The Life and Death of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman



This, surprisingly, is the first biography in English of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh, even though more 30 years have passed since he was assassinated in a bloody military coup on August 15, 1975. Known to most Bangladeshis as Bangabandhu, or friend of Bengal, a title bestowed on him by acclamation in a mammoth public meeting in Dhaka on 22 February, 1969, he was truly a man of the people, someone who had made the cause of his countrymen and women his own through endless trials and tribulations. And yet he had been assassinated in the country he had championed ceaselessly soon after it became independent. Also, he had disillusioned quite a few people in record time in governing it. How did he win the hearts of his people as “the father of the nation” and secure a place in their history as Gandhi did in India or Jinnah did in Pakistan? What caused him to slide in their esteem? But also, what was he like as a human being as well as a leader? And now that three decades have passed since his death, is it possible to arrive at a real estimate of the man and his achievements?

It is to S. A. Karim’s credit that he has tried to raise these questions implicitly and explicitly and answer them succinctly and objectively in his biography, Sheikh Mujib: Triumph and Tragedy. Drawing on published sources, a few interviews with people who knew Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, his own encounters with him as the first Foreign Secretary of independent Bangladesh, Karim has striven to give a balanced, accurate, and thoughtful portrait of the man. His conclusion is that he was a leader whose triumph was on a heroic scale but whose ending was, at the very least, tragic.

Karim begin his biography by providing us with the background to Mujib’s rise to fame, the partition of India, and the rise of the Muslim League. He was barely twenty years old in 1941 when he first encountered Fazlul Haq, the Chief Minister of Bengal, and more importantly, Shahid Suhrawardy, the Minister of Commerce, when they visited Mujib’s hometown Gopalganj, then in the district of Faridpur, for a public meeting. He was immediately drawn to Suhrawardy’s brand of politics and Kolkata, where he became a student of Islamia College. Here he began to attract attention as a Muslim League activist, working indefatigably to rally Muslim students of the region to work for Suhrawardy’s faction of the party, which, ultimately, joined the movement for Pakistan. After partition, Mujib relocated to Dhaka, but found himself becoming increasingly alienated from the conservative politicians of the Muslim League who had arrogated power in East Pakistan. Inevitably, he became involved in the movement to establish Bengali as a state language of Pakistan, and the movement in turn led to the creation of the Awami Muslim League. Courting arrest repeatedly, and resorting to hunger strikes time and again when in prison, Mujib immediately became prominent in East Pakistan because of his continuous and principled opposition to the communal and feudal politics of the Muslim League. In quick time, he became the General Secretary of the increasingly secular Awami League (it dropped “Muslim” from its name in 1955), and a minister of the United Front government that drove the Muslim League from power in the provincial elections of 1954.

From this point onwards, there was no stopping Mujib, except by confinement in jail. As Pakistani politics more and more became the preserve of the military, as the military conspired with a few West and East Pakistani politicians and bureaucrats to deprive Pakistan of democracy, and as the numerically superior Bengalis of East Pakistan found themselves increasingly thrust out of power, Mujib was in the thick of the action to wrest back the rights of his people through a secular, organized, and democratic movement, even as a succession of military generals attempted to rule Pakistan through martial law. In and out of jail in the latter half of the 1950s and throughout the 1960s, Mujib became convinced that Pakistan was a dead end for his people and that a way out of the clutches of the military-bureaucratic coalition that was ruling Pakistan at this time was needed urgently.

In his desperation, Mujib even thought of seeking the help of India. Karim suggests that it could have been his admiration for Subhas Bose that led Mujib to take a secret trip to Agartala in January 1963 where he met Satindranath Sinha, the Chief Minister of Tripura, to see if Indian assistance would be forthcoming for a separatist movement. But according to Sinha, whom Karim quotes without citing the source, Nehru was not interested and the trip was inconsequential. It is ironic, then, that it was for a trip to Agartola that he never took that the Pakistani government would try him for treason in what has come to be known as the Agartola Conspiracy case in 1967. Unfortunately for them, the effort at concocting a conspiracy backfired, for not only were they unable to sustain their case in front of the special tribunal that was set up for the purpose, they were also forced to release Mujib in the face of increasingly violent agitation against them in both wings of Pakistan. Indeed, the Pakistani dictator of the period, Ayub Khan, was forced to resign, and Mujib left the jail triumphantly in 22 February 1969, widely acknowledged by this time in his part of Pakistan as the man most suited to lead it forward to autonomy and prosperity.

The next two years saw Mujib at his best: inspiring his people through fiery speeches in countless meetings, seemingly inexhaustible energy, and an indomitable will. He kept highlighting his party’s demand for complete autonomy in East Pakistan until the message went home: in the elections held in December, 1970, the Awami League won 167 of the 169 seats in the province. But Mujib, committed to negotiations through democratic channels, was mistaken in his assumption that the Pakistani generals and Zulfiquer Bhutto, the clear winner in West Pakistan, were going to hand over power to his party merely because it had a clear majority when it was bent on getting the maximum autonomy conceivable for East Pakistanis.

In fact, Yahya Khan, the general who replaced Ayub Khan, colluded with Bhutto to postpone the March 3, 1971 opening of the National Assembly. The result was a spontaneous and angry civil disobedience movement in East Pakistan which, in effect, negated the Pakistani state, making Mujib the de facto ruler of East Pakistan. As if to show that he was worthy of the part, Mujib gave what is undoubtedly his finest speech to his people on 7 March, stopping just short of independence, but claiming self-rule in almost all matters. Yahya Khan’s response, once again was to scheme with Bhutto, and make a show of negotiations, bent as they were on keeping West Pakistan dominant in deciding the future of Pakistan. And so Mujib and his party kept negotiating with Yahya and Bhutto in good faith, even as the Pakistani army prepared themselves for a crackdown that would decisively and brutally neutralize Mujib and his party and ensure perpetuation of their hegemonic rule.

The date in which the Pakistani army moved to destroy Mujib and thwart the Bengali desire for complete autonomy was the night of March 25. As far as Karim is concerned, Mujib and his party leaders had “ignored signs of the gathering storm” and thus an unsuspecting, unprepared people were brutalized, the movement for autonomy stunned, and Mujib himself captured. Here again Karim is critical of Mujib’s decision to let himself be arrested to deflect the Pakistan army from wrecking havoc in his country, Mujib, reportedly, told his followers who wanted him to flee, “If I leave my house (Pakistani) raiders are going to massacre the people of Dhaka. I don’t want my people to be killed on my account”, but his decision did not prevent genocide; on the contrary, it exposed his people to the wrath of the Pakistan army.

While the Pakistani army went on the rampage, Mujib himself was taken to prisons in West Pakistan where he underwent a trial at the end of which he was found guilty of trying to break up Pakistan and was awarded the sentence of death by hanging. Meanwhile, Bengali troops who had defected, political activists of various parties, and students and refugees who had fled to India came together to organize a guerilla campaign against the Pakistani army and to launch a war that would liberate their country. Inevitably, India was drawn into the conflict, and on December 16, 1971, the Pakistani army in East Pakistan surrendered in Dhaka to the combined Indian and Bangladesh forces. This was how Bangladesh was born after nine blood-soaked months. With the Pakistani army in disgrace, and Bhutto calling the cards, and in the face of international pressure, Mujib was released from jail and flown back to Dhaka via London in a RAF plane on 9 January 1972.

Mujib’s homecoming marked the most triumphant moment of his career as a politician who had worked steadfastly and whole-heartedly for his people. But the next few years saw him sliding in popularity and having a torrid time coping with the innumerable problems facing a poor nation that had been denuded for over two decades by the West Pakistanis and that had hemorrhaged steadily for nine months. The prescriptions that he got from his advisers in the Planning Commission, inclement weather conditions that led to a terrible famine in 1974, rising global oil prices, growing lawlessness, his unwillingness or disinclination to be firm with party men and women and relatives who were clamoring for benefits and sinecures, underground movements that appeared to be gathering momentum and threatening the state, all appeared to conspire to show Mujib as unable to cope with the responsibility of steering a nation from political independence to peace, stability, and prosperity.

The stage was set, in other words, for triumph to turn into tragedy. The man who had staked his life repeatedly for democracy now attempted to create a one party state, proscribe newspapers, and stifle dissent. A radical leader died mysteriously while in police custody. Members of Mujib’s extended family suddenly began to assume more and more power. People who had shown total devotion to him and Bangladesh like Tajuddin Ahmed was dropped and sycophants were promoted to important positions. The air in Dhaka was rife with rumors of conspiracies and coups but Mujib chose to ignore them, convinced that the people he loved and had been ready to die for would never harbor conspirators against him. And so it was that he rendered himself completely vulnerable and was murdered by some adventurous, resentful, and ambitious military men in the early hours of August 15, 1975.

Karim’s verdict on Mujib’s rise to fame and the darkening world in which he died and his assessment of his subject’s personality, career and contribution to Bangladesh is surely sound. His Mujib is a gracious and compassionate person, generous almost to a fault. His love for his people and willingness to sacrifice himself for them is never in doubt. He had more or less “single-handedly” spearheaded the movement for Bangladesh in its climactic phase and until his incarceration in 1971. And he had struggled to cope with extremely difficult situations the best he could till desperation forced him to adopt undemocratic measures. He was, in short, a “tragic hero” flawed and yet great and even grand.

S. A, Karim’s Sheikh Mujib: Triumph and Tragedy seems to have been written at leisure; the consequence is that it is even-paced, well-organized and sedate. He strives to be balanced and objective in his presentation and he writes out of a conviction that as a biographer he must be committed to presenting his subject truthfully and adequately. He has also tried to come up with a book that will be read by many and to that end he has decided not to overload it with “notes and references”.

It must be said though that Karim’s book is not the “comprehensive biography” he claims it to be in his Preface. For one thing, he spends far too much time sketching in the background and often loses sight of his subject in dealing with the historical contexts. At times, a few chapters might go by without any reference to Mujib and in scores of chapters he makes only a fleeting appearance. Indeed, one may occasionally even be mislead into thinking that one is reading a political history of Bangladesh where Mujib is the main actor and not his biography. Moreover, Karim appears to have not realized that a biographer’s task includes looking at archival material and contemporary newspaper reports and tracking down unpublished written sources as well as perusing published books and documents. He could have, for example, tried to include excerpts from the many speeches Mujib gave on public occasions that have been surely recorded in parliamentary proceedings; talked to his admirers, tracked his path to power doggedly instead of spending most of his time giving sketches of the political history of East Pakistan.

But what appears to be the singular defect of this biography is Karim’s reluctance to imagine himself into positions, crises and situations Mujib had to negotiate or to come close to his subject through what Keats had once characterized as “negative capability”. In his introduction to his incomparable biography of Samuel Johnson, James Boswell had claimed that the “more perfect mode of writing any man’s life” involved “not only relating all the most important events of it in order, but interweaving” it with the subject’s words and thought till “mankind are enabled to see him live”. In his conclusion, too, Boswell had felt with satisfaction that in his book the character of the great man had been “so developed “in the course of his work “that those who have honored it with a perusal, may be considered as well acquainted with him”. Karim follows Mujib from a great distance and almost never allows him to speak for himself. There is little or no effort to see Mujib from up close and there is definitely no attempt to get into his mind. The result is a biography that does not make us “see him live” and think and feel and this is a pity for by all accounts Mujib was a passionate, loving and caring man. Karim tries to make a virtue out of detachment and objectivity not realizing that what he needed to do was creatively represent the thoughts and emotions of a man who was overpowering because of his love for his people and conviction about what was right for them.

Nevertheless, there is a lot to be thankful for in Karim’s Sheikh Mujib: Triumph and Tragedy. At the very least, a sensible effort has been made to present the life of a great and generous even if flawed leader; surely others will now follow to give us a more intimate, imaginative, intensely realized and fuller portrait of the father of Bangladesh and the friend of all Bengalis everywhere. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman deserves no less!

Author : S. A. Karim.

The University Press Limited, 2005. pp. 407, Tk. 500.00 ISBN 984 05 1737 6
Fakrul Alam is on leave from the University of Dhaka and now teaches English at East West University, Bangladesh.

Books on the life, career and times of Bangabandhu

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in his library

On his final night alive, hours before he was assassinated, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman spent time reading George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman. Thirty four years after the murder of the Father of the Nation, and the members of his family, Syed Badrul Ahsan makes note of some of the books that have been written about Bangabandhu since 1975. Of course, there are other books as well. But the offering here is a sample of the vast literature which has grown up around the historical personality of Bangladesh’s founding father.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Koekti Oitihashik Dolil
Abdul Matin
Radical Asia Publications
Abdul Matin has been researching Bangabandhu’s life and politics since the early 1970s. He has perhaps some of the most widely sought after documents relating to the Father of the Nation. In this work, he draws extensively from documents previously in the hands of foreign governments, notably the United States, to explain the circumstances that led to the assassinations of August 1975. There are too some rich pickings from Keesing’s, those that will be of immense help to anyone interested in studying the history of Bangladesh. Matin’s is one of those books that stay away from panegyrics and instead focuses on the core issues he feels need to be discussed within Bangladesh and outside. It is especially the conspiracy that led to the killing of the Father of the Nation that arouses his interest. Included in the work under survey are some hard truths, those that political authors have sometimes pointed out. Among them are details pertaining to the letter purportedly written by the leftwing Bengali politician Abdul Haq to Pakistan’s prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto seeking assistance in the matter of pushing Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s government from office.

Sheikh Mujib, Triumph and Tragedy
S.A. Karim
The University Press Limited
The work is to be read for a special reason, which is that it happens to be one of those rare studies in the English language of Bangladesh’s founding father. For years there has been a vacuum where presenting Bangabandhu to the outside world is concerned (not that much headway has been made in the matter). So what S.A. Karim, who served as a leading Bengali diplomat in the early years of a free Bangladesh and who saw many of the dramatic events unfold before his very eyes, does here is present an image of Bangabandhu and his leadership of the country in as realistic a manner as possible.
The writer does not shy away from criticism of Mujib he feels is deserving. He appreciates the manner of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s rise on the national scene and dwells at length on the history behind the emergence of the man who would eventually be Bangabandhu. Mujib’s role in the movement for regional autonomy and his leadership of the independence movement, which really commenced in early March 1971, are commented on in great detail. And then Karim moves on to the sensitive issue of why Mujib went for a change from multi-party democracy to one-party rule in early 1975. In the manner of so many others, the author does not appreciate the transformation and ends up giving the impression that Baksal was a bad move for which Bangabandhu paid dearly. Karim, like so many others, happens to be rather correct in his observation of the events which were to lead to the carnage of August 1975. A good book, this. Perhaps a better one will find a place on coffee tables in the years ahead.

Shorone Bangabandhu
Faruq Choudhury
Mawla Brothers
The former diplomat is, like millions of people in Bangladesh and elsewhere, in awe of Bangabandhu. In this slim volume, he reflects on the politics of the Father of the Nation and, more importantly, on the human qualities of the man. The language is simple and lucid and Choudhury properly gives out the impression that he is hugely impressed by the charisma of the leader.
Faruq Chowdhury’s work does not go into the intricate details of how Bangabandhu governed or how his government functioned. But that the government was confronted with a plethora of difficulties from day one to the end of Bangabandhu’s life is made clear. And, of course, the vast conspiracy that was always at work in order to destabilize the government is broadly hinted at. The book makes cool reading.
Sheikh Mujib, Bangladesher Arek Naam
Atiur Rahman
Dipti Prokashoni
One of the newest works on Bangabandhu’s politics, it promises much to those who plan to research the evolution of East Pakistan into Bangladesh. The life of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, so Atiur Rahman conveys the impression and justifiably too, is fundamentally the history of Bangladesh, of the struggles its people have carried on through generations.
The author does a marvellous job of bringing together all the significant events of Bangabandhu’s political career. But surely the beauty of the work lies in the detailed, chronological presentation of facts he engages in. It is thus that the Six Points, Eleven Points, Declaration of Independence, et cetera, come to readers in a form that enable them to understand the movement of history in this part of the world. Atiur Rahman is of course gushing in his praise of Bangabandhu and consciously stays away from taking a critical stand. But that, given the whole tenor of the book, is understandable. On balance, it is a useful work, not to be ignored.
Shotrur Chokhe Bangabandhu
Dr. Mohammad Hannan
Anupam Prakashani
A work that is rather different from the usual assessments that are made of the Father of the Nation and his politics. Mohammad Hannan focuses on the views people not kindly disposed toward Bangabandhu happen to express about him. In a way, one could say, the author is coming forth with the other side of the picture, that which Mujib’s opponents have drawn up of his politics.
You may not be convinced by what Bangabandhu’s detractors have to say about the Bengali leader here. But it is worth a try reading the book. The book is, once again, quite a departure from works which usually flood the markets. Try reading it. You might end up liking it.
Bangabandhu, Rajniti O Proshashon
Bangabandhu Parishad
Bangabandhu Parishad has been an intellectual forum for the Awami League or, more appropriately, its followers. As such, this work is in its totality a collection of essays from a wide range of individuals on the diverse aspects of Bangabandhu’s politics and administration. Obviously, the write-ups are appreciative of Mujib’s positions on the various issues he faced. You may not agree with everything, but you surely will get the drift of what the Father of the Nation tried to achieve during the brief three and a half years he was in power.
For anyone who cares to go into the nature of the policies Bangabandhu’s government pursued between 1972 and 1975, this can truly be regarded as a notable point of reference.
Ekatturer Muktijuddho Roktakto, Moddho August O Shorhojontrer November
Col. (retd) Shafayat Jamil
(with Shumon Kaiser)
Shahitya Prokash
The book makes intensely sad reading. Shafayet Jamil was a key player in the dramatic events that were to unfold in November 1975. As part of the team led by Khaled Musharraf to reclaim the state from the predators who had commandeered it barely three months earlier, he was instrumental in forcing Khondokar Moshtaq to resign and the killers of Bangabandhu and the four national leaders to quit Bangabhavan.
This is an exciting book, covering as it does three events. There is the history, in however brief a fashion, of the war of liberation. That is followed by a comprehensive discussion of the tragedy of August 1975. And then, of course, comes an explication of the incidents and events leading from 3 November to 7 November 1975. Jamil is a survivor, a fortunate one. All the other leading figures of the Musharraf-led coup perished in the counter-coup spearheaded by Colonel Abu Taher. Ziaur Rahman emerged as the eventual beneficiary, with such disastrous results.
It is truly a gripping work and ought to be on shelves at home and in libraries.
Father of the Nation
Bangabandhu Memorial Trust
An admirable album of photographs and images of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, beginning with his schooldays and ending with the end of his life in August 1975. The pictures are interspersed with quotes from the Father of the Nation, all expressive of his thoughts regarding the course Bangladesh should be taking on its journey to the future.
Copies just might yet be had at Bangabandhu Memorial Museum on Dhanmondi 32, the spot that is today part of Bangladesh’s history — of its glories, of its dark tragedies. The images evoke a sense of wonder about the past. It also causes huge sadness to well up in your heart.
Ekatturer 26 March
Bangabandhur Shadhinota Ghoshona
Mohammad Shahjahan
Bangla Prokashoni
Mohammad Shahjahan’s focus, as the title of the book makes clear, is on the events surrounding the declaration of independence in March 1971. With various quarters trying to stir up controversy over what actually happened on 26 March and especially with the rightwing attempting to build up Ziaur Rahman as the man who formally announced the country’s independence, the author presents the facts he thinks settle the issue once and for all.
Shahjahan comes forth with documents, with news reports of the period in question and thus adds substance to his assertion (one that is shared by millions across the country) that Bangabandhu did indeed send out the message of freedom to the country before he was taken into custody by the Pakistan army in the early hours of 26 March 1971.
It is a good read. It makes perspectives pretty clear.
Geneva-e Bangabandhu
Abdul Matin
Radical Asia Publications
Once again it is Abdul Matin, this time with an account of Bangabandhu’s stay in Geneva following surgery in London in mid 1972. The Father of the Nation was in a state of convalescence in Switzerland, but that did not deter him from meeting any and every Bengali who came calling on him. Matin provides a fascinating account of all the men and matters that came to Bangabandhu’s attention during that time — the genuine ones, the insidious ones and the plain hangers on.
And, by the way, you just might get a peek into things that were to worsen things for Bangabandhu in the years ahead. It is always good to go back to matters that in hindsight should have alerted everyone to what was about to happen.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
Jyotsna Publishers
This is a rich collection of articles on the life and achievements of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It comes in three volumes and brings together a rich assortment of ideas from diverse personalities, all of whom are united by a common position on the 1971 war of liberation and the ideals set by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman through the 1960s and 1970s.
The volumes, in an overall sense, testify to the many facets of the Mujib character, those that have always made him stand out in the crowd and stand apart from his contemporaries. You really must appreciate the endeavour of those behind the compilations.
Bangabandhu O Muktijuddho
Amir Hossain
Adorn Publication
Bangabandhu was in solitary confinement in Pakistan during the entire course of the war of liberation. And yet there has never been any question that he had thoroughly prepared the Bengali nation for the imminent struggle for freedom. It was a remarkable point in history that the war of liberation was waged by the Mujibnagar government in Bangabandhu’s name.
In this well researched work, Amir Hossain brings a whole range of ideas into focus to explain the role that Bangabandhu played in the making of Bangladesh’s history. Anyone ready to study Mujib’s place in history will surely benefit from this work.
Bangladesh,The Unfinished Revolution
Lawrence Lifschultz
Zed Press
The work comes in two segments. Lifschultz dwells at considerable length on Colonel Abu Taher and his ultimate end on the gallows in one. In the other, his subject is the personality and government of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the difficulties it came up against and the conspiracies which proved to be its undoing. Lifschultz writes with considerable bravery, which is again natural considering his status as a foreigner. He focuses on a number of salient points about the coup of August 1975 and while doing so points the finger at foreign governments he suspects clearly knew, if they did not exactly take part, in the programme to eliminate Bangladesh’s founder.
Sadly, though, the work has run out of print. Not even the internet has any idea about it. But it remains a seminal work on the Bangladesh revolution, an unfinished one, as the author suggests. One could not possibly disagree with his assessment.
The Trial of Henry Kissinger
Christopher Hitchens
This surely is an acclaimed book, not least because Hitchens has made a reputation for himself as a plain-speaking writer. The work is divided into several chapters, the better to explain the nature of Henry Kissinger’s sinister policies in places as diverse as Chile and Bangladesh. Where the matter is one of Bangabandhu’s assassination, Hitchens leaves little doubt that the American establishment knew all about it before it happened. He comes down hard on then US ambassador to Bangladesh, Davis Eugene Boster (he misspells the name as Booster).
The bigger significance of the work is the author’s focus on Kissinger’s deep hatred for Bangladesh, a nation that had the audacity to break away from the American client state of Pakistan. Kissinger snubbed Mujib in Washington by not being present at the White House meeting between the Bengali leader and President Ford, but a short while later he sought to make amends, by visiting Dhaka and calling on Bangabandhu and holding a sham of a news conference. It is a revealing book, a collector’s item.
Ponchattorer Roktokhoron
Major Rafiqul Islam psc
Afsar Brothers
Rafiqul Islam’s book traces the entire history of the conspiracy that lay at the root of what happened on 15 August 1975. He names names and is often surprised that the very men who worked diligently for Pakistan in the days of rising Bengali nationalism or even after Bangladesh declared its independence in late March 1971 were chosen by Bangabandhu to be near him, and literally at that.
It was these very men who destroyed the Father of the Nation. The sadness is in the thought that he did not recognize them for the villains they were.
Who Killed Mujib?
A.L. Khatib
Vikas Publishing House
One of the earliest books on the tragedy of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (the work was published in 1981), it explores the wide network of conspiracy that was to take the life of the Father of the Nation in 1975. A.L. Khatib, a prominent journalist with roots in Sri Lanka but based for the better part of his career in the South Asian subcontinent, brings out some intricate details of the plans shaped to do away with Bangabandhu. The criticism is there that the book was written in haste. Perhaps, but what certainly is of importance is that there is hardly any instance Khatib cites about the tragedy that one can be dismissive of. A whole range of characters people the book. Apart from Bangabandhu, there are all the other characters, notably the ‘little sparrow of a man’ that was Khondokar Moshtaq as also the political figures who constantly used to be around Mujib but at dawn on 15 August were found in the usurper’s company. The author dwells in fascinating detail on the conspiracy that went on at the Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development (BARD) in Comilla, the presence there of Moshtaq and others with distinctly pro-Pakistan leanings. You read the book and as you do so, you realise just how closer to doom Bangabandhu was getting to be every day.
Copies of the work are obviously not available. That is a pity, for it deprives many of the chance of arriving at truths that the Mujib government was blissfully unaware of in those darkening days of conspiracy.

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Founding father under siege . . .

Abdul Matin’s persistence in keeping the historical record straight for Bangladesh is admirable. More to the point, it has been a necessary truth in the collective life of the Bengalis. You could suggest that if Matin were not around to keep us focused on the politics of Bangladesh as it was forged and pressed forward in the 1960s and the 1970s, there would be a huge need to go looking for someone of his kind. Obviously, Matin has done his job well. His preoccupation with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman remains, a particular reason being his understanding that the founding father of Bangladesh has, directly as also indirectly, been under unremitting siege since his assassination in August 1975. To be sure, over the years, Bangabandhu’s legacy has regained some of its earlier lustre, thanks principally to the particularly strong niche his daughter Sheikh Hasina occupies in national politics and thanks also to the concerted struggle his party, the Awami League, has waged over more than three decades to restore his reputation as the man behind the creation of Bangladesh.

The work under review is fundamentally an addition to the position Matin has adopted, through his earlier books, on Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He believes, and quite rightly too, that the slings and arrows which have been hurled at Bangabandhu are of a nature that ought not to be taken seriously and yet cannot quite be ignored because of the fair degree of consistency with which his detractors have been trying to run him down posthumously. Many have been the instances when Mujib was castigated for the way he administered the country between 1972 and 1975. It is such criticism which Matin counters in this work. And in doing so, he makes sure that his arguments are backed by necessary documentary references. An instance of it relates to the declaration of independence on 26 March 1971 moments into the genocide launched by the Pakistan army in Dhaka. Matin quotes from United States government documents to underscore the point that Bangabandhu made the call for freedom soon after the army fanned out to different locations in the city.

Obviously, a good deal of what the writer presents here is by now the historical truth. The difference between Matin and the others who remain aware of national history as it developed after March 1971 is that the former bases his statements on well-founded recorded material. He never misses giving readers the footnotes that scholarly work demands, something that a large number of Bengali chroniclers of national history have generally failed to do. It is against such a background that the reader is given to understand the circumstances behind Mujib’s release by the government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in early 1972 and his subsequent flight to freedom. Matin admires the sagacity in the Bengali leader, a sign of which comes through in the withdrawal of Indian troops from Bangladesh in March 1972. Without saying as much, the writer conveys the impression that the withdrawal could not easily have come to pass had Mujib not been around. In bare terms, the physical presence of Bangabandhu on the Bangladesh scene was to prove pivotal in a good number of ways. The upshot of it all is that Matin appears to be convinced that the troubles Bangabandhu’s government faced in those formative years of Bangladesh’s history were in more ways than one the result of the conspiratorial politics his government could not quite put its finger on. To a very large extent, he is right. But then comes the matter of the rift between Bangabandhu and Tajuddin Ahmed. It is here that Matin appears to be sailing against the wind when he asserts that in quite a number of ways the man who led the wartime Mujibnagar government as prime minister dealt some bad body blows to Mujib even as he served as finance minister in Bangabandhu’s government. Contrary to popular belief that Tajuddin Ahmed found himself increasingly sidelined in Bangabandhu’s government, largely because of his enemies getting better access to the prime minister, Matin is excoriating about what he considers to be the finance minister’s perfidy in finding fault with the way Bangabandhu ran the administration. Matin’s considered opinion is that Bangabandhu’s Second Revolution was essentially what the Father of the Nation said it was: that the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (Baksal) was a platform that brought together the nation’s political parties together in the larger national interest. Tajuddin had a different perspective on the development, of course.

There are some bare truths Matin reveals here. The story of how Serajur Rahman, he of the BBC’s Bengali Service, was thwarted in his attempts to come by a job in Bangabandhu’s government is what the writer relates, no holds barred, in the work.

Read the book. It adds to your understanding of the forces which shaped politics in Bangladesh in the early 1970s.

. . . Symmetry of the grand and the banal
ASAFUDDOWLAH’S has been a vibrant presence on the Bengali social and bureaucratic scene. His is and has always been an articulate voice. As a civil servant, he was known for his sense of independence, to a point where many thought twice about coming across him. Rare was the individual who wished to fall foul of him, for Asafuddowlah did not mince words when it came to offering an opinion on men and matters. It was always strength of character that defined the man. And it is something that continues to underpin his perspectives on things around him. On television chat shows, he offers his own clear assessments of political conditions, some of which may not go down well with his detractors. They may, indeed do, find him abrasive at times.

The point here is that Asafuddowlah remains indifferent to all such expressions of sentiment about him. His outspokenness is all. And with that comes the other side of his personality, that which keeps him riveted to the world of music. Even as he has pursued a career in the civil service, first in Pakistan and then in Bangladesh, he has made sure that songs have remained close to him, or he to them. He has composed music, he has lent his voice to songs and he has discoursed on them. His rendering of ghazals has been remarkable. Anyone who has heard him sing the old Jagmohan number, ik baar muskura do, will know of the artistry he is capable of calling forth. In his wider social ambience, Asafuddowlah is the quintessential conversationalist, with an interplay of serious thought and humour that make him stand out as the star in the crowd.

And this is the background against which Of Pains and Panics must be read. Asafuddowlah falls into the mould of those who came of age in an era of enlightenment and then went on to reshape the era according to their specifications. Like many of his social club, he has believed in approaching life from an intellectual point of view. Just how much of suavity he has brought into his observations of life comes through in this eminently readable compendium of his thoughts on an array of subjects not many would care to spend time on these days. There are clear divisions of the essays into wide-ranging swathes of territory. Begin with music. There is a sense of certainty, for obvious reasons, with which he approaches the many strands of the subject. He takes the BBC to task, for all the right reasons, over its selection of historically notable Bangla songs. It is pretension he slices through here. And then he moves on to pay obeisance to the artistes who have with regularity enhanced the quality of Bengali music. Protima Banerjee is one he reveres. Another is the all-encompassing Kamal Dasgupta. The music director, he informs us, remained self-effacing right till the end. And as the end approached, as he was being wheeled into hospital, the officer on duty had an asinine question: was Dasgupta a class one officer? Ah, artistes lose out, often if not always, to the bureaucracy!

Some of the most touching of articles in this collection connect Asafuddowlah to those he was once close to, until death intervened to take them away. He writes with deep affection on his mother and then reflects on his father. Perhaps a coruscating part of the tribute to Khan Bahadur Moulvi Mohammad Ismail is the praise he showers on his niece Komli (‘…his youngest daughter’s youngest daughter, Komli, who he used to adoringly call ‘Chand di’, nursed him in his fading days with a kind of special devotion I have never witnessed in my life’). It is a vast world of thoughts Asafuddowlah covers in the work. His views on America are a sharp response to Washington’s actual behaviour on the global scene. In Bangladesh, he wonders aloud at the swift decline in the quality of politics, almost to a point where the powerful begin to think of themselves as little gods. There is a symmetry he establishes between the grand and the banal. How else would you observe his tribute to Ustad Salamat Ali Khan and then his consternation at the presence of so many ministers in the government of as small a country as Bangladesh?

Asafuddowlah is combustive by nature. That is his assessment of himself. Just how combustive — and combative — he can be is an exercise you might as well opt for through reading these pieces. He is not being didactic; he carefully avoids scaling the Olympian heights that lesser men always strive for. He gives you the workings of his mind as they happen to be — blunt, irreverent but playing with ideas all the same.

Two reviews from Syed Badrul Ahsan / Syed Badrul Ahsan is Editor, Current Affairs, The Daily Star.


Details of  our valued contributors for whom we can make this resourceful site for all Bangladeshis and others around the world.


Syed Rezwan Ali (Bir Protik)

Syed Rezwan Ali (Bir Protik)
Vice Charimen, ICRS (International Crime Reporters’ Society)
126/1/A, Shenpara Parbota, Mirpur-10, Dhaka-1216, Bangladesh

Syed Rezwan Ali is one out of few Bangladeshi soldiers to escape and to hijack an aircraft from Karachi, Pakistan to India in order to defect from the Pakistan Air Force and join the Liberation movement of Bangladesh in 1971. Syed Rezwan Ali, the ex-Bangladesh Air Force official who has fought against Pakistani enemy forces during the Liberation war and for his bravery and devoted participation in liberation war, he has been awarded with Bir Protik (Symbol of Bravery or Idol of Courage) is the fourth highest gallantry award in Bangladesh . Syed Rezwan Ali was in the front row of sector 8 under the direct command of Sector Commander Major Abu Osman Chowdury and Major M A Manzur.

This award was declared on 15 December 1973. A total of 426 people have received the award so far, all for their actions during the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971.

We are grateful to him for his extraordinary support and direct co-operation of providing stories, articles, stills & videos with authenticated liberation war materials, without those we won’t be able to create such significant project of Bangabandhu, Bangladesh & Beyond…

REFERENCE : Bangladesh Gazette Notification No. 8/25/D-1/72-1378 Dated 15th December 1973.


Md Serajul Haque

MD Serajul Haq
Famous & Popular Educator in Amboula, Paisarhat, Barisal

Mr. Serajul Haque, The valiant freedom fighter of Bangladesh is one out of few repute war hero who has fought against Pakistani forces during 1971. His contribution towards freedom of Bangladesh is known to all in Barisal Division of Bangladesh. We are grateful to him for his extraordinary support of making this remarkable project. He fought under Sector 9 with Major M A Jalil, Major MA Manzur & Major Joynal Abedin during Liberation War.

The valiant freedom fighter of Bangladesh is one out of few repute war hero who has fought against Pakistani forces during 1971. His contribution towards freedom of Bangladesh is known to all in Barisal Division of Bangladesh. We are grateful to him for his extraordinary support of making this remarkable project. He fought under Sector 9 with Major M A Jalil, Major MA Manzur & Major Joynal Abedin during Liberation War.

Gazi Hafizur Rahman LIKU

Gazi Hafizur Rahman LIKU
Assignment Officer To The Hon’ble Prime Minister of Peoples Republic of Bangladesh
Tejgaon, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Mr. Gazi Hafijur Rahman has contributed us with valuable guidance and materials of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, His father was a fellow to our father of the Nation. we have collected rare footage and stills of our Bangabandhu through him which has made a positive impact on our work towards Bangabandhu, Bangladesh & Beyond…