Bangabandhu – He was our Caesar – Syed Badrul Ahsan

Icon of our NATION

Icon of our NATION

As he effusively welcomed Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to the United Arab Emirates in 1974, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahiyan remarked how wonderful it was for one sheikh to come in contact with another. Bangladesh’s leader smiled mischievously as he replied, “But, brother, there is a difference. I am a very poor sheikh.” Both men laughed.

There was forever the human about Bangabandhu, about his dealings with people. He was never a stickler for protocol and often appeared to be saying things out loud which to others might appear blunt. It was in that spirit that he directly asked Indira Gandhi, in Delhi on his way back home from London in early January 1972, when she planned to take Indian soldiers back home from Bangladesh. Mrs Gandhi was equally unequivocal. It would be by his next birthday, in March. She was as good as her word.

There was a thorough political being in Bangabandhu. He had his detractors, but he never looked upon them as his enemies. It was a healthy attitude, one which clearly allowed him to discuss grave political issues with Ayub Khan, ZA Bhutto and Yahya Khan. Ayub offered him Pakistan’s prime ministership in 1969, only days after his regime had withdrawn the Agartala case against the Bangalee leader. Mujib predictably declined the offer. It was his moment in the sun. Earlier, arriving in Rawalpindi to attend the Round Table Conference, he mused, “Yesterday a traitor, today a hero.” He was, of course, speaking of the vilification he had been put through, which also reminds you of his supreme courage in the face of adversity.

In the course of the Agartala case proceedings in Dhaka, he told stunned western journalists, “You know, they can’t keep me here for more than six months.” In the event, he was freed in the seventh month. On the first day of the trial, a Bangalee journalist known to Bangabandhu pretended not to hear Mujib calling out to him from the dock. At one point, the newsman whispered that intelligence personnel were around, meaning it was not safe for a conversation. Bangabandhu exploded: “Anyone who wants to live in Bangladesh will have to talk to me.” Momentarily, the entire tribunal lapsed into silence.

In January 1972, at his first press conference in Dhaka as prime minister, Bangabandhu spotted Indian journalist Nikhil Chakravartty at the far end of the hall. “Aren’t you Nikhil?” he asked loudly. Chakravartty, who had last met Mujib when they were both students in Calcutta in 1946, was surprised that a quarter century later Bangladesh’s founder had not failed to recognise him. Having long trekked through muddy village paths in his pursuit of politics, Bangabandhu remembered faces, recalled names, especially those of simple peasants and workers years after he had first come in touch with them.

The father of the nation was never willing to take nonsense from anyone. When Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal wondered why Bengalees needed to break away from the Muslim state of Pakistan, Bangabandhu bluntly asked him where the Saudis and other Middle Eastern nations were when Pakistan’s Muslim soldiers systematically indulged in murder and rape in occupied Bangladesh in 1971. Faisal said not a word. Neither did Nigeria’s Yakubu Gowon when he heard Mujib’s response to his own query. Would Pakistan not be a stronger Muslim state had Bangladesh not broken away from it? Bangabandhu’s cool, firm response: “Mr president, you are right. Then again, if the subcontinent were not divided, it would be a stronger India for all of us. Asia undivided would be even stronger. Indeed, if the world were not fragmented into myriad states, we would all be stronger than we are. But, Mr president, do we always get what we want out of life?’

In late December 1971, when ZA Bhutto told Bangabandhu that he was now Pakistan’s president, the Bangalee leader retorted, “But that position belongs to me. I won the election.” Bhutto then went on to give him details of the war that had humbled Pakistan.

On a personal note, Bangabandhu gently reprimanded this writer, who had a habit of wanting to see him go by every day, on a drizzly late evening before the old Gono Bhaban in 1973 thus: “Go home and finish your studies. You don’t have to be here to see me every day.” Three years earlier, on a warm July evening in Quetta, he had put his signature in this writer’s autograph book, patted him on his cheeks, and asked him, “Deshe jaabi na (won’t you go to your country)?’ He was already referring to a future Bangladesh!

Here was a Caesar, as Shakespeare would have said. When comes such another?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Author  – Syed Badrul Ahsan

August 15, 1975 and the long darkness after

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The undisputed Father of independent Bangladesh : Dr. Rashid

1b (51)Father of the Nation’ is an honorific bestowed on individuals who are considered the most important in the process of the establishment of a country or a nation. They are instrumental in the birth of their nations by way of liberating them from colonial or other occupation. George Washington is the father of the United States, Peter I of Russia, Sun Yat-sen of China, Sir Henry Parkes of Australia, Miguel Hidalgo of Mexico, Sam Nujoma of Namibia, William the Silent of the Netherlands, Einar Gerhardsm of Norway, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Carlos Mannel of Cuba, Mustafa Kemal of Turkey, Sukarno of Indonesia, Tunku Abdul Rahman of Malaysia, Mahatma Gandhi of India, Don Stephen Senanayake of Sri Lanka and Mohammad Ali Jinnah of Pakistan. So is Bangabandhu, the Father of the Bangladesh nation.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (19201975) is the architect of our country and the nation by all implications of the term. As a matter of fact, what we now call Bangladesh was never independent in the truest sense of the term before 1971. It was Mujib and only Mujib who gave the nation a real touch of freedom. It was quite a trek into the long way of freedom from all-out oppression through autonomy and home rule in which he gave the active lead. He was the fearless fighter of the Language Movement of 1952; the pioneer of the democratic movement of 1962; the architect of the Six-point Movement of 1966; the life-force of the Mass Movement of 1969; the enviable victor of the election of 1970 and, above all, the greatest hero of the Liberation War of 1971. He is undisputedly the founder of independent Bangladesh and, therefore, the Father of the Nation.

It is really a matter of regret that we are not well aware of this greatest national leader. But who is to blame for that? As a matter of fact, there has been a long chain of conspiracy to make people oblivious of Bangabandhu. It began with his assassination on the inauspicious August night of 1975. Ever since then the country fell mostly under the sway of despotic military rule accompanied by the corrupt politicians, opportunistic bureaucrats, pseudo-democrats and religious fundamentalists. They had one thing in common i.e. Bangabandhu-bashing. They tried to indemnify the killers of Bangabandhu, and rewarded them with lucrative portfolios. They took sustained efforts to erase the image of Bangabandhu from the minds of the people by distorting history. They tried to obliterate the memories of Bangabandhu from the pages of history, inscriptions of monuments and from whatever holds the recollections of Mujib.

The anti-Mujib campaigners are not, however, as powerful as history itself. History takes its own course, maybe after quite a long time. But this is inevitable. So, the anti-Mujib campaigners have vainly tried to change the course of history eventually making a mockery of it. What they had done at best is that they had fooled some people for sometime or what they can still do is that they can fool some people for all time, but they can never fool all people into believing a false story for all time. People must be endowed with a true sense of history today or tomorrow.

To look into one’s own history and culture and to go for the quest for national identity and cultural heritage have become an imperative in these postcolonial days. Ours is not a poor socio-political and cultural legacy. We fought valiantly a war of independence under the leadership of Bangabandhu. We can very well come up with this political legacy and assert ourselves more. We can uphold the ideals of Bangabandhu to rebuild our nation.

Mujib is really Bangabandhu, friend of Bangladesh. And hence he could utter: ‘Standing on the gallows, I will tell them, I am a Bengali, Bangla is my country, Bangla is my language”. On the black night of March 25, when it was suggested that he go into hiding, he flatly refused and retorted: “I must share the sufferings of my people along with them. I must share. I cannot leave them in the face of fire. I cannot.” Really he did not flee to safety from the war-torn country. Rather he willingly became the first prey to the marauding force. Love for the motherland had prompted him to take such a risk. Afterwards, over nine long months, day after day and night after night in the dark cell of the prison camp, he longed for the freedom of his country. The unbearable suffering of the dungeon could not sap the strength of his patriotism. On his return home on 10 January 1972, addressing a huge gathering in Suhrawardy Uddyan, Bangabandhu declared: “Bangladesh has earned independence. Now if anybody wants to seize it, Mujib would be the first man to sacrifice his life for the protection of that independence”. His country was all important to him. He believed it was his calling to do good to his country, not to look forward to anything in return. He often used to mention the famous quote by President John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country”.

Such a big man was Bangabandhu! The undisputed Father of independent Bangladesh. To be unaware of this is sheer ignorance. To deny this is an offence against history.

Author/Editor : Dr. Rashid Askari

[Dr. Rashid Askari, Writer and Professor, English literature, Islamic University, Kushtia, Bangladesh]

BANGLADESH: Mujib’s Road from Prison to Power

2012-08-15__ft03TO some Western observers, the scene stirred thoughts of Pontius Pilate deciding the fates of Jesus and Barabbas. “Do you want Mujib freed?” cried Pakistan President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, at a rally of more than 100,000 supporters in Karachi. The crowd roared its assent, as audiences often do when subjected to Bhutto’s powerful oratory. Bowing his head, the President answered: “You have relieved me of a great burden.”
Thus last week Bhutto publicly announced what he had previously told TIME Correspondent Dan Coggin: his decision to release his celebrated prisoner, Sheik Mujibur (“Mujib”) Rahman, the undisputed political leader of what was once East Pakistan, and President of what is now the independent country of Bangladesh.
Five days later, after two meetings with Mujib, Bhutto lived up to his promise. He drove to Islamabad Airport to see Mujib off for London aboard a chartered Pakistani jetliner. To maintain the utmost secrecy, the flight left at 3 a.m. The secret departure was not announced to newsmen in Pakistan until ten hours later, just before the arrival of the Shah of Iran at the same airport for a six-hour visit with Bhutto. By that time Mujib had reached London—tired but seemingly in good health. “As you can see, I am very much alive and well,” said Mujib, jauntily puffing on a brier pipe. “At this stage I only want to be seen and not heard.”

A few hours later, however, after talking by telephone with India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in New Delhi and with the acting President of Bangladesh, Syed Nazrul Islam, in Dacca, Mujib held a press conference in the ballroom of Claridge’s Hotel. While scores of jubilant East Bengalis gathered outside the hotel, Mujib called for world recognition of Bangladesh, which he described as “an unchallengeable reality,” and asked that it be admitted to the United Nations.

Clearly seething with rage, Mujib described his life “in a condemned cell in a desert area in the scorching heat,” for nine months without news of his family or the outside world. He was ready to be executed, he said. “And a man who is ready to die, nobody can kill.” He knew of the war, he said, because “army planes were moving, and there was the blackout.” Only after his first meeting with Bhutto did he know that Bangladesh had formed its own government. Of the Pakistani army’s slaughter of East Bengalis, Mujib declared: “If Hitler could have been alive today, he would be ashamed.”

Mujib spoke well of Bhutto, however, but emphasized that he had made no promise that Bangladesh and Pakistan would maintain a link that Bhutto anxiously wants to have. “I told him I could only answer that after I returned to my people,” said the sheik. Why had he flown to London instead of to Dacca or some closer neutral point? “Don’t you know I was a prisoner?” Mujib snapped. “It was the Pakistan government’s will, not mine.” While in London, he said, he hoped to meet with British Prime Minister Edward Heath before leaving for a triumphal return to Bangladesh.

Little Choice. Although Mujib’s flight to London rather than to Dacca was something of a surprise, his release from house arrest was not. In truth, Bhutto had little choice but to set him free. A Mujib imprisoned, Bhutto evidently decided, was of no real benefit to Pakistan; a Mujib dead and martyred would only have deepened the East Bengalis’ hatred of their former countrymen. But a Mujib allowed to return to his rejoicing people might perhaps be used to coax Bangladesh into forming some sort of loose association with Pakistan.

In the light of Mujib’s angry words about Pakistan at the London press conference, Bhutto’s dream of reconciliation with Bangladesh appeared unreal. Yet some form of association may not be entirely beyond hope of achievement. For the time being, Bangladesh will be dependent upon India for financial, military and other aid. Bhutto may well have been reasoning that sooner or later the Bangladesh leaders will tire of the presence of Indian troops and civil servants, and be willing to consider a new relation with their humbled Moslem brothers.

Bangladesh, moreover, may find it profitable and even necessary to reestablish some of the old trade ties with Pakistan. As Bhutto put it:

“The existing realities do not constitute the permanent realities.”

Stupendous Homecoming. One existing reality that Bhutto could hardly ignore was Bangladesh’s euphoric sense of well-being after independence. When the news reached Bangladesh that Mujib had been freed, Dacca be gan preparing a stupendous homecoming for its national hero. All week long the capital had been electric with expectation. In the wake of the first reports that his arrival was imminent, Bengalis poured into the streets of Dacca, shouting, dancing, singing, firing rifles into the air and roaring the now-familiar cry of liberation “Joi Bangla.” Many of the rejoicing citizens made a pilgrimage to the small bungalow where Mujib’s wife and children had been held captive by the Pakistani army. The Begum had spent the day fasting. “When I heard the gun fire in March it was to kill the people of Bangladesh,” she tearfully told the well-wishers. “Now it is to demonstrate their joy.”
The people of Bangladesh will need all the joy that they can muster in the next few months. The world’s new est nation is also one of its poorest.

In the aftermath of the Pakistani army’s rampage last March, a special team of inspectors from the World Bank observed that some cities looked “like the morning after a nuclear at tack.” Since then, the destruction has only been magnified. An estimated 6,000,000 homes have been destroyed, and nearly 1,400,000 farm families have been left without tools or animals to work their lands. Transportation and communications systems are totally disrupted. Roads are damaged, bridges out and inland waterways blocked.

The rape of the country continued right up until the Pakistani army surrendered a month ago. In the last days of the war, West Pakistani-owned businesses—which included nearly every commercial enterprise in the country—remitted virtually all their funds to the West. Pakistan International Airlines left exactly 117 rupees ($16) in its account at the port city of Chittagong. The army also destroyed bank notes and coins, so that many areas now suffer from a severe shortage of ready cash. Private cars were picked up off the streets or confiscated from auto dealers and shipped to the West before the ports were closed.

The principal source of foreign exchange in Bangladesh—$207 million in 1969-70—is jute; it cannot be moved from mills to markets until inland transportation is restored. Repairing vital industrial machinery smashed by the Pakistanis will not take nearly as long as making Bangladesh’s ruined tea gardens productive again. Beyond that, the growers, whose poor-quality, lowland tea was sold almost exclusively to West Pakistan, must find alternative markets for their product. Bangladesh must also print its own currency and, more important, find gold reserves to back it up. “We need foreign exchange, that is, hard currency,” says one Dacca banker. “That means moving the jute that is already at the mills. It means selling for cash, not in exchange for Indian rupees or East European machinery. It means getting foreign aid, food relief, and fixing the transportation system, all at the same time. It also means chopping imports.”

The Bangladesh Planning Commission is more precise: it will take $3 billion just to get the country back to its 1969-70 economic level (when the per capita annual income was still an abysmally inadequate $30). In the wake of independence, the government of Bangladesh, headed by Acting President Syed Nazrul Islam and Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed, has instituted stringent measures to control inflation, including a devaluation of the rupee in terms of the pound sterling (from 15 to 18), imposing a ceiling of $140 a month on all salaries and limiting the amount of money that Bengalis can draw from banks. Such measures hit hardest at the urban, middle-class base of the dominant Awami League, but there has been little opposition, largely because most Bengalis seem to approve of the moderately socialist course laid out by the government. Last week Nazrul Islam announced that the government will soon nationalize the banking, insurance, foreign trade and basic industries as a step toward creating an “exploitation-free economy.”

Not the least of the new nation’s problems is the repatriation of the 10 million refugees who fled to India. As of last week, Indian officials said that more than 1,000,000 had already returned, most of them from the states of West Bengal and Tripura. To encourage the refugees, camp officials gave each returning family a small gift consisting of a new set of aluminum kitchen utensils, some oil, charcoal, a piece of chocolate, two weeks’ rations of rice and grain and the equivalent of 50¢ in cash.

Within Bangladesh, transit camps have been set up to provide overnight sleeping facilities. The government acknowledges that it will need foreign aid and United Nations assistance. Some U.N. supplies are already stockpiled in the ports, awaiting restoration of distribution facilities.

The political future of Bangladesh is equally uncertain. For the moment, there is all but universal devotion to the words and wisdom of Mujib, but whether he can institute reforms quickly enough to maintain his total hold on his countrymen is another question. Many of the more radical young guerrillas who fought with the Mukti Bahini (liberation forces) may not be content with the moderate course charted by the middle-aged politicians of the Awami League. Moreover, the present Dacca government is a very remote power in country villages where the local cadres of the Mukti Bahini are highly visible.

Already the guerrillas have split into factions, according to India’s Sunanda Datta-Ray in the Statesman. The elite Mujib Bahini, named after the sheik, has now begun to call itself the “Mission,” and one of its commanders, Ali Ashraf Chowdurdy, 22, told Datta-Ray: “We will never lay down our arms until our social ideals have been realized.” Another guerrilla put the matter more bluntly: “For us the revolution is not over. It has only begun.” So far the Mujib Bahini has done a commendable job of protecting the Biharis, the non-Bengali Moslems who earned Bengali wrath by siding with the Pakistani army. But the government is anxious to disarm the Mujib Bahini, and has plans to organize it into a constabulary that would carry out both police and militia duties.
Front Windshields. Despite its ravaged past and troubled future, Bangladesh is still a lovely land to behold, according to TIME’S William Stewart. “There is little direct evidence of the fighting along the main highway from Calcutta to Dacca,” he cabled from Dacca last week, “although in some areas there are artillery-shell craters and the blackened skeletons of houses. Local markets do a brisk business in fruit and staple goods, but by Bengali standards many of the villages are all but deserted.

“Dacca has all the friendliness of a provincial town, its streets filled with hundreds of bicycle-driven rickshas, each one painted with flowers and proudly flying the new flag of Bangladesh. In fact every single car in Dacca flies the national flag, and many have Mujib’s photo on the front windshield. The city is dotted with half-completed construction projects, including the new capital buildings designed by U.S. Architect Louis Kahn. Some day, when and if they are completed, Dacca will find itself with a collection of public buildings that might well be the envy of many a richer and more established capital.

“But whether you arrive at Dacca’s war-damaged airport or travel the tree-lined main road from Calcutta, it is the relaxed, peaceful atmosphere that is most noticeable. Even as travel to Bangladesh becomes more difficult, customs and immigration officials are genuinely friendly and polite, smiling broadly, cheerily altering your entry forms so that you conform with the latest regulations. There is no antagonism to individual Americans. Once it is known that you are an American, however, the inevitable question is: How could the Nixon Administration have behaved the way that it did? There is in fact an almost universal belief that the American people are with them.

“That sentiment was echoed by Tajuddin Ahmed, who told me in an interview: The Nixon Administration has inflicted a great wound. Time heals wounds, of course, but there will be a scar. We are grateful to the American press, intellectual leaders and all those who raised their voices against injustice. Pakistan turned this country into a hell. We are very sorry that some administrations of friendly countries were giving support to killers of the Bengali nation. For the people of Bangladesh, any aid from Nixon would be disliked. It would be difficult, but we do not bear any lasting enmity.’”

Monday, Jan. 17, 1972 @Bangabandhu.com.bd

Bangabandhu Remembered- Junaidul Haque

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, portraitAs a child in the early sixties I first heard of Bangabandhu from my father. He spoke affectionately of a gentleman named Sheikh Mujib, who gave fiery speeches in the Paltan Maidan against Pakistani military dictator Ayub Khan and his henchman Monem Khan, the governor of East Pakistan. He was brave as well as witty and was fond of East Bengal (East Pakistan) and her people to a fault. Fighting for the rights of his deprived people was the greatest passion of his life. Often he went to jail. But my father was not sure if Sheikh Shaheb would be finally successful and come to power one day to establish democratic rule in Pakistan and serve its suffering people, especially those of East Pakistan. Needless to mention I instantly began to like Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, simply because no one else championed the Bengali cause like him. I started to follow his activities through newspapers. Along with Brazilian football, West Indian cricket and sub-continental hockey, a child of the sixties began to admire Sheikh Mujib. Slowly but surely he became my favourite politician. By March 1971 Bangladesh and Sheikh Mujib became synonyms.

The Bengalis of East Pakistan accepted the famous six-point program of the Awami League from the core of their heart. The program was announced in 1966 and claimed political autonomy for the provinces. The disparity between East and West Pakistan should be removed and the economy of the eastern province needed to be specially looked after. As a fifth grader I just understood that the six points wanted to address the suffering of the people of East Bengal very seriously. Even at that age we clearly felt that the West Pakistanis looked down upon us. Slowly and surely Sheikh Mujib grew in stature. The Pakistani military regime was frightened of him too. They committed the great mistake from their point of view – of taking him into custody for the so-called Agartala conspiracy case. The Pakistani rulers’ calculation was wrong. They thought that their sycophants were the majority. The true picture was different. The Bengalis didn’t fail to recognize their greatest nationalist leader and supported him whole-heartedly. To them Sheikh Mujib was not a traitor who wanted to break up Pakistan. Rather he was the true patriot fighting for the rights of his people. The students and the common people took the 1969 movement for democracy to great heights and it achieved full success. The Pakistani rulers had to release Sheikh Mujib from jail. Ayub Khan had to leave handing over power to the army chief Yahya Khan, who was quick to promise early elections. The chief judge of the so-called Agartala conspiracy case fled through the back door of his court room. He couldn’t even put his shoes on when thousands attacked the building housing his court.

Bangabandhu’s Awami League won 167 out of 169 seats of the East Pakistan assembly. This made him the leader of the biggest party in the whole of Pakistan. The election was conducted by the military regime of Yahya Khan and was absolutely fair. The rulers simply couldn’t judge properly the popularity of Bangabandhu. Yahya Khan rightfully called him the future Prime minister of Pakistan. But Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who won 80 plus seats in West Pakistan, conspired with Yahya and his generals to start the post-election unfair game. They put thorns on Sheikh Mujib’s path. The West Pakistanis were in power for 24 years since Pakistan’s birth. How could they give up power so easily? So, they very wrongfully decided to dishonour the clear popular verdict given to the charismatic Bangabandhu by his people. Yahya Khan cancelled the national assembly session he had called earlier.

Yahya Khan and his aides came to Dhaka for a dialogue with Bangabandhu and Awami League. Apparently they carried on the talks seriously. The whole nation waited eagerly for a positive outcome. But Yahya, advised by Bhutto, decided not to finish the talks and be treacherous. He and his government went for a military crackdown on the night of March 25, 1971. Thousands of innocent civilians were killed in one night. Bangabandhu ordered for a total war of independence, hints of which he has given in his historic speech of March 07 at the Suhrawardy Udyan. He himself courted arrest to save Dhaka from total destruction but directed his close aides to form a government and carry on our war of independence to final success. He knew that he had united the whole nation and freedom from Pakistani rule was not far away.

We fought our noble war of liberation in the name of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Bangladesh’s women prayed for his release from jail and our people fought heroically for independence. The government-in-exile of Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, Mansur Ali, Qamruzzaman and others guided the nation in its crisis with wisdom, sincerity and sacrifice. The governments of India and Soviet Union were our great friends in 1971. We Bengalis proved to the whole world that we were a heroic nation and the leader who turned us into a confident and united nation was none else than Bangabandhu himself. Our losses were great but we were a free nation. Our future generations would not be colonial citizens any more.

As a ruler Bangabandhu had to build the war-ravaged country from zero. That was not an easy task. The most powerful nation in the world was against our independence and their government was yet to forgive Bangabandhu. They had planted men in politics, journalism, the civil service and the armed forces. So they successfully created a distance between Bangabandhu and some of his most trusted men. There were impediments here and there. Despite his best efforts, our great leader had failure as well as success. But he certainly didn’t deserve death for that. That was a period when great nationalist leaders were not allowed to survive. Bangabandhu, Allende and the likes had to embrace martyrdom and make way for military rulers, who served as yes-men to the mightiest nation. When we think of Bangabandhu’s tragic death, we are engulfed with unbearable sorrow.

How do we remember Bangabandhu now? What is he to me? To our 150 million people? He is our best politician ever born. He is the selfless leader who fought his whole life for an independent country for his Bangalee brothers and sisters. He achieved his goal although he had to leave tragically after a few years like quite a few third-world nationalist leaders. His people love and respect him beyond description. He loved them to a fault and they love him in return. They have recently voted his elder daughter to power once again, this time with a huge mandate. As long as the Padma and the Meghna will be there, Bangabandhu will be fondly remembered by his people.

Author : Junaidul Haque is a novelist and critic.