Armed forces taken for a ride | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 18, 2014 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:53 AM, March 08, 2015

Armed forces taken for a ride

Armed forces taken for a ride

The army as an institution was in no way involved in the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the overthrow of his government on August 15.

But the killers of August 15 abused the name of the entire armed forces to defend their heinous actions by launching pre-planned propaganda through state-run media.

Immediately after the gruesome murder, it was major Dalim who announced through state-run radio that Sheikh Mujib had been killed and his government overthrown. He described it as an act of the army as a whole. 

As per their plan, the killers took at gun-point the chiefs of the three services -- army, air force and navy -- to the radio station and forced them to extend their support to the changeover at around 11am on the fateful day.

The radio announcement by the chiefs of the three services boosted the morale of the killers -- a band of majors and their aides. The announcement also created confusion in the army, which by then had gone through a breakdown in the chain of command.

Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed, commerce minister in Bangabandhu's government, was in the afternoon sworn in as the new president per courtesy of the killers.


Having seized the presidency, Moshtaque in his address to the nation lauded the role of the "armed forces" in the changeover.

"The armed forces had to come forward since it was not possible to change the governance system as per [constitutional] provisions despite expectation from all quarters of the change," Moshtaque said. He added, "The armed forces have opened the golden gate of possibilities before the nation by performing their duties with utmost sincerity."  

Moshtaque in fact was reading from the script prepared by the killers.

The presidential address set the tune. Propaganda was in full swing in the next day's daily newspapers, four in number, controlled by the killers and their men in the new government.

"The Bangladesh armed forces took over power under the leadership of President Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed in the greater national interest on Friday by overthrowing former President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Sheikh Mujib was killed at his residence during the takeover by the armed forces," said the government-controlled daily Dainik Bangla in the first paragraph of its lead report on August 16.  

The news report was released by the state-owned news agency Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS).

The daily had the eight-column banner headline: "Khandker Moshtaque new President.” The shoulder of the lead report said: “Sheikh Mujib killed: martial law and curfew imposed: armed forces express allegiance.”

It also published a special editorial on the front page under headline "Historic Step", welcoming and appreciating the new regime and its killers.

"A historic transition has begun in national life. The patriotic armed forces took over power under the leadership of seasoned people's leader Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed. Brave soldiers, the custodians of independence, have performed their inevitable duties in the greater national interest," commented the editorial.

Likewise, the Dainik Bangla and the Bangladesh Times, both government-controlled newspapers, had identical first paragraphs: “The armed forces took over power in the greater national interest under the leadership of the President Khondaker Moshtaque Ahmed … ."

The daily Ittefaque and the Bangladesh Observer, the other state run media, ran the same reports on the August 15 gruesome murders and changeover of power.

Like the Dainik Bangla, Ittefaque also published a special editorial on the front page, terming the changeover a "historic new beginning."

The killers, however, were able to abuse the opportunity to control the media thanks to the Bangabandhu government's decision taken a few months before August 15, 1975.

After the formation of the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (Baksal), the Bangabandhu government had allowed only four newspapers and shut down the rest.

The Dainik Bangla and the Bangladesh Times were already state-owned and the government had nationalised in June 1975 the Ittefaq and the Bangladesh Observer.

There was no privately owned newspaper at that time to run independent news reports on the August 15 killings and changeover. And there were no media to tell people the truth.

The nation was, however, told the truth just once after the changeover led by Brig Gen Khaled Mosharraf on November 3. Khandaker Moshtaque was removed from the presidency and then Chief Justice Sayem took office as president on November 6.

In his address to the nation through state-run radio and television, Justice Sayem said: "Some retired and serving military officers killed the then president and his family members through a coup. Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed took over the office of president and declared martial law. In fact, the armed forces had no link with the incident."

But things took a new turn with the November 7 counter coup staged by the followers of General Ziaur Rahman and the Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal.

Gen Zia, who was removed from the post of chief of army staff on November 3, resumed his old job when Khaled Mosharraf's coup collapsed on November 7. Zia began consolidating his position through hectic measures. It was Zia who then led the army in grabbing power.

At the end of November, Gen Zia forced Justice Sayem to hand over to him the office of chief martial law administrator. And on April 21, 1977, army chief Gen Zia forced Justice Sayem to resign from the presidency and he himself became president. Thus, the army under the leadership of Gen Zia finally seized state power.

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