Wednesday, 5 October, 2022

August 21: A Dark Day in Our National History

M Nazrul Islam

August is the month in calendar which marks the end of monsoon and onset of autumn. With the change in season, the colour of the sky changes as well. Dark monsoon clouds disappear from the horizon and the sky turns azure. The climate remains pretty favourable and nature gets adorned with various kinds of flowers. But sadly, this bright month of the year represents some of the darkest chapters in Bangladesh’s history.

In this month of August, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed along with most of his family members. In this August, militants made known of their presence by blasting bombs simultaneously in 63 districts of the country during the tenure of BNP-led government. It was on 17 August 2005. One year before, on 21 August 2004, a vicious grenade attack was launched on a rally of then opposition leader and current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Although Hasina narrowly escaped the attack, 24 of her party men, including AL Women Affairs Secretary Ivy Rahman, were killed and hundreds of rally participants injured. The meeting spot was turned into a bloodbath in the blink of an eye. The joyful rally was quickly turned into a heart-rending scene with the wailing and shrikes of the injured. Today is 21 August, a day of sheer dread and nightmare.

Was the grenade attack on Hasina a stray incident? Should we take it as mere political violence?  No, it is nothing like that; but rather its root can be traced back to the carnage of 15 August 1975; and similarly, the incident of 15 August is rooted in 1971.

Therefore, the grenade attack on Sheikh Hasina’s rally was not a stray incident. It was part of an elaborate evil plan to wipe out the pro-liberation forces, which the anti-liberation forces have been trying generation after generation, out of sheer vengeance of defeat in the glorious War of Liberation.

What happened on 21 August, 2004? Awami League was scheduled to hold an anti-terrorism rally in front of the party’s central office on Bangabandhu Avenue in the capital in the evening. The party leaders and activists started turning up at the spot from 4pm. Then leader of the opposition, current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, arrived at about 5pm. She took the stage on an open truck and started her speech. About 20 minutes into her speech, when she was going to announce the start of an anti-terror procession, a series of grenades blasted with deafening sound, sparking panic and absolute chaos all around and leaving dozens of people strewn on the street in a pool of blood, many dead and many injured. The law enforcers, instead of nabbing the criminals and helping the injured people, started lathi charging and firing tear shells into the crowd.

The assailants were targeting Sheikh Hasina, but the leaders and activists of her party formed a human shield around her to save her. At least 13 grenades were thrown from the rooftops of a nearby building. Luckily three of the grenades didn’t blast. The human shield escorted Sheikh Hasina to her vehicle. Several rounds of bullets were fired on her bullet-proof vehicle. Although Hasina narrowly escaped death, the barbaric attack claimed the lives of 24 leaders and activists of Awami League, including wife of late President Zillur Rahman and Mahila Awami League chief Ivy Rahman, and left at least 500 others injured. Many of the victims were so critically wounded that they could never return to normal life.

Meanwhile, the BNP led four-party alliance government neither condemned the dreadful attack, nor allowed the opposition to raise any condolence motion in the parliament on that day. No condolence was allowed. Instead they resorted to various wicked strategies to divert the issue. Unashamedly, BNP even went as far as to blame Sheikh Hasina for the attack on herself. And then the BNP-led government diverted the course of investigation into the attack and made a mockery of justice by filing a law-suit against a vagabond named Joj Mia. However, today it is a proven fact that the four-party alliance government was behind the grenade attack on that day.

Just thinking of the barbaric incident still makes me shudder. In any democratic, free and civilized country, it is unimaginable that such a barbaric incident could happen in broad daylight in the presence of security forces. Did the police stationed in the area make any attempt to arrest the attackers? This question has not been resolved even today. Evidence of the incident was quickly destroyed after the attack.

Moreover, far from being shocked or ashamed after such a demonic attack on the opposition leader's public meeting, the then government blamed the Awami League for the attack, which was in fact a reflection of the country’s shameless political culture. Various attempts were made to divert the investigation of the case. They spoke of taking INTERPOL and Scotland Yard’s help, but it was nothing but eyewash. They literally took no steps to investigate the incident fairly, rather made a vagabond scapegoat. There is no denying that the BNP led four-party government had turned the country into a haven for terrorists.

However, once Awami League came to power, the government ordered a re-investigation into the incident. Today it is crystal clear that the high-ups of the then government were involved in the attack. Sheikh Hasina’s political rivals always envied her popularity and tried to annihilate her by hook or by crook. Apart from the grenade attack, several other attempts were made on her life, including the plantation of a 76-kg bomb on her rally site. Therefore, the incident of August 21, 2004 was not an isolated incident. It was in fact a part of the blueprint of the evil nexus of anti-liberation forces and her political rivals.

We say that August is the month of mourning. But August is not only a month of mourning, but also a month of turning our grief into strength. So, today we have to take a renewed vow to uproot the militants and their patrons. Those so-called blood-thirsty politicians can never be trusted. We must keep in mind that those who patronize militancy will never change their character. Evil can never hide its ugly face. Therefore, let us take a vow today to break the back of the evil nexus of anti-liberation forces, communalism and political murderers, so that we can shape a brighter future for Bangladesh.


The writer is the President of All European Awami League and expatriate journalist from Austria