COULD WE HAVE SAVED BANGABANDHU?
40 years later, the nation is still haunted by the man’s assassination
Our eighth grade English teacher at Faujdarhat Cadet College, Mr Sufiur Rahman, on August 15, 1975, wrote on the blackboard: “Bangladesh President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has been killed in the early hours, today.”
We didn’t know how to react to this. It was just information to most of us. The next day, some of us saw that President Sheikh Mujib’s portrait had been withdrawn from our dining hall. Were we too bothered? Not really.
Exactly 10 years later, in August 1985, I was invited to attend the 12th Student Youth Festival in Moscow. While attending the program, we were taken to visit some of the local families there. An old lady from one of the families in the Moscow suburb asked me, in Russian (translated by her daughter to us): “Mujib gave you Bangladesh and you killed him?” Apparently, the old lady’s son had lost his life while clearing mines at the Karnaphuli Harbour at the Chittagong port.
And that was the beginning of my studies into Sheikh Mujib, our beloved Bangabandhu — the founder of an independent state for his people, the state of Bangladesh. I have read a few books written by Abul Fazal and Dr Mohammad Farash Uddin, as well as many articles written by Dr Moshiur Rahman, Tofael Ahmed, Badruddin Umar, and even our premier Sheikh Hasina.
I have spent several hours with Dr Mashiur Rahman, Dr Mohammad Farshuddin, Mirza Azizul Islam, the late secretary Rezaul Hayat — all of whom had been associated with Sheikh Mujib. I have heard Dr Akbar Ali Khan, Professor Salahuddin Ahmed, and Professor Rehman Sobhan speak on Bangabandhu as well.
I interacted with an armed forces official from my cadet college, who was responsible for Bangabandhu’s security at that time. We discussed quite a few things: Why could we not save Bangabandhu from being brutally killed? What would have happened if Tajuddin Ahmad was the PM and General Ziaur Rahman the chief of army staff?
Could Mujib have predicted that he was going to be killed? I was told that Bangabandhu trusted his people a lot. He could never believe that someone from Bangladesh could ever point a gun at him. Indian intelligence had also failed. There were murmurs that they had cautioned Sheikh Shaheb, but he didn’t listen. What were the armed forces seniors of that time doing? What were the intelligence seniors doing? We don’t have any answers, other than seeing the mud-slinging that started between General Safiullah and a ruling AL stalwart.
Even AL seniors are not sure if they did their best to save and protect Bangabandhu and his family members. In fact, some of them outright betrayed Bangabandhu and joined the killers themselves.
But how did it come to this? Why was Mujib killed? There are no good reasons. I am told by many JSD seniors that: “Mujib was becoming too autocratic during his last days.” A history professor at Dhaka University told me: “Mujib was facing too much hostility from the international community as well as his party stalwarts. He didn’t know what to do. Some of his trusted lieutenants advised him to seize absolute power and form BKSAL, and that was the end of it.”
I remember someone telling me: “Mujib listened too much to his nephew Fazlul Haque Moni, and that was what forced him to go for the political harakiri.” Many citizens also chimed in, saying: “His people were making Mujib unpopular during those days. Most of his party men were arrogant and corrupt, eating into the trust of the common people. The common people were feeling the heat, they had nowhere to go, and justice was denied to them.”
“A few disgruntled armed forces officials took advantage of Mujib’s unpopularity and weak security arrangement,” they further speculated.
Bangabandhu was a towering yet soft personality, he was committed to the well-being of his country-men. He was a simple man, a real down-to-earth individual. I have heard from many retired civil servants and armed forces seniors who were close to him and his family how much of a great soul he was, along with his wife, Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib. Apparently, Begum Fazilatunnesa never allowed anyone to leave her house without being properly fed.
When we teach our management class, we always make it a point to mention Mujib’s qualities as a charismatic leader, and exemplify his March 7 address as the perfect example of the oratory of a situational leader. Many freedom fighter relatives of mine tell me how the “Shunore ekti Mujiborer theke lokkho Mujiborer kontho” song played on Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra moved them during the Liberation War.
Mujib was a true leader, yet, not beyond the limitations of your average Bangali. He had too much of emotion. He did not or could not control his political followers. He let others besmirch his good name.
Ultimately, I agree with the Moscow lady — there can never be a good enough reason to justify killing a president, the Founding Father of Bangladesh. No reason is ever a good enough reason to kill any person. If he really was unpopular, it should have been left to the people to oust him via the ballot box.
The good part is, Mujib has become more popular after his death. A lot of our youths are eager to study Mujib and his philosophy now. They want to know more about the individual, the statesman, and the driving force behind our liberation. No matter who says what, Mujib will live on forever in the history of Bangladesh. He was truly larger than life.
AUGUST 20, 2015