The tribalisation of our politics
QUAMRUL Islam now thinks Ziaur Rahman was indeed a brave freedom fighter. That is most reassuring. But then, why did the minister of state for law outrage us earlier with his bid to denigrate Zia's role in the War of Liberation?
To inform the country, for no rhyme or reason, that Ziaur Rahman was a Pakistani spy in 1971 was not only unseemly but also a patent questioning of the late military ruler's patriotism. And questioning one's patriotism is something that decent men, good citizens will not and must not permit to go unchallenged.
What General Zia did in his years in power between 1975 and 1981 will of course remain a blemish on his reputation. His systematic rehabilitation of the collaborators of the Pakistan occupation army and his careful liquidation of many of the leading heroes of our struggle for liberation are in a very big way responsible for the political tribalism which Bengalis have been going through for decades.
That Zia undermined the constitution through tampering with the four fundamental principles of the state (ignore those who suggest that he restored multi-party democracy in Bangladesh, for it was anything but) is a reality we have been pelted with day after day.
So all these basic facts about Zia and his regime remain beyond question. But when you suggest that he was a Pakistani spy (it really does not matter that you now retract your statement, for the damage has already been done), you are setting in motion a train of thought that others could take advantage of. To censure one who has been part of a heroic generation is simply to put truth to the torch.
Those who have for years remained uncomfortable with the pre-eminence of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in history have regularly peddled the notion of his "surrender" to the Pakistan army on March 25, 1971. And these retail suppliers of falsehood have never for a moment told themselves that they are being untrue to their souls, to their conscience.
As if that were not enough, there is another body of people whose discomfort with 1971 often pushes them into casting aspersions on Tajuddin Ahmed, truly the one man whose battlefield role in the creation of Bangladesh was certainly more inspirational than anyone else's. He was, say these men of sinister intent, a pro-Indian politician in this country.
There is another group which carefully tried to destroy his reputation in the early 1970s. And they were the Young Turks in the Awami League, who made it a point to let Bangabandhu know how Tajuddin had "usurped" the leadership of the Mujibnagar government in 1971. Tajuddin fell because of what these elements of darkness did to him.
It is a sad commentary on our collective history that at nearly every stage of it some men have with diligence and questionable motives attempted to run down some of the bravest and most enlightened souls in Bangladesh.
Those who have cheered the so-called sepoy-janata revolution of November 1975 have felt no shame at all in castigating the honourable man that was Khaled Musharraf through describing him as an Indian agent. Another hero of the Liberation War, Major M.A. Jalil, was once called a collaborator. He who made that snide remark surely had a poor understanding of history.
When Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury sees Pakistan's hand behind the Bangladesh Nationalist Party's call for hartal, one wonders if she has the evidence to prove her claim. In similar fashion, when Begum Zia and her cohorts question Sheikh Hasina's patriotism over the deal she recently reached with the Indian leadership on Dhaka-Delhi cooperation, they conveniently forget the difference between demagoguery and informed politics.
In all this barrage of innuendo and mutual recrimination, it is respect which becomes the casualty. Politics comes best when political players from across the spectrum agree to disagree, and at the same time agree to respect the other person's point of view.
Where the matter is one of Bangladesh's struggle for freedom, there is no question that everyone who took part in it and everyone who supported it in diverse ways is an individual held in the greatest honour in our history.
Those who remain outside these parameters of respect are that clutch of collaborators who saw nothing wrong in abetting the crimes committed by the Pakistan occupation army, in committing similar crimes themselves.
Bangladesh ought not to be segmented into a fractured country where tribes reign in all their viciousness. And yet when you observe the manner in which the political classes have conducted themselves across the years, you ask yourself if there really are not shades of the Hutu-Tutsi divide in Bangladesh today, those which have hobbled nations such as Rwanda and Burundi.
There really was no reason for Minister Quamrul Islam to humiliate the war hero that was Ziaur Rahman. There was absolutely no cause for Sheikh Hasina to ask the rhetorical question of whether it was Zia's mortal remains buried beside Crescent Lake. And those who keep fanning the lie that Bangabandhu gave himself up to the Pakistanis in 1971 are only inflicting wounds on themselves as free citizens of a free Bangladesh.
There is always an incontrovertibility about history. History remains immutable, constant as the stars in the heavens. And mocking the stars is a preoccupation for sinners.