This year August 15 marks the 42nd martyrdom of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sk. Mujibur Rahman.
Not only he was assassinated in the early morning of August 15, his entire family excepting his two daughters, Sk. Hasina and Sk. Rehana was murdered that day by a group of soldiers many of whom were found to be infiltrators in the rank and file of Mukti Bahini in 1971. In reality they all had a hidden agenda of back stabbing the Liberation War, either during or after the war. They did not work alone but found some shrewd, cunning and willing accomplices in the leadership of Awami League and the bureaucracy who were overtly involved in the War of Liberation. They were led by the close associates of the Father of the Nation like Khondakar Mushtaque, Jahirul Qayum, Taher Uddin Thakur and Chashi Nazrul Islam.
Khondakar Mushtaque even offered to negotiate a settlement with Pakistan to call off the Liberation War in the month of September of 1971 through the US Consul General stationed in Calcutta. Once the country was liberated and Bangabandhu returned to Bangladesh from the prison of Pakistan on January 10, 1972 many of the conspiratorial moves made by the conspirators of 1971 was forgotten and the Awami League leadership which formed the government on January 12 devoted their entire time and effort in rebuilding the war torn nation, never realising that the conspirators were active and working covertly from within the government not only to unseat the Bangabandhu government but also to assassinate him. In the hindsight many would like to think could August 15 be avoided? The answer perhaps is YES provided the then government took some unpopular decisions. Seeking unnecessary and impractical popularity sometimes can be very costly; the killing of the Father of the Nation is a good example.
The prisoners of war, numbering about 90,000 men belonging to the Pakistan army who returned to Pakistan after their defeat in the hands of the Mukti Bahini, Bangladesh Forces and the Indian Army were all sent on retirement. But the Bangalee army officers and jawans who were trapped in Pakistan not only returned to Bangladesh but they were also integrated in the Bangladesh army, who fought in our Liberation War. Understandably, many of them were interned or jailed along with their family members in Pakistan but there were a sizeable number of them fought alongside of Pakistan Army in Bangladesh and in western border of India till the month of September-October of 1971. Most of them owed their allegiance towards Pakistan and not Bangladesh. To make things a bit complicated and uncomfortable the returnees found themselves junior to the Mukti Bahini officers by two years as new government gave every government officials including the army who participated in the Liberation War, two years seniority in their job. The returnees could have been absorbed into other government services after giving them an early retirement. The conspirators moved professionally and silently taking advantage of the laid back approach of the new government vis-à-vis the security of Bangabandhu and the state machinery. Mistakenly the new government perceived that every citizen of Bangladesh irrespective of political beliefs will be loyal to Bangabandhu and his government. The assumption was totally wrong.
To begin with those who did not believe in the concept of independent Bangladesh and Bangalee nationalism took shelter under the umbrella of Maulana Bhashani’s NAP.
They included the ultra left and ultra right, including many members of Jamaat-e-Islami, Muslim League and other anti rag-tag politicians and their followers. Soon JSD was formed by breakaway faction of Awami League and Chhatra League workers and leaders, led by Freedom Fighters like Major Jalil, Col. Taher, Serajul Alam Khan, A S M Abdur Rab, Shahjahan Shiraj, A F M Mahbubul Hoque and others. Till and after the liberation of Bangladesh they were very loyal to Bangabandhu and his ideals but soon found themselves indoctrinated into a new ideological doctrine, the ‘Scientific Socialism’. Many young and talented workers from Awami League joined JSD and wanted a revolutionary change in the running of the state. In fact they turned out to be romantic revolutionaries but were instrumental in staging many subversive activities. They radicalised many youths, formed their own armed wing the ‘gono bahini’ to unsettle the Bangabandhu government.
Comrade Abdul Hoque of East Pakistan Communist Party (M-L) wrote to Pakistan’s Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto on December 16, 1973 to supply him arms, radio transmitters and money to over throw Bangabandhu government. Bhutto deputed his close aid Mahmud Ali and Maulana Kawsar Niazi to help Abdul Hoque and to drum up anti Bangladesh feeling in the Arab countries. All these anti state activities not only went unnoticed by the intelligence agencies of Bangladesh but even the government was not able to anticipate the negative impact that might result due to all such developments happening the political arena of the country. In a silent move the conspirators managed to put in all key places of the government their own men, including those entrusted with the security of the President Bangabandhu Sk. Mujibur Rahman. Mujib, truly a people’s leader could never disassociate himself from the masses even after he became the Prime Minster or the President of the new republic. He never moved to the official residence of the Prime Minister, Gonobhaban or the Presidential palace, the Bangabhaban. Instead he felt comfortable staying in his own residence the current Bangabandhu Bhaban at Dhanmondi Road No: 32 which lacked minimum security.
Major General S S Uban, PVSM, AVSM, Head of Special Frontier Force of the Indian Army who fought alongside Mukti Bahini and Bangladeshi forces in the Chittagong Hill Tracts Sector visited Bangladesh in 1973 at the request of Bangabandhu to advice him about the para-military Rakkhi Bahini (comprised of freedom fighters who lacked the physical features to join the regular army) wrote in his book “Phantoms of Chittagong - The Fifth Army” that Bangabandhu’s residence practically had no security. Anyone and everyone had easy access to his residence at any time of the day. He thought this was not right and pointed it out to Bangabandhu. In reply he said “I am the Father of the Nation. Every person has the right to come to me whether it is during the day or night. I cannot close my door to someone who may be in distress.” Uban was not convinced. He wrote that Tofail Ahmed who was the political secretary of Mujib sometimes felt frustrated about this. Uban continues and writes “popular leaders perhaps take risk but the extent to which Mujib took the risk not many people will dare to do so.” (Translation from a Bengali version of the book.)
Mahbubul Alam Chashi who was the then DG of BARD in Comilla frequently hosted the conspirators in BARD where they planned August 15 coup. Khondakar Mushtaque who hailed from Daudkandi in Comilla regularly attended the meeting of the conspirators along with Taheruddin Thakur. Col Farukh, one of the killers who participated in the mayhem of August 15 met General Zia (founder of BNP) the Deputy Chief of Army Staff in March of 1975 and discussed with him all the plans. Zia told them to go ahead with their plan but he himself cannot take direct part in the planned coup. It was Zia who emerged the main beneficiary of the killing of the Father of the Nation.
Bangabandhu placed the services of Zia at the disposal of Ministry of Foreign Affairs in March. He was destined to take up an ambassadorial position soon. But through some Awami League leaders he managed to convince Bangabandhu to cancel the order and said that he wanted to retire as a professional soldier. Bangabandhu believed him and the order was cancelled.
R K Yadav, former R&AW Officer (Indian external intelligence) in his book ‘Mission R&AW’ writes “R&AW was closely keeping tab on all these developments in Bangladesh through its sources in various departments. R&AW received advance information of the conspiracy against Sheikh Mujibur Rahman which was hatched by some disgruntled junior officers in the units of artillery and cavalry. R.N. Kao (the key person of R&AW) personally informed this fact to the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ad mentioned that these reports had been received through a very delicately placed source whose identity had to be kept secret at all cost. With her approval, Kao personally went to Dakha in December 1974. He met Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the Bangabhaban and requested him to come out for a little stroll in the garden. When they were out of ear-shot, Kao conveyed to him the information which R&AW had received about the danger to his life. Sheikh Mujib was euphoric at time and waving his arm said, “These are my own children; they will not harm me.” R.N. Kao did not enter into any argument with Mujib beyond saying that the information was reliable.” R&AW sent another of their operative in March 1975 to Dhaka. This operative gave Mujib exact details of the units and ranks of the serving and dismissed (some killers were dismissed from the army) who were planning a coup against Mujib but unfortunately Bangabandhu never took these warning seriously. If he believed in the information supplied to him by R&AW history would perhaps be different. Not only R&AW but the newly formed Defence Intelligence sources in Bangladesh sent a written note to Bangabandhu about the impeding danger but the note fell into the wrong hands.
The failure of the Army Chief General Shafiullah who very much resided within the Dhaka cantonment in anticipating the motive of the movements of the tanks and troops from inside the Dhaka cantonment on the fateful night cannot be forgiven. Why the Rakkhi Bahini which was stationed in Savar did not make a move when the Father of the Nation was killed still remains a mystery? Many would like to see the killing of the Father of the Nation and his family as a divine decision. But all indications show that it was the love of the people by Bangabandhu that sealed his fate. He loved his people too much not realising that conspiracy and intrigue has successfully survived in history over centuries.
Deep respect to the martyrs of 1975!
The writer is an analyst and a commentator.