There is no scope to view the events of August 15, 1975 as a blot in history, or somehow isolated from the day's events. There has been an attempt at portraying an image that their apparently beloved leader was killed, and Bangladeshis went on with their lives that day, as if nothing had happened. Yet people had to flee, and there were many arrests. Yes, there was an intelligence failure, and those in positions of responsibility failed to act decisively (and some of course, treacherously), but amongst the more general public, there was disquiet.

Of course, there was little press to speak of at the time domestically, and whatever there was could be relied upon to parrot the party line as much after the coup as it was generally restricted to before it. The New York Times, in its second report on the killing of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and most of his family members, one week after the event, took stock by talking to "authoritative Bengali and foreign sources". Its initial report on August 15, 1975 itself (they had the advantage in the time difference) had been a more straightforward narration of events. There it had reported, based on largely second-hand sources, or out of Delhi, that "Sporadic, gunfire was reported in Dacca (sic), the capital, but the country was generally said to be calm."

One week later, it was able to report with greater assurance on a "sense of terror" that gripped the country following the coup, according to a Bangladeshi source they spoke to themselves. The same executive tellingly said to them, "There was total collapse. Whatever anyone said, we did with complete obedience. There is a perpetuation of fear." Fear certainly, stalked the nation at the time. And fear sometimes has the tendency of freezing its subjects into inaction.

It is perhaps indicative of the wave that followed in the powerplay of the state, that pieces that served essentially to whitewash the killers, such as their infamous interview with Anthony Mascarenhas, where they spoke with clarity and purpose, but little conviction. What gave them the right to assume they could take such a decision, is the question begging to be asked in that interview. In the bit where they explain why they couldn't afford to let Mujib survive, they actually give the game away, admitting they were certain to be defeated politically, in the theatre of the public, if they allowed him to live. Again the question hangs in the air, doesn't that testify to their lack of support among the people? After all, any action taken in the interest of the people would brook little fear of being overturned. But it just hangs, tantalisingly, ultimately unasked.

There are many qualities to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, that we find in short supply in this day and age. Above all, one is struck by what made him such a leader to his people. The conviction to stand up for what he believed in. His boundless empathy for his fellow Bangladeshis. That commanding stature, the booming voice, the unshakeable faith. The liberated Bangladesh he returned to so readily accepted him as their leader. For anyone else, it would have been difficult to claim that mantle, given the forced inability to participate in the war effort itself. Not Bangabandhu though. And make no mistake, we were all his people.

His critics almost always fail to account for the unprecedented difficulties of nation- building faced by newly independent Bangladesh in 1972. The burgeoning population and disaster-prone climate and geography were just two of the most obvious obstacles. There was the almost immediate Maoist movement as well. The height of the Cold War, and how it would play out in far-flung theatres between the former Soviet Union and the United States, and how Bangabandhu's own ideology that he obviously would espouse played into it - his unequivocal support for Palestine, his growing affinity with the Soviet bloc -- proved as much of a stumbling block to his dream of establishing a Golden Bengal as anything else. Irrespective of anything else, that was a dream worth nurturing. The one most worthy of nurturing.

Leave a Comment

Recent Posts