BEGUM Khaleda Zia has once again celebrated her controversial birthday. That is okay. If she is unwilling to respect the nation's sentiments on national mourning day and willing to ignore the tragedy which befell us on 15 August 1975, it is her problem. Her increasingly weighty birthday cake (she is sixty nine if she was indeed born in 1945) is something her acolytes truly enjoy partaking of. So what if Bangabandhu was murdered on that day?
Let the lady enjoy life. Even as she does, though, observe the flippant manner in which she castigates Awami League activists on the question of their fund-raising (she calls it extortion) to observe national mourning day. Those Awami League men, she says, are thus dishonouring their leader. Their leader? Bangabandhu is not Begum Zia's leader? She conveniently forgets the hours and days she tearfully spent at 32 Dhanmondi, waiting for Bangabandhu to help solve her domestic problems. Begum Mujib consoled her, Sheikh Hasina prepared tea for her. And she has forgotten all of that?
Deliberate amnesia is most dangerous. There was a point in the early 1970s when Major General Ziaur Rahman, at a meeting with Bangabandhu (and this we have on good authority from a witness), suddenly told the Father of the Nation that any bullet intended for him would first have to go through him. Well, bullets did strike down Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Zia remained unscathed. For the six years in which he lived after 1975, Zia did all he could to make Bengalis forget that there was indeed someone they honoured as Bangabandhu. That was well-organised amnesia.
And such amnesia happens to affect all those freedom fighters who are today in the 'Bangladeshi nationalist' camp and who go all the way to repudiate their past. And how do they do that? They simply do not talk about the inspiration that came from Bangabandhu when they went to war against Pakistan in 1971. And these BNP-wallahs are not the only ones in whom memory has been fading into a flicker from the luminosity it once used to be. The notorious Khondokar Moshtaque, lucky enough to die three months before Sheikh Hasina led the Awami League to power in 1996, in his final days went on trying to convince anyone willing to listen that he had had nothing to do with Bangabandhu's murder, that indeed Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana were like his daughters. It was a different Moshtaque, a criminal Moshtaque, between 15 August and 3 November 1975.
These days there is a ubiquity of people who have decided to forget their past. On television talk shows, public figures who cheerfully joined Moshtaque's Democratic League after 1975 wax eloquent about the huge damage Sheikh Hasina's government is doing to democracy. Surprisingly, no one asks such people about their Moshtaque connection. Move a little ahead. A number of Bengalis would not defect from the Pakistan foreign service in 1971, for they waited to see which way the winds blew. After Pakistan collapsed, they rushed to Bangabandhu, in London and Geneva, literally fell at his feet asking to be taken into Bangladesh's diplomatic service. These days, they tell you how loyally they served the Bangladesh cause in 1971.
Not too long ago, an excited former BNP lawmaker tried to undermine Bangabandhu through informing the naïve and the ignorant that the Father of the Nation had been accompanied by Shah Azizur Rahman, a Pakistani collaborator and later Zia's prime minister (!), to the Lahore summit of Islamic nations in February 1974. His designs were exposed on television when the man he called Shah Aziz (he had some photographs of Bangabandhu's arrival in Lahore with him) turned out to be Pakistan's President Chaudhry Fazle Elahi. The BNP man did not raise the subject again. But does that matter? When the record (and that includes old newspaper photographs) says General Tikka Khan saluted Bangabandhu at Lahore airport, one of our own informs you the man was not there. How do you deal with this new 'discovery'?
There are other ways in which national history goes through repudiation at the hands of certain elements. Here is a truth: some newspapers persist in addressing Bangabandhu as 'former president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman'. Ironically, on the same page they print advertisements where the late leader is referred to as Father of the Nation and as Bangabandhu. What are these newspapers trying to prove? And don't they realize that their rebellion against history is only drilling holes in their reputations?
History, warts and all, ought not to be pushed aside. The Bangladesh ambassador in Brussels, once he came to know of the violent political change back home on 15 August 1975, would not keep Bangabandhu's daughters (who were in Belgium at the time) at his residence. Bangabandhu had appointed him and he was now turning his back on the children of his murdered leader. It was to be a bold Humayun Rasheed Chowdhury, ambassador in Bonn, who would provide shelter to Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana. Everyone else stayed busy ingratiating himself with the Moshtaque clique.
There are realities we do not forget. Taheruddin Thakur, minister of state for information in Bangabandhu's government, was a never-ending presence beside the Father of the Nation in the final months of the great man's life. No one knew that he and his accomplices were finalizing their plans of eliminating Bangabandhu and his family. At National Security Intelligence, ABS Safdar, trusted by Bangabandhu, turned out to be one of the men who would push the dagger into the nation's leader. And there was Mahbub Alam Chashi, happy to be part of the murderous conspiracy.
It is a matter simple enough: our history and their amnesia. The amnesia needs to handled, ruthlessly.
The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.