I remember the day

BBC (53)Does anyone need to remember the sun, the moon, the Himalayas or, for that matter, the primordial oceans? Does anyone need to put in some conscious efforts to remember the air that one inhales, the heartbeat that goes on unceasingly till death?

They are all there, always there, absolutely inseparable from one’s life, one’s surroundings and one’s existence as an entity governed by one’s conscience. We do not need to remember Bangabandhu the way we need to remember our mundane jobs because remembering is linked to forgetting that is to be recollected only at some time or other. The phenomenon that is Bangabandhu is never a matter of forgetting even in the minimal which is tantamount to forgetting one’s own identity in a green, riverine expanse of promising alluvial soil. Therefore, the rationale is since we do not, we cannot forget Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the question of remembering him consciously cannot arise at all because he is enmeshed with every breath of our life, merged with every bit of our sensibilities, and, therefore, he is not for us to be remembered on some days only. He is all around us and certainly with us, his own people. There has been no separation, no rift in this respect in spite of the willful determination of some conspirators for decades. The sun sets for a while only to rise in its full radiance and glory for all days to come. It does not set forever. Short sighted, ill-motivated people hardly realise this.

But I remember this day when early in the morning on BBC television we heard the news of his killing by some indoctrinated conspirators who, immersed in their self-righteous way and unable to face him with moral principles, summoned up their cowardice to bring an end to his mortal life. Of course, my first reaction was feeling an ocean of grief. Nevertheless, I felt a strange kind of boldness in spirit inside me that told me that as earthly life is ephemeral for everybody so is an impulsive act of some wild marauders. And my intuition told me that was not going to be the end-all.

Next we called up Major Mustafizur Rahman, who later became army chief of staff and was then undergoing higher training at a military academy in Chatham, Kent, the hometown of the outstanding writer Charles Dickens, and drove to his place from Gravesend, Kent, where we lived. We met with his wailing wife, one of the first cousins of Bangabandhu. There was nothing we could offer her as solace. An avalanche of grief surrounded all of us, all Bengalis, one that knew no bounds.

For days together, I carried out household chores mechanically, managing to remain calm and be the same sincere teacher in a primary junior school in Dartford bordering Essex county. A grief that is your own may make others bored after a while. So the thought that the ‘poet of politics’ was no more could not be shared much with others at the workplace. News and commentary went on BBC every now and then, narrating the gruesome story and at the same time covering the outbursts of some ‘disgruntled’ persons telling reporters about their ‘grievances’ that seemed to have been removed by the killing of Bangabandhu. Some of their gleeful assertions only exposed their crooked minds, a scene comparable to the jubilation of some Bengalis of East Pakistan in London on hearing the news of Jawaharlal Nehru’s death in 1964 and that I witnessed from the window of our room facing the street at Kensington Garden Square. Vandalising and ransacking our High Commission premises, pulling down Bangabandhu’s portraits and stepping on them were some of the ugly spectacles that we watched in shame and sorrow. My conscience told me that those who had planted their feet on the portraits certainly had no right to put their feet on the soil of Bangladesh.

Several phone calls came in for days together that spoke of two distinctive groups of people diametrically opposite to each other in mindset and who naturally could not see eye to eye. After a couple of days, I called up the residence of our High Commissioner, His Excellency Syed Abdus Sultan, owing to an irresistible desire to talk to Kulsum Apa, the High Commissioner’s wife who had been my colleague at the Teachers’ Training College for Women in Mymensingh. Syed Abdus Sultan himself answered the phone saying that she was busy otherwise and so could not be reached. He sounded distraught. The rest was understood.

An episode ends, a carnage ends, but its legacy does not. Those who are blinded by their self-grown reasons rush into violence that gratifies only them. They eventually get lost in the dark alleys of life. Our Bangabandhu could not be pushed back into oblivion and how could he? One should read and re-read those two famous lines in the poem by the great scholar poet Annada Shankar Roy to get an answer.

Author : Dr. Nazma Yeasmeen Haque is Principal, Radiant International School.

Bangabandhu; the architect of the nation

mujib-returns-to-bangladeshHe is not a mere individual. He in an institution. A movement. A revolution. An upsurge. He is the architect of the nation. He is the essence of epic poetry and he is history.
This history goes back a thousand years. Which is why contemporary history has recognized him as the greatest Bengali of the past thousand years. The future will call him the superman of eternal time.
And he will live, in luminosity reminiscent of a bright star, in historical legends. He will show the path to the Bengali nation his dreams are the basis of the existence of the nation. A remembrance of him is the culture and society that Bengalis have sketched for themselves. His possibilities, the promises thrown forth by him, are the fountain-spring of the civilized existence of the Bengalis.

He is a friend to the masses. To the nation he is the Father. In the view of men and women in other places and other climes, he is the founder of sovereign Bangladesh. Journalist Cyril Dunn once said of him, “In the thousand – year history of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujib is the only leader who has, in terms of blood, race, language, culture and birth, been a full – blooded Bengali. His physical stature was immense. His voice was redolent of thunder. His charisma worked magic on people. The courage and charm that flowed from him made him a unique superman in these times.”Newsweek magazine has called him the poet of politics.

The leader of the British humanist movement, the late Lord Fenner Brockway once remarked, “In a sense, Sheikh Mujib is a great leader than George Washington, Mahatma Gandhi and De Valera.” The greatest journalist of the new Egypt, Hasnein Heikal (former editor of Al Ahram and close associate of the late President Nasser) has said, “Nasser is not simply of Egypt. Arab world. His Arab nationalism is the message of freedom for the Arab people. In similar fashion, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman does not belong to Bangladesh alone. He is the harbinger of freedom for all Bangalis. His Bengali nationalism is the new emergence of Bengali civilization and culture. Mujib is the hero of the Bengalis, inn the past and in the times that are.

Embracing Bangabandhu at the Algiers Non – Aligned Summit in 1973, Cuba’s Fidel Castro noted, “I have not seen the Himalayas. But I have seen Sheikh Mujib. In personality and in courage, this man is the Himalayas. I have thus had the experience of witnessing the Himalayas.

Upon hearing the news of Bangabandhu’s assassination, former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson wrote to a Bengali Journalist, “This is surely a supreme national tragedy for you. For me it is a personal tragedy of immense dimensions.” Refers to the founder of a nation – state. In Europe, the outcome of democratic national aspirations has been the rise of modern nationalism and the national state. Those who have provided leadership in the task of the creation of nations or nation-states have fondly been called by their peoples as founding fathers and have been placed on the high perches of history. Such is the reason why Kamal Ataturk is the creator of modern Turkey. And thus it is that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is the founder of the Bengali nation – state and father of the nation of his fellow Bengalis. But in more ways than one, Sheikh Mujib has been a more successful founding father than either Ataturk or Gandhi. Turkey existed even during the period of the Ottoman empire. Once the empire fell, Ataturk took control of Turkey and had it veer away from western exploitation through giving shape to a democratic nation – state. In Gandhi’s case, India and Indians did not lose their national status either before or after him. But once the British left the subcontinent, the existence of the Bengali nation appeared to have been blotted out.

The new rulers of the new state of Pakistan called Bangladesh by the term “East Pakistan” in their constitution. By pushing a thousand – year history into the shadows, the Pakistani rulers imposed the nomenclature of “Pakistanis” on the Bengalis, so much so that using the term “Bengali” or “Bangladesh” amounted to sedition in the eyes of the Pakistani state. The first man to rise in defense of the Bengali, his history and his heritage, was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. On 25 August 1955, he said in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly, “Mr. Speaker, they ( government) want to change the name of East Bengal into East Pakistan. We have always demanded that the name ‘Bangla’ be used. There is a history behind the term Bangla. There is a tradition, a heritage, If this name is at all to be changed, the question should be placed before the people of Bengal: are they ready to have their identity changed?”

Sheikh Mujib’s demand was ignored. Bangladesh began to be called East Pakistan by the rulers. Years later, after his release from the so – called Agartalas case, Sheikh Mujib took the first step toward doing away with the misdeed imposed on his people. On 5 December 1969, he said, “At one time, attempts were made to wipe out all traces of Bengali history and aspirations. Except for the Bay of Bengal, the term Bengal is not seen anywhere. On behalf of the people of Bengal, I am announcing today that henceforth the eastern province of Pakistan will, instead of being called East Pakistan, be known as Bangladesh.”

Sheikh Mujib’s revolution was not merely directed at the achievement of political freedom. Once the Bengali nation – state was established, it become his goal to carry through programmes geared to the achievement of national economic welfare. The end of exploitation was one underlying principle of his programme, which he called the Second Revolution. While there are many who admit today that Gandhi was the founder of the non – violent non – cooperation movement, they believe it was an effective use of that principle which enabled Sheikh Sheikh Mujib to create history. Mujib’s politics was a natural follow – up to the struggle and movements of Bengal’s mystics, its religious preachers, Titumir’s crusade, the Indigo Revolt, Gandhiji’s non – cooperation, and Subhash Chandra Bose’s armed attempt for freedom. The secularism of Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, the liberal democratic politics of Sher-e-Bangla A. K. Fazlul Haque and Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy Contributed to the molding of the Mujib character. He was committed to public welfare. Emerging free of the limitations of western democracy, he wished to see democracy sustain Bengali nationalism. It was this dream that led to the rise of his ideology. At the United Nations, he was the first man to speak of his dreams, his people’s aspiration, in Bangla. The language was, in that swift stroke of politics, recognized by the global community. For the first time after Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel achievement in 1913, Bangla was put on a position of dignity.

The multifaceted life to the great man cannot be put together in language or colour. The reason is put on, Mujib is greater than his creation. It is not possible to hold within the confines of the frame the picture of such greatness. He is our emancipation – today and tomorrow. The greatest treasure of the Bengali nation is preservation of his heritage, a defense of his legacy. He has conquered death. His memory is our passage to the days that are to be.

Author : Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury [Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury : Prominent Columnist and political analyst.]

Bangabandhu faced more problems than contemporary leaders: Mark Tully

image_298_62817Celebrated BBC journalist Sir William Mark Tully, reputed particularly for his extensive coverage of the LiberationWar, believes Bangabandhu had to steer a new born nation facing more problems than any other leader of that time.“He (Bangabandhu) faced more problems than his contemporary leaders,” Tully said in an interview at his New Delhiresidence ahead of Bangabandhu’s 35th martyrdom anniversary.

Tully said, “He had bigger problems-the nation was broken, then there was global economic recession, coupled withrise of prices of petroleum products.””There was the open border withIndiamaking it impossible to stop smuggling . . . he had faced more problems thanany other leaders of his time,” added Tully.

While revisiting memory lanes recalling his personal acquaintance with Bangabandhu particularly after theindependence, the British journalist described him as a leader who was “extremely friendly and open, a man who lovedhis people most.”“I found him extremely friendly and open, he was a very friendly man, a very big person in every sense of the term ofthe word,” the elderly British journalist recalled.

He also recalled the memories of Bangabandhu’s public meetings, which he had attended and said, “He (Bangabandhu)had a wonderful voice that could mesmerise the crowd. I could feel from their reactions when Sheikh Shaheb used toaddress public meetings.”

Tully recounted that he was deeply saddened 35 years ago on hearing news of Bangabandhu’s assassination when hewas working at theLondonhead office of the radio service. He was expelled fromIndiasome time before following astate of emergency in 1975 proclaimed by then premier Indira Gandhi.

“I was working in the night shift when the news of his brutal assassination came. I was obviously very sad asBangabandhu had been very kind to me,” said Tully.”Personally I was sad because when I met him for the first time, I saw the high hopes and optimism he had for hispeople and his belief in the future ofBangladesh,” said the journalist.

During his visit afterBangladesh’s independence, Mark Tully was to make some reports on the new-born country andsought an interview with the charismatic leader of the new-bornBangladesh.“Of course I wanted to interview theBangladeshleader. But I never knew he would grant permission to actually seeme so soon. I was told Sheikh Saheb was interested to meet me. We had a long discussion and he spoke a great dealabout the new-bornBangladesh,” he added.“Sheikh Shaheb told me about his determination to establish secular democracy inBangladeshand all about hisdreams.”

Tully recalled that Bangabandhu, at the very outset of the interview, thanked him for his contribution to the LiberationWar while he replied saying “I merely reported the news, many other journalists had done like me.”But Bangabandhu would not agree and at the end of the conversation he presented him with a painting, which “is stillwith me.”“I was very much touched by this gesture (the gift) and you might be knowing we (BBC journalists) are not supposedto accept gifts.””I told my BBC head office inLondonabout the gift and informed them that I would put the painting in the BBCoffice inDelhi, which I did.”

At the end of the interview Sir Mark Tully showed the painting hung in his living room. It was a painting by artistMuzimul Azim, in 1973. Asked how he managed to do so, “I simply took it from the office,” Tully quipped with a smile as the rare gift fromBangabandhu would remain a treasure to him for a long time.

Tully, recipient of ‘Padmashri Award’ from the Indian Government in 1992, said he had met theBangladeshleaderseveral times after that. But he could not recollect the number of times that Bangabandhu told him that he was upsetwith the mountain of problems.

Author : Mark Tully, New Delhi

Bangabandhu and Bangladesh : Muntasir Manum

The inhabitants of Bangladeshhad 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.

bangabandhu-1Moulana 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 afree 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 aboutBangladeshthrough 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 aboutBangladesh 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 ofBangladesh. 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 principal villain 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 fromChittagongon 26 March 1971.

Dr. Wazed Miah had written: “Bangabandhu’s message was in a taped form. After transmitting that message fromDhaka’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 Bangladeshwas 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 ofBangladesh, 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 inBangladesh.” – ——-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 theBangladeshof 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 inBangladesh. 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 ArabiaandChinarecognised Bangladeshimmediately after Khandakar Mostaque came to power. Relationships withPakistanand theUSAalso 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 ruledBangladeshafter 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, whenBangladeshsucceeded 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 ofBangladesh. 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 ofBangladeshand 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 eternalBengal; 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 ofBangladeshwill become clear if the events of 1971 and 1971-75 are analysed. It is impossible to write the history of pre and post-independence Bangladeshwithout 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 ofBangladesh. The other materialised the age-old dream of the Bangalis by helping create an independent territory calledBangladeshfor 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.”

 Author/Editor : Muntasir Mamun, Translation: Helal Uddin Ahmed

August 15, 1975 and the long darkness after

bangabandhu-7BANGABANDHU Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, with most members of his family, was gunned down in the pre-dawn hours of August 15, 1975. When daylight broke, it was an eerie scene at 32 Dhanmondi, the spot that had been witness to so much of history in the lives of the people of Bangladesh. Bangabandhu’s body, as also those of everyone else, lay where they had fallen the whole day and the night that followed. Soldiers swarmed everywhere. Cameramen, all serving the government at different points, were brought in to record what remains the most gruesome episode in the history of Bangladesh. It was not until the next day that most of the dead were buried in Banani.

Bangabandhu’s killers made sure, though, that the Father of the Nation did not find a resting place in the nation’s capital, for there was the danger that his grave would in time become a hallowed spot. They helicoptered his body all the way to his village Tungipara and buried him there hastily and unceremoniously. State-run radio and television then served up an untruth: the dead president, the nation was informed, had been interred with full state honours. It was anything but. Just what dire possibilities the nation was up against came through within moments of the carnage at 32 Dhanmondi. Announcements on the electronic media began with Islamic invocations and ended in similar fashion. What was most pronounced, though, was the alacrity with which Joi Bangla, so long the national slogan, was replaced with the Pakistan-like Bangladesh Zindabad.

It was a Friday when Bangabandhu was murdered. Khondokar Moshtaque, his commerce minister now in the position of president, offered Juma prayers at Baitul Mokarram, a clear indication of the threat secular politics suddenly faced as a result of the bloody coup. In the weeks and months that followed the coup, except for the very brief interregnum of General Khaled Musharraf’s coup d’etat in early November, the principles underlying the 1971 War of Liberation went on a nosedive.

In the five years of General Ziaur Rahman, Bangladesh’s first military ruler, the lurch to the right became too well pronounced to be missed. It was the elderly journalist and Zia loyalist Khondokar Abdul Hamid who spoke for the regime in February 1976. The people of this country, he told a stunned gathering of Bengali intellectuals, would take inspiration from “Bangladeshi nationalism,” a concoction that patently militated against the historically acknowledged Bengali nationalism that had gone into the struggle for autonomy in the 1960s and national independence in 1971.

Bangabandhu’s tragic end remains symptomatic of the ramifications coming from it. In the twenty-one years that elapsed after his death and till the time his party, the Awami League, returned to power under the leadership of his daughter in 1996, it was the entire political nature of the country that went through darkness. Politics mutated into intrigue as the Zia regime permitted the emergence in Bangladesh’s politics of the rightwing forces that had associated themselves with the Pakistan occupation army in 1971.

Leading figures of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Muslim League and other parties, reviled for their collaborationist roles in 1971, came together to prop up the Zia regime, a united effort that was to throw up in time the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. And with that came something more sinister: a conscious, concerted move to pit Ziaur Rahman, by virtue of his announcement of independence on March 27, 1971, against Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in a brazen effort towards rewriting history. It was conveniently not given about that Zia’s broadcast had repeatedly referred to Bangabandhu as the “great national leader.” For understandable reasons, the Zia speech was never broadcast in all the years he held power.

And power was applied ruthlessly in the Zia years. The period remains noted for the systematic manner in which leading military figures of the War of Liberation were eliminated one after the other. The process, of course, had begun barely three months into the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. On November 3, four leading members of the Mujibnagar provisional government — Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, A.H.M. Quamruzzaman and M. Mansoor Ali — were murdered in Dhaka central jail, whence they had been lodged after August 15, by the very soldiers who had put an end to Bangabandhu’s life.

On November 7, it was the turn of General Khaled Musharraf, a valiant, intellectually oriented soldier reputed for planning military strategy in 1971, to be murdered by troops loyal to Zia. And with him died Colonel Huda and Major Haider, both freedom fighters. In the Zia era, as many as eighteen abortive coups took place, with the plotters subsequently being arrested and swiftly disposed of. The attempted coup by a group of air force men in October 1977 led to summary trials and swift executions.

General Zia died in the nineteenth coup, again a botched one because its leading figure, General M.A. Manzoor, a freedom fighter, proved unable to sustain it. Manzoor was apprehended within days of the Zia killing and was murdered in cold blood by Zia loyalists. In the period following Zia’s death in May 1981, a number of military officers, many of them freedom fighters, were tried in camera and sentenced to death. They were all hanged, twelve in all. Brigadier Mohsinuddin headed the list of the condemned.

Political negativism, as distinct from the liberal ethos that had defined the Mujib years, gained intensity and increasing currency in the Ershad years. For all his personal esteem for Mujib, General Ershad, having taken power in a coup in March 1982, went systematically into the job of a communalisation of the secular Bengali state. He decreed Islam as the state language and cheerfully went into setting up religious motifs on walls all over town.

It was in his time that Bangabandhu’s murderers were permitted to form a so-called political party known as the Freedom Party. Colonel Farook Rahman, one of the leading elements in the August 1975 assassination of Bangabandhu, contested the presidential election of 1988 and even went on television and radio to address the nation. He and his kind were of course being protected by the notorious Indemnity Ordinance which had in 1979 been incorporated into the nation’s constitution by the Zia regime. And, to be sure, the Ershad regime was only furthering the cause of the Zia system.

As one of his earliest moves in power, Zia had tampered with the constitution by doing away with secularism and socialism and bringing in a corrupted form of nationalism. By the time the general elections of June 1996 came round, Bangladesh no more resembled the liberal, nationalistic experiment it had been in 1971 and the three and a half years in which Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman governed.

Bangladesh in the post-Mujib period moved away from its close links with the Soviet Union and India to more cordial ties with the United States. With China and Saudi Arabia according diplomatic recognition to Bangladesh within days of the Mujib murder, the new rulers in Dhaka consciously nurtured ties with the two countries. Pakistan set up its diplomatic mission in Dhaka; Libya offered a home to Bangabandhu’s murderers. At home, Hamidul Haq Chowdhury and Golam Azam, having been Pakistan loyalists in 1971 and having lived in Pakistan during the Mujib years, came back home to reclaim their politics and their property. Khan Abdus Sabur, who on the eve of liberation had described the soon-to-be-born Bangladesh as the illegitimate child of India, took his seat in Bangladesh’s Jatiyo Sangsad.

Suffice it to say that the death of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman led to Bangladesh’s retreat from the civilised world. The lights went out of our lives. Darkness came over a once vibrant, verdant land.

Author : Syed Badrul Ahsan is Editor, Current Affairs, The Daily Star.