The personal is political | The star of the day

As individuals, we can probably offer our deepest empathy to a daughter for the personal loss of her father. The pain is deep and no words can heal it. But as a nation, we must internalize the loss to understand its significance in our national and political history.


As individuals, we can probably offer our deepest empathy to a daughter for the personal loss of her father. The pain is deep and no words can heal it. But as a nation, we must internalize the loss to understand its significance in our national and political history.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated 47 years ago. Today, five-sixths of the population of Bangladesh is under 50 years old. A good majority of the country therefore has no direct memory of the massacre that took place at dawn on August 15, 1975, when the father of the nation and most of his family members were brutally killed in a coup of state. Only her two daughters, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, survived the attack as they were in Europe at the time. The sisters lived through this traumatic experience and relived it while pursuing a protracted quest for justice in the decades to come.

The personal grief never faded for the grieving girls. In a moving and heartbreaking article, titled “My Father Sheikh Mujib”, written for the centenary volume: Voice of Millions, youngest daughter Sheikh Rehana reflects on the death of her father. She writes: “I wonder what was going through my dad’s head as he fell down the stairs after being hit by the bullets! Did he ever even think about the two girls he was leaving behind? him? Where they were! How they would live Or did he think: is this the reward for the struggles that I led to end the miseries of the people of the earth, to bring smiles into their lives and to liberate the earth? Or n didn’t he have enough time to think about any of this?” (p. 132).

As individuals, we can probably offer our deepest empathy to a daughter for the personal loss of her father. The pain is deep and no words can heal it. But as a nation, we must internalize the loss to understand its significance in our national and political history. After all, the man who suffered the tragic circumstances is more than the father of Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana or their other siblings; he is the father of the nation who envisioned a nation state, promoting Bengali as the common language of East Bengal for its cultural manifestations and national identity. It was he who, through his six-point demand, made us believe that only regional autonomy would allow us to guarantee our national identity and put an end to systemic state repressions in West Pakistan. He is our national hero who prepared us for the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom of our homeland, Bangladesh. The terrible murder is more than a personal story. It is a day that can never and must not be forgotten because it is a day that changed history. It was a day that stripped the constitution of its founding principles, including socialist democracy and secularism.

The assassins and their accomplices did their best to erase the crime from public memory. They almost succeeded because successive generations did not have access to the details of the action of the renegade officers of the army. It was only during Bangabandhu’s lengthy murder trial that many previously undiscussed issues came to the fore. With hindsight, we now know much more about the coup, the parties involved, their heirs, their local and international patrons. Those involved in the propaganda machinery to vilify Bangabandhu to justify the heinous murder have only helped us uncover the mystery.

The irony is that Bangabandhu was killed by people he trusted the most. Call it a tragic flaw, but it was his immense faith in his people that caused him to not only slack off his security, like living in a regular residential area, but also ignore the information he had through various agencies. Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi has repeatedly warned Bangabandhu of the threats to his life, asking him to ensure rock-solid security. His men in the field could sense that there were conspirators who were using public dissatisfaction with food shortages and rising prices of basic necessities in a war-ravaged country as an excuse to launch an attack on His boss. Bangabandhu’s attempt to establish order in a post-war society where corruption loomed large through restrictions and centralization of political activities created strong polarization and fragmentation. Part of the opposition political activists were driven by revolutionary zeal because they believed that freedom was incomplete in tandem with the Chinese model. Then there were the Islamic leaders who described the creation of Bangladesh as a weakening of Islam in the region. Many of these agents connected with different international players who interpreted Pakistan’s secession to their liking. India’s growing influence over Bangladesh was a major cause; the vendetta of the vanquished factions remained another. India’s military, humanitarian and diplomatic aid during the nine-month long war of liberation; Soviet veto to stop a UN resolution on “an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of Indian and Pakistani forces to their own sides of the border”; China’s tacit support for Pakistan as it aimed for a US-China bond made Mujib a central figure in the Cold War. The freedom he won for his people proved to be a game changer. Mujib, as a political figure, was both hated and loved, but could not be ignored. No wonder Cuban leader Fidel Castro compared Mujib to the Himalayas he had never seen; Castro also told Mujib that his defense of socialism may have invited a bullet.

One can only wonder why a seasoned politician Mujib ignored all these warning signs. Why didn’t he pay attention to healing himself? This is the same man who chronicled the power dynamics in Congo in his notebooks he kept during his days in Dhaka prison. In 1966, before a general strike called to pressure East Pakistan’s regional autonomy, he was surprised to find that the prison authority, under the instruction of the intelligence branch, sullied all the unrest news . Left with a heavily censored newspaper, he wonders about the consequences of political assassination in Central Africa. Bangabandhu writes: “What a country, what a policy! Those who had been behind Lumumba’s assassination had, in the end, lost their lives on the gallows. In the Congo, one of their prime ministers and four others who had been ministers were hanged in public. with 20,000 onlookers. Imperialism was already playing its game of chess in the Congo. The path that General Mobutu had chosen was strewn with thorns. Blood demands blood, this is a truth that no one should forget. One can always differ in opinions and methods. ; it should not be used as a pretext to collude against the opposition party and kill those who hold different opinions; it is a dangerous game. Many have suffered the consequences of such sin. (DP 41-42).

In prison, he felt powerless as many Bengali opposition parties collaborated with Ayub Khan, which hampered his demand for autonomy. In this regard, he recalled how the last Sultan of Bengal Daud Khan Karrani was betrayed by his ministers which allowed the Mughals to take control of Bengal. It was nearly 200 years before Siraj-ud-Doula met a similar fate at the Battle of Plassey. He wrote: “Even after the establishment of Pakistan, there was no shortage of men ready to play the role of Quislings. These are people willing to give their all to Pakistan for a small personal gain. There is no shortage of men among us ready to imprison their compatriots or point bullets at the chests of Bengalis fighting for the cause of their country. Bengal is a fertile land of rivers that water its soil; the rich soil yields bountiful crops but there is no lack of it either no more weeds and parasites! I don’t know if this country can be saved from these treacherous collaborators” (PD 93-4).

Bangabandhu’s deep knowledge of history shows that he was well aware of the traitors. Yet, reading Prison Diaries, we cringe in horror when we see him appreciating Khondaker Mostaq Ahmed for his strong beliefs and loyalty. After all, he turned out to be one of the elite players behind the coup. Stranger still, there have been several assassination attempts. According to a 2013 WikiLeaks report, a declassified US document contains a US cable dated May 23, 1975, from the then envoy which notes that an assassination attempt occurred while “Mujib was returning home after visiting a new TV station on the outskirts of Dhaka” on the evening of May 21. On a fatal night before the coup, he was probably discussing the issue of security with his cousin Sheikh Moni during his visit to Dhaka University the following day. He did not know that some army officers had taken control of the armored tanks he had received as a gift from the Egyptian president.

The attackers carried out a carefully planned attack and succeeded in mitigating all possibilities of counterattacks and counterattacks. To this day, August 15 remains a dark day in our national history for its brutality. But it was also a day that killed our essential ideals. This attack is a unique event where the personal becomes the political.

A thorough understanding of the day of mourning is necessary to understand trauma as a society-wide process. Only then can we heal the wounds created by many failures and public evils. By revisiting the causes and consequences of this trauma, we can reintroduce future generations “who never saw Mujib’s murder” to a great man who sacrificed his life in pursuit of Golden Bengali when he was alive, but still more after his death.

The author is the Pro VC and Head of Department of English and Humanities of Bangladesh University of Liberal Arts.

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