Bangladesh: Zia Continues to Dominate Awami Politics 

by Ahmad Shihab     14 September 2021


“To resurrect Mujib,” RAW implied to Hasina, “you have to destroy Zia.”


Sheikh Hasina was on self-exile in India from 1975 and was under extensive brainwashing treatment under the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s external intelligence. She returned to Bangladesh in 1981. Within two weeks, President Ziaur Rahman was assassinated. RAW’s hand was suspected.

Hasina’s Twin Objectives

After joining active politics, Sheikh Hasina vowed to avenge the death of her father and rehabilitate Mujib’s image. The first objective was easy, but deadly. A compliant judiciary completed the “judicial murder” of the saviors of the nation.

For the second goal, Hasina has been doing everything possible to lift Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from the dark abyss of history. There is a Bangla saying: চেনা বামনের পৈতার দরকার হয়না (A known saint needs no badge). But the daughter bestowed so many partisan and highly controversial Poitas (badges) on her father that Mujib is no longer the man he really was. The tags include ‘Father of the Nation’, ‘Bangabandhu (Friend of Bengal)’, ‘Sorbokaler Sorbosretho Bangali (Best Bengali of all time).’ In addition, there is hardly any perceivable item left in the country that has not been assigned the Mujib name. People even joke about toilets in the list. These overbearing Poitas are aimed at shielding Mujib’s misdeeds and failures too.

Latest in the Mujib’s poita boron (worshipping) act, is the celebration of “Mujib Borso ” in 2020 commemorating his birth centenary. The extravaganza– 600 crore (US $75 million) for opening and closing ceremonies only– continues through 2021, notwithstanding the surge of Covid-19-Delta and Dengue in the country.

However, there is a problem. At every Mujib-elevation effort, former President Ziaur Rahman appears by default. What is ludicrous is that there seems to be a crazy competition among the Mujib-Hasina sycophants to score points in hitting Zia below the belt. They are utterly unsuccessful though. The former president’s shadow, or his success to be precise, keeps hitting them back, like the punching bag. Let’s take a closer look.

Zia Succeeded where Mujib Failed

  1. On March 7, 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman called for Songram (struggle), Swadhinota (independence), erecting Durgo (fortress) and was ready to shed blood. But when the Songram time came on the night of March 25, he cowardly and shamefully surrendered to the military. Before surrendering, Mujib made arrangements with the military for the safety and maintenance of his family. The seven crore Bengalis, who reposed their trust in him, were left at the mercy of killers.

On the other hand, then Major Ziaur Rahman cried out “We revolt,” after learning of Pakistan military onslaughts on the Bengalis, and jumped to fight the enemy.

  1. Mujib declined to declare independence on the night of March 25, despite repeated requests from his top aides, saying it would be a “treason.” (Reference: Sharmin Ahmad, Tajuddin Ahmad: Neta O Pita, 2014, pp. 59, 60, 148). See more at:

(In absence of political leadership) Ziaur Rahman risked his life to bail the disoriented and confused nation out. He declared the independence of Bangladesh and asked the people to join him to fight the occupation forces of Pakistan. And, the people did. This singular heroism and patriotism of Zia eclipsed what Mujib sought to achieve all his life.

  1. Mujib and his family enjoyed royal treatment under Yahya-Tikka at a time when the duo was massacring the Bengalis outside their safe haven.

Zia and his fighting forces were shedding blood fighting the same killer forces of Yahya-Tikka.

  1. A Mujib follower, Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf put the whole country on the razor’s edge in early November 1975.

Ziaur Rahman again stepped forward to save the nation. Patriotic soldiers rescued General Ziaur Rahman from Khaled’s confinement and restored him to authority. Zia’s glorious rule began.

  1. Mujib clamped the Emergency and snatched all rights of the people.

Zia restored those rights after becoming president.

  1. Mujib established one-party, one-man rule, through BAKSAL, to perpetuate his dictatorship for life.

Zia opened multi-party democracy.

  1. Mujib’s misrule, inefficiency and corruption turned the country into an empty “basket case.”

Zia reversed the process and made it a prosperous and honorable nation. Ready-made Garments and overseas employment, the two sectors on which the present Hasina regime thrives, are Zia’s creation.

  1. In death, Mujib was condemned. People celebrated his fall. His party, Awami League, quickly formed the next government, even as Mujib’s body was still bleeding. Only 18 persons could be collected to complete his final rites.

On the contrary, at Zia’s loss, the whole nation broke into hysterical mourning.  More than 20 lakhs (two million) mourners gathered at his Janaza.


The latest controversy was started by Sheikh Hasina herself. First, it was her assertion that Ziaur Rahman was involved in the killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975. Then was her repetition of the routine line that Zia’s Mazar did not contain his body. Next came her weird finding that Zia did not fire a shot at the Pakistanis during the war in 1971. Let me discuss the last issue first.

Zia Did Not Fight the War

So far, Sheikh Hasina and her goons kept saying that Ziaur Rahman was not a freedom fighter and that he was a Pakistani spy during the liberation war in 1971. That spit fell directly on the body of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who had recognized Zia’s contribution in the war by awarding him the “Bir Uttam” for gallantry. Then Hasina modified the statement and said that Zia did not fire any shot at the Pakistanis.

With a minimum knowledge of the military’s activities in war one would know that commanders are rarely involved in close combat fights with the enemy. Colonel Osmany, Group Captain Khandakar, Colonel Abdur Rob, Colonel Ziaur Rahman and other top commanders of the Mukti Bahini did not have to go for fistfights with the enemy. Eisenhower, Montgomery, Rommel did not do it while commanding the forces during WWII. In the same token, one may say that Mujib did not have to fire at the students on January 1, 1973, or Siraj Sikdar or more than 30,000 patriots during his rule.   

In any case, Hasina couldn’t know what happened during the Liberation war of Bangladesh.  She and her family were enjoying the royal treatment in collaboration with their payare uncle (dear) Yahya-Tikka. Before Mujib surrendered to the military on March 25, 1971, he made arrangements with the military for his family’s safety and security. Hasina received cash Taka 1500 (today’s 500,000) per month, in addition to fresh supply of ration from the cantonment. She delivered son Joy in July in the military hospital amid soldiers’ fanfare. Matiur Rahman Rentu, Hasina’s one-time close aide, quoted Hasina (in his book Amar Fansi Chai saying that General Tikka often came, saluted and respectfully enquired about their welfare. Her grandmother was Heli-lifted from Tungipara to Dhaka for a minor treatment. What a camaraderie!

Zia’s Mazar

There is not much scope here to go into the details of how Ziaur Rahman was assassinated. (Again, Matiur Rahman Rentu implied that Hasina was involved in Zia’s murder). But does it matter if Zia’s Mazar contains his dead body intact or the remains of what could be gathered three days later from the original grave in Chittagong? According to various reports, an officer emptied all the 32 bullets of his Sten Gun at the chest and face of the president from a close distance. Understandably, the body was disfigured, and could even be beyond recognition after rotting for three days under the dirt. According to (the Ramon Magsaysay Award winner) Dr. Zafarullah Chowdhury of Gono Sastho Kendra, senior military officials carried out the autopsy and certified Zia’s remains. Because of the condition of the body and for emotional reasons, Begum Khaleda Zia and her family members were advised not to see the remains. Only a derailed mind can raise such doubts as Zia’s Mazar not containing his body. Even if it contains the dust of Zia’s original grave, it is Zia’s Mazar. As simple as that.

(In the nineteen-eighties, one senior government official told me that whoever made the decision to bury Mujib at Tungipara was a genius. Anyone going there once, would not visit the place again. Colonel Abu Taher of JSD–an Awami partner–in fact suggested throwing Mujib’s body in the Bay of Bengal lest it became a shrine for his followers. Mujib’s brother Sheikh Nasir, who also died on August 15 and had facial resemblance to Mujib, was almost buried at Mujib’s grave at Tungipara). 

Zia’s Involvement in Mujib Killing

For some time, Sheikh Hasina has also been promoting the theory that Ziaur Rahman was involved in the killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Her argument was that Zia was the immediate beneficiary of the August 15 coup. Dr. Pinaki Bhattacharya, an exiled activist-author, countered the argument saying if Sheikh Mujib or even her brothers were alive today, Hasina would have continued to be the housewife of Dr. Wazed Mia. She is the Prime Minister today as a beneficiary of August 15. Can one then say that Sheikh Hasina was involved in the killing of her father? he questioned. Former Professor AKM Wahiduzzaman of National University, explained it further very convincingly. He said that Mujib’s murder trial was initiated, conducted and completed during the Hasina time. Never, not once during the long process (14 years), Zia’s name was mentioned, let alone implicated. Why the new revelations?

(Captain Majed, an accused in August 15 Coup, was coerced to give an interview implicating Zia in the killing of Sheikh Mujib, assuring him of clemency. After the interview, Majed was unceremoniously dragged to the gallows. The interview was released after three months, on Mujib’s death anniversary in August 2020, to renew Zia’s complicity in the August coup). 

Zia to be Removed From History 

Professor Wahiduzzaman repeatedly asserted that whatever Sheikh Mujibur Rahman achieved during his political life of 35 years, was completely eclipsed by the accomplishment of Ziaur Rahman in three and a half years.

That also explains why Sheikh Hasina and her Awami minions find it difficult to digest that truth and tolerate Ziaur Rahman. We have seen earlier how, at every turn of Bangladesh’s history page, Zia outshone Mujib.

Recalling the RAW mantra, Sheikh Hasina started the game from the time she returned to Bangladesh from her self-exile in 1981. Matiur Rahman Rentu, revealed in his book that upon arrival, Hasina asked her party men, student leaders and freedom fighters to start propagating “এই জিয়া সেই জিয়া নয়,” implying, albeit deceitfully, that President Ziaur Rahman was not the Zia who declared the independence. It was RAW’s Goebbelian (Hitler’s Intelligence chief) ploy to tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people would eventually come to believe it.

But, Ziaur Rahman was too big a name, too large a personality to be consumed in such cheap propaganda rhetoric. He is a shining star in the history of Bangladesh. His place in the glory of the country is sealed. And, that has been a nightmare for Sheikh Hasina who continues her silly game.

In 2010, Hasina administration removed anything that carried the name of President Ziaur Rahman, be that Zia International Airport or his name in school textbooks. Earlier, she voided the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, enacted during Zia’s time to ratify various proclamations previously made by executive orders in absence of a Parliament. She also nullified Zia’s announcement of independence in March 1971. In all these acts, the partisan judiciary was tagged along to give the seal of “legality.” In fact, she was, and still is, the Judge, the Jury and the Executioner. She is the law.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the most loved person in Bangladesh on January 10, 1972, when he came to independent Bangladesh from his self-exile in (West) Pakistan. After his death on August 15, 1975, nobody shed tears; nor did anyone hear the word Innalillah. People rejoiced wildly. Only 18 people could be gathered to offer a Janaza (funeral) for him.

On the other hand, hardly anybody knew Major Ziaur Rahman before March 27, 1971, but some 2 million mourners gathered at his Janaza in Dhaka.


Funeral procession of the late President Ziaur Rahman

Zia was no angel, but the mistakes he might have made in six years, faded before the Himalayan blunders committed by Mujib in 3 and a half years.

Finally, looking at these weird and baseless anti-Zia insinuations, I feel some people need an urgent trip to psychiatrists.

September 13, 2021

Ahmad Shihab is a democracy and human rights, activist. Authored a few books.

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