Friends and foes of Bangabandhu, on August 15 and after

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman frantically telephoned Major General KM Shafiullah, chief of staff of Bangladesh army, when a group of soldiers, heavily armed and backed by tanks and armoured cars, attacked his residence in the pre-dawn hours on August 15, 1975. The Father of the Nation sought Shafiullah’s assistance in warding off the rebels.

In the event, Shafiullah failed to come to his aid. Minutes later, Bangabandhu, his wife, three sons, two daughters-in-law, his brother and others lay dead at Road 32 Dhanmondi in Dhaka. Among the others was his security chief Brigadier Jamiluddin Ahmed, the only individual to have tried coming to the aid of the Father of the Nation. He was murdered as he tried to enter Road 32 after getting a call from Bangabandhu.

In silent tears, they remember a father

Justice delayed, justice denied

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Thus did terror seize the country on this day thirty seven years ago. The plotters had done their heinous work meticulously. In the three days preceding the coup d’etat, Khondokar Moshtaque Ahmed, the commerce minister; Taheruddin Thakur, the minister of state for information; Mahbub Alam Chashi, a former government official; and ABS Safdar, chief of National Security Intelligence, met over a series of sessions at Comilla BARD. Early in the morning of August 15, all of them were seen in Dhaka, cheerfully taking over the country.

As many as four hours elapsed after the pogrom at Dhanmondi, good enough time for the army to have acted against the coup leaders. No action came.

Moshtaque took over as president in a clear violation of the constitution. Soon, army chief Shafiullah, air force chief A K Khondokar and navy chief MH Khan would swear allegiance to him.

A cabinet meeting was called, with nearly every minister being present. Some, like the elderly Phani Bhushan Majumdar, were compelled to be there. Phani was seized from PG Hospital, where he was undergoing treatment, and transported to the Bangabhaban.

There is no record of any discussion of the pre-dawn tragedy having taken place. Moshtaque focused on the kind of national dress he thought should be prescribed for the country. He had his own attire in mind.

Once Bangabandhu had been dispensed with, General MAG Osmany, who had bravely resigned from the Jatiya Sangsad in January 1975 in protest against the formation of Baksal, had no qualms becoming Moshtaque’s defence adviser. He would remain in that position till Moshtaque’s ouster three months later.

Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury, a former president who had been inducted into the cabinet by Bangabandhu on August 8, was appointed foreign minister in succession to Dr Kamal Hossain, who had been abroad on an official tour and refused to come back home in the new circumstances.

Among those who suddenly found themselves in positions of influence in the Moshtaque cabal were KM Obaidur Rahman, Shah Moazzam Hossain, Nurul Islam Manzur and Taheruddin Thakur.

The new regime, dominated by the majors and colonels who had assassinated Bangabandhu and his family and others, moved swiftly to place vice president Syed Nazrul Islam, former finance minister Tajuddin Ahmed, prime minister M Mansoor Ali and home Minister AHM Quamruzzaman under detention. They were soon carted off to Dhaka central jail, where they were murdered in cold blood on November 3, 1975.

Within a fortnight of the coup, General Shafiullah was replaced as army chief by General Ziaur Rahman, his deputy. Air Vice Marshal AK Khondokar was succeeded by M G Tawab, a religious fanatic and once of the Pakistan air force and living in Germany.

In subsequent years, Shafiullah would serve under Zia and General HM Ershad as ambassador and high commissioner to various countries before eventually joining the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League and becoming a parliamentarian in 1996.

AK Khondokar too would serve as a diplomat in a number of countries under Zia and Ershad. He joined the latter’s government as a minister and later joined the Awami League under Sheikh Hasina.

It is intriguing to recall what some of the men around Bangabandhu did after his assassination.

Mohammadullah, who served as deputy speaker and then as speaker of the Jatiya Sangsad, took over as the country’s president after Abu Sayeed Chowdhury’s resignation in late 1973. In early 1975, he became a minister in Bangabandhu’s new cabinet. After August 15, he linked up, first, with Moshtaque and then with Zia. He became President Sattar’s vice president only a day before General Ershad ousted the government in a coup on March 24, 1982.

Prof Yusuf Ali, who read out the Proclamation of Independence at Mujibnagar in April 1971 and then served as education minister in Bangabandhu’s government, happily joined Moshtaque. In a later phase, he joined the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and was forgotten by the country.

Obaidur Rahman would become part of the BNP and Shah Moazzem would link up with the Jatiya Party and become Ershad’s deputy prime minister. Much later, he would join Khaleda Zia’s BNP.

Another prominent Awami Leaguer, M Korban Ali, minister for information in Bangabandhu’s government, would work closely with Sheikh Hasina before deserting her and joining the Ershad regime.

Abdul Malek Ukil, speaker of the Jatiya Sangsad, told newsmen at London’s Heathrow airport soon after August 15 that Mujib’s overthrow had been the fall of a pharaoh. Senior Awami League politician Mohiuddin Ahmed travelled to Moscow as Moshtaque’s emissary to seek the support of the Soviet leadership for the new regime.

Tofail Ahmed, political secretary to the Father of the Nation, would be arrested by the regime and subjected to indignities. Like him, there were others.

Moulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani welcomed the change-over. Only months earlier, in March 1975, he had welcomed Bangabandhu to his home at Santosh, Tangail, and told him he was on the right path.

Moshtaque, who would go to prison in Zia’s times, died a few months before Sheikh Hasina led the Awami League back to power in 1996. Before his death, in a rambling interview with a weekly journal, he said he had had no hand in Bangabandhu’s killing and that he treated Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana as his own daughters.

Chashi died in mysterious circumstances in the deserts of Saudi Arabia.

Thakur went to prison over the jail killings of November 1975, was freed, and died sometime later in disgrace.

Osmany would contest the presidential election in June 1978 as a joint opposition candidate, lose to Zia and then form his Janata Party. He died in the early 1980s, in the Ershad period.

The stories could go on and on.

Thus have the chronicles of a dark era, tainted with blood and painted in the lurid colours of shame, come down to the country.

Comments

  • Nick: Why didn’t General Shafiullah come to the aid of Bangabandhu?
  • Nazrul Islam: We wanted no more 15 th August in this country but very unfortunately similar incident occurred i.e. the killing of Sagor and Runi when the daughter Bangabandhu is in power. Most unfortunately the government is not trying to find out those criminals seriously or do not have courage to fight against those Mafia killers.
  • Sheikh Monirul Islam, Opee
    Wednesday, August 15, 2012 01:17 AM GMT+06:00 (1 days ago)Until this day out of his professionalism, Maj Gen KM Shafiullah did not say a word to the nation for his great failure to protect the head of the state at the time.
  • Morshed Ali
    Wednesday, August 15, 2012 10:44 AM GMT+06:00 (18 hours ago)Good research work by Badrul bhai. If the story goes on and on, why not follow it. After all it is our history untainted.
  • Translucent
    Wednesday, August 15, 2012 01:38 AM GMT+06:00 (1 days ago)We need another outstanding leader now who could unify the nation just like 1971.
  • A Choudhury
    Wednesday, August 15, 2012 01:55 AM GMT+06:00 (1 days ago)It was the most shocking murders in the history of human civilization.
  • Rocky Sinha
    Wednesday, August 15, 2012 02:36 AM GMT+06:00 (1 days ago)Though we are a small country, our history is bloody, brutal and murderous. It is time we should enhance our patriotism and learn from the past to make sure we do not commemorate any days like 15 august.
  • Wazi Chowdhury
    Wednesday, August 15, 2012 03:34 AM GMT+06:00 (1 days ago)Makes you wonder, why people did not stand up for him?
  • Dev Saha
    Wednesday, August 15, 2012 03:56 AM GMT+06:00 (1 days ago)It was an armed revolution. No! It was rather an armed butchery that killed the founder of the country with all his family members. What revolution did they really produce?
  • naabaj
    Wednesday, August 15, 2012 04:16 AM GMT+06:00 (1 days ago)The killing of Bangabandhu was an international conspiracy by those who were defeated by our dignified and valor freedom fighters. Who were the killers? The power greedy so-called politicians many of whom fled to India to participate in independence war. Had not India directly support the war, we had not achieved our independence. This is the truth and fact.
  • Nafis Ahmed
    Wednesday, August 15, 2012 05:14 AM GMT+06:00 (23 hours ago)Lest we forget: Where was the Rakkhi Bahini- the dubious force that was supposed to protect the Father of the Nation?
  • raz
    Wednesday, August 15, 2012 06:18 AM GMT+06:00 (22 hours ago)Im very happy that this plain truth has been written after so many years without any taking sides. We have forgotten these few beneficiaries of Mujib’s death and who has taken all advantages until now. Thank you again for reminding these facts which is specially good for younger generation.
  • Koyes, UK
    Wednesday, August 15, 2012 06:19 AM GMT+06:00 (22 hours ago)This was truly a dark time for the Country.
  • Saleh Md Shahriar
    Wednesday, August 15, 2012 06:37 AM GMT+06:00 (22 hours ago)Some of the persons known as Bangabandu’s men were extremely greedy for power.The ambition, desire and drive for the capture of the state power were so intrinsic and acute in those men that they did not even hesitate to brutally kill their big master.
  • Syed Gias Uddin
    Wednesday, August 15, 2012 10:06 AM GMT+06:00 (18 hours ago)The politics of this country has long history of treachery.
  • Raihan Sharif
    Wednesday, August 15, 2012 10:12 AM GMT+06:00 (18 hours ago)Greed and personal ambition drove these men to politics. Once that is the motive then there is no problem switching parties and loyalties, or being complicit in murder.
  • deep purple blue
    Wednesday, August 15, 2012 10:12 AM GMT+06:00 (18 hours ago)Thanks for the write up.
  • Saleh Md Shahriar
    Wednesday, August 15, 2012 12:22 AM GMT+06:00 (1 days ago)The South Asian states are characterized by the politics of assassination.
  • Nasirullah Mridha,USA
    Wednesday, August 15, 2012 12:26 AM GMT+06:00 (1 days ago)Those who had been shun to save Bangabandhu they are now buzzing around Hasina.It’s our irony that despite clear evidence of their involvement they are enjoying unalloyed blessings from Hasina.Can our premier give an answer why she encircled by this apparatchiks?
  • zaman
    Wednesday, August 15, 2012 12:31 AM GMT+06:00 (1 days ago)We should all forget the dark past. It is more important right now to secure the future and independence of our beloved country which is in need of good and honest politicians.
  • Anonymous
    Wednesday, August 15, 2012 12:34 AM GMT+06:00 (1 days ago)It was an armed revolution – the change of the government by force. Bangladeshis did not understand this simple matter. And that government lasted for sometime. At that time it was a legitimate government.
  • Asma
    Wednesday, August 15, 2012 12:35 AM GMT+06:00 (1 days ago)So Awami Leaguers themselves killed the Sheikh Mujib and were the immediate beneficieries of the killing? Most people named in the killing conspiracy were indeed |Awami League leaders – am I missing somehting?
  • Rukhsana
    Wednesday, August 15, 2012 12:46 AM GMT+06:00 (1 days ago)Sad that Awami Leaguers killed their own leader. Very sad indeed!
  • Nick
    Wednesday, August 15, 2012 12:48 AM GMT+06:00 (1 days ago)It seems that from 1971 onwards most of our leaders were not true patriots. They were mostly interested in their self-preservation rather than the development of our nation. The true patriots were the 4 leaders killed in the jail and a few others like Tofail Ahmed who did not collaborate with the Moshtaque regime. Thank you, Mr.Ahsan for a very insightful article.