Wednesday, 5 October, 2022

Straight Talk

The Tragedies of August

Abdul Mannan

Every year the month of August comes in this country with two big tragedies and these tragedies shook the basic core of the nation; one happened in 1975 and the other one in 2004. On 15 August 1975 Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with all his family members numbering 17 were brutally murdered in their family homes and on 21 August 2004 at least fourteen grenades were lobbed at a public rally held in front of Awami League’s party office at Bangabandhu Avenue to kill Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina, then Leader of Opposition in the National Parliament, along with the all senior party leaders. Only luck would save her and that too because the party workers put their life at stake to save their leader. However 24 party workers and leaders were killed on that fateful day while at least 300 were grievously injured, some maimed permanently. Such sacrifice in politics is rare and unparalleled.  The roots of the two tragic incidents virtually had their roots in the same origin.

Forty-seven years back on August 15 hell broke loose when Bangabandhu and his extended family members were brutally murdered by a group of assassins led by a close political associate of Bangabandhu and a very senior Awami League leader, Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad. The assassins included Army personnel like Col. Abdur Rashid, Col. Farook Rahman, Major Shariful Hoque Dalim, Lt. Col. Aziz Pasha, Major Noor Chowdhury, Major Shahriar Rashid, Major Bazlul Huda, Captain Kismat Hossain and few others. The entire plot to assassinate the then President Bangabandhu was made known to the serving Deputy Army Chief General Zia in the month of March. The post of Deputy Army Chief was created by Bangabandhu just for Zia as he could not be accommodated as the Army Chief as per the desire of Zia and he was the first and last person to have occupied that post. Both Zia and his wife Khaleda Zia were considered as family members of Bangabandhu and he would often term them as his son and daughter. As a servant of the Republic it was an honour bound duty of Zia to inform his senior officers about the conspiracy but he refrained from doing anything of the sort as he had other personal plans and ambitions.

Preceding the August 15 mayhem for about a year or two the critics of Bangabandhu meticulously prepared the ground for such a mayhem. It all began with the creation of a political party JSD, formed by a breakaway group of young romantic revolutionaries, virtually all belonging to Awami League and Chhatra League. They were also helped by Maulana Bhashani’s NAP. To make things easy for such political parties those who opposed the liberation of Bangladesh, the ultra-lefts and ultra-rights found their safe berth in these political parties at a time when Bangabandhu was struggling to rebuild the war ravaged country. Along this nexus appeared one daily, ‘Gonokonto’ and two weekly  newspapers  ‘Holiday ‘and ‘Hoq Katha’ that would continuously spread rumours, lies and half-truths to defame the rule of Bangabandhu at  a very difficult time. ‘Gonkontho’ would preach the doctrine of JSD, the so called ‘Scientific Socialism’ while the two weeklies spread all sorts of concocted stories as desired by Maulana Bhashani, a person whom Bangabandhu respected as one of his political Gurus. Incidentally Maulana Bhashani was the founding President of Awami League. Not only Maulana Bhashani, few other retired army officers and media personnel also joined the bandwagon to defame Bangabandhu and his government. The only motive was to incite the public against Bangabandhu and his government.

After the killing of Bangabandhu and his entire family excepting his two daughters, the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her younger sister Sheikh Rehana who were travelling in Europe at that time Khondakar Mostaq assumed the post of Presidency though the Vice-president Syed Nazrul Islam was very much alive.  Zia, the Deputy Army Chief, was made the Army Chief and 83 days later Khondakar Mostaq was booted out and in his place first Chief Justice of Bangladesh Justice A S M Sayem was made the lame duck President while all the policy decisions were made by Zia who became the de facto President of Bangladesh and the Chief Martial Law Administrator. Zia was cunning and shrewd besides being highly ambitious and before he booted out Mostaq he made him promulgate a Presidential Ordinance indemnifying the killers of August 15, prohibiting any trial for their crimes on that day which subsequently was incorporated in the Constitution, making it a part of the Constitution.  Later Zia posted all the killers in diplomatic missions abroad. Some even got promotions. Taking advantage of his position Zia floated the much touted political party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and became its Chairman. On April 2, 1977 he threw out Justice Sayem from his post as the President and seized the state power.  He even ran for a sham Presidential election while he held the post of Chief Martial Law Administrator, disregarding his constitutional obligations. He changed the Constitution, dropped one of the four pillars of the Constitution ‘Secularism’ and allowed all constitutionally banned religion based fundamentalist political parties to resume their political activities. Zia during his tenure virtually turned Bangladesh into a mini-Pakistan and after his death his wife Begum Zia kept the legacy alive. The killing of Bangabandhu and his family was followed by a period of political darkness. After the assassination of Zia himself in 1981 his Army Chief General Ershad stepped into his shoes and continued the policy his of predecessor. After his fall following a mass upsurge in 1991 the country’s political chemistry stepped into a different phase.

The general election of 1991 saw Begum Zia and her political allies form the government and her subsequent five year rule was uneventful excepting with the help of all political parties in the parliament the rule of the country reverted back to parliamentary form of government to the satisfaction of the people.  During this period of Begum Zia the Parliament also condoled the death of the killer Khondakar Mostaq. The motion for this condolence was brought by a senior member of Begum Zia’s cabinet and close relative of Mostaq. Though Begum Zia tried to prolong her five year rule through dubious means, she did not succeed and 2001 election saw Bangladesh Awami League return to power under the leadership of Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina, 21 years after the assassination of Bangabandhu. During her tenure the most eventful act was repealing of the Indemnity Act in the parliament following which the trial of the killers of August 15 in an open trial court was made possible. 2001 election saw return of BNP-Jamaat alliance again back to power. From 2001 to 2006 the unfinished trial of Bangabandhu’s killers was stalled by Begum Zia’s government.

During 2001-2006 rule of Begum Zia the most condemnable crime took place on August 21, 2004 when at least fourteen grenades were lobbed at a public rally of Awami League as mentioned earlier. It was a clear attempt to kill Sheikh Hasina, then Leader of the Opposition in the parliament. No creditable investigation was possible during the rule of Begum Zia and only after her government was compelled to step down and hand over the power to an army backed civilian government on 9 November 2006, did a credible investigation take place. The investigation found the eldest son of Begum Zia, Tarique Rahman, masterminding the heinous crime along with his accomplices namely then State Minister of Home Ministry Lutfuzzaman Babar, Begum Zia’s political advisor Haris Chowdhury, State Minister of Education Abdus Salam Pintu and his brother Maulana Tajuddin and few others. They were assisted by some key senior persons from the government’s ace intelligence agencies. The plan to kill Sheikh Hasina and senior leaders of Awami League was left to the militants of Harkatul Jihad. August 21 grenade attack to kill Sheikh Hasina was a state sponsored terrorism and crime. Those accused for committing this heinous crime were brought for trial before a trial court and those found guilty of committing the crime were convicted and sentenced to different counts of punishment. Tarique Rahman was sentenced to life term imprisonment and currently he is absconding in London. BNP has not only appointed him as the acting Chairperson of the party but also dreams to make him the next Prime Minister of Bangladesh if they win a general election.  This is a shame for any civilized country and if this really happens it will be the beginning of the end of a Bangladesh, for whose creation thirty lakh martyrs gave their lives in 1971.

Currently those involved in the killing of the Father of the Nation and involved in the crime of August 21, 2004 have become active again. Some have infiltrated into the ranks and files of the ruling party. Sheikh Hasina has recently expressed her concern about conspiracy against her. It is not only a concern but from what is currently happening in Bangladesh’s political arena, it is time to become cautious and take all types of pre-emptive measures necessary.  The nation cannot afford another August tragedy.


The writer is an analyst and a commentator