AK Khandaker, who fell from grace after hurting the nation’s heart in his controversial book “Bhitore Baire 71” (Inside Out 71), recently apologized for ‘wrong” information on the historic 07 March 1971 of Bangabandhu, has apparently run out of luck as his latest move was binned by freedom fighters, politicians and the youths who said he would die with the “stigma” of distorting history.
On the other hand, his freedom fighter comrades from the air force believe that he was “hoodwinked,” but could not vouch as it could be otherwise also.This correspondent recently met him at his Utara area residence and tried to find out what was his current state. Unable to speak or hear properly, the former deputy chief of the Liberation Mukti Bahini aged now 90, found it heard to reply and was helped by his wife Farida Khandaker who took his approval after every answer. Both appeared repentant.
…. I am withdrawing the entire section containing the mentioned part on page 32 of my book. I apologize to the nation and the departed soul of Bangabandhu,” he said in a written statement to press on 01 June 2019, after remaining silent for more than four years.
He added: “I am 90 years old. I consider this the biggest mistake in my life. Stung by my conscience, I seek forgiveness from the departed soul of Bangabandhu and the nation in my twilight hours.”
Asked if he was withdrawing and apologizing for all the points which drew a backlash from all segments of the society, except some extreme rightwing elemets, and also the national parliament in 2014, he said “No, only the part of Bangabandhu’s speech” where he wrote that the Father of the Nation had ended his landmark 07 March 1971 speech with “Joy Pakistan.”
About the part saying Mujib Bahini members were “looters” or there were no political directions about the independence war, he said “No, those stand as it is.”
Told that it was rumored that he stayed out of the 2014 election anticipating Awami League’s defeat, but instead quietly published the book, Khandaker and his wife became silent. Pushed further if it was because they thought Awami League would not win the polls, Bangladesh’s first air chief said “there were financial constraints … I was suffering from psychological problems.”Told they he had number of properties in price locations to support them financially, Mrs. Khandakar complained that instead of 15 kathas for their three children, they got five kathas in Purbachal. The former minister was given a plot on “special consideration” in Mirpur Defence Officers Housing Society (DOHS) and now stayed in their own home in Uttara, part of which has been turned into commercial purposes.
Both he and his wife wanted to meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to “personally apologize to her.”
Told why they did not meet the prime minister earlier, Farida Khandkar said “we do not know how to arrange a meeting with her.” Pressed further that they could have told officials who had worked earlier with her husband or friends, she only said “they had left … you help us.”
But that may be a far cry as freedom fighters, politicians and people in general binned his apology to Bangabandhu’s departed soul and the people of Bangladesh for distorting the most important part of the country’s history.
HT Imam, the prime minister’s political advisor, told this correspondent in one line that “it is a closed matter … he had time to do so before, but did not.”
But an influential ruling Awami League member of parliament, asking not to be named, added that “He put Liberation War in question and that is unforgivable. He has to die with this stigma.”
Haroon Habib, secretary general of the Sector Commanders’ Forum, which groups 1971 war veterans, told the daily sun that “soon after the publication of the book, which he wrote in complete secrecy, we gave him time and seek forgiveness. We cannot accept such distortion of history.”
It was, Habib added was “a conspiracy to destroy the very foundation of Bangladesh’s proud history and to establish a narration of history by Pakistan and pro-Pakistanis in Bangladesh.”
“It has done great damage …. It is very unbecoming of a man who fought the Bangladesh war, but he has lot more.”
Retired Squadron Leader Badiul Alam, who got double state honours of Bir Uttam and Independence Award, said he was in the group which was led by another air force officer, Squadron Leader Quader, and also ended Khandkaw in May, 1971. “I visited him soon after the book controversy … I have a feeling he did not write the most controversial part as we know him as a man of principle,” he told the daily sun, adding that “he might have been badly hoodwinked (by the publisher), but I cannot vouch for him.”
Khandakar started writing his controversial book as a sitting minister in Sheikh Hasina’s cabinet in his official residence at Hare Road. But it was kept a closely guarded secret until the time it was published, which too raised many questions about the misinformation included and not doing any research for such a subject as well as a man of his stature if his memory had not betrayed him.
“A young dubious man named ‘Mizan’ used to take my dictation and maybe he inserted it as I was later told that he belonged to (Islami Chatra) Shibir … No, I do not know where he is now.” Shibir is the notorious student wing of the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami party.
He blamed Prothoma and Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman for not doing the required editing before publication. “Dr. Zafrullah (of Ganasastho Kendro) and politician Moidul Hasan later tore up the paper on which I wrote the correction … they wanted me to ignore the matter,” the former air force chief told the daily Sun.
Government insiders told this correspondent that “if you look at his background from 1971 to 1975 you will see he actually did not accept Bangabandhu’s leadership or believe in Bangladesh..
Khandakar made a correction soon after it was published by the Prothoma, a sister concern of the Prothom Alo daily known for its critical stand on the doings of the ruling Awami League government, but again wrote Bangabandhu ended his speech with ”Joy Bangla” and “Joy Pakistan.”
Historians said Khandaker in fact stuck to his original and only added “Joy Bangla” with “Joy Pakistan.” Bangabandhu had made it clear that East Pakistan was heading towards becoming an independent country, saying in that very speech: “The struggle this time is for emancipation. The struggle this time is for independence. Joy Bangla!”
“I don’t think that the Liberation War was triggered by this speech by Bangabandhu. The last words of this speech were, ‘Joy Bangla! Joy Pakistan!’” Khandker wrote on page 32 of the first edition of his book published in 2014.
“This information was false and included in my book. I accept responsibility for this …. And Bangabandhu did not utter the words ‘Joy Pakistan’ in his March 7 speech. He did not mention the two words in his speech,” Khandaker told the press recently after remaining silent for more than four years.
Khandaker’s track record is interesting —- this is for the first time in his life that he is not only out of power and out of grace, but also abandoned by all. “Nobody from the government contacted us after he apologized … everybody stopped coming since the book’s controversy … we are leaving a quite life,” his wife said. He was not killed or arrested by the Pakistani army who gave him leave TWICE during the war. He moved around freely between his residence in Dhaka Cantonment and his sister’s residence in the Azimpur area in Dhaka during 1971 and crossed the border to India in at the end of May, 1971 along with others.
He was known as the “Gentleman of the Air Force” during the Pakistan time, declared his support to the Khandker Mushtaque Ahmed’s government after Bangabandhu’s 1975 assassination, took up ambassadorship under Ziaur Rahman’s military rule (1976-1982) and quickly became former military ruler HM Ershad’s envoy to India (1982-1986), when he first became his advisor and later held the important planning minister portfolio. In 1996 he won election with an AWami League ticket and returned as a law maker in 2008 to become Sheikh Hasina’s planning minister.
Meanwhile, Prothoma Prokashoni reportedly took the book off the shelves a day after Khandaker apologized.