It could’ve been his grand return to DU
A citation of historical importance faded into oblivion. Or so we believed.
The citation addressed the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman for his visit to Dhaka University scheduled for August 15, 1975.
After 34 long years, on December 2, 2009, it was recovered from a room of the DU registrar building by sheer chance.
Prepared by the then VC Abdul Matin Chaudhury, this wooden-framed gem of history was in fact a handwritten citation, which was to be read out at a gala reception for Bangabandhu on the DU campus on August 15, 1975.
But the reception did not take place as the darkest hours struck Bangladesh in its post-independence era. Bangabandhu, along with most of his family members, was brutally killed in a coup carried out by misguided army soldiers in the early hours of that very day.
Former DU deputy registrar Amir Hossain retrieved the citation from the registrar building while searching for some of his personal documents. He handed it over to the then VC AAMS Arefin Siddique two days later.
"I had a mixed feeling when this historical document was handed over to me. On the one hand, I was sad as the then vice chancellor prepared the handwritten citation with love and care but it was never handed over to Bangabandhu and on the other, I was happy that the document was at last saved," Prof Arefin told this newspaper on Friday.
Talking about how this document remained traceless for so many years, he said after the assassination, "people were shocked and at a loss and they might have kept the citation out of sight willingly or unwillingly."
In a couple of days, two silver crests bearing the DU monogram and a casket which was meant to contain the citation were also found in a safe at the Registrar's Office. Bangabandhu was supposed to receive the crests at the reception.
Later in 2013, all these items were presented as memorabilia to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, eldest daughter of Bangabandhu, who, along with her sister Sheikh Rehana, was in Germany during the assassination.
All the items were put on display at the Bangabandhu Memorial Museum, also known as the Bangabandhu Bhaban on Dhanmondi 32, where the assassination took place.
On August 14, 1975, there was a festive mood on the DU campus. Murals of Bangabandhu's smiling face were erected, walls were decorated and painted banners were put up.
The stage was all set. The university authorities and the students had made all preparations to hold the reception the next day for the larger-than-life politician, the then president of the republic, under whose leadership freedom fighters had joined the Liberation War and freed the country from the clutches of the Pakistan occupation army.
In fact, it would be his first official visit to the university as Chancellor of the university.
The then Dhaka University Central Students' Union General Secretary Mahboob Zaman said the teachers and students were waiting eagerly for the moment when they would give a hearty reception to their beloved leader.
On August 15, several newspapers published special supplements to mark Bangabandhu's visit to the DU.
Bangabandhu was supposed to arrive at the university at 9:55am. Upon entering the premises from the Curzon Hall area, he was supposed to visit different faculties and departments, pay tribute to martyred intellectuals and freedom fighters before delivering a speech at the Teacher-Student Centre around 11:40pm.
The organisers had brought a special chair for Bangabandhu. No one knew about the chair till 2016 as it remained uncared for in the TSC storeroom. Former TSC Director Mohiuzzaman Chowdhury renovated it and later the authorities put it on public display at the TSC.
In the citation, Matin says the DU authorities are proud that Bangabandhu is the first Chancellor to visit the university in 54 years of its history. On behalf of all the students, teachers, officials and employees of DU, he congratulates Bangabandhu for initiating the "second revolution", terming it ground-breaking.
The second revolution was a political move following the formation of Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BAKSAL), in line with the fourth amendment to the Constitution of Bangladesh.
Referring to several issues regarding residence, classroom shortage and lack of resources in libraries and seminars that DU students faced, the citation reads, "We know that all the problems cannot be solved overnight. Initiatives to solve the problems should be taken on the basis of the country's overall situation."
Mahboob said he and Matin visited Bangabandhu at his Ganabhaban office on the evening of August 14. They briefed the president about their overall preparation.
"When we reported crude bomb blasts and the hoisting of a Pakistani flag on the campus earlier on the day, Bangabandhu said he was aware of all these," reminisced Mahboob. "Bangabandhu said nothing will happen. He told us not to worry."
Cabinet member Khandaker Mushtaque Ahmed was present at the meeting and he informed Bangabandhu that he would not accompany him to the DU next day, said Mahboob.
"Hearing this, Bangabandhu said he'd announce the beginning of a new era," he added.
Commenting on the visit that never happened, Prof Arefin said it could have been a significant day for the university as well as the nation.
"Bangabandhu might have announced the Dhaka University as the National University. The then VC [Abdul Matin] hinted it in his citation. I believe perhaps he discussed the matter with Bangabandhu," he said.
Addressing Bangabandhu, the citation reads, "You've said you want to turn Dhaka University into the National University. We want your kind sympathy, goodwill and consideration in this regard."
But the citation was never read out. No sooner had the news of the assassination of Bangabandhu broken, a pall of sadness descended on the entire university.
The then DUCSU VP Mujahidul Islam Selim in the early morning of August 15 received a phone call from the dean office of the arts faculty, which informed him that Dhanmondi 32 was under attack, recalled Mahboob.
Mahboob, Selim and several others rushed to the home of Sheikh Shahidul Islam, secretary of Jatiya Chhatra League, on Green Road around 5:00am. "Enquired about the matter, Shahidul Islam replied everything has ended … go to safe places. Bangabandhu has been assassinated," Mahboob said.
Later in the morning, some army men and many unidentified people boarded into trucks, went to the DU and vandalised the banners, murals and all the other decorations put up for the reception. They also attacked Matin's official residence.
It could have been Bangabandhu's grand return to DU. He enrolled in the university in December 1947. The university authority in 1949 expelled him and several other students on charges of "instigating" a movement launched by class-four employees, demanding increase of salaries and allowances.
Sixty-one years later, in 2010, the university authority withdrew the expulsion order, terming it "undemocratic and unjust".
The Dhaka University authority will award Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman an honourary degree of "Doctor of Laws" posthumously at a special convocation, which is likely to take place on October 26.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will be the speaker at the Convocation and her younger sister Sheikh Rehena will receive the degree on behalf of Bangabandhu, said Muhammad Samad, DU pro-vice chancellor (administration).