The absconding BNP leader, Tarique Rahman has once again rocked the boat by bashing Bangabandhu at a recent programme in London in the name of observing the Victory Day-2014. He called Sheikh Mujib 'a Razakar' and Zia 'the declarer of independence'. He was sure over the limit in passing comments about Mujib and other sensitive topics of our national history. Tarique's arrogance knew no bounds when he compared Mujib with the ones, who were, by all counts, polar opposite of what Mujib really was. This is highly derogatory of the founding Father of a Nation. Suffice it to say that it is not mere a slip of the tongue, but a crime against our national history. Tarique's slanderous remarks, however, draw angry retorts from many pro-liberation politicians, writers, intellectuals and civil society members. The distinguished writer and journalist Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury has, quite arguably, branded Tarique as 'a lunatic'. Zia's son Tarique, the learned journalist added, would continue to remain so, and suffer the same fate, as did Miran, son of Mir Jafar, who became the Nawab of Bengal betraying Nawab Siraj-Ud-Daulah at the Battle of Plassey in 1757. This is, however, not the first time that Tarique has launched verbal attacks on Bangabandhu. As a matter of fact, he is the ringleader of a circle that has been carrying out this ugly campaign against Mujib's reputation for quite a long time, and raising storms of controversies over the undisputed leader and other settled issues of our national history. He not only tries to defame the historic image of the Founding Father of the country, but also belittles the importance of his role in our Liberation War (1971) cunningly by highlighting the role of Zia, his dashing dad. Tarique terms Mujib 'an illegal premier' and 'a failed leader' and widely regards Zia as 'the first president of Bangladesh'. As a half-educated man and an unfledged right wing politician with no sense of history, Tarique's radical reinterpretation of our Liberation War history is nothing but a publicity stunt by way of maligning Mujib and eulogizing Zia. This calculated smear campaign is a matter of serious concern to the pro-liberation people of Bangladesh, and should be glossed over. We should counteract this legally, politically and intellectually.
The Mujib-Zia debate was first raised by BNP to place its founder Zia on an equal footing with Mujib by adding extra credit to Zia's record on the Liberation War (1971) and subtracting that of Mujib. It is alleged that this grotesque idea of 'plus-minus' was the brainchild of the notorious collaborator Shah Azizur Rahman, who, after the death of Zia, spun a weird tale that Zia was the real man behind the Liberation War, who substituted for Mujib during wartime by declaring independence of Bangladesh. Aziz did this Machiavellian manipulation to feed people the story of Zia's independence declaration. He tried to make a mountain of wild fancy out of a molehill of facts, and with the passing of time, the story gained some currency. Had Zia been alive, Aziz would never have dared to do it because, he (Aziz) had made similar attempts several times during Zia's lifetime and was silenced by his stinging rebuke. Zia never staked out his claim on the declaration of independence. Rather he made an overt display of his allegiance to Mujib by writing an essay published in the Weekly Bichitra, in 1972. Khaleda-Nizami Alliance Government (2001-2006), on their having assumed the office in 2001 had repealed the 'Father of the Nation Portraits Preservation and Display Act'. It was an act of sheer ingratitude to get such an act passed in the month of Independence. We were surprised to see that amidst thunderous applause the act of stopping the display of the portrait of the Father of the Nation was passed. It was so unfortunate of us that some ignorant children of this soil had sinned against the whole nation by taking official measures to belittle the image of its Father.
They did not stop at that. They poked their nose into some settled matters of the history of independence. They came up with a conciliatory gesture of equalizing the contribution of Mujib and Zia to our Independence War. They tried to weigh both by the same scale. They proposed to make further acts for preserving and displaying the pictures of both the leaders side by side on the same wall in the office. The BNP-led government realized that they could benefit much from this process of equalization. They knew it well that without the blessing of an idolatrous personality, a political party is destitute of an ideology. BNP does not have a political idol like Bangabandhu of Awami League. Their Zia is not a person of Mujib's height, and does not have any outstanding contribution to the Liberation War. He may be as important as one of the eleven sector commanders or one of the sixty-eight Bir Uttams. Many of them, however, were given more important position for fighting more valiantly than he fought. Besides, Zia was the only sector commander, who was later reduced to the saviour of the anti-liberation forces after the August tragedy in 1975.
Taking such a disputed person as a guiding ideology, BNP could not go much further. Therefore, they needed to raise his image by way of tarnishing the image of Bangabandhu. On their way to do this, they tried to distort the history of our Liberation War. Some opportunist intellectuals had joined hands with them to drum up support in their favour. They manufactured unique facts and anecdotes on our national history without bothering much about documentations. BNP is still trotting out the same old cliché that Zia is the declarer of independence. It sounds as if everything of our independence depended on that declaration and if he had not declared it right at that moment, it would not have been achieved at all. They try to argue over the matter in such a way that the independence of Bangladesh was based only on a verbal declaration, which was made by Zia. It is so ridiculous that if Zia himself had lived until now, he would sure have hung his head in shame.
There is no denying the fact that Ziaur Rahman had a role in the Liberation War. But that should not glamourize the declaration myth. Because, before he declared independence, it had already been declared by the right person at the right time. Bangabandhu proclaimed the Independence of Bangladesh formally on 26 March, and informally on 7 March in 1971. 26 March has been selected as our 'Independence Day' because of Bangabandhu's proclamation. What Zia did is nothing but the reading out of a declaration note 'on behalf of our great national leader Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman' from Kalurghat on 27 March 1971. He validated his declaration by categorically mentioning the name of Bangabandhu. Moreover, it was immaterial who read out the note, because the reference to the name of Bangabandhu was the only thing in the declaration that mattered. If anybody else had declared it on behalf of Bangabandhu, the effect would have remained the same. Freedom-mad people across the country were bursting to get the command of their supreme leader, not of one of the thousands of army officials. Any Tom, Dick or Harry among the army officers could have easily substituted for Zia, but there was no substitute for Mujib. The contribution of Zia to our Liberation War however, lies somewhere else. He played an important role, especially between 27 March and 17 April 1971 by rising to the occasion. The then Mujibnagar Government had appreciated his role. Above all, he was given the honour Bir Uttam for his contribution to the Independence War, while there were seven getting the highest military award-Bir Sreshtho. His party-men should have been happy with Zia's being one of the eleven sector commanders and getting the medal of honour called Bir Uttam. Zia was not worthy of the extra fame thrust upon him.
So far as the entire gamut of our struggle for independence is concerned, Bangabandhu plays the leading role and remains unsurpassed. In the thousand-year old history of the Bengali people, Bangabandhu is the most luminous star. Since 1952 to 1971-in the vast background of the making of a nation-state-Bangabandhu emerged as an unparallel leader with the biggest responsibility, best ability and brightest success. He is the architect of our country and the nation by all implications of the term. Actually, Bangladesh was never independent in the truest sense of the term before 1971. It was Mujib and only Mujib who gave the nation a real touch of freedom. It was quite a trek into the long way of freedom from all-out oppression through autonomy and home rule, in which he gave the active lead. He was the fearless fighter of the Language Movement of 1952; the pioneer of the democratic movement of 1962; the architect of the Six-point Movement of 1966; the life force of the Mass Movement of 1969; the enviable victor of the election of 1970 and, above all, the greatest hero of the Liberation War of 1971. He is undisputedly the founder of independent Bangladesh and, therefore, the Father of the Nation. He has, upon a global survey, been rightly acclaimed as the best Bengali of all times.
Bangabandhu has thus an unrivalled position in the history of Bangladesh independence. On 7 March, the whole nation was prepared to listen to nobody else's speech; on 25 March, the occupation army thought of arresting nobody else; the world conscience pressurized the then Pakistan Government into releasing nobody else; nobody else was made the founding president of new-born Bangladesh; on 10 January, 1971, nobody else was given the historic reception; nobody else was entrusted with the responsibility of reconstructing the war-ravaged nation. It was Mujib and only Mujib who was the protagonist of the whole play. If the total credit of the Liberation War had depended only on the charisma of an oral declaration, the people of Bangladesh would have given Zia all they gave Mujib. Professor Humayun Azad quite rightly made the comparison between Mujib and his political peers where lies an implied reference to Zia whose importance pales beside Mujib's. As he put it: "Compared to Mujib, his predecessors are mediocre and successors are insignificant and laughable." Professor Azad's opinion carries weight for, he was not like the intellectuals of his generation rotten by the ugly process of politicization. The range of Mujib's preceding and succeeding politicians, in the good professor's view, would include leaders like Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, AK Fazlul Huq, Mawlana Bhashani, Syed Nazrul Islam, Tazuddin Ahmed, Captain Mansur, AHM Quamruzzaman and Ziaur Rahman as on point. The question of compare between Mujib and Zia not only makes us feel distinctly uneasy, but also becomes the angst of history.
In fact, all histories are contemporary. So, the contribution of Mujib and Zia should be evaluated on the basis of contemporary facts, not of any posthumous fabrication. If we look back to our history of independence, we would see Mujib was the supreme leader of our liberation struggle, and Zia was one of the liberation war heroes. These two positions of honour should not be confusing. There should be no question of equalization. Zia can be compared to many in his own country, but Mujib to none. Mujib bears comparison only with the world leaders like-Abraham Lincoln of America, Lenin of Russia, Winston Churchill of Britain, De Gaulle of France, Mao-Tse-Tung of China, Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam, Ahmed Sukarno of Indonesia, Kemal Ataturk of Turkey, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Patrice Lumumba of Congo, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria, Fidel Castro of Cuba, and Mahatma Gandhi of India. This is history based on the bare bones of things that really came about. Travesties of facts must be spoilt by the unrealistic contrivances!r
writes fiction and columns, and teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University, Bangladesh. Email: [email protected]