The ramifications of August 15, 1975

_46758580_-29The murder of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has had grave ramifications for Bangladesh. It was, in the immediate sense, an overthrow of constitutional government in the country, which was again a reinforcement of the idea that the long struggle Mujib and the Awami League had waged against military rule in Pakistan had in a way come to nought. The coup d’ etat of August 1975 was to be a precursor to other, newer means of removing governments in Bangladesh. The majors and colonels who had organised the large-scale slaughter of the president’s family quickly made it clear that they intended to run the show. They ensconced themselves at Bangabhavan, the presidential palace, and served as Khondokar Moshtaq’s advisors. That was quite in the fitness of things, for he clearly owed his job to them. The biggest irony arising out of the coup was the continuation of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s ministers, save a few, in office. Syed Nazrul Islam, Mansoor Ali and A.H.M. Quamruzzaman were under arrest, along with Tajuddin Ahmed. Foreign Minister Kamal Hossain, abroad at the time of the coup, refused to return and be part of the new administration. But Moshtaq could and did take satisfaction from the fact that all others among his ministerial colleagues were now serving in his regime as his ministers. The first cabinet meeting Moshtaq presided over was on the day after the coup, even as Mujib’s body and the bodies of his family remained to be buried. One of the first bits of information Moshtaq handed out to the ministers, many of whom were plainly terrified, with some others not knowing what position to adopt given the murders that had already taken place, was that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman would be buried in his village. There was no regret in his voice, no tribute and not many ministers were willing to raise any questions.

Over the years, much has been made of the fact that it was the Awami League that continued in power after the death of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Opponents of the party have, in their untenable way of explaining why there was no proper trial and punishment of Mujib’s killers (until the Awami League returned to power in 1996), sought refuge behind the spurious argument that Khondokar Moshtaq and everyone else in government after 15 August were part of the Awami League. It was sophistry elevated to newer levels. The facts were actually rather different. On 15 August, there was technically and legally no Awami League since the party had already been subsumed in the larger Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League Mujib had formed in January of the year. More importantly, the ministers who worked, or were made to work, with Moshtaq did so as a result of the plain intimidation that was being exercised on them. In the few months the Moshtaq presidency would last, it was not uncommon for the majors and colonels involved in the August mayhem and murder to make themselves present in the room even as cabinet meetings went on.

One of the first moves Khondokar Moshtaq made was to remove General K.M. Safiullah from command of the army and replace him with his deputy Ziaur Rahman. Additionally, an appointment that raised many eyebrows in the country was the return of General M.A.G. Osmany to government. He was appointed defence advisor to the new president. The alacrity with which he accepted the job somehow stood at variance with the intrepidity he had earlier shown when, in defence of the cause of democracy, he resigned from Parliament once Bangabandhu had formed BAKSAL. It did not appear to worry him overmuch that he was now part of a regime that operated on the basis of murder and extra-constitutional rule. In later years, Osmany would try returning to his democratic moorings through founding a political organisation, the Jatiyo Janata Party. In 1978, he would seek the support of the Awami League in his bid to defeat General Ziaur Rahman at the presidential elections, an exercise he would lose. After August 1975, Osmany’s reputation, built as it had been during the war of liberation and in the early years of Bangladesh, would be on a slide. Enayetullah Khan, editor of the weekly newspaper Holiday, had already made arrangements in the pre-coup period with Sheikh Fazlul Haq Moni to take over as editor of the Bangladesh Times. When he took charge of the newspaper days after Moshtaq seized the presidency, it was given out that he was the new man’s appointee, which was misleading. Khan would in subsequent years relentlessly, almost pathologically carry on anti-Mujib propaganda through his writings. He would serve as a cabinet minister in the Zia regime before serving as General Ershad’s ambassador to China and Burma.

The long-term damage caused by the coup to Bangladesh would be far-reaching and terrible. The biggest damage done to Bangladesh’s democracy and constitutional government was the promulgation of the Indemnity Ordinance by Moshtaq on 26 September 1975. Under the provisions of the ordinance, no individual involved in the assassinations of Bangabandhu and his family could be prosecuted in a court of law since the acts of 15 August 1975 were deemed to have been a historical necessity. In his time, General Ziaur Rahman, clearly the most important beneficiary of the change in August, would incorporate the Indemnity Ordinance through the notorious fifth amendment (now annulled by judicial fiat) into the constitution. The amendment would not only protect the assassins of the country’s independence leader and his political associates (who would be murdered in November 1975) from prosecution but would also pave the way for their accommodation in government. Except for Farook Rahman and Abdur Rashid, all other majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels who had taken part in the coup were appointed to various positions at Bangladesh’s diplomatic missions abroad. One of them, Shariful Haq Dalim, would rise to such heights as the country’s high commissioner to Kenya. In the course of the nine-year military rule of Bangladesh’s second dictator, General Hussein Muhammad Ershad, the leader of the 1975 coup, Colonel Farook Rahman, would form the Freedom Party and contest the presidential elections in 1988.

In the three months following the murder of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country lurched from one crisis to another, owing to the refusal of the assassin majors and colonels to return to the barracks and thereby enable the senior military establishment to restore the chain of command broken by the coup. But by early November, Brigadier Khaled Musharraf and his loyal officers acquired sufficient support from the ranks to force Moshtaq into jettisoning the junior officers who had installed him in office and were propping him up. On the night of 3 November 1975, Musharraf launched his own coup and was effectively in command of the army, having placed General Zia under house arrest and agreeing to let the coup leaders fly out of the country. Unknown to Musharraf, however, the men who murdered Mujib and his family had made their way to the central jail in Dhaka before their departure for exile abroad and murdered the four leaders of the 1971 Mujibnagar government imprisoned there since Mujib’s assassination. Intriguingly, a rightwing Bengali journalist who had co-produced The Plain Truth, a Pakistani propaganda tract over Dhaka Radio in 1971, let it be known in early November 1975 that he had intercepted letters between Indian intelligence and the imprisoned Tajuddin Ahmed. He spread the word that the Indians planned to spring Tajuddin and his colleagues from jail and install them in power. Within hours of his ‘revelations’, Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, M. Mansoor Ali and A.H.M. Quamruzzaman were brought together in a single cell and bayoneted to death by the soldiers. Asked later about the letters, the journalist claimed he had returned them to his source and therefore could not produce them!

On 6 November, having seen Moshtaq appoint him to the rank of Major General and chief of army staff, Khaled Musharraf forced the usurper to resign. He was replaced by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Abu Sadat Mohammad Sayem. On the morning of the next day, 7 November, troops loyal to Zia and drawn to the clandestine propaganda mounted by Colonel Abu Taher, an independence war hero and anti-Mujib soldier, about an Indo-Soviet conspiracy to take over the country, mutinied. They were joined by columns of soldiers streaming into Dhaka from Comilla and other cantonments and quickly put Musharraf and his loyalists to flight. General Musharraf, one of the toughest soldiers during the war of liberation and an avowed believer in secular democracy, took refuge along with Colonel Najmul Huda and Major Haider at Sher-e-Banglanagar in the capital. All three men were soon set upon by those they had sought shelter from and brutally killed. As the day progressed, Bengalis knew that a new dispensation was at work. Justice Sayem, who had taken over as president only a day earlier, continued in office, though with the additional responsibility of chief martial law administrator. General Zia, now free and restored to his old job as army chief, was named deputy chief martial law administrator, along with Rear Admiral M.H. Khan of the navy and Air Vice Marshal M.G. Tawab of the air force. Power, of course, was in the hands of Zia who by April 1977 would ease President Sayem out of office and take over as president. In the same month, Zia would organise a referendum seeking his confirmation as Bangladesh’s new leader. Predictably his acolytes arranged the results he needed.

The beginning of General Zia’s rule was also the period when all references to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his role in Bangladesh’s history would be papered over. As president and martial law administrator, Zia would tamper with the constitution through replacing its invocations to secularism and Bengali nationalism. In late 1975, he placed Colonel Taher, who had helped free him from house arrest in November, in jail. After a secret trial by a military court, Taher was hanged on 21 July 1976.

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

The tale of a troubadour

It is the courage of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman you miss as you go through life. And yet it is something more, something of values that you associate with any remembrance of him.

1000x659He embodied some of the finest traditions that self-respecting people anywhere have, throughout the course of history, upheld in their lives. And among those values is the refusal to compromise, to undermine yourself through a convenient jettisoning of the ideals that you have always held dear.

Even as the round table conference went on in Rawalpindi in 1969, President Ayub Khan suggested to Mujib that he take charge as Pakistan’s prime minister. The Bengali leader spurned the offer. It was a natural gesture on the part of a man who had defied the winds and the trends of the times to come forth with the Six Points in 1966. It was Bengal that mattered to him. Nothing else did, or would. It was all in character for Bangabandhu. He never flinched from doing or saying anything he thought was right, or made good sense. In December 1969, as Bengalis remembered Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy on his death anniversary, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman let them, and by extension the world outside their own parameters, know that thenceforth East Pakistan would be known as Bangladesh. One hardly needed proof that Mujib had come a long way.

Back in 1957, he had caused not a little distress to Suhrawardy, then Pakistan’s prime minister, by asking him bluntly if Bengalis could not opt out of the state Jinnah had cobbled into shape. Suhrawardy reprimanded him for entertaining such thoughts. Mujib then simply bided his time. When it came, he knew the task he needed to perform. His dedication to the causes he espoused was complete and without ambiguity. His disillusionment with Pakistan having taken a firm shape by the early 1960s, he knew which path he needed to take. And he took it resolutely. There was little room in him for second thoughts.

Bangabandhu was the troubadour who moved through the hamlets and villages of Bengal, disseminating the message that freedom from colonial rule and emancipation from economic exploitation were of the essence. Go into the remote regions of the country and you will chance upon men who still recall their “Muzibor” and everything he stood for. And what he stood for came alive assertively in 1971, when seventy five million Bengalis prayed for him even as he languished in solitary confinement in Pakistan.

All politics, all religion, in that year of tragedy and decision focused on Bangabandhu. An entire war of national liberation was shaped and waged in his name. It was no mean feat, one that Fidel Castro remarked on when he met Bangladesh’s founder at the Algiers Non-Aligned summit in 1973. That Bangabandhu was a tall man, and not just in the literal sense, was what delighted Castro. And it subdued other men, like Nigeria’s Yakubu Gowon. A hostile King Faisal of Saudi Arabia was quickly shocked into silence by the courage of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Faisal, a man without vision, could not understand why the Bengalis had driven Pakistan out of their lives. Mujib then lectured him soundly on what Islam signified, and how the Pakistanis had distorted the faith.

Principles, then, were what served as Mujib’s fundamental political premise. When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto came calling in January 1971, clearly to ask for a share of power with the majority Awami League, Bangabandhu made it clear that Bhutto’s People’s Party needed to be where the electoral judgement had placed it, in parliamentary opposition. It was a position he would maintain in the tumultuous season of March 1971, despite the growing pressure on him to relent. The Six Points could not be trifled with. And when the Pakistan army tried to shoot them down, he went for a single point: he declared the nation’s independence before being seized by the army.

There was always prescience in Mujib’s pronouncements. He calmly told a western journalist at the height of the Agartala conspiracy case trial in 1968: “You know, they can’t keep me here for more than six months.” In the event, he was a free man in the seventh month. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s he went on reassuring Bengalis that freedom would come into their lives. And it did. He prepared for freedom in the way only a man believing in constitutional politics would. He was not a revolutionary, which was why he was not willing to go for a direct confrontation with the Pakistan government. Neither was he an adventurist, for which reason he warded off all calls for a unilateral declaration of independence on March 7, 1971.

And yet the oratory of that day remains part of history, of the Bengali psyche, for everything it pointed to, for the clear set of guidelines he left for his people to follow in the event of his absence from the political scene. It was these guidelines that Bengalis worked on for nine months. His words, his image, his idealism, all of these served as a metaphor for the armed struggle for freedom.

By the time the state of Pakistan took flight from Bangladesh on December16, 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had evolved further, into a liberator in the mould of Simon Bolivar, in the mould of everyone who had ever traversed a path to collective freedom. On a January day in 1972, as he spoke to the world on his arrival in London from Pakistani incarceration, he knew he had turned into an embodiment of history. He spoke of the joy of freedom inherent in the epic liberation struggle that the 1971 war had been. Humility and basic decency defined Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He never forgot names and always remembered faces, even those he had come across in his youth. He surprised the Indian journalist Nikhil Chakravartty when the latter turned up at Bangabandhu’s news conference in late January 1972, in Dhaka. The two men had not met since 1946, and Chakravartty certainly did not expect Mujib to remember him. He was mistaken. As Bangabandhu entered the room, his gaze fell on the journalist. Then came the question, “Aren’t you Nikhil?”

The rest hardly needs to be recounted. Bangabandhu remembered the names of simple men, of peasants and labourers, inasmuch as he recalled the names of unknown political workers. It was a trait that endeared him to millions, who then spotted in him a guiding spirit who would light their way out of the dark woods. His respect for academics was beyond question, as men like Professor Muzaffar Ahmed Chowdhury, Professor Abdur Razzaque, Dr. A.R. Mallick and Dr. Abdul Matin Chowdhury would know.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a natural. He laughed uproariously, and deeply. Anecdotes made him double over with laughter. He himself was a purveyor of tales garnered through his travels all across Bengal. A sense of humour, undiminished despite the long years in prison, marked him out from other politicians. When Abdus Samad Achakzai remarked, on meeting him in 1970, that Ayub Khan had turned him into an old man, he riposted: “Ayub Khan ne tum ko bhi buddha bana diya hum ko bhi buddha bana diya” (Ayub Khan has made you an old man and has made me an old man as well). Welcoming Bangabandhu to his country in 1974, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahiyan of the United Arab Emirates noted that, like him, Mujib was a sheikh. “But there is a difference,” said Bangladesh’s leader. “I am a poor sheikh.” Both men burst into laughter.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of a man who scaled the heights of greatness and yet did not lose touch with the dew on the grass. Here was a Caesar. When comes such another?

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

Zia was the key shadow man behind 15 AUGUST

Zia was the key shadow man behind 15 AUGUST, Says Lifschultz

National Mourning Day 15 augustNoted journalist Lawrence Lifschultz has said he believes former president Ziaur Rahman was the “key shadow man” behind the August 15, 1975 putsch. “I believe many more details about Ziaur Rahman’s involvement in the August 15th events will emerge in the future. It is my assessment at this point in time that Zia played perhaps the most crucial of all roles,” Lifschultz told BSS in an interview ahead of the National Mourning Day.

Zia had his own reasons for not leading the coup himself but “without his support, I do not believe the coup d’état could have moved forward”, he added.

“Zia was the key shadow man. Had he been against the coup he could have stopped it. Of course, it was his constitutional duty to do so.

“Ziaur Rahman is a very complicated character. We need to understand in much greater depth how he operated in the shadows during these crucial times,” said the US journalist.

He was the Bangladesh correspondent of Far Eastern Economic Review in the early 1970s. The Review later appointed him as its New Delhi-based South Asia correspondent.

Lifschultz documented the tumultuous coups and counter-coups of the 70s in Bangladesh: An Unfinished Revolution. He is also acclaimed for his reports on India-Pak relations and Bosnian issues.

Source : The Daily Star, 15th August, 2010

Realising Bangabandhu’s poverty-free Shonar Bangla

1363447672Sheikh_MujibHISTORY is at last taking its own course and putting Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation, in his rightful place. Gradually, he is emerging as the only reference point of our nationhood and we must congratulate the High Court Bench for removing the confusion created by some motivated vested interest groups including, unfortunately, some academics.

The meteoric rise of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as Bangabandhu, and as the undisputed leader of the Bengalees, is indeed fascinating. We have seen the rise of many leaders in our part of the world, who were mostly from elite background. Even Moulana Bhashani, though he was from a modest socio-economic background, had a kind of charisma attached to him because of his religious leadership. The other two leaders, A.K. Fazlul Huq and Suhrawardy, certainly had elite backgrounds. Sheikh Mujub came from a rural background and yet absorbed all the leadership qualities of these three dominant leaders of Bengal. In addition, he acquired the spirit of self-sacrifice for the cause of the masses. His was an exemplary leadership style, where only people mattered. He never thought of his own or his family’s comforts. He was indeed a true hero, who never hesitated to face death with a smile; once during the Agartala Conspiracy Case in the mid-sixties and again in 1971 when he was held in captivity by the Pakistanis.

The unusual strength of his leadership was galvanised through focused attention to the people’s cause and by not bowing his head to the establishment. It is indeed rewarding for us, the beneficiaries of his sacrifices, that he helped create a Bangladesh which takes pride in its bright heritage of struggles and still strives to remain true to the inner message of those struggles. The message has been true emancipation of the masses. Thanks to his committed leadership for the creation of a secular, modern, equitable, democratic Bangladesh, we are striving hard to follow his ideals even today. His able daughter is now giving the leadership in a manner which could indeed lead us to the realisation of some of the above ideals. He engaged himself for the public cause from his early life. He went to jail when he was still a student for the cause of the mother tongue. Not only that, he also helped organise the students and the masses as well for standing firm against the autocratic rule of Pakistan elites. He helped form Bangladesh Awami league along with his peers, and finally led this party to engage in the war of liberation in 1971. He was elected to become the prime minister of Pakistan after the 1970 general election. But he was not prepared to bow down to the unethical demand of the ruling Pakistani junta to forget the essence of the six-point based election manifesto. Instead, he waged a war against the junta and asked all to join it. He was taken into custody and was being forced to yield to the pressure. A grave was dug to cow him down. But the giant of a personality, Sheikh Mujib, kept his head high and attracted global attention for freeing him from captivity after the Pakistani military forces were badly defeated by the Bengali freedom fighters with support from Indian forces. He was finally freed, and returned to Bangladesh, his dreamland, on January 10, 1972. He gave a steadfast leadership in rebuilding the country. He was able to give us a well-written constitution within a short span of time. He then gave us a five-year plan, which was a solid document for a pro-poor growth strategy, with the word equity at its heart. He was dead against inequality and initiated a number of reforms to remove it. He then started reorganising all the institutions including the central bank, Public Service Commission, the judiciary and, of course, the Parliament. Despite the global oil crisis and subsequent financial crisis, he put almost all sectors in order. The country, despite the worst food crisis in the preceding year, was poised for a leap forward in 1975. There were all the signs of a bumper crop in most areas. Then came the sudden attack from behind on the ghastly midnight of the August 15, 1975. We are still trying hard to come out of that national trauma. Had this not happened, I am sure Bangladesh would have been on a completely different trajectory of growth and development. The entire history of our country would have been differently written.  We, of course, can still learn lessons from his ideals and passion for equity-oriented growth and more inclusive development. The best way to show respect to the greatest of great Bengalees will be to follow his thoughts on more equitable development and pursue the path of realising some of those dreams through our endeavours, collective or individual. I wish to pinpoint some of his pertinent thoughts for carving out an appropriate plan of action for today’s Bangladesh. Of course, most of his relevant thoughts have been reflected in vision 2021 (e.g. the election manifesto of the ruling party). So, I will be quite brief in putting his farsighted ideas here in a nutshell.

* His struggle for independence of Bangladesh was for much more than political emancipation. Economic freedom for the masses was at the centre of his struggle. ”Our struggle will be fruitful only if we can make the living of our future citizens free from all clutches of bondage, if we can make the lives of all our people prosperous, happy and decent, and if I can reduce the burden of sorrows of our people to some extent and realise the dream I have been cherishing even if at the cost of my life (Press statement of Bangabandhu on Decanter 1, 1970).” And he never stopped dreaming of this comprehensive freedom for his people even until his last breath. One can look at his student life, his political activism during his youth, and the days of mature leadership to see his commitment for the emancipation of the poor, particularly the farmers whom he thought were the real heroes. All his life was devoted to improving the lot of these unsung heroes. Indeed, he, in a way, gave his life to implementing the most important revolutionary dream of improving the condition of the downtrodden through the unprecedented economic reforms that he initiated. The vested interest groups must have sensed the likely outcome of his reform programs and hence hit him early from behind so that those dreams could not be materialied.

* The ordinary people recognised the sincerity and commitment of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib’s struggle for people’s freedom right from his student days. Not even for a day was he, therefore, out of focus of pro-people politics. He even reminded his political comrades not to forget the value of the people’s trust. ”The day you will do injustice to the love and trust of the people your ‘brother’ Mujib and the party you belong to (Awami League) will be dead. And thus will end the hopes and aspirations of the emerging nation called Bangladesh’ (Bangabandhu’s speech to the newly elected legislators at Engineers Institute, February 15, 1971).” This bent of his mind was rooted long back, as one can see the reflections of it even in early days of his political career. “Do justice to the people, care for the sentiments of the people, respect the sentiments of the people, and allow them to decide (Bangabandhu’s speech at Pakistan Constituent Assembly on September 28, 1955, Karachi).”

* Back in 1956, his pro-poor interventions in Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly speak volumes about his focused attention on pro-poor development. In one of his parliamentary interventions he talked about inequality and undue taxes imposed on the poor. ”If you want to earn money you can earn outside, but when you have come as representatives of the people then you should not become rich at the expense of the poor, because it is the poor who give the taxes, it is their money; you have no right to enjoy at their expense (Bangabandhu’s speech at Pakistani Constituent Assembly on February 14, 1956 at Karachi).” This early formation of his political vision continued to grow consistently, and as a mature leader he delivered a well crafted pro-poor election manifesto based on his historic six-point agenda immediately before the 1970 general election. Ordinary people trusted his words and gave him a thumping majority. Yet, the Pakistani ruling clique did not hand over power to him. Instead, he was taken into captivity and an unjust military repression was imposed on the Bengalees. People took up arms and fought back against the occupying forces. As already noted, the Pakistani army was badly defeated and Bangabandhu was released under pressure from the global community. He came back to Bangladesh as the father of the nation and started yet another journey, that of rebuilding the war-ravaged Bangladesh. This time as well he did not forget the priority needs of the poor and the farmers. Our constitution, the first five-year plan, the budget, all bear testimony to the pro-poor stance of his life-long political commitment. On the June 7, 1972, in a historic speech, he declared: ”I will not allow the rich to become richer. The farmers, workers and the intelligentsia should now get the benefits of socialism.” And he kept his word. All his subsequent actions were geared to the needs of the productive groups of people, including the farmers. He was not against private entrepreneurs either. During the later years of his rule he was shifting gears and creating opportunities for the nascent entrepreneurs. However, the issue of social justice was always paramount to him.

* ”The wage structure in the economy has to be based on social justice. The low income employees and ordinary people must be protected against the attack of inflation” (from Bangabandhu’s pre-election speech to the nation on television and radio on October 28, 1970).

* His pro-farmer policy stance is well known to all of us. His support for jute, modern agriculture using better inputs, and bias towards the co-operative movement augured well in the face of the serious food crisis that the country was experiencing in the early seventies. And he did not deviate an inch from this commitment till his last breath.

* ”I know the people of Bangladesh. They too know me. I love them. They too love me. I never give up if I start an initiative for them.” Indeed, his life was a reflection of ceaseless adherence to this commitment. In a speech on 9 May, 1972 in Rajshahi he confided: ”You know I don’t make fake promises. What do I want? I want that my people don’t go to their beds hungry. What do I want? I want that none of my people remains unemployed.”
On January 18, 1974, he said: ”There are many workers of mine who may be in remote corners of the country going unfed, unclad. They can’t come to me. But often I go to them. I have almost a blood relationship with them. I still see them in torn shirts, with no shoes. If I cannot make them smile, I will not have peace even in my grave.” Such was the depth of his political commitment. Such were his pro-poor feelings.

We have not done much to realise his dreams. The present government, of course, has embarked on Vision 2021, which augurs well for his ideals. The proposed perspective plan, the five-year plans and, of course, this year’s national budget, provide clear hints that some of his dreams may be realised. The challenge for all of us will be to design appropriate action plans and monitoring framework so that all those plans finally get implemented. The historic opportunity provided by the political space created through a credible election should be our best bet for realising the pro-poor and equitable development dreams of Bangabandhu. This, of course, will not happen automatically. It requires political commitment at all levels, and necessary motivation among the rank and file of the bureaucracy and locally elected leaders. The media too can play a positive role by honestly criticising the wrongdoings of the government and thus help the government develop a framework of transparency and accountability. Indeed, the whole nation has to be involved in the struggle for emancipation of the masses, which Bangabandhu cherished in his heart. What could be a better moment than this August, the month of national mourning, to a take a fresh vow to work hard to achieve this lofty goal? Let’s work hard to realise his poverty-free Shonar Bangla (golden Bengal).

Author : Dr Atiur Rahman is Governor, Bangladesh Bank

Portrait of a patriot

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was born on March 17, 1920 at Tungipara in the then Faridpur district. Despite the fact that he was an extraordinary political leader who had spent more than twelve years in jail for articulating the legitimate grievances of his people against the then Pakistani ruling elite, he became a victim of a brutal massacre on August 15, 1975. The bullet-ridden dead body of the Father of the Nation was most dishonourably buried by the murderers at Tungipara.

BangabandhuibanglaAlthough our indebtedness to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is immense, his name had been officially proscribed for almost three decades, with the exception of those years (1996-2001) when the Awami League formed the government under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina.
Bangabandhu was the saviour of Bangalees of the then East Pakistan. Yet his name has become an object of a systematic vilification and disinformation campaign for over more than thirty years. This extraordinarily charismatic leader became a victim of those reactionary and mercenary forces who had never accepted his clarion call for independence. National documents and school texts were doctored to delete or distort Bangabandhu’s central role in the emergence of Bangladesh as a nation-state.

For instance, it is alleged by the critics that Bangabandhu had no plan for having an independent Bangladesh. According to them, Bangabandhu had never declared independence. They also claim that the creation of Bangladesh was the direct result of a series of blunders and wrong decisions made by advisors of the then dictator Yahya Khan and power greedy Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

Some of those critics also floated the idea that Bangabandhu did not care to ascertain what was going on in the then East Pakistan before the Pakistani military junta unleashed gruesome genocide on the night of March 25, 1971. These motivated critics also maintain that neither the Awami League nor Bangabandhu was pivotal in leading our struggle towards independence. In what follows, the main intent is to repudiate such fraudulent claims.

It needs to be underscored that no fair-minded individual can ever claim that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was beyond or above criticism. History will ultimately cast judgment on Bangabandhu’s life-long struggle and his accomplishments as a political leader. Unfortunately, most of the criticism about the Founder of Bangladesh is nothing but vilification.

The truth of the matter is that the emergence of Bangladesh as a nation-state was the direct outcome of our determination for carving an independent country out of Pakistan. Bangladesh was the outcome of Bangalees’ willingness to fight for their freedom and independence. It is a documented fact that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman provided the much needed charismatic leadership for our glorious struggle for emancipation and independence.

Bangabandhu’s name is synonymous with Bangalees’ struggle for independence. Even a quisling of Ghulam Azam’s stature can hardly question Bangabandhu’s pivotal contribution towards Bangladesh’s independence. The White Paper on East Pakistan Crisis, which was prepared by the Pakistani military regime during Pakistan’s genocidal war in 1971, had clearly pinpointed that Bangabandhu had refused to compromise on the six-point program during the political negotiations in March 1971. It was also emphasised that Bangabandhu was in total control of the non-cooperation movement that was launched after March 7, 1971.

In his book, The Last Days of United Pakistan, Dr. G.W. Chowdhury (now deceased), a die-hard proponent of pre-1971 Pakistan, verified that Bangabandhu consistently refused to compromise his demands for full autonomy based on the six-point program. Recently published books written by numerous Pakistani scholars and civil servants clearly recognised that it was Bangabandhu who had adamantly refused to compromise his six-point program after the general elections of 1970.

In their recently published memoirs, Abdullah Niazi and Rao Forman Ali vehemently criticised Bangabandhu for his uncompromising stand on his six-point program. A host of outstanding British and American scholars and journalists fully recognised the pivotal role of Bangabandhu’s charismatic leadership in Bangladesh’s struggle for independence.Although some celebrated Bangladeshi political scientists are very critical about Bangabandhu’s performance as the head of the government in Bangladesh (1972-’75), there is near unanimity among them about Bangabandhu’s monumental role in uniting all Bangalees at a critical juncture of our history for waging and sustaining an armed liberation struggle.

It is preposterous to claim that Bangabandhu did not know what was going on in the then East Pakistan before and during March 1971. If Bangabandhu was unaware of the political development in then eastern province of Pakistan then who knew what was going on in there March 1971?

It seems that these Bangabandhu-bashers allude to the idea that the Jamaati leader Ghulam Azam, Pakistan Democratic Party (PDP) leaders Nurul Amin, Hamidul Hoque Chowdhury and Mahmud Ali, and the Muslim League leaders Khan A. Sabur Khan, Khwaja Khairuddin and Fazlul Quader Chowdhury were the real defenders of Bangalees’ legitimate rights in 1971, even though the entire world knew that those certified pro-Pakistani quislings had systematically tormented and persecuted the Bangalees during our liberation war. It is unfortunate that many of those anti-liberation forces claim that the collaborators of the Pakistani regime were the true patriots of Bangladesh!

In view of this, no pro-Jamaati elements of Bangladesh, or Pakistani collaborators or sympathisers of Pakistani war criminals, are in a credible position to verify who had supported or fought for our liberation. Or for that matter, the admirers of military dictators or the supporters of the Jamaat or other rightist parties are not the credible persons to attest to the role of the Awami League or Bangabandhu in the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent nation.The struggle for our freedom did not start all of a sudden on the black night of March 25, 1971. It is totally false to allude to the idea that the restive Bangalees of the then East Pakistan were waiting for a call from an unknown major of the Pakistan army to wage a liberation war. The objective reality was that the actual fighting for our liberation had already started in many places of Bangladesh immediately after Pakistani military forces started the genocidal attack on our people on the black night of March 25, 1971.

The restive Bengali-speaking people of then East Pakistan were ready to resist the Pakistani occupation forces, and they heard what Bangabandhu had to say in his historic speech on the tumultuous seventh day of March in 1971: “The struggle this time is the struggle for our emancipation. The struggle this time is the struggle for our independence.” Indeed, Bangladesh’s struggle for freedom and independence was in the making for a long time.

The emergence of Bangladesh on December 16, 1971 was the culmination of a long struggle of our people. The malicious propaganda against Bangabandhu and the selective distortions of our political history are at sharp variance with most of the universally accepted facts. Bangabandhu is not only part and parcel of our political history but was also the maker of that glorious and robust history.

It was the dynamic and charismatic leadership of Bangabandhu that led us through the historic six-point movement in 1966. By mid-1960s, it was crystal clear to the Bengali-speaking people of the then Pakistan that the Awami League and its leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman were the true instruments and expressions of articulating their genuine demands and grievances. It was the Awami League under the inspiring leadership of Bangabandhu that had earned the electoral mandate in the general elections in 1970 from an extraordinary majority of Bangalees of the then East Pakistan.

In fact, after December 1970 general elections, especially after March 1, 1971, Bangabandhu had undeniably symbolised the entire Bangalee population of the then eastern wing of Pakistan even though he was the President of the Awami League. Although our liberation war was a people’s war by any definition, the Awami League led our Muktijuddha. It was the top Awami League leadership which had legitimately formed the Bangladesh government-in- exile.

Our liberation war was fought in Bangabandhu’s name. In the absence of Bangabandhu during our liberation war, it was Tajuddin Ahmed, the dynamic prime minister of the Bangladesh government-in-exile, who had successfully led our Muktijuddha. It was Bangabandhu’s inspiration and Tajuddin Ahmed’s competent leadership that led us to our decisive victory over the brutish Pakistani forces on December 16, 1971. These are independently verified and fully validated historical facts.

No amount of distortions can change the fundamental fact that it was Bangabandhu who had first formally declared independence for Bangladesh on March 26 (immediately after midnight of March 25, 1971). The original Constitution of the Republic and all other relevant documents have affirmed that Declaration of Independence. Doubtless, there were very capable leaders in the caliber of Tajuddin Ahmed and Dr. Kamal Hossain in the then Awami League. There were many dedicated political leaders in the Awami League both before and during our liberation war. Yet it was Bangabandhu who was the unifier of all Bangalees of the then East Pakistan in 1971. It was Bangandhu alone who was the sole spokesman of the entire Bangalee people of the then East Pakistan. It was Bangabandhu’s inspiring speech of March 7, 1971 speech that lit the torch of freedom for his people from the subjugation of the oppressive and repressive occupation forces of Pakistan.

The coup d-etat of August 15, 1975, in which Bangabandhu was brutally murdered and his elected government overthrown along, with the subsequent political developments in Bangladesh were not as surprising as they seemed to the outside world. The assassination of the Father of the Nation along with his family members was one of the cruelest political murders in human history. This ghastly killing and its aftermath, littered with illegal seizures of state powers through coups, blackmails, and counter-coups, have been characterised by some observers of Bangladesh politics as the direct result of the manner in which politics and administration of the new nation were managed.

There is no doubt that the perceived failure of his leadership in the post-liberation period can be linked to numerous causal factors. We are often allured to the idea that Bangabandhu “lost out’ partly because the situation in the early years of independent Bangladesh was so desperate but mainly because he failed to translate his charisma and tremendous popularity into an efficient and effective government.

Yet if we look back, it is fair to suggest that Bangabandhu’s accomplishments as the head of the government of a newly established country were of monumental proportions. Despite the seething criticisms of his elected regime of only three and a half years, Bangabandhu has remained synonymous with Bangalees’ relentless struggle for freedom and independence.

Aimed at banishing the Founding Father from the pages of our history and the memories of our people, deliberate attempts were made by various regimes (Mustaque-Zia-Ershad-Khaleda) during the post-1975 era. Yet Bangabandhu’s pivotal role in the emergence of Bangladesh as a sovereign nation-state couldn’t be washed away from the memories of his people. Notwithstanding the alleged mismanagement of the economy and administrative machinery in early years of our independence, the role of Bangabandhu in igniting our struggle for freedom and independence can never be marginalized. Bangabandhu’s name has remained enshrined and engraved in the minds of our people as the emancipator and saviour of the Bangalees. The immortal name of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the legacy of his extraordinary accomplishments will live through ages.

Dr. M. Waheeduzzaman (Manik) writes from the city of Clarksville, Tennessee, USA where he is a Professor and the Chair of the Department of Public Management and Criminal Justice at Austin Peay State University.

Author – M. Waheeduzzaman Manik