the accused also boasted, identifying themselves as ‘self-confessed killers’ at home and abroad.” “The incident,” it added, “was not only brutal, but also marked the ruthless shooting of two newly married women and a 10-year-old child.”

The judgment was welcomed by almost all sections of Bangladeshi society. Among the leaders to welcome it were Ershad, the leader of the country’s third biggest party, the Jatiya Party, and Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) leaders A.S.M. Abdur Rob and Hasanul Huq Inu. Pro-liberation Bangladesh, which had been demanding for a long time that the Bangabandhu’s assassins be punished for their crime, rejoiced at the judgment. Most of the Opposition leaders described it as a landmark judgment since they believed that the sentence passed on the assassins meant a victory not merely for the Awami League, but for the entire pro-liberation Bangladesh.

The leading newspapers of the country described the verdict as a “historic” one. In fact, almost all of them began their reports on the judgment in a similar way: “Twenty-three years, two months and three weeks after the fateful early hours of August 15, 1975, the historic judgment came….”

Six rulers who were in power in Bangladesh following the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, including (from top row, left) Khandaker Mostaque Ahmed, Gen. Ziaur Rahman, Justice Abdus Sattar, Gen. H.M. Ershad, and Begum Khaleda Zia, shielded the killers or failed to investigate the crime. (Not pictured here is Chief Justice A.M. Sayem, who succeeded Mostaque Ahmed as President.) It was during the tenure of Sheikh Hasina (bottom row, far right) that the trial began, nearly 22 years after the assassination.

However, the judgment shocked a section of political opinion in Bangladesh. The main Opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) founded by Gen. Ziaur Rahman and now led by his wife and former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, and its ally, the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami, observed a three-day, countrywide hartal from November 9, a day after the judgment was passed. Although the BNP and its allies have not publicly supported the coup leaders, their stand on the bloody political changeover of 1975 is no secret. Obviously they believe that the judgment could jeopardise their political position since they subscribe to an ideology that is similar to that of the coup leaders. In the past it was their leaders who patronised the coup leaders by giving them diplomatic positions abroad. They are thus trying desperately to bring down the Sheikh Hasina Government.

An alarm has been sounded in the BNP’s headquarters also because of the Government’s decision to try persons accused of the murder of four national leaders three months after Mujibur Rahman’s assassination. These leaders led Bangladesh through the period of the war in 1971 and ran the provisional ‘Mujibnagar Government’ in exile when Mujibur Rahman was arrested in Pakistan. They were Vice-President Syed Nazrul Islam, Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed, Finance Minister Capt. Mansoor Ali and Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Kamruzzaman; they were killed in Dhaka Central Jail on November 3, 1975, allegedly by the same group of Army officers who assassinated Mujibur Rahman. Three Opposition leaders have been charge-sheeted in this case: members of Parliament K.M. Obaidur Rahman and Nurul Islam Manzoor, both of the BNP, and Shah Moazzem Hossain, co-chairman of a faction of the Jatiya Party. All the three were at one time influential leaders of the Awami League.

The Government has also announced that it will hold trials in cases related to all political killings in order to “establish the rule of law and to halt the politics of killing” which the 28-year-old country has witnessed for years. The proposed trials include those relating to the assassination of Gen. Ziaur Rahman, who was gunned down by a group of Army officers in Chittagong in 1981. No civilian trial was held in the case, although 13 Army officers who fought in the freedom movement were sentenced to death by a military tribunal. There are also indications that the Government plans to hold trials in the case relating to the mysterious killing of Gen. Manzoor, the former General Officer Commanding of Chittagong who allegedly led a rebellion against Ziaur Rahman and was shot dead without trial. Ershad, the then Army chief, is the main accused in the case, which was initiated during Begum Khaleda Zia’s tenure as Prime Minister. The Sheikh Hasina Government’s proposal to hold a trial in the killing of Col. Abu Taher, a freedom fighter who was hanged by the Ziaur Rahman Government, has been received well by freedom fighters and leading politicians of the Left.

THE political motives behind the protests organised by the BNP and its allies are understandable, for unless they build up a strong anti-Government agitation the Sheikh Hasina Government will go ahead with the trials and the trials may turn out to be embarrassing for them politically. Indications are that the protests are likely to intensify in the near future.

The ruling party believes that the protests are part of a “conspiracy” hatched by Khaleda Zia’s party and her “fundamentalist allies” in order to “protect the killers of Bangabandhu” through destabilisation tactics.

In December 1971, Lt. Gen. A.A.K. Niazi (right), chief of Pakistan’s Eastern Command, and Lt. Gen. J.S. Arora of the Indian Army sign the document relating to the declaration of unconditional surrender of Pakistan’s troops in East Pakistan.

The Shiekh Hasina Government’s five-year tenure will end in two years. There are doubts whether the sentence on the assassins would be executed by that time since the judgment will be appealed against in the higher court. Whatever the ultimate outcome, the trail of Mujibur Rahman’s killers and the death sentence awarded to them by a court of law is a victory for pro-liberation Bangladesh.

Soon after the judgment was passed, Sheikh Hasina went to her parents’ house in Dhanmondi, where the massacre took place. The house has been converted into a museum, where visitors can see evidence of the massacre, including traces of Mujibur Rahman’s blood. Speaking to newspersons, Sheikh Hasina said: “The day the verdict is executed, the people of Bangladesh will be free from the curse.” In a voice choked with emotion she expressed her gratitude to all those who protested against the injustice and those who sacrificed their lives demanding a trial.

in Dhaka

Bangabandhu and Bangladesh

 By Muntasir Mamun

The inhabitants of Bangladesh had dreamt of a free land for long. Many individuals had sought to materialise this dream in the past. Many had spoken about that land during the first forty years of the last century. That plan was once again drawn during the partition of India. Moulana Bhashani had spoken about an independent territory for the Bangalis during the decade of 1960s. But none could give complete shape to that dream. That dream was finally realized on 16 December 1971 under the leadership of a pure Bangali – Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It was he who could erect for the Bangalis the geographic boundaries of a free state. Bangabandhu, Father of the Nation, or Sheikh Mujibur Rahman – in whatever name we may call him – his iconic figure looms large whenever we talk about Bangladesh. That is why, his name has become ingrained in our history and because of that we repeatedly reminisce about him. There are numerous claimants to the Bangladesh dream. Many might have dreamt it; many had talked about Bangladesh through signs and gestures; but Sheikh Mujib had completed the task like an architect. Like many others, he also thought of Bangladesh, but preparations for the purpose continued up to 1971.

Moulana Bhashani had also spoken about Bangladesh in open forums. But his role was negligible in this field. However, all those dreams and speeches had prepared the people. Journalist Abdul Matin had written in his autobiography: “He met Mujib one day at noon during the military rule of Ayub Khan. Sheikh Saheb said that he did not care Ayub Khan. He knew the minds of the people. After remaining silent for a few moments, he talked about using the Agartala case in the anti-Ayub movement”. It can be said in this context that the Agartala conspiracy case might not have been fully cooked up.  That dark gentleman had emerged from the very midst of our rural paddy culture. His heart was vast like nature itself, and he wanted to cover the Bangalis with that – the whole of Bangladesh. The Bangalis had repaid that gesture as long as he lived.

One day on 27 March 1971, a Major suddenly told the Bangalis to snatch freedom and they jumped for that – the Bangalis are not made of such stuff. It took a long time to awaken them and it was Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who succeeded in doing that. Consequently, whether one likes it or not, can there be any option other than calling him the ‘architect of our freedom’? And it was not that Sheikh Mujib became ‘Bangabandhu’ overnight in 1970 and ‘Father of the Nation’ all of a sudden in 1972. It took him three decades to become Bangabandhu. If we consider the period between 1940 and 1974, we shall see that Sheikh Mujib became Bangabandhu and Father of the Nation for several reasons. These were: the vastness of his heart, his humanism and tolerance, his appearance, dresses and words; all of these had demonstrated his intention to maintain everlasting bonds with a huge population. Some information and proofs could be obtained about the long-drawn conspiracies of the villains of 1975 for seizing power. Khandakar Mostaque is an example. Evidence of the conspiratorial mentality of this principalvillain in our history could be observed even before the liberation war. The frontline leaders of Awami League had visited Bangabandhu at his Dhanmondi residence on 25 March 1971 and asked him to remain cautious. Only Khandakar Mostaque was not seen there. After independence, he lobbied with Dr. Wazed Miah to become Foreign Minister with seniority. Later, in 1974, Dr. Wazed Mia saw after going to Khandakar Mostaque’s residence that one Major Rashid was going out of the house after secret talks with him.

There has been much debate about the message of Sheikh Mujib broadcast by Mr. Hannan from Chittagong on 26 March 1971. Dr. Wazed Miah had written: “Bangabandhu’s message was in a taped form. After transmitting that message from Dhaka’s Baldah garden, that brave member of EPR had sought fresh orders by contacting Bangabandhu’s residence over telephone. Bangabandhu then directed the EPR member via Mr. Golam Morshed to leave that place instantly after throwing the transmitter into the pond of Baldah garden.” I shall not go into the debate on whether this information was correct or not. I understand as an ordinary student of history that the country called Bangladesh was founded at the very start of March 1971 and that had happened at the directive of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Professor Borhanuddin Khan Jahangir highlighted this in a very clear and logical manner in his essay titled ‘Accountability of the State’. He wrote: “The 35 directives issued by Sheikh Mujib had laid the ground for all-out noncooperation with the Pakistani state through resistance and rejection of its authority and complete cooperation of the Bangali masses with their administration through establishment of a pro-people authority.

—— The Bangali people had nurtured the thought of becoming the inhabitants of a separate, different and independent state in their bosom, head and heart even before the commencement of the war.” From the 1960s, Bangabandhu had two objectives. One of those was unambiguous, while another was unclear or something akin to a dream. The clear objective was to build up the Awami League, spread the organization throughout the country and establish a civil society by going to power on Awami League platform. There were infightings within the Awami League, which was natural for a big party. But Sheikh Mujib’s organizational capacity was unique. He had the two qualities of tolerance and flexibility, which were needed for making the party bigger. I have even seen old people in remote rural areas, whose only possession was a tea-stall, who never got anything from the party, but had never left it after coming to the fold of Awami League at the behest of Sheikh Mujib. There are many more selfsacrificing Awami Leaguers in the nooks and corners of Bangladesh, who did not leave the party despite becoming destitute. The leaders, however, do not keep track of them. Besides, Sheikh Mujib had such individuals as his

companions, without whose help he might not have achieved his cherished goal. As a result, the Awami League became bigger, expanded after the 6- point movement and simultaneously Sheikh Mujib became the undisputed leader of the masses. He also had tremendous self-confidence and courage. The blossoming of the party had also raised his confidence in himself as well as the people. That was why he could transform the 6-points into a 1-point. And this was his unclear vision or dream. That he was unwavering on the question of this

objective and had the necessary courage and confidence for materialising this dream were highlighted during the Agartala conspiracy trial. Fayez Ahmed had written about an incident during this trial. He was sitting beside the main accused Sheikh Mujib. They were not allowed to talk inside the court.

Sheikh Mujib tried to draw the attention of Fayez Ahmed a number of times in order to say something. Fayez Ahmed said, “Mujib Bhai, conversations are not allowed. I can’t turn my head. They will throw me out.” A loud reply came forthwith, “Fayez, one has to talk to Sheikh Mujib if he wants to stay in Bangladesh.” –

 ——-He did not know then that this symbolic utterance by Sheikh Mujib was not meant for any individual person; it was a message for the entire people of a country, which could ignite fire. Sheikh Mujib returned to the Bangladesh of his dream in 1972. Now his role was not that of a wager of movements. Rather, he played his part in materialising the dream of a Golden Bangla. He worked tirelessly with that objective in mind until 15 August 1975. Reconstruction of the country was in full swing and the Constitution was already framed by that time. The biggest achievement of Bangabandhu and the then Awami League government was to endow the country with a Constitution. I do not know whether there is any other example of a country where it was possible to provide a Constitution so swiftly in the aftermath of such a bloody war. The four core principles of the state were proclaimed through this Constitution, which could have been termed as radical in the context of the then realities. These were: Democracy, Socialism, Secularism and Nationalism. These principles in fact contained those very ideals for which the liberation war was fought. This was especially true of secularism. That is why the military generals had at the very outset struck at these core principles, especially secularism. Besides, the Constitution described the social, economic and political rights of citizens and the philosophy of the state. In other words, it indicated that the liberation war was waged for establishing a civil society in place of a military-dominated one. The 1972 Constitution had incorporated the necessary institutions for a civil society; it firmly strove to lay the foundation for a vibrant civil society in Bangladesh.

In this context, Bangabandhu had said in one of his speeches: “I do not know whether democracy was initiated immediately after a bloody revolution in any country of the world. —– Elections have been organised. The right of vote has been expanded in scope by lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. Bangladesh’s own aeroplanes are now flying in the skies of different countries; a fleet of commercial ships has also been launched. The BDR is now guarding the borders. The ground forces are ready to repel any attack on the motherland. Our own navy and air-force are now operational. The police force and thanas have been rebuilt, 70 percent of which were destroyed by the Pakistanis. A ‘National Rakkhi Bahini’ has been raised. You are now the owners of 60 percent of mills and factories. Taxes for up to 25 bighas of land have been exempted. We do not believe in the policy of vengeance and revenge. Therefore, general amnesty has been declared for those who were accused and convicted under the Collaborators’ Act for opposing the liberation war.” But the people were not inclined to appreciate the framing of Constitution, its principles, and the successes of Sheikh Mujib due to rising price of essentials and the law and order situation. Not only was Bangabandhu killed along with his family, the husband

of his sister Abdur Rab Serniabat and his nephew (sister’s son) Sheikh Moni

were also killed along with their family members. It was quite apparent that intense hatred had worked behind this; otherwise this kind of brutality could

not have been carried out in cold blood. The assumption that if any of the family members survived, then he would come forward to provide leadership was also at work. That this assumption was not unfounded has been proved subsequently.

Bangabandhu’s two daughters Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana survived as they were staying abroad. Later, Sheikh Hasina became the leader of the Awami League and is now once again waging a struggle to reinforce the civil society.

It is clear from the manner in which the Bangabandhu family was assassinated that there were local and international conspiracies and a long time was spent for planning it. The conspirators took risks and that risktaking paid off. A faction of the Awami League led by Khandakar Mostaque was involved in it. It can be cited as evidence that it was during Mostaque’s rule that the four Awami League and national leaders Tajuddin Ahmed, Syed Nazrul Islam, Mansur Ali and Kamruzzaman were killed inside the central jail on 3 November 1975. Saudi Arabia and China recognised Bangladesh immediately after Khandakar Mostaque came to power. Relationships with Pakistan and the USA also improved. Consequently, the theory that foreign powers had a hand in the killings cannot be dismissed outright.

Almost three decades after Sheikh Mujib’s killing, the people can once again feel what Sheikh Mujib really was and why he was awarded the title ‘Bangabandhu’. People can realize today that he wanted to raise the stature of the Bangalis, and one way of doing that was to give back the honour to the unarmed people. Whichever parties and persons might have ruled Bangladesh after his murder, his name could not be erased from the minds of the people. That effort still continues. That is because it is evident today that we got that honour only once, that path was opened for us only once in 1971, when Bangladesh succeeded in ousting all kinds of armed thugs under the leadership of an unarmed Bangali called Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Despite the many flaws and heaps of criticisms levelled against Sheikh Mujib, we should note, just as an opponent of Sheikh Mujib and Awami League – Moudud Ahmed – had written (translator’s translation from Bengali): “The appearance of Sheikh Mujib was the biggest event in the national history of Bangladesh. His burial did not take place through his death. More pragmatic, efficient, capable and dynamic political personalities than Sheikh Mujib might have emerged or may emerge, but it will be very difficult to find someone who has contributed more to the independence movement of Bangladesh and the shaping of its national identity.” He had endeavoured to uphold the interests of the Bangalis throughout his life and had never compromised until his objectives were attained. That is why the Bangalis gave him the title ‘Bangabandhu’ and ‘Father of the Nation’ out of sheer love and emotion. His lifestyle was like that of an ordinary Bangali of eternal Bengal; that is why he could so intensely connect with the ordinary people and their communities. He possessed all the attributes of an ordinary Bangali.

But his love for his people and country was extraordinary, almost blind. He used to say: “My strength is that, I love human beings. My weakness is that, I love them too much.” The position of Bangabandhu vis-à-vis other doers in the civil society of Bangladesh will become clear if the events of 1971 and 1971-75 are analysed. It is impossible to write the history of pre and post-independence

Bangladesh without mentioning him. The names of two great Bangalis will remain forever shining in the minds of the Bangalis. One is Rabindranath Thakur and the other is Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. One had shaped the Bengali language and wrote the national anthem of Bangladesh. The other materialised the age-old dream of the Bangalis by helping create an independent territory called Bangladesh for an entire nation. I feel proud for this, and my posterity will also be so. The names ‘Bangali’ and ‘Bangladesh’ will continue to live on. And that is why Anandashankar Ray had written: “As long as the Padma, Meghna, Gouri, Jamuna flows on, Your accomplishment will also live on, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.”

Translation: Helal Uddin Ahmed