Photo: Ekushe February, 1953. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with Maulana Bhasani.
[Tasneem Khalil, Sweden.]
Since its birth, Pakistan has been said to be ruled by triple A: “Allah,” “Army” and “America.” Even today, years after the independence of “East Pakistan,” endless sectarian riots in Karachi confirm the murky influence of religion in Pakistani politics. And when Condoleezza Rice — the American Secretary of State — flies in from Washington to Islamabad to meet the President, she is greeted by a man in khaki.
Policies that govern the modern day Pakistan are, one way or the other, observers argue, set by the adherents of mullahism or imperialism, and accordingly enforced by the military junta. That is Pakistan in 2005 and that was Pakistan in 1971. Little has changed, that too in a negative direction.
But, in 1971, one finger that rose in admonishment of these entrenched powers was of the Sheikh. Throughout February-March, East Pakistan was virtually ruled by a leader with seven million people rallied behind him. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman emerged as a dot of difference on the world map.
In March, 1971, (sceptics please reread your history books) no bank transaction was cleared and not a single wheel moved without Sheikh Mujib’s nod, while politicians in Jinnah caps, the army and diplomats were driven out of the scene, at least for the month of rebellion. Nine months of struggle for liberation, somewhat symbolically led by the Sheikh, gave birth to Bangladesh — a secular, democratic, and non-aligned state.
It took about four more years for the combined powers that had been defeated in the liberation war to cook a plot, and hit back. On a bleak August morning thirty years ago, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was brutally assassinated. And in the following years, religion, military, and imperialism took the driving seat of Bangladeshi politics once again. Bangladesh, post-Mujib, took a bumpy flight away from its secular, socialist, democratic promises.
A country that earned its freedom fighting a fallacious notion of religious nationhood, soon became a country with a constitution proclaiming its faith in the Almighty. The Military dictators who succeeded Mujib have made sure that religion plays a key role in Bangladeshi politics. Islam was to become the state religion and houses of worship became the Friday offices of a President. In the recent past, we have even witnessed how headscarves can be used as election tools. As I am writing this, religious extremism and sectarian persecution are building to new heights with Jihadist outfits mushrooming around the country.
Bangladesh, post-Mujib, became a helpless population ruled for decades by the generals in khaki. Military rules that succeeded the Sheik’s assassination forced the country backwards and turned Bangladesh into a replica of Pakistan under Ayub or Yahiya. They were to lay the foundations for the nation to be perceived as “the most corrupted country” in the world. And they were to curtail freedom of press in its totality. Our days spent with the military rule can be labeled as our days of disgust and despair.
And then, there are ambassadors and high-commissioners who somehow manage to act like modern day viceroys in Bangladesh. Post-Mujib, Bangladesh was to become hostage at the hands of imperialist designs. Diplomats from Gulshan are now puppet-masters, while the Secretariat and Minto Road dances to their tune.
Sheikh was Allende (Chile), Mossadegh (Iran), and at the same time, as many of us keep on arguing, he was “a failed statesman” and “a leader who won the war but lost the peace.” As if post-Sheikh Bangladesh has been blessed with a parade of successful statesmen. Post-Sheikh, name one leader who outsized or outgrew or out-performed him. Anyone? None. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is the icon of Bangladesh’s fight against mullahism, military dictatorship, and imperialism.
On that fateful August morning this convergence of powerful interests struck back and brutally assassinated Mujib. They successfully took their revenge but one thing that is for sure — Mujib will outlive his assassins.
This article was first published by The Daily Star on August 15, 2005. The newspaper was hesitant to use the original title and thus opted for “Mullahism, military and Mujib.”
Tasneem Khalil [http://www.tasneemkhalil.com] is Consulting Editor, E-Bangladesh.