Forty-four years back, at the break of the day on 15 August, 1975, the greatest tragedy in Bangladesh happened when the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was brutally murdered in his own residence at Dhanmondi Road 32 in Dhaka. Along with him were massacred his entire family, numbering seventeen members, by a group of mid-ranking Bangladeshi soldiers, some of whom were even not on active service. Only the two daughters of Bangabandhu, the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her younger sister, escaped the massacre as, at that time, they were living in Germany where Sheikh Hasina’s husband, Dr. Wazed Miah, a renowned nuclear scientist, was there on a research scholarship. Forty-four years later, if one were to objectively analyse the tragedy and ask questions about whether it was possible to prevent it from happening, the answer would be YES, provided that Bangabandhu was not blinded by love for his people.
Throughout his life, Bangabandhu was a leader of the people. He spent thirteen years of the twenty-three years when this country was ruled by Pakistan in prison, fighting for what was right for the people of East Bengal. On at least two occasions he came close to the hangman’s noose.He would always think the people whom he loved so much would never betray him. He forgot the dictum of the great Indian philosopher, Chanakya (3rd century BC): “There is some self-interest behind every friendship. There is no friendship without self-interest. This is a bitter truth.” Chanakya was an advisor to Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Maurya dynasty.
The conspiracy against the liberation of Bangladesh started in Kolkata during the War of Liberation, when on 28th September, 1971, the Foreign Affairs Minister of the Mujibnagar Government (the first government of Bangladesh), sent one Qazi Zahirul Qaiyum, an MP-elect in the 1970 election on an Awami League ticket for Cumilla, to inform the US Consul General in Calcutta that if the US intervened and played a meaningful role in the release of Mujib, the Liberation War could be called off. (Source: Documents released by the US Department of State, 1969-76, and ‘My White House Years’ by Henry Kissinger).
As a co-conspirator, Mushtaque found his Foreign Secretary Mahbub-ul Alam Chashi an active partner in all his misdeeds and conspiracies. He also played a significant role in the tragedy of 15th August, as most of the conspirators’ meetings were held at BARD, Cumilla where Chashi was its DG. Ironically, Chashi died in mysterious circumstances in the deserts of Saudi Arabia in his car. Chashi was honoured with ‘Swadhinata Padak’ (Independence Day Award) by Zia in 1977. Zia was the principal beneficiary of the assassination of Bangabandhu. The State Department considered the views of Mushtaque fatuous and naïve and things did not proceed further. Mushtaque was cunning and shrewd and knew very well if Tajuddin was successful in steering the Liberation War towards victory and creating a new country, Mushtaque would lose importance in the party and also to Bangabandhu.
Immediately after the War was over and Bangabandhu returned home on 10th January 1972, the first cabinet was formed on 12th. Mushtaque lost his post as the Foreign Minister to Abdus Samad Azad and had to be content with the portfolio of Minister of Land Revenue. Mushtaque was not very happy with this change and did not remain idle and began a new conspiracy to unseat Bangabandhu.
Though initially he resigned from his new post and got himself admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital, later he withdrew his resignation letter and became very close to Bangabandhu. For a military coup to happen and a regime to be overthrown usually the conspirators prepare by feeding people with fictitious news and half truths. In Bangladesh, completely devastated by war, Bangabandhu and his government were working to put the country back on its feet. The irony is that perhaps Tajuddin never had the opportunity to brief Bangabandhu about the activities of Mushtaque during the Liberation War. This may have happened as he did not want to create a rift in the party and the cabinet right at the beginning as Tajuddin never believed in the politics of conspiracy. When Tajuddin was later removed from the post of Finance Minister, Mushtaque got closer to Bangabandhu. But Tajuddin always remained loyal to his leader.
Mushtaque's job of removing Bangabandhu was made much easier by the collective conspiracy of Maulana Bhashani’s naïve political rhetoric and activities. While the world was going through a terrible economic recession because of the Arab-Israel war and an oil export embargo put imposed by OPEC member states, it is evident that countries like Bangladesh would suffer the most. The price of essentials rose and the Maulana persuaded the common people that all essentials, including rice, were being smuggled into India which was completely false. To complicate things, some unscrupulous permit and licence holders (in the guise of importers and party workers) began hoarding imported essentials to trade on the misery of people.The ultra-right and ultra-left forces which opposed the creation of Bangladesh rallied under the banner of Maulana’s NAP. Soon Major Jalil, a freedom fighter, Sirajul Alam Khan, A S M Abdur Rob, Abdul Awal, Shahjahan Shiraj and others, all of whom fought in the Liberation War, were indoctrinated into ‘Scientific Socialism’, became romantic revolutionaries and floated the Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) to oppose the regime of Bangabandhu. They launched their own daily newspaper, ‘Gonokontho’, which spread news full of venom against Bangabandhu and his government. ‘Gonokontho’ was in addition to Maulana Bhashani’s ‘Hoqkotha,’ and Enayetullah Khan’s pro-Peking weekly ‘Holiday’. Comrade Abdul Hoq Chairman of the East Pakistan Communist Party, ML, (they did not change their name) on December 16, 1974, wrote to Pakistan’s President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto addressing him as ‘My President’ and wanted money and arms to unseat Bangabandhu. Bhutto directed one of his confidants to give all assistance to Abdul Hoq. On the other hand, Mushtaque with all his conspirators regularly met at BARD, adding detail to the plans and also establishing contact with the Army through Col. Khandokar Abdur Rashid, a close relative of Mushtaque and Col Faruk Rahman, brother-in-law of Col. Rashid. After the killing of Bangabandhu Zia gave all the killers prized diplomatic posting abroad and sent them away and to justify the killings of 15 August. Zia also incorporated the infamous ‘Indemnity Clause’ in the Constitution through Fifth Amendment.
Rashid and Faruk came back to Bangladesh during the regime of Ershad and floated the Freedom Party. Faruk contested the Presidential election against Ershad while Rashid contested the sham election of 15 February 1996, orchestrated by Begum Zia, and became an MP. Col Rashid was also condemned to death for the assassination of Bangabandhu and his family and he still remains a fugitive, though Faruk walked the gallows. The conspirators found the Deputy Chief of Staff of Bangladesh Army General Zia a willing accomplice in the conspiracy. The post of Deputy Chief of Staff was created by Bangabandhu especially for Zia. He loved him as his son.
By the end of 1974 the writing was very much on the wall that something heinous was being planned against Bangabandhu and his government. Only Bangabandhu refused to read it. At one point, his loyal colleague Tajuddin warned him about the impending danger but the result was the same: Bangabandhu was blinded by the love for his people.
However, every move of the conspirators was closely monitored by India’s ace intelligence agency, RAW. Through informal channels, RAW sent warning messages to Bangabandhu a number of times but failed to convince him that a heinous conspiracy was being hatched against him. In the meantime, Rashid and Faruk met Zia as early as March with a complete plan to remove Mujib. Zia gave them a patient hearing and a green signal but, as an opportunist, said he would not be directly involved. Coincidentally in March of 1975 Zia’s service was placed at the disposal of the Foreign Ministry for an overseas posting as an ambassador. Through an Awami League politician who was also close to Bangabandhu, he met him and expressed his desire to continue as a professional soldier and also pledged complete loyalty towards Mujib. As desired Zia’s posting order to Foreign Ministry was cancelled. If the decision would have been otherwise, perhaps the history would have been different.
By the end of December of 1974, the entire security machinery of Bangabandhu was taken over by army personnel repatriated from Pakistan or by those who fought against the Mukti Bahini in 1971 on the side of Pakistan occupation forces. Most of them served in the units of Rashid or Faruk. At least two senior RAW officials met Bangabandhu as late as March 1975 and gave him all the details of the conspiracy including the names of the masterminds but again Mujib remained unmoved. His only comment was ‘They are all my sons. They will never harm me.’ Finally the ‘sons’ struck on the fateful dawn of 15th August 1975.
Now going back to the events following the liberation of Bangladesh till the tragedy of 1975, it is evident that if only Bangabandhu had been a little bit careful and heeded the warnings he received from the intelligence and other sources, perhaps the nation would not have been observing the National Mourning Day. The assassins not only killed the Father of the Nation, they also tried to bury Bangladesh in a coffin, never to be resurrected.
I will finish today’s commentary by narrating a story I picked from social media. A young lady had a pet python. The python even shared her bed. One day she found that the python had stopped eating anything and would often spend the night wrapped around her. The python got weak. The lady took the python to a doctor. After examining the python the doctor asked the lady ‘does the python share your bed.’ The lady answered ‘yes’. ‘Does the python come close to your body?’ the doctor asked. Again the lady answered ‘yes’ and added that it also spent some nights wrapped around her. The doctor then said ‘the python is trying to measure you and assess if there will be enough room in her stomach when she eats you.’ He asked the lady to get rid of the python.
Mushtaque, Zia, Chashi, Rashid, Major Dalim (a regular visitor at Bangabandhu’s residence) and many others played the role of the python. Today there are more Mushtaques and many pythons in the political field and many of them will strike at the first moment. People who loved Bangabandhu love his daughter Sheikh Hasina as well and expect that she will not make the same mistakes as her father did. She owes it to the nation. Her father paid too costly a price. The nation cannot afford another price like that.
The writer is an analyst and a commentator. Currently he teaches at ULAB.