August 1975 and thereafter

m6WHAT happened in August 1975 was a great tragedy perpetrated by an anti-people clique who did not want Bangladesh to move in the direction its people had desired it to take. The desire embodied a dream and an ideology; and for its fulfillment the people had struggled not only in 1971 but even before. The long struggle did not begin all of a sudden. It had a glorious history of its own. In December 1971 it reached a point where it was impossible for the old state not to yield to the emergence of an independent Bangladesh. What the assassins were bent upon doing was the bringing down not only of a great man but also, and not less importantly, of the ideology of secular Bengali nationalism together with the dream of a long-awaited and urgently needed social revolution. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had promoted that collective desire among, and with, the people. In mourning his death we bemoan the loss of a leader as well as of an opportunity. Sheikh Mujib died a martyr, heading the long list of those who laid down their lives to liberate the people of Bangladesh.

The assassins were a motley group comprising disgruntled army men and a section of the reactionary elements within the ruling party itself. And they acted with the silent support of the capitalist world, of which the USA was the leader. The capitalist countries had, we recall, opposed — both morally and materially — the formation of Bangladesh, being apprehensive of its turning to the left.

Not that the leftists at home were satisfied. Some of them were disheartened to see the new state not taking the line of non-capitalist development; others had gone underground fearing repression on account of their failure to join the war of liberation due to their inability to see that a resolution of the class question demanded a settlement of the national question and that the principal contradiction at that moment of history was between the people of East Bengal and the Punjabi military-bureaucratic combine that ruled Pakistan. None of the leftist groups was against a social revolution; indeed, they were fighting for it. But they did not know how to achieve that objective, which is the primary reason why they were divided among themselves, and, despite their sacrifices, were unable to take on the leadership of the liberation war. The leftists had nothing to do with the tragedy of 1975, although the Awami League leadership thought them, quite mistakenly, to be their real enemy, ignoring the reactionaries within their own camp.

The August mayhem was a rightist affair. The whole business of conspiracy, consolidation and execution was done by the ultra rightists. The more easily identifiable anti-liberation elements, including the Al-badrs and the Razakars, were not directly involved in the operation, but their ideological kinsmen had taken upon themselves a task which those known and condemned for their activities were incapable of performing.

The liberation war, let us remind ourselves, was not fought for the limited political aim of independence. We have had the experience of independence in 1947 enormously paid for in terms of miseries and tears, and found it to be no more than a transfer of power to the Punjabis to rule over the Bengalis. That is why, since 1952, we had been struggling for liberation, which, we had realized, must be based on the twin recognition that the Bengalis were a nation and that national independence would never be meaningful without an accompanying social revolution. Revolutions have come and gone, but society, which is where people live and expect to thrive, has not changed; it has remained as class-ridden and exploitative as it has since the 1793 Permanent Settlement enforced by the British. We needed and wanted a real revolution, ensuring a democratic transformation of the state and society, guaranteeing equality of rights and opportunities to every citizen. The four state principles adumbrated in the original constitution of Bangladesh indicated the goal of a social revolution, for which the first step to be taken was secularism and socialism had to be the ultimate goal.

And it is this possibility of a liberating revolution which the assassins of August wanted to destroy. Those who succeeded them in the running of the state did not find it necessary to make apologies. Briskly they want about achieving their self-appointed task of altering the whole character of the constitution, eliminating the principles of secularism and socialism. Promulgating a martial law order, General Ziaur Rahman removed secularism and put above the preamble words which read, “In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful”, and inserted within it a pledge “in the name of almighty Allah.” Socialism was replaced by the innocuous idea of ‘economic and social justice.’ The amended constitution negated Bengali nationalism by introducing Bangladeshi nationalism in its place. Clearly, the purpose was not to widen the definition of nationalism to include the small nationalities to which recognition has been denied in the constitution, but to do away with the idea that the Bengalis are a nation. Not satisfied even with that, General Ershad went to the extent of introducing Islam as the state religion.

It is not without significance that what was called ‘a historical struggle for national liberation in the original document has been changed by Ziaur Rahman’s decree into ‘historical war for national independence,’ suggesting that we fought for political independence and not for social liberation. There is absolutely no reason to doubt that those who made the alteration were unaware of the difference between independence and liberation. They wanted to make us forget that we had fought not for another independence of the 1947 type, but for emancipation of the people through a total transformation of society. What these anti-people elements wanted was not a secular state and a democratic society but a smaller edition of what was once known as Pakistan.
Even bourgeois democracy, not to speak of the one of socialist dispensation, demands as its first requisite secularism, meaning, as it does, complete separation between state and religion; and that exactly is what has been denied to us by the rulers who commandeered the state after August 1975. What surprises us is that the Awami League, which had provided leadership in the war of liberation, has found it convenient to remain silent on the question, giving us the impression that it does not consider the restoration of secularism to be an important issue. Even in a land where corruption and crime are being committed everywhere and every day, a more grievous crime than the removal of secularism from the constitution would be difficult to find. The action has not harmed any particular person, group or institution but has struck at the very foundations of the state which had been founded on the rejection of the non-secular two-nation theory on which Pakistan had based itself.

That Pakistan was a curse and a nightmare has been made obvious to those who are now living in that broken political state. We have all sympathy for them in their suffering. We ourselves came to the knowledge about the monstrous character of that state as early as 1952, having paid much too much in terms of blood and tears for allowing ourselves to be led into voting for it in 1946 by our leaders. M. A. Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, had himself realized the mistake he had made even before the state was set up and had discarded the two-nation theory at the first opportunity that came to him, namely, the occasion to speak before the constituent Assembly on 11 August 1947.

Looking at the happenings in Bangladesh since August 1975 from a slightly different perspective, one could say that the progress we are supposed to have made amounted really to a widening of the road for capitalism to flourish. The collective dream of liberation was for the establishment of democracy in the country, and it has to be admitted that there is not much of a difference between proper democracy and socialism. That collective dream has been shattered, to be replaced by one of personal aggrandizement. This change has been hastened by the despicably heinous act of the assassins of August 15. Today the people at large are paying for the prosperity of a few. And, very naturally, mainstream politics has become a shameless game of plunder in which the ruling class, the members of which are related to one another by social and even family ties, has engaged in cut-throat competition for the acquisition of money and power.

But mere mourning would not do. It may prove to be counterproductive, creating despair. What we have to undertake is the continuation of the struggle to achieve the realization of the collective dream of a social revolution. To give up the struggle would be to degrade ourselves further than we have already done.

Author : Serajul Islam Choudhury, Professor Serajul Islam Choudhury is a reputed academic, writer and commentator on social and political issues

Bangabandhu and Bangladesh : Muntasir Manum

The inhabitants of Bangladeshhad dreamt of a free land for long. Many individuals had sought to materialise this dream in the past. Many had spoken about that land during the first forty years of the last century. That plan was once again drawn during the partition of India.

bangabandhu-1Moulana Bhashani had spoken about an independent territory for the Bangalis during the decade of 1960s. But none could give complete shape to that dream. That dream was finally realized on 16 December 1971 under the leadership of a pure Bangali – Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It was he who could erect for the Bangalis the geographic boundaries of afree state. Bangabandhu, Father of the Nation, or Sheikh Mujibur Rahman – in whatever name we may call him – his iconic figure looms large whenever we talk about Bangladesh. That is why, his name has become ingrained in our history and because of that we repeatedly reminisce about him. There are numerous claimants to the Bangladesh dream. Many might have dreamt it; many had talked aboutBangladeshthrough signs and gestures; but Sheikh Mujib had completed the task like an architect. Like many others, he also thought of Bangladesh, but preparations for the purpose continued up to 1971. Moulana Bhashani had also spoken aboutBangladesh in open forums. But his role was negligible in this field. However, all those dreams and speeches had prepared the people.

Journalist Abdul Matin had written in his autobiography: “He met Mujib one day at noon during the military rule of Ayub Khan. Sheikh Saheb said that he did not care Ayub Khan. He knew the minds of the people. After remaining silent for a few moments, he talked about using the Agartala case in the anti-Ayub movement”. It can be said in this context that the Agartala conspiracy case might not have been fully cooked up. That dark gentleman had emerged from the very midst of our rural paddy culture. His heart was vast like nature itself, and he wanted to cover the Bangalis with that – the whole ofBangladesh. The Bangalis had repaid that gesture as long as he lived. One day on 27 March 1971, a Major suddenly told the Bangalis to snatch freedom and they jumped for that – the Bangalis are not made of such stuff. It took a long time to awaken them and it was Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who succeeded in doing that. Consequently, whether one likes it or not, can there be any option other than calling him the ‘architect of our freedom’? And it was not that Sheikh Mujib became ‘Bangabandhu’ overnight in 1970 and ‘Father of the Nation’ all of a sudden in 1972. It took him three decades to become Bangabandhu.

If we consider the period between 1940 and 1974, we shall see that Sheikh Mujib became Bangabandhu and Father of the Nation for several reasons. These were: the vastness of his heart, his humanism and tolerance, his appearance, dresses and words; all of these had demonstrated his intention to maintain everlasting bonds with a huge population. Some information and proofs could be obtained about the long-drawn conspiracies of the villains of 1975 for seizing power. Khandakar Mostaque is an example. Evidence of the conspiratorial mentality of this principal villain in our history could be observed even before the liberation war. The frontline leaders of Awami League had visited Bangabandhu at his Dhanmondi residence on 25 March 1971 and asked him to remain cautious. Only Khandakar Mostaque was not seen there. After independence, he lobbied with Dr. Wazed Miah to become Foreign Minister with seniority. Later, in 1974, Dr. Wazed Mia saw after going to Khandakar Mostaque’s residence that one Major Rashid was going out of the house after secret talks with him. There has been much debate about the message of Sheikh Mujib broadcast by Mr. Hannan fromChittagongon 26 March 1971.

Dr. Wazed Miah had written: “Bangabandhu’s message was in a taped form. After transmitting that message fromDhaka’s Baldah garden, that brave member of EPR had sought fresh orders by contacting Bangabandhu’s residence over telephone. Bangabandhu then directed the EPR member via Mr. Golam Morshed to leave that place instantly after throwing the transmitter into the pond of Baldah garden.” I shall not go into the debate on whether this information was correct or not. I understand as an ordinary student of history that the country called Bangladeshwas founded at the very start of March 1971 and that had happened at the directive of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Professor Borhanuddin Khan Jahangir highlighted this in a very clear and logical manner in his essay titled ‘Accountability of the State’. He wrote: “The 35 directives issued by Sheikh Mujib had laid the ground for all-out noncooperation with the Pakistani state through resistance and rejection of its authority and complete cooperation of the Bangali masses with their administration through establishment of a pro-people authority. —— The Bangali people had nurtured the thought of becoming the inhabitants of a separate, different and independent state in their bosom, head and heart even before the commencement of the war.” From the 1960s, Bangabandhu had two objectives. One of those was unambiguous, while another was unclear or something akin to a dream. The clear objective was to build up the Awami League, spread the organization throughout the country and establish a civil society by going to power on Awami League platform. There were infightings within the Awami League, which was natural for a big party. But Sheikh Mujib’s organizational capacity was unique. He had the two qualities of tolerance and flexibility, which were needed for making the party bigger. I have even seen old people in remote rural areas, whose only possession was a tea-stall, who never got anything from the party, but had never left it after coming to the fold of Awami League at the behest of Sheikh Mujib.

There are many more selfsacrificing Awami Leaguers in the nooks and corners ofBangladesh, who did not leave the party despite becoming destitute. The leaders, however, do not keep track of them. Besides, Sheikh Mujib had such individuals as his companions, without whose help he might not have achieved his cherished goal. As a result, the Awami League became bigger, expanded after the 6- point movement and simultaneously Sheikh Mujib became the undisputed leader of the masses.

He also had tremendous self-confidence and courage. The blossoming of the party had also raised his confidence in himself as well as the people. That was why he could transform the 6-points into a 1-point. And this was his unclear vision or dream. That he was unwavering on the question of this objective and had the necessary courage and confidence for materialising this dream were highlighted during the Agartala conspiracy trial. Fayez Ahmed had written about an incident during this trial. He was sitting beside the main accused Sheikh Mujib. They were not allowed to talk inside the court. Sheikh Mujib tried to draw the attention of Fayez Ahmed a number of times in order to say something. Fayez Ahmed said, “Mujib Bhai, conversations are not allowed. I can’t turn my head. They will throw me out.” A loud reply came forthwith, “Fayez, one has to talk to Sheikh Mujib if he wants to stay inBangladesh.” – ——-He did not know then that this symbolic utterance by Sheikh Mujib was not meant for any individual person; it was a message for the entire people of a country, which could ignite fire. Sheikh Mujib returned to theBangladeshof his dream in 1972. Now his role was not that of a wager of movements. Rather, he played his part in materialising the dream of a Golden Bangla. He worked tirelessly with that objective in mind until 15 August 1975.

Reconstruction of the country was in full swing and the Constitution was already framed by that time. The biggest achievement of Bangabandhu and the then Awami League government was to endow the country with a Constitution. I do not know whether there is any other example of a country where it was possible to provide a Constitution so swiftly in the aftermath of such a bloody war. The four core principles of the state were proclaimed through this Constitution, which could have been termed as radical in the context of the then realities. These were: Democracy, Socialism, Secularism and Nationalism. These principles in fact contained those very ideals for which the liberation war was fought. This was especially true of secularism. That is why the military generals had at the very outset struck at these core principles, especially secularism. Besides, the Constitution described the social, economic and political rights of citizens and the philosophy of the state. In other words, it indicated that the liberation war was waged for establishing a civil society in place of a military-dominated one.

The 1972 Constitution had incorporated the necessary institutions for a civil society; it firmly strove to lay the foundation for a vibrant civil society inBangladesh. In this context, Bangabandhu had said in one of his speeches: “I do not know whether democracy was initiated immediately after a bloody revolution in any country of the world. —– Elections have been organised. The right of vote has been expanded in scope by lowering the voting age from 21 to 18.Bangladesh’s own aeroplanes are now flying in the skies of different countries; a fleet of commercial ships has also been launched.

The BDR is now guarding the borders. The ground forces are ready to repel any attack on the motherland. Our own navy and air-force are now operational. The police force and thanas have been rebuilt, 70 percent of which were destroyed by the Pakistanis. A ‘National Rakkhi Bahini’ has been raised. You are now the owners of 60 percent of mills and factories. Taxes for up to 25 bighas of land have been exempted. We do not believe in the policy of vengeance and revenge. Therefore, general amnesty has been declared for those who were accused and convicted under the Collaborators’ Act for opposing the liberation war.” But the people were not inclined to appreciate the framing of Constitution, its principles, and the successes of Sheikh Mujib due to rising price of essentials and the law and order situation.

Not only was Bangabandhu killed along with his family, the husband of his sister Abdur Rab Serniabat and his nephew (sister’s son) Sheikh Moni were also killed along with their family members. It was quite apparent that intense hatred had worked behind this; otherwise this kind of brutality could not have been carried out in cold blood. The assumption that if any of the family members survived, then he would come forward to provide leadership was also at work. That this assumption was not unfounded has been proved subsequently. Bangabandhu’s two daughters Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana survived as they were staying abroad. Later, Sheikh Hasina became the leader of the Awami League and is now once again waging a struggle to reinforce the civil society. It is clear from the manner in which the Bangabandhu family was assassinated that there were local and international conspiracies and a long time was spent for planning it. The conspirators took risks and that risktaking paid off. A faction of the Awami League led by Khandakar Mostaque was involved in it. It can be cited as evidence that it was during Mostaque’s rule that the four Awami League and national leaders Tajuddin Ahmed, Syed Nazrul Islam, Mansur Ali and Kamruzzaman were killed inside the central jail on 3 November 1975. Saudi ArabiaandChinarecognised Bangladeshimmediately after Khandakar Mostaque came to power. Relationships withPakistanand theUSAalso improved. Consequently, the theory that foreign powers had a hand in the killings cannot be dismissed outright. Almost three decades after Sheikh Mujib’s killing, the people can once again feel what Sheikh Mujib really was and why he was awarded the title ‘Bangabandhu’. People can realize today that he wanted to raise the stature of the Bangalis, and one way of doing that was to give back the honour to the unarmed people. Whichever parties and persons might have ruledBangladeshafter his murder, his name could not be erased from the minds of the people. That effort still continues. That is because it is evident today that we got that honour only once, that path was opened for us only once in 1971, whenBangladeshsucceeded in ousting all kinds of armed thugs under the leadership of an unarmed Bangali called Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Despite the many flaws and heaps of criticisms levelled against Sheikh Mujib, we should note, just as an opponent of Sheikh Mujib and Awami League.

Moudud Ahmed – had written (translator’s translation from Bengali): “The appearance of Sheikh Mujib was the biggest event in the national history ofBangladesh. His burial did not take place through his death. More pragmatic, efficient, capable and dynamic political personalities than Sheikh Mujib might have emerged or may emerge, but it will be very difficult to find someone who has contributed more to the independence movement ofBangladeshand the shaping of its national identity.” He had endeavoured to uphold the interests of the Bangalis throughout his life and had never compromised until his objectives were attained. That is why the Bangalis gave him the title ‘Bangabandhu’ and ‘Father of the Nation’ out of sheer love and emotion. His lifestyle was like that of an ordinary Bangali of eternalBengal; that is why he could so intensely connect with the ordinary people and their communities. He possessed all the attributes of an ordinary Bangali. But his love for his people and country was extraordinary, almost blind. He used to say: “My strength is that, I love human beings. My weakness is that, I love them too much.” The position of Bangabandhu vis-à-vis other doers in the civil society ofBangladeshwill become clear if the events of 1971 and 1971-75 are analysed. It is impossible to write the history of pre and post-independence Bangladeshwithout mentioning him.

The names of two great Bangalis will remain forever shining in the minds of the Bangalis. One is Rabindranath Thakur and the other is Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. One had shaped the Bengali language and wrote the national anthem ofBangladesh. The other materialised the age-old dream of the Bangalis by helping create an independent territory calledBangladeshfor an entire nation. I feel proud for this, and my posterity will also be so. The names ‘Bangali’ and ‘Bangladesh’ will continue to live on. And that is why Anandashankar Ray had written:

“As long as the Padma, Meghna, Gouri, Jamuna flows on,
Your accomplishment will also live on, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.”

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

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]