The shadow of November 7, 1975 | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, November 10, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, November 10, 2009

The shadow of November 7, 1975

THE previous army-backed caretaker government struck off November 7, observed as revolution and national solidarity day by BNP, from the calendar of government holidays, but it is not understood how BNP can claim the glory, if any, of the occasion.
Many questions regarding the concatenation of unfolding bizarre events -- from the assassination of President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975, to assumption of presidency by Khandaker Mushtaq, the replacement of Major General Shafiullah as army chief by Ziaur Rahman on August 23, the counter-coup by Brig. Khaled Musharraf on November 2 by taking over as army chief, the jail killing of 4 Awami league leaders on midnight November 3, hours prior to the safe passage out of the country of the majors and captains involved in the coup of August 15, the soldier-people uprising masterminded and led by Col. Taher on November 7, followed by the killing of Khaled Musharraf, release of Ziaur Rahman from house detention by Col. Taher and finally the resumption of the post of chief of army staff by Ziaur Rahman on November 7, Col. Taher's arrest and execution one year later on charge of causing instability and disaffection in the army -- are shrouded in mystery. It remains for future historians to unravel the truth.
One thing, however, is certain to those of us who were distant witnesses to those events. Ziaur Rahman was no author of the so-called revolution and national solidarity day, but he seems to have reaped the harvest of those momentous events ofAugust 15 to November 7. Ziaur Rahman seems to have taken the leadership on November 7 by taking the wind out of the sails of Col. Taher, out maneuvering him. Khaled Musharraf got eliminated in a classic ruthless drama of power struggle.
BNP, in essence, has been celebrating November 7 as the day of the ascendancy to power by Ziaur Rahman by masquerading under the so-called sepoy-people revolution and national solidarity day
Khaled Musharraf, may be out of ambition for power, tried to end the grave danger and deep uncertainty of the long nightmare of siege and stand-off from August 15 to November 2 by the coup of the majors and captains, safely anchored in Banga Bhaban and defended by armoured tanks, by bargaining their safe dispatch out of the country without risking a bloody military confrontation.
The chief of the army, Ziaur Rahman, remained a mute spectator, without the least resistance and reprisal against the criminal indiscipline and unlawful authority of those few recalcitrant army officers during those dire and dreadful days.
Bangladesh is still wrestling with the shadow of the momentous events of November 1975, which marked the beginning of a dark chapter of Bangladesh history under prolonged military rule with brief interludes of quasi-democratic dispensations. There was a distinct shift of emphasis in its domestic and foreign policy.
Democracy, secularism and regulated command economy gave way to authoritarian rule, political Islam, laissez faire liberalised free-market economy glorifying the virtues of globalisation without the least concern for equitable social justice, insatiable greed and unbridled corruption of the entrenched rich and powerful business and bureaucratic vested interests.
There was significant cooling of relations with the Soviet Union and India, warmer relations with Pakistan and increasing bonhomie with the West, particularly America. Clearly the casualty was the spirit and inspiration of the liberation war.
Ziaur Rahman, as president, passed an ordinance granting indemnity to the killers. Not only that, he also rewarded the self-confessed killers by appointing them as diplomats in our foreign missions. It is intriguing how, despite being a valiant freedom fighter and incorruptible in personal life, he compromised with principles and forged his new political party, BNP, with people of questionable background and disparate political affiliations and sympathies.
He assembled a cabinet comprising some persons known for their anti-liberation credentials and pro-Pakistan sympathies, only to be able to whet his vaulting political ambition and consolidate his unchallenged authority.
As a measure of political expediency to pander to the Islamic constituency, he struck off secularism as one of state principles in the constitution. He sent shock waves across the nation when he exonerated Jamaat-e-Islam leader Gulam Azam, accused of collaborating with the Pakistan occupation army in their campaign of ethnic cleansing, extermination and genocide of Bengalis, and allowed his return home from his safe haven in Pakistan.
He was instrumental in annulling the Collaborators Act in 1975, and 11 thousand detained prisoners of war accused of collaborating with the Pakistan army's atrocities went scot-free.
He rehabilitated and legitimised the Jamaat-e-Islam party by amending Article 38 of the Constitution, which disallowed political parties based on religion. That step was a precursor to the emergence of religious fundamentalism in the country, which gradually gained ground and later gathered full steam as a threat of militant Islamic terrorists during Khaleda Zia's coalition rule with the Islamic parties, including Jamaat-e-Islam.
His successor, General Ersad, who was more catholic than the Pope, established Islam as the state religion by amending the constitution.
Is this a case of a once feted liberator turning oppressor? Or a case of a revolution devouring its own children? Politics, indeed, is a combustible substance.

Abdul Hannan is a former Press Counsellor, Bangladesh Mission to the UN, New York.

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