The day they killed Bangabandhu

fbcdfab44a6f089e15e2f16a2a615a1bIT was Friday, August 15, 1975. It was one of the most tragic days of our history. It reminded us of the dark night of March 25, 1971. The Father of the Nation, loved and respected in Bangladesh and the world over as a great hero, lay dead on the stairs of his famous residence at Road Number 32, Dhanmandi Residential Area. He was only fifty-five. We were twenty-year-old sophomores of Dhaka University.

Who killed Bangabandhu? His people, whom he loved to a fault? No! They were unhappy with a few activities of his government but they never even dreamt of killing him. They who control the world like people who obey them. They don’t like nationalist leaders and great patriots like Bangabandhu or Allende. Thus, Allende dies but General Pinochet lives on and makes life miserable for his countrymen.

There are many such instances in the Third World. If you want to kill a great leader, make him unpopular through planted journalists, corrupt and disgruntled bureaucrats and dismissed soldiers. Use some of them during his killing. Then get obedient people to rule the country and serve your purpose. No wonder our High Court has ruled that governments, which succeeded Bangabandhu and his cabinet were not legal. They had captured power by sheer force.

At dawn on August 15, I got up to hear from my parents that Bangabandhu had been killed along with his family. Even ten-year-old Sheikh Russell was not spared. My initial reaction was of great shock. I was dumbfounded with sorrow. Bangabandhu didn’t deserve a death like this! He was our greatest politician. His love for his country and his people was beyond question.

Who could kill our greatest patriot? The radio and TV were announcing his death at regular intervals. A certain Major Dalim was claiming credit for his death! Who was he? We had never heard of him before!

There was fear, there was confusion. There was silent sorrow among his followers and people who admired him. There was celebrations too — we later heard. There were a few people chanting ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ somewhere in old Dhaka. There were a few Biharis, celebrating his death in Mohammadpur. But the patriotic Bangalee was silently shedding a tear or two for him. How could a Nelson Mandela or a Yassir Arafat get killed by his own people? They wondered.

Well, they killed Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi too, didn’t they? Some argued with themselves. Years later, I learned that the first procession to protest the death of Bangabandhu was organised by the boys and girls of Chhatra Union in nowhere else but my own district Kishoreganj. They warned the real killers that the death of this great patriot would turn Bengal into a Vietnam. Student leader, Kazi Abdul Bari led the procession. He had to suffer inhuman torture in jails for his noble protest against injustice. I feel honoured today to get a chance to salute this brave student leader. May Bangladesh be blessed with more Baris and not with Mushtaques and Dalims.
What were the Chhatra League leaders and workers doing? They went into hiding because they were the most wanted people for the Mushtaque government. Many faced arrest and torture later on.

I myself saw Abdur Razzak escaping through Dhanmandi Road Number 15 and Rayer Bazar. He was a big and healthy person then with no diabetes. We wanted him to escape, live and then protest. I saw him when curfew was withdrawn for an hour and a half for Jumaa prayers.

We were not political activists but we were young and patriotic and not exactly cowards. A few of us got together and walked up to Bangabandhu’s residence, which was less than a mile from our area. There was army patrol on the roads and police guard in front of Bangabandhu’s residence. We heard that tanks were guarding Khandker Mushtaque in the Bangabhaban. We were not allowed inside Bangabandhu’s residence but nobody disturbed us when we sadly stood in front of House No. 32 and quietly saluted the greatest son of Mother Bengal.

The killing of the full family was too great a shock for us. We spotted bullet marks on the walls. An uncle of mine worked for BTV as a news journalist. He had a chance to see Bangabandhu’s dead body the next day as a member of the BTV news team. We had listened to him in rapt attention when he told us what he saw inside.

Before the curfew was clamped again on August 15, we also managed to see Sheikh Moni’s residence. There were big signs of machine gun firing on the walls. Women and children were not spared in this house too. Why this mindless killing? To spread fear? To terrorise the people and keep them quiet?

There was no Awami League worker to be seen. There was not even a Bengali nationalist to protest his death. These two types were shedding silent tears. Dhaka had suddenly gone back to the Pakistani days, it appeared. It was a heart-rending experience for us.
Thirty lakh people had embraced martyrdom for nothing? There were rumours galore. Bangabandhu was alive and not dead? Sheikh Kamal had escaped too? India could attack us any time. O God, keep Bangabandhu alive! This man doesn’t deserve such a death. We silently prayed for him.

Khandker Mushtaque claimed himself President since the morning but took the oath in the evening. The Acting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Syed A.B. Mahmud, administered the oath to him. The Vice President, ten Ministers and six State Ministers also took oath. There were a few respected names in the cabinet.

Were they forced to join Mushtaque? The three services chiefs were present. Members of Parliament charged with corruption by Bangabandhu were also present. Mushtaque, it appeared, wanted to tell the world that only Bangabandhu was corrupt and his ministers had no fault.

The silence of the Rakkhi Bahini surprised many. A formal reaction of the Indian and the Russian governments was not coming. Ambassador Samar Sen was in Delhi. The Pakistan government was quite happy. Bhutto’s reaction said it all. We recollected that both Bhutto and Kissinger had visited Dhaka a year or so back.

Bangladesh Betar had instantly become Radio Bangladesh. What was wrong with the Bangla name? The curfew helped Mushtaque to take control in less than fifteen hours. People talked about his cunning. A few secretly called him the new Mir Jafar. He spoke to the nation in the evening. His nice words couldn’t remove our fear and anxiety.

We were happy to note that the stalwarts of the Mujibnagar government didn’t join Mushtaque. Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, Captain Mansur Ali and A.H.M. Kamruzzaman didn’t betray their leader. Abdus Samad Azad, Zillur Rahman, Abdur Razzak and Tofayel Ahmed didn’t join Mushtaque either.

We went to sleep with heavy hearts. We loved and respected the martyred Bangabandhu even more. He had his tragic flaws but he was our greatest hero, wasn’t he? He was our greatest hero of the past, the present and the future. My twenty-year-old heart profusely bled for him. I was a budding writer. How could a writer not weep over the death of his land’s greatest patriot?

Author : Junaidul Haque writes fiction, essays and reviews books.

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