Editor, Amar Desh, 25.01-2023
The people of East Pakistan created a Messiah out of a demagogue and mediocre politician, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in their own romantic imagination in the late 1960s. The inept handling of the political situation in East Pakistan by the arrogant West Pakistani ruling class and their ignorance about the Bengali Muslim culture and rich history was beneficial for Sheikh Mujib to emerge as the undisputed leader in the eastern half of the Muslim state that the same Bengali Muslim, oppressed for nearly two centuries jointly by British colonial administration and its Hindu landlord accomplice class, enthusiastically assisted to give birth in 1947. The rest is history. India decimated Pakistan in the 1971 war and Bangladesh was born.
It did not take long to realize the limitation of Sheikh Mujib, both as a person and administrator. The prevailing Indian domination also made his position unsettled. He was apparently in a tangle, caught from two sides. In post-independent Bangladesh, a strong pro-India, anti-Islamic group emerged within the ruling party that was pulling Mujib to join their effort to replace Muslim identity altogether in the narrative of Bengali nationalism. They wanted to create a new cultural identity for the people of Bangladesh in line with the Hindu Bengali Renaissance of the 19th century that built a perimeter to put all Muslim traditions and influences outside the ethnocultural and linguistic definition of Bengali. It was probably difficult for Mujib to mentally free himself from the fact that he had been born into a Muslim family nor from his active participation in the Pakistan movement. But, he was helpless. In the wake of 16 December 1971, the stage was nicely set to commence the gradual de-Islamization of Bangladesh. In literature, drama, and in radio and television programs, Islam was depicted not only as the enemy of Bengali nationalism but as evil. Secularism in Bangladesh thus attained the character of outright anti-Islamism. The so-called secular elements in Bangladesh are Muslim-named ideological siblings of Paludan, the joint Danish-Swedish hate-monger politician.
It did not took long for Bengali nationalism to lose its appeal for the majority Muslim population as they started to realize the hidden cultural aggression. The idea that India had a hidden agenda in helping our liberation war became firmly established in the mind of the common people. The more the Awami League leaders and ministers made submissive public gestures in their shameless competition to curry favour from New Delhi, the more people became convinced of Indian hegemony. At the same time, the war-ravaged economy started to take its toll on the miseries of the people of Bangladesh. The entire nation became a victim of inexperience and shocking economic mismanagement. Massive international help arrived to keep people alive. Unfortunately, highly corrupt Awami league leaders even misused and plundered relief supplies. It is alleged that international relief items found their way to the markets in Kolkata and other towns adjacent to the India-Bangladesh border, thanks to the smuggling network controlled by Awami mafias. Close relatives of Sheikh Mujib including his elder son, Sheikh Kamal and influential nephew, Sheikh Moni and other Awami thugs behaved like owners of the state. They were above the law and the helpless victims had no place to hide. Allegations of torture, abductions, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances were common. Government-approved para-military death squad, Jatiyo Rakhi Bahini (JRB) and various private militias affiliated with the ruling party went on a rampage.
Then came the famine of 1974. The famine turned into a nightmare for the country, devastating lives, families, and human dignity. The people of Bangladesh have not witnessed such misery since the creation of Pakistan in 1947. The price of commodities has been rising steeply since 1972. By the summer of 1974, the price of rice, a staple of the Bangladeshi diet, had risen beyond the reach of even middle-class population. Starving rural people rushed to the cities for survival in hordes after hordes. It was an unending procession of skeletons coming to the capital from all directions. Soon, the streets of Dhaka were littered with dead bodies. Bangladeshis were numb with shock. Surely this could not be the face of independence and ‘hallowed’ Mujib’s rule for which a great number of people had sacrificed their lives. Nobody will know how many people died in the famine created by the incompetence and greed of the Mujib administration. Sheikh Mujib later admitted only twenty-seven thousand death. The actual figure was easily a few hundred thousand.
Sheikh Mujib finally panicked. The famine had torn away the remaining Teflon coating of the Messiah. He declared emergency. This was the beginning of the process of creating a draconian state. The ultimate aim was to create an Orwellian State where one man, one family and one party would rule the rest, regarding them as a ‘sub-human’ species. The rulers demanded the complete surrender of all citizens at the altar created for the super-human myth of Sheikh Mujib, the so-called “Father of the Nation”. On 25 January 1975, Saturday, the bill to make Bangladesh, a single-party, autocratic state, was passed in the rubber-stamp parliament within fifteen minutes of it being tabled without allowing any debate in the house. In accordance with this sweeping constitutional change, The Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BAKSAL) was established as the sole political party in the country and Sheikh Mujib became the President from Prime Minister. All other political parties were declared illegal. Just after three and a half years of gaining independence from Pakistan, Sheikh Mujib was now wielding a dizzying height of autocratic power which no Pakistani Martial Law Administrator had ever dreamt possible.
Subsequently, on 15 June 1975, Sheikh Mujib banned all print media (The only electronic media at that time was state-controlled) except four. The four surviving newspapers and sole electronic media saw their only goal as singing the praise of the “Father of the Nation” and his family. With these acts, Sheikh Mujib closed all the doors for a democratic and peaceful transfer of power during his lifetime. Mujib once wrote in his unfinished memoir that, Muslim League failed in post-independent Pakistan because the leadership could not keep faith in the common people. Now the same person has committed the same mistake. Practically, he signed his own death warrant. Within six months and twenty days, a daring and reckless coup led by a dozen mid-ranking military officers and a few hundred soldiers would surprisingly succeed against all odds to topple the notorious BAKSAL regime. People were euphoric at the fall of the corrupt and repressive one-party government.
Colonel Faruk, a valiant freedom fighter and the leader of the coup that toppled the despotic regime of Sheikh Mujib on 15 August 1975, later said to British journalist Anthony Mascarenhas, “I say this chap (Mujib) has created the crime of the century by destroying the feeling of such a large number of people”. See Mascarenhas, A., Bangladesh: A Legacy of blood, 1986:49. Mujib’s daughter Sheikh Hasina, the present fascist ruler of Bangladesh would later exact revenge by executing Colonel Faruk on 28 January 2010. Many other accomplices of Colonel Faruk were also executed.
Since 2009, the eldest daughter of Sheikh Mujib has chosen a more repressive and brutal way to remain in power by creating an undeclared fascist state like Kim Jong-un’s North Korea. Sheikh Hasina is in power for fourteen years now by destroying all state institutions and there is no sign that she is willing to give the people of her country any opportunity to freely choose their leader in a democratic manner. We can only guess how her epitaph will be written.