Of memory . . . against forgetting
The annulment of the Fifth and Seventh Amendments to the Constitution is a purification of the national soul. No happiness can be greater for a society of decent men and women than an acknowledgement of past villainy and, through that acknowledgement, a wiping out of that villainy from our books, from our hearts, from the deepest recesses of our souls. The pain we have borne for decades, now that it has been lifted by the higher judiciary, is yet something we as a people must remember.
Forgetting is a sin. We will not forget the travesty that was made of our lives by those who caused the murder and mayhem of August-November 1975, who weighed us down with the Fifth Amendment and then with the Seventh Amendment. We will remember because we do not relish the thought of another ambitious soldier commandeering the country and seizing the state through a raw, brazen demonstration of fearsome power resting on the barrel of a gun.
And we will remember something else as well. Beyond the majors and colonels and brigadiers and generals who kept us hostage to the Fifth and Seventh Amendments, there are all those civilian faces without whose willing cooperation, without whose unadulterated and opportunistic sycophancy none of those soldiers would have had the audacity to overturn the decent, moral republic we fashioned out of the crucible of war in 1971. Those civilians, or politicians if you will, are yet around. Some are dead.
Must we not, at this point in time, reassess the damage they have caused through their cheerful offerings of support to our dictators? Moudud Ahmed tries to interpret our history for us when he informs us that it was the Awami League under Moshtaque that placed the country under martial law in 1975. We are not fooled by such sophistry. But we do remember Moudud Ahmed's enormous contributions to the cause of dictatorship. His was a leading voice in both the Zia and the Ershad regimes.
And do not forget the others. Korban Ali of the Awami League and Abdul Halim Chowdhury of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party unabashedly went over to Ershad just as the nation was gearing itself up for a movement against the dictator. In Zia's time, Justice Sattar, Shah Azizur Rahman, Kazi Zafar Ahmed and Enayetullah Khan happily offered their services to the nation's first military ruler. Zafar and Enayetullah later found little that was wrong in associating with Ershad. Anisul Islam Mahmud, originally with Zia's BNP, crossed over one fine morning to become Ershad's foreign minister.
Much a similar act was played out by Humayun Rashid Chowdhury. Retiring from the diplomatic service, he became foreign minister under Ershad. Amazingly, he subsequently joined the Awami League. When he died, he was speaker of the Jatiyo Sangsad. Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury, the man who organised the historic June 7, 1966 hartal in favour of the Six Points, was roped in by General Ershad as prime minister. He too came back to the Awami League before death came along. Should men like Mizan Chowdhury have been welcomed back to the Awami League? Should the BNP have welcomed Moudud Ahmed back?
The story of the men and women who let us all down in the era of dictatorship goes on and on. Ataur Rahman Khan had no regrets being Ershad's powerless prime minister. The regrets came after he had been shown the door. Mashiur Rahman Jadu Mia helped Zia fashion his political party. His son Shafiqul Gani Swapan helped Ershad do a similar feat. Justice B.A. Siddiky took charge of the Muslim League after Khan Abdus Sabur's demise. He ended up deserting the party to take up the job of permanent representative to the United Nations in Ershadian times.
His party colleagues Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury and Syeda Razia Faiz landed ministerial jobs in the regime. Anwar Zahid had no qualms about joining Ershad and then ditching him. Remember the jovial Shamsul Huda Chowdhury? His last assignment was speaker of the Jatiyo Sangsad "elected" in the farcical elections of 1988. Fakhrul Islam Munshi, now in the Awami League, was a minister of state under Ershad. Sheikh Shahidul Islam deserted his progressive background to obtain a berth in Ershad's cabinet. Anwar Hossain Manju made his way from his newspaper to the Ershad cabinet. Both men lead a faction of the Jatiyo Party today.
Shah Moazzam Hossain, once in the Awami League, became a loud voice of the Jatiyo Party in the Ershad years, hurling obscenities at Begum Zia and Sheikh Hasina all the way. He was happily welcomed into the BNP by Begum Zia a few years ago. K.M. Obaidur Rahman came home to free Bangladesh with the Mujibnagar government-in-exile in December 1971. He then made a career change through joining General Zia's regime.
There are others. General Osmany bravely resigned from Parliament when the Fourth Amendment was passed in January 1975. Seven months later, he saw nothing wrong with being Khondokar Moshtaque's defence advisor. Air Vice Marshal A.K. Khondokar served, under Zia, in diplomatic assignments abroad before taking charge as planning minister under Ershad. Today, he is planning minister in Sheikh Hasina's cabinet.
General Shafiullah was ambassador and high commissioner abroad in the Zia and Ershad days before becoming an Awami League Member of Parliament in 1996. A.R.S. Doha, an Awami Leaguer, went to prison in erstwhile West Pakistan during Yahya Khan's time. In Zia's days, he was ambassador to Iran. In Ershad's, he was a minister. Justice Nurul Islam served Ershad as vice president. The bureaucrat-poet A.Z.M. Obaidullah Khan served Ershad as ambassador to Washington and minister for agriculture.
The struggle of man against power, Milan Kundera informs us, is the struggle of memory against forgetting.
We have not forgotten.